Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
July 10, 2008 - July 3, 2008

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Biraq O'Bama

If you have a head like a potato, you'd better like Irish dancing.

WE HAVE A LONG LONG TIME. We just love the guy. Never figured everybody else would have so much trouble figuring out that he's a Chicago Irish politician, just like all the Daleys. Say what you have to. Say what they want to hear. Say anything. But never stop dancing. The world has long needed an heir to Teddy Kennedy, a younger master of the art of beiing rich and well connected while condemning everyone who does actual work.

Now we have him. Aren't you happy? I know I am. There's nothing better in life than being lectured about how we're supposed to be by people who have never accomplished a damn thing but getting elected to the public trough.

Yeah, take a look at the graphic above. It's not really a joke. O'Bama will dance to any tune they play until you elect him. Then he'll kick your butt all the way to Stalinism. Same steps. Slightly different music.

But I'm sure a very few of you also like Shostakovich. He'll make a poignant soundtrack for the decline and ruin of man. And O'Bama will turn it into a jig on our graves if I'm any judge. Cause he can DANCE!

Ticks. On a Plane.

THE HORROR. Creepy. But apparently true.

A Des Moines bound United Airlines flight from Denver was delayed six hours Tuesday when passengers alerted flight attendants to three ticks in the plane’s cabin.

“It is an unusual situation to find ticks on the plane, and we regret any inconvenience this might have caused our customers,” United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

How the wayward arachnids got on the jet had not been determined. A replacement aircraft shuttled the 107 passengers to Des Moines while Flight 1178 was deticked and checked.

Urbanski said no ticks were found on passengers.

Thank God nobody was killed.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

It's Venus Again!

Lighting up Old England.

JULY 4, PART 2. Since I'm the one who writes most of the sports coverage here, I notice more than the other IP bloggers that our earnest regular commenters seem to regard sports as mostly beneath comment, mere persiflage. But it's more than that. Today is a case in point. Many years, I find it ironic that the climax of Wimbledon coincides with Independence Day, but there are also multiple exceptions. Of late, Venus Williams (scroll down) has been responsible for all the exceptions, as she was today with her sister Serena, in a magnificent women's final that had a profound American resonance on several levels.

For example, leave it to the Europeans to misconstrue individual achievement by people within the same family as some kind of sinister and clandestine fix. Here's the reportage from the Brit newspaper The Independent:

Dementieva reopens row over
Williams’ final arrangements

For a while it was the talk of tennis. Did the Williams family have agreements over who would win when Serena and Venus played each other? The family always denied it and the controversy all but died when Serena started to get the better of her elder sister on a regular basis, but it reopened here yesterday when Elena Dementieva, looking ahead to tomorrow's all-Williams final, said: "For sure it's going to be a family decision."

The family always denied it and the controversy all but died when Serena started to get the better of her elder sister on a regular basis, but it reopened here yesterday when Elena Dementieva, looking ahead to tomorrow's all-Williams final, said: "For sure it's going to be a family decision." The Women's Tennis Association later issued a statement by Dementieva attempting to clarify her comments, but the damage was done.

I can understand. The Russians are congenitally and historically paranoid. They have their reasons. For them the fix is always in, and when they're speaking of their own country and countrymen, they're right. They traded the czars for the Soviet Central Committee, and all that changed was that the death toll increased. Now they are watching passively, as always, while their democratic president Putin systematically eliminates both democracy and personal rivals on his way to becoming the first popularly elected (but equally omnipotent) czar. The Brits are the perfect audience for such charges, because they, too, are used to fixes as part of the imperial tradition of aristocratic families who stage-manage the lives of their sons, daughters, vassals, and subjects.

What they have in common is that neither understands the American Way. The match the Williams sisters played today was a slam-dunk rebuttal of whiny Euro cynicism. Venus and Serena battled one another so passionately in individual points and games of such back-and-forth brilliance that even the most devoted dupe of Dementieva's demented conspiracy theory would have had to concede -- perhaps on the seventh deuce of game three in the second set -- that what elevated both sisters above their vanquished competition was how fiercely they wanted to win, a desire that was only heightened when they went toe-to-toe with each other. They were sisters before the match and, obviously and gracefully, afterwards, but not during. For two sets they were pure combatants.

Maybe it's wrong to use a boxing image like 'toe-to-toe' in an event of women's tennis, but that's another American aspect of this contest. To the rest of the world they may have been on a grass court, but to Americans they were indisputably 'in the ring.' It was, for us cowboy dolts, a heavyweight title fight with echoes of other great pugilistic duels. For example, Venus and Serena may be sisters, but they couldn't be more dissimilar in body type and overall aspect. With my long low-palate memory, I couldn't help being reminded of Ali versus Foreman. Venus is built like a greyhound, a slender and long-legged package of speed and almost fragile-looking keenness. Serena is muscular and deadly, an intimidating slugger who can hammer the opposition into early surrender. And that's how she started. She won nine of the first ten points, including an initial service break and a commanding first game of her own serve before Venus rallied and started showing off her dazzling quickness and even more dazzling improvisational skills. There was a key point in the first set when Venus went to the net and Serena blasted a power shot directly at her sister -- a clear bid at overwhelming Venus with a show of force -- which the greyhound's lightning reactions returned for a winner.

The match, ironically, was decided by a game Venus ultimately lost, on her own serve no less. She fell behind and then survived break point after break point, even scoring an ace on a second serve, but to no avail. Serena won the game and it seemed the momentum had shifted inevitably her way, but... No. Like Foreman, Serena had punched herself out. Venus immediately broke back on Serena's serve and cruised from there to victory. She had endured the knockout onslaught and, like Ali, she knew how to take a punch and counterattack with crushing authority.

That was the second level of American exceptionalism on display. Venus and Serena are sisters but not dynastic clones like we'd see in the Old World. Their games are different, and while their fire is equivalent, their matches are not like some predictable chess game between two near-identical peas in a generic old-school pod. They weren't trying to out-think, out-guess, out-smart the other. They were beautifully and fluidly in the moment, playing tennis against the best player either could imagine facing on the lawns of Wimbledon.

Best Vs. Best

Photos courtesy of Reuters.

The post-game interviews confirmed what may sound like jingoistic inference. While the commentators had dwelt on the history of their previous confrontations, both sisters dismissed the possibility that the past played any role in the match. Venus was forthright in declaring that she avoided thinking about anything but the next serve and the next return. She wasn't acting out some ritual of family tradition but focusing on a single match for a fifth Wimbledon Championship. Which she won.

And then there was the final level of American competitive finery. In past years, a Venus victory at Wimbledon has resulted in a display of joy so utter and childlike that it almost transcends the match highlights. Not today. At the instant her final stroke ensured victory, Venus became Serena's big sister again and her celebration was a study in muted, gracious triumph. Serena's response was equally praiseworthy. She made no excuses, expressed no regrets, and omitted any mention of an awkward officiating moment which, due to her own good sportsmanship, cost her a gigantic set point. (When it occurred, a commentator volunteered that neither Williams sister had ever claimed a point she didn't earn fair and square. No record as to whether John McEnroe blushed...)

I admit it. I love the Williams sisters, both of them. Their designer lines of clothing, their ups and downs in competition, their increasingly unflappable politesse in the context of a world press that both adores and resents them, their fiery streaks of brilliance on the court. But most of all I love those incandescent smiles, which light up the world for a moment and make all the sniping and second-guessing look as petty as it is. They're an epitome of the American oxymoron -- unbridled competition existing side-by side with love and compassion in the kind of family most of the world regards with envy and resentment. The Williams sisters are pretty much an archetype of who we are as a people. More mature, accomplished, and admirable than all the ones who aren't in the finals would like to believe.

But go ahead. Tell me sports are a waste of time and not worth a blog at InstaPunk. I'm sure The Boss will be along shortly to say something important about Nietzche. Any minute now.

I probably won't be there, though. I'll be watching the Williams sisters in the Wimbledon doubles finals, partners again, like, uh, forget it...

P.S. Since it's also in my nature to criticize sports administration, I'll add another two unwelcome cents. I'm tired of seeing all the bouquets tossed by the sports commentariat to Billy Jean King and Martyna Navratilova for extorting equal prize money from Wimbledon for the female competitors. No, I don't disagree that women should get equal prize money. But I do think they should play best-of-five rather than best-of-three sets unless what they're really after is greater-than-equal prize money. Which is what they have at the moment. The best-of-three format dates back to a time when women were regarded as weak and inferior. Anyone who saw the Williams collision knows they could have played five sets today -- and maybe should have. All you women who want equality: What say we actually try equality? Too radical a thought? Probably. Especially if what you have in mind is tacit superiority. But, hey. I'm a sports fan. Which makes me a kind of idealist. Think about it.

UPDATE.  A day later. Now we've had one of the best Wimbledon men's finals ever. A five set nailbiter that lasted literally all day. The young lion Nadal finally deposed the five-year champion Federer after a gruelling struggle in which both had a reason to quit multiple times. Neither did. The outcome was not clear until the final point had been decided in the 16th game of the fifth set. Bad boy John McEnroe pronounced it the greatest Wimbledon final he had ever seen or been party to, which given his own history, is saying something. But he was right. The match was spectacular and magnificent -- even for American chauvinists like me. Interesting that when you make the adjustments for actual playing time, Nadal and Federer made less than half what the Williams sisters did. I'm not trying to take away from what Venus and Serena did, but what we saw today was men's tennis, meaning the best tennis in the world, and maybe the best tennis in history. Why should it be worth 40 to 45 cents on the dollar compared to the women's game? And, btw, does the LPGA play only 12 holes of golf per round?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Fourth of July Twofer

Two Kings of American Letters

DARK STARS (& STRIPES). I know there will be a lot of grand rhetoric over the next few days about the value of American freedom and liberty and the debt we owe to those who have fought for it over the centuries. But there is more than one way to fight. This year, as we enter the last mile of our quadrennial presidential festival of lies, smears, empty promises, and full-of-it reportage, I'm thinking it's a propitious moment to remind ourselves of another grand American warrior tradition: misanthropy.

We have celebrated diversity and the uniquely wonderful attributes of so many distinct groups in our rapidly dis-integrating melting pot that we tend to forget an important truth -- that there's a hell of a lot wrong with all of them, us included. It is perhaps an unusual but energizing act of patriotism to realize how great this country is despite the unending frailties of human nature and the ill-founded vanities of the loudest among us. And it's arguable that one of the reasons for our national greatness is that we have somehow tolerated and even nurtured a small but hardy stream of wits who speak the harshest truths and make us like it. I'm dedicating this Fourth of July to them.

Here's an excerpt from a book review:

Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches & Essays, 2 vols.
(Library of America, 2,126 pp., $70)

The Incredulous, accusatory question, "You don't like Mark Twain?" is one I heard throughout my young womanhood. The shocked inquisitor was always male. This particular gender gap has its roots in the way our schools teach Twain. In my day, junior-high English classes read Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and the story about the frog. Little girls despise little boys and frogs — the distinction is minimal at that age — so the damage is done. Whatever Twain we are forced to read in college invariably runs up against the pubertal mental block, so we spend the best years of our lives going around saying, "I can't stand Mark Twain."

I changed my mind in my thirties when l began to prefer non-fiction to novels and discovered Twain's essays. All of my old favorites, as well as some new ones, are contained in this superbly presented collection.

These books are secular bibles for our times — and not merely because they are printed on elegantly thin paper. Bill Clinton's living obituary is contained in the 1901 essay "Corn-Pone Opinions," a dissection of the man who "can't bear to be outside the pale; can't bear to be in disfavor; can't endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words 'he's on the right track!'"

I don't want to violate the fair usage principle, but read the whole review. It's a beautifully concise introduction to some of Mark Twain's most outrageously "mean-spirited" writings, including what may be the most devastating demolition of a supposed literary great ever printed.

The reviewer is a huge fan of Twain at his wickedest, and I'm a huge fan of the reviewer, Florence King. Which is why this is a twofer. By all means (re)acquaint yourselves with the dark side of America's first genuine literary titan. It's no wonder this and that herd of disgruntled sheep are still trying to run his books out of libraries across the nation. Something about him remains fresh and sharp, still capable of drawing blood with his pen. But so is Florence King. She is a proud misanthrope whose essays for the National Review over the years have skewered fools on the left and the right in prose so distinctly apt as to seem unassailable. And, like Twain, she is very very funny.

You can go look up her life story elsewhere. I'm going to give you just a few excerpts to demonstrate her range of subjects and deftness with words. This is thoroughly unfair to her, by the way. Each of her pieces is its own whole, very difficult to cut InstaPundit style biopsies from. Consider them appetizers instead.

On recycling:

To get rid of useless furniture today you must hire a trash hauler to take it to the landfill, or else take it yourself, provided you own a truck and, if a woman, can lift a bureau and don't mind driving to desolate places like landfills. Otherwise, you have to rent a truck and find two strong young men you aren't afraid to let into your home. The only guaranteed way to get rid of old stuff is to buy new stuff from a store that takes your old stuff to the landfill for free.

Then again, the landfill may not take it... I bought a new air conditioner from a store that promised to take the old one off my hands. I thought it was a free service but they said they had to charge me $25 labor to take the condenser out before they would be allowed to throw the AC away; otherwise the landfill "wouldn't accept" it. Waste not, want not condensers.

My attic storage room is full of 15 years' worth of fritzed appliances and electric fans, but with neither janitor nor incinerator I am now faced with taking them unspayed to the landfill and finding out what it feels like to be rejected by a dump.

On TV cooks:

Emeril, who has a band, is the most nerve-wracking. All of them talk too much, kid around, do tricks with utensils, mug for the camera, keep up a steady stream of unfunny patter, and in general show off for the audience, who invariably respond like schoolchildren with a teacher who can't or won't maintain discipline. The din and distractions make it impossible to follow the recipes or study the techniques. Having an audience is part of the problem; it's like trying to cook and converse with your dinner guests at the same time. The kitchen is one place where show biz doesn't work; the sole shining exception being Julia Child -- a comic genius without trying.

Not all TV cooks are obstreperous. Martha Stewart is a model of discipline, but that's just the trouble. She reminds me of Fraulein von Frumpel, the villainess in a WWII-era Saturday serial designed to keep us phartlings pumped up for the war effort. Stewart says all the right homemaker things, but I can't help feeling that somewhere in there is an "Achtung!" waiting to come out.

On lists:

The trouble with lists is that they are the work of conformists. Take, for example, that old standby, the Ten Most Admired, an annual exercise in lockstep opinion ever since I can remember. Year after year, it was always the same; an overnight newsmaker might occasionally break through the phalanx of acceptable thinking, but otherwise it boiled down to the President, the First Lady, and Billy Graham.

The millennial lists exceeded mere conformity to achieve the most rigid political correctness yet seen. Nelson Mandela was on everything except Entomologists Who Changed Our Lives, Gloria Steinem was right up there with Edison on the one about light-shedders, and Crazy Horse joined Oscar Wilde on Most Misunderstood.

If the cure for democracy is more democracy, then the cure for lists is more lists, so I have compiled People I Instinctively Like for My Own Quirky Reasons Whether I Ought To or Not.

On a biography of Gloria Steinem:

The parable of the mud turtle comes at the end of this hagiographic book, but it so perfectly illustrates the feminist blind spot of both biographer and subject that I shall start with it.

Here is how Gloria Steinem claims she learned to respect the right to self-determination:

During a science field trip in college, she found a turtle beside a road. Afraid that it would get run over, she picked it up and carried it back into the woods where it would be safe — only to be told by her professor that it had probably taken the turtle weeks to reach the muddy shoulder where she wanted to lay her eggs, but now, thanks to Miss Steinem's help, she would have to start all over again.

"It was a lesson Steinem never forgot," writes Carolyn G. Heilbrun.

Really? Coulda fooled me. Miss Steinem has made a career of meddling in women's egg-laying habits and taking them where she thinks they ought to be. Now, in what is tactfully known as post-feminism, they are faced with the task of starting all over again.

On the publication of the letters of Ayn Rand:

Her most notorious trait emerges in a letter to Archibald Ogden, editor of The Fountainhead, who was to supply an introduction to the 25th-anniversary edition. In his draft he made the mistake of relating the funny things that happened during the editing of the book, and was promptly hit by a Scud missive: "You are entitled to your own views about humor. But you know mine, and you chose to ignore them — and there is no meeting ground." She cast him out and wrote the introduction herself.

This book reeks of the sycophancy that Miss Rand always inspired, from its terse little editor's notes to Leonard Peikoff's grim promise that "an authorized biography of Ayn Rand will appear in due course." Considering that her birthday is given incorrectly here, it would appear that Peikoff and Berliner aren't even very good sycophants.

On Ughs (her term for the squalid in our culture):

"Gross-out" movies are now an actual genre, like sci-fi and Westerns, and we can't avoid watching them. Rubrics like "Just switch channels" are useless. Between promos aired repeatedly during station breaks and film clips featured on entertainment news, we get a Best Of sampling of green snot and half- eaten worms without leaving the privacy of our homes...

Since arrested development is as American as apple pie, it is easy to identify the subconscious motivation of the adult male Ughs who produce all these revolting movies and commercials. They are our tassel-loafered Taliban, engaged in a last, desperate striving for male domination under the tacit battle cry, "If you can't beat 'em, disgust 'em."

Unfortunately, it's getting harder and harder to disgust women these days, so the Ugh content of American life must keep expanding to fill the vacuum left by female modesty and delicacy. Consequently, our entire population now has a median age of 14, and a sense of proportion that never gets past the eighth grade.

I won't pretend I've done her justice. But here's an archive list at NRO, where you can also learn how to procure larger collections of her work.

If you get tired of the clicheed bombast this weekend, though, remember where you can find some quick and deadly antidotes -- and take the time to celebrate the fact that we still (for how much longer?) have freedom of speech in our country.

Happy Independence Day.

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