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Trip Across America

Paul Theroux, writing in Smithsonian magazine, describes his roadtrip across America.

The mixed blessing of America is that anyone with a car can go anywhere. The visible expression of our freedom is that we are a country without roadblocks. And a driver’s license is our identity. My dream, from way back—from high school, when I first heard the name Kerouac—was of driving across the United States. The cross-country trip is the supreme example of the journey as the destination.

Travel is mostly about dreams—dreaming of landscapes or cities, imagining yourself in them, murmuring the bewitching place names, and then finding a way to make the dream come true. The dream can also be one that involves hardship, slogging through a forest, paddling down a river, confronting suspicious people, living in a hostile place, testing your adaptability, hoping for some sort of revelation. All my traveling life, 40 years of peregrinating Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania, I have thought constantly of home—and especially of the America I had never seen. “I discovered I did not know my own country,” Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, explaining why he hit the road at age 58.

My idea was not to linger anywhere, but to keep on the move, as though to create in my mind one long panning shot, from Los Angeles to Cape Cod; to get up each morning and set off after breakfast, going as far as I wished, and then find a place to sleep. Generations of drivers have obviously felt the same way, since the country has become a set of natural divisions, from Los Angeles, say, to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Sedona, Sedona to Santa Fe—but I am getting ahead of myself.

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Pop Culture

Psychology Today on our current obsession with pop culture.

This obsession with the trivial is most evident in America’s preoccupation with celebrity. Why do so many of us care so much about people who have so little impact on our lives, namely, movie, television, and music stars, professional athletes, and others who are simply famous for being famous? So what if Angelina and Brad are a couple? What is it with our fixation with Jon and Kate Gosselin? And Kim Kardashian (I ask with absolute incredulity)? Of course, America has always had a perverse fascination with the rich and famous. There have always been gossip columns and tabloids. We have always discussed celebrity happenings around the water cooler at the office. But this obsession with people who have absolutely no effect on our lives has gotten out of hand. Sales of supermarket checkout-line staples, such as People and US Weekly, are up dramatically in recent years. Who’s too fat, who’s too thin, who’s divorcing or sleeping with whom? These have become burning questions to a large segment of America. The television networks and the cable news channels devote entire shows to celebrity comings and goings. And the information age has made this mania even worse. Web sites and blogs provide instant access to celebrity dirt and more opportunities to express our own views about said dirt. We now have an almost limitless universe in which we can dedicate our time and energy to people who affect our lives not one iota.

Read the complete article here.

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American Idol

Ellen DeGeneres named 4th ‘American Idol’ judge.

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Church Blogs

Here’s a list of the Top 100 Church Blogs.

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Putin’s Dark Rise To Power

A controversy has arisen over CQ‘s article, Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise To Power.

The decision by a major U.S. publisher to quash the publication of a controversial article in the Russian edition of one its magazines has sparked a lively debate in the United States about self-censorship and freedom of expression.

The article in question is “Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise To Power,” a lengthy piece that appears in the current U.S. issue of “GQ.” Written by veteran investigative reporter Scott Anderson, the article challenges the official Moscow line about a series of bombings that killed hundreds of people in Russia in 1999.

Anderson wrote his article relying mostly on the account of Mikhail Trepashkin, a former senior Russian intelligence officer who investigated the bombings. Trepashkin points out a number of inconsistencies in the case and suggests a possible link between the bombings and those structures in Russia that brought Putin to power, first as prime minister, then as president.

The subject has long been taboo for Russian journalists. But now it appears that the subject is also a no-no for the publisher Conde Nast, whose management, according to a report by National Public Radio, issued a strict order prohibiting the reprint of the article in any of its magazines published in Russia or elsewhere. It also reportedly ordered that the article not be posted on the “GQ” website in the United States.

The article, which is the longest piece in the current issue, is not even mentioned on the magazine’s cover.

More on this story here.

The full text of Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise To Power is available here.

An interview with the article’s author, Scott Anderson, is here.

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Catholics

Liberal Catholics and Catholic Liberals here.

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Equal Treatment

The Bucknell University Conservatives Club fights the good fight for equal treatment.

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Health Care II

In an August 28th post, I said the following:

Personally, I believe that something needs to be done about health care in this country. What that something is, is an entirely different issue. However, whatever the something turns out to be, I think it should apply to ALL Americans, and that includes all government workers, including of course, politicians. It’s time to end the “this is for you but we have something else” dodge.

I guess I’m not alone in this sentiment.

One of the clearest messages from the Town Hall forums during the August congressional recess was that people want Congress to be covered by the same health care reform plan they impose on the rest of us.

Members of Congress presently get health insurance coverage through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), which offers enrollees nearly 300 choices among a variety of plans, coverages and costs.

The FEHBP covers federal employees and retirees, as well as Members of Congress, though the latter have additional perks of office that make their health coverage far better than that available – or affordable – for the vast majority of working Americans.

More here.

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Carter versus Abrams

Jimmy Carter versus Elliot Abrams on Israel and the Palestinians.

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Government Solutions

Ronald Bailey on whether or not government action is worse than global warming here.

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Academic Life

Real tales of academic life.

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Extraordinary Churches

Bored Panda has a list of the 50 most extraordinary churches of the world. Two and 12 are my favorites.

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The James Ossuary

Time reports on the James ossuary and the trial of Oden Golan.

Many of the world’s top archaeological experts have testified as both prosecution and defense witnesses in proceedings that already run to more than 9,000 pages. And while the original charges against the ossuary appear to have been popularly accepted as conventional wisdom, they seem to be headed for trouble in the courtroom where the fine reading of law comes into play. Judge Aharon Farkash, who has a degree in archaeology, has wondered aloud in court how he can determine the authenticity of the items if the professors cannot agree among themselves.

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority will soon take the witness stand for the first time since he declared, in December 2004, that the ossuary and other items seized in a two-year investigation were the “tip of the iceberg” of an international conspiracy that placed countless fakes in collections and museums around the world. He promised more arrests. But, while there is much evidence to sift through as the case stands, no other fake items have been seized, no-one else has been arrested, and Judge Farkash has hinted strongly that the prosecution case is foundering.

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The Comeback Kid

The cover story in the latest issue of Christianity Today is now online, John Calvin: Comeback Kid.

UPDATE: Three responses by those who disagree with the Reformer.

Ben Witherington, Man of the Bible

Roger E. Olson, Theologian of the Spirit

John Wilson, A Common Hope

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The Dark Side

Tony Blair warns against the “dark side” of religion.

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Hypocrisy

Byron York notes that “When Bush spoke to students, Democrats investigated, held hearings.”

Unlike the Obama speech, in 1991 most of the controversy came after, not before, the president’s school appearance. The day after Bush spoke, the Washington Post published a front-page story suggesting the speech was carefully staged for the president’s political benefit. “The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props,” the Post reported.

With the Post article in hand, Democrats pounced. “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students,” said Richard Gephardt, then the House Majority Leader. “And the president should be doing more about education than saying, ‘Lights, camera, action.'”

More here.

UPDATE: Ace of Spades makes some excellent points.

I kinda doubt that Bush’s or Reagan’s speech were mandatory listening. In fact, I sorta doubt either speech was broadcast to anything more than a small percentage of students — maybe 10% or thereabouts. Most teachers wouldn’t even bother.

In Obama’s case, of course, it not only has nearly 100% clearance, it’s got the coercive power of the superintendents of schools behind it. At least in Broward County, but I imagine in many other places too.

A very big part of the resistance to this speech is the double standard. And this is important, and not mere grousing. All conservatives know that there would not only be an opt-out if, say, President Bush the Younger had given this speech, but that it would barley have been shown at all in the first place.

The sensitivities of liberal parents would have been respected. Not just respected — those sensitivities would have been dominant, blocking out coverage except for in a small fraction of schools.

UPDATE II: Heather Mac Donald adds her opinion on the speech.

Pre-speech, I had decided that it was more insane to object to the President addressing school children, than for the President to address them in the first place. (Though I had fully in mind Gene Healy’s brilliant analysis of the late arrival of children in the presidential public vocabulary, and the legitimate critique that presidents really have more pressing obligations within the constitutional framework than worrying about children.) Why shouldn’t the President be a momentary and non-partisan presence in the classroom, making visible a part of our government, I thought.

But reading the speech, I have changed my mind. The impression it gives is of an enormous ego and sense of boundless power and portfolio. Even if Obama had not announced: “I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn,” the speech still makes you ask: Who, exactly, are you to be saying these things to children? Isn’t it the role of teachers and parents to encourage hard work and a love of learning? Is the president also the Great Roofer and Parent and School Purchasing Department in the Sky?

I’m not ready to buy into the entire right-wing critique of Obama as a dangerous threat to liberty or as the very embodiment of “The Left.” But this speech does suggest a disturbing lack of perspective.

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The Evolution of Divorce

A brand new magazine, National Affairs, has an article on The Evolution of Divorce.

Most important, the psychological revolution of the late ’60s and ’70s, which was itself fueled by a post-war prosperity that allowed people to give greater attention to non-material concerns, played a key role in reconfiguring men and women’s views of marriage and family life. Prior to the late 1960s, Americans were more likely to look at marriage and family through the prisms of duty, obligation, and sacrifice. A successful, happy home was one in which intimacy was an important good, but by no means the only one in view. A decent job, a well-maintained home, mutual spousal aid, child-rearing, and shared religious faith were seen almost universally as the goods that marriage and family life were intended to advance.

But the psychological revolution’s focus on individual fulfillment and personal growth changed all that. Increasingly, marriage was seen as a vehicle for a self-oriented ethic of romance, intimacy, and fulfillment. In this new psychological approach to married life, one’s primary obligation was not to one’s family but to one’s self; hence, marital success was defined not by successfully meeting obligations to one’s spouse and children but by a strong sense of subjective happiness in marriage — usually to be found in and through an intense, emotional relationship with one’s spouse. The 1970s marked the period when, for many Americans, a more institutional model of marriage gave way to the “soul-mate model” of marriage.

Of course, the soul-mate model was much more likely to lead couples to divorce court than was the earlier institutional model of marriage. Now, those who felt they were in unfulfilling marriages also felt obligated to divorce in order to honor the newly widespread ethic of expressive individualism. As social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead has observed of this period, “divorce was not only an individual right but also a psychological resource. The dissolution of marriage offered the chance to make oneself over from the inside out, to refurbish and express the inner self, and to acquire certain valuable psychological assets and competencies, such as initiative, assertiveness, and a stronger and better self-image.”

Read the full article here.

(Cross-posted)

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Approval Ratings

The Los Angeles Times reports on Obama’s approval ratings:

New surveys show steep declines in Obama’s approval ratings among whites — including Democrats and independents — who were crucial elements of the diverse coalition that helped elect the country’s first black president.

Among white Democrats, Obama’s job approval rating has dropped 11 points since his 100-days mark in April, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. It has dropped by 9 points among white independents and whites over 50, and by 12 points among white women — all groups that will be targeted by both parties in next year’s midterm elections.

“While Obama has a lock on African Americans, his support among white voters seems to be almost in a free fall,” said veteran Republican pollster Neil Newhouse.