Archive for the 'The state of the culture' Category

All trekked out

November 18, 2008

The trailer is out for the new “Star Trek” movie, and it looks like we’re going to get a “beginnings” type look at the original Capt. Kirk crew. Sorry, “Next Generation” stars. And, hey, fans of “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager,” you really got screwed. (What, no big-screen version of Seven of Nine? Unthinkable.) On the other hand, Kirk apparently gets it on with Uhura, which we all knew was happening anyway, right? I must  either be beyond my geekydom (live long and prosper!) or just in a bad mood, because I watched the trailer and it didn’t do much for me.

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The system did it

November 17, 2008

By now, should be used to bad parents offering lame excuses for their failure and neglect. Still, some are so outrageous that we can’t help but be repelled:

INDIANAPOLIS – A northern Indiana woman who left her 8-year-old son at a Nebraska hospital under that state’s safe haven law says she did so because she doesn’t trust Indiana’s child welfare system.

Stephanie Mote, 30, told Fort Wayne television station WANE in a Friday interview that she doesn’t trust the system in Indiana based on her own experience as a child.

“I took him there where I knew he would be safe because I didn’t trust the welfare system in Indiana and I didn’t want him to go through what I went through when I was growing up through the welfare system in Indiana,” she said. “So I felt like it would be the best thing to do would be to take him there where he would be safe.”

Almost every story about this incident has a variation on the same headline — “Woman explains why she left son in Nebraska” — but of course there’s no real explanation possible. A friend of hers is even quoted as saying she didn’t abandon her son — “She just wanted to get him help.” Right. She didn’t turn him out here because there would have been legal consequences. She took him all the way to Nebraska because a glitch in that state’s law would give her immunity, but she didn’t abandon her son? She offers the alleged failures of Indiana’s child welfare system as an excuse for why she can’t be a decent mother? She has knowledge of how good Nebraska’s system is?

This is either one of the most telling examples of denial on record or a woman so used to just saying anything that she expects us to believe anything. Her son is back with Indiana officials, which is, unfortunately, probably the best place for him.

The name game

November 11, 2008

Now, that’s diversity!

The chairman of an Indiana University committee says the panel will recommend adding a black basketball player’s name to a gymnasium named after a longtime trustee who advocated racial segregation in the 1940s.

The committee will recommend renaming the Ora Wildermuth Intramural Center the William L. Garrett/Ora L. Wildermuth Fieldhouse, IU vice president Terry Clapacs told the Indiana Daily Student on Monday.

Garrett, who died in 1974, was the first black basketball player at IU.

[. . .]

Wildermuth wrote in a 1945 letter to an IU administrator that while he had no objections to giving blacks educational opportunities, “I am and shall always remain absolutely and utterly opposed to social intermingling of the colored race with the white.”

And the black player’s name will be first, so we know the school is being sensitive! Now, the school could have argued that it was leaving the name alone because it’s unfair to judge a long-ago figure by today’s standards, so just shut up and go on about your business. That might make some people mad, but it would have been defensible. Or it could have said that, because the name offends many people and the univeristy’s main obligation is to today’s students, the name was being changed. That would have made a different set of people mad, but it would have also been defensible. What is being recommended, however, is just plain silly.

I can’t HEAR you!

November 7, 2008

I love this sentence from the piece about the Internet generation being lousy jurors: “Orality is the crucial ingredient of the adversarial system.” Really rolls off the tongue. Anyway:

In a speech, Lord Judge of Draycote, the Lord Chief Justice, said it might be better to present information for young jurors on screens because that is how they were used to digesting information.

He said: “Most are technologically proficient. Many get much information from the internet. They consult and refer to it. They are not listening. They are reading. “One potential problem is whether, learning as they do in this way, they will be accustomed, as we were, to listening for prolonged periods.

“Even if they have the ability to endure hours and days of sitting listening, how long would it be before some ask for the information on which they have to make their decision to be provided in forms which adapt to modern technology?

This inability — or unwillingness — to listen probably endangers a lot more than the system of jury trials. A lot of things — classroom learning and military training come to mind — depend on interaction with someone you must pay attention to.

What’s brown and sticky?

November 7, 2008

The folks at the National Toy Hall of Fame ran out of ideas back in 2005 when they inducted the cardboard box. They did it again this year:

A magic wand, a fishing rod or a royal scepter?

The lowly stick, a universal plaything powered by a child’s imagination, landed in the National Toy Hall of Fame on Thursday along with the Baby Doll and the skateboard.

The three were chosen to join the Strong National Museum of Play’s lineup of 38 classics ranging from the bicycle, the kite and Mr. Potato Head to Crayola crayons, marbles and the Atari 2600 video game system.

Curators said the stick was a special addition in the spirit of a 2005 inductee, the cardboard box. They praised its all-purpose, no-cost, recreational qualities, noting its ability to serve either as raw material or an appendage transformed in myriad ways by a child’s creativity.

 I have a suggestion for next year — the rock. It can be anything from a baseball to a hand grenade. Heck, a few years ago, it was even sold as a pet. Anyway, here’s “Dear Santa” from the “Bob & Tom Show,” which celebrates, among other things, the value of the lowly stick.

Intolerant nonsense

November 3, 2008

OK, granted, this is a “complicated” story. Anybody who wants to put a Jesus statue or any other religious icon outside his patio door is free to do so. It’s part of our heritage — both of religious freedom and freedom of expression. But if you live in an apartment, the place isn’t yours — you have to abide by the landlord’s rules, even if he says to keep your Jesus inside. What got my attention were the dictates of federal fair housing laws:

For the owners of the Colonial Crest apartment complex where Long lives on Muncie’s west side, the statue is a potential violation of federal fair housing laws and a possible affront to people of other religious beliefs.

[. . .]

The 24-hour nature of Long’s display — which included a spotlight that cast a shadow of the statue on the wall of Long’s building — was part of the concern that prompted Colonial Crest manager Mike Desloover to send two letters telling Long to remove the statue.

“We appreciate the diversity of our complex,” Desloover told The Star Press. “I will not participate in anything that’s not open to everyone of every race, creed, color and religion. We don’t have political signs or anything religious that might be construed to violate the protected classes.”

[. . .]

Behind Colonial Crest’s concerns is the Fair Housing Act, which was part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The law outlawed discrimination in the rental or purchase of homes but also touched on many other housing-related discrimination issues, including the display of religious scenes and icons.

The act forbids “notice, statement or advertisement that indicates a preference, limitation or discrimination based on religion.”

That’s purely insane. If an individual displays something outside his own apartment, that in no way indicates the complex as a whole promotes it. And it is not “appreciating diversity” to make people hide anything that might possibly be offensive to anyone. How can we appreciate diversity if we are even allowed to express the things that show us in fact to be diverse? How intolerant do we allow bureaucratic thugs to become in order to promote tolerance?

Rocks and stones

October 31, 2008

I never got this:

Sometime after midnight, nearly 200 people will throw toast at The Artists’ Studio stage.

Though some consider throwing food to be poor manners, it’s all part of the fun of “The Rocky Horror Show LIVE!” which encourages audience participation.

I heard for years and years from people who went to see the movie version several times — some even made a weekly ritual of it. I had a chance to finally see it on TV, and it just seemed silly. Some of the parody was too broad and some too cute, and it just fell flat. But I watched it alone, and the whole point or the movie has always been the social experience, everybody shouting and throwing stuff at the screen at the appropriate moment.

I had the same experience with “Reefer Madmess,” which is supposed to be hysterically funny because of its wild exaggerations of the dangers of marijuana. But its deadly earnestness was so excrutiatingly boring that I could only stand about 15 minutes of it. Maybe it would have helped to be stoned.

Comic relief

October 30, 2008

For the “world keeps getting stranger” file:

A JAPANESE man has enlisted hundreds of people in a campaign to allow marriages between humans and cartoon characters, saying he feels more at ease in the “two-dimensional world”.

[. . .]

“I am no longer interested in three dimensions. I would even like to become a resident of the two-dimensional world,” he wrote.

“However, that seems impossible with present-day technology. Therefore, at the very least, would it be possible to legally authorise marriage with a two-dimensional character?”

Yeah, darn those limits of “present-day technology.” If all he’s interested in is length and width with no depth, I can introduce him to a few women I’ve met in bars.

In denial

October 29, 2008

I report, you deride:

During the campaign, the media has largely respected calls to treat Bristol Palin’s pregnancy as a private matter. But the reactions to it have exposed a cultural rift that mirrors America’s dominant political divide. Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion.

So, one side is, “Oh, no, no, don’t, EVER,” but “Oops, OK, that’s cool,” and the other side is, “Hey, kids, do whatever you want,” but, “Oh, my God, how could this HAPPEN?” I’ll let you decide which is more realistic and more likely to produce healthy families.

Spending ed.

October 28, 2008

Good idea:

The group, which included teachers, school board members, district administrators and leaders of nonprofits, recommended that the state consider making personal finance part of Oregon’s math graduation requirement.

Ultimately, the committee wants students to have to show they’re proficient in the subject to receive a diploma.

Of course, maybe kids shouldn’t even be spending money until they get married and have real, full-time jobs. This will just give them the idea it’s all right to be spending at such a young age, and it’s something parents should be teaching them anyway. Maybe they could have a “savings only” curriculum.

The haters made me fat!

October 21, 2008

Let’s see if I have this straight. “Ethnic whites” who feel discriminated against — not are discriminated against necessarily but feel so — are much more likely to be obese than ethnic whites who do not feel discriminated against. This connection between perceived discrimination and obesity is not present among blacks, Hispanics or “other whites.” This is because:

First, blacks and Hispanics may have developed mechanisms for coping with stress that ethnic whites have not developed. Second, blacks and Hispanics may be more likely to accept larger body types. Third, discrimination may simply be more pervasive and insidious than is widely believed.

Love that research. This has to be the ultimate in the “It’s not my fault I’m fat” culture of denial.

“Ethnic whites” are defined to include those such as Americans of  Polish, Italian, Jewish and Irish descent who have “historically been discriminated against.” Isn’t that just about everybody? Oh, wait, there are those pesky German-Americans. I have Irish and German in my background. Guess that means I am partly an “ethnic” white and partly an “other” white. Do I get to feel stressed and have an excuse for any obesity I might entertain, or not?

“Discrimination may be more pervasive and insidious than is widely believed”? No, perceived discrimination, maybe. “Blacks and Hispanics may be more likely to accept large body types”? No stereotyping there, nuh-uh!

Contract bridge

October 15, 2008

This is stunningly dunderheaded:

Today, when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama returns to Toledo, The Blade, on its front page, asks Mr. Obama a simple question: Do all Americans who want to work have the right to a job where they live?

John Robinson Block, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of the newspaper, said the answer to that question is important to all Toledoans and to all Americans.

‘The late, great governor of Ohio, James A. Rhodes, used to say there is nothing wrong with Ohio that more jobs won’t solve,’ Mr. Block said. ‘And 64 years ago, President Roosevelt said every American has the right to a job. We wonder if Senator Obama thinks having a job is a right today.’

Not just a right to a job, mind you, but a right to a job where you live! Who provides these jobs, and who orders them provided? Would there be a national job czar who tells factories in Arizona that half of them must move to Michigan and Ohio to balance out the nationwide job availability picture? I don’t expect newspaper people to be economic geniuses — lord knows I’m not — but do they have to be so embarrassingly dumb? I doubt if even Obama would promise people the right to jobs where they live.

Oh, well. The piece also quotes, approvingly, Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who contributes this gem:  “The social contract in this country has always been if you worked hard, took care of your family, went to work, and played by the rules, you would be rewarded,” Mr. Brown said. “We have moved away from that, and the social contract is not what it used to be in this country.”

Well, no. It might be a good idea or fair or just to reward those who play by the rules, but what does that have to do with the social contract, which is the theory of how we move from a state of nature to the rule of government by giving up certain liberties in order to secure order and safety? The “social contract” is indeed not what it used to be.

Where the sidewalk ends

October 14, 2008

You know the old “give ’em inch and they’ll take a mile” warning. University officials in Indianapolis have discovered the “give ’em the sidewalk and they’ll take the buildings” corollary:

Students at a downtown Indianapolis university are encouraged to use chalk to express their political views, but when those messages move from the sidewalks to the sides of buildings, that constitutes vandalism, school officials said.

Some John McCain supporters at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis said their right to free speech was infringed upon over the weekend when they were stopped by campus police after writing political messages on the sides of several buildings, 6News’ Jennifer Carmack reported.

“The police came out and took our names as well, even though writing on the sidewalk is OK by IUPUI policy and they said they were going to wash it down, which is a violation of our rights and free speech,” said student Max Engling.

You’d think university students would know that their rights end where somebody else’s property begins. Maybe they should have to write it a thousand times on the sidewalk.

Courting trouble

October 13, 2008

Issues such as gay marriage should be decided by legislatures, but it’s obvious that we’re not headed that way. Connecticut has become the third state to say that same-sex partners are entitled to all the benefits of traditional marriage, including the title, and all three were court decrees. Furthermore:

If California voters on Election Day were to overturn the state’s historic May 2008 ruling sanctioning same-sex marriage, it would stall political momentum for same-sex marriage rights in the states, political experts say.

Florida and Arizona voters also will decide on Nov. 4 whether to amend their state constitutions to limit marriage to one man and one woman – essentially ensuring a permanent ban on gay marriage unless voters go back to the polls to repeal it.

I’ve been saying for a while now that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually decide to take this up because of the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause. I think we’re only one state or two away from that tipping point.

Now, that’s Green Power

October 10, 2008

Plants have feelings, too!

ZURICH — For years, Swiss scientists have blithely created genetically modified rice, corn and apples. But did they ever stop to consider just how humiliating such experiments may be to plants?

That’s a question they must now ask. Last spring, this small Alpine nation began mandating that geneticists conduct their research without trampling on a plant’s dignity.

Unfortunately, we have to take it seriously,” Beat Keller, a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich. “It’s one more constraint on doing genetic research.”

Dr. Keller recently sought government permission to do a field trial of genetically modified wheat that has been bred to resist a fungus. He first had to debate the finer points of plant dignity with university ethicists. Then, in a written application to the government, he tried to explain why the planned trial wouldn’t “disturb the vital functions or lifestyle” of the plants. He eventually got the green light.

The rule, based on a constitutional amendment, came into being after the Swiss Parliament asked a panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians to establish the meaning of flora’s dignity.

And I thought the PETA crowd had the biggest nuts on the planet.

See you at the fair

October 8, 2008

In my effort to keep you up on the latest trends, I note that senior citizens turned out at the fairgrounds to get “flu shots and ham and beans” during the annual Putnam County Senior Health Fair. But those who live in Casselberry, Fla., have a more exotic option:

A strip club offered free flu shots on Tuesday to Casselberry residents who are at least 55 years old.

 

Rachel’s also provided flu shots to anyone younger than 55, but they had to pay $10.

 

Anyone 65 or older was offered a free meal.

A little lap dance between the flu shot and the ham and beans? Now, we’re talking.

Party of the first part

October 7, 2008

Just when you think things can’t possibly get any sillier:

The words, “bride” and “groom” will be restored on all California marriage licenses starting next month, state health officials announced Monday.

On June 16, when same-sex marriage became legal in the state, the Department of Public Health issued new gender-neutral marriage forms with the words “Party A,” and “Party B” in place of bride and groom.

That drew objections from some heterosexual couples, who wanted the more traditional wording to describe their unions. Several contacted the state, and one Roseville couple sued the county clerk of Placer County last week for rejecting their marriage license after they altered it by writing in “bride” and “groom.”

Too bad. “Party A” and “Party B” are such romantic terms. As a fan of the old “Addams Family” TV show, I’d like to recommend “It” and “Thing.” They’re both neutral terms, can be used for man or woman, gay or straight, and they pretty much reflect the state of the culture today.

Hookups and hangups

October 1, 2008

Guess some things never really change:

The single most perplexing phrase in the English language, I’ve always thought, is “one thing led to another”. Hooking up with someone is rarely that straightforward. One thing, in my experience, usually leads to a misunderstanding, which leads to awkwardness, disappointment and, eventually, howling despair.

And the other day, Jezebel.com, a website aimed at women, provided a reminder of just how tortuous the process can be, with an article about the moronic remarks that guys churn out in an effort to impress girls. “Unfortunately, far too many men in the world, through a combination of egotism, stupidity and utter immaturity, screw it up long before they manage to get it in,” railed the writer, before proffering some basic tips for blokes, all evidently born from bitter personal experience.

“Don’t tell me that you and your wife have an arrangement’”; “Don’t hit on my friend(s) first. Yeah, I saw that”; “Don’t ever say to me, ‘Your breasts don’t look like the ones in my magazines’”; “Don’t lick my face – I get flashbacks from Silence of the Lambs”; “Don’t ask me if my friend might be interested in a threesome”; “Don’t try to guilt me into something – you are not my mother, and you don’t have her skills.”

Well. Those who do the pursuing have to weave through the minefield of the pursuees’ rules and hangups. Welcome to life. Probably why most people give up on “hooking up” and settle down with one person, huh?

The Age of Credulity

September 24, 2008

Roger Ebert posted an article, “Creationsim: Your questions answered,” on his blog as a bit of satire. Anybody who knows the least little thing about him will know this was not meant to be straightforward. But there were thousands of comments on his site and throughout the blogosphere  reflecting the widespread conviction that age and/or illness had turned him into a Creationist or a lunatic.

To sense the irony, you have to sense the invisible quotation marks. I suspect quotation marks may be growing imperceptible to us. We may be leaving an age of irony and entering an age of credulity. In a time of shortened attention spans and instant gratification, trained by web surfing and movies with an average shot length of seconds, we absorb rather than contemplate. We want to gobble all the food on the plate, instead of considering each bite. We accept rather than select.

I think that’s right. The whole thing is an interesting read.

Getting older, not growing up

September 17, 2008

Baby boomers, whiners till the end:

America’s baby boomers are in a collective funk. Members of the large generation born from 1946 to 1964 are more downbeat about their lives than are adults who are younger or older, according to a new Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends survey.

Not only do boomers give their overall quality of life a lower rating than adults in other generations, they also are more likely to worry that their incomes won’t keep up with inflation — this despite the fact that boomers enjoy the highest incomes of any age group.

[. . .]

However, it is by no means certain that the boomers’ current bleak mood is a function of their current stage of life. When it comes to quality-of-life assessments, data suggest the boomers generally have been downbeat, compared with other age groups, for the past two decades — starting back when some were still in their twenties. So their current sour ratings may be related to getting older, but they also may be related to the attitudes and expectations about life they formed when they were young.

I think that part about expectations is right. From the moment we were identified as a group, we were paid more attention to by the media than any generation before or since. We were taken far too seriously, and then we started to take ourselves far too seriously. We were the pig in the python’s belly, and everything we did mattered on a grand scale! So our expectations were, to put it kindly, not modest. When time and experience showed us our limits — as they do to every person and generation — we weren’t able to accept it as gracefully as we might have.

Enemy of the good

September 10, 2008

The spotlight on Trig Palin at the GOP convention, writes Michael Gerson, comes at a time when we need to have a civil-rights debate about those who are born “less than perfect.” Of the cases of Down syndrome diagnosed by prenatal testing each year, about 90 percent are eliminated by abortion. And the American College of Obstetricians recently recommended universal early testing for Down syndrome, not just for older women. Some say increased screenings will reduce the number of Down syndrome births to fewer than 1,000 a year, compared to the 5,500 a year we now have:

This is properly called eugenic abortion — the ending of “imperfect” lives to remove the social, economic and emotional costs of their existence. And this practice cannot be separated from the broader social treatment of people who have disabilities. By eliminating less perfect humans, deformity and disability become more pronounced and less acceptable. Those who escape the net of screening are often viewed as mistakes or burdens. A tragic choice becomes a presumption — “Didn’t you get an amnio?” — and then a prejudice. And this feeds a social Darwinism in which the stronger are regarded as better, the dependent are viewed as less valuable, and the weak must occasionally be culled.

In management training, it is sometimes stressed that “the perfect is the enemy of the good” — in other words, holding out for the best can keep us from doing our best. I’d say that applies here, too. Dismissing those who are less than perfect makes us fail to appreciate the common humanity we all share.  Gerson has a great description of those with Down syndrome: They “learn slowly but love deeply.”

Sexist is as sexist does

September 4, 2008

There’s a lot of discussion about whether the press is being unfair to Sarah Palin in the ususal liberal sorts of ways, but also speficially whether a lot of the treatmenet of her is sexist:

Should Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — a mother of five children, including a special-needs infant — have accepted the vice presidential slot on the Republican ticket? Is it sexist to even ask such a question? The conversation transcends traditional party lines.

Anne-Marie Nichols, a Democratic in Fort Collins who writes a blog called A Mama’s Rant, supports the Republican’s decision.

“She’s the luckiest woman in the world if she gets that job,” Nichols said. “She’ll have babysitters, chefs, maids, chauffeurs, health care.”

But others, such as talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlesinger, a social conservative, are critical.

“What kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down syndrome, and then goes back to the job of governor within days of the birth?” she wrote on her blog, noting that she still intended to vote for Palin running mate John McCain.

It is true that male candidates are never challenged on whether they can balance the office and family the way female candidates are. But is that really “sexist,” since it pretty much reflects reality? The fact is that working women usually don’t get much help from their husbands — they come home from the office and are still expected to do most of the housework and child-rearing. The further truth is that many in the audience for Palin’s speech believe that’s the way it should be — or that the women shouldn’t leave the home fires for “outside” work in the first place. When did they get religion? And I’ve been in “the press” long enough to know most of them are on the other side of the equality and choice issue, so why they do they keep repeating the question of Plain?

This is a good debate to have. I just don’t think it’s possible to have it in the midst of partisan meltdown.

Less than blissful

August 27, 2008

You only need to see the headline — “She’s happily married, dreaming of divorce” — to know you’re going to be treated to a wonderfully entertaining descent into self-indulgent whining: 

Don’t misunderstand: I would not, could not disparage my marriage (not on a train, not in the rain, not in a house, not with a mouse). After 192 months, Will and I remain if not happily married, then steadily so. Our marital state is Indiana, say, or Connecticut — some red areas, more blue. Less than bliss, better than disaster. We are arguably, to my wide-ish range of reference, Everycouple.

Nor is Will the Very Bad Man that I’ve made him out to be. Rather, like every other male I know, he is merely a Moderately Bad Man, the kind of man who will leave his longboat-sized shoes directly in the flow of our home’s traffic so that one day I’ll trip over them, break my neck, and die, after which he’ll walk home from the morgue, grief-stricken, take off his shoes with a heavy heart, and leave them in the center of the room until they kill the housekeeper. Everyman.

If only she can find the courage to leave this Moderately Bad Everyman and find the self-fulfillment to which she is so entitled! Or maybe she just needs to get rid of her delusions: “This is not to say that dismantling one’s marriage will automatically bring happiness; it’s the idealization of marriage that needs to be shredded, along with its accompanying bumper sticker WIVES MAKE BETTER WOMEN.” Who still believes that, really?

Oh, for this longed-for day:

Maybe one day, marriage — like the human appendix, male nipples, or your pinky toes — will become a vestigial structure that will, in a millennium or two, be obsolete. Our great-great-great-grandchildren’s grandchildren will ask each other in passing, “Remember marriage? What was its function again? Was it that maladaptive organ that intermittently produced gastrointestinal antigens and sometimes got so inflamed that it painfully erupted?”

Yes. Yes it was.

What did we do for entertainment before OPRAH.com came along? Run away, Will, escape right now. This woman is sucking your soul out.

Bark Mitzvah

August 27, 2008

How do you know someone has more money than he knows what to do with? He spends $10,000 to have a religious ceremony for his dog:

David Best decided to throw a party for his dog named Elvis. He decided to make it a “Bark Mitzvah” and had guests like Dr. Ruth show up at Sammy’s Roumanian In Manhattan.

And, yes, there is video.

I spent $1,200 on my cat Pierre when he had a liver problem, but it bought him a few more years in pretty good health, so I consider it money well-spent. I’d spend that much or more on Dutch and Maggie, the two cats I have now, if their health were threatened. But I’d never make them wear silly hats or sweaters, behaving in the the way some dog owners are inclined to. It would offend their dignity just so I could make some kind of statement about myself to other humans. David Best is, if I may borrow a Yiddish expression, a putz.

Good, but not too good

August 26, 2008

Here is the opening paragraph from Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.”

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Actually, Vonnegut was being downright Panglossian. We’re going to reach total equality a lot sooner than 2081, and we won’t need a constitutional amendment to get there. Here’s an excerpt from the account of recent goings-on in New Haven, Conn.:

NEW HAVEN — The fight between youth baseball league officials and one of its teams over a player whose pitching is said to be too good for batters is moving from the ball field to the legal field.

Leroy and Nicole Scott, whose fast-pitching son, Jericho, 9, is at the center of the dispute, met Monday, along with another player’s parents, with prominent attorney John Williams to see whether the season could be saved. Williams said Monday he will take legal action to try to get Jericho’s team into the upcoming playoffs, where they belong after an 8-0 season. He also will sue the league over the pain and suffering of Jericho and the other young players.

League officials offered to move the team’s 13 players to other squads after they tried to dissolve the team last week because the coach, Wilfred Vidro, refused to pull Jericho off the pitcher’s mound as requested by league officials.

Jericho’s pitches are so fast and accurate that league officials and some parents feared their kids weren’t able to play freely, league attorney Peter Noble said recently. All the players on Jericho’s team declined to move and are sticking together.

So, the message this kid is getting is: Be good, but not too good, or the other kids won’t want to play with you. It turns out that some of those “league officials” have ties to another team — the one that’s won for several seasons in a row and is now stuck at No. 2. Big surprise there, huh?

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh thinks using the Harrison Bergeron analogy is too much: “Competitive sports, especially but not exclusively among children, generally works best when the players have roughly the same ability. Including players who are much better than others tends to make things less fun for other players, for spectators, and sometimes for the much better players themselves. And it also makes things less educational for other players and for the much better players.”