Archive | January, 2013

Have I Been a Truth-in-Fiction Snob?

25 Jan

I am a person who has no faith in Hollywood to recreate anything that resembles actual history.  I have no interest in being misled regarding historical fact, and I know every historically-based movie will distort or add historical “facts”, even maybe purposely deceiving viewers on important issues in order to support the story line or the director’s ideology.

Therefore, I do not watch movies based upon historical events.  This includes movies based upon recent history, such as alleged biographies of Nancy Reagan or Zuckerburg, or the upcoming movie on Steve Jobs, as well as movies like “Lincoln”.

I feel the same way about books, of course.  I love studying history, but give it to me straight – don’t feed it through some filter that wildly distorts events, personalities, intrigues, etc.

So a fellow blogger with the handle ‘nebraskaenergyobserver’ posted a couple of references to columns written by a Professor Matthew Pinsker, a Lincoln and Civil War scholar, in which he reveals some truths about Lincoln not mentioned in the movie “Lincoln”, and tells us how he feels about the movie.  These articles are featured on the site “The Recovering Politician”, and I have included the link to the first article below.

Here’s a small part of what Dr. Pinsker had to say in his first column on this subject.

Excerpts:   [Bolding is mine]

It’s a mistake to worry about whether “Lincoln” the movie is historically accurate.

It’s historically inspired and inspiring but by definition any work of art that blends fiction (such as invented dialogue) with fact should never be considered “accurate.”

Spielberg himself acknowledges all this when he describes his movie as a “dream” and as a work of “historical fiction”.  .  .  .

[Pinsker writes here about important issues that the movie ignores or downplays.  Then he goes on to say . . .]

That doesn’t mean that the movie has no use in the history classroom or for the lifelong history student. “Lincoln” the movie creates an unforgettable historical mood or experience that almost no actual history of the period can match.  .  .  .

So, accurate?  No. But excellent anyway?  Absolutely.  In other words, don’t go to this movie (or any historical movie) to learn the facts.  Go to imagine the experience and to enjoy the illusion that a great filmmaker can create.

[End of excerpts]

I’m not sure that Dr. Pinsker has won me over, but I’ve not quite thought about historical fiction in entirely this way before.  Since almost every serious creator of historical fiction will try to create an accurate sense of the historical period (mood, manners, and culture) with which it deals, we should be able to subvert our aversion to being misled regarding the facts, while immersing ourselves in a sense of what living in that period was really like and enjoying a non-factual story.

I think I may need to be more open-minded, and change my attitude about some historical fiction.  I wonder if there is an AA equivalent for people with my aversion to distortion of truth.  Or maybe just a counselor.

The problem is, if I want to continue to keep up with current events, I have to deal with my aversion to lies, deceit, and distortion every day when I watch the news.


Affecting Outcomes through Education

18 Jan

Very interesting article by E.D. Hirsch on the statistical link between language proficiency and upward mobility.  I am duplicating the first three paragraphs here, but the full article can be found at

Excerpt:   [Bolding is mine]

A Wealth of Words

A number of notable recent books, including Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality and Timothy Noah’s The Great Divergence, lay out in disheartening detail the growing inequality of income and opportunity in the United States, along with the decline of the middle class. The aristocracy of family so deplored by Jefferson seems upon us; the counter-aristocracy of merit that long defined America as the land of opportunity has receded.

These writers emphasize global, technological, and sociopolitical trends in their analyses. But we should factor in another cause of receding economic equality: the decline of educational opportunity. There’s a well-established correlation between a college degree and economic benefit. And for guidance on what helps students finish college and earn more income, we should consider the SAT, whose power to predict graduation rates is well documented. The way to score well on the SAT—at least on the verbal SAT—is to have a large vocabulary. As the eminent psychologist John Carroll once observed, the verbal SAT is essentially a vocabulary test.

So there’s a positive correlation between a student’s vocabulary size in grade 12, the likelihood that she will graduate from college, and her future level of income. The reason is clear: vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening, and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history, and the arts. If we want to reduce economic inequality in America, a good place to start is the language-arts classroom.

Ben Franklin, on Welfare

16 Jan

“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

Benjamin Franklin, On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, November 1766


Of Guns, Traditions, and Values

16 Jan

Walter Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University, has written a new essay on our twisted society, called “Are Guns the Problem?”  I have posted an excerpt below.  The full essay can be read at

Excerpt:  [Bolding is mine]

When I attended primary and secondary school — during the 1940s and ’50s — one didn’t hear of the kind of shooting mayhem that’s become routine today. Why? It surely wasn’t because of strict firearm laws. My replica of the 1902 Sears mail-order catalog shows 35 pages of firearm advertisements. People just sent in their money, and a firearm was shipped.

Dr. John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” reports that until the 1960s, some New York City public high schools had shooting clubs where students competed in citywide shooting contests for university scholarships. They carried their rifles to school on the subways and, upon arrival, turned them over to their homeroom teacher or the gym coach and retrieved their rifles after school for target practice. Virginia’s rural areas had a long tradition of high-school students going hunting in the morning before school and sometimes storing their rifles in the trunks of their cars that were parked on school grounds. Often a youngster’s 12th or 14th birthday present was a shiny new .22-caliber rifle, given to him by his father.

Today’s level of civility can’t match yesteryear’s.  .  .  .

Customs, traditions, moral values and rules of etiquette, not laws and government regulations, are what make for a civilized society. These behavioral norms — transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings — represent a body of wisdom distilled through ages of experience, trial and error, and looking at what works. The importance of customs, traditions and moral values as a means of regulating behavior is that people behave themselves even if nobody’s watching. Police and laws can never replace these restraints on personal conduct so as to produce a civilized society. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. The more uncivilized we become the more laws that are needed to regulate behavior.

Many customs, traditions and moral values have been discarded without an appreciation for the role they played in creating a civilized society, and now we’re paying the price.  .  .  .

[End of Excerpt]

I could not agree more, and Dr. Williams has stated it so much better than I could.

Cling to Basic Truths . . .

15 Jan

In May of 1963, C. S. Lewis was interviewed by a representative of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  Among other interesting questions and responses was the following:

Mr. Wirt:  Do you feel, then, that modern culture is being de-Christianized?

Lewis:  I cannot speak to the political aspects of the question, but I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church.  I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers.  Jesus Christ did not say “Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.”  The gospel is something completely different.  In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.

The case against Christianity that is made out in the world is quite strong.  Every war, every shipwreck, every cancer case, every calamity contributes to making a prima facie case against Christianity.  It is not easy to be a believer in the face of this surface evidence.  It calls for a strong faith in Jesus Christ.

[End of excerpt]

Not only does this response seem to me to be true in the context of this question — and as true today as it was 50 years ago – but by extension we might apply this same general line of reasoning to the entire conservative movement, perhaps especially to the attempted dismantling of the Constitution.  There are basic truths to which a successful culture, as well as a successful religion, must adhere in order to ensure continuing success.

Of course, the flip side is that Islamic fundamentalists could assert the same reasons for maintaining their radical positions in the face of substantial opposition.

Nothing is straightforward, is it?

[The interview in its entirety can be found in God in the Dock, an item titled “Cross- Examination”]

More Fraud and Waste: Pity the Taxpayers

13 Jan

In a recent piece titled “EBT Abuse:  The Cash for Drunkards Program”, Michelle Malkin features yet another example of waste and fraud in our so-called compassionate use of taxpayer resources.  Where does it all end?

Below are excerpts from this essay.  The entire essay may be found at

Excerpts [Bolding is mine]

From New York to New Mexico and across the dependent plains, welfare recipients are getting sauced on the public dime. Drunk, besotted, bombed. But while politicians pay lip service to cutting government waste, fraud and abuse, they’re doing very little in practice to stop the EBT party excesses. Where’s the compassion for taxpayers?

You see the signs everywhere: “We accept EBT.” Fast-food restaurants do. Clothing retailers do. Auto repair shops, liquor stores and even sushi joints are joining the club. “EBT” stands for the federal government’s electronic benefits transfer card, which is intended to provide poor people with food stamps and cash assistance for basic necessities. The two separate programs were combined into one ATM-like card designed to reduce the “stigma” attached to Nanny State dependency, and — voila! — an entirely new method of mooching was born.

If the idea was to eliminate the embarrassment of life on the dole, the social justice crowd succeeded phenomenally. Last weekend, the New York Post blew the lid off scammers who brazenly swiped their EBT cards “inside Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn; the Blue Door Video porn shop in the East Village; The Anchor, a sleek SoHo lounge; the Patriot Saloon in TriBeCa; and Drinks Galore, a liquor distributor in The Bronx.” Out: Cash for clunkers. In: Cash for drunkards!

[Several Examples included here]

Several state legislatures have barred EBT spending on these vices, along with tattoo parlors, lottery tickets and cigarettes. Last February, President Obama signed GOP-backed welfare reform measures into law aimed at closing the so-called “strip club loophole” and preventing welfare recipients from blowing their cash benefits on booze, porn and gambling. But that law doesn’t go into effect until next year. And many politicians are just shrugging their shoulders, muttering “Whaddya gonna do?”

Here’s a radical idea: How about making taxpayer protection a priority for once and, yes, getting serious about strengthening the stigma on bottomless entitlement dependency and entitlement abuse?

According to the Department of Agriculture, illegal food stamp use costs the public upward of $750 million a year. A report by the Government Accountability Institute last fall revealed that “few security measures are in place to monitor EBT card fraud. .  .  .

[End of excerpts]

Housing Subsidies – Yet Another Government Boondoggle

13 Jan

John Stossel recently wrote an essay on the perverse effects of housing subsidies that is well worth reading, but also infuriating.  Titled “A Man’s Home Is His Subsidy”, I have reprinted the first several paragraphs below.  The full essay can be found at

Excerpt:  [Bolding is mine]

The Obama administration now proposes to spend millions more on handouts, despite ample evidence of their perverse effects.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says, “The single most important thing HUD does is provide rental assistance to America’s most vulnerable families — and the Obama administration is proposing bold steps to meet their needs.” They always propose “bold steps.”

In this case, HUD wants to spend millions more to renew Section 8 housing vouchers that help poor people pay rent.

The Section 8 program ballooned during the ’90s to “solve” a previous government failure: crime-ridden public housing. Rent vouchers allow the feds to disperse tenants from failed projects into private residencies. There, poor people would learn good habits from middle-class people.

It was a reasonable idea. But, as always, there were unintended consequences.

“On paper, Section 8 seems like it should be successful,” says Donald Gobin, a Section 8 landlord in New Hampshire. “But unless tenants have some unusual fire in their belly, the program hinders upward mobility.”

Gobin complains that his tenants are allowed to use Section 8 subsidies for an unlimited amount of time. There is no work requirement. Recipients can become comfortably dependent on government assistance.

In Gobin’s over 30 years of renting to Section 8 tenants, he has seen only one break free of the program. Most recipients stay on Section 8 their entire lives. They use it as a permanent crutch.

Government’s rules kill the incentive to succeed.

Section 8 handouts are meant to be generous enough that tenants may afford a home defined by HUD as decent, safe and sanitary. In its wisdom, the bureaucracy has ruled that “decent, safe and sanitary” may require subsidies as high as $2,200 per month. But because of that, Section 8 tenants often get to live in (SET ITAL) nicer (END ITAL) places than those who pay their own way.

Kevin Spaulding is an MIT graduate in Boston who works long hours as an engineer, and struggles to cover his rent and student loans. Yet all around him, he says, he sees people who don’t work but live better than he does.

[End of excerpt]

Your tax dollars at work.  Makes you feel all warm and compassionate inside, doesn’t it?