Will Rahn reports on a letter that Laurie Cumbo, a New York City politician representing Crown Heights, Brooklyn, wrote to her constituents regarding the “knockout game” — a trend in which young black men attack Jews suddenly and violently, for no reason other than wanting to hurt them. Cumbo, a black woman, strains to be evenhanded and pacific, but boy, does she ever stumble here:
Through those interactions, it was brought to my attention by many of the African American/Caribbean residents that perhaps the relationship between the two communities is not as great as it is currently perceived to be by the leadership. At the meeting, I shared that many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes. I relayed these sentiments at the forum not as an insult to the Jewish community, but rather to offer possible insight as to how young African American/Caribbean teens could conceivably commit a “hate crime” against a community that they know very little about.
I admire the Jewish community immensely. I am particularly inspired by the fact that the Jewishc ommunity has not assimilated to the dominant American culture, and has preserved their religious and cultural values while remaining true to themselves. I respect and appreciate the Jewish community’s family values and unity that has led to strong political, economic and cultural gains. While I personally regard [sic] this level of tenacity, I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.
As an African American woman, this is challenging, because I recognize that it is Black children and not Jewish children that are playing the “Knock Out Game.” Why is this? In many ways governmental neglect, outside uncontrolled influences and failed leadership have led to the breakdown that so many young people of color are currently facing. I feel torn because I feel apart of the very system that has caused the destructive path that so many young people have decided to take while I am simultaneously demanding that they be arrested by that same system.
Wow. Just, wow. John Podhoretz explains why this is so chilling:
So here we have it. … Jews are crowding out black people in Crown Heights, they are stoking resentment because of their financial success, and while there can be no justification for acts of violence, it’s a terrible pain for someone like Cumbo to say those perpetrating the violence should be arrested because they are victims too. Such textbook apologetics and excuses for crime hearken back to a different and far worse time for New York City, as does the nauseating stench of Cumbo’s classic anti-Semitic stew.
It was in the very neighborhood Cumbo now represents that the worst anti-Jewish event in modern American history took place: A three-day riot in 1991 following the accidental killing of an African-American child by a limousine driven by a Hasidic man. Two men were killed, stores were looted, and homes were targeted by Molotov-cocktail throwers through spotting the mezuzot on the doorfames. It was a shattering event for the city, not least because the mayor at the time, David Dinkins, seemed to feel as though he was powerless to act as the riot spread. His conduct during Crown Heights was so shameful it came to be one of the key reasons Rudy Giuliani ousted Dinkins from City Hall—even though the election took place two years later.
Cumbo is an ally of the incoming mayor, Bill DeBlasio. Her equivocation on anti-Semitic violence is appalling. If white teenagers were attacking innocent black people on the street because they resented blacks for their success, or for any reason at all, I guarantee you that neither Cumbo nor any other politician would be so mealy-mouthed in finding excuses for such criminals.
Micah Mattix disagrees with Tim Graham, who dings The New York Times for not reviewing bestselling conservative books. Mattix:
The Times can review whatever it pleases, and there is nothing odd in it ignoring run-of-the-mill books by conservative personalities like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. After all, even The Wall Street Journal’s somewhat more conservative (and excellent!) review section ignored Palin and Limbaugh, and rightly so.
It is a little odd, however, that The Times mostly ignores interesting books by serious conservative writers…
I agree with all of this. Limbaugh, Palin, et alia are not hills conservatives ought to be willing to die on, so to speak. There are an incredible number of titles published every year. You really can’t imagine. When I was at the Dallas Morning News, for example, the books sent for review piled up in a large room; I am sure that maybe only two percent of all the books sent by publishers were ever reviewed, in part because there are fewer and fewer pages in newspapers for reviews. Book review editors have a responsibility to their readers not to give notice to crap (and I include under that rubric similar pseudo-books published by left-wing personalities). Newspaper book reviewing really is a zero-sum game, in that every column inch given over to a junk book, however popular the book and its author may be, is a column inch taken away from a serious, worthwhile book.
That said, I would not be surprised if an analysis of the books the Times reviews every year showed a strong and consistent bias to the left. Nor would I be surprised if this were largely unconscious. We all live in bubbles, and few bubbles are as impenetrable as that around New York media and publishing. Part of what makes it so thick and opaque from the inside is that people within it consider themselves to be so cosmopolitan. They often don’t know what they don’t know.
I remember going around with my agent trying to sell Crunchy Cons – which, by the way, was favorably reviewed by the Times; my recent Little Way was not reviewed — to a publisher, and meeting with an editor at a top publishing house. I was a writer at National Review then. I found it so interesting that this particular editor seemed to think that conservative books were all about Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and the usual crowd. Those books were bestsellers then, and I wouldn’t blame him a bit for wanting to publish those moneymakers. The interesting thing was the impression he gave that he simply did not know or did not care to explore ideas from the right. He seemed to assume that all conservatives were vendors of red meat. To be sure, an editor at a different publishing house — a cultural and political liberal, she was — did buy Crunchy Cons, and was a pleasure to work with. Not everyone is the same, obviously; I’m generalizing here.
If I were a book review editor, I would try to strike a balance between the Worthy and the Popular, with a bias toward the Worthy. Sometimes, attention must be paid to a new book by a popular writer, even if it’s not very good, because the public understandably wants to know about it. A good book review editor, though, would be the sort of person who reads as widely as she can, so she can keep informed of what might be worth attention, and exercise taste and judgment in whether or not to feature a review.
For example, that mega-selling book about the little kid who says he went to heaven is one of the books that demands to be reviewed. Why? Well, for one thing any book that sells millions of copies tells us something about our culture. Something about that book touches people. It could be a junk book, but it at least merits consideration. Second, even if you don’t believe in heaven, or in this kid’s story, there may be worth in analyzing what it is about the book that makes it so compelling to so many people, even if it’s just fluff to you. Me, I’m a religious believer who thinks these things can be true, but who tends to react strongly against pop spirituality books. I would have been unlikely to have commissioned a review of that heaven book for my book review section, but I would have read the book before deciding that, simply because the book was a phenomenon. As it happened, I did actually read the book because I wanted to see what the buzz was about. Though it was a pretty short and simple book, I would have commissioned a short but thoughtful review of it because it speaks to a profound human longing, and does so unusually well for its genre. But I digress…
The question is not, “Why does The New York Times ignore run-of-the-mill conservative books?” The question is — questions are — “Does The New York Times have a habit of ignoring serious and challenging conservative books, and if so, why?
Maybe the more important question is: “Who cares?” Book reviews don’t sell many books, not anymore. I was talking to some publishing friends the last time I was in New York, and they were saying that the business has changed so much that reviews, while appreciated, aren’t an important part of marketing. One friend said that the big houses don’t even place a premium on getting their authors on Today or GMA anymore. Anything helps, of course, but what makes a bestseller is such a crapshoot that nothing apart from Oprah’s endorsement means anything.
Our daughter “Amanda” lives in another state and has been married to “Jacob” for several years. Theirs is an open relationship, and I have always known that. My husband, however has kept his head in the sand regarding this. My daughter has a boyfriend, “Tom,” whom Jacob knows about and has a great friendship with. They are all planning to come to our home this Christmas, but my husband insists that Tom (who has visited us previously) is not welcome. Do I tell our daughter, son-in-law, and daughter’s boyfriend to make other holiday plans? My opinion is that they are all consenting adults, there are no children involved, and always behave appropriately in public.
—Stuck in the Middle With Him
Some American Idol graduate whose career is going nowhere needs to write a holiday anthem to encourage polyamorists who are sadly marginalized and excluded from family Christmases. Why not? Why draw the line here, hater?
UPDATE: Though it’s true that yesterday’s two-line Crystal Bowersox post drew three times the comments that my long, comparatively deep post about crime, punishment, murder, and God, I’m not actually click-trolling with this. If the Bowersox “holiday anthem” (her phrase) about coming out to one’s family by bringing one’s same-sex partner home to Christmas is something to be celebrated, what in principle would be wrong with a holiday anthem about coming out to one’s family as a polyamorist by bringing one’s poly partner(s) home to Christmas? Serious question.
UPDATE.2: Actually, these Christmas song questions highlight how confused and confusing our response to the radically changing American sexual and social scene often is. I think relatively few people are entirely consistent on the matter. Would I welcome my adult child’s same-sex partner to the Christmas table? I would, no matter what I thought about the moral status of their relationship. But I would not welcome my child’s polygamous partner(s) to the Christmas table, and would not even consider it.
Toleration is not endorsement, of course. Why is one tolerable to me, but the other not? I’m not sure I have a satisfying answer. I think they are equally sinful, from an Orthodox Christian point of view, and incapable of being squared with the will of God. Yet in the case of the gay family member, I honestly have no problem socializing in good faith, any more than I would have a problem socializing in good faith with straight family members who happened to be living without benefit of clergy with their partners. Why is this acceptable, but polygamy at the Christmas table is absolutely not?
Obviously because polygamy still has about it a strong taboo, one worth preserving. Homosexuality, for better or for worse, has lost that taboo for most people, including people like me, who hold to the standard Christian position on marriage and sexuality. It’s just not worth alienating the affection of my family over. As Sam M. always points out, this is why gay rights have won: when conservatives like me don’t think defending our principles is worth enforcing a taboo that would alienate the affection of those we love, the battle is over.
So why is the anti-polygamy taboo worth drawing a line against? Because, you might say, polygamy is socially destructive in ways that same-sex coupling is not. And I would pretty much agree with that. The thing that leaves me very uneasy is the language and logic used to justify the legitimacy of homosexuality and gay marriage — the language of liberty, liberation, and personal autonomy — leaves us in a weak position against which to resist polygamy. This is what social conservatives have long been saying in the SSM debate: if the moral legitimacy of sexual association and partnering depends only on mutual consent, and if all forms of love have equal moral status, then what is wrong with a polygamous arrangement, freely entered into? By what right does society deny polygamists recognition in law and custom, including a place at the Christmas table? To social conservatives, once the gay taboo has fallen because we have come to believe as a society that there is no intrinsic superiority in male-female marital couplings, the defense against polygamy relies on an arbitrary drawing of the line between dyads and everybody else.
The only people in this matter who are fully consistent are those who would accept everybody, and those who would refuse all but one-male-one-female pairings. My guess is that most of us are neither. This is messy.
Mrs. Dreher says this is her new favorite website. It really is hilarious. They take photos from the L.L. Bean catalog and caption them as if the dude were the perfect boyfriend. For example:
“Let’s go check out the foliage by the river trail,” Mitchell said. “We can pick up some apple cider doughnuts to take with us too.”
Travelers at the Gainesville Regional Airport were forced to reconfigure their plans Sunday afternoon after Delta Air Lines canceled their commercial flight to Atlanta so the University of Florida men’s basketball team could use the airplane.
A maintenance delay grounded the aircraft meant to carry the team from Gainesville to Storrs, Conn., for its Monday-night game against the University of Connecticut, which was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. The airline canceled Delta Connection flight 5059, which had been Atlanta-bound, and used the aircraft for a charter flight for the team instead.
Ah, the airlines.
The reader writes:
Here is the lunch I had today in Cassandra’s Cup, a tearoom across the street from Jane Austen’s house in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, England: a British-style BLT and a pot of tea. Alas, Cassandra’s Cup is for sale! Let us hope that the new owner will not glitz it up.
By James Thach on November 25, 2013
My wife and I bought this after selling our daughter Amanda into white slavery. We actually got a refurbished. It’s missing the remote, but oh well– for $10K off, I can afford a universal, right? The picture is amazing. I’ve never seen the world with such clarity.
Amanda, if you’re reading this, hang in there, honey! We’ll see you in a year.
I just wanted to add an addendum to my review. Since posting it, we have received a flood of responses. People have said some pretty hurtful things–even questioning our values. Let me assure you, this was not an easy decision to make, and we made it as a family. Obviously, it’s very personal. But in light of all the second-guessing, I wanted to explain our thinking.
First and foremost, screen size. I really think you can’t go too big. 85″ may seem huge, but you get used to it fast. Second, resolution. Is 4K overkill? Please, that’s what they said about 1080P! More dots = better. Period. And as far as this being a $40,000 “dumb” TV, people need to re-read my initial post: WE BOUGHT IT REFURBISHED. It was only $30,000.
Some of you may think I’m avoiding the “elephant in the room”-the real reason why this was such a heart-wrenching choice. So let’s just get it out there. Yes, the 120 Hz refresh rate is a disappointment, especially on a 4K. But life is full of compromises. And frankly, we hardly notice. All in all, no regrets.
P.S., as for our daughter, NO ONE has the right to question our parenting. Totally out of bounds. Amanda was going into 7th grade, so it was going to be a transitional year anyway. Now she gets to see the world. How many kids her age get to go to Bahrain? I sure as heck didn’t, but you don’t hear me screaming “child abuse.” Bottom line: MYOB! Seriously.
This TV arrived yesterday at my mansion on space station Elysium via cargo shuttle from Earth (or Poor People Land, as my daughter calls it). I am absolutely blown away with the clarity and realism it presents. I was watching the Poor People Land news and I actually felt like I WAS THERE among them! It felt so real that I took a 4 hour shower in purified water to shake the feeling of actually having set foot in Poor People Land. I asked Samsung had the TV been touched by poor people during manufacturing and they said yes but said the remote was made by machine, so as long as I only touch the remote I should be good. I even installed a laser barrier around the TV to prevent accidents! Good job Samsung!
You have to read the whole thing. They are endless, and really quite funny.
Drum’s childhood in Port Angeles and, briefly, in Northern California was far from idyllic. His parents, both drug addicts, had him about one year after their two other sons were put into foster care, and divorced soon thereafter. His father, violent and only sporadically mentally present due to his drug and alcohol use, remarried. As a kid, Drum remembers stealing his father’s toluene—a solvent that Drum’s mother had abused while Drum was in utero—sparking an addiction that he would struggle with throughout the rest of his life.
Drum learned quickly that adults, particularly men, could not be trusted. His brother, Isaac, told police that his father was volatile, but Drum later revealed more about the violence in the household. He recalls his father spitting tobacco in his face for doing something wrong, and also strangling him unconscious in front of friends. He remembers what it was like to have adults watch as he writhed on the floor, doing nothing to save him. The memories of seeing the sexual abuse are hazy, but Drum can still recall the night when he was 6 years old and walked into the living room. He remembers that his father was sitting on the couch in a night robe. And he remembers seeing a teenage girl, dressed in a long nightgown, straddling his father and, even then, knowing what he was seeing was wrong. Drum’s father was later convicted of statutory rape.
Drum spent time in the care of other family members and, when he was 10 or 11, was staying with one of his uncles. Drum decided to go for a walk around town by himself. He was coming of age and was enjoying the freedom to do things independently. But, while he was out, a man in his 30s saw him and asked if Drum would like to go drinking. When Drum accepted, the man went to a nearby liquor store and bought two big bottles of whiskey.
The pair went into the woods and, by the time things started to get out of hand, Drum was too drunk to run away or even really know what was happening. The man forced Drum to perform oral sex and then forced oral sex on him. Drum didn’t know where the man went afterward, only that he left. He managed to find his way out of the woods and to the bus line that would take him near his uncle’s home. Drunk and unable to walk, he crawled on hands and knees toward the home. Someone in a car saw him and took him the rest of the way.
Drum never spoke of what happened that day. He told a few close friends that he had been molested as a child, but nothing more. After the assault, Drum became very protective of others, mostly women and children, almost to a fault.
Let me make it perfectly clear: what Drum did was deeply wrong, and he belongs in jail. Full stop.
That said, this story made me reflect on the connection between belief in God and our moral actions. As longtime readers will know, nothing sets me off like hearing stories about children abused, sexually and otherwise. I was not abused as a child, but there was a time in my life — I was 14 — when I was held down in a hotel room by a group of popular teenagers who threatened to sexually abuse me. Two adults who were chaperones on that vacation literally stepped over me, begging them to help, to walk out of the room. That was an educative moment. I learned in an intimate and traumatic way that authority will throw people they find expendable to the wolves. For me, the Catholic child abuse situation was one long series of emotional triggers. From the Atlantic story:
These cases are shocking for anyone but, for someone who was sexually abused as a child, hearing about these stories can trigger serious, psychological reactions. “It is very common that hearing about a child being victimized or hearing about a molester living in the neighborhood would trigger a lot of the old feelings and perhaps memories about what happened to the victim,” said Dr. Carolyn Knight, professor of social work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County and the author of Working with Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma. Some who have experienced abuse in childhood, particularly men, are prone to turning these emotions outward, sometimes violently. “Physically targeting child molesters is probably very, very rare and unusual,” Knight said. “But the dynamic is not uncommon.”
To be sure, I have never been remotely tempted to harm a child abuser. But I have not only been tempted to sympathize with those who have harmed child abusers, I have publicly done so. Back in 2002, with the cascade of clerical abuse stories coming down, Dontee Stokes, with whom Father Maurice Blackwell had had sex a decade earlier (the priest admitted to this), when Stokes was a minor, shot and seriously wounded Fr. Blackwell. Of course the Archdiocese of Baltimore had known about Fr. Blackwell’s behavior, and had reassigned him. Dontee Stokes couldn’t take it anymore. He confessed to shooting Fr. Blackwell.
I recall reacting to news of this crime by blogging support for Dontee Stokes. I shortly thereafter regretted that emotional outburst, and said so publicly. Vigilantism is wrong; I had been wrong to voice support for it, and wrong to have supported it even in my heart. I took that to confession.
The thing is, I didn’t feel guilty for taking pleasure in Fr. Blackwell getting comeuppance. I knew I was guilty of a sin, and that I should work to bring my feelings in line with what I knew was right. In fact, thinking of it right now, I don’t feel sorry for Fr. Blackwell, and I don’t feel sorry for the victims of Patrick Drum. But I know that my emotions are a poor guide to right and wrong in these cases, and that they must be refused.
If I weren’t a believing Christian, I don’t know that I would have the strength to accomplish this. Stories like this set my heart on fire with anger. If I didn’t believe in a God of justice, and a God who commands us to refuse rage and vigilantism, it would be hard for me to resist it. I confess that I am powerless before it. Again, I have never been remotely tempted to an act of violence against a child abuser, but it is an ever-present temptation to endorse, if only in my heart, those who do. Ideally, I would reject these emotions for the highest possible reasons; sometimes, I get there. But mostly it’s a matter of knowing that God is just, and if I were to participate however tangentially (that is, with emotional assent) to acts of vigilante violence against sex offenders, I would be guilty of sin, and God would hold me accountable for that.
That’s my particular problem. For others, the trigger could be episodes of racial bigotry, or any number of things that touch on buried trauma. It’s important to make an abstract, rational case for the importance of the law, and for refusing vigilantism. But for many of us, whether because of past trauma or the strength of our convictions, fear of the Lord is more important in staying our hand, literally or, as in my case and most cases, metaphorically. I am just that primitive, deep down, and if you think you are not, you are lying to yourself. A capacity to render ordered justice is near the heart of what separates civilization from barbarism. No matter how civilized we are, very few if any of us really exorcise the barbarian within. History is undeniable on this point. All of us — even those who are strong believers in God — are capable of doing, or agreeing with, horrible deeds under the right circumstances.
A 1999 story from The New York Times Magazine, about the curse of the culture of vengeance in Albania, brought home to me the radical liberation of the ethic of Jesus Christ. The author talks about the deep dedication to blood feuds among Albanians, rooted in the kanun, or traditional, unwritten code. Excerpt:
At its core, the kanun is all about defending one’s honor, since ”a man who is dishonored is considered dead.” While lesser offenses to one’s honor can be settled through apologies or gift-giving, higher offenses mandate the taking of blood.
By the dictates of the kanun, a murder is the ultimate affront to a family’s honor, the family existing in a limbo state of disgrace, essentially ”owned” by the killer, until they ”take their blood back” — and the most respectable way to do that is to kill the killer. Of course, once this is done, it means the other family is in disgrace and needs to take its blood back.
If it sounds like a recipe for slaughter, it gets worse. Since the kanun of Leke Dukagjini was not written down until the beginning of this century, its precepts were passed down orally — which meant they mutated. In the original edicts, for example, only the actual murderer was targeted in a ”blood,” or a kanun-sanctioned vendetta, but those parameters gradually expanded over time to include all his male relatives. In some villages, certain crimes were judged so heinous that they mandated a 2-for-1 or even 3-for-1 payback. A result was bloods that ranged over entire regions and for generations — the longest reportedly lasted 240 years — and left scores dead. They also had a devastating economic impact. Since a home could never be invaded in order to carry out a blood, the males of an entire extended family on the wrong side of a feud could spend years ”locked” inside their houses or kulas.
Granted, this is an extreme example, but you see the point. The idea that you should forgive, that forgiving releases you and society both from the prison of vengeance, is radical — and profoundly liberating. That’s what Mr. Ives’ Christmas is about. As the Oscar Hijuelos novel illustrates, this is by no means easy. In fact, it’s excruciating. It can be the project of decades. The thing to observe about the Ives character is that even when he is powerless to forgive his son’s murderer, he refuses many opportunities to assassinate the murderer offered him by vigilantes. Ives is a Catholic. He may be imprisoned by grief and hatred towards a criminal who deserves his anger, but Ives knows deep down that vigilantism is wrong. It’s just wrong, and he will not have any part of it. This saving refusal of vengeance is inextricable from his Catholic faith — and for reasons I won’t get into here (read the novel!), it very nearly costs him that faith.
I am not going to say that only religious believers can find the strength to refuse violence against those they deem guilty of heinous crimes, and having gotten away with them in some sense. Plainly many people who profess religious belief yield to these passions all the time (the Albanians, for example, are almost certainly either Christian or Muslim), and there are surely examples of men and women of no particular religious belief who found, and find, the inner resources to resist. What I know is my own heart, and my own weakness. I know that God is watching me, and that I will be held divinely accountable for my own thoughts and actions. And I believe, because the man I revere as God has said so, that I am commanded to forgive, which entails the forswearing of vengeance, even in my heart.
This is hard. It might be the hardest thing for me. But what choice is there? If I didn’t believe in Jesus Christ, I would make justice my idol, and there would be blood — if not from my hand, then from hands like Patrick Drum’s, hands I would bless with my silent consent.
Crystal Bowersox illustrates the principle that there is really is nothing that cannot be turned into an opportunity to advance one’s cultural politics. God, this is tiresome.
UPDATE: So, in a press statement, Bowersox says she hopes this song becomes a “holiday anthem” for gay folks. Well, sure, she intends it as activism. But there is also this: her record label dropped her in 2011 after disappointing sales of her debut album, and her sophomore effort in 2013 tanked. Suddenly, things become a bit clearer.
A straggler from Thanksgiving. Doesn’t that look incredibly cozy, with the snow on the ground outside the window? The reader writes:
You can’t see the Brussels sprouts, the salad, the vegetarian grilled riblets, or the non-turkey-tainted stuffing. Nor can you tell the turkey was grass-fed locally on an Animal Welfare-certified farm. And you’re missing the homemade pumpkin pie!
I, for one, absolutely love Brussels sprouts, and I don’t care who knows it!
The shot below isn’t really a VFYT, but the turkey, done on the reader’s brand-new Weber, was so beautiful I couldn’t fail to show it to you. The reader forgot to say the name of his town, but he did describe this bird as having made its Thanksgiving debut in “frigid and windy western Massachusetts”: