- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2008

Food fight!

“[Essayist Francine] Du Plessix Grey writes of being haunted by the adolescents´ ‘feral’ and ‘boorishly gulped’ fast-food diet: ‘we may,’ she suggests, ‘be witnessing the first generation in history that has not been required to participate in that primal rite of socialization, the family meal.’

“Such an activity ‘is not only the core curriculum in the school of civilizing discourse; it is also a set of protocols that curb our natural savagery and our animal greed, and cultivate a capacity for sharing and thoughtfulness.’ These teenagers ‘are deprived of the main course of civilized life - the practice of sitting down at the dinner table and observing the attendant conventions.’ …

“The proposal, put slightly differently, is that our attitudes toward food - which nourishes and sustains us, which binds us most fundamentally to place, family, market, and community - provide a measure of our respect for what Russell Kirk called the ‘Permanent Things.’ We are not just what we eat but how we eat.”

- John Schwenkler, writing on “Food for Thought,” in the June 30 issue of the American Conservative

Macho men

“The macho violence spurting forth through outlets like war games is a growing trend in Chinese society - and China’s one-child policy, in effect since 1979, is partly responsible. The country’s three decades of iron-fisted population planning coincided with a binge in sex-selective abortions … China now has the largest gender imbalance in the world, with 37 million more men than women and almost 20 percent more newborn boys than girls nationwide. …

“Historian David Courtwright suggests in Violent Land that sexually segregated societies in the United States - frontier towns flush with unmarried men, immigrant ghettos in early twentieth-century cities, mining camps - are behind our propensity toward violence. …

“The one-child policy was instituted in an attempt to hamper the wild growth of the Chinese population. But, in the process of plugging one hole, the government may have left another open. The coming boom in restless young men promises to overhaul Chinese society in some potentially scary ways.”

- Mara Hvistendahl, writing on “No Country for Young Men,” in the July 9 issue of the New Republic

Kiddie modernism

“As an early devotee of Looney Tunes cartoons, I was fascinated by the strange freedoms of these characters, especially their ability to shape-shift - like Ovid on speed. … Bugs can be in two places at once, which he is whenever Elmer Fudd points his shotgun down one of the two holes of the rabbit’s underground residence.

“And just as Pirandello and other modern dramatists sought to break down the actor/audience barrier, so Looney Tunes allowed an animated character to talk directly to the movie house audience or to criticize the very hand of its animators, thereby betraying the text itself. …

“Another cartoon opens quietly with the figure of Elmer Fudd in full hunting regalia … Fudd stops, turns to face the audience, puts one of his four fingers to his lips and says in a seething whisper: ‘Shhhh! It’s wabbit season.’ Ah, Elmer, you unlikely modernist! What were your creators reading? Was animator Chuck Jones curling up at night with a volume of French surrealist poetry?

- Billy Collins, writing on “Inspired by a Bunny Wabbit” at the Wall Street Journal Web site on June 28

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