June 30, 2005
Traveling this week...light blogging
Going east for the holiday, so blogging will be light. Enjoy your 4th!
June 27, 2005
Pandering to the public
I note that Mark Steyn is also speaking out against the flag-protection amendment. Steyn reiterates the point that flag-burning is an excellent way to determine who the true losers are. I think we can all take a solemn oath as citizens and voters, that just as we never negotiate with terrorists/kidnappers, we will never give the flag-burners an inch. I've got no problem with that. "Burn a flag, and you lose the debate, the election, public respect, just about everything but your freedom, which the American people will allow you while they ignore you." The best way to stop flag-burning is to punish them politically, not legally.
There's another "benefit" to flag-burners, however. They provide contrast to the respect and honor most Americans show their flag. There are places where people praise their leaders loudly, knowing that anything less than loud praise is punished. We don't take that sort of praise seriously. If honor has to be bought with armed force, it's not worth much, is it? Why deny the Stars and Stripes the honor it deserves by stripping the meaning from the act. To the totalitarian leaders of the world, nothing is more incomprehensible, and more frightening, than that the American people are perfectly free to dishonor their flag, and yet they continue to fly the flag with pride and reverence. The American flag and other national symbols receive, unforced, the honor those leaders can only received with threats. Lets not stoop to their level.
If you read only the blogs, you have to wonder who is really supporting this amendment? Those who watch Washington seem to think that the flag amendment is much more popular with the general public than with the blogging and punditing crowd. I don't blame the public. The burning a beloved symbol of our nation is still a very powerful act, even if it is just a symbol that is harmed, and people have every reason to dislike it, and dislike those who do it. But rewarding those low-life types with their own personal amendment in the foundational document of the country is not the best way to combat them. We also, as a great nation and a great people, must occasionally put up with people and things we do not like. We depend on statesmanlike leadership to help the people understand these hard lessons, but we don't have much of that at the moment.
The President was courageous in explaining to the American people that the war against global terrorism would be long and costly. Tough news, but we needed to hear it. Where are the national leaders who will help the American people understand how making flag-burners into legal martyrs is both counter-productive and far beneath the dignity of a confident nation? I hope we hear from them; leaders who's patriotism and support for our military are unquestioned (not a member of the Democratic leadership, in other words) who can bring people to understand that our troops, now and through our history, have fought to defend a constitution that needs defending at home right now.
What the Congress is doing is a political defacement of our Constitution, a cheap stunt timed, no doubt, to coincide with the 4th of July, and designed to pander to the people's admirable love of country. Just having the votes to get something passed is not reason enough to do it. There ought to be things in America that are off-limits for political publicity stunts. The naming of a public building or landmark is already a political battleground, but there are buildings, like the Capitol, that ought to remain out of the running. Congress can declare this month "National (fill in the blank) Month", or can express its outrage over all manner of situations in resolutions and even statutes. They have plenty of scope open to them for their games. The Constitution is not their toy, nor their tool.
June 23, 2005
More on the Flag Amendment
Having vented my ire over this last night, I was surprised by the reaction in other blogs, particularly the right-wing sites. Sad to admit that it was a surprise, but a very welcome one. Many are coming out against it. Arthur Chrenkoff admits to being of two minds on it, which is a fair position; its never easy to tolerate offensive people. Charles Johnson and his commenters are also against it, and for the right reasons. I usually don't bother with commenters at LGF, they are often the right-wing equivalent of the ranting left, but I followed the link in Arthur's post and I very much like some for the comments. I'll even quote one of the LGF Lizardoids:
I guess what I'm trying to say is, as unfortunate as it is that people feel a need to desecrate the ideals of the country, we have to allow them to do so, so as to identify them and ignore them.
Exactly so. The key sign that burning a US flag is political speech is the reaction it generates. Don't bother to scroll down too far. After a while the typical style of the commenters at LGF becomes apparent.
If you want to eliminate burning of flags Reduce the power of the act. They are trying to upset you, and have apparently succeeded. Turn your back on fools who so deeply insult so many Americans. Never listen to a thing they say afterward. They don't deserve their own amendment in the founding document of the nation. And for goodness sake let's not turn them into political martyrs. Trying to enforce laws like this would be a nightmare.
Wen a soldier or patriotic citizen shows honer to the flag, the act is moving because it is unforced and genuine. Mandatory honors are meaningless, and they extend that meaninglessness to the genuinely honorable and meaningful actions. If in some frenzy of foolishness this passes the States, it won't last a decade. It will be a counterproductive disaster that the left will use to humiliate the right, and the flag will end up less respected.
Disrespecting the country by overprotecting the flag
News that a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration (including burning, and who knows what else) has passed the House came as a surprise. An unwelcome surprise. What with all the attention devoted to the Senate these days, the House has been up to mischief. This sort of thing is more an annoyance than a serious national issue, but it does erode respect for the constitution and ultimately the country, in an attempt to protect that flag. Its a misguided move that demonstrates that political theater is trumps all other considerations in Washington these days. A sad embarrassment.
A great country like ours ought to be above this silliness. Its the trumped up dictators that throw people in prison for insulting the government. In the old Iraq, I imagine that defacing a photo of Saddam could get one in serious trouble. We like to think were more mature about things. We scoff at peoples who riot over the rumored desecration of a book. As a Christian, I know that idolatry is a serious sin, and I know why. When you place your affections on the symbol, you lose sight of the thing it represents. We should know that brave men (and now women) have fought and died for generations for a great country, and have sworn to uphold the constitution upon which it is founded. We use the flag, and other symbols that represent the nation as convenient stand-ins for the bigger and more abstract concept of "nation", but let's not get confused about what is the symbol and what it the real root idea. The silver cross I wear around my neck is not sacred. Its a personal reminder of that which is truly sacred. Similarly the flag pin on my lapel is not a sacred thing, but a reminder of the sacred thing.
Now symbols can be quite powerful. Humans are uniquely symbolic thinkers. The use of symbols and abstraction is a great safety valve for a "civilized" society. Someone who disliked my can deface my picture. I'm insulted, sure, but better off than if they had expressed their displeasure directly on my face. I'd rather be hanged in effigy that hanged in reality. Symbolic conflict is a good thing, a way to express hard feelings without bloodshed. I don't like to see the flag dishonored, but it does help identify who to dislike. Anyone foolish enough to burn a US flag, especially here at home, will deserve the scorn they receive, and the country will be harmed not one bit. There are other symbols for the US, of course. People deface pictures of the President, or Uncle Sam all the time. They might take a map of the country and write something rude on it. All are angry statements directed at the country, but these symbols lack the emotional power of the flag, and the Anti-Americans know it. So the burn a flag whenever the camera show up. Pass an amendment and I guarantee that you will see many more flags burning. They will burn them and dare us to do something about it. The best revenge is to ignore them. Anyone burning a flag has nothing useful to say to the American people. Don't give them the satisfaction of knowing how much they've hurt you.
And yes, this sort of amendment trivializes the Constitution, something beautiful in its relative brevity and power. The constitution is not a symbol, its much more than that, and genuinely worthy of our respect and love. Ought we not take more care in fiddling with it? The Constitution is not some toy for politicians looking for good photo ops. It matters and will continue to matter as long as there is a United States. This amendment would stand as an embarrassment to our age.
Finally, trying to legislate respect (again, sounds like something a Saddam would do, no?) ultimately cheapens the genuine respect that loyal citizens and patriots offer the country. Today, Americans salute their flag and treat it with respect because they love their country, not because the cops are watching. When everyone is forced to pay respects to the flag, much of that "respect" will be cynical, disingenuous show. How does that strengthen the country? It doesn't. We become yet another emotionally insecure power that must use the police to round up a show of patriotism. They're quite common.
We'll see if the Senate has the courage to defend our Constitution against the inanity of the House. If it somehow passes the Senate ("courage" not being a word I would associate with the Senate in general these days) we can pray the States are sensible to leave it alone.
June 21, 2005
Delusions of Relevance
I hate to be harping on the Democrats so much; as commenters point out, the right has its fair share of loonies and dangerously angry people, but they are thoroughly overshadowed by the left these days. Arthur Chrenkoff, an admitted conservative and Republican sympathizer (he's Australian/Polish), describes the "delusions of relevance" within the Democrats.
...when the confused but, by comparison, relatively sane Kerry campaign went down in flames, for many in the Democratic Party it was an indication that far from not moving enough to the sensible and credible center, the mistake was not going far enough to the left. And so now, seemingly every day brings yet another bizarre and/or offensive outburst from Howard Dean, Charles Rangel, Dick Durbin or some other leading light of the Donkey Party.
But hysterics and play-acting in the Capitol basement are not signs of revitalization and enthusiasm; they demonstrate desperation and impotency of a party which has been consigned to opposition and which can't quite dig itself up from the hole. Politics is cyclical, and no doubt the Dems will make a comeback one day. Whether it will be in 2006, 2008 or later, remains to be seen; the timing will depend on the ability of the party leadership to square the electoral circle.
...Or, first of all to locate genuine party leadership (Arthur neglected Harry Reid, he's another of those regularly delusional voices.) Patrick Ruffini has noticed that Hillary is staying so far away from the mad ranting that she's practically joined the Republicans. The real risk to the Republicans at this point is complacency. They can safely ignore the centrists, because their opponents have gone to war against good sense, and they might not see the threat from the Democratic centrists, including a repositioned Hillary Clinton, when the current Democratic leadership implodes. It is possible for the public to dislike both parties (actually quite likely.) As one group of Democrats lose credibility ... and dignity, really, the Republicans do not automatically gain esteem. It may well be that many voters, like myself, for example, provide votes and support polls to the Republicans less out of love for their policies than fear of their opponents. If the scary Deaniacs go away, as I am sure they must, the Republicans will be fighting on a very different front, against very different opponents, and they may be caught quite unprepared.
That's what Ruffini is saying. He's urging Republicans to quit fixating on the opponent who is dissolving into chaos and irrelevance, and concentrate on those who have "triangulated" the next election better. Someone inclined to conspiracy theories might even see a clever plan to distract attention away from Hillary. Could the Howard and Harry show be the political equivalent of a rodeo clown, who distracts the bull with colors, movement and noise while the cowboy goes unnoticed? I'm not one of those thinkers, but I do believe that people on Senator Clinton's team are thinking that way. When Hillary accepts the nomination in '08, all the scandals and tensions of the White House years will seem like ancient, and irrelevant, history.
Retuning to Chrenkoff, he closes with this observation.
The great divide of politics, both internationally and at home, is between those who think that America is the problem and those who think it is the solution. The problem for the Democratic Party is that a large section of its base thinks that the biggest threats facing the United States and the world are Republican administrations and global warming - a view not shared widely in the electorate.
He may well be right about the "great divide". He may well be right about the Democrats problem too, but I wanted to use it to illustrate a different point. My personal beliefs don't fit well with his model. I'm fine with a Republican administration, I voted for this President after all, but I do believe that climate change is one of, if not the most serious issue facing the world in the coming decades. I've thought that since I studied climate in the 1970's, when only scientists (and students) were aware of the issue. Thirty years later I'm forced to choose between the threat of global terrorism, and the threat of global warming. I don't like the choices, but the collapse of the Democrats into anti-Bush obsession has left me without a viable option.
Neither can I adjust my beliefs on the issue to conform to the political agenda. Issues like abortion rights, support for the war, and the nomination of judges can be influenced and shaped by the ebb and flow of political ideologies, but the planet cares nothing for polls or elections. The climate will do whatever it is going to do, and neither speeches nor blog posts will change things. I have a good many more friends in the conservative camp these days then among the liberals, and they like to chide me over my resolute convictions on the global climate, but I can quietly allow them to win very argument (I no longer even argue the point) as it won't change a thing. You cannot campaign away this problem. That those Democrats who do take the problem seriously usually do so out of an equal ignorance, and for all the wrong reasons, really hurts things as well. Regularly some environmental activist says something foolish that only further discredits an important point. Alas, I've had three decades to ponder the issue and come to terms with the frightening aspects of the future. Now that its in the grip of partisan politics the point is really lost.
But this is not a post about the climate (I do that over at Birds Eye View, anyway.) Delusional thinking among the Dems is a sad mess for anyone who believes and hopes in the workings of a healthy democracy. I wait eagerly for the day this febrile seizure runs its course and we can return to something approaching serious politics.
June 20, 2005
Marching to the wrong drummer
Mark Steyn, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, takes on Dick Durbin's recent rhetoric (tip to The Corner at NRO.) Durbin's ranting make an easy target and I won't bother to quote Steyn's critique of both Durbin's and Amnesty International's attempt to draw moral equivalence. What interests me is not debating whether Gitmo is the Gulag or whether U.S. troops are equivalent to PolPot murderer's, these are not serious questions. Rather I'm concerned that seemingly important people do consider these important questions, or even more disturbing, that people in leadership roles could think such silly things. Here's Steyn:
This isn't a Republican vs Democrat thing; it's about senior Democrats who are so over-invested in their hatred of a passing administration that they've signed on to the nuttiest slurs of the lunatic fringe.
This is exactly what I have been trying to express. I feel the frustration of a centrist who finds that the policies of the current administration are occasionally, perhaps even often, objectionable, and that the opposing party supports policies I like better, but I also find that the Democrats have lost themselves in a dangerous and ultimately destructive lunacy. There is no way I could, in good conscience, support a party founded on bigoted hatred, even if I happened to also dislike some of the people they hate. It is possible to oppose the right people in entirely the wrong way. You are probably familiar with Martin Niemöller's observation on Nazism that begins, "First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out-- because I was not a communist." (I find, in searching for a link, that there is some disagreement in the exact quotation. Choose one that works for you. This one works for me. Its the idea that I am trying to reference here.) People who take pride in their hatreds, and are indiscriminant and careless in how they define it, are ultimately a danger to everyone, and need to be held up to ridicule, or at least contradicted. Sooner or later everyone is a target.
June 17, 2005
Fight nonsense with sense
James Lileks' occasional rants or "screeds" as he likes to call them, are so popular that he has created a new blog entirely devoted to "screeding". Today Lileks looks at a quote he pulls from Hugh Hewitt, who has located an offensive leftist at USC. Not that anyone is at all surprised. What is really shocking is that the someone from the LA entertainment industry, who are usually a bit more sensitive to how things will play in Peoria, would ever think that such a statement could do anything but embarrass himself and the institution that pays his salary.
The professor in question, Martin Kaplan, "director of the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC" loses Lileks, me, and a good number of his potential readers right away by referring to Christians as "Christers." Suddenly I understand just a bit how African-Americans feel about the "N" word. That has to go right to the top of my How to Know When to Stop Listening list. Liberal writers have developed a strange fetish for offensive nicknames. Perhaps it all flows out of a few closed-in communities like Democratic Underground and DailyKos. I'm sure you've seen it. Whenever a writer drops one of those vile little quips, click away quickly. I especially address this advice to Democrats or centrists who might not find the terms particularly offensive. You need to find the technique offensive. Deny these people the attention they seek and force them to clean up their act, or find yourself discredited along with them.
Back to Kaplan. The USC Prof. goes further demonstrate that he is ignorable by immediately dropping the "f-word" (...you know, "fascist") and decrying the rise of "theocratic oligopoly." That's a third strike for Kaplan, use of big words to describe an empty concept. Let's just drop him from our memories. The quote I wanted to bring to your attention is not what Kaplan had to say, which we know to be valueless. Rather, take note please, of Lileks' suggestion for a response.
In fact I suspect that if a groundswell of moderate-to-liberal Christians fought back the “fundamentalists” and used spiritual language to make common cause with the secularists, there would be little talk of theocracy or religious fascism, even if the motivations were equally devout.
He's right, I believe, about the shameful lack of response from moderate-liberal Christians. It is out there, most notably these days from Jim Wallis and Sojourners, and a few others, but we've been too shy. Spokespeople from my Episcopal Church are generally so liberal that they are too easily dismissed. Many seem to have forgotten how to "use spiritual language" in a conversation outside of church (or even in it, I'm afraid), and we are not taken seriously by most of the more conservative Christian groups. Even an Episcopalian, however, can reach a more or less secular or vaguely "spiritual" audience, which is most of the country if the polls are to be believed.
The point is not only to defend our political processes from religious bullying, but also to defend Christianity from the highly distorted and politicized image that a few Christians are presenting, and that the secular world has enthusiastically embraced. Moderate and liberal Christians ought take care when we make common-cause with the secularists. Folks like Kaplan are not friendly to us or our way of thinking. They are as bigoted and narrow minded as the "fundamentalists" (a misused word) who they to attack. They both like to present God as an angry tyrant; it suits both their programs.The answer to bad-Christianity cannot be bad-secularism. I'd rather see the "other Christians" assert the traditional (as in "apostolic") vision of God and the Church, and honestly express their widely varied and generally quite reasonable political views. The news isn't that Christians are liberal, but that the set of all American Christians closely resembles the set of all Americans. We waste much too much of our attention on the voices coming in from either extreme. We'll learn nothing from them, and get nowhere we would want to go.
June 16, 2005
One more and them I'll get off the Opinion Journal. The Review and Outlook feature, really the editorial, describes the current Democratic party as "the Doughnut Democrats" (some might prefer "Donut", but not the WSJ.) The idea is that the party lacks a center. The article actually makes a better case that the Democrats have become the left edge of a general "doughnut politics" in America. The Democratic "Right" is just as endangered as the Democratic "Center"
The Democrats once displayed more variety of opinion on key issues, like Social Security reform.
Above all, there's the know-nothing-ism on Social Security. The Democrats in unison proclaim that Mr. Bush is advancing a risky right-wing scheme to destroy Social Security by creating private investment accounts for workers.
But wait. How dangerous can this idea really be? After all, only a few years ago there was a long and esteemed list of elected Democratic leaders who endorsed personal accounts. John Breaux. Chuck Robb. Bob Kerrey. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Charles Stenholm. Tim Penny. Today in the entire United States Congress there is exactly one Democrat, Allen Boyd of Florida, who has endorsed personal accounts, and he has been shunned for his apostasy.
In 2000 Senator Moynihan declared that a personal thrift savings plan for Social Security would allow hourly wage earners to "retire not just with a pension but with wealth. And the doorman will have a half million dollars, not just the people in the duplexes." Share the wealth. What could be a more traditional Rooseveltian idea than that?
There are some who believe that unity of viewpoint is a sign of party strength. I strongly disagree. A healthy and strong party can confidently display its variety of opinions to voters, debate issues within the party and with the other party. find common ground, again both within the party and without, generate a reasonable compromise and then display party unity by voting through the compromise position. This is ultimately unsatisfying to the ideologists, but it is how things get done, and a sign of a party that can do things, rather than just complain.
The Republicans, finding the middle uncontested, are actually encouraged to move farther to the right, and dig-in heels on ideology. This too is a regretable development. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the Jounal also aware of this.
Many conservatives have watched the left's hostile takeover of the Democratic Party with great joy. We don't share that enthusiasm. The country would benefit from two vibrant parties competing on innovative freedom-enhancing initiatives. The problem is that the Democrats are running on empty when it comes to policy ideas other than big government, and this lack of competition has had deleterious effects on Republican behavior, as witnessed by their lack of any spending discipline.
There are other examples of deleterious effects, I could add, but that is not the point. Rather, the concern is the collapse and alienation of the Democratic center and the Republican disdain for their own center in response. I don't have any statistics at hand, but I do notice a lot more center-left folks showing up on the various "centrist" blogs looking for someone to talk to. In a short while it may be that the only valuable political debate and discussion will happen on centrist websites, where the rejected folks from the middle of the doughnut meet up.
Noonan wants honesty about, and on, PBS
Good stuff over at the Opinion Journal today. Peggy Noonan, for example, looks at the controversy over funding for PBS. It may surprise you to learn that she supports continued support for PBS. It will surprise you less that she would prefer the network without the politics.
You know what would be fun, and actually helpful? If in the latest struggle over funding for public television, people said what they know to be true.
The argument, once again, is about whether PBS has a liberal bias. There are charges and counter charges, studies, specific instances cited of subtle partiality here and obvious side-taking there. But arguing over whether PBS is and has long been politically liberal is like arguing over whether the ocean is and has long been wet. Of course it is, and everyone knows it.
Conservative argue that in a 500-channel universe the programming of PBS could easily be duplicated or find a home at a free commercial network. The power of the marketplace will ensure that PBS's better offerings find a place to continue and flourish.
This I doubt. Actually I'm fairly certain it is not true. And I suspect most people on the Hill know it is not true.
We live in the age of Viacom and "Who Wants to Be a Celebrity," not the age of Omnibus and "Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts." A lot of Democrats think that left to the marketplace, PBS will die. A lot of Republicans think so too, but don't mind.
Noonan would like PBS to focus on the things it does best. These are also the things that no one else in the broadcast industry will touch. Things like the arts, classic drama, history.
Does all this sound rarefied, a ratings loser? PBS is supposed to be rarefied. As for ratings, let's imagine this. PBS mounts a production of "Hamlet." No one will watch it? What if Brad Pitt takes the role? He'd be happy to do it; he gets a high-class venue in which to show he can actually act, and in return he earns the gratitude of those who care about culture or say they care, which is most Americans. He'd get points for doing it for scale, which of course he'd have to. Young people would watch. They would thus imbibe Shakespeare, still the jewel in the crown of Western culture. PBS would be thanked for doing a public service. Conservative congressmen would find themselves in the unexpected and delightful position of being called friends of the arts, and liberal congressmen would be able to say "I told you PBS is worthwhile."
And so on. Symphonies. A study of the work of George Bellows. A productions of "Spoon River Anthology." David McCullough on George Washington. A history of the Second Amendment--why is it in that old Constitution? Angelina Jolie as Juliet, Kathleen Turner as Lady Macbeth, Alec Baldwin as Big Daddy when you get around to Tennessee Williams. It will keep him away from politics. Sean Penn as Hickey in "The Iceman Cometh." There are far more great actors than there is great material. Mine the classics, all of them, of the theater and arts and music and history.
It is true that if you tell PBS producers they are now doing a play series they will immediately decide to remount "Angels in America." How about a rule: It takes at least 50 years for a currently esteemed work to prove itself a work of art, a true classic. It proves this by enduring. Do plays that have proved themselves to be enduring contributions--i.e., art. Look to the permanent, not the prevalent.
PBS should be refunded, because it does not and will not exist elsewhere if it is not. But it should be funded with rules and conditions, and it should remember its reason for being: to do what the networks cannot do or will not do, and that somebody should do.
I was once watched and listened to Public Broadcasting a lot. I have reduced my PBS viewing along with all television viewing, but we still have a family membership. PBS has sold itself to donor organizations and its psuedo-advertisers, with the premium-quality demographics of it's audience. The network was founded, however, to bring the fine arts and educational content to people who could not otherwise afford it, but the market for such programming tends to be a pretty upscale crowd. If people don't avail themselves of the fine arts they are the losers but can only blame themselves. But if the Arts and education are not available to all then the society is to blame. Some find the underlying assumption behind PBS offensive. Who is to say that the artistic tastes of the educated elites should be funded by the general public? Well, Peggy Noonan seems to think its OK, and I'm going to agree with her. She is careful to focus on art and history that has demonstrated its worth over time, and these become elements of the culture that are otherwise available only to the elites.
Genuinely open and impartial news and analysis is something we lack and need, but PBS is not the organization to provide it.
The problem with paranoia
Political paranoia comes and goes. There is always some in any political group, it seems, but at times it blooms out of the background like a red tide, and dominates a locality before dying back. At the moment the Deaniac division within the Democratic party is undergoing just such a bloom. As James Taranto mentions in today's "Best of the Web", political paranoia can be confusing. Can you even trust your own heroes?
Suppose the Republicans and Democrats really were conspiring to keep the "repukes" in power and the Dems in the minority. What kind of DNC chairman would they want? Well, how about someone given to shooting off his mouth and drumming up the base while insulting vast numbers of voters? Isn't it clear that Howard Dean is in on the conspiracy? DemocracyInaction [ed: a blog commenter] isn't paranoid enough.
Not being prone to paranoid fantasy, I don't think that Howard or any Democrats are secretly trying to keep the Republicans in power and the Deaniacs in the distant minority. There are people who are trying to do that, of course, they're called Republicans. The DNC chairman and others in his party are doing what they can to reverse their fortunes in good faith. That they may, in fact, be helping the Republicans, is due to foolishness and bad strategy, which are much more common than crafty conspiracies.
The best strategy for the Republicans is to never attack Howard Dean. Just give him all the publicity, read that as "rope", he wants. I write about his antics because I do care about the Democrats. I also care about some of the issues they champion. I would personally love to see the party jettison the loonies and replace them with people who can command respect and influence minds. That would force the Repub's to do the same with their "screamers", and American politics would become less entertaining, but a good deal more effective.