A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Sunday, August 10, 2003 :::
Chrestomathy Two. Americans: Quickly Losing Their Own Culture...How Poor People Suffer at the Hands of Idealists...Free Martha Stuart!!...An Anti-drinking Crusade Backfires...College Kids Ignore the PC-Police...Did Paul McCartney Do Anything Good After the Beatles...

But You Have A Culture. The Journal recently had a long article on how parents who adopt Chinese orphans are also adopting Chinese culture. The movement for this apparently grew out of the experience of Korean orphans raised here, who found that they in fact were not comfortable in completely white settings, or in completely Korean ones. That much makes sense, in that people do indeed treat others differently depending on their race, wrong though that may be.

However, the sad note is that many of these parents are adopting Chinese culture because they feel rootless themselves. For this, blame must be distributed equally to the left and right. The left has always favored the view that Europe, and the United States in particular, has no culture. Thus, in whole swaths of the United States, students issue forth from high school with absolutely no understanding of their own country. But capitalism is also to blame: the mall culture, which deliberately caters to the most idiosyncratic tastes, has eaten away at any form of shared, common experience. The worst example of that is surely the drive-in church, but think of the modern suburban Tract Mansion: everyone is in their own rooms, with headsets on, listening only to what they like. No wonder people feel rootless.

This is a great pity. A Mind That Suits is quite comfortable reading Latin and three of its modern descendants, and speaks one modern Latinate language quite well, even if he does say so himself. But he feels most at home in this wonderful country, and thinks it sad that people cannot see what a great culture we have.

Clashing Visions, And Suffering Poor People. Florida is the state with the harshest "exit test" for its public schools, and an excellent article in the Journal detailed how cruel the test can be. Certain changes obviously need to be adopted. Making it a requirement for graduation is hard on some students, such as the recent immigrant who scored straight A's in math his entire high school career, but still has not mastered English. Jeb Bush, demonstrating that, like his brother, he does not suffer from their father's problem with decisiveness, will not recognize the human cost of such rigidity, but you can imagine others will put pressure on him, and one hopes that some modification can be found that will secure the benefits of the tests but leave intact the incentive to master the basics.

Even some opponents of the tests admit that, finally, this has led to more seriousness in high schools in low-income areas, which means the tests should not be abandoned. The real problem, however, is far more serious. Poor areas attract reformers who believe that strict standards harm the poor. The implicit racism of this should be obvious, but isn't. Most such "reofrmers" also place a heavy emphasis on the relationship between the teacher and the students, in the tradition of Rousseau, and on the importance of the classroom as a "community," in the tradition of John Dewey. And these days, the biggest emphasis is on "self-esteem," in the tradition of Oprah. But the teachers will not accompany the students through their lives, to protect them. In fact, feel-good education enslaves poor people by robbing them of the skills they need to protect themselves. If these tests finally blast these touchy feely autocrats out of the classroom, let's hear it for the tests.

Free Martha Stuart. Although the details have not kept A Mind That Suits up all night, it appears from reports that Martha Stuart may well have done what it seemed like she did when the SEC first announced they were investigating her, and that is panic when in fact she had done nothing wrong. Control freaks do this when they terrorize much small kingdoms. Martha is nothing if not a merciless control freak, and her empire stretcheth far. However, that stuff she sells though K-mart is really beautiful, and brings a lot of inexpensive joy to people who can never even dream of owning a billion-dollar coporation. The SEC was searching for a carefully coiffed scalp, and the charges, even if true, are trivial. A Mind That Suits may even begin to like the old harpy.

Besides, the SEC really has bigger fish to fry. The telecom bubble was caused by government, specifically, the EU, whose members pumped upwards of $300 BILLION chasing dreams when the whole thing should have been left to private enterprise. The Clinton administration ponied up something like 10% as much, and so bears some responsibility. Have any of the responsible officials been investigated as relentlessly as the Queen of Painfully Faked Smiles? Some of them are getting re-elected by bashing "greedy" corporations, but that's about it.

Two reflections from a visit to the old Alma Mater during the school year:

The cure is worse than the disease. There is no question that Stanford has waged a slow war of attrition against the fraternities. And they are close to winning. From 13 in 1979, (I think), they are now down to 6, although my own old frat, the Dekes, have been rebuilding and may well force the administration into an embarrassing decision. There was a certain sense to the campaign, in that most of the ones that are gone were major troublemakers. (We weren't--others nicknamed us the Geeks.) But those kind of boys are always going to be there, and it might be better to have them out of sight. One morning, I walked past the lounge in the dorm where I was an RA--many, many years ago-- and did a double take. Stanford dorms used to be strictly alcohol free. This lounge--in a freshman dorm, mind you--was littered with plastic beer cups, beer cans, and an empty bottle of liquor, one of those huge ones they only sell in California and a few other states. A recent grad commented, "at least in frats they have to clean it up themselves," which we did. Was it really so wise to get rid of the frats?

A refreshing anti-PC thing: even though Stanford led the way in calling freshmen "first years," they seem to still call themselves "freshmen."

Paul McCartney's Reputation Goes the Way of All Flesh... A Mind That Suits has a youngish friend--mid-20's--who is heavily into music. Surprise, surprise. He is sharp, heavy set, shaven-headed and opinionated. He is also the favorite bartender of A Mind That Suits, with whom he shares one passion: the Beatles. A Mind That Suits parked his carcass on a stool one night after enjoying Paul McCartney's epic farewell tour as it blew through DC, and told his friend about it, expecting him to respond, "Cool, man." But that is not what happened. "Oh," the youngish friend looked intrigued, "Paul McCartney did something good after the Beatles?"

There are three aspects to this comment that are funny. One is that of course Paul McCartney had a string of albums which have withstood the test of time, not to mention a boxload of classic singles. The other is that, good or not, Paul McCartney is the most popular entertainer of all time, bar none. (Elvis only comes out on top because McCartney's records are split in two.) The third is that nearly everyone born before 1960 had the same experience at some point in a record store in the 1970's: they overheard 14-year-olds who had found the Beatles section and were stunned. "Paul McCartney," the little blighters would blurt out, "was in a band before Wings?!?!?!?!"

"Why, yes," A Mind That Suits assured his bartender friend, giggling into his wine that couldn't be tasted for the smoke, "Paul McCartney made a LOT of wonderful music after the Beatles." So when this bartender decided to try other climes--specifically, Madison, Wisconsin--A Mind That Suits bought him a going away gift: McCartney's recent, breath-taking, career spanning greatest hits album. Very few artists have 50 songs they can legitimately call "Greatest Hits," but ol' Macca does. It is a wonderful album, and it doesn't have everything.

Said bartender was back in Washington for a few weeks, and made a comment that serves as a perfect bookend to his initial question, but first, a little background.

One may argue over how one describes the "Seventies Sound," but, as anyone who has seen the wonderful That '70's Show can attest, there is clearly something that can be identified as a " '70's style." (A Mind That Suits hates that show because it is 100% accurate, and the characters were all born, apparently, within 6 months of each other, and of A Mind That Suits. It embarrasses him, and makes him squirm.) In music, one could point out that the Sex Pistols were from the '70's, but Nevermind the Bollocks did not go gold until the '80's. If you define the '70's Sound by what one expected to hear when one snapped on the radio, one band clearly defined the decade the way the Beatles defined the '60's, and that band was Paul McCartney and Wings. From Up Against the Wall to Cheap Trick, beating Paul was what pop music was all about. You could even define Punk as "not Paul," since the punks said they were rebelling against what was going on in rock at the time, which was Paul. Given the sporadic output of John Lennon and George Harrison back then, A Mind That Suits found himself in many arguments with other young people who said that Paul McCartney was all there was to the Beatles.

And then John was murdered, and, for some reason, Paul's career sputtered out a few years thereafter, if you can describe a nuclear rocket ship as "sputtering out." A Mind That Suits began to find himself in arguments with people who maintained that John Lennon was all there was to the Beatles. He did not find this a comfortable position to be in--he has always been on the Lennon/Harrison side of things. But he has always been a fair person, and it takes a lot to minimize Paul McCartney's role in the Beatles.

The details of Paul's career in the last 20 years are interesting, in an antiseptic, analytical kind of way, but the main point is that he has not dominated public consciousness the way he dominated it, with few challengers, for the 20 years before that.

And so A Mind That Suits happily gave the greates hits package to his youngish friend, with the warning that much of it was precursor to the '80's Hair Bands.

What was the bartenders reaction? "I can't get into Wings. If I want to hear the Seventies Sound, I can listen to (list of second-tier, forgettable bands.) I don't have to listen to that."

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
(Thus passes the Glory of the World, for those of you who took no Latin.)

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 4:59 PM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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