Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
April 21, 2008 - April 14, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008


The Pope prays at Ground Zero.

RENASCENT BARBARIANS. I was surprised this morning to discover that both the Drudge Report and had already moved on from the Pope's visit. The final day of campaigning before the Pennsylvania primary is clearly too fascinating to put aside for a moment, even though everything that could be said about it has already been said hundreds of times.

But I predict there will be more lasting impacts from the Pope's mini-tour of the east coast than from the PA primary. It's just that those impacts won't be easy to count or weigh. I'll mention a few of them here, and I'm sure you'll think of your own as well.

Christianity. The scoffers can't be impressed, but most Americans believe in God and recognize goodness when they see it. Brit Hume referred yesterday to the "beatific sweetness" of Pope Benedict. That was my own overriding impression of the 81-year-old man, fragile, vulnerable yet strong, who presided over a whirlwind of events that would have exhausted most people a third his age. He seemed to be continuously present, sharing his being with enormous crowds and individuals while also appearing to take it all in -- the liturgy, the people, the settings, the symbols, the meanings -- like a sponge. He knew that something deep was happening to the Americans who witnessed him, and he knew that something deep was happening in him. There was, quite appropriately, an air of spring about the proceedings, the renewal of old life after a long winter. It's not a surprise that it happens. What's surprising is the beautiful freshness of each new blossoming.

I think Pope Benedict's visit took everyone by surprise in this way. There are a lot of Roman Catholics in this country, and I'm sure they're more energized by their faith this morning than they were a week ago. There are also a lot of non-Catholic Christians in this country, many of whom are formally and theologically opposed to the papacy (as you can sample in the comments here), but at least a part of most protestant truculence about the pope has to do with the fact that he is the indisputable leader of Christianity in the world. (Not to be flip, but he's the NY Yankees of clerics; hence the aptness of the location of yesterday's mass.) For all but a few gnostic cults, he is the head of an ancient and sprawling family with many cadet and renegade branches, all of whom are nevertheless descended from the same source.

It therefore matters to all Christians who the Pope is, what he says, and how he interacts with us and the world. And when he is admirable and devout in his faith, we can all be proud of him. If we can dispense with denominational pride and jealousy, we can also admit that there is no single other Christian whose prayers at Ground-Zero would mean quite so much. When he is humbled and moved and stricken by the experience, he affirms and helps heal our own pain. That is what happened in the pit of the Towers yesterday. He spread his mantle over all of us and poured balm on such sores as this:

Liberation theology: A beam in the eye?

America. There's been a lot of America bashing in the years since 9/11. From the mideast, from Europe, and even from our own fellow citizens, much of it centered on the nation's role as the last but most potent outpost of devout Christianity among the world's major powers. Our exceptional "clinging" to religion when all the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe are virtually empty is supposed to make us backward, buffoonish, dangerous, stupid, and even contemptible. The fact of our continuing religious faith makes it easy to ridicule our lonely prosecution of the war on terror as a crusade launched from a Texas trailer park

Who knows what the Pope thought before he came here? He may have had as wrong an idea about us as we obviously had about him. Since his election, our own mass media have continuously portrayed him as a stiff reactionary academic, a cold and remote placeholder to fill the office while the College of Cardinals searches for a real successor to John Paul II. We learned differently by having the opportunity to see Pope Benedict in action. Why were his eyes so alight throughout the masses and meetings with real Americans? Was it because he, too, had been fed a load of nonsense about who we are? And because he had suddenly discovered that the river of faith flows here more powerfully and less polluted than he had been led to expect?

The Old World may be running out of faith, but we should consider the possibility that it isn't because they're smarter but only because they're exhausted with life itself. We're still the hope of the world because we still want to live, and we still believe life has meaning, as well as individual value. That's why it's doubly important that the Pope prayed at ground Zero. He affirmed that something very terrible had indeed been done to us and that the pain of it is amplified by the fact that we do care so much about every life.

Age. The Democrats and the MSM are readying us for an assault on John McCain's advanced age, which is supposed to make him obsolete, weak, and irrelevant. Pope Benedict drew huge audiences of young people who got to see a vivid example of the fact that age can also bring wisdom, authority, perspective, humility, and irreplaceable gravity. No, John McCain cannot be assumed to possess all these qualities because he is only ten years younger than the Pope, but he may merit a second look from youngsters who have never previously been taught to respect their elders.

There is another kind of age that matters, too. The Roman Catholic Church just proved (again) that it is still possesses mighty if intangible power in the world, even after two millennia that have seen the rise and fall of innumerable other institutions and empires. What does this mean to us? That the power of a beneficent idea can survive if it perseveres and chooses to rebuild and renew itself rather than destroy itself in penance for the mistakes and even crimes that any sufficiently long-lasting entity will commit. The church has not done this by recasting itself as its own opposite or dividing against itself into competing strains of vengeful vandals. It moves, however slowly, to accept responsibility for its own errors, corrects them, and renews its commitment to the core of its values. Pope Benedict could have made token acknowledgment of the sex scandals that have so scarred the American church and moved on. Instead, he brought the subject up with every audience, declared the responsibility of the church to care for the victims, and described the process for making sure it doesn't happen again. There's a lesson here for all institutions, including nations. Always preserve the animating idea and treat failures to live up to that idea as failures of individual people and systems, not of the animating idea. Never cease to aspire.

Obama. Perhaps not in tomorrow's primary, but the papal visit is going to hurt Obama in the general election. He, more than any other candidate, should have made an appearance at one of the events. Christians of all denominations have just been reminded of how much older their faith is than all of the grievances that drive the Obama campaign, which will further aggravate the effect of his remarks about Americans clinging to religion because the job market is bad. Further, the striking sensory phenomena of the Pope's visit -- the gorgeous choirs and singing, the reenactments of ancient liturgy, the sweetness and manifest love of the Pope himself, and the humble awe of the various audiences -- will contrast discordantly with the YouTube rantings of Jeremiah Wright and reverberate for months and years to come. Obama needs to be seen as a Christian, not the muslim of his name or paternity. At a single stroke the papal visit has made it clear that Wright -- and by implication his favorite parishioner -- is far closer to the warrior mullahs of Iran than to the Vicar of Christ on earth. As are the secular crusaders like Bill Maher who wish to demonstrate Obama's goodness by savaging the evils of traditional Christianity.

Maybe RealClearPolitics will get around to considering these intangibles on Wednesday, after the most important political event in the history of life on earth.

Archbishop of Canterbury
Planning his own U.S. Tour

One of the Archbishop's more coherent recent sermons.

XOFF NEWS. According to unnamed sources close to the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Atkinson is fiercely envious of the adulation Pope Benedict received on his American trip and is planning a similar visit of his own.

Schedules are still preliminary, but the American leadership of the Church of England -- The Episcopal Synod of New England Country Clubs -- is reportedly organizing a series of Evening Prayer services that will be held this fall, hopefully in time to help Barack Obama win election to the presidency of the United States.

A brief mission statement for the trip has already been drafted (subject to revision, of course) and says in part:

As the leading Christian denomination which disavows the factuality of the immaculate conception, the resurrection, and the divinity of Christ, the Anglican/Episcopal Church feels an urgent duty to counteract the superstitious effects of the Pope's visit to America and to restore the progress that was being made by the coloniesUnited States towards the acceptance of Islamic culture and sharia law that has already been achieved in the United Kingdom and other commonwealth nations likeCanada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Through a series of workshops and liturgy-like ceremonies, the Archbishop will instruct Americans from all walks of life about the sheer idiocy of believing in God, the poetic nonsense of the Bible, and the existence of anything that might be called an Afterlife. Further, his Eminence will prove, via highly literate (and witty) charts & graphs, that the equally ill-founded beliefs of Islam are nevertheless superior to every form of Christianity because any attempt to refute them leads directly to suicide bombers, beheadings, and aeroplanes crashing into landmarks like Parliament, the Tower of London, and Boodles.

Afterwards, there will be tea, followed immediately by cocktails and perhaps a twilight round of golf or some other gentleman's pursuit.

Individual venues have yet to be finalized, but church officials are hopeful of arranging their biggest events at the Newport Polo Club, the Nantucket Yacht Club, and -- in a rare gesture of exceptional outreach -- the Phladelphia Cricket Club. Hundreds are expected to attend.


Liveblogging the PA Primary

ORDERS. Orders from the Boss. Since I live in the Delaware Valley. I'll be liveblogging coverage of the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary. All day tomorrow. Please don't tell anyone. Starting at 8 am or so.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Where's Bill Maher?


Funny Enough. The Pope arrived in the United States, so Bill Maher decided to blast the Catholic Church from his little HBO pillbox calling the Pope the author of the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church and a former Nazi.

I could call Bill Maher names, but that's not very instructive and Mr. Maher's comments betray a very old and very deep American prejudice against the Catholic Church. It's seen in a colonial children's game called Hang the Pope and continues on to this very hour (visit and review the past few years' of press releases). When a Catholic Church was constructed in South Carolina in 1873, the local paper referred to it as “a papist fortification for the troops of an enemy.”

So, Mr. Maher is nothing new.

Had the Catholic Church taken pedophiles and homosexuals among its ranks to a dungeon in the Vatican and beaten and starved them to death you can hear the hue and cry that would go up about the barbaric institution. As it is, the hue and cry is about the complicity with and encouragement of sexual predators by the barbaric institution.

You see, any stick will do when bashing the Catholic Church.

What is the real problem? In a word – incarnation.

The incarnation is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions. It is in the name of Jesus Christ as Emmanuel – God with us.

The ancient Greeks could not tolerate this violation – their world of perfect forms coming down and being corrupted by flesh and blood. It was simply impossible.

The incarnation is also a scandal for other religions that don't like mixing the divine with the human.

Incarnation is carried across two millennia and very close to your home by the Catholic Church as it asserts that it is an institution created by Jesus Christ to perform His work on the earth among men. This work is to be performed by men. Its visible, earthly, flesh and blood leader is the Pope who is protected by the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit to speak unerringly on faith and morals and her priests are empowered to bind and loose on earth with the authority that their actions on earth will be honored and binding in heaven.

It is with this level of incarnation that the Protestants take their leave. For them it is okay that Jesus Christ is God become man, but for God to work and be among men in the form of an institution with a telephone number, an address, and a website? Impossible. For Protestants and others alike, there are just too many bad Popes; too many bad Bishops; too many bad Priests; too many bad Catholics – they're just so, so, so – human. Disgustingly human. And, accordingly, cannot be divine.

So the protestations against the Catholic Church are, at their root, protestations and absolute revulsion at the thought of the incarnation. God cannot be here for here is too base, too defiled, too absurd, too unjust, too unfair – too human.

Consider – it isn't that all the faults and all the horrors you see aren't there, it is that they are there and they are part of the message of Christianity. It is that God is here – as close as He can get to man – and that you can actually get close to Him – as close to Him as you dare.

Welcome to the United States, Pope Benedict.

Just a callow pol.

BACK TO HIGH SCHOOL. Quite unbelievably, some of the conservative bloggers are actually debating whether or not Obama gave Hillary the finger in the clip above. Like Ed Morrissey of Hot Air:

When is a bird not a bird? I suspect when the Democratic frontrunner flips it. Barack Obama campaigned among friendly crowds yesterday in North Carolina, one state he's expected to win easily in the next few weeks. Perhaps he let his guard down, or maybe he didn't even realize he made the gesture...

Obama has a pretty satisfied look on his face afterwards, which makes it look a little more purposeful than not. It's subtle enough to have deniability for anyone who might get offended, but clear enough for his followers to enjoy the moment of disrespect towards Hillary. And who hasn't wanted to flip off a Clinton at some time in their lives?

Is this a damaging moment for Obama? Probably not, although it's not exactly classy. In fact, it might have a charm all its own, a warmth and humanity that certainly doesn't come out when Obama debates.

Update: Redstate says it's definitely the salute; Jim Geraghty needs a little more convincing.

What a crock. All you need do is listen to his patter immediately afterward. He is deliberately saying nothing -- a series of slow, throwaway phrases designed to give the audience an opportunity to enjoy and extend the impact of the gesture. In this instance, he's no sanctimonious preacher but a standup comic milking a dirty joke.

I also loved Morrissey's bottom line answer to his own question about damage: "Probably not, although it’s not exactly classy. In fact, it might have a charm all its own, a warmth and humanity that certainly doesn’t come out when Obama debates."

Please. Charm? A gesture that could only be considered subtle by a junior high-school boy? Warmth and humanity? What would Morrissey call mooning the principal from the windows of the team bus? A miraculous moment of shared spiritual communion?

All of this against the backdrop of the Pope touring America, where "warmth and humanity" were exhibited not by a crude gesture symbolizing sexual penetration at a political rally but by the quick kiss of an infant's forehead during the recessional from a solemn high mass.

Just because a lot of us may have felt like flipping Hillary the bird from the sofa in front of the TV doesn't mean we want a presidential candidate to do it, slyly, in public, in reaction to the first time he hasn't been treated worshipfully by the press in attendance.

There is a difference between public and private behaviors. Yeah, most politicians have had their unguarded moments, including Repubs like Cheney and McCain, when a mic caught them delivering an F-word or equivalent to the face of someone who had angered them deeply. Doing it from a public platform and not even face to face but like a sneak at a distance is infinitely less acceptable. What would our mass media be talking about today if Pope Benedict had made public reference to Bill Maher's slanders and scratched the papal nose with his middle digit? Well, they probably wouldn't be talking about anything else, not even the midwest earthquake.

Think about it. Consider the appalling amount of personal and absolutely vitriolic abuse President George W. Bush has taken in the last seven years. What sort of stampede of condemnation and disdain wouldn't have followed such a juvenile response by the Commander-in-Chief to the equally juvenile assaults he has been required to endure? (Just today, Drudge reports that Mayor Bloomberg is 'excited' about electing an 'adult' president. So maybe GWB should rise to Obama's level and flip one at NYC's incredibly pompous figurehead?) It may be unfortunate for some to think about, but one of the principal responsibilities of the man or woman who occupies the most powerful leadership post in the world is to be a glutton for punishment. They are required to take everyone's meanest, dirtiest, and most vengeful shots without responding in kind. In simpler terms, they have to be real grownups, even more than most of us grownups can manage. What they can't be is little shallow snots who react to a cheap shot or two like a 15-year-old cheerleader who goes all Old Testament on her MySpace page when a BFF steals her boyfriend.

Ed Morrissey should be ashamed of himself. Oddly enough, one of the story links at Hot Air today might help him put this in perspective. It's about a YouTube clip by twenty-somethings intended to make us realize that John McCain is older than dial telephones (not really). Except that there's also reference to the real average age of those who are responsible enough to vote consistently.

I may not like Hillary, but she's a grown woman. In comparison, Obama seems like a self-obsessed Y-Gen chick.

More on Maher

Bill Maher's Halloween costume making playful fun of the death of Steve Irwin.
Do you think he maybe possibly has some issues with take-charge male figures?

HAIL OH HAIL. We read Wade Pelham's post about the long history of anti-Catholicism, and despite the opening subhead, it just didn't seem "funny enough" to us.

We feel like Otter in "Animal House." What's called for here isn't a nuanced theological discussion but a "really futile and stupid gesture on somebody's part." You know. Ad hominem. Almost nothing whatever to do with the Pope and Catholicism and Nazis. Because what Maher said didn't have anything to do with those things either.

Faithful readers will recall that we outed him almost exactly three years ago as a SCAM. Part of that outing was publishing the fact that he was the son of a Jewish mother and a Roman-Catholic father. (He's also basically a midget, but we'll leave that out of it for now.) So why does he have a mindless hatred of Roman Catholics and a scarily constant paranoia about Nazis lurking in the weeds waiting to do him in?

ONE... TWO... THREE... FOUR... got it yet? Oh!!! He's a screwed up little prick who hated his father and had a weird love-terror-victim response to his relationship with a mother expert at suffering and smothering.

It's rumored that he's going to apologize for calling Pope Benedict a Nazi, but not for what he said about RC-ism as a cult of child molesters. Hmmmm.

Why the one and not the other? After all, we covered the abundant evidence of Pope Benedict's Nazi past here at this site. There's hardly any need to back off on that count. But apologizing for something -- anything -- makes you a kind of martyr. The persecutors are already lining up.

"Maher is being a wimp to apologize - and this is no joke. So what if a few people cancel their HBO subscriptions? For every person who cancels, there are probably ten people who subscribe to HBO just to get Maher. Maher should tell HBO 'Screw you - cancel me, then, and I'll just carry all my viewers over to Showtime.' Besides, all those people who cancelled are going to come back anyway, just as soon as they realize how much they miss re-runs of Pornucopia: Sex in The Valley. The world needs Maher to keep pointing out that the only difference between a religion and a cult is the number of members."

Would Mommy be proud of her little (um, very little) baby for his martryrdom in the name of a (quasi)religious cause? Would it make him feel, for once, that he was standing on a point of principle as opposed to pandering for laughs with the crudest possible jokes an untalented Cornellian could devise in the process of trying to piss off his hated father on national television?

Sure she would. Mommy always loved her little halfwit sociopath. It was Daddy who always knew better than to approve a vicious pint-sized monster just because his own cursed semen was involved.

Work it out, Bill. Maybe somebody out there actually admires you. But even the people who slap you on the back know you're a creep they wouldn't want anywhere near their own private lives and beliefs.

Aaaaaah. That feels better than all the religious rhetoric. A lot better. Which almost rhymes with Otter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Operation Meet America

These are the places where Obama has lived his life in the U.S.

DAMN YANKEES. Yes, all Americans are American and every part of America is America, but the events of the past week have shown that there's a big part of our nation Senator Barack Obama knows precious little about. The above map illustrates the problem. Much of his childhood and youth was spent in Hawaii, outside the continental United States. After finishing his private schooling there, he went to exclusive Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years before transferring to Columbia University in New York City. He remained in New York for a while before moving to Chicago's South Side, which has been his home since, except for three years at the Harvard Law School and attendance at a handful of votes over the past four years in the U.S. Senate in DC.

It's obvious he's worked hard and thinks he knows a lot about America. It's also obvious that there are some gaps in both his knowledge and his life. For example, does this look like a man who knows anything about having fun?

He's smiling, sure, but he couldn't be more completely out of his element having to play a game he knows nothing about while everyone watches him making an ass of himself in a suit. He scored a 37. Now, lots of people are bad at bowling, but they at least know a few reliable tricks for getting out of bowling when their personal dignity is on the line. (Damn, guys, I'd love to but I jammed my finger in a skeet shooting accident yesterday...) It's this kind of utter ignorance of one's surroundings that landed Dukakis in that tank and John Kerry in the big bunny suit at NASA.

And it's even more dangerous now with the reign of YouTube. Obama's bowling has already been immortalized in less than flattering clips.

We want to help. It's entirely possible that Barack Obama could become president of the United States. He needs a crash course in ordinary American life as it is lived in what conservatives call the Heartland and what liberals call Flyover Country. His campaign has taken him to many destinations in this vast area between the coasts, but business trips are no way to learn anything about a place and its people. You're lost in a blur of planes and hotels and rushed meals and not much time for anything but endless handshakes, forced smiles, and hitting your appointments and the airport on time. It's even worse when you're the absolute center of attention, always expected to be the star performer at a dead run. No wonder he thinks the whole country is filled up with needy people who are all expecting the government to solve their problems.

There is a way to help him out before Inauguration Day (if that's what's in the cards). Time is clearly in short supply on the campaign trail, but the need is also great, which makes it worthwhile to run some risks. We propose that Obama employ Saddam's old stratagem of finding a double who can fill in for him on the campaign trail -- just on weekends, mind you -- and use those two precious days every week between now and January to make the acquaintance of his countrymen. We're sure there are talented actors who could handle the Saturday and Sunday appearances without arousing too much suspicion. (Who watches the TV news on weekends anyway?) For example, we're willing to bet the amazingly talented Don Cheadle would be willing to help.

Hollywood makeup magicians could "make up" the difference, don't you think?

Which would leave Obama free to become Barry the Everyman, footloose in America.

We also have some suggestions about what the 'course of study' might include:

Pennsylvania seems to be pretty much of a blank slate for him. A good place to start might be the state parks, where it turns out there are thousands of people enjoying the outdoors with their families in dozens of ways that don't all involve guns, including backpacking, canoeing, fishing, golf, rollerblading, wildlife watching, and picnicking. Of course, there is hunting, too, but there's also an educational family-appropriate activity in which guns play an important part but hurt no one -- like the Civil War Reenactment at Neshaminy State Park next weekend. Which reminds us that it might be worthwhile to take the tours and meet the embittered Americans who show up at Gettysburg and Valley Forge. Going to a Steelers game would be permissible (too urban perhaps), but it might not be quite as insightful as spending a leisurely spring evening at a minor league baseball park, say, the Reading Phillies, or better yet, the Little League World Series in Williamsport this summer. For a glimpse of how (un)friendly ordinary whitebread Pennsylvanians are to people who aren't just like them, Lancaster County is an excellent place to visit. Eager-beaver retailers and the Amish seem, oddly enough, to have developed a mutually profitable co-existence, and for city boys who have never seen horses used as everyday transportation, the experience can be transforming.

Obama lost Ohio, too, didn't he? And no doubt thinks they're as benighted as the Pennsylvania folks. But Ohio isn't all Cleveland and Akron and dying auto plants. There are all kinds of places in the state where one could discover towns full of optimistic and friendly people, but we'd suggest one in the beautiful Miami River Valley. Dayton's representative of so much. It's where the Wright Brothers came from, using their entrepreneurial talents to turn a bicycle shop into one of the most important and technologically advanced industries in human history. Dayton's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is named in part for them, and Obama might go there to see the moving exhibits at the Air Force Museum and perhaps take in the family-filled spectacle of an air show. And if he finds that too militaristic and noisy he can leave early and head for one of the great hot-air balloon events that dapple the Ohio skies with so much color.

What you can see from a balloon. More than shuttered factories.

If he's still anxious to leave Ohio -- and if he timed it right -- Obama could arrange to be in the town of Defiance on August 9 for the last day of the Longest Yard Sale, which runs 630 miles from Ohio to Alabama. It's a fine way to meet people and see capitalism at work with nary a regulator or bureaucrat in sight.

Truthfully, Obama could discover natural wonders, historical attractions, and abundant family activities of the sort described above in every state that isn't wall-to-wall with urban sprawl. If he'll bother to look, he'll find that it isn't just Ivy graduate students who go to museums, botanical gardens, open-air art festivals, and outdoor concerts featuring every kind of music. We've focused a little more attention on Pennsylvania and Ohio because they've been so rudely stereotyped as helpless losers in recent weeks. It's not true of them any more than it is for the residents of any other state. So we'd encourage the undercover Obama to visit as many flyover states as possible.

In the course of his visits he should try some simple things that can be done in just about any small town or hamlet:

Spend a couple of hours at Lowes or Home Depot or the local hardware store. Watch men and women buying tools, paint, parts, and fixtures for the unending home improvement project that so many Americans devote years to accomplishing.

Hang out at the local garden center this spring and observe the zeal with which families select perennials, trees, peat moss, and mulch for the beautification of their yards. When they leave, they're going home to get their hands dirty with the kind of work that can't help but make one ponder God and creation. If one asked politely, I'm sure a homeowner might let a city visitor experience the sensual delight of cutting the lawn and smelling that perfect green smell of fresh-cut grass.

Drive outside of town through some back country roads and discover the roadside stands where, depending on the season, there's asparagus, strawberries, corn, squash, tomatoes, peaches, and beans for sale next to a stash of plastic bags and a box with a slit in the top for you to put the money in. These are the original self-serve operations and they're still working.

Go to church. Not just the ones you know, or think you know, but others too. Attend a Jewish bar mitzvah. A Jewish wedding, a Polish wedding, an Italian wedding, a Methodist wedding, etc, etc, in the same town, and see how many of the guests you recognize from one of the others. Go to a Catholic christening and a Catholic funeral -- not the media kind where politicians show up because someone has been horribly murdered and the cameras are rolling, but just some parishioner who has died -- and listen to what the priest has to say on each occasion. Isn't this a kind of social gospel, too, without the ranting and the anger? Go to any event advertised on any church billboard -- supper, breakfast, chicken barbecue -- and see if you're not warmly welcomed and treated despite being an utter stranger.

Make sure to be in some small town anywhere on Independence Day and ask someone where the nearest fireworks and big-time celebration are being held. Go. Have a beer. Talk to people. Have fun.

Seek out the hobbies, amusements, obsessions, and avocations that live under the surface of flyover America. Hitch a ride on a Harley-Davidson poker tour. Go to a dog show. A county fair (and make sure you don't miss the 4H exhibits or the junior riders competition). Find a classic car show in any town's WalMart parking lot. Go fishing with some old guys in a bass boat on a cedar lake at dawn. Go to an antique auction in the country. Roll the dice and pick one of a hundred thousand small-town street fairs to wander through on a nice Saturday afternoon. Check out the local historical society. Go to a rodeo outside of Texas. Sit in the stands for a whole little league game. Seek out a Halloween hayride. At Christmas-time volunteer to go carolling with a local church group, sign up for the candlelight tour (whatever it consists of), or ask any stranger on the street the location of the "house with the most Christmas lights." And, uh, yeah. Go bowling. You'll be surprised how many people are willing to teach you. Same with darts, golf, shooting, motorcycling, and home carpentry.

Explore the universe of local charities and charitable acts. The AA meetings in all those church basements. The priests, ministers, rabbis, ordinary folks, and therapy dogs who visit the hospitals and nursing homes. The animal rescue organizations that run on a wing and a prayer. The small companies, churches, and local associations that gather up toys for the needy at Christmas or supplies for disaster victims at home and abroad. The volunteer fire departments and fire police in every single town, village, and hamlet in the whole country.

Do everything and go everywhere you can to acquaint yourself with the incredible richness, variety, vitality, curiosity, generosity, and optimism of life in these United States that isn't a function of some government program or agency. You'll find it's almost infinite. Of course you'll meet a jerk or two along the way and some diehard pessimists, but they won't be the rule. They'll be the exceptions who will probably want to bring up politics without being asked. Try not to let them ruin your day. Or your month or your year. Try very hard to remain focused on the challenge of reveling in the amazing kaleidoscope of American life.

Then come back, Mr. Obama, and tell us of your devout belief in bitterness and the overwhelming mandate of government to intercede in peoples' lives for their own good.

It's a tight schedule. But Obama really can't afford not to do it. And the country can't afford to elect him if he doesn't.

Could somebody get Don Cheadle on the phone...?

Brizoni's Misadventures Abroad 2

The Post-Post Irony Grail

GREETINGS FROM SOUTH AFRICA! Hey, I found a country with real internet! My last port of call, whence I posted my last entry, didn't. Or they did, but it was run by Western Union, using the old telegraph lines.

Here's how it works. They're still training telegraph operators out here. I didn't have the heart to break their obselescence to them. You write out their email in longhand, along with address and password information, and they hop on the old signal clicker thing. From there your message, letter by letter in Morse Code, goes across the ocean to some non-profit on the other end. For a while, there was a huge network of telegraph wires going out of Asia that had long ago been cut loose from America, floating in the Atlantic. This confederation-- I forget their acronym-- of Peace Corps types and amateur radio fanatics got a grant from the UN to sail out, grab the wires, and hook them up to a call center where unpaid volunteers hand-translated the morse code back to text.

One of these selfless missionaries must have developed a hand cramp or something, because the last three paragraphs of my last essay didn't show up in the post. I'll spare you the lengthy recap. It's not like you need me to tell you Lou Dobbs is a sham ideologue, or that conservative commentary has become simply another career option for broadcasters, like becoming the sports guy on local news or issuing traffic reports from the helecopter. That's simple math.

Even with the internet difficulty, I was having a great trip. Until my good friend and (inside joke -- sorry) noted novice Gordo Seclorum sent me the above picture attached to this tersely exuberant email: "I FOUND ONE". It's a '68 Mercury Monterey with yacht deck paneling, as seen on Wikipedia. I printed this picture out and put it in my wallet months ago.

He couldn't have more expertly killed my world traveling buzz. We've talked about finding this gorgeously opulent car, this stunning artifact of sledgehammer class, the way scientists talk about finding the unified field theory. Instead of enjoying partying across the globe, I've spent the last few hours pining for home, so I can mortgage my blood to get behind the wheel of this beautiful beast. Gordo knows how to chum my waters, and now I've got a taste for a very different type of journey: The American Road Trip.

I'm drifting again. Any Mercury from that era will have more horsepower than any two of its contemporaries, with ten times the noise. Imagine screaming down Route 66 in that. It'd cut the country open like a [dull--ED] scalpel. I could speed [trailing blue, blown-engine smoke and felonious levels of ugly high-decibel exhaust sounds--ED.] to impoverished inner-city schools where I'd be able to preach to the innocents about a better time and a bygone age. When men were men and [thanks to 4.000-lb agglomerations of incompetent spot-welding--ED.] generally suffered more hearing loss than today's average 12-year-old girl with a 3-oz iPod.

That might be a hard sell, come to think of it. Depends how "inner" we're talking.

Anyway. South Africa. It's almost too arbitrarily high-tech to be that interesting in a backpacking context. That's interesting, in that it contrasts w/ the rest of the world's largest inhabited land mass. The poor people are poorer, way poorer than back home, including that sick-looking alley right behind my apartment where even the cats won't eat what the Mi-ou Chinese restaurant flings onto the pavement. That's something I've set a date to think about on my PDA. Circa 2013 (after the Mayan Apocalypse). But the black people here are totally smug and pleased with themselves about not killing all the whites when apartheid ended. It's bad of me, I know, but I can't stop wondering what would happen if the UN or somebody air-dropped 40-million DVDs of Saw IV into this powder keg. (Only, who'd spring for the 10-million DVD players you'd have to air-drop next?) (Or the extension cord you'd need to plug those DVD players into the ass-end of Europe, which is where anyway? In the bottom of Sicily?) Oops.

If that's the socket that provides all the energy to Africa, I'm thinking it really is time to get out of here. I mean, I love murderous Afrikaaners who hate everyone that doesn't resemble a parboiled beet as much as the next person, but what the hell are we going to do when some goombah in Sicily trips over the cord and all the lights in Africa go out? I don't know any fucking Dutch. My guess is, they know plenty of American and don't like what they've heard anyhow.

Do you think if I explained, very very politely, to American Airlines that I have an absolutely-not-to-be-broken appointment with a Mercury Monterey in one of the most left-handedest state of the union, named after one of the founding fathers no less, that they'd make an exception to their total anti-transportation strategy of the past few weeks, and let me go HOME?

VROOOOOOOM!!! Or is that too pushy? VRoooooom? How about vrooooooooom? Please?


What if I also agreed to submitting tamely to the abuse the Old Man is certain to give me about the Monterey?

[Your ticket is prepaid and waiting at Johannesburg--ED.]

Okay. You win. But I'm going to kill that Silarkey shit. Got it? I don't take crap from nobody but real Afrikaaners.

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