Let’s Maintain Our Sense Of Humor

Having seen the film License to Wed on its opening day, I am surprised to see a critical reference to it in the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal as unfair to marriage preparation courses. As a person who volunteers for an organization dedicated to marriage preparation, the tone of Christine Whelan’s article seems a little too defensive over a harmless bit of fun:

This week, Hollywood takes the focus off of “bridezillas” and puts it on marriage preparation courses. In “License to Wed,” which opened Wednesday, Robin Williams plays the “Reverend Frank,” a clergyman of unspecified denomination who puts his charges through a series of tests–including an exercise in the diapering of urinating robotic twins–to earn the right to marry. Off the silver screen, marriage preparation courses are about shared values rather than simulated disaster drills, and are increasingly popular. …
“License to Wed” paints a terrifying picture of marriage preparation courses as bizarre rituals that a couple must endure to prove their worthiness. Certainly rabbis, pastors and priests have the right to refuse to marry a couple they don’t believe is ready for marriage, but most courses simply reinforce a couple’s commitment to marriage.

This is a demonstration of why people think that conservatives and the devout have no sense of humor. Anyone who thinks that a Robin Williams farce about marriage paints any kind of picture about real life probably thinks that Down Periscope accurately portrays life in the submariner corps. Comedy is based on exaggeration, and the best comedies play on the fears and hang-ups of the audience and twists them into laughs License to Wed falls somewhere in the middle, but never once pretends to be representative of real marriage preparation.
The First Mate and I have volunteered for Twin Cities Marriage Encounter for the last eight years, the last two as president couple for its board. We have also volunteered for the Catholic Prepare pre-Cana counseling during that time. We have never seen ministers bugging couples, nor have we seen church choirs swing into a four-part harmony scolding parishioners who show up late. (We did have a pastor at one time who would have endorsed that, though, and I imagine that priest will have a good laugh at that part of the movie.) We still laughed all the way through the movie, and so would Whelan if she allowed herself to not take it seriously.
It’s just a movie — and one that, in the end, makes the case for marriage preparation, although I wouldn’t wish Reverend Frank on anyone.
The rest of Whelan’s essay gets it right, and she hits on one particularly good point. One reason why more Muslim marriages fail in the West, Whelan asserts, is because arranged marriages lack the societal support that used to exist in tribal communities. That’s undoubtedly true for most Western marriages over the last few decades, too. Our mobile and disconnected society reduces the cohesion that bolstered struggling marriages. It makes it even more incumbent on young couples to gain the communication skills necessary to make strong marriages and to discuss the issues that will arise before they become insurmountable problems.
If you’re inclined to have a few laughs, go see License to Wed. If you’re inclined to get married, go to Engaged Encounter or another marriage preparation course. If you’re already married, try Marriage Encounter to help make your marriage stronger. These options, fortunately, are not mutually exclusive.
Note: Twin Cities Marriage Encounter is a non-profit group that can always use a helping hand. If you’re so inclined, please toss a few dollars into their tip jar.

The Hot Rock

An interesting, (mostly) non-political debate has arisen between Meghan O’Rourke at Slate and Jonah Goldberg at The Corner today on a ubiquitous American cultural imperative: the diamond engagement ring. Interestingly, it is O’Rourke challenging the customary decimation of a young suitor’s finances, and Goldberg submitting to the inevitability of the custom. O’Rourke starts by asking what this one-sided exchange really means:

The retail fantasy known as a “traditional” American wedding comprises many delicious absurdities, ranging from personalized wedding stamps to ring pillows designed for dogs to favors like “Love Mints.” Of all these baubles, though, perhaps the most insidious is the engagement ring. Most Americans can say no to the “celebrity garter belt” on offer for a mere $18.95 from Weddings With Class. But more than 80 percent of American brides receive a diamond engagement ring (at an average cost of around $3,200) before they get married. Few stop to think about what, beyond the misty promise of endless love, the ring might actually signify. Why would you, after all? A wedding is supposed to be a celebration. Only the uncharitable would look a sparkly diamond in the eye—never mind a man on his knee—and ask what it means.
But there’s a powerful case to be made that in an age of equitable marriage the engagement ring is an outmoded commodity—starting with the obvious fact that only the woman gets one. The diamond ring is the site of retrograde fantasies about gender roles. What makes it pernicious—as opposed to tackily fun—is its cost (these days you don’t need just a diamond; you need a good diamond), its dubious origins, and the cynical blandishments of TV and print ads designed to suggest a ring’s allure through the crassest of stereotypes.
Case in point: An American couple stands in a plaza in Europe. The man shouts, “I love this woman!” The woman appears mortified. He then pulls out a diamond ring and offers it to her. She says, in heartfelt tones, “I love this man.” And you’ve probably noticed that these days diamonds really are forever: Men are informed that their beautiful wife needs a “Twenty-Fifth Anniversary” ring (note this ad’s reduction of a life to copulation and child-rearing), and single women are told not to wait around for guys but to go ahead and get themselves a “right-finger ring.” Live to be 100 and a woman of a certain class might find her entire hand crusted over with diamonds. A diamond company, you see, is unrelenting. In their parlance, “the desire is there; we just want to breathe more life into it.”

Goldberg acknowledges the crass commercialization of this rite of passage, but says the ship has sailed on ending it:

It’s just absurd to lock up precious resources in something you’ll never sell — hence the genius of the diamond business. But, at the end of the day, no one will believe you that you didn’t get the rock on principle. Her friends won’t. Your friends won’t. Her family won’t. No one. In the spirit of misery loves company, your guy friends — who are deeply invested in defending their decision to get the rock for their wives — will give you a brutal time about how cheap you are. Her friends are similarly invested. Everyone is.
A few people will refuse to do it on principle, but their heresy will only reinforce the custom. A few men will decline because they simply can’t afford it. But if they ever find themselves living more prosperous lives they’ll atone at the jewelry store eventually.
The diamond is the modern updating of the mastodon hide and the shiny rock.

Perhaps, although as O’Rourke points out, this particular tradition only goes back a few decades. Until the late 19th century, such a tradition would have been impossible for all but the most wealthy of the world. Diamonds did not become a common commodity until the DeBeers company found vast deposits of diamonds in Africa. In fact, the deposits are so vast that it threatened to collapse the price of diamonds entirely, and DeBeers has acted ever since to suppress supply and increase demand.
The marketing of engagement rings is relentless. Jewelers insist that a proper young gent should spend around three month’s salary for this “investment”. Men know many women compare notes (and rings) to see whether they have selected a cheapskate or a spendthrift, and feel enormous pressure to abide by the advice offered. As Goldberg notes, not too many want to embarrass themselves or their brides-to-be unless specifically directed to buy something else.
I disagree with Jonah on one point. He said that the custom has no chance of being rejected, unlike the tradition of giving fur coats, which animal-rights activists have turned into a social faux pas. Something similar may indeed happen with diamonds, and the reason is more significant than the fate of chinchillas. Diamonds have fueled vicious and long-lasted conflicts all throughout Africa, as armies and militias of all stripes have sold them in black-market circles to legitimate dealers around the world. These so-called blood diamonds or conflict diamonds have funded terrorism and genocides in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, the Ivory Coast, and more.
Diamond producing countries and diamond merchants, under heavy political pressure, finally came up with a certification process for the raw material. Called the Kimberley Process, it attempts to limit the export and sale of diamonds to those mined through legitimate operations which do not fund armed bands of thugs. However, the system is not foolproof, and many suspect that a significant criminal trade in blood diamonds still exists.
If this rises to the level of national consciousness in wealthy nations such as the US, UK, and the European nations, perhaps the diamond may become the pariah of gems. It’s a very expensive NO TRESPASSING sign, as O’Rourke calls it, both in finances and in human lives. However, if the Kimberley Process can close the market on the criminal gangsters in Africa who use the money to bring murder and misery to Africans, the trade could help the continent generate an economic infrastructure that might lift millions out of poverty. That, at least, would be worth a couple of month’s salary.
UPDATE: Kimberley Process, not Kimberly, as Kim at Musing Minds corrects me, and also supplies the link.

A Victim? Hardly!

The Paris Hilton saga has become so compelling that many political bloggers who swore off mentioning her have weighed in on the topic, including myself. Hilton got hauled off screaming and crying to jail after having been released by Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca five days into a 45-day sentence, reportedly for becoming too hysterical. Judge Michael T. Sauer ruled that Baca had violated the court’s order in releasing her, and sent her back to serve the entire sentence for violating probation on a drunken-driving conviction:

Hilton, who was brought from her home to the court in handcuffs in a sheriff’s car, entered the courtroom red-eyed and trembling, and she cried throughout the hour-long hearing, dabbing her face with tissues, biting her knuckles, and shaking her head. She sat slumped at the table throughout the proceeding, wearing a gray sweater, her blond hair pinned up.
Hilton was released from the county jail Thursday by Sheriff Lee Baca because of an undisclosed medical condition, and the sheriff said she would serve the duration of her term confined to her home in the hills above Sunset Strip, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor her movements. Late in the day, however, she was ordered back to court Friday so Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer could review the situation. …
Assistant City Attorney Dan Jeffries said “no good cause” was shown by the sheriff for overruling the judge’s earlier decision that Hilton serve her time in jail. Jeffries said Hilton’s early release “erodes confidence in the judicial system.”
Hutton offered to have a private hearing in the judge’s chambers to discuss Hilton’s condition, but Sauer declined. The judge said he had been promised a medical explanation for her release, but never received it.

For some reason, the plight of this rich heiress has generated a lot of sympathy in the blogosphere, and from some odd places. The Corner’s John Podhoretz got quite a bit of e-mail from readers disturbed by Hilton’s treatment. Jules Crittenden, while supporting Sauer’s action, sounds a sympathetic note as well:

I may be a heartless bastard, and a tabloid vulture to boot. But like the lefties like to say about murderers, rapists, etc., society made her what she is. High society, in her case. And I feel bad for her. How can you look at anyone piteously sobbing on her way to jail and not feel bad for her, when her crime is not murder or rape or even bank robbery but forgetting that the rules apply to her as well. Sort of like how I feel bad for the trainwrecks that are Britney and Lindsay, who are more specifically victims of adults who felt they had to share their little darling’s talent with the world, maybe wanted to live vicariously through their little darling’s accomplishments and make a pile off their darling little asses.

Michael van der Galien agrees with Crittenden, but blames Hilton’s parents:

That is exactly how I feel about it as well. I actually feel bad for Paris, I’ve got to admit it.
To her parents: j’accuse!.
This young woman was raised with the idea that the rules do not apply to her. This girl was raised with the idea that money can buy everything. This girl (she’s older than me, but she’s not a woman) was raised with the idea that there is nothing wrong with being stupid and ignorant.

Pardon me for injecting a little conservative thought into all of this, but I have very little sympathy for Ms. Hilton. She has had all of the advantages possible in society, and has shown herself contemptuous to any sense of responsibility. The screaming and crying jag in court only came after she had thrown away her chances to get lenient treatment by lying and evading responsibility for her actions.
Let’s not forget why Paris Hilton went to jail. Last January, Hilton got convicted of driving drunk. That killed 18,000 people last year; it’s no joke. Hilton didn’t have to serve a day in jail for it, either. She got 36 months probation and had her license suspended (in November 2006). She was also ordered into an alcohol education program.
Within a month, she had been arrested twice for driving without a license, and still had not entered the program as ordered. The city prosecuted her for violating her probation and the court order, and convicted her last month. Her defense? She blamed everyone but herself, and even at this last court proceeding, wanted to appear only by telephone. The judge had to order her brought to court.
Paris Hilton is no child. She’s twenty-six years old. She has all the money she needs to hire the best lawyers to represent her. For that matter, she had all the money she needed to hire a driver after her license got suspended. Not too many of us have those kinds of resources, but she does, and she decided to flout the law and her probation anyway.
Did her parents bring her up poorly? It seems that way. Does it matter now? No. She’s far past the age for taking responsibility for her own actions. Instead, she has acted with contempt for the laws, for the safety of others on the road, and for the court in which she was called to answer for her actions. Paris Hilton deserves no sympathy for her sentence, nor for the crying jag and histrionics she displayed when she finally figured out that she had pushed her self-centeredness just a little too far.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan’s got the best line: “It’s almost enough to make up for O.J.” Would it only be so …
UPDATE II: I always suspected that Jon Swift was Paris Hilton. Or vice-versa. Or not at all. One of those, anyway.
Also, a few people have written to correct me about the drunk-driving conviction, noting that Hilton got convicted of reckless driving — which is true, but it was specifically an alcohol-related charge. Bear in mind that her current sentence is for violating her probation, and not the original conviction.

Willy Wanker And His Chocolate Factory

The display of a life-size, anatomically correct Jesus at an Easter exhibition has been cancelled after a meltdown by Christian critics, including William Donahue of the Catholic League. The hotel in which the exhibition would have appeared booted the display after people began organizing a boycott:

A Manhattan art gallery canceled on Friday its Easter-season exhibit of a life-size chocolate sculpture depicting a naked Jesus, after an outcry by Roman Catholics.
The sculpture “My Sweet Lord” by Cosimo Cavallaro was to have been exhibited for two hours each day next week in a street-level window of the Roger Smith Lab Gallery in Midtown Manhattan.
The display had been scheduled to open on Monday, days ahead of Good Friday when Christians mark the crucifixion of Jesus. But protests including a call to boycott the affiliated Roger Smith Hotel forced the gallery to scrap the showing.

Numerous bloggers have already weighed in on this controversy, and Joe Gandelman has prepared a balanced roundup. Michelle Malkin and My Pet Jawa both make the comparison to the expected Muslim reaction to a naked, genitalia-displaying chocolate Mohammed during Ramadan — or Eid, or any day ending in a Y, for that matter. Preemptive Karma and Best Week Ever claim that it perfectly satirizes the contemporary Christian celebration of Easter as thoroughly commercialized, with chocolate bunnies taking center stage rather than the resurrected Lord.
If that’s the basis for the chocolate Jesus, though, it’s rather thin. No doubt that many people, most of them Christians, spend tons of money on sweets and indulge silly fantasies about magical rabbits when celebrating Easter. If that’s all they did, it would be worthy of satire. However, almost all of that is employed to give small children a day of fun, a little bit of joy that does no one any harm and gives dentists some extra work. Christians who celebrate Easter are most likely to also spend the day in worship of God and in thanks for the sacrifice they consider the bedrock of their faith, and in gatherings of family to commemorate the day.
The artist could have made his satirical point in any case without showing the genitalia of the crucified Christ. That was needlessly provocative, and certainly intentional. As one person put it, who wouldn’t have expected controversy over that particular artistic choice? The artist’s assertion that Catholics should let him off with ten Hail Marys after he asks their forgoveness also shows a cluelessness about the Catholic faith. Penance only works when the sinner has truly repented and admitted his sins. It’s not a price list for offenses in that the commission of a particular sin costs 10 Hail Marys each time you commit it. For Cosimo Cavallaro to get any benefit from his 10 Hail Marys, he’d have to destroy the chocolate Jesus first.
However, I wouldn’t demand that in any case. I can’t peer into his soul to determine whether he meant to be deliberately sacrilegious or is just an idiot who didn’t know any better. What the Catholics and other Christians did was perfectly legitimate — boycotting the host and sponsors of exhibits they find offensive. They didn’t toss bombs at embassies or threated to destroy New York for blasphemy. Given the sympathetic press that Muslims around the world received for doing exactly that — including the murder of a Catholic nun — after the publication of editorial cartoons that depicted Muhammed, the sympathy granted to Cavallaro for his “oppression” in this seems far out of balance to the event.

The Institutional Apology

All customer-service professionals share at least one common experience: the apology. The ability to execute an apology makes or breaks careers. If it comes out too rote and lacking empathy, it will serve to enrage the customer. If a representative makes too many of them or gives away too much as penance, their employer will not trust them to look after the company’s interests. As someone who has spent almost two decades in customer service management, I can tell you from long experience that this one aspect of customer service may be the most critical piece of customer retention. Mistakes will be made — how companies react to them is what customers value most.
With that in mind, it makes sense that apologies would become their own industry. Not surprisingly, it has started with the industry that probably has the greatest need for professional apologizers:

Airlines are getting serious about saying they’re sorry.
After a spate of nightmarish service disruptions, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and others are sending out more apologies, hoping to head off customer complaints and quell talk of new consumer-protection regulations from Congress.
But no airline accepts blame quite like Southwest Airlines, which employs Fred Taylor Jr. in a job that could be called chief apology officer.
His formal title is senior manager of proactive customer communications. But Mr. Taylor — 37, rail thin and mildly compulsive, by his own admission — spends his 12-hour work days finding out how Southwest disappointed its customers and then firing off homespun letters of apology.
“Erring on the side of caution, our captain decided to return to Phoenix rather than second-guess the smell that was in the cabin,” Mr. Taylor wrote to passengers who were on a March 7 flight to Albuquerque. A faulty valve was to blame. “Not toxic, it was obviously annoying,” he assured them, throwing in a free voucher for future travel to clear the air.
He composes about 180 letters a year explaining what went wrong on particular flights and, with about 110 passengers per flight, he mails off roughly 20,000 mea culpas. Each one bears his direct phone line.

I used to tell my staff that all they had to do was follow the procedures and the policies correctly, and that if that still created mistakes, I would take the responsibility for them. I referred to myself — jokingly — as a professional apologizer. I had no idea the position would ever exist.
It’s easy to criticize this, but I think it’s a smart move. A good and sincere apology, with some measure of remuneration to the inconvenienced, will defuse many dissatisfied customers and turn them into enthusiastic patrons. If a company wants to really focus on these opportunities, it makes sense to employ a professional apologizer to do it. With the right man on the job, it can cost a company thousands of dollars in freebies, but gain them millions of dollars in revenue in the long run.
I do pity Fred Taylor, however. No matter how good someone is at handling these complaints, they have a negative impact on the spirit after a while. Hopefully, Southwest will ensure that Taylor has his “freedom to move about the country” on a regular basis to recharge the batteries.

Male Bashing As A Bad Habit

Dr. Helen notes that the magazine Cosmopolitan has broken a mild taboo — talking about the detrimental effects of male bashing on relationships in general. They refeence it in terms of how it damages women, of course, but the magazine hits the problem head-on otherwise:

The advice is good and direct, such as telling women to stop telling their dates they are not like the jerks they usually date. “You’re actually broadcasting for the most part, you think dudes suck.” To break the habit, the author suggests when your girlfriends start guy trashing, you change the subject. Or, “if a girlfriend says that guys never commit, ger her to see how silly it is to make such broad statements by making one about women, like, ‘I know, and women start shopping for a wedding dress after the third date.'” Cosmo gives suggestions (but should you really need this advice after the age of 12?) that women should ditch lines like “Men are dogs” or “Unless its football, it’s too complicated for his brain.”

Until I mostly gave up episodic network television, I found this to be doubly true in entertainment and in advertising aimed at women. Men were made helpless by washing machines, mops, cold & flu season, food preparation, and with any other product whose most discerning consumers — women — would certainly choose the advert’s brand. Fathers on sitcoms were emasculated, ridiculous boors getting daily comeuppances from their wives and their children.
One exception to this was The Cosby Show, a deliberate exception as conceived by Bill Cosby himself. Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who played his son Theo in the series, told a story about his audition that highlighted Cosby’s choice. He read for the part in the manner most TV series used, with a snotty, back-talking, sarcastic manner. Cosby stopped Warner and asked, “Do you talk to your parents like that?” Warner said no, and Cosby then asked, “So why would you talk to me like that?”
Unfortunately, it was one of the few exceptions. Male-bashing has continued for most of one generation and into the next, but perhaps we may finally have tired of it, even if we haven’t learned any lessons from it. (via Instapundit)

Bratz Girls Damage Self-Image Of Young Girls

The American Psychological Association reaffirmed what most people of sense and taste already know — that overly sexualized advertising aimed at young girls pressures them into objectifying themselves sexually. The Bratz Girls dolls and accessories come in for specific criticism:

Advertising and media images that encourage girls to focus on looks and sexuality are harmful to their emotional and physical health, a new report by the American Psychological Association says.
The report, released Monday, analyzed some 300 studies over the past 18 months. It included a variety of media, from television and movies to song lyrics, and looked at advertising showing body-baring doll clothes for pre-schoolers, tweens posing in suggestive ways in magazines and the sexual antics of young celebrity role models.
The researchers found such images may make girls think of and treat their own bodies as sexual objects. …
The panel defined sexualization as occurring “when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.”
The report cites Bratz dolls, in particular, for “sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings and feather boas.”
“Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality,” the report says.

As the grandfather of a 4-year-old little girl, this isn’t an academic exercise to me. I understand that sex sells, and when the product is aimed at adults, that’s no problem. Sex is a choice that adults make, and adults have a more settled sense of themselves and comprehend the profit motive behind the advertising. Teenagers have less confidence in their own identity, and while they have the intellectual capacity to comprehend the profit motive, these advertisements take advantage of their natural insecurities.
Preteens and little girs do not have any sophistication in defending their own identity and values, and dolls like the Bratz Girls model the kinds of behavior that lead to teen pregnancy, the spread of STDs, and the general devaluation of women and their role in society. Bratz Girls are not liberated in any practical sense of the word. They consign girls and women to the role of sexual toys, selling girls who have no sexual development on the lifestyle of sluts before they have a chance to understand its negative aspects. Worse, it creates peer pressure among their friends to buy into the Bratz image.
MGA Entertainment isn’t the only offender, of course; retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and popular music and videos also objectify and overly sexualize young people, especially women. The solution won’t and shouldn’t come from governmental regulation. Parents need to take command of these influences on their children and stop putting money into the cash registers that float this nonsense. We have to ensure that we build a future for our children, especially our young girls, that aims somewhere above the belt line.

Is It Nuts To Worry About Children’s Literature?

An award-winning children’s book faces a boycott for including the word “scrotum”. The book, The Higher Power of Lucky, tells the story of a 10-year-old orphan whose scrappy spirit is intended to encourage young readers. Librarians have objected to the vocabulary:

The word “scrotum” does not often appear in polite conversation. Or children’s literature, for that matter.
Yet there it is on the first page of “The Higher Power of Lucky,” by Susan Patron, this year’s winner of the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature. The book’s heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in a wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum. …
The book has already been banned from school libraries in a handful of states in the South, the West and the Northeast, and librarians in other schools have indicated in the online debate that they may well follow suit. Indeed, the topic has dominated the discussion among librarians since the book was shipped to schools.
Pat Scales, a former chairwoman of the Newbery Award committee, said that declining to stock the book in libraries was nothing short of censorship.
“The people who are reacting to that word are not reading the book as a whole,” she said. “That’s what censors do — they pick out words and don’t look at the total merit of the book.”

Scales may have some literacy problems herself. Failing to purchase a book does not constitute censorship. Censorship involves an authority silencing a speaker or an author; in this case, it would be some sort of government action preventing the publication of the book. One would hope that a woman so deeply involved in publishing would know the difference.
Censorship has not happened — it’s just that th intended consumers have rejected the material as inappropriate. Libraries are not required to purchase every book to which the Newbery committee gives its awards. Librarians and educators are expected to be discriminating in their book-purchasing decisions, and that includes their determination of whether material is appropriate for their readers. They don’t buy Playboy for high-school libraries, even if the fiction in the magazine happens to be first rate or the interview has special resonance for eductaion.
I don’t think that the word “scrotum” is really all that big of an issue. If the book had been aimed at a little older readership, it would be no issue at all. “Scrotum” is an actual medical term of male genitalia, and not at all titillating. By the time girls reach middle school, they should already have had sex education that included the proper terminology for male and female plumbing.
However, one has to wonder at the author of this book for including the word. The New York Times reports that Susan Patron declares herself mystified by the entire controversy. She says the passage is based on a true story involving a friend’s dog. Almost in the same breath as she declares herself innocent of ulterior motives, she then says that she wanted to teach children about language and body parts, and that “[t]he word is just so delicious.” If so, then why complain if librarians and teachers don’t want to teach that particular word to that age group?
Dana Nilsson, a teacher and librarian from Durango, Colorado, put the issue in its proper perspective. “[Y]ou won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature — at least not for children.” True, unless the author and her allies want to pick a fight about censorship.

Should Spanking Become A Crime?

California will soon debate whether to make spanking a child of less than 4 years of age a crime punishable by prison time. A bill in the state assembly intends to take the decision for disciplining their children out of the hands of parents, and the Governator says he may well sign it:

California parents could face jail and a fine for spanking their young children under legislation a state lawmaker has promised to introduce next week.
Democratic Assemblywoman Sally Lieber said such a law is needed because spanking victimizes helpless children and breeds violence in society.
“I think it’s pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child,” Lieber said. “Is it OK to whip a 1-year-old or a 6-month-old or a newborn?”
Lieber said her proposal would make spanking, hitting and slapping a child under 4 years old a misdemeanor. Adults could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

I’m a bit of an agnostic on spanking. My parents spanked me from time to time, open handed on the seat of my pants, and I hardly consider myself abused. I’m not certain it’s the most successful strategy for disciplining children in most circumstances, though. My son and daughter-in-law use subtraction and time-outs instead, withholding play time or toys when the Little Admiral misbehaves — of course, now I’m speaking rhetorically, because my granddaughter never misbehaves. (Yeah, I know, I’m a sucker.)
However, I don’t believe that spanking as normally defines constitutes child abuse. If it did, we’d apply the existing abuse laws in cases of spanking. This seems more to me like a hobby horse of some legislators and an opportunity to force their views regarding parenting on the citizens of California. The Los Angeles Times reports that many Californians think the same:

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber hit a nerve when she mused publicly this week about making it illegal for parents to strike children younger than 4.
The Bay Area Democrat hasn’t introduced a bill yet, but critical calls and e-mails — including some personal attacks — have flooded her offices since her local newspaper wrote about her intention.
Unbowed, Lieber said she would introduce a bill next week to make California the first state to make the hitting of a toddler or baby a crime. Language was still being drafted, but Lieber was considering making a violation a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in county jail.

On an ironic note, Lieber is catching some flack for not having any children herself. This echoes the comments made by Barbara Boxer to Condolezza Rice, but in this case it has more application, since Lieber intends on regulating parental choices.
Regardless, this appears to be an unnecessary intrusion on the rights of parents. Parents have spanked children, open-handed and on the rear, for millenia and we’ve managed to survive it. I appreciate that many people do not agree with this strategy, and I’m not sure I’d use it, either. (MY son was too old for that when I married his mother.) However, just as I would not require parents to spank, I would also not bar them from using a method I do not consider abusive, certainly not with the enforcement of the government.
I’m interested in what CQ readers think about spanking. Vote in the poll below, and be sure to add your comments in the thread.

What do you think of spanking?
Child abuse, plain and simple
Not abuse but should be outlawed by the government
A parental choice with benefits and drawbacks
A good strategy for instilling discipline
No opinion
Poll starter: Captain Ed See Results

Are Libraries The Same As Book Stores?

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported on the efforts of the Fairfax County public libraries to create shelf room for best sellers by culling out the classics that have received little attention. Research on the library computer system reported on titles that had not been loaned to readers in over two years, but among those titles are classics of literature and letters:

You can’t find “Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings” at the Pohick Regional Library anymore. Or “The Education of Henry Adams” at Sherwood Regional. Want Emily Dickinson’s “Final Harvest”? Don’t look to the Kingstowne branch.
It’s not that the books are checked out. They’re just gone. No one was reading them, so librarians took them off the shelves and dumped them.
Along with those classics, thousands of novels and nonfiction works have been eliminated from the Fairfax County collection after a new computer software program showed that no one had checked them out in at least 24 months.
Public libraries have always weeded out old or unpopular books to make way for newer titles. But the region’s largest library system is taking turnover to a new level.
Like Borders and Barnes & Noble, Fairfax is responding aggressively to market preferences, calculating the system’s return on its investment by each foot of space on the library shelves — and figuring out which products will generate the biggest buzz. So books that people actually want are easy to find, but many books that no one is reading are gone — even if they are classics.

This makes sense — for operating a bookstore. The mission of a retail business is to supply products that customers want to purchase for maximum profit. Market preferences and buyer trends make sense for Borders and Barnes & Noble, and a retailer would not last long without performing the same kinds of analyses.
However, is that the mission of a public library? It seems to me that a public library has a different mission than a retail book store, and that is to maintain a compendium of the literary legacy of our culture. Best-sellers could qualify, but favoring those books that have popularity at the moment by using them as a replacement for classic literature.
For instance, the Fairfax libraries have not had a reader borrow a copy of “For Whom The Bell Tolls” or “To Kill A Mockingbird” in over two years, which means they may wind up in the trash bin in the near future. Would anyone consider a library complete without either of those two titles? And would it make sense to replace them with the latest offering from Stephen King, whom I admire as a writer but who sells millions of copies of his new titles? If a book becomes a best seller, it means that lots of people have bought it — and that argues against the necessity of maintaining their presence in a library.
The retail model works perfectly for retail booksellers. Libraries have a different mission, or should. They serve to archive our history and our culture through our literature, and those titles considered classics have earned that position. It’s the difference between popularity and value. The two terms are not synonymous.
Addendum: This topic came to my attention partly through the satirical blogger, Jon Swift. He writes satire pieces mostly about conservatives, and I have been the target of his wit on more than one occasion. However, he’s too good of a writer to miss, and in this case he’s hilarious. Be sure to read the entire post. (And yes, I love getting e-mail from dead 18th-century Irish writers. Don’t you?)