Wednesday, December 27, 2006

At Least There Were No Wolves

It's just....wrong, but with the passing of former president Gerald Ford, I've only been able to think of this today, from Saturday Night Live. In the sketch, Tom Brokaw (Dana Carvey) wants to take the summer off, and so he pretapes possible news stories that could arise during his absence.

Considering the possibilities, it's good that President Ford went out the way he did.

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Check Me Out

Okay, this may seem a bit sad, but I spent nearly all of my Christmas weekend transfixed by this Homestar Runner fellow (and his friends) that my kids introduced me to. Somehow, he had escaped my notice up until recently. Now, I'm showing most of the warning signs of a serious addiction.

It appears to be the kind of thing one either loves or hates. If you're wondering where you might fall, I'd say watch this one and it will give you a pretty good idea what to expect. How was I missing this?

Next Christmas, I want somebody to get me a Strong Bad t-shirt. (Unless, of course, they come out with a shirt for The Poopsmith sometime in the next 12 months.)

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Mommy, What's A Snowman?

It's 82 degrees here in South Florida right now. This is such a weird place to live. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

KYMC-Ya Later

I just discovered, in browsing the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's website, the distressing news that the very first radio station I ever worked for is leaving the air on New Year's day.

I started broadcasting at 120-watt KYMC (89.7 FM) in the summer of 1984, when I was 15 years old. It played a massive role in my career development. If there's somebody out there who has a wad of money to donate to the West County YMCA to keep the station going, you'd be doing a good thing.

Unfortunately, I don't have a wad of money of my own to donate, since my experience at KYMC played a massive role in my career development and thus actually led me into working in the radio industry.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006


I've said before that the media silence on the Sandy Berger stolen documents story is utterly amazing. It continues to become even more amazing, as more incredible revelations have floated to the surface.

Berger, who was Bill Clinton's National Security Advisor, was sent by Clinton to analyze documents for the vaunted 9/11 Commission in the National Archives pertaining to the Clinton Administration's handling of Al-Qaeda. And Berger was discovered to be spiriting classified documents out of the archives. Stuffed down his pants, no less.

In the aftermath (though he pleaded guilty to stealing and destroying classified document), he said it was all an "honest mistake" (as in, "Whoops! These classified documents accidentally fell into my underwear.") Now, the results of a National Archives internal investigation into the matter have been released. See if it sounds to you like an "honest mistake."
[Inspector General Paul] Brachfeld's report included an investigator's notes, taken during an interview with Berger. The notes dramatically described Berger's removal of documents during an Oct. 2, 2003, visit to the Archives.

Berger took a break to go outside without an escort while it was dark. He had taken four documents in his pockets.

"He headed toward a construction area. ... Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ (Department of Justice), and did not see anyone," the interview notes said.

He then slid the documents under a construction trailer, according to the inspector general. Berger acknowledged that he later retrieved the documents from the construction area and returned with them to his office.

"He was aware of the risk he was taking," the inspector general's notes said. Berger then returned to the Archives building without fearing the documents would slip out of his pockets or that staff would notice that his pockets were bulging.

The notes said Berger had not been aware that Archives staff had been tracking the documents he was provided because of earlier suspicions from previous visits that he was removing materials. Also, the employees had made copies of some documents.

In October 2003, the report said, an Archives official called Berger to discuss missing documents from his visit two days earlier. The investigator's notes said, "Mr. Berger panicked because he realized he was caught."

The notes said that Berger had "destroyed, cut into small pieces, three of the four documents. These were put in the trash."

After the trash had been picked up, Berger "tried to find the trash collector but had no luck," the notes said.
This was the Clinton Administration official designated to ensure the 9-11 Commission received the documents they needed for their investigation. How is this not the headline story on every news network? How is Michael Moore not doing a documentary on this?

If you've ever doubted media bias, ask yourself one question: How would the media treat it if Condoleeza Rice were caught smuggling Abu Graib photos out of the building at the outset of an investigation? I'll tell you how: it would be the scandal of the century.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Around The Horn

  • In death he became a punchline on Leno. In life, he was a devoted husband taking care of his mentally deteriorating wife. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the sad and touching story of the real flesh-and-blood human being who was shot by his wife after giving her a warm beer a few weeks ago.
  • You've probably already seen this, but a UK government report says today that within 50 years, robots and other "intelligent" machines may be given human rights:
    The Horizon Scan report argues that if ‘correctly managed’, this new world of robots’ rights could lead to increased labour output and greater prosperity.

    “If granted full rights, states will be obligated to provide full social benefits to them including income support, housing and possibly robo-healthcare to fix the machines over time,” it says.
    Incredibly, I don't think they're joking.

    While the idea may seem silly, Gene Edward Veith accurately surveys the worldview in which such a proposal could receive a serious hearing :
    On one level, this is just more scientific ignorance coupled with scientific mystification. "Artificial intelligence" is not the same as human intelligence. But the commission's recommendation is revealing of our current worldview confusions. The assumption is that "life worthy of life"--and thus worthy of rights--consists of intelligence or consciousness. This implies that those who are lacking one or the other have no rights, including the right to life. But we knew that already.
  • Where does the time go? I've just realized that this is the time when we offer our annual reminder that Kwanzaa is a made-up sham "holiday," invented in the 70's by convicted woman-torturer Ron Karenga. For more, check out last year's post or LaShawn Barber's annual favorite.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

School Daze

After having taken a little haitus, let's return to the homeschooling discussion that Tim Challies initiated the other day which sent quite a few reverberations through the Christian blogosphere.

What is never defined in the discussion is "education," which would seem to be fairly necessary to any discussion about what our responsibilities are in schooling our children. Pervading the discussion at Challies, both in Tim's commments and those of many of the responders, is the idea that modes and methods of schooling are merely based on personal preferences, meaning that no Christian should judge another on this matter--or even admonish him to choose differently. He said that he chooses not to homeschool because he doesn't like the insular demeanor of some homeschoolers, and cites a missionary justification for choosing to send his child to public school instead. (The issue of Christian schooling seems not to be dealt with at all in any significant way.)

As I know Challies would agree, though, we need to go to the Bible for our guidance on this issue. What is education? What are our responsibilities toward our children in educating them? Do we see biblical warrant for the view that children of six, seven, or eight years old should be sent out as missionaries into hotbeds of unbelief? Appeals to personal experience and subjective opinion don't help us get to the answers. Unfortunately, however, Challies' two articles don't offer much more than that.

Where the Bible talks about teaching children, it consistently has one (and only one) goal in mind: teaching them to fear God in everything. A starting biblical definition of education might be "teaching God's character, requirements, commandments, and mercy."
'Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.'--Dueteronomy 4:10

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.--Deuteronomy 6:6-8

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth.--Deuteronomy 11:18-21

Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD. --Psalm 34:11

Hear, my son, your father's instruction
And do not forsake your mother's teaching;
Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head
And ornaments about your neck. --Proverbs 1:8-9

Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. --Proverbs 22:6
Etc. etc. etc.

It's only by separating God/religion/theology out as one discipline among many that we can possibly come to the conclusion that it's okay for our children to learn the Bible from us and science from the atheists. It's the same compartmentalization that has rendered evangelical Christianity such an impotent force in a dying culture.

Public schools in America are, by law, agnostic (if not atheistic). At this point in the discussion, well-meaning souls get red in the face and begin jumping up and down. "How can you say that! You don't know the schools in my neighborhood! How dare you paint everyone with the same brush! Why, my husband/wife/brother/friend is a devout Christian, and he's been faithfully teaching in public school for years!" All of which, of course, is quite beside the point.

This is a foundational issue, and it's not disputable. The courts have been quite clear that no public school can teach children that Jesus is Lord. They cannot pray in Jesus' name. They cannot attribute the laws of physics, the rotation of the world, or the development and coherence of language to God. If you doubt my assertion, ask yourself this: could even the "good Christian teacher" at your "good local public school" tell his students in science class that Jesus is the sacrifice for the sins of the world, or that God created the universe ex nihilo by speaking? And if not, why not? Are those things not true? Are they irrelevant to "real" knowledge? Do they not necessarily influence our approach to every area of learning?

"But John, now you're just sounding like a fundamentalist. Certainly my children can get a good education even if the teachers aren't talking about Jesus all the time." Can they? Ask yourself: What is a school based on, anyway? What is it's starting point? What are it's goals? Whether or not a school puts God at the center of this endeavor will affect every single aspect of the way it educates. A school that believes mankind is inherently good will handle disciplinary issues in a vastly different way than Christians will. A school that believes all of life arose by chance will teach (either implicitly or explicitly) a vastly different system of ethics than Christians will. The fact that your local public school hasn't yet started to teach gradeschoolers to put condoms on cucumbers is nice, but it doesn't address the fact that the school is, by law and definition, agnostic about God. The fact that a teacher here or there might be able to put in a plug for good morality or invite a student to "Meet Me at the Flag" day doesn't address the school's foundational, functional agnosticism.

What has happened here is that Christian discipleship is at such a low ebb that even good, Bible-believing Christians think there is a huge swath of neutral territory in education, and that an atheist can pretty much show their child the lay of the land as well as any Christian can. But this, of course, ignores the basic biblical teaching on the subject. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7).

The Bible explictly charges parents with the duty of teaching their children about God. Of course, all Christian parents would agree with this. Many would claim, "This is exactly what I intend to do. We'll teach our daughter about Christ at home, and let the school teach her history, science, math, and grammar." But this assumes that there is wisdom in some subjects that can be gained whether God is involved or not. Unfortunately, most modern Christians have signed on to the notion that "Bible" or "God" is simply one subject to be mixed in along with the rest. This has even occured in many Christian schools. Religion is seen as one subject alonside geometry, social studies, or history. But of course a little bit of thought will show the impossibility of this.

There is no neutral ground between the atheistic view of a subject and the Christian view. It's what Francis Schaeffer accurately described as "the antithesis." Where one begins in any subject will necessarily determine where he ends. Is "history" the record of God's acting in the world from creation to glorification? Or is it a randomly-chosen record of evolutionary events produced by time, matter, and chance? Is "science" the pursuit of "thinking God's thoughts after him" in an orderly, created universe, as the great astronomer Johannes Keppler said, or is it simply manipulating physical laws to achieve our ends? And how do we decide on those ends?

"But John, what about math? Surely math is neutral, objective ground, right?" Well, actually no. Vern Poythress (who holds a PhD. in mathematics from Harvard) has a fascinating article demonstrating that presuppositions (wether theistic or atheistic) play a major part even in math. Poythress writes:
It may surprise the reader to learn that not everyone agrees that '2 + 2 = 4' is true. But, on second thought, it must be apparent that no radical monist can remain satisfied with '2 + 2 = 4.' If with Parmenides one thinks that all is one, if with Vedantic Hinduism he thinks that all plurality is illusion, '2 + 2 = 4' is an illusory statement. On the most ultimate level of being, 1 + 1 = 1.

What does this imply? Even the simplest arithmetical truths can be sustained only in a worldview which acknowledges an ultimate metaphysical plurality in the world—whether Trinitarian, polytheistic, or chance-produced plurality. At the same time, the simplest arithmetical truths also presuppose ultimate metaphysical unity for the world&mdahs [sic];at least sufficient unity to guard the continued existence of "sames." Two apples remain apples while I am counting them; the symbol '2' is in some sense the same symbol at different times, standing for the same number.
Now granted, there are many atheists who do just fine at math. But the point is that they've borrowed Christian assumptions in order to do so. Math is not neutral--a Christian worldview has to be adopted to some degree even for math to work. Because we modern Christians have such a segmented view of truth, however, and because we compartmentalize Christ, putting "spiritual" things in a corner of one side of the room while leaving everything else in the physical world as neutral ground for everyone else, we're shocked by even the suggestion that a good public school couldn't teach our children just as accurately as any homeschooler or Christian school could.

As Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch Christian statesman once said, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" As Christian parents, are we going to teach our children that all things, including math, science, history, art, music, and geography hold together in Christ? Or are we going to implicitly teach them that God is something that applies at home and in church, but that He's functionally irrelevant in the "outside world" to which we're sending them as missionaries?

Interestingly, Challies knows the answer to this question. In another post on another subject only a day or two before the homeschooling fracas, he wrote:
Statistics show that many Christians, and most likely the vast majority of Christians, have a worldview that is functionally secular. Many people who go to church every Sunday, who read Christian books and who read their Bibles and pray every day, still think like unbelievers. Their worldview--their way of seeing and understanding the world--is no different from before they claimed to be Christians. As interesting as statistics may be, common sense and good reason show the problem to be severe. Jonathan Edwards, looking to the refusal of the people of his day to own up to their guilt, realized that 'the liberal Christianity of the new republic would be built around such moral principles.' Modern day evangelicalism is likewise founded on such moral principles.
To which I say: Exactly. I couldn't agree more. But I must ask Tim: wouldn't we be more than a bit naive if we didn't make any connection between this state of affairs and our public school system? Where do you suppose most Christians got that "functionally secular worldview?" Has Challies not provided a strikingly apt description of "non-sectarian" public education through the decades, which has (until recently) taught "moral principles" while excluding theology? And is it possible --since this is a manifest problem, and one that we modern Christians have major blind spots on--that weighing between Christian education and some other kind of education as if both were equally valid options for Christian children could be one very potent manifestation of that "functionally secular worldview?"

Ultimately, we cannot hide our children from sin, as if sin were something "out there." That's legalism, and it fails to recognize that kids have no problems sinning in any environment. Challies rightly decries this tendency on the part of homeschoolers. But that's not why my family homeschools. The reason we homeschool is because we don't want our children to grow up with the functionally secular worldviews Challies rightly opposes, which are all too often the result of the implicit lesson when, say, God and math are separated, or when God is simply glossed onto whatever is already presumed to have been taught--incompletely but correctly--during the normal school day (i.e. "Okay, Billy, you spent six hours today learning biology, math, and history from an atheistic perspective as if they were each closed systems, without any need for recourse to God in the discussion. But just let me add something--God created all that!").

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wading In

Tim Challies over at is writing a series of posts on "Why I Do Not Homeschool" that, predictably, has ignited quite a response (although the responses have been far more thoughtful and far less condemnatory than Tim paints them in his somewhat defensive second post).

I'm a daily reader of Tim's site and find it one of my most satisfying stops on the web. I would agree with Tim on far, far more things than I would disagree with him. But I have to admit being a bit mystified about his purpose for writing this particular series of posts, since he seems to want to level criticisms of the homeschooling movement while insulating himself from Christian criticisms of his own choice to send his children to public school. Either he wants to persuade others of his view or justify his own view against those of home- and Christian-schoolers--or else there's no purpose in writing the posts. But Tim doesn't seem to want to claim either of those motivations. As one poster there commented:
Most blogs I have read have a purpose in mind...most are seeking truth, understanding, wisdom and sharpening by fellow believers. They may be confident in their convictions and wish to encourage others through charity. Others are not so sure of their convictions and wish to be exhorted by others.

Your post however, expresses your convictions while at the same time asking that we not discern or judge. And in some way we need to be respectful and claim relative truth for each and every child and family.
There's simply no way to avoid tension in the discussion on how children should be schooled since so much is involved. Most of us, whatever we're doing, are defensive about the way that we raise our children since there's so much riding on it, and the schooling discussion exacerbates this tension because it cuts straight to the heart of what we believe our responsibilities as parents under God really are. The stakes are high, and we should simply acknowledge that and live with it. The high temperature is a necessary condition of the discussion because of the absolutely fundamental issues involved. Wimpy cries of "can't we all just get along" and "nobody should judge anybody else's decision," which usually entail specious prooftexting of biblical passages regarding how Christians are supposed to treat each other on ancillary matters (like dietary issues), are really nothing more than figleaves to cover our own insecurities on our views.

It seems to me that all sides of that debate need to at least acknowledge this: these are not ancillary matters simply to be left to personal conscience. The Bible has a tremendous amount to say about education and parental obligations to children. While evangelicalism likes to make nearly all spiritual matters simply private and individualized, that doesn't work here. This debate cuts to the very heart the role of Christian parents in raising a child. There are massive principles involved, and most "to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to" responses are simply attempts lob a grenade into the opposite camp before woundedly weaseling out of the discussion and retreating behind the cover of "personal conscience." At least one side in this debate is seriously mistaken, and both sides need to own that and stop trying to paper it over. These are two incompatible philosophies of parenting and education. Pretending they are compatible, or that somebody is not seriously in error here, helps nobody.

Now, there is a great deal of truth in Tim's criticisms of the homeschooling movement. We homeschool our own children, and have done so for nearly 10 years now, and I think I've seen just about everything there is to be seen in the homeschooling community. There can be no doubt that Challies' concerns about the movement in general are well-founded. The movement tends to be highly insular and often borders on the pharisaical and judgmental.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that Tim is engaging in a basic fallacy in citing this as a reason for his own decision to not homeschool. All of the same criticisms have been accurately leveled at evangelical Christians in general. Does that mean one should not be an evangelical Christian? Surely not, and Tim (I would imagine) would never stop trying to persuade someone to become a Christian in response to such a lame objection. Why? Because he knows--and would want the non-Christian to understand--that the abuses of some of Christ's followers doesn't tell us anything necessarily true about Christianity. Whether Christianity is true or not does not ultimately rest upon the behavior of Christians.

And it's the same with homeschooling. The fact that there are plenty of whack-job homeschoolers doesn't mean that Tim would have to become a whack-job in order to homeschool, any more than the fact that there are whack-job Christians kept him from becoming a Christian. Tim's objection tells us nothing about whether homeschooling is correct or incorrect in principle. He simply (correctly) tells us about some of the flaws of some of its practitioners. If that's the criterion, one would never be able to choose any mode of education. Or much of anything else, for that matter. So from the outset, I think his way of framing the argument is unhelpful and ultimately inconclusive. So far, most of the commentary that has followed his posts has focused on experiences, like "I knew homeschoolers who were like this" and "I know some public schoolers who were like that." What's been notably absent, however, is Scriptural, philsophical discussion of principles. We'll see if it gets any better as he frames his positive argument for public schooling.

As to the substance of the debate itself between Christian schooling (whether institutionally or at home) and public schooling, I'll address some of that in my next post.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

When Luck Runs Out

Well, the world's oldest person has kicked the bucket yet again.

I keep telling you, this is the most dangerous gig in the world.

Breaking The Bonds

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an amusing take on the Cardinals' brief dalliance with Barry Bonds at baseball's winter meetings last week:
Even with a little figurative smudge on his collar, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty was playing the role of the busted Lothario on Thursday, denying the allegation and casting aspersions on his accusers. "There's nothing going on with Bonds," Jocketty told "I'm sick and tired of people asking that. We don't have money for Bonds. We're trying to sign pitching."

The only thing missing was a firm bite on his lower lip, a scolding finger wag and a "I did not have contractual relations with that ballplayer, Mr. Bonds."
The idea of watching Albert Pujols bat with Barry Bonds protecting him in the lineup was intriguing, to say the least. I think Pujols might've hit 80 home runs. But it still wouldn't have been worth it. How, after all this time, could I suddenly have to try to not hate Barry Bonds?

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Around The Horn

  • Slate magazine has a charming piece by a guy who received an autograph back from a journeyman Major League ballplayer fifteen years after writing to him as a kid. I gather I'm a couple of years older than this guy, and I never received one so late, but his description of writing to ballplayers for autographs precisely and eerily describes my own experiences as a 13-year-old.
  • I guess Slate is where to go for baseball coverage these days. They also have an outstanding analysis from Seth Mnookin on the abject stupidity of this year's free agent deals.
  • Doug Wilson has written the most enjoyable and insightful series of posts I've read all year in response to atheist Sam Harris' best-seller Letter to a Christian Nation. I've got a lot of problems with Wilson on a lot of things, but this series is just an absolute treat. It's so good, I'm even assigning it to my kids to read. The posts are in chronological order, so you'll want to begin at the bottom and work your way up. I don't think I've read anything on the web in 2006 that I would recommend more highly.
  • An old St. Louis acquaintance (and former coworker of my wife's) has been elected to the writer's wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Rick Hummel has covered the Cardinals for almost 30 years. It doesn't get much cooler than that, and baseball people everywhere will agree that "the Commish" deserves the trip to Cooperstown.
  • The reliably funny Ann Coulter disagrees with Iraq study group's recommendation that we launch "Operation Surrender." She also comes out in favor of "waterboarding" terrorists for information:
    In point of fact, we strap people to wooden boards and make them feel like they're drowning all the time in this country. Mostly at theme parks like Six Flags.
  • Having been on vacation, I missed some of the furor surrounding Keith Ellison's choosing to be sworn into Congress by placing his hand on a Koran. If you haven't digested it yet (and I haven't), here again is Dennis Prager's controversial--but typically thoughtful--argument against allowing Ellison to do so.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Everybody Vs. Kramer

There's been nothing more dumbfounding to me this year than the fact that the "Kramer rant" is still in the news after all this time. I thought the story was dying before Thanksgiving, and yet here we are on December 5th and I still see it everywhere. It's hard to imagine something of less consequence receiving more attention, though there's always the career of Paris Hilton, I suppose.

I remember an old episode of "Seinfeld" (in fact, it was the famous "yada yada" episode) in which a goyishe dentist had apparently converted to Judaism in order to be able to make Jewish jokes. "And this offends you as a Jew?" asks a priest to whom Jerry had expressed his umbrage. "No," Jerry tells him, "it offends me as a comedian."

I feel a bit the same about Michael Richards' outburst. I don't think he's a racist. I think he's a bad comedian. What happened on that stage wasn't a personal meltdown, it was a comedic meltdown.

This is something I have a little, tiny modicum of knowledge and understanding about. As hard as it might be to believe or imagine, I did a little bit of standup comedy when I was in college (and even a few times afterward). I may not have done it particularly well, but I scraped together a few bucks doing comedy clubs, college parties, and the like. Doing standup is like doing a high wire act. It's just you and the microphone in front of that crowd. There's nowhere to hide. One wrong step can ruin the whole thing. One crack in the armor is deadly in front of an audience. Every comic, if he's going to get to even his second gig, has to learn to deal with hecklers. If some clown in the audience starts to get the best of you, even for a moment, you're toast. That's just the way it works. In the venal world of standup, comics see hecklers as the lowest form of life--they're trying to take food out of your mouth. It's as if you're the Ice Capades, and they're trying to throw banana peels out onto the rink. If the audience thinks you're afraid, or not fast enough, or not in full control of the situation, you lose them. The audience loses confidence in you, and a nervous, cowed comedian is not funny.

An effective heckler putdown (and by the way, I'm not advocating any of this--it was a former life, and I'm just telling you how it works) has to be quick and it has to be devastating. Your one and only goal is to shut the loser down so ruthlessly that the audience erupts in your favor and he's afraid to open his mouth again. Most comedians will have some stock lines ready for just such occasions. Sometimes they improvise. Keeping in mind that a heckler put-down has to be quick and devastating, an improvised retort will usually seize on whatever is most immediately obvious. If the guy is fat, you make fun of his fatness. If he's bald, that's what you go for. If he's not with a date, you hammer him on it. And if he's black (or Japanese, or Samoan, or whatever), you just might go for that. It's obvious, it's easy, and it's fast. This has been going on in comedy clubs since the first brick wall background was invented.

So Michael Richards did what has always been done. He didn't do it particularly well. His approach was obviously ill-advised. But if you listen to the tape, you'll see that--at first--the audience laughs. As offensive as his comments may be, the audience is with him. Is it because they're all vicious racists? No (though dopey liberals--like this typical twit in TIME magazine--will relentlessly try to interpret such things as symptoms of the virulent racial hatred that supposedly lies within all of us). It's because everyone hates hecklers and likes to see them get their comeuppance. They know how it works, and they know that just about everything--including race--is fair game on a comedy stage. Richards loses them when he refuses to let up--he just runs with it. He goes from controlling the situation (however ineptly) to savagely attacking. The audience's loyalty shifts if it feels someone--even a heckler--is being brutalized. It was the disproportionality of the response that turned them against Richards.

Was what Richards said from the stage right? No? Should he have said it? No. But this isn't much different from what's been going on in comedy clubs for generations. The difference is that now we have the Internet. Something I read in a book about baseball guru Bill James made me think about this (believe it or not). James said that most major scandals are not about a sudden departure from acceptable behavior, but about a sudden change in standards. I'm not sure he's entirely right, but I do think there's more than a grain of truth to what he says. Watergate, says James (who is a Democrat), was not about an administration misbehaving in some uncharted new way, but rather about a new set of standards suddenly being imposed on behavior that had previously been commonplace. The baseball steroid scandals are not so much about players suddenly starting to use performance-enhancing substances as it is about a new standard suddenly being applied to old behavior. Again, James may not be right in every instance, but I think that is, in many ways, what has happened to Michael Richards in the comedy world. The distribution of video from a comedy club setting has suddenly held his not-wildly-unusual stage behavior up to a societal standard that usually doesn't apply in a comedy club.

Eddie Murphy, who is both black (obviously) and a comic said, "Back in the old days in comedy clubs, you could do anything on stage. I'm not saying what the guy said was cool, but in the old days you would've never saw that on the news." I've seen worse than what Richards did in comedy clubs before. That doesn't excuse it, but it does mean that he's not some frightening, inhuman comic anomaly. Now, comedians in general may be frightening and inhuman (and I'm telling you--that's a world you wouldn't want to live in), but every comedian understands exactly what happened up on that stage, which is why so few of them have castigated Richards for his remarks.

If Richards were smart (which is a dubious proposition), he'd stop letting the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons drag this thing out. They'll do it forever, because it's how they make their living. He ought to say, "Hey, there was a loudmouth, boorish punk in the audience who mistakenly thought people paid to see him. He offended me, and I put him down as comedians always put down hecklers. I did get carried away, for which I'm sorry. If the guy had been fat, I'd have unleashed a torrent of fat jokes and none of us would be even sitting here talking about this today. As it happens, the guy was black. I'm a good guy who had an off night as a comedian. It happens. I'm sorry to everyone I offended. Next." That would be much better than letting the race hustlers inflict a thousand deaths on him.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Yo, Adrian, My Diaper's Full

Sorry for the long break. We were on a post-Thanksgiving beach vacation, and I try not to broadcast over the world-wide web that my home will be empty for a couple of weeks. Good heavens, what if someone broke in and stole my...wait, I just realized I don't have anything worth stealing...How about my recliner? That's it, I have to maintain full radio silence while on vacation in order to protect my recliner! How depressing and pitiful.

Speaking of depressing and pitiful, I saw an ad this week for the next installment in Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" series. I think in this one he goes nuts and pummels to death a nursing home orderly for turning off the TV in the middle of "Murder She Wrote."

Here's something I found highly amusing about all this. As I recounted ad nauseum here, my son and I went back to St. Louis in October to watch the Cardinals win the World Series. While we were staying with my folks there, my mom pulled out some old copies of the now-defunct Globe-Democrat newspaper we had saved from the last time the Redbirds had won the World Series when I was in middle school back in 1982.

I always find it fun to read through old newspapers to see what was big at the time, how much things cost, etc. One of the October '82 papers had a little entertainment section in it. As I read through it, I found a blurb about the film "Rocky III," which had been the big hit that summer, and the future possibility of even more films. And then came the best part. The article asked the question: Isn't this premise getting a little bit worn, and isn't Sylvester Stallone too old to be carrying this boxing thing off much longer? Keep in mind, this was written 24 years ago. He's 60 now.

"Rocky VI: Permanent Brain Damage," coming to theaters this Christmas!