Reader’s Digest, May 1961 – Part 1

{June 5, 2007}

Why am I live-blogging a 46-year-old copy of Reader’s Digest?  The short answer? ”Because nobody has any danged historical perspective anymore.” Besides, the niche is wide open. I pretty much own the old-Reader’s-Digest-live-blogging position. So here goes.

When this copy of Reader’s Digest (”Articles of Lasting Interest” it says on the cover) hit the grocery store check out lanes in April of 1961, I was not yet 18 months old. JFK had taken the oath of office only a few months earlier. The first ever airing of a Beatles song on American radio was still almost two years away.

Essentially, it was still the ’50s. What we think of as the ’60s wouldn’t really begin until the Kennedy assassination in the Autumn of ‘63.

On page 29 we find a full-page color ad for the new Chevy Corvair Monza.

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Note that the car comes equipped “with a de luxe steering wheel.” I wonder when deluxe quit being two words? Broken up like that, the modifier looks French.

The Corvair was a very cool and innovative car design that was ultimately killed by a publicity-grubbing, fear-mongering Ralph Nader. The murder weapon was his book, Unsafe at Any Speed. Years after the Corvair had been discontinued due to plummeting sales, tests by the NHTSA and several car magazines demonstrated that a lot of Nader’s accusations against the Corvair were bogus.

Nader, Unhinged in Any Era.

 

Ahhh, The “Atomic Age!”

{May 29, 2007}

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In a moment: One of the coolest web sites ever. But first a word of explanation.

I was born in 1959, which makes me a real sucker for the art and the whole vibe of the late fifties and early sixties. The cars were sleek and huge and had tailfins and the tailfins had lights that looked like rocket ships. (This was in all giddy anticipation of the flying cars we’d all be driving by the 1980s at the very latest.)

The picture above was for an ad for the Scripto Satellite. “The first pen designed and engineered for the atomic age!” the ad boasted. That’s another thing I love about the pre-Beatles, pre-Hippie era ”the view that “atomic” power was going to make everything either niftier or neato-er, or both.

I love every sub-atomic particle of the Eisenhower era. Well . . . except for Jim Crow laws and segregation. (”Waiter, I’ll have the king-sized portion of the Civil Rights Movement but hold the Sexual Revolution and go very easy on the Great Society. The latter tastes good going down, but gives me gas and destroys the urban black family structure.)

Thus, I about fell out under the power like I’d been hit with Benny Hinn’s Nehru jacket when I found Plan59.com, a web site devoted to late 1950s art, advertising and ephemera.

Poking around in that site makes me feel like a kid watching someone reach for a frozen pot pie. You know. . . like this.

 

Duty, Honor and Spoon Bending

{May 4, 2007}

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Is it any mystery that huge swaths of our culture seem confused about who the bad guys are in the world today?

I mention it because, I caught the last half of a report on NPR about cadets at West Point and the Army’s intensified efforts to teach them ethics—particularly battlefield ethics.

Sadly, today’s combat soldier not only has to put his life on the line in an extraordinarily complex situation. He has to do it with the knowledge that every split-second decision he makes amid the enveloping fog of war may be second guessed by a hostile media, a preening Congress, or a Hollywood celebrity who once played the wife of a soldier in a movie and therefore has both expertise and moral authority.

Thus, as the NPR report pointed out, West Point is intensifying its efforts to help soldiers make sound moral decisions in the heat of conflict.

But one particular snippet of the NPR story really caught my ear. From the transcript:

“I don’t know. I’ve always had a hard time with West Point trying to shove ethics down my throat,” said Tom Brejinski, a senior from Chicago. He says ethics are personal and subjective, and trying to teach a cadet the difference between right and wrong should not be the military’s role.

Of course, anyone who claims that ethics are “subjective and personal” has imbibed deeply of the spirit of this age—a conscience-dulling beverage that goes by the name “postmodernism.” It is a bracing thing to contemplate that we now have an entire generation of people entering adulthood who think like Cadet Brejinski.

Brjeniski and his fellow PoMos have been lied to by their teachers (the ranks of which were filled largely with unrepentant survivors of the sixties.)

The hard truth is, moral laws are no more subjective and personal than the laws of physics. (Of course the wildy popular Matrix trilogy of movies was, in part, an indulgement of the fantasy that the laws of physcis are subjective and personal, as well. “There is no spoon.”)

But as a sage once said, “We don’t break God’s laws. We break ourselves upon them.”

So here were are. A culture in which a desperate minority of us are saying, ”Actually, dude, there is a spoon. And if you jab it in your eye, you’re liable to put it out and then you’ll be short one eye. Just FYI.” On the other side you have a seething postmodern sea of Cadet Brejinskis who view these confident claims as intolerance and “cramming it down our throats”; who have come to believe no one person’s version of truth has a superior claim to validity than another’s, no matter what Nature and Nature’s God seem to be shouting about it.

This then is the culture that, within hours of the collapse of the World Trade Center, offered us this pearl of wisdom:

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”*

 

Chris Sligh, Glenn Greenwald, Mouth Bees and Me

{April 11, 2007}

Sorry, it’s taken two weeks to get this post finished and published. (Nothing like the immediacy of the blog medium!)

declared for Chris Sligh pretty early in this year’s American Idol competition. Like a lot of Americans, I really liked his wise-acre vibe and, of course, his singing style. I really became a fan when I saw a YouTube video of Chris and his band. It was flipping awesome.

Thus, I was puzzled when Chris abruptly seemed to have had his personality surgically removed after sassing Simon Cowell in Episode 11—something for which Chris apologized the following night. From that night forward, Chris’s heart just didn’t seem to be in it.

As it turns out, it wasn’t. In an interview with his hometown newspaper immediately after being voted off the show last week, Sligh revealed that he considered quitting the competition after Episode 11. Why? Because of the flood of vicious hatemail he received after saying the word “teletubbies” to Simon:

“Sligh said he held back on the dry humor for a couple of weeks because of the hate mail. “Some people said they wished I would die,” Sligh said. “When I got the hate mail I went, ‘Whoa, what the crap?’ It was just horrible, horrible things people wrote to me.”

Let’s pause and contemplate that for a moment. . .

A little longer, please. . .

Okay, that’s enough. Basically, we find ourselves living in a day in which significant numbers of people feel free to email a young guy in a musical game show and wish him a painful death. I’m with Chris. . .”What the crap?”

Of course our national epidemic of seething, freely-expressed rage is the theme of a much-discussed, important new book by Peter Wood called A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now.

That brings me to Glenn Greenwald—liberal writer/blogger for online magazine, Salon. A post by Cliff May on National Review’s blog, “The Corner” mentioned an online dispute/exchange May was having with Greenwald over the issue over public opinion about the war in Iraq. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’ve been deluged by e-mails all day calling me a liar and other nasty names. That’s because Glenn Greenwald over at Salon decided to sic his readers on me. Why? Because of the item I posted here yesterday asking Corner readers if there is evidence to support the left’s talking point that a majority of Americans now want out of Iraq – whatever the consequences.”

I read May’s and Greenwald’s relevant posts. What struck me about them was not the merits of their arguments but rather the stark contrast in tone and substance between the two.

 

The May post that got Greenwald so riled up was itself calmly worded, fact-oriented and even expressed an openness to seeing additional evidence. Greenwalds response (link above) was a tour-de-force in sarcasm, derision, straw man dismemberment and general red-herringry.

 

So I emailed Greenwald and pointed that out.  I didn’t comment on the substance of the argument. (Although, no surprise, I found may much more persuasive.) I only mentioned my observations about the differences in tone and style. I didn’t for a moment imagine that Greenwald gave a rip about what I thought. But he had encouraged his readers to give Cliff May an earful so I thought I might give him some thoughtful feedback instead.

 

But what should I find in my Inbox but a response from Greenwald. Before you read it, keep in mind that my email message didn’t address the substance of the debate he was having with May (about whether or not the public opinion polls indicate that the majority of the American people favor pulling out of Iraq no matter what the conseqences for America or her allies.) I just criticized Greenwald for substituting strident sarcasm for reasoned argument.

 

So what was Greenwald’s rebuttal? He wrote:

Absolutely.  Americans really love the war in Iraq – and Bush, too.  They want more war in Iraq, actually.  That’s because they are conservative, just like the Democrats they voted for.

They’re so conservative that they threw Republicans out of office for not being conservative enough.  They elected Democrats because they hoped the war in Iraq would continue longer.

Even when polls show the opposite, most Americans really agree with you – sometimes, it’s secret.  But it’s always the case that your views are the ones which most Americans believe.  It can’t be any other way.

Ahh. Okay then. I stand refuted.

 

Now I don’t think for a moment that mighty Glenn Greewald sat down and pecked that out on his keyboard just for little ol’ me. I think he copy-and-pasted that bile into every critical email he received regardless of the points or content. It just so happens that his response illustrated my point better than anything I could have possibly written.

 

We have entered a era of startling meanness in our public discourse. And if it feels like the most vicious and vitriolic spewage comes from people of the left, it is because it does. And if you haven’t noticed, you’re not paying attention.

 

The Spine-Dissolving Power of a State Deptartment Job

{March 30, 2007)

James Lileks made me laugh out loud today (again). He was mentioning how much Condoleezza Rice’s tough foreign policy image has suffered since becoming Secretary of State. He writes: “…she sank up to her waist in Peace Process quicksand, and the only reason she hasn’t sunk to her neck is because she’s standing on the shoulders of those who have been swallowed whole before.”

Then he writes:

“Then again, I’m starting to think that you could put Godzilla in charge of State, and in two months he’d be four feet tall, breathing perfume, and proposing a Tokyo-reconstruction loan program and a six-point program for getting Mothra to sit down with Gamara.”

Read the whole Bleat.