Plumb Lines

July 30, 2009

White Cop Arrests Black Man, Has Beer with President

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael E. van Landingham @ 9:38 pm

Let me get this series of unfortunate events straight:

  1. White cop arrests a prominent, elderly black Harvard professor without much cause in the professor’s own home and takes him to jail
  2. Cop charges him with disorderly conduct
  3. The charges are dropped
  4. The President, a man of color himself, calls the unapologetic cop stupid
  5. The result is that said cop gets to have a beer with the President, the Vice President and the arrested professor

It sure is nice to be a white man in America. Even when you do something utterly stupid, hubristic, and probably racist you end up having a beer with the most powerful man in the world and his sidekick Joe Biden. Now every officer is going to be arresting people without a reason to get into White House happy hour. I guess white cops are always right.

-Michael E. van Landingham


The Unconservative Fury of the Crunchy Con

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 11:26 am

Erin Manning’s strange attack on environmentalists reminded me of another Crunchy Con post from long ago, in which Rod approvingly cited an article by Wesley Smith called “The Silent Scream of the Asparagus,” about the decision of a Swiss ethics committee that plants have their own dignity.

A funny title. But a foolish article. A highlight of the committee’s report:

A “clear majority” of the panel adopted what it called a “biocentric” moral view, meaning that “living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive.” Thus, the panel determined that we cannot claim “absolute ownership” over plants and, moreover, that “individual plants have an inherent worth.” This means that “we may not use them just as we please…”

Wesley called this “enough to short circuit the brain.” “Asinine,” Rod chipped in. It’s astonishing that people who call themselves conservative should not recognize the panel’s statement as deeply Aristotelian and deeply Christian. Of course plants have an inherent worth. Didn’t G-d pronounce them good before humans were even created? Of course they have dignity, which is just to say there is a certain way of treating them that is appropriate for the kind of thing that they are. Of course life itself is sacred, as such. The people who disagree with these statements are disagreeing with a whole worldview — the worldview of Aristotle, the Bible, and all of Western Culture until quite recently. In what sense is it conservative (much less crunchy) to attack the sanctity of life and the dignity of the created order?

David Schaengold

Sex is My Religion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Matthew Schmitz @ 11:20 am

Well, not my own. But it seems to be the religion of the polyamorists described in a recent Newsweek article. The tendency of cultural conservatives who read about these polyamorists will be to call them self-indulgent and self-obsessed. While these people are self-obsessed, they are far from self-indulgent. Instead they are making huge, almost fanatical sacrifices in order to realize the ideal of our modern society: self-actualization through desire. Only be ceding to their every sexual impulse can they be fully “free” from repression. In order to achieve this freedom they go through feats of spiritual self-discipline. Jealousy is conquered through frank discussion and the acceptance that one will, from time to time, have to overhear his partner having sex with someone else. Attachments to children are considered, but ultimately submitted to the ideal of sexual freedom.

The polyamorous family described in the Newsweek article has a historical antecedent. In medieval times people joined in non-traditional, quasi-familial units and tried to realize the highest ideal of their age through, in part, strange sexual practices: they were called monks and nuns. The historical irony is that the polyamorous lifestyle of the article’s subjects seems to require nearly as much self-mastery as any celibate’s vow. What one thinks of this new fanaticism will, of course, be influenced by whether you think every human attachment and instinct should be submitted to the single-minded pursuit of sexual–which for these people means spiritual–freedom. Every age has its true believers; these men and women are ours.

-Matthew Schmitz

July 29, 2009

Truth and Fairness in the Birther Controversy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Matthew Schmitz @ 11:58 pm

I may have been the only person surprised to see Andrew Sullivan joining with notorious “birther” Orly Taitz and some of the most insane elements of talk radio in calling for the public release of the original copy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Sullivan did not for a moment think that Obama was born outside the U.S., but he did believe that the president might as well release the thing. And after demanding various records of Sarah Palin, it only seemed fair to avoid “double standards” and call for the same openness from Obama.

Here’s my beef with Sullivan’s stance: insanity should not aspire to even-handedness. Hackery should be humble enough to not claim objectivity. I much prefer the partisans who only make false, outrageous and offensive claims about one kind of politician to those who, out of an inflated moral sense, see fit to make them about all sides.  Obama should never have had to address the birth-certificate controversy, even if doing so was easy, because it had no basis in reality. (Much like some of the allegations about Palin that Sullivan actually believed.) If you wrong one person, it’s not somehow fair to wrong everyone else. It is simply more unjust.

-Matthew Schmitz

My New Favorite Phrase

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael E. van Landingham @ 11:33 pm

“Horse, foot, and dragoons.” Oh, Pat Buchanan (go to 9:25).

-Michael E. van Landingham

Watching “The Watchmen”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael E. van Landingham @ 6:54 pm

The WatchmenDuring my sabbatical I enjoyed many momentous events, concluding with a visit to my family in South Carolina. Seeing as the price of a movie night at the theater for four runs around the same as the United States’ current account deficit, we decided to stay in and rent a movie. I confess that my taste in films is neither as darkly interesting as Schmitz’s, or as artistic as Schaengold’s: I enjoy mindless blockbusters almost as much as any art house flick. So we chose to see The Watchmen, the 2009 film based on Alan Moore’s 1986-87 adult comic book (a.k.a. graphic novel) of the same name.

I love superhero films. Wolverine made me want to inject my skeleton with adamantium, and I was looking for a radioactive spider long after a live-action version of Peter Parker’s exploits graced the silver screen. Similarly, I can appreciate some level of artistically gratuitous violence, as in Kill Bill, vol. 1 or any of the Blade trilogy. Yet The Watchmen shocked almost all of the veteran moviegoers at our home that night. Sure, I had read reviews that prefigured its violent subject matter, but for some reason they didn’t sink in. Dana Stevens of Slate wrote, “Like the money shots in porn movies, Snyder’s action scenes are an end in themselves—gratifying if you like that sort of thing, gross if you don’t.” That doesn’t seem to convey the actual level of violence appearing in The Watchmen, but simply its gratuity.

No, not even the ever-snarky A.O. Scott of The New York Times captured how this movie made my family feel. He noted the way in which Zack Snyder, the film’s director and the erstwhile director of The 300, captured the spirit of violence in The Watchmen:

The sex may be laughable, but the violence is another matter. The infliction of pain is rendered in intimate and precise aural and visual detail, from the noise of cracking bones and the gushers of blood and saliva to the splattery deconstruction of entire bodies. But brutality is not merely part of Mr. Snyder’s repertory of effects; it is more like a cause, a principle, an ideology. And his commitment to violence brings into relief the shallow nihilism that has always lurked beneath the intellectual pretensions of “Watchmen.”

I wish I had read this before the film, because I may have been more prepared for Snyder’s gore. What surprised me about the movie, however, was the fact that no one I spoke with at the time of its release remarked about the level of violence as anything extraordinary. Even more disturbing was the films long, disturbing scenes of violence against women. Truly horrific (attempted) rapes, assaults, and the murder of a pregnant woman are all fodder for Snyder’s lens. Anyone with even the slightest empathy for women would be hard-pressed to sit through that filth, and there is no payoff other than shock.

While The Watchmen certainly gets you talking after its utilitarian conclusion, I cannot imagine why any of the film is necessary. Alan Moore said a movie couldn’t be made out of the comic book, but it was. I think the better question would be “Should we make a film out of it?” Any attempt to defend Snyder’s graphic choices are as shallow as the comic book’s sophomoric intellectualism that Scott highlighted. Sadly I cannot unwatch The Watchmen.

-Michael E. van Landingham

July 27, 2009

Why Do Crunchy Cons Hate Their Closest Allies?

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 10:41 am

Environmentalists get a weirdly bad rap even among Crunchy Cons. At their eponymous blog, Erin Manning writes:

Environmentalists do think of us, generally speaking, as human pollution. They do tend to believe that the way to fix the planet’s problems is to eliminate as many people as possible–and that means teaching civilizations which still value many children that it’s wrong for them to do so, and that they should be contented with just one or two. Ask an environmentalist about China’s policy of forced abortions and forced sterilizations, and often you’ll get either an uncomfortable silence, or else rationalizations (sure, it’s terrible, but they have way too many people, and this is the only way to deal with that situation, etc.).

This is false. Environmentalists do not, generally speaking, think of humans as “pollution.” I’ve talked to some extremely radical environmentalists in the most environmentally radical cities in the United States, some of whom even believe (as I certainly do not), that we have a moral duty to have very few children. I have never met a single one unable to bring himself to condemn China’s forced abortion policies. Why even Crunchy Cons feel obliged ritually to attack the environmental movement, which for its occasional excesses is unquestionably a good thing, remains a mystery to me.

David Schaengold

July 23, 2009

Americans with Gender Disabilities Act

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 12:43 am

In a world untouched by sin and the fall, we would have many of the same ideas in more fanciful form. There would be no sickness or deficiency, but we would still have the Americans with (Gender) Disabilities Act. Places of public accommodation would be required to have doorways built so that men could easily hold doors open to let ladies pass. Lanes would be drawn on the sidewalks to make sure that men  always walked nearest the street. In short, law would everywhere make room for the gracious and considerate interplay of the sexes.

In such a world, the U.S. Congress would mandate that interiors be acoustically designed to soften the loud, low tones of male voices and amplify the female voice, which goes too often unheard. There would be no braille or sign language, but men would be taught a simple, picture-based code into which women could translate statements made in the female tongues of body language and social cues.

This, though, is not the world we live in. Our disabilities are accommodated by ungainly ramps and loading-dock elevators (all serving, of course, a worthy purpose). Of course gender, be it male or female, is no disability. But even a world that was free from disability would still have to make special accommodation for humans who are, one might say, “differently enabled.”

-Matthew Schmitz

July 22, 2009

Growing up Left

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 11:19 am

During my childhood I never ate grapes except stealthily at friends’ houses, because Cesar Chavez had called for their boycott in 1984 (the boycott didn’t end until I was in high school). My parents never brought a soft drink into our home. So this guy’s fascinating tale of childhood leftism resonates with me. A crucial difference: my parents were proto-Crunchy Cons, so I got an equally intense dose of traditional moral philosophy.

David Schaengold

Eating Beef to Save the Environment

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 1:12 am

Environmentally conscious diners are told that one of the best ways to reduce their carbon footprints is to eat less meat. Much more energy is required to produce a pound of beef than a pound of, say, tofu. Making things worse, cows account for some 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, that’s not the full story, according to a recent report in the Utne Reader:

In large-scale farming confinement systems, manure flows into (disgusting) lagoons, where its decomposition releases millions of tons of methane and nitrous oxide into the air every year. “On pasture, that same manure is simply assimilated back into the soil with a carbon cost close to zero,” Hamilton writes.

What’s more, grass-fed livestock can be an essential player in a sustainable set-up. Manure revitalizes soil (in lieu of chemical fertilizers or shipped-in compost), and grazing encourages plant growth. Hamilton also points to Holistic Management International, an organization that proposes managed, intensive grazing as part of a climate change solution.

“In order for pasture-based livestock to become a significant part of the meat industry, we need to eat more of its meat, not less,” Hamilton writes. “So if you want to use your food choices to impact climate change, by all means follow Dr. Pachauri’s suggestion for a meatless Monday. But on Tuesday, have a grass-fed burger—and feel good about it.”

Conservatives leery of lefty dining choices should remember that the main type of agriculture practiced today has more to do with a industry than what we usually think of as agriculture. Its logic of efficiency and consolidation, of industrial production, entails the extinction of the family farm.

Before pasture-fed beef became a bobo-targeted marketing ploy, it was simply the way that most ranchers operated. Even if you don’t care about the environment, it’s worth doing what you can to support a type of agriculture that could, just maybe, create more space for family farms.

-Matthew Schmitz

Should We Turn Central Park into an Airport?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 12:46 am


An idea so bad, it’s hard to see how Robert Moses didn’t come up with it first: a group calling itself the Manhattan Airport Foundation has suggested that the most “underutilized” parcel in Manhattan be turned into a central, conveniently located airport. The only thing stopping this prank proposal from becoming reality is that it involves planes instead of cars. If we could turn central park into a cloverleaf cum parking lot, now that idea would take off.

(via kottke)

-Matthew Schmitz

July 21, 2009

Progressive Bioethics?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 12:33 am

Those who follow the often tendentious debates over bioethics will be encouraged to see this article in the journal Democracy, which deflates much of the rhetoric of the so-called “progressives” who oppose any limits on the biotech industry:

It is not “anti-science” or illegitimate to bring political values to bear on science policy–even when it’s Bush or his religious supporters doing it. To suppress scientific evidence or distort research findings because they are politically inconvenient, to disregard expert advice and relevant technical information–these practices are anti-science, and the Bush Administration made a habit of them. But to consider social and ethical values in the course of crafting policy is not only appropriate, but necessary. And disagreement about social and ethical values, or about how to apply them, is a necessary aspect of democratic political contestation.

Maybe there is some hope of moving forward in these discussions.

-Matthew Schmitz

July 17, 2009

The Most Violent American Movie?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 1:17 am


Action and violence lie at the (bloody) heart of American cinema. Rambo, and Hannibal Lecter define its essence and, for that matter, its limits. An art form obsessed with exploding cars and pulsing muscles has little time for the depiction of the mundane exchanges that make up life.

It was precisely for breaking these constraints that Whit Stillman’s 1990 film Metropolitan was widely hailed. By depicting little other than the the conversations of its characters, it seemed to reject not only the usual visual orgy, but any idea of plot. The natural comparison seemed to be to the more plotless films of French New-Wave directors like Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette.

Metropolitan, though, is a consummately American film. Far from eschewing violence, it is obsessed with the damage that can be done by words, especially those spoken by those we love.  The few scenes of physical action that the film contains–one punch and one brief appearance of a pistol–look comically innocuous next to the much more vicious exchange of insults. Future attempts to understand violence on the screen should devote a little less attention to the likes of Mel Gibson and a little more to Stillman’s films.

Matthew Schmitz

July 16, 2009

The Greatest American Newspaper Names

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Matthew Schmitz @ 2:57 pm

In this era when many of America’s greatest papers are going web-only or passing away altogether, I think it’s worth calling to mind the wonderful strangeness of American newspaper names. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most colorful names are concentrated in the South and the West. Best of all, many of these obscure papers are online:

Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

Daily Boomerang (Laramie, Wyoming)

De Queen Bee (De Queen, Arkansas)

Fairplay Flume (Fairplay, Colorado)

Jefferson Jimplecute (Jefferson, Texas)

Nome Nugget (Nome, Alaska)

Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal, Illinois)

Solid Muldoon (Ouray, Colorado)

Standard Laconic (Snow Hill, North Carolina)

Daily Comet (Thibodaux, Louisiana)

Tombstone Epitaph (Tombstone, Arizona)

Unterrified Democrat (Linn, Missouri)

How about it? What are your favorite newspaper names?

(via Eric Shackle’s eBook)

Matthew Schmitz

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