July 31, 2007 - July 24, 2007
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Snowy, Icy Stuff
is that other who walks beside you?"
Well, I'm backward, I guess. I just found out about Christmas in
July this week. But I can make up for it. Here are some ice-cold
entertainments that are guaranteed to last you till December.
First up, starting on a reasonably light anti-Vick note, is a movie
about the relationship between tough dogs and tough men (and one tough
woman). It's called Eight
. Based on fact, according to the background info. Antarctic
researchers act desperately to save one of their number who is injured.
In the process, they leave behind the team of sled dogs who rescued the
stricken man from immediate death. The man whose team it was tries to
get back to save his dogs from the fatal Antarctic winter but no one will help. The movie cuts back and
forth between the world of dogs and the world of men. They're a lot
alike as it turns out. Did I say the movie was light? Sorry. There's
some sadness here. The star is the young husky with the deep eyes. We
think he's going places. Not that he hasn't already been places. The
Antarctic. It's a season in hell. Hopefully, he won't buy a Bentley and
start squiring Paris Hilton around. No, he wouldn't do that. We're sure
Next, the Snow Walker
A handsome bush pilot is hired to ferry a sick but young and beautiful
Inuit (i.e., Eskimo) woman to a place where they have hospitals and
some sort of treatment for tuberculosis. But they crash enroute. Think
you know the rest? Think again, kiddo. This movie's a keeper. There's
nothing cheap about how it gets to you. You'll know that because it
keeps resonating long after the credits are done. In the same way that
it took Return to Paradise
to make us
appreciate Vince Vaughn, this one made us appreciate Barry Pepper. And
that heartbreaking Inuit girl.
We haven't seen it yet, to be honest, but we're waiting for Netflix to
deliver the two-part production of Shackleton
Kenneth Branagh. How could it fail? It's the true adventure story
to end all adventure stories -- how one man recklessly sailed his crew
into the waters of the Antarctic in 1913, and then, just as recklessly,
moved heaven and earth to save them from certain death. The great news
is that it's still possible to buy a copy of Endurance
the masterfully written account of the expedition by Alfred Lansing. We
recommend buying and reading the book, then watching the DVD. If you're
anything like us, winter won't seem so cold to you this year -- or ever
If you can buy one book, you can buy two. Here's the other one you have
to get if you haven't already read it. Alone
by Admiral Richard Byrd. Yeah, it sounds like it might be dry,
superior, and philosophical. It isn't. The explorer made a huge mistake
and put himself in life-and-death peril. His account is so vivid that
you'll feel the freezing cold in your bones days after you finish the
book. Come to think of it, maybe you should read this one before
you go the Shackleton route.
Otherwise, you might wind up sitting on the couch with a shawl wrapped
around you for the next ten years or so.
Phew. Just made it. Christmas in July. Enjoy.
There are people out there who know that it's easier to criticize blogs
than to write them. They're something like ambulance-chasing attorneys.
They wait for some accidental opportunity to apply their skill at
transforming order into chaos. We welcome such folks here at InstaPunk,
because we're every bit as nasty and destructive as they are. On most
blogs, the sly, pejorative comment slips through the cracks. Not here.
We read, we smack our lips, we rejoice. Then we sail in. Of course, now
and again, there are comments worth responding to in polite terms. To
these we do respond. Politely. But most of them are just silly and we
wouldn't go on about them except for the advice I once got from a smart
blogger who said, "If they're worth responding to in the Comments,
they're worth a blog entry -- because why waste your time talking
directly to one fool when you can talk to a bunch of fools all at once."
So we've gotten some weird comments lately, and it seems like it might
be fun to share them with you, along with our usual impeccably right
responses. For example, we did a post
a few days ago about the MSM's refusal to give Nancy Pelosi credit for
her fashion brilliance. This inspired "Rez" to comment:
I was disappointed in the piece. Not
one of the women featured would be considered real good looking in
California. Same with the mediabistro-reported conflict between
"money-honey" Maria Bartiromo and Erin Burnett -- both of those women
look like racoons to me.... Maybe East Coast folks just have a
different aesthetic sense. What am I missing?
Uh. Uuuuuuh. What's "real good looking in California," Rez? Six
and a half feet tall, 100 pounds, 18 years old, plastic tits the size of basketballs,
and no panties under a crotch-length skirt? Is that it? But here's what
"What am I missing?"
Clothes. With all your focus on flash and red carpet trash, you've lost
sight of elegance.
Probably unfair. Ever since, we've been experiencing a mysterious
burning smell that must be Rez's brain overheating during his search
for a definition of 'elegance.'
Then there was our tribute to Muhammed
, whom we nominated -- hardly uniquely -- as the greatest
athlete of all time. This upset the guy in the graphic above ("Bud") so
much that he felt compelled to comment as follows:
Put him on a set of skates and watch what would happen. A) he wouldn't
be able to play the game, and B) John Ferguson would have whipped his
Greatest boxer? Maybe, although Sugar Ray Robinson gets my vote.
Greatest fighter? It would have been interesting to watch him and Rocky
- two guys who both could take an enormous amount of punishment and, at
the same time, had devastating punches.
But I'm sorry, no way for general "athlete".
John Ferguson? Huh? Has anyone
ever even heard of him? We shouldn't have, but we responded:
What a doltish argument. Give Wayne
Gretzky a basketball. Throw Babe Ruth in the pool. Call Lance Armstrong
in from the bullpen to pitch to the Red Sox. It means nothing.
Well, look at the guy in the picture above. You know he couldn't take
that lying down. He couldn't take anything lying down but life itself.
He came back to explain:
Not a doltish argument, a doltish
"Athlete" describes a vast range of physical and mental skills, and
proposing one person as the greatest is an exercise in futility, but if
you must, at least pick someone who has demonstrated 999th percentile
performance in more than one sport, which certainly doesn't describe
Ali. Jim Thorpe, maybe.
And John Ferguson had Ali in personal demeanor, as well. An animal on
the ice, but a seflf-depreciating perfect gentleman off.
It's the way of things, isn't it? The right idiotic statement can force
you to articulate your point more clearly and correctly than you did
when you thought you were talking to an intelligent audience. So,
thanks to Bud, the real argument finally got made:
Hardly a doltish proposition, Bud.
It's the stuff of which great conversations are made, unless you're
making the mistake of trying to converse with a Canadian hockey fanatic.
There are, of course, criteria that cut across individual athletic
disciplines, just as there are criteria which cut across writing forms,
military situations and ages, the history of music, and the history of
nations and the world. That's why it's entertaining and educational to
hear advocates make a case for the greatest writer, the greatest
general, the greatest composer, and the greatest American president.
Sport is hardly as important as any of these other categories, and yet
-- in some cases, notably with Ali -- sport occasionally intersects
with other cultural factors like politics, class, ethnicity, and
populist symbolism to become far more than sport.
I'm sure your John Ferguson was a great athlete, but he is little known
outside hockey. Thus, I can say with confidence that he never entered
the ultimate arena -- one in which his ability to perform at his sport
also carried the burden of large populations of nonsporting people's
dreams, fears, aspirations, dreads, and faiths. Strange as it may seem
to you, there have been more than a few of these. One you mentioned:
Jim Thorpe. Others include Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis,
Satchell Paige, Ben Hogan, Babe Didrickson, Jackie Robinson, Althea
Gibson, Lee Trevino, Arthur Ashe, Greg Louganis, Lance Armstrong, and
the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Undoubtedly there are others. What
they have in common is that they became more than their sport and were
pushed to exceed their own limitations for a larger purpose. In
succeeding they gained more than a trophy or a place in some hall of
fame. They became milestones in the changing values and beliefs of
Note that they couldn't have done these things unless they had been
truly outstanding performers in their individual sports. But their
winning performances are all the more brilliant for the additional
sometimes crushing pressures under which they were achieved.
Most people past that age where history is synonymous with "what I
remember personally" recognize that Ali has to be considered in any
evaluation of the list above or its expanded versions. He earned the
love and admiration of people who were prejudiced against him in three
monumental categories: his color (least of the three), his religion
(Islam), and his politics (anti-Vietnam War and flagrantly defiant of
the U.S. government).
He therefore still has enemies to this day, people willing to belittle
his achievements and his character. But he was for many years the most
famous man in the entire world and among many of those he was the most
beloved. He was also the first in his sport to regain its most valuable
championship (heavyweight) twice -- despite losing three of his best
years to enforced inactivity.
I know hockey guys are tough. But they fight their fights in pads and
the referees break them up quickly. They don't begin every contest in
their sport with the knowledge that they have a significant chance of
being killed within the rules. Boxing shares this fact with horse
racing, auto racing, and rodeo. But only in boxing is the competition
specifically focused on inflicting maximum bodily injury to the
exclusion of all other purposes, one on one.
One can make a case for other athletes in the Greatest category, but if
you do any research at all into the Rumble in the Jungle and the
Thrilla in Manila, you'll realize that the contenders are few and that
the case for Ali is strong.
I also guarantee that a debate among the proponents of Owens, Louis,
and Ali would be far more illuminating than any of your maunderings
about whats-his-name Ferguson.
Also, on very rare occasions, comments give you the opportiunity to be
educational, to summarize things you assume most people know. We did an
entry about Newt
, which elicited the following earnest objection:
Why? Because we're at war? I'm sorry, I
just think I missed the part about how Newt would be good for
I wonder who would promote the more vigorous police state, the greater
blow to our sovereignty, the more totalitarian abuse of newly
consolidated executive powers, wanton breach of privacy or destructive
affront to the rule of law, Giuliani or Gingrich? It's hard to say.
I know Newt values the rights of a life while it's in the womb, but
other than that what's the difference between he and the great mayor?
(Ok, Newt's funnier, wittier, makes some great criticisms and can
effectively draw from history for his arguments, while Rudy doesn't
even seem to have read the 911 Commission report)
Based on their example of conservatism and especially their restraint,
I think both Reagan and Goldwater would be turning, no spinning in
their graves at what their party has become. Yes, Gingrich is critical
of the spendthrift Bush administration. But both they and most of the
"pygmies" ride a wave that's throwing us into a state of eternal
warfare, drowning the foundation of our nation and eroding the greatest
achievement of capitalism and very pinnacle of civilization. In the
ebb, the Christians will wonder how their faith allowed them to forsake
that other thing they believed to be so precious, that now
"anachronistic" Constitution which was once the law of the land.
Yeah, we're at war, but we'll be at war a lot longer if Newt takes the
helm. Of course, I guess that works for anyone promoting some sort of
national security state to supplant the republic.
Ah. Idealism. The convictions of the young. "Pete" was polite and
hopelessly wrong-headed. So we actually worked to respond as politely
as we could in a right-headed way:
I know it's hard to accept that the U.S. really is at war with a
determined enemy bent on our utter destruction. It's so easy to pretend
otherwise. Especially since all your leading lights are so anxious to
argue that the people who want to murder us have legitimate grievances.
By all means, proceed with your denial. I can't do anything to alter
that perspective; only circumstances can. I expect they eventually will.
Viewing Republicans as the fomenters of a police state and, by
implication, Democrats as defenders of our civil liberties is frankly
perverse. No Republican prior to this decade and no pre-McGovern
Democrat would ever have considered extending the constitutional legal
rights of an American citizen to foreign combatants or illegal aliens,
which seems to be the current dominant ideal of so-called progressives.
Such policies may seem sweetly virtuous but they are suicidally counter
to our (and your) long term interests.
Would that they were willing to defend the most important rights of
their own citizens with equal ardor -- freedom of political speech,
freedom of choice in matters of education, health, property, and
economic opportunity, and real equality under the law for all U.S.
But it is the 'progressives' who seek to limit political speech via
campus speech codes, campaign laws that abridge the First Amendment,
reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, and laws denying a private
ballot to workers targeted by unions for membership; who condemn the
poorest to remain in failing public schools and make a joke of equal
educational opportunity by redistributing that opportunity based on
sex, race, and ethnicity; who aspire to impose a government monopoly of
health care options on everyone and pretending that the expensive
rationing which would result is somehow "free"; who endorse the seizure
of private property for 'community benefit'; who subscribe to the
totalitarian policy of making the U.S. and its citizens subject to
anti-capitalist, anti-democratic international organizations in the
name of a phony crisis called global warming.
Can you smoke a legal substance in your favorite tavern? Can you buy a
car without an explosive device installed six inches from your chest?
Can you drive yourself anywhere without a seatbelt with legal impunity?
Can you drive your children anywhere without them in the backseat, you
in the front like a 1930s chauffeur? Can you sell your house without
having to make thousands of dollars of improvements, regardless of
whether you or the buyer want them? Can you get an incompetent teacher
fired at your children's public school? Can you object successfully to
the latest PC curriculum innovation at your children's public school?
Can you spank your child for disobeying your direction, or does some
government social worker tell you what you can and cannot do in raising
Who passed and who continuously promotes the laws that now police your
private behaviors in such ways? Whether you agree with their intent or
not, they all represent reductions of your ability to live your private
These are the real roots of a police state, one which draws limitless
power from the vague argument that the state has the right to protect people from their own stupidity, poor decisions, and
I'm sure you're one of those who lament the ceaseless incomptence of
the Bush administration. In all likelihood you have fogotten the
ceaseless incompetence of the Clinton administration (Waco, Elian,
Kosovo, Oklahoma City, Chinese missiles, etc), AND that of the Bush 41
administration, the Reagan administration, the Carter administration,
etc, etc, etc. Government is always incompetent because it is too big,
too ham-handed, too bureaucratic, and too subject to long-term
institutional corruption. It's much much worse than Enron or WorldCom
because no matter how badly it screws up, it can't be driven out of
business, and it can always extort more money to finance even more
Why do you think that most young people start out liberal and then many
become increasingly conservative as they age? The primary reason is
experience. They learn that organizations, by definition, don't
actually care about people, even their own. That's why they decide that
the best policy -- no matter how ugly and seemingly wasteful it can
seem at times -- is to leave as many decisions as possible in the hands
of individual people.
Note how easy it is to decide -- always -- that a committee of elite
officials knows better than any individual what that individual should
do with his money, his education, his children, his diet, his
amusements, his home maintenance, his credit options, his
transportation options, his healthcare, and for that matter, his
choices of clothing, expression, and interior decorating. And
especially his money. Government always knows better than Joe Sixpack
how the money should be spent, right?
Do you really trust the government to make such decisions for you more
than you trust yourself? Or do you just trust them to make the
decisions for all those other sick bastards out there who aren't quite
so wise and well informed as yourself?
The two indispensale roles of government are to provide a framework of
laws equally applied to all citizens and to protect the citizens of the
nation from exterior dangers and threats. There are a few others,
perhaps, but they are all debatable. It's interesting indeed that it's
the progressives of our nation who want our legal framework to be
UNequally applied and who consistently take the side of those who do
pose external threats to the nation. But both of these preferences pale
beside their consuming desire to tell everyone else how to live their
lives in every particular.
A Gingrich police state? You should be so lucky, my boy.
This time, at least, there's the chance of a happy ending. I actually
know Peter, who doesn't look anything like the graphic above, and we
spoke by phone after the exchange shown here. He still thinks I'm an
old fuddy-duddy, but he's willing to entertain the possibility that big
government is its own kind of evil and that the United States is
engaged in a real war againt a real enemy.
That's why we allow comments here. If you're an idiot we enjoy
smashing you. If you're interested in real conversation, we're
delighted to talk.
Every sword has two edges. Keep commenting, Peter. And everyone like
Monday, July 30, 2007
Tour de Chance
Alberto Contador and Team Discovery.
Winners till the chem lab checks in.
It was the best of tours. It was the worst of tours. Unlike
every other sport in the world, the Tour de France labored under rumors
of unspeakable drug violations. Borat's sorry excuse for a country,
Kazakhstan, was utterly humiliated when its national cycling hero
Vinakourov tested positive for a drug violation any nation with running
water could have easily avoided. A longtime Danish star and 10-day
leader of the race was unceremoniously fired by his team and sent home
for lying about where he was when he might have been ingesting illegal
drugs in preparation for the tour. Bad. Very bad.
On the plus side, three of the four great competitive categories of the
contest were won by rookies
A young Colombian named Soler came unheralded from the
Andes to conquer the Alps and Pyrenees ("You call that a knife
mountain?") and win
the 'King of the Mountains' spotted jersey. A young Spaniard with a
steel plate in his head, Alberto Contador, won both the white
jersey of best newcomer and the yellow jersey of the overall winner of
the Tour. Another youngster won the title of 'Most Aggressive Rider.'
America's Team Discovery won the honors as best team because they
recorded the lowest total riding time for the course, and their team
leader, Levi Leipheimer, placed third overall. All to the good.
But one wonders what next year's tour will look like in terms of riders
and sponsors. What profit-making corporation will want to be associated
with a sport that can't complete its premier event without multiple
disqualifications and drug controversies that may destroy yesterday's
results or erupt months after the fact? This has become a sport in
which superlative achievement is immediately suspect; Contador and
Leipheimer carry away their laurels knowing that in a month, or two, or
six, they may be accused of cheating simply because they excelled.
year's tour lineup?
The Discovery Channel has already decided not to renew its sponsorship
commitment. CSC, the second-best American team, is likely to rethink
its participation as well. Unless they're as dumb a computer company as
We anticipate new riders and/or new sponsors. Riders who can't
be accused of blood-doping.
Sponsors who don't care about their images as honest purveyors of
honest services. Who else would participate? Thus, our proposed list of
next year's sponsors of the illustrious Tour de France:
-- Microsoft ("Winning at any cost is our only corporate culture")
-- The Jack Murtha Congressional Campaign Committee "(If we sell it,
you bought it")
-- TourTrump ("Hey, if we can do casino gambling, we can do crooked
-- TeamFEMA ("Lance rode for USPS; we can pretend we know how to
do stuff, too.")
-- MalikiIraq ("We're committed to victory all the way to the 1st of
-- AlaskaPork ("Senator Stevens knows a bridge to nowhere when he sees
-- ExxonValdez ("If you're still buying our gas, you'll buy this act,
-- ChavezVenezuela ("Citgo Zoom, Zoom, Zoom.")
-- AtomicIran ("We'll never stop, never stop, never stop...")
-- ChiracAttack ("C'est l'amour qui fait les (a)larmes....")
-- BritEmpire ("We've learned more about yellow than the French ever
-- PelotonPelosi ("We have not yet begun to surrender.")
-- SopranoThing ("We do blank like nobody. Just ask us about doping.
Bada Bada Blank.")
Of course, you're free to suggest your own. Frankly, we can't wait till