- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

‘Stupendous’ address

“Few actors in history have been hallowed in as many points of the political compass as Abraham Lincoln. …

“Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is widely regarded as the definitive description and rationale of American nationhood and is the cornerstone of his fame. …

“The iconoclastic Henry Louis Mencken, writing in 1920, described Lincoln as ‘the American solar myth, the chief butt of American credulity and sentimentality.’ Of the Gettysburg Address, Mencken wrote:

“‘It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic. … The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — “that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.’”

—Clyde Wilson, writing on “The Gettysburg Address: Inventing a New Nation,” Saturday in Italy’s Il Domenicale

Gossip gene

“Several million years before Bonnie Fuller ditched Jann Wenner’s Us Weekly to remake David Pecker’s Star tabloid into a shiny celebrity magazine, life on the African savanna had already sculpted the human psyche into a vessel that would thirst for page after page of articles about the mating rituals, health, and drug problems, fertility problems, wealth and status displays, and plastic-surgery secrets of actors, rock stars, and other modern luminaries. …

“On the surface, the celebrity rags seem to be about sex. But their real subject is reproduction and the future of the human tribe. On the savanna, we needed to monitor how our clan was faring, and given our small populations, we could do the job by ourselves. … But in a country of 290 million people … we still need to flex those savanna needs for gossip and information in order to measure our species’ prospect. What better proxy than the young, wealthy, handsome, and visible alpha-male and -female breeding stock that Hollywood employs?

“In recent months, for example, the magazines monitored every sonogram and report of morning sickness experienced by Reese Witherspoon. … The arrival of her son was heralded on the covers of the celebrity rags as if a new heir to the throne had been born.”

—Jack Shafer, writing on “Doing the Celebrity Rag,” Thursday in Slate at www.slate.com

Virtual world

“I doubt whether anyone lives more in the virtual world of entertainment than British children and adolescents. …

“Last week, a friend related a story that demonstrates how completely entertainment does … dominate a child’s sense and knowledge of reality. His next-door neighbors left their 11-year-old daughter alone in the house for a few minutes, and she, growing frightened, suddenly feared that a fire had broken out. She decided to call the fire brigade and dialed the emergency number. The number she dialed was 911 — the American emergency number.

“She did not know that the emergency number of her own country was 999: She knew only the number of the country in which she truly lived, at least mentally, namely TV-land, which bears a closer resemblance to America than to anywhere else. … If there had been a real fire, she would have been done to a crisp, thanks to her habit of watching TV.”

Theodore Dalrymple, writing “Wannabe Yanks,” Saturday in the Spectator

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