Spiraling Toward Irrelevancy

Never has a blog title spoken quicker to the absolute truth than "Spiraling Toward Irrelevancy" ...


Column: "Campaign '08: Never More Embarrassing?"

I’ve been thinking about the 1800 presidential election a lot lately. Partly because a book on the subject has been lingering in my consciousness, but mostly because its example has served as a rebuttal whenever someone says this year’s election could become the most contentious in American history. People who say things like that ought first be able to name twenty presidents, and probably even their opponents, before waxing philosophic on the tone of modern elections.

For whatever is wrong with our electoral system, it pales by a dozen shades to what lingered in the air during our country’s infancy, when even the presence of truly great men wasn’t enough to keep things reasonable. Mere historical ignorance cannot account for the belief things “have never been worse” – you have to willfully suspend knowledge of campaigns past. For example: Writing for National Review Online, Kathleen Parker lamented the pre-taped appearances of Senators Clinton, McCain, and Obama on the professional wrestling program Raw and wrote, in all seriousness, “Talkin’ tough never looked sillier – nor a presidential race more embarrassing.” 1

By this reasoning, delivering a few dopey lines on a wrestling show is more intellectually offensive than running on a promise to turn the United States into a military eunuch and hurl it into Canadian style socialism faster than the other candidates. A presidential race never looked more embarrassing? For Parker to write those words straight-faced, she had to conveniently forget that Bill Clinton actually answered the question about his underwear, that Michael Dukakis drove that tank, that Jesse Jackson uttered the phrase “Hymietown,” that John Kerry asked an Ohio shop keep “Can I get me a huntin’ license here?” and that Ron Paul … well, ran for president.

Electoral history is littered with hundreds, and possibly thousands, of examples of this magnitude and much worse, if only you bother to find them, which Parker didn’t, because doing so would have flown in the face of her thesis that professional wrestling is simply beneath people running for high office. (Perhaps not the world’s noblest profession, but no one has ever been able to explain to me how watching professional wrestling is any less of an intellectual drop than watching NASCAR, Survivor, a Miley Cyrus concert, or Countdown with Keith Olbermann.)

Modern candidates must either conform to the times in which they live, or stagger backward to the days of conducting entire campaigns from their front porches. Nearly five million people watched Raw that night including, as the New York Times points out, 1.45 million males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four.2 You poke fun at yourself on a wrestling show because it humanizes you to the viewers, and perhaps open doors to some voters who otherwise might not have thought about you. An Obama spokesman echoes this sentiment in the same Times piece: “[T]his campaign has been about reaching out to new voters and getting them involved in politics, so it’s important to reach as broad an audience as possible.”

This may be irrelevant to Kathleen Parker who, while admitting the wrestling stuff was harmless fun, turns to wonder why fun should have any place. “Clinton’s [most controversial Pennsylvania primary ad] posed the correct question: Whom are voters going to trust to be commander in chief? In this too-long campaign, in which Hill-Rod, Cookie and Slugger seek to out-cute each other for the connoisseurs of human mauling machines, the answer is increasingly less clear.” Fine, but would you suppose that ambiguity exists because the senators each spent fifteen minutes cutting wrestling promos, or because they’re so much alike it’s virtually impossible to tell whether there are any real differences between them?

1 “Meet Hill-Rod” by Kathleen Parker, last accessed 28 April 2008.

2 “Better Days, and Even Candidates, Are Coming to W.W.E.” by R.M. Schneiderman, last accessed 28 April 2008.


TGO 7: A Definite Maybe

Contrary to a previous posting, I neglected to make an announcement last Saturday as to whether another book is in the offing, the simple reason being I’ve yet to make a decision.

Book writing is very long and extremely exhausting business for me, normally one that stretches out over a few years. (Before another writer beat me to the punch topic-wise, I was prepared to lend anywhere from five and seven years to the Lincoln book.) It was during the final stages of The 5 Minutes of Silence (1998) that I suffered a medium-sized nervous breakdown, an incident that always lingers in the back of my mind when book writing becomes a thought. Before saying or doing anything, I must make certain that (1) I am emotionally healthy enough to proceed, which these days includes self-knowledge I’ll not fall back to drinking or pill popping in the process; and (2) that enough time can be logically cut away and put aside for a book, with other important things upcoming.

But something is telling me that if it’s taking this long to decide, than the decision has already been made. More if it develops.

New column Tuesday, if I can get it to work. If not, maybe Wednesday, but it's already an old topic.


Column: "Ben Stein's Important Movie, Falling Short"

Thursday, 24 April 2006
603 words

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed begins with stock footage of Germans diving through the barbed wire that was eventually replaced with the Berlin Wall, used to signify the barrier erected between those scientists who swallow Darwinism whole and those who have questions about Man and the planet Earth that Darwinism cannot effectively answer.

“I mean, we basically say it's very hard to believe that something came from nothing and that we don't understand that where gravity came from,” Ben Stein, the movie’s co-writer and star told Glenn Back, “we don't understand where the laws of physics or thermodynamics or fluid motion came from, we don't understand how life came from a mud puddle when there was one that was mud and the next day there was life and then a few billion years later there was man. How did that happen? No Darwinist has ever been able to come close to an explanation.” [1]

Fair enough. But as sure as the Sun will set in the West, we know the broader scientific community has no tolerance for anything other than the strictest adherence to Darwinism (warts and all). So after seeing Expelled I tried to imagine the viewer who wasn’t already aware of the metaphorical wall, who actually was in doubt whether their child would face undue criticism for asking similar questions in a high school or college class, or who wasn’t at least peripherally aware of college professors who were denied tenure, or fired altogether, for raising the question of Intelligent Design. Said another way, I had trouble figuring out why Expelled was made.

Of course, the same could be said for just about every movie hurled into wide release since Gone With the Wind, so perhaps lingering over the “Why?” of things was beside-the-point. Later it occurred to me that “Why?” was an instinctual reaction to disappointment: Stein and company had at their disposal the means to deal a significant intellectual blow to the scientific consensus, but squandered it by insisting on making a modern movie (which is also meant as a broad indictment against contemporary filmmakers).

There is nothing wrong with Expelled that some rewriting and a competent editor couldn’t fix, but because the movie was designed to cut so significantly against the grain, those responsible should have held themselves to a higher standard and thrown the audience more meat. It would have been helpful to hear, “Here is Darwinism as understood and taught, and here is Intelligent Design as advanced.” And to be fair there is some amount of that, but it feels disjointed. Just as your mind whirs to take it in, the film cuts to another position or interview. There is much too much quick editing between these positions and conversations (i.e., modern filmmaking), the end result being that too few arguments are made at sufficient length.

Further distracting is the fact Expelled insists on employing needless animations, little cartoons, dopey songs, and clips from old B movies. They exist to prove various points – and for what it’s worth, does prove them – but too often at the expense of seriousness. About production values Stein has made a point to say Expelled was very expensive to make, as documentaries go, but what good is a large budget when you sacrifice sagacity?

By the time Richard Dawkins admits intelligent design was likely, but denies God as a factor in it, the viewer is less pleased than he should be. And that’s too bad, because with its budget and distribution, Expelled could have dealt a much greater blow to the wall erected around Darwinism. As it is, merely a glancing blow.

[1] Stein interview:
last accessed 22 April 2008


Half a Column About Barack Obama I Haven't Been Able to Finish.

When Mel Gibson got drunk, slandered Jews, and sexually harassed cops, we were seeing his true self through alcohol. When Michael Richards responded to some crowd noise in a comedy club by dropping the n-bomb a dozen times, we were seeing his true self through anger. But when Barack Obama said that people who live in small town Pennsylvania cling to xenophobia, God, and guns when in distress, we were seeing … what, exactly? A slip of the tongue? Fatigue? Well, whatever it was, it sure wasn’t elitism, if that’s what you’re thinking.

The remark in question was, in fact, uttered off-script to a roomful of limousine liberals during a private fundraiser held in San Francisco (the People’s Republic by the Bay): “You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for twenty-five years and nothing’s replaced them,” Obama opined. “And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow, these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they [the little people] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

This isn’t exactly a picture of Deliverance he’s painting, but one hears a matter-of-factness in Obama’s voice that suggests he sees middle-Staters sitting on front porches, hocking greenies into spittoons, and belting out that day’s twentieth drunken rendition of “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” Interesting that Obama didn’t think to mention the extraordinary amount of black-on-black violence in Philadelphia, but he wouldn’t have. No one is supposed to draw a comparison between clinging to a gun for emotional support, or whatever he meant, and using one to murder another human being. We are left to suppose there is no bitterness lying underneath manslaughter.

Question: At what point does someone lose connection to the common man? For years the knock against wealthy conservatives (think Rush Limbaugh) has been that as they put distance between themselves and the poor, their perspective regarding struggle must change, because they themselves no longer struggle.

[This is the point where I wrote myself into a corner, from which I haven't been able to retreat for two days. And now that the issue has abated, I - along with the country - have lost interest.]


Some Fun Reactions to "Tibet" Column.

Ah, it's good to be back in the crosshairs again.... I spent a fair part of Saturday morning answering complaint emails about the column, "Tibet: This Year's Fashionable Victim." It might help if you read the column first, just below, to know what was and what wasn't said. First a few of the complaints themselves, and then my responses, additional commentary in brackets if necessary.

Subject: "Tibet"
From: S Bevilacqua

If the Right has such a problem with Communist China, then why have they sent all of our manufacturing there? Yes, Tibet has always been a trendy annoying cause with the Left and idiot celebrities, but the Right has sunk the ecomony of this country into the toilet, and China has been a big part of that.

Reply: Almost had a good question there. The problem comes in assuming that all corporations are Right-wing and that all conservatives are - what, exactly? - corporatized? Or something similar? The difference is, companies don't exist to provide jobs for Americans; they're in business to turn profits and, where applicable, serve shareholders. To those ends, companies are free to ship their product to just about anywhere if, at the end, it serves financial interests. Do you want to get in the business of telling companies where and with whom they can, well, do business? I don't.

Now if you're trying to say that China finances too much American debt, then I agree with you; if American debt didn't exist to such degrees, that sort of propping up wouldn't be necessary. You're right.

As for regular conservatives - I'm not sure what you're talking about. We've always been against China. You know, on account of all that forced abortion and rolling over student protesters with tanks. And et cetera. Best; brian s. wise

Subject: "American Daily Feedback"
From: big

Really? This oppression started when China forced the monks out of Tibet? Talk about jumping on the bandwagon. You are aware that with the Dalai Lama, there was a caste system in place where the commoners basically served the priest caste? If you don't, you shouldn't be writing an article about it, and if you do know, you've chosen to ignore the fact the the Tibetan people have been oppressed for a long time, but at least the Chinese are bringing in modern technology, although they are trying to leave the native Tibetans out in the cold. The Dalai Lama wants Tibet back because it's better to be king and have your own sovereign nation, not because he cares about the people. Communism.. they're not even communists, what a joke, but clearly a caste system is so superior.

Reply: Try reading the column again; this time, read it for what it says, not for what you think it says, or worse yet, think it should have said. Best; brian s. wise

[If I were to receive a hundred complaint emails, 95 of them would be answered with a reply very similar to this one above, because most often the problem they're having stems from that exact symptom. Of those 95, 93 would let it go. Then you have people like this, who quoted portions of the column and then asked these questions.]

Subject: "American Daily Feedback"
From: chris maze

I have no dog in this fight, but this is probably the stupidest opinion piece I have ever read. [I'm number one! Whoo-hoo!] Are you suggesting using military force against China is a viable option? If not, what are you talking about? Are you suggesting the "free Tibet" movement is a recent "fad"? Are you suggesting the Dalai Lama hasn't sold out American arenas and venues for years? How old are you?

Dude, just read a book or something before you write again. And Communism is old hat. Islamofacism is the new thing for you te be afraid of. China really hasn't been "communist" for a while now, hence the explosion of their markets.

Reply: If this is the stupidest opinion piece you've ever read, why on Earth did you read the whole thing? Well, at least give it one more shot - this time, try reading it for what it says, not for what it doesn't say, or what you want it to say. Best; brian s. wise

Not responding to my questions and a idiotic response. Ok. Dude, you are made for right wing junk pieces. Shit, you'll probably have a book deal before long!

I pray for my country :(

Okay, okay. I'll take them point by point.

1. "Are you suggesting using military force against China is a viable option?" No. Read the column. It's not about force against China. It's about fashionable support for Tibet

2. "If not, what are you talking about?" Not taking advantage of the recent Tibet matter for political gain knowing, as was said in the column. [sic] You can't just talk and reason with China, as they are "closed [minded] on the subject," as was also written. Read the column

3. "Are you suggesting the "free Tibet" movement is a recent "fad"?" No. Read the column. I've downplayed the recent concerns of those who have taken it up as a fad, however, saying in fact that if you give "people four months and a hand-to-hand battle between the Obama and Clinton camps at the Democratic national convention, and they'll go back to ignoring Tibet again." Which will be the case, but I don't expect I'll be hearing from you then

4. "Are you suggesting the Dalai Lama hasn't sold out American arenas and venues for years?" No. But that's not what the column was about. It was about fashionable support for Tibet. Read it, you'll see

5. "How old are you?" Probably old enough to be your father, judging by the way you read, interpret, and write, "dude." Best; brian s. wise

Addendum: Sunday, 13 April @ 619am EST: Saturday at 9.52pm I received this email frm Chris ...

Not ever gonna be good enough for fox asshole :)

Really, you addressed nothing in the context I asked it. That was why I ask in reference to specific quotes. And in 4 months, Democrats will fade away and the Dalai Lama will cease selling out events? History shows you a fool.

Your party is destroyed. They did it to themselves. God knows the Dems didn't have any backbone. This kind of "insightful writing" is done. Reality always wins. Enjoy obscurity bro. And don't burn yourself on the fryer at work :)

Peace dude

And then this one, at 12.56am Sunday.

Nevermind bro. I just read your site :)

Keep up the good work. Destroy the party. Drive people away from your bullshit in droves. Kill your party from the inside. Great work you half illiterate joke.

Well, by the time we get to this point, I've lost another fan. Incidentally, Chris Maze is from Seattle, Washington, which explains quite a bit. Here's his email address: boomaze@gmail.com.

One of the mentions of the "Tibet" column can be found here, described (correctly) by Rob Peters as follows: "Meanwhile, writer Brian Wise calls Tibet 'this year's fashionable victim,' and chastises protesters who seem to care about Tibet only when its cool." He's reading the exact same column as Chris Maze, except he understands it.

Incidentally, a note for Chris Haze: I am enjoying obscurity, thank you, and they give us special elbow length rubber gloves so that we don't burn ourselves. Not everyone writes to get themselves published or on television, you know.

Second Addendum: Sunday, 13 April @ 5.52pm. Things with Chris have now digressed into name calling and obscenity, which means we're probably both having a great time.


Column: "Tibet: This Year's Fashionable Victim"

Thursday, 10 April 2008 - 609 words.

Those on the Left suddenly outraged about the treatment of Tibet by China may now, finally, understand the Right’s longstanding problem with Communism. Congratulations. Above and beyond this, one struggles to learn what all the shouting is about. Yes, Tibet remains under Chinese oppression. But other than the small (and rightfully dedicated) Free Tibet movementeers and gatherings of college kids scattered hither and yon, no one bothers to think about Tibet except when it’s fashionable, like now; the oppression it experiences today is substantively no different than it was ten years ago, or twenty years before that. Which in no way excuses the oppression, but does go to show that no one’s forced servitude is above exploitation in an election year.

This willingness to exploit explains Senator Clinton’s abrupt insistence that President Bush not attend the opening ceremonies of the Red Olympics. “The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for Presidential leadership,” Senator Clinton “wrote” on her campaign blog Tuesday. “These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy toward China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government.” [i]

By “downplay human rights in its policy toward China,” does Senator Clinton mean to suggest the president has neglected the matter entirely (which he hasn’t), or that he hasn’t been insistent enough on the question of human rights? Well, firstly, George W. Bush has never taken a meeting with the architect of China’s one child policy – i.e., the forced abortion policy – as First Lady Clinton did. Secondly, it would help to know exactly how insistent she thinks the president should be, knowing not only China’s closed mindedness on the subject (only America stands still for scolding) but also the Democratic party’s general aversion to force. This is the sort of thinking that could lead one to conclude Senator Clinton is merely hopping on the latest bandwagon, ridden for the sake of political expediency, as opposed to her taking a stance rooted in conviction.

As victims of oppression go, Tibet and Darfur are more interesting than most: China is directly responsible for misery in Tibet and peripherally responsible for misery in Darfur, in that it exercises influence over Sudan but refuses to put its foot down. Generally speaking, China is a threat to world stability and American financial security.

But China provides no less misery for Tibet and Darfur today than Saddam Hussein did for Iraq in 2002; the difference being that virtually no one is really interested in helping them end their collective suffering. (Or as Mark Steyn writes in America Alone: “Everyone’s for a free Tibet, but no one’s for freeing Tibet.” [ii]) Because of this, the Tibet protests are merely fashionable at the roots, despite being somewhat intellectually viable at the outside edges. Give people four months and a hand-to-hand battle between the Obama and Clinton camps at the Democratic national convention, and they’ll go back to ignoring Tibet again.

By the way, just because Senator Clinton is exploiting Tibet doesn’t mean she’s wrong – even a broken clock is right twice a day. Nothing is gained through appeasement of Communists except happy Communists. When all is done, President Bush will sit through the opening ceremonies, maybe a few events, and then come home, never minding whether his attending lends legitimacy to a Games that are functionally no different than Berlin in 1936 and Moscow in 1980.

[i] http://blog.hillaryclinton.com/blog/main/2008/04/07/174152; accessed 08 April 2008.

[ii] Page 132 in the hardcover edition.


Notes Re: Past Column Re-Editing / Book Announcement

1) Recently a grammatically bothersome sentence in the column “For the Corporation” was pointed out to me, to which I responded (honestly) that since thirteen people read the column, I don’t much give a damn about those sorts of errors.

Moreover, given the way “In Dissent” columns take shape – over a period of eight to twelve (or more) hours sometimes covering a few days, being re-written, spot-edited, cut, pasted, changed, re-arranged, and finally edited one last time (often with tired eyes) before being posted – it’s a wonder every single paragraph of every single column isn’t absolutely riddled with grievous errors, grammatical and otherwise.

But the complainer was getting to a broader point, which she didn’t exactly voice: errors of that sort oughtn’t be allowed to stand, intellectually, as insults to a language she knows I love. So I have given the 2008 columns a decent going-over and have reposted them here, as well as Brian Wise dot com. (As for the few other places “In Dissent” is seen, I’m not sure about getting them changed; Newsvine may just be a matter of going in and changing them manually, cf. this blog, but as of this writing I haven’t checked.)

The best I can think to say is that my work hasn’t, for a long time, been important enough to justify a private editor, and that affiliate editors only seem to scan the pieces for something “offensive,” as opposed to actually editing them and keeping in touch with their content providers. Things slip through the cracks. But at the end of the day, I remain the Harry Truman of the opinionated Right: The buck stops here.

Piggybacking that, either this blog or the dot com will offer authoritative versions of every column or essay that leaves this desk, and if worse comes to worse, send email to brianwisedotcom@gmail.com and see if you can get my attention.

Addendum: Thursday, 10 April 2008 @ 4.11pm EST: Newsvine columns have been re-edited and re-posted, as of now.

2) If I am going to write another book, the announcement will be made here and on the dot com on Saturday, 26 April.


Column: "White Guilt and CYA in Eugene, Oregon"

For Friday, 04 April 2008 - 606 words.

Of the nearly 154,000 people who live in Eugene, Oregon, only two percent are black. (Scatter that sort of ethnic disparity through Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and some people will call it isolationist and racist, but never mind.) But Eugene wouldn’t want to give the impression its White Guilt isn’t as palpable as the next decently sized liberal town. So in advance of the track and field championships being held their in July, for which as many as sixty percent of the athletes and coaches will be black, Eugene ’08 (the organizational wing of the events) decided to educate Whitey on the subtle intricacies of dealing with black people by putting its two thousand volunteers through diversity training.

The first volunteer newsletter says that Eugene ’08 “will provide mandatory orientation and training sessions to ensure that you are equipped with any information that is relevant to your position and the event.” That was in January; only recently was it announced that diversity training is part of the orientation. What exactly does Eugene ’08 think is going to happen without the training, that its staff of mostly white volunteers is going to cast glances at blacks and out of sudden panic break into choruses of “Mammy”?

Probably not; but that doesn’t mean white volunteers should – and these are not exaggerations for dramatic effect – start using black slang in attempts to relate to blacks, or not be able to answer questions such as, “If I’m black, where do I get my hair done?” If you really want to know what liberals think of black people, notice how they talk about them when they think no one else is paying attention: “If I’m black, where do I get my hair done?” is a question that itself smacks of a generic bigotry – you’re just assuming that blacks are going to hit the city limits and make getting their hair done a top priority. Based upon what, exactly?

In creating the illusion of widespread opposition to the plan, local CBS affiliate KVAL cited only a dumb sounding email (meant to suggest general ignorance among the resistance, you see), spending the remainder quoting people who think this is just a swell idea. Chamber of Commerce President Dave Hauser: "I think as a community we've adopted the attitude that there's no way to over prepare for the Olympic Trials.” Then you’d better get to constructing and staffing some black barbershops, Hauser, because only about 3,100 blacks live in Eugene now – whatever facilities exist for that purpose today aren’t going to get it done come July.

Now to be fair, the KVAL article mentions that “If I’m handicapped, where can I park closest to the field?” might also be asked, but you’d be hard pressed to explain how answering that question will be any more complicated than saying, “Just follow the signs to your left, sir.” Handicapped parking is at least relevant to the volunteer’s “position and the event” … giving a black patron directions to a barbershop is not only outside that purview, but it’s also somewhat remarkable in how it insults and panders.

As with most racial head scratchers, there is a large amount of CYA in all this – Eugene knows it will take only one horribly dissatisfied black patron to make life miserable for the city. Let one volunteer be a little too dismissive to the wrong question and the next thing you know, Al Sharpton and a throng of news cameras will be crowding the steps outside City Hall. Fair enough. But why sell it as “there’s no way to over prepare” when you’re only trying to avoid headaches?