- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

Men and manners

“When learning to read and write, 18th-century students also learned to become virtuous and well-mannered human beings. One young man in colonial Virginia … acquired an elegant penmanship by copying a text called ‘The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.’ Everything we know about the subsequent life of this man indicates that these 110 rules were not simply copied, handed to someone for marking, and then forgotten. Rather, they were internalized and served as a constant rule of conduct for perhaps the most genteel and distinguished man this country has ever produced. For that young man was none other than George Washington. …

“Men and women in the 18th century, sometimes called the Age of Politeness, were addicted to good manners. They may seem strange to us for adopting over 100 rules of good breeding when we moderns have learned no more than half a dozen. Indeed, many parents and teachers nowadays are reluctant to correct unmannerly behavior in children since manners are thought to constrict their ‘natural’ (and therefore good) instincts.”

—Terrence Moore, principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colo., writing on “The 21st Century Could Easily Learn From the 18th a Few Lessons in Manners,” for the Ashbrook Center at www.ashbrook.org

Pity party

“I initially picked up Rachel Greenwald’s ‘Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School’ because I hoped to learn a thing or two about the way a broken woman thinks when she’s desperately hunting for a man.

“After reading through the book’s first 100 pages, I don’t want to know what women think anymore. …

“I felt myself drowning in a flashflood of misogyny. … There are 28 million single women over 35 in America, and only 18 million men. Here the misogyny turned to pity. Not nice pity, but debilitating pity. …

“What keeps these 28 million lonely women alive? Why do they go on living? I honestly can’t answer that.

“In the novels of Dostoevsky or Celine, these characters wouldn’t live; they’d commit epic suicide, they’d be tragic. But in America, they rarely do the sensible thing. Instead, they go on living, miserable, lonely, chin up all the way to the nursing home.”

Mark Ames, writing on “Sex and the Pity,” in the March 3 issue of New York Press

Family values

“‘“Sex and the City” was about gay men; “The Sopranos” is about straight women,’ says Regina Barreca, a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut. …

“Yes, underneath … HBO’s mob drama lies a woman’s heart. It belongs to Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco). …

“‘The Sopranos’ official centerpiece is New Jersey mafia bear Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). …

“It’s that bewildering contradiction of feeling that makes the family dynamics of the show so real, what sucks us into Tony and Carmela’s knotty tangle of a relationship. …

“One of the pleasures of the mafia genre that provides the backbone of ‘The Sopranos’ is that it is usually clear-cut, structured, male. There are rules and hierarchies; there is good, there is bad; and then you shoot the guy. But Tony Soprano, who weeks before had killed Ralphie with his bare hands, cannot bring himself to hit his wife, even after she has quite literally invited him to.”

Rebecca Traister, writing on “Is ‘The Sopranos’ a chick show?” March 6 in Salon at www.salon.com

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