On Lion Ted

Lion Ted

What follows is the inevitable violation of my pledge not to speak of Donald Trump again prior to the election. (You called it, reader Ted.)  I’m about to do so only in the context of responding to some requests I’ve received to share my thoughts about Sen. Cruz’s non-endorsement speech at the Republican Convention last week.

But first, as is often the case with me, a little historical context . . .

In February of 1988, two candidates were locked in a heated battle to be the Republican nominee for President. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole  mounted a serious challenge to Vice-President George H. W. Bush’s plans to succeed Ronald Reagan in the White House.

Dole had massive momentum coming out of a strong win in the Iowa caucuses and heading into the New Hampshire primaries. Bush, the sitting vice-president and consensus favorite, had come in a distant third in Iowa. (Do you recall who finished second? Pat Robertson!)

Suddenly, New Hampshire became a must-win for for the stumbling Bush campaign. Not surprisingly, Bush went negative—attacking some of Dole’s past Senate votes throughout the New Hampshire primary. When the votes were tallied on February 16, 1988 Bush won New Hampshire by nine points.

In an inteview with NBC News later that night, Tom Brokaw asked a clearly dissappointed Dole if there was any thing he’d like to say to Bush.

Cranky Bob

Stop lying about me. And get off my lawn.

Dole groused, “Tell him to stop lying about my record.”

{Cue the sounds of a record needle being dragged across a record; men gasping in horror; women fainting; and the media shifting into high dudgeon mode.}

Dole’s testy use of the word “lying” became an instant scandal. Political historians widely view this as the moment Dole lost his chance to become president.

For days afterward, media headlines and office watercooler chatter revovled around the question of whether Dole’s cranky use of the “L” word revealed that he didn’t have the temperament or character to be President of the United States.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Only seven presidential elections ago, simply saying your opponent was lying disqualified you for the White House in this nation because you were clearly some sort of loose cannon.

That was then. Now . . .

The new Democrat nominee just narrowly avoided a federal indictment in the middle of the primary but instead was only declared to have been “extremely careless” bordering on “gross negligence” with national security secrets.

And, as I noted here, the Republicans just nominated a man who uses boasts and insults as a substitute for arguments and schoolyard taunts in place of reasoned rebuttals.

In response to critiques of his policy positions, he reflexively resorts to crass mockery of his oppenent’s appearance or name. A few examples from the primaries:

  • Lyin’ Ted; “liar, crazy, or very dishonest” (Ted Cruz)
  • Little Marco; “this little guy”; “total joke artist” (Marco Rubio)
  • “this low energy guy”; “a loser”; “a pathetic figure”  (Jeb Bush)
  • “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” (Carly Fiorina)
  • “ran him out of the race like a little boy” (Lindsay Graham)
  • “a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain” (Rand Paul)
  • “should be forced to take an IQ test” (Rick Perry)
  • “pathological”; “a sick puppy”; “incapable of understanding foriegn policy” (Ben Carson)
triumph

Winning. You can’t spell Triumph without Trump.

In other words, “lying” may the most gracious, temperate thing Mr. Trump said about any of his opponents in the primaries. And it worked. Running as Triumph: The Insult Comic Dog cost him nothing. Two weeks ago the Republian party made him their standard bearer.

Keep in mind, Mr. Trump has shown little interest in wooing or reassuring the sizable portion of the Republican base that supported Ted Cruz.

On the contrary, three weeks before the convention, Trump was still dragging out the “Lyin’ Ted” smear in front of the microphones out on the campaign trail.

That’s right. With the nomination already sown up and Cruz out of the race, Trump was still using precious media minutes—not to criticize Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama—but rather to jab a stubby thumb in the eyes of Cruz’ voters one more time.

I was flabbergasted when I saw it. I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This has to be some old footage, I hoped. Nope.

In a moment in which a rational candidate should be seeking to reassure and woo and the supporters of his most successful rival, Trump was going out of his way to rub salt in their wounds.

Hand to heaven, the thought passed through my mind that Trump doesn’t really want to win. That his fragile, insatiable ego is enjoying the attention but doesn’t want the headaches, responsibilities, or constraints of actually governing. (And that was before I saw this!)

“The Speech”

Which brings us to Ted Cruz and his now infamous speech before the Republican National Convention. As you probably know, Cruz’s decision not to endorse Trump, and to close his address with the words, “Vote your conscience,” enraged many, disappointed others, and bewildered the rest.

Cruz was booed off the stage and instantly vilifed for being “self-serving” and “selfish.” He “betrayed” his party. He was “cowardly.” It was a cold “political calculation” designed to advance his own personal interests rather the interests of the party and the nation.

Every word of this is nonsense on stilts—but that last bit most of all.

Cruz was most likely setting fire to any future national aspirations with that speech, and he knew it.

No, the move most in alignment with Cruz’s self-interest and future political prospects was to bow to party pressure, hold his nose, and endorse the bloviating, know-nothing gas-bag clearly troubled individual. The next-best, next-least-career-damaging option for Cruz was simply to stay home, as Ohio governor John Kasich did.

Cruz took neither of these path-of-least-resistance options. In my view, he took the path of honor. Allow me to explain.

Keep in mind that the RNC, with Team Trump’s approval, invited Cruz to speak in a prime time slot. Keep in mind that all were given copies of his speech in advance.

Also keep in mind that during the primary campaign, Mr. Trump saved his nastiest and lowest smears for Cruz. (Yes, I know all political campaigns turn ugly and run negative ads. I’m not naive. But Trump’s attacks on Cruz were orders of magnitude beyond the pale.)

They are legion. But two of the most egregious of these were Mr. Trump’s repeated references to a nutball conspiracy theory that Ted Cruz’s father, a devout evangelical Christian, played some role in the assassination of JFK.

Even worse was Mr. Trump’s approving retweet of a rabid Trump fan’s side-by-side comparison of Cruz’s wife, Heidi, with Melania Trump, a former model, featuring a particularly unflattering shot of Mrs. Cruz:

Trump-TweetBy the way, for the record, here’s a couple of more-representative samples of Heidi Cruz’s grotesque visage. Brace yourself:

heidi-cruz 2

Heidi Cruz

I warned you.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since 1988. Today, being the kind of candidate willing to say, “my wife is so much hotter, so vote for me” actually works with a large swath of the American electorate.

What a time to be alive.

My point is that Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement speech at the RNC had absolutely nothing to do with selfishness or self-promotion, and everything to do with family honor.

That’s right. Honor. An old-fashioned and nearly extinct concept in our postmodern era.

In other words, I believe Cruz chose to walk into a no-win situation simply because being a loyal husband and son means more to him than being a successful politican. Isn’t this at the heart of the explanation he offered in a meeting with the Texas delegation the very next day?:

“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father. That pledge [to support the Republican nominee] was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.”–Sen. Ted Cruz

Why not take him at his word? It’s just too simple for many to grasp. Most in our dying culture are too jaded and cynical to believe a politician can choose principle over self-promotion. But there it is. And it is perfectly consistent with the way Cruz has handled himself since entering the Senate.

Before announcing his candidacy for president, Cruz was already one of the most unpopular figures in Washington precisely because he stubbornly refuses to play the game. Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn was like this, but Cruz is Coburn on steriods.

It is clear to me that Ted Cruz is constitutionally incapable of compromising his principles to advance his own interests—of “going along to get along.”

Frankly, I’m really not interested in hearing complaints about Cruz from any person who has ever whined about how all politicians abandon their values once they get to Washington, and put career advancement above their principles.

Here is one who didn’t, and it seems to be wildly unpopular.

Running to the Left

As I write here in the days immediately following the Democrat’s convention, Mr. Trump displays much more interest in wooing Bernie Sanders voters than courting skeptical conservatives like me. This speaks volumes about Trump’s ideology (or lack thereof.)

It actually makes some political sense because Trump is running to Hillary’s left on a number of issues—among them national defense, trade, and a couple of other issues. In other words, a number of Trump positions are more in line with the left-wing Bernie voters than than conservative Cruz fans.

Me? I’m with Lion Ted.

I plan to vote my conscience. I’ll try to explain what that looks like in an upcoming post. (Just as soon as I figure it out.)

Giving Honor Where Honor is Due

I attended a funeral service in the old hometown in Oklahoma yesterday.  Dr. J. N. Baker was of one of the finest Christian men it has ever been my privilege to know. He was 96 when he passed into heaven last week and was buried with full military honors yesterday.

At my house growing up he was a respected and beloved family friend, and very much a surrogate grandfather to my younger sisters. For many who knew him as the former Dean of Students at OSU and then the president of Eastern Oklahoma State College where my parents were on the faculty — he was always “Dr. Baker.”

For the thousands of fighting men who served under him in both World War II and the Korean conflict, he eventually became “General Baker.”

He was born in 1919 in rural southeastern Oklahoma but was orphaned before he was old enough to begin attending the one-room school nearby. One of his daughters noted at his service that he liked to observe: “My parents came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, yet I’ve lived to see men walk on the moon and to hold a powerful computer in the palm of my hand.”

ThunderbirdIn the 1930s he joined the Oklahoma National Guard while still in high school. (Apparently that was possible back then.) For the next three decades he was an integral part of the Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Division—the Thunderbirds—established in 1920. The 45th was one of the very first guard units called up when the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.

In 1943 the Thunderbirds were part of the tip of the spear in the invasion of Italy, beginning with the amphibious assault on Sicily and then the intense fighting at Anzio and Monte Casino.

This was followed by an amphibious invasion of southern France at Dragoon, then the push across France and into Germany. Ultimately it would be the 45th that liberated the infamous German concentration camp at Dachau.

Their work finally done, the division got to come home in 1945. Five short years later Cold War hostilities erupted on the Korean peninsula. At that point, only 20% of the men of the 45th had fought in WWII, but Dr. Baker was one of them.

Eventually, he became the Thunderbird’s final commanding General, serving from 1964 to 1968.

Three surviving World War II veterans who served with him were there at the funeral to pay their respects  yesterday. Yes, members of ” the Greatest Generation” were in the house — but we’re losing them rapidly. Soon the last of them will be gone.

However, it wasn’t the military man my family knew and loved—although his perfect posture and a meticulous, squared-away approach he brought to every project and enterprise hinted at his training. Otherwise, you might never have guessed his background and rank.

He wasn’t the course, gravely George Patton stereotype. Quite the opposite. He was soft-spoken, humble, gentle, immensely thoughtful, and carried a deep, abiding faith in God.

He a was regular guest at my parent’s Sunday table for lunch after his cherished Helen, his wife of 64 years, died after a long illness that left her blind in her final years.

Whenever someone would remark admiringly about the tender, extraordinary efforts he was expending in caring for her in those years of heartbreaking decline, he would smile and brush them off. “She took care of me for sixty years. It’s my privilege to take care of her now.”

Whenever any of us was home for a weekend visit, it was our privilege to participate in those lunches with him. As the elder statesman at the table, the honor of blessing the meal frequently fell to him.

I remember being deeply impacted by one of those Sunday lunch prayers a few years ago. I can honestly say it changed me.

As we prepared to dive into mom’s pot roast, it wasn’t his prayer’s eloquence or profundity that marked my soul that day. It was the genuine gratitude that welled up out of his heart and flowed from his lips.

“Heavenly Father, you’ve been so very good to us. (long pause) . .  Thank you. (longer pause) Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . “

This was no perfunctory, religious saying of “grace” over a meal. Those repeated thank yous were an offering.

Thank you, Dr. Baker.

I’m grateful to have had the example of a life so well-lived.  Strength in kindness. Confidence in servanthood. Gratitude in selflessness. Cheer in hardship. This was the gold standard of Christian manhood.

Now he has joined that great cloud of witnesses who waits to see how we’ll run the balance of our races.

You’ll have to excuse me now . . . I’m suddenly feeling the need to lay aside some weights.

J. N. Baker (1919-2016)

Crowdsourcing Bad Information

 

FindingYourRoots

Here at Hacienda Holland,  we enjoy watching the PBS show “Finding Your Roots”—where each week three celebrities, politicians and other people of note have their family trees researched by professionals and learn previously unknown and often startling facts about their ancestors. It’s a fascinating and often quite moving viewing experience.

For example, this week’s episode profiled the genealogies of Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear, and Bill Hader (formerly of SNL.) You can watch that episode here.

Lear learned that several branches of his direct Jewish ancestors came to America fleeing horrific, genocidal pogroms in Russia. He also discovered he carries the Cohanim gene, meaning that he is likely descended from the priestly Hebrew tribe of Levi.

Hader, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was stunned to discover he is a direct descendant of the 9th Century emperor Charlemagne.

FamilyTreeA few years ago I bought Mrs. H a subscription to Ancestry dot com for her birthday after she’d expressed some curiosity about her roots (she’s half Czech).

Research, however, is one of my super-powers, not hers (she has many others). As a result, I have been the one who has spent the most time online trying to fill in blanks on our respective family trees.

Originally, the Ancestry dot com site simply allowed subscribers to search record archives (births, deaths, baptisms, census records, etc.) and then start building a family tree based on the information they discovered. Eventually, the site—due to popular demand from users, no doubt—began to let members share their family trees and related research with others.

This is where it all went horribly, hilariously wrong.

Oh sure, this feature was great at first. It allowed you to glom onto the hours of painstaking work some diligent, meticulous researcher had put in determining the parentage of some common ancestor. With a couple of mouse clicks you could grab all that information and watch it pop right into your own tree.

The problem is that this same feature also allows bad information to go viral, spreading through Ancestry dot com family trees like Dutch Elm disease.

And the internet’s genealogy sites are awash in bad information. Really, really bad. Why?

Because, when researching one’s genealogy, there’s nothing more frustrating than hitting a dead end. Human nature being what it is, many people address that frustration by attaching their family line to a branch to which it doesn’t belong.

This is doubly tempting when that branch has some cool factor. You see, everyone wants to be Bill Hader, tracing his or her lineage back to the European royalty or a famous person in history.

It only takes one person erroneously connecting their ancestor to the wrong person to lead astray thousands of others who share that same ancestor. And clearly people are easily led astray—just uncritically assuming everything presented to them is correct.

Anytime I’m researching my family lines, I’m presented with countless suggestions—based on other users’ trees—that contain one or more of the following based on the associated dates:

  • Men who became fathers when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth with they were 73 or 74 or 104 years old.
  • People who are older than their parents.
  • Couples who give two of their children the same first name.

The greatest safeguard against falling prey to these errors is the ability to do simple math (subtraction mainly) and a rudimentary understanding of the human reproductive cycle–two skills that are clearly rarer than I’d previously presumed.

growthcurveNevertheless, it’s fascinating to see how one individual’s mistake can snowball into something huge and seemingly universally accepted. Two or three people replicate that one person’s error. Then others observe that three or four people seem to all agree. Soon it seems like hundreds of people have all reached the same conclusion. It must be true!

Which reminds me . . .

Something very similar roughly seventeen centuries ago may be the reason we’ve all been taught that John, the Beloved discipled, penned the book of Revelation in the A.D. 90s when John was in his 90s.

But I’ll save that for another day.

The Biggest, Under-Reported News Story of 2015

Media Self-Censorship

In the 1850s and ’60s, courageous writers exposed readers to the horrors of slavery and the Abolitionist Movement was born.

In the early 1900s, Upton Sinclair pulled back the curtain and gave America a horrifying look at the meat-packing industry, triggering a public outcry that produced significant reforms.

In the same era, other journalists, who Teddy Roosevelt admiringly dubbed “muckrakers,” went undercover to expose other festering societal cancers to the light of day.

Fast-forward to 2015. As I pointed out in this blog post, journalism is largely dead.

Today the the entire news gathering, news reporting apparatus in the United States is wholly dedicated not to keeping the powerful accountable but rather keeping liberals/Progressives in power and advancing the liberal/Progressive agenda.

Some journalists now take talking points directly from the White House. Many others participate in large email listservs that allow them to shape coverage and therefore shape narratives. (See the JournoList Scandal for example)

Media bias doesn’t just manifest in the way stories are covered. It’s most insidious manifestation is in the way certain stories are ignored (see: Benghazi/Hillary/”What difference, at this point, does it make?”)

The American deaths and heroics at Benghazi, and the subsequent government cover-up, was the most underreported story of 2013. So what about this last year—2015?

That would be the explosive exposé by The Center for Medical Progress of Planned Parenthood’s gruesome harvesting and marketing of baby parts. Over the course of six months in 2015 the courageous group released  a series of videos of clandestinely taped conversations with various Planned Parenthood officials.

The released videos included:

Planned Parenthood Uses Partial-Birth Abortions to Sell Baby Parts

Second Planned Parenthood Senior Executive Haggles Over Baby Parts Prices, Changes Abortion Methods

Planned Parenthood VP Says Fetuses May Come Out Intact, Agrees Payments Specific to the Specimen

Human Capital – Episode 2: Inside the Planned Parenthood Supply Site

Human Capital – Episode 3: Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Superior Product

Top Planned Parenthood Exec: Baby Parts Sales “A Valid Exchange,” Can Make “A Fair Amount of Income”

Planned Parenthood TX Abortion Apprentice Taught Partial-Birth Abortions to “Strive For” Intact Baby Brains

“PROFIT” – Planned Parenthood’s Illicit Moneymaking From Baby Body Parts

“HARVEST” – Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Better Baby Parts

In a fairer, more just world the content these videos would have unleashed a firestorm of media attention so ferocious that Planned Parenthood would have been fully defunded and no donor this side of Josef Mengele would have given it a penny.

Obviously, that is not the world we’re living in. The mainstream media completely ignored the first few videos. In fact, the first time most of the major news outlets even acknowledged the existence of the bombshell exposé is when Planned Parenthood issued an official response.

The truth about Benghazi could not be suppressed. Americans are finally learning the truth. Hopefully the horrifying truth about Planned Parenthood’s barbarism will not stayed buried either.

However, as I write, Planned Parenthood, with deep pockets from fat-cat donors and taxpayer dollars, is suing The Center for Medical Progress.

How 9/11 Happened

Fourteen years later, the best guide to understanding how the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. were planned and executed remains Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

TheLoomingTower

 

It is a masterwork of research, journalism and storytelling. It is also a powerful inoculation against the brain-warping disease of “9/11 Trutherism.” I use the word “inoculation” with purpose. Apparently once infected, there is no cure. I’ve never encountered a 9/11 Truther who could be persuaded of anything real, rational or logical, no matter how patently obvious. There is no rebuttal to “That’s just what they want you to think.”

The Logic of “Equality”

participation-medal

To achieve equality of outcome among all people (as opposed to equal opportunity) the government must keep us from failing.

To keep us from failing requires preventing us from making bad choices.

To keep us from making bad choices requires eliminating choice.

This is the inescapable logic of egalitarianism and the reason why all socialist projects end in totalitarianism and oppression.

 

One Final Mad Men Peeve

meditation

Before I just let it go and move on, I thought I’d point out one additional annoying, yea, even galling aspect of the way the writers of Mad Men chose to rescue Don Draper from his eight-year-long free-fall of drink, deception, and debauchery.  That is, to have him stagger into a touchy-feely retreat center built around a blend of Eastern mysticism and hippie humanism.

Here’s why that cheeses me off.

As I mentioned in the previous dissertation post, the overarching premise of the entire Mad Men series is that women were treated horribly by Neanderthal men in the years before the feminist movement. But here’s the thing.

The cultures built wholly on Eastern Mysticism—Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist religion—are some of the worst places on Earth to be a woman.

India, for example, is the headwaters of the river of hippie New Age gobbledy-goop that started flowing into our culture like the nasty Ganges in the late ’60s. Thanks Beatles.

Maharishi Beatles

Look at John—hanging on every word of the Maharishi. George has already chugged the Kool-Aid. Paul knows it’s B.S. but he’s here for the weed. Ringo wishes he was somewhere else. Anywhere else.

I currently work with or support about a half-dozen ministries that are working in India—striving mightily to make it a little less of a hellish place to be a female. Same goes for Nepal and Tibet. And China? . . .

Can you point to a single solitary woman in China with any meaningful power or authority? In government or business? Just one?

Women in DangerThe only places on the planet in which it is worse for women than societies built upon Eastern mysticism are Islamic cultures. The animistic societies of Africa aren’t a picnic for females either.

In fact, across the globe, life is best for women where Christianity has had the largest impact on the culture. The least Christian places are the most oppressive for girls and women.

The clear and indisputable testimony of History is that wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ has taken root and become a pervasive influence in the creation of the culture, the lot of women has radically improved. In societies built upon Christian presuppositions—such as those in Europe, North America, and Latin America—women enjoy the most equality and highest status. This is the case even when the vast majority of the population has reverted to paganism (Hi there, Europe!)

This is no accident or coincidence.

One of the many effects of the radical, transformative revolution Jesus unleashed; and that has been spreading from East to West across the planet; is the elevation of women to a place of equality with men. And it does so without destroying the God-given distinctives and differences between the sexes.

As I mentioned, in any given month I do work for about a half-dozen organizations that are working to ameliorate a little of the suffering experienced by women and girls in India and the Far East. The needs are overwhelming precisely because Eastern religions spawn cultures that view women as livestock.

Which brings us back to the Mad Men finale . . . This is what makes free-falling Don Draper’s rescue in the arms of Eastern mysticism so . . . well, maddening.

As I noted in my previous post, the series was essentially about the oppression of women. Clearly, the writers, like most post-Christian Americans, have no understanding that if America were built upon the presuppositions of Eastern mysticism rather than those of Christianity, the country would be just another third-world hell-hole for women and girls.

In one of the final few episodes of Mad Men, an angry, unpleasant character shouts at Don that he needs to turn to Jesus.

Of course, that was actually good advice. In fact, it’s good advice for any society that cares about the rights and well-being of women and girls.

Jesus, Mary & Martha

Jesus, Mary & Martha

 

Bad Men: The End of Mad Men

mad-men-2

The series Mad Men ended the other night after a celebrated eight-year, seven-season run. The show was consistently brilliant in many respects. Amazingly executed, written and performed. But I was a little slow on the uptake where the series  was concerned—in more ways than one.

For one thing, I didn’t start watching until midway through the second season. I was hearing lots of buzz so I checked it out, and was immediately drawn in on two fronts. The first was the show’s meticulous . . . make that maniacal . . . recreation of the early ’60s in every detail. I was born in 1959, so my earliest memories are of that era.

Long-time readers will know that I have a soft spot for Mid-Century ephemera and design. (A glance at all the headers from my old blog will confirm this.) (As will the vintage 1964 Omega Seamaster watch I’m wearing as I type these words.)

So at first I enjoyed watching just to bathe in details of each set. For me, and many other loyal viewers, nostalgia was a big attraction. Behold . . . Mid-Century Modern awesomness . . .

Mad Men Reception Area

I want to go to there.

The second attraction for me was the window the show offered into the inner workings of a NYC ad agency. As a child, my favorite episodes of Bewitched were the ones that showed Darren Stevens in his role as an ad man at the firm of McMann & Tate. Anytime an episode featured Darren working on a new campaign or trying to come up with a new slogan, I was fascinated.

In fact, I recall thinking that Darren Stevens’ job was precisely what I wanted to do when I grew up. And in a strange way, that’s what happened.

It was only after watching Mad Men for a few seasons and then going back to watch the series from the very first episode that the worldview and agenda of the show—created and guided by Michael Weiner—became abundantly clear to me. (As I mentioned, I was a little slow to catch on.)

A simplified summation of the show’s theme and message is this:

“Men are pigs.”

Or to be more precise, “Straight, white men are pigs—at least they all were back in the day . . . before the noble cultural revolutions of the ’60 overturned the oppressive order and put us on the path to cultural enlightenment.”

That’s the pervasive, overarching, unfolding narrative of Mad Men. And all one really has to do to see this is the case is merely watch the very first and last episodes of the series back to back.

The pilot is set in in March of 1960. The events of the final episode occur in November of 1970. They bookend a decade of extraordinary cultural, moral and technological change.

Drinking DonIn the pilot episode, Don Draper is introduced to us as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, philandering, anti-Semitic, arrogant cad.

Roger Sterling: Hey have we hired any Jews here?

Don Draper: Not on my watch.

But we soon discover Don is actually one of the more sympathetic men in Weiner’s caricature world. Indeed, every other male we encounter in this fictional universe (with two significant exceptions) are the most horrible and horrifying human beings you’ve ever observed.

Every single scene of the first episode is a freak show of misogyny, racism, entitlement, crudity, rude-ity, and  cringe-inducing frat-boy boorishness.

Every woman in the pilot is always and only running a harrowing gauntlet of sexual harassment punctuated by insulting condescension. Some, like the va-va-voomy head secretary Joan, have learned to enjoy the attention. But most just try to put on a brave face and periodically retreat to the bathroom to sob.

Mad Men ElevatorI mentioned there were two exceptions to the “men are monsters” theme of the first episode (and indeed the entire series.) They were the closeted, repressed homosexual art director, Salvatore; and the frustrated novelist copywriter, Paul—a marxist intellectual (who in the first few episodes seems to be the only white person on earth who can actually see the black elevator operator.)

Other than these, there are no male characters with even a shred of decency—much less nobility. None. It’s bad husbands, bad fathers and bad bosses as far as the eye can see.

In other words, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men was viciously, relentlessly anti-male.

Validating Liberal Mythology: Redeeming the Sick ’60s

hippiesConservatives tend to believe that our nation lost it’s way in the 1960s. That the drug culture; the sexual revolution; the rejection of traditional sex roles; the abandonment of marriage and family as the organizing paradigm of society; and the embrace of Marxist-Socialist premises about how the world works economically; set our nation on a disastrous course.

One from which we’ve never recovered.

Liberals like to believe the opposite–but point almost exclusively to the Civil Rights Movement to make their case. The argument over the 60s usually goes something like this:

Conservative: “Fatherless-ness in this country is a heartbreaking tragedy—creating widespread poverty, crime and imprisonment rates. Back in the 50s most kids got to grow up on a two-parent family and our society was much better for it.”

Liberal: “Oh, so you want to go back to the ‘good old days’ of separate water fountains for blacks and whites, eh, Hitler? You probably have a Klan hood hidden in your sock drawer.”

Conservative: “Um, no. It’s just that a lot of the key supports under-girding our civilization were deliberately knocked out in the 60s.”

Liberal: “You mean like the Jim Crow laws? Why do you hate black people?”

Conservative: “That’s not at all what I’m . . . oh, nevermind.”

It’s true that conservatives were largely wrong about the civil rights movement, mainly because they couldn’t find a way to separate it from the larger cultural battle taking place over traditional values; or from the Cold War paradigm (the threat of the Soviet driven spread of global Marxist-socialism) that permeated every other aspect of life in the ’60s.

In other words, the civil rights movement was presented to most Americans as only one element in a Protestlarger bundle of societal changes being relentlessly pushed by Progressives. That bundle included rejection of capitalism in favor of Marxist redistribution of wealth and the rejection of the notion of private property.

It is no coincidence that Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his “War on Poverty” legislation were presented  simultaneously and as two halves of a whole.

The former was noble and necessary. The latter was arguably the worst thing to happen to black people since the first Portuguese slave ships showed up off the west coast of Africa.

In retrospect, conservatives were wrong to oppose the first and absolutely correct in opposing the second. Unfortunately, the two were inseparable.

If you read conservative essays from the ’60s you’ll find lots of hand-wringing about whether or not civil rights leaders were being influenced or financed by Soviet front groups. These fears may seem comical now, but the concerns were very real at the time. And, as we learned after the collapse of the Soviet Union made lots of Kremlin records available to researchers—the Soviets were indeed actively encouraging, not to mention financing, a lot of Progressive groups and campus rabble rousers—and had been for decades.

Many of these ended up running the country in the ’90s and beyond . . .

God help us.

God help us.

So the dispassionate verdict of history is that conservatives were wrong about the Civil Rights Movement and right about everything else. But liberals don’t like that verdict. So, on to . . .

Validating Liberal Mythology: Redeeming the Dreadful ’60s

mad-men-header

In response, Matthew Weiner seems to have written Mad Men as an attempt to redeem the cultural upheavals of late ’60s by painting the world of the early ’60s in the darkest possible shades.

  • He refutes critiques of the sexual revolution by depicting virtually every person in the Mad Men world as being sexually amoral and in constant violation of their marriage vows.
  • He negates condemnation of the drug culture by making every character a high-functioning alcoholic and chain smoker.
  • He attacks negative perceptions of the feminist movement, as I mentioned above, by creating a world in which every straight white man is insulting, selfish, abusive, harassing, and belittling to women.

In other words, it’s the typical Progressive argument. That is, the ’60s didn’t really represent a change in behaviors. It just made all the depravity less hypocritical by moving it out in the open.

By Eastern New Age Group Therapy Are Ye Saved

Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

I’m crushing this meditating thing.

The most disappointing (but given everything I’ve already cited, not all that surprising) aspect of the way the series ended (spoiler alert) is having Don Draper—hitting rock bottom— find peace and enlightenment at a New Age-y group therapy retreat camp on the California coast.

Observers have noted that the place Don lands is surely modeled on a place called the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The place was ground zero for something in the sixties called the “Human Potential Movement.”

In the final episode Don stumbles into the place and ends up in a series of group therapy sessions in which the participants are incessantly asked about their feelings. “How does that make you feel?” has become a jokey cliche associated with quack psychiatry, but in these groups this is taken to absurd levels.

How does my shirt make you feel?

“Carl, how does that make you feel?”

“And John, how do you feel about how that makes him feel?”

And so on.

That’s right. Mad Men ends with America’s most iconic selfish rogue being transformed into a touchy-feely new age sensitive guy through the power of meditation, hugging and hippie love.

Ask my wife . . . As this became clear the first time I viewed the finale, I started yelling at the television:

“Are you serious?! You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I haven’t been as let down by a series finale since LOST wrapped up.

But there was one aspect of the transformations that occurred in the sixties that Weiner & Co. couldn’t conceal—not and still remain true to their fanatical devotion to recreating the period’s look and feel. I’m talking about how hideously ugly everything got as the decade of the sixties progressed.

Plaid Men

Plaid MenWhat this series makes massively clear is that in one short decade this culture lost its collective mind where design and aesthetics are concerned. Everything—architecture, clothing, art, typography—went to hell.

We started with the clean, classy Mid-Century furnishings that are so prized today. Here’s Roger Sterling’s office in 1960:

Roger's Office 1960

Roger’s Office 1960

Here’s Roger’s office nine years later . . .

Roger's Office 1969


This is now the enhanced interrogation suite at Guantanamo.

In which space would you rather spend your days?

Those two pictures pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the the sixties—the decade the wheels came off.

We’ve Seen This Before, Pt. 3

1666

It’s been a while since I’ve submitted an installment of my runaway hit blog series “We’ve Seen This Before.” An email flooded in this week asking if a new installment was in the works (thanks, honey) so I thought I’d tap out another one of these little exercises in historical perspective.

I wrote the first of these back in September of last year when the nation was fully in the throes of the Ebola panic. As you may recall, at the height of EbolaFest 2014 (U.S. headquarters, Dallas, TX), a lot of folks were convinced that at least three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were already saddled up with their steeds impatiently pawing at the ground.

So, if you need to catch up on this series, you’ll find parts 1 and 2, here and here. And now for Part 3 . . .

Maidenhead, England–1660s

For this episode, I want you to imagine you’re living outside of London in the middle part of the 17th Century—let’s say 1660.

From your vantage point just outside one of western civilization’s largest cities, you are increasingly certain that all four of the world’s wheels have come off and that the planet is careening out of control down history’s freeway on rims—sparks flying—as God the Driver laughs maniacally with His hands off of the steering wheel.

Today,  historians politely refer to this period as The General Crisis—a period characterized, as Wikipedia tells us, by “a widespread break-down in politics, economics and society caused by a complex series of demographic, religious, economic and political problems.”

But in 1650 this era is more commonly known to you and other people living through it as simply, “All the poop, hitting all the fans, all the time.”

Speaking of the Horsemen . . .  War, Famine, Pestilence & Death pretty much own the 17th Century like a boss . . . actually like four, cruel, remorseless, sadistic bosses.

Drab Four

Jerks.

War

Beginning in 1618, the “Thirty Years War” starts as a slap fight between Catholics and Protestants in Germany but soon engulfs almost every nation on the continent and drowns everyone in blood. People obviously won’t start calling it “The Thirty Years War” until it is officially over in 1648 and someone does the math.  Prior to this, everyone in Europe just calls it “Life.” . . . “In Hell.”

The war bankrupts all the participating nations; leaves one-third to one-half of the population dead in many regions; devastates the local economies and agriculture; and just generally tees everything up nicely for the next rider . . . Pestilence.

Thirty years of war wasn’t enough, however. On your little island, and all over the world, its still all wars and rumors of wars all the time. In quick succession, your home country, England, experiences the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639–51), The Protectorate civil war (1653-59), and the Glorious Revolution (1688) is just a few years away.

Scores of other bloody, little wars rage around the world, as well. France is in a full-blown civil war called The Fronde (Oh, the French. Only they could come up with such a precious name for an ugly war.) You read in The Times that the Ming Dynasty in China has collapsed, after ruling most of Asia for three centuries.

Pestilence

For a couple of hundred years you and your ancestors have been watching plagues sweep through Europe and England–wiping out appalling numbers of people each time. Cheerily labeled The Black Death, this scourge has killed, by some estimates, 200 million people. It’s hard to say because the few people who can count that high keep dying. In one particularly busy five year period, it kills nearly 50 percent of Europe’s population.

In your own neck of the woods, you watch the plague tear London a new one in 1665, killing roughly 100,000 people.

Great_plague_of_london-1665

The healthiest thing in this picture is the guy smoking.

As if Nature weren’t already being enough of a complete rectum,  you and the rest of the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere are also contending with completely off-the-hook, too-outlandish-for-Hollywood climate change, leading to lots and lots of awesome . . .

Famine

Scientists in the 21st century will have an adorable name for your era—“The Little Ice Age.” The world experienced a period of ridiculously cold weather throughout a 300-year period beginning in about 1550. That’s right, everyone everywhere pretty much froze their hindquarters off for three centuries. But Nature has saved the very worst of it for your generation. Climate researchers point to 1650 as the “climactic minimum” of the Little Ice Age.

Minimum being a technical, scientific term for being able to walk across the Thames River every winter because it is frozen solid.

It's a good thing we have central heat and well insulated hou . . . oh dang.

It’s a good thing we have central heat and well insulated hou . . . oh dang.

For your entire life, not only have winters been bone-crunchingly long and cold, but the summers have been absurdly cool and short. Think puny harvests and outright crop failure. And not just for a year or even two. But year after year; decade after decade. The world is a cold, cold place and no one alive can remember when it wasn’t.

Economic Collapse

On top of everything else, the price of everything you need to survive is soaring. One of the things that made The General Crisis of the 17th century so chock-full of crisis-y goodness was runaway inflation.

End Times Expectancy

Not surprisingly, this perfect storm of misery, cataclysm and death has you and everybody else convinced that the End of Days is at hand. You’ve not only read The Apocalypse of St. John—you’ve been living the movie, over and over—Ground Hog Day style.

Numerous candidates for the Anti-Christ are put forth in widely circulated pamphlets and condemned from countless pulpits.

Of course, you’re taking all this in from your vantage point in Maidenhead, England—a few miles west of London, population 500,000—in the Year of Our Lord 1665. Toward the end of the year you look at your day planner and realize that next year is 1666.

Could this be it? Will this be the year? It would have to be wouldn’t it? The flipping Mark of the Beast in right there in the date! And don’t think that others in this era haven’t noticed. In fact, the English poet John Dryden has declared the year 1666 an annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders,” precisely because of the foreboding 666 number in the year.

So you enter the new year filled with dread and expectancy. Horrible day follows horrible day. But it’s the normal horrible, you know, Black Death, war, inflation, cold and political turmoil. You’re beginning to think you’re going to get through this year without any extra-horrible wonders. Then September rolls around and . . .

London burns down.

great fire

Wait . . . what?

Yep. That’s right. On the night of September 2 you look to the east and it looks like the sun is rising 12 hours early. But not to worry, it’s just massive, uncontrollable fire roaring through the heart of London. It will burn for three days. And before it’s done the beast will have devoured 13,200 houses and 87 churches, including the jewel in London’s crown, St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Here in the year 1666—the year of wonders—you watch one of the world’s great cities go up in flames. And as far as you know in that moment, all the other world’s great cities are probably burning, too. This is it. Didn’t St. Peter say it would be “by fire next time?”

Think we’re living in crazy times? Perhaps. But crazy is relative.

We’ve seen this before.