Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
February 27, 2009 - February 20, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Derb Offends

From his website. He calls it a mugshot. He's under arrest here too.

BONEHEAD INTELLECTUALS. I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. John Derbyshire's assault on conservative talk radio is here. It is also competently fisked here. Which means that if you're interested, you can read up on the flap created by this inveterately grumpy National Review contributor and then come back for my few additional comments.

Blaming talk radio for the present misfortunes of conservatives is just plain idiotic. According to his own voluminous c.v., Derbyshire is a Brit who first lived in the United States in 1986. He cannot know what it was like growing up in this country before the Reagan administration terminated the Fairness Doctrine. The only broadcast on which you could hear conservative voices was Firing Line. And it may be news to Derb, but you didn't have to be a lowbrow to object to much of Buckley's presentation. He was so self-consciously intellectual, so enraptured by his own vocabulary and semantic complications, that even genuine intellectuals frequently felt like smacking him on the back of the head. Brilliant? Yes. Also often laughable. That conservatives in the population at large did not respond eagerly to conservatism as an elaborate gentleman's game does not make them lowbrows or deny them qualification as the middlebrows Derb claims to value.

Populism is an extremely argumentative term to throw around. By connotation at least, it usually refers to political movements which organize and manipulate the have-nots in an effort to extort benefits from the haves. It implies simplistic rabble-rousing rhetoric, phony "common man" leadership, and continual resort to the ugliness of class warfare. That's not Rush Limbaugh's shtick and it's not his audience, either. Limbaugh tapped into a huge population of "the Forgotten Man" intellectual conservatives claim to speak for, the ones who pay the bills for the social engineering delusions of liberals. But oddly enough, they're too busy living their lives and paying the bills to have much patience with the inside baseball affectations of the National Review. To them, politics is not an abstract philosophical debate that mutters on through the centuries in panelled drawing rooms and stylish cocktail parties. Someone who figures out a way to reach the people who are paying the bills is not a populist. He's an educator, a communicator, a common sense analyst, and, yes, an entertainer. He expands the political base among the competent doers on which the whole nation depends. That's a far cry from the populist bomb-throwing of a Huey Long or William Jennings Bryan.

Of course, not all conservative talk radio hosts are of the same caliber. Just as not all National Review contributors are quite as brilliant as Buckley even if they're ostentatious about wrapping themselves in his mantle. What's strange is that some of Derbyshire's charges indicate that he hasn't actually listened to talk radio any more than the liberal haters have. It's absolutely not true that Limbaugh and Hannity defended everything Bush did. Their objection to his spending, to his failure to veto outrageously wasteful legislation, was almost a drumbeat. But they knew, as so many intellectual conservatives seem to have forgotten in the past year, that the alternative waiting in the wings was worse, disastrously worse. Now we have Obama. Our country is vanishing down the rabbit hole at truly terrifying speed. And this is to be blamed on Limbaugh and Hannity? I don't think so. And quoting turncoat Christopher Buckley's disdainful sneer at comparisons between his father and Limbaugh in the course of making such a wrongheaded accusation is frankly odious.

Derbyshire can be smart, insightful, and thought-provoking. This time he is none of the above. He's being an ass.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What the hell is this?

Is it just me, or is this really really creepy?

THE GAIA IMPERATIVE. So Drudge linked this silly vignette from Germany and I guess we're supposed to chuckle at the continuing adulation still flowing from the country that greeted Obama as if he were the world's new fuehrer:

A carnival float depicting a flying U.S. President Obama with Europe being dragged along is seen during the traditional carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Monday, Feb. 23, 2009. Rose-Monday-Parades in the carnival strongholds of Duesseldorf, Mainz and Cologne are watched by hundreds of thousands of revelers and mark the highlights of Germany's carnival season. (AP)

But I can't help seeing some imagery here that begs for some explanation. See what I mean?

From left to right, the "cloud" upholding the flying Obama, the sculpture
"Monumental Woman," and the oldest sculpture of a woman yet found,
"The Venus of Willendorf," (c. 24,000 BC) discovered in Lower Austria.

I don't know what it signifies. Lots of things occur to me. The weird new cult of Gaia embraced by the New Age paranoids of Global Warming (or climate change as it seems to be termed during a particularly harsh winter). The continuing elevation of all things female as somehow wiser and superior to the, ahem, male patriarchy. Also, the fact that the Germans have always been crazy pagans, curiously resistant to civilization ever since they managed to avoid being conquered and de-barbarianized by the Roman Empire. (Don't believe it? See this. The other two parts, too. A pivot of history.) And the looming inevitability of the nanny state mentality which seeks to transform free adults into populations of helpless whining children, permanent wards of government largesse and control. Heck. Maybe it's Angela Merkel. (NSFW)

Is this a hint, a joke, an insight, a promise, a warning, a threat... or do I just need stronger reading specs? You tell me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Double Standard

. It's a triviality. I confess it. But does anyone else remember the amount of heat George W. Bush took for his verbal and grammatical slips? Today, The New York Times has decided to address the issue of Obama's misuse of pronouns. Something I never do: reproduce the whole essay. But I'm doing it now. To be fair. The boldface is my own.

The I’s Have It

WHEN President Obama speaks before Congress and the nation tonight, he will be facing some of his toughest critics.

Grammar junkies.

Since his election, the president has been roundly criticized by bloggers for using “I” instead of “me” in phrases like “a very personal decision for Michelle and I” or “the main disagreement with John and I” or “graciously invited Michelle and I.”

The rule here, according to conventional wisdom, is that we use “I” as a subject and “me” as an object, whether the pronoun appears by itself or in a twosome. Thus every “I” in those quotes ought to be a “me.”

So should the president go stand in a corner of the Oval Office (if he can find one) and contemplate the error of his ways? Not so fast.

For centuries, it was perfectly acceptable to use either “I” or “me” as the object of a verb or preposition, especially after “and.” Literature is full of examples. Here’s Shakespeare, in “The Merchant of Venice”: “All debts are cleared between you and I.” And here’s Lord Byron, complaining to his half-sister about the English town of Southwell, “which, between you and I, I wish was swallowed up by an earthquake, provided my eloquent mother was not in it.”

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that language mavens began kvetching about “I” and “me.” The first kvetch cited in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage came from a commencement address in 1846. In 1869, Richard Meade Bache included it in his book “Vulgarisms and Other Errors of Speech.”

Why did these 19th-century wordies insist “I” is “I” and “me” is “me”? They were probably influenced by Latin, with its rigid treatment of subject and object pronouns. For whatever reason, their approach stuck — at least in the rule books.

Then, why do so many scofflaws keep using “I” instead of “me”? Perhaps it’s because they were scolded as children for saying things like “Me want candy” instead of “I want candy,” so they began to think “I” was somehow more socially acceptable. Or maybe it’s because they were admonished against “it’s me.” Anybody who’s had “it is I” drummed into his head is likely to avoid “me” on principle, even when it’s right. The term for this linguistic phenomenon is “hypercorrection.”

A related crime that Mr. Obama stands accused of is using “myself” to dodge the “I”-versus-“me” issue, as when he spoke last November of “a substantive conversation between myself and the president.” The standard practice here is to use “myself” for emphasis or to refer to the speaker (“I’ll do it myself”), not merely as a substitute for “me.” But some language authorities accept a looser usage, and point out that “myself” has been regularly used in place of “me” since Anglo-Saxon days.

Our 44th president isn’t the first occupant of the White House to suffer from pronounitis. Nos. 43 and 42 were similarly afflicted. The symptoms: “for Laura and I,” “invited Hillary and I,” and so on. (For the record, Nos. 41 and 40 had no problem with the objective case, regularly using “Barbara and me” or “Nancy and me” when appropriate.)

But an educated speaker is expected to keep his pronouns in line. Here, then, is a tip, Mr. President. Nobody chooses the wrong pronoun when it’s standing on its own. If you’re tempted to say “for Michelle and I” in tonight’s speech, just mentally omit Michelle (sorry, Mrs. Obama), and you’ll get it right. And no one will get on your case.

Cute, huh? I know I shouldn't get steamed. It's just persiflage. But I am a little. Steamed, that is. After eight years of hearing George Bush's intelligence assaulted because of his language miscues, it's irritating to read what amounts to a defense counsel's argument exonerating a graduate of two Ivy League universities for a grammatical offense that is, let's face it, as basically indicative of literacy as the distinction between 'you' and 'youse.'

Sorry if that sounds snobbish. But it's also the truth. I have friends who say 'youse.' I live in New Jersey, after all. I don't hold it against them. It's not an indictment of their intelligence. But they didn't receive their entire education in private schools, and they didn't cap the whole process with a degree from the one institution where words are supposed to matter most: the Harvard Law School.

I particularly dislike the the idea that if Obama does it, the rule itself must be silly or lacking in real authority. That's a mulligan nobody ever gave Bush. The final paragraph refutes all the shilly-shallying that precedes it. "Nobody chooses the wrong pronoun when it’s standing on its own. If you’re tempted to say “for Michelle and I” in tonight’s speech, just mentally omit Michelle (sorry, Mrs. Obama), and you’ll get it right."

uh, YEAH. The rule is a rule. Using "I" when the objective "me" is called for is wrong. Period. Citing Shakespearean usage from the 16th century as an excuse is fatuous and disingenuous at best. Flagrantly bogus is more like it.

They keep telling us this guy is a genius, even though nobody's ever gotten a look at either his SATs or his LSATs. Genius. I've seen his IQ estimated (by lefties) at 180 based on his attendance at Harvard Law. Give me a break. Here's what genius is supposed to look like if you're an elitist liberal:

Never mind that it's a crock. I've actually met some geniuses, true polymaths who know more than you and I will ever know about practically everything, but nobody -- not even these guys -- has memorized every single book on every single subject. But this is what east-coast liberals mean when they start tossing the word 'genius' around. You know. Just flat better than the rest of us. Beyond criticism. By us, anyway. Which means we have every right to expect that the Obamessiah would know better than to say, "I appreciate all the warm greetings to Michelle and I." And if he doesn't, then it's entirely legitimate to point out that in this respect at least, he's as much of an oaf as George W. Bush. Without a lot of faux research attempting to prove the contrary.

Fact is, there are still quite a few of us who wince every time we hear such usages. It's one of those otherwise comforting areas where there is such a thing as absolutely right and absolutely wrong. But we're supposed to surrender even that small island of certainty to the moral relativism of the new age of Obama? I don't think so.

Actually, I'm now curious to see the manuscripts he submitted for his two or three or seven great autobiographies. Does he know the difference between 'its' and 'it's'? Don't laugh. By my count, a good 30 percent of the great intellectual pundits who post un-copy-edited prose on the Internet don't. And guess what. Every time I catch them in that mistake, I detect a distinct whiff of fraud in their whole presentation. That's how serious it is to people who have made language their trade and avocation. I'm not alone in this. If you're not aware of such things, then be advised that people you know and desire the good opinion of are sniggering at you behind your back.

Problems with "I" are especially discomfiting. They tend to show up in other, unexpected ways as well. Ways that are indicative of, well, class. Or the lack of it.

A different kind of "I." Definitely subjective.

But, as I said, it's a triviality. Pay it no mind.

A Matter of Degree

The Crying Game. Newspapers aren't the reason newspapers are dying. Or Harvey
 Milk wouldn't still be dead in SF. Or something. But how many frauds die happy?
It's so easy to blame everything else. Harder to accept they just don't want YOU.

FOLLOW-UP. After our post about newspapers, we got a comment worth responding to from BP, who thinks we're dead wrong. He made two points, one of which I agree with and one, well, I'll get to it later. Here's the good bit:

I was home recently visiting my parents, who still take the paper I grew up with and loved nearly four decades ago.

Something that struck me one morning as I sat with a section in hand: I realized that this morning newspaper ritual also brought a sense of... "togetherness" isn't quite the right word, but it's the best I can come up at 8:30 a.m. You spent time with the paper and you sensed, if even subconsciously, that these were the same stories, the same words, the same photos that everyone else in your community was sitting there absorbing. It was a silent bonding experience every day.

It's something I should have included in my post because it's a vital part of my own response to all media. I really love the sense of community that is created by the shared consumption of newspapers, TV, and radio broadcasts. For example, Stones fan that I am, I had their tapes and (later) CDs in my car, but I always preferred hearing the songs on WMMR in Philadelphia to playing them for myself. Being part of the broadcast audience amplified the songs themselves. You knew, as you drove along singing the lyrics, that other people you'd never met were doing the same thing. It's not just an intellectual awareness. It's in the belly, too. It's real. Excellent point, BP.

Unfortunately, his comment deteriorates rapidly from there. He's right that we're approaching a crisis in nuts and bolts reporting.

I do rue the loss of that, but I'm not a print romantic (or Luddite). I'm cool with new technologies, even if they supplant a technology I loved. So in principle, I have no problem with the migration of newspapers from print to web.

What I do fear -- and I've expressed these thoughts here before -- is the loss of news as we know it. Forget the term "newspaper." Put aside the specific companies that happen to be struggling in 2009. I'm talking about the sustainability of ANY endeavor in which daily facts of the world are gathered, processed, fact-checked, prioritized and presented, with accountability. The Internet, the nature of information dissemination and the lack of advertising oomph online have made that seemingly impossible.

Yes, it's a problem. We do need reporting, which has been pointed out at this site on multiple occasions. We need automobiles too. But if the current automakers don't manufacture what people want, they deserve to go out of business. And if they haven't discovered a business model that works in a market where the demand is huge and permanent, they deserve doubly to go out of business. But BP prefers the blame game:

That's why I think Country Punk is wrong when he declares that some perceived ideological maneuver by some number of journalists at some arbitrary news outlets is the reason for the newspaper industry's struggles. There are so many easy and obvious rebuttals to that, including: So why is this newspaper death only NOW imminent? Did this "lust to save the world" only start this decade? What about cities -- say, San Francisco -- where we can presume that a world-saving lustiness is welcomed by the larger populace? How to explain their newspapers' struggles?

Easy, BP. Easy. Two observations explain everything you find mystifying. First, the incidence of "some perceived ideological maneuver by some number of journalists at some arbitrary news outlets" is not a constant, static phenomenon. Yes, it began in the Watergate era, but it has increased dramatically in scale and scope, reaching an apogee in the years of the Bush administration and the Obama candidacy. People who barely detected the bias before are now smacked in the face with it every day. Corruption corrodes and it keeps going and going and going until the object being corrupted is unrecognizable.

Second, the media's obsession with blue-state/red-state identities is a self-destructive illusion. Even in bright blue San Francisco, there are Republicans, conservatives, maybe as many as 40 percent of the population. Businesses aren't electoral politics. Win by one vote politically and rule every outcome for the next four years. Fine. But businesses die quickly when they preemptively shed 40 percent of their market because they hold them in contempt. Even in San Francisco.

BP also wants immediate results. He poses what he thinks is a devastating question, then refutes his own argument in the next paragraph, and proceeds to blame newspaper critics for what appear to be his own career worries.

But let's grant for the sake of argument that this is indeed the reason for these newspapers' deaths. So why isn't the market providing their replacements? If the Acme City Observer is dying because it alienated customers with its lusty infected coverage, then why isn't some lustless, uninfected new enterprise -- say, the Acme City Chronicle -- springing up to fill the presumed void?

See, here's the real bottom line: Newspapers are at risk not because they suddenly lack readers. They have HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of readers. More human beings consume their content in 2009 than did in 1999, all because of the Internet. But that same Internet is what's killing them, because advertising on the web generates relatively little money, no matter how many eyeballs are involved. Period. Full stop.

As people of the right, we're welcome to enjoy all the schadenfreude we want when it comes to the struggles of newspapers. But it doesn't mean we should be inaccurate about the actual facts and phenomena on the ground. We can still say "I'm glad the NYT is suffering" without saying "The NYT is suffering because it did some stuff I happened to dislike."

I know this is going to sound dumb, but I'll say it anyway. Monopolies take a long time to die. They have the extraordinary advantage of being the only game in town. Wouldn't we all like to have that advantage? And even when they come under attack by a separate arena of competition, inertia is on their side. "HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS" of customers who haven't yet figured out that they're not the only game in town. That can keep a dinosaur in business long past its officially terminal prognosis.

And while it's still not dead yet, the carnivorous competitors are simply hiding in the wings. Don't get crushed in the collapse of a hundred-ton monument. Wait till the monument is lying in fragments on the ground. THEN seize the moment and spring to life.

This is probably all too simple for BP to comprehend. He's too caught up in the tragedy of his dying sire:

Finally: Don't take for granted the crucial role still played by newspapers in informing us about the world. If every newspaper abruptly folded tomorrow, we'd have a very empty Internet and a very clueless public. And we'd suddenly be living in a very dangerous society. Even if you don't read a single newspaper's website, you still know the news you know because of newspapers.

If you respond by saying, well, some other enterprise will step in and fill that role, then the burden is on you to explain how such a business could be any more sustainable than the ones that are struggling mightily to be sustainable as we speak.

Sorry for the lengthy post. I'm just getting weary of seeing this flawed argument about the newspaper industry's decline (i.e., various versions of "they're too biased!"), and it's hard not to wax on about it.

uh, well, "some other enterprise will step in and fill that role." And, no, I don't have any burden whatsoever "to explain how such a business could be any more sustainable than the ones that are struggling mightily to be sustainable as we speak."

But I will explain a fact or two about economics to our overwrought friend. The demand for clear, factual reportage is a constant, a market that will never go away so long as it is permitted to operate freely. Which means that it represents a huge economic opportunity, a source of enormous wealth potential to the person or entity who figures out how to meet the demand. Which also means that the demand will be met and profits will be made. It doesn't matter how.

BP, you're locked into an obsolete model. I may be, too. I don't know what precisely will replace the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Hometown Herald. But something will. And it will employ the technology you profess not to be afraid of. If that solution lacks the sense of community you yearn for, something else will arise to make a profit out of that.

I don't criticize you for clinging to the past. What I do criticize you for is trying to escape responsibility for the fundamental ethical corruption that buried a business to which you obviously have deep emotional ties. I require you to accept the elementary premise that corruption corrupts. It even kills. Just as it has killed a way of life you obviously don't want to give up. But you won't play any part in the renaissance until you quit denying the obvious. The Internet killed newspapers because newspapers became soulless, monopolistic whores. Period.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The State of the World Address:

Something Else

Not saying you'd want to duck this theological event. But if you did...

SEER. YouTube Wednesday is supposed to be on Wednesday. But it's Tuesday. Which is also the day the Divine Savior is planning to speak to the multitudes about his plan for destroying western civilization. Go ahead and watch if you want. After all, there won't be anything else worth watching on TV.

Which got us thinking. Could we put together a program of our YouTube tips that might last long enough to enable the duckers to while away their time Obamalessly? Well, we've taken a crack at it, Most of the links are to previous YouTube posts, though there are exceptions. If you watch them all, you'll miraculously miss the sermon of the One. Which is probably a bad thing. But we're a 'Bad Thing' of longstanding. If you didn't like that about us, you wouldn't be here in the first place.

Here's the list. For each clip, we'll try to give you a date, the InstaPunk source (if any), the YouTube address, a succinct reason for watching it, and the time of the video. In other words, we want you to watch, not read. Unless you fall, oh so typically, under the spell of the InstaPunk prose that makes ordinary events into cultural milestones. (Ha! Don't be rude. Where else are you finding alternate programming on this night of all nights?...)

7/21/06. The Friday Follies. A fake trailer for Snakes on a Plane. Much better than the movie was. (2:12)

8/3/06. Pugs are funny. Ever seen bowling with pugs? Not cruel. Also an historical fact: the only pug other than the IP mascot who is thin. (4:23)

8/4/06. The Friday Follies. The infamous Claude LeLouche film about streaking through the streets of Paris at more than 100 mph. Even Monica disapproved. But we love it. (8:40)

9/1//06. For Monica. Artie Shaw playing Nightmare. Updated with footage from Sin City, just for Monica. (2:49)

9/25/06. Raging Comebacks. It's called Floating Letters. You'll be entranced. (2:20)

10/12/06. Girlcotting. A political ad for Madeleine Albright. Pretty funny. (1:33)

1/19/07. The Worst Actress Ever. One of the all-time YouTube masterpieces -- about David Caruso. You'll laugh. Hard. (7:17)

2/12/07. Grammy Fun. What the Dixie Chicks didn't sing. (1:52)

4/6/07. Another Conspiracy. Ever seen Loose Change? Here's something better. (1:58)

6/11/07. Unforgivable TV Crime. You gotta wait a minute into this, but then you get a female conservative's spoof on the Sopranos. Cool. (2:27)

6/15/07. Global Infantilism. An unexpected and moving amateur operatic performance. You will have tears in your eyes. (4:11)

7/11/07. The Roots of InstaPunk. We've always been poets. This proves it. (4:58)

8/2/07. A Primer on Minnesota. It's all about the Yah. (1:27)

9/18/07. The Price of Talent. IP's most disappointing blog entry ever. He thought about quitting blogging altogether after this entry drew all but NO response. He figured he was wasting his time. Here are the two vids he linked. Eminem. And Rimbaud. Why was he mad? Think about it. (13:21)

10/31/07. Therapy. A ride in what used to be called a Lotus 7 and is now a Caterham 7. Ahhhhh.... (3:33)

2/22/09. No entry. The eagle Challenger. In case you want to be cheered up.

Or if you don't want to be cheered up and prefer to wallow in the looming Great Depression II Obama is promising, there's this:

It's going to be so cool how Obama saves us all from the dark days awaiting us.

That's enough for now. Over an hour of video. There will be other Obama speeches that require distractions. We'll save some of the ammunition for later. If you're a pure YouTube fanatic and can't be bothered to read any of the InstaPunk text that goes with these vids, here's a link to another huge slug of vids to watch.

Enjoy your evening.

Oh. One more thing. This is the 1,666th InstaPunk entry. Are we the Antichrist or what? On this night of all nights.

Monday, February 23, 2009

. Andrew Breitbart, who covers Hollywood politics more thoroughly than most reporters, is in something of a lather today in the aftermath of last night's Oscar ceremonies.

On Sunday night at the Kodak Theater, where Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama debated each other in front of the same prideful crowd a year earlier, the political left convened to celebrate its progressive political agenda. The Oscars communicate post-modern, post-American liberal values more effectively than elected Democratic officials themselves. The liberal establishment understands this and uses the glamorous Hollywood elite and its incessant stream of left-leaning product and promotional vehicles as its proxy messenger.

This year´s cause celebre was not the ailing American work force or the heroic and underappreciated U.S. military, but an attack on California´s just passed traditional marriage amendment - as represented by the white ribbon worn by pliant celebrity throngs. Dissenters in the midst dare not wear their contrarian ribbons for fear of more punitive Proposition 8 backlash.

This year Gus Van Sant and his gay marriage public service announcement "Milk," garnered eight nominations while Clint Eastwood and his objectively conservative box office titan "Gran Torino" got completely shut out. Except for the expected (and deserved) posthumous Heath Ledger best supporting actor nomination, the good-vs.-evil international sensation "The Dark Knight," also was passed over by the Academy.

He goes on to specify the extent and power of Hollywood's explicit lobbying role and suggests that it dwarfs the power of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in pushing leftist policies and positions. He wants action:

If "the medium is the message," as Marshall McLuhan formulated 45 years ago in "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man," then Hollywood-style liberalism is America´s current and future message. And conservatives have no one to blame but themselves for not investing their collective efforts in the pop cultural and the greater media experience.

Art, music, film and new media must be at the center of a reborn conservative movement. Hollywood should not simply be ignored, reviled and condemned by detached intellectuals, talk radio and elected officials caught in her crosshairs, but taken on head-on.

There are thousands of creative and business minds toiling in anonymity in Hollywood who want the conservative movement to bring them aid, cover, money and a mission to finally take on a generation of one-party creative rule.

I sympathize with Breitbart's perspective on the Hollywood crowd, but I think his analysis contains more emotion than logic. There's something funny going on with Hollywood leftism. And by funny, I do mean funny-haha as well as funny-odd.

I know it's unpopular in the new age of Obama to express belief in the power of free markets, but Hollywood is an outstanding example of an industry we can trust the market to take care of all by itself. We certainly don't need a counter-Hollywood to pursue some grim mission of injecting political conservatism into mass-market movie scripts. Any such attempt would fail with a sickening thud at the box office. Just as it has done for the Hollywood leftists.

Breitbart seems to be forgetting that part, even though his own reporting documents it. "Gus Van Sant and his gay marriage public service announcement Milk" may have bagged eight nominations and an Oscar for Sean Penn, but through today it has taken in only $28.2 million at the box office, which at $10 a ticket is less than 3 million people, or 1 percent of the U.S. population, and less even than the number of gay and lesbian adults. It's not even 10 percent of the population of California, which voted convincingly against gay marriage last fall.

The other expressly political entry on the list of best movie nominees was Frost/Nixon, which -- like Milk - has gotten rave reviews from the MSM's lefty critics, has done even worse at the box office: $17.4 million. That's a total audience just a tad bigger  than the average number of people who watch Sean Hannity's cable TV show every night -- and less than the number who listen to him on the radio every day. It's easy to dismiss Hannity as preaching to the choir, but then what have Milk and Frost/Nixon achieved?

Is it Breitbart's concern that winning an Oscar will give the lefty propaganda films a bump? Maybe it will. But it won't be much. Last night's audience for the Oscars was possibly recordbreaking, but not in a good way. According to the Nielsen overnights, it was "the least watched Oscar telecast EVER" with only 32 million viewers. If every single one of those viewers rushed out to watch Milk in a frenzy of guilty gay tolerance (and they won't, believe me, after Penn's typically offensive diatribe), the movie still wouldn't come close to equalling the almost completely Oscar-snubbed Dark Knight, which has already scooped up $533 million in ticket sales. More, in fact, than the total receipts to date of all five movies nominated for Best Picture.

(The Dark Knight, if you don't recall, was the movie that many conservatives claimed as a clear allegorical defense of George W. Bush braving demonization and hatred to battle a malevolent force few others wanted to see.)

Hollywood moguls and stars may have huge chunks of money to pour into America's corrupt campaign finance system, but they do not have a lot of clout when it comes to selling their political beliefs to the American people. As pure propagandists, they suck. For example, another movie lefty critics loved and promoted was Oliver Stone's W., a malicious fictional assault on President Bush and his family that was supposed to make him a laughingstock with all the people who hadn't already absorbed the propaganda of the openly political leftists. It took in $25.5 million at the box office against a production budget of $25.1 million. Did you see a TV ad for it? Thought you had. Yes, with the marketing budget added to the production budget, W is, in our new vernacular of financial ruin, "upside down."

The same is true of all the movies Hollywood movers and shakers have produced as propaganda against the Iraq War and the Bush administration's anti-terror policies. It's hard even to remember their names now because they disappeared so quickly from theaters. Lions for Lambs? Stop Loss? RenditionIn the Valley of Elah? Redacted? The biggest box office earner of this sorry bunch took in $15 million and lost $20 million (not including marketing expenses), while the worst took in only $65 thousand. Three of them refuse even to report their production budgets in order to prevent anyone from computing their true losses. And don't think there was no star power involved. These bombs employed the talents of Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Tommy Lee Jones, Reese Witherspoon, and Brian de Palma, among others. But the market wasn't interested. Altogether, these movies were seen by about 4 million people in theaters, and there's no way to determine whether or not it was the same million or so people who saw all five of them.

What's the point? The movies are a business. To succeed, they must operate like every other business -- figure out what their markets want and give it to them. When they abandon business sense and try to give the market what they, in their infinite wisdom, believe the market should want or be forced to accept, like, say hybrid cars, wonder bras padded with solar panels, gay porn in high school sex-ed classes, and treason blinged up as patriotism, they lose their shirts because the market says "Screw you, asshole."

So, does it matter that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has transformed its annual Oscar awards into an elitist exercise in political masturbation and self-destructive scorn of the moviegoing public's entertainment preferences? No. This isn't a new phenomenon, for one thing. It's been a trend for quite a while now that "The Academy" has been choosing to honor movies most of the audience hasn't seen and probably wouldn't like if they did. The amount of glitter and pomp that's on display in proceedings that are increasingly focused on drab leftist lacunae is an irony that, also ironically, reinforces the public wisdom held in such contempt by the Sean Penns and Susan Sarandons of the Oscar-sphere.

Think about it. The self-congratulatory megamillionaire celebrities prance across the red carpet in designer togs they've spent weeks wrapped in saranwrap to squeeze into and see no hypocrisy in then mounting the dais to declare their clicheed hatred of wealth-obsessed Republicans. Then they sententiously wax eloquent about the artistic and political merits of a handful of movies nobody's seen and none of whose earnings could defray the cost of the designers, trainers, and plastic surgeons whose services have made them such attractive spokesmen for egalitarian principles. But...

BUT. The ever declining audience which does tune in for this monumentally ludicrous exhibition of narcissism isn't there for the art or the politics. They're there to see who's wearing what, and who (as in Armani, Gucci, Chanel, et al), and whether the stars' borrowed bling goes with their fake boobs, lipo-ed tummies, assorted hairpieces, spray-on tans, surgically altered faces. television makeup, and comped gowns and tuxes. They want to see which of these overpaid mannequins is HOT. And which is NOT.

Talk about the objectification of sex and the dehumanization of cheesecake and beefcake both. That's the only remaining draw of the Oscars. It isn't just funny. It's absolutely hilarious. Sean Penn thinks he's getting the word out to lesser Americans who don't know how they should feel about gay marriage. The whole time, he's talking to voyeur Americans who want to see if George Clooney still looks like a poor man's Cary Grant despite his recent bombs and if Jennifer Lopez is still delightfully incapable of containing that giant bottom in a toothpaste tube of fabric without forcing her bust to bust over (or through) the top.

It's the presence of the TV audience that keeps it from being as dangerous and sinister as Breitbart fears it is. Without the voyeurs, it really would be a meeting of the Hollywood politburo indulging themselves in sybaritic excess while pretending to care about the oppressed proletariat lugging canapes from the basement to the ballroom. But when the proletariat is allowed to watch from the grandest of all balconies, TV, the natural comedy unfolds in fiendishly spontaneous entertainment.

That's the deal. The bottom line. The Hollywood whores, politically and otherwise, are merely entertainment. That's the power of the market.

I'm not saying conservatives shouldn't be concerned about what's in the movies, on TV, MP3 players, and other forms of mass media. What I am saying is that as part of the mass audience of mass popular culture, they have more power than they think. Their laughter and scorn are more than a match for Sean Penn. (His father was also a Hollywood leftist, don't forget. He didn't succeed in signing the whole nation up for the American Communist Party, and neither will his son.) The business of entertainment can't stray very far from the public taste for very long without running itself out of business. They can banish a box office bonanza like Wall-E (ten times the revenue of Milk and better reviews to boot) from the Best Picture category to the Best Animation category for the sake of their actor egoes, but they can't banish it from theaters, where its argument for passion and work over sloth and passive dependence on nanny systems tickles adults and children alike. They can't banish Wall-E from theaters because its profits fund the productions they need to pay for their indispensably self-indulgent lifestyles.

I think most conservatives know that. I hope they do. I still shudder to think what movies, television, and popular music would be like if it were left up to this guy. (I know he means well and I share some of his dudgeon. I welcome him as a critic, but I'd go for his throat if he became the focus of some "conservative movement to bring [him] aid, cover, money and a mission" in the entertainment business. He'd kill the business stone cold dead and bore us to death in the process.)

Honestly, I didn't watch the Oscars. But I know for a fact that I'll be watching the fashion post-mortems of the Oscar telecast with Mrs. CP. She misses Joan Rivers's withering appraisals more than Sean Penn misses Che Guevara, but that won't stop her from assessing the bests and worsts of the Oscar red carpet.

She still has -- what's the term, I'm struggling here...? -- oh yes: A sense of proportion. And a sense of humor.

Maybe other conservatives should follow her lead.

A Broken Contract

Death Rustle. Like a rattlesnake in the leaves.

ALL THE NEWS THAT'S SIMPLE ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND. Today, announced that its parent company was in trouble:

PHILADELPHIA - The owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday in an effort to restructure its debt load.

Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., owned by Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, is the second newspaper company in two days, and fourth in recent months, to seek bankruptcy protection.

"This restructuring is focused solely on our debt, not our operations," chief executive officer Brian P. Tierney said in a statement. "Our operations are sound and profitable."

The filing Sunday indicated the company has between $100 million and $500 million in assets and liabilities in the same range. The company said it will continue the normal operations of its newspapers, magazines and online businesses without interruption during the debt-restructuring process. In a story posted on its Web site Sunday, the company says it has a debt load of $390 million.

"In the last two years, we experienced the rare trifecta of a dramatic decline in revenue, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and a debt structure out of line with current economic realities," Tierney said.

Tierney said the company's goal was to bring its debt in line with "the realities of the current economic and business conditions."

I saw this early in the morning and thought, callously, "Ho hum. Another one bites the dust." It took Mrs. CP to remind me, sadly, that there was a time when we all liked newspapers. That there was a time when they were a tactile, if not sensuous, part of everyone's day. I realized she was right and making a huge point almost no one has made during this calamitous collapse of the whole newspaper business.

And, no, I wasn't misusing the word 'sensuous.'

sen·su·ous (snsh-s) adj.

1. Of, relating to, or derived from the senses.
2. Appealing to or gratifying the senses.
a. Readily affected through the senses.
b. Highly appreciative of the pleasures of sensation.

It's been so long since I physically interacted with a newspaper that I forgot. All this talk about what's killed newspapers is wrong. It isn't the Internet. It's the newspapers themselves.

The Internet is a computer screen, chill if not cold, at best a cool window rather than a handshake and lacking any murmur of response. That's not how newspapers used to be. They were, in their heyday, manly friends who showed up politely at your doorstep every morning.

I think 'manly' is the key word. In an old school way. You wake up, you're grumpy or anyway taciturn, and you get yourself a cup of coffee and the paper from the doorstep. You're in the grim stepped-down mode of wanting minimal communication. The banner of the front page is exactly the right note. The Wall Street Journal. The New York Times. The Hometown Herald. Predictable, formal, remote as a business card. You start with the front page. No emotions here. Guaranteed. "Here's the lowdown, old man, all the worst news without a sigh or a tear." And you're buoyed by the gravity of the whole paper in your hands, still folded, a weight of information raising you back to life after a night of fleeting dreams and spiraling abstract worries.

You drink coffee, you read the news. Man to man. Still coming to grips with the fact of another new day. There are sections you can control physically. Heft by heft, you can quickmarch to the sports section when you are ready for the straitjacketed emotions that have to do with mere athletic contests. A surprising win, a disappointing loss. The boxscores. You are in control. Here is the gist if the hometown oratory is too much to deal with. More coffee. The paper is your first intimate of the day. You integrate it with your breakfast table, bend pages, use it as a screen or prop to interact with mere humans, and you can even razor through the blur of a night's sleep to wield cartoon punchlines from the funny pages as if they were blades of your own wit. If you're up to it, which is not always the case, you can glance at the editorials and op-ed columns to determine just how mad you're prepared to get today. At the obituaries if you're of an age and interested.

When you finally refold it and drop it on the breakfast table, you are ready for your private battles. You know what the world has already tried to do, and you bequeath that to the other members of your family as you sally forth on the important business of the day. You've had a close but polite encounter with the kind of old friend who always knows the order in which you like to meet the day and never oversteps his bounds. He never calls you by a pejorative personal nickname. He's always just there and always correct in his communications.

The paper itself is part of the experience. The smell, the texture, the sound of your own back and forth with the pages. Reawakening all your senses without offending any of them. Re-igniting your mind without starting an unnecessary argument.

This, all of this, represents the broken contract, the reason for the imminent death of so many newspapers. When journalists acquired their lust to save the world and allowed their political views to infect the strictly news pages of the paper, they did far more damage to their institutions than the Internet has ever done. They screwed up the process of slowly returning to the world in an orderly, predictable fashion. When politics slithered into sections that should have been just sports or fashion or the arts or comics, with a potential venomous hiss lurking in every paragraph, they turned their sacred trust into a primeval danger that poisoned the process of waking up.

The coldness of the Internet was a liability in the tactile environment of the newspaper. Until newspapers turned traitor and started getting subtly personal with their readers on the news pages. Nobody wants that from the front page on their first cup of coffee. That's when the icy impersonality of the Internet starts to feel good. There's no handshake behind any of the betrayals.

The Internet didn't kill newspapers. Newspapers did. The way old friends and faithful spouses kill the love of those who loved them.

Goodbye Inquirer. Goodbye Daily News. Goodbye New York Times. I have in times past reveled in all your pages, gloried in your ink and friendly bulk. But that's all over now. When your news pages, sports sections, features, reviews, and comics are all editorial pages you think you can sneak past old friends, don't even try to approach me with the old glad handshake. I don't trust you any more. That's the way it is with all intimate relationships. Betray them and you can never again expect the same level of trust. That's when people look for other partners. Don't blame the Internet; she's a young and unreliable slut with an unspeakably filthy mouth. But she doesn't lie about who and what she is.

Just remember, when you die, that life and loyalty weren't taken from you. You pissed them all away. When your obit is written, only one short sentence will be necessary: "You messed up our mornings." Nobody needs a rattlesnake coiled on the breakfast plate. SSSSSSSSSSSS.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Beckoning Chasm

The artist has left the building.

WORDS AND SUCH. I was halfway through a difficult topical post I still want to finish when I was somehow drawn back to a comment on yesterday's entry:

Beckoning Chasm

Thank you for this. I'm not sure what I can do to contribute, but this has given me a feeling of hope (not a bad word just yet) that I can, somehow, in some way, and that all is not yet lost.

I heard weariness. Which jarred with the fact that BC has been a frequent, insightful, and usually cheerful commenter here. CP once took him up on an implied dare to use one of his paintings in an InstaPunk animation. But I think CP and I both were so taken with his artwork that we neglected the blog part of his multimedia site when we were there. And now, sensing melancholy in his tone, I looked up the blog in particular only to discover that he has shut it down:

November 13th, 2008

Four years ago to the day, I started this blog. It seems only fitting that I end it now on the very same day. Something about symmetry, I think.

Before you ask, no, I’m not moving to a new hosting system.

I’m going to stop blogging entirely, for the foreseeable future.

When I first floated this decision to myself, some weeks back, it was hard to escape the feeling of liberation. I felt as if a great weight might be removed from me, and I could move. To be honest, I felt the same way when, in the waning days of October, I decided to forego NaNoWriMo this year.

I have spent entirely too much time and energy trying to become a denizen of this unreal online world. And the real world–the one outside the window, just beyond the front door–has been entirely too neglected. I need to be back out there. I need to feel that what I accomplish is real, something I can hold in my hand and weigh, rather than moving photons on a screen that, at any moment, will switch to Power Save mode and turn to black. I am tired of being on a stage, straining to listen for signs of an audience. I want to be my own audience, my own judge and jury over my work, and my life...

So this is my final entry here. Over four years, I’ve posted a few entries of which I remain quite proud, as well as others that were at least decent. I’ve met a number of wonderful people, made a mark on the internet, and perhaps learned a bit about what I can and cannot do. There were things I planned to post here in these waning days, works that I had spent a great deal of time and thought upon–my long essay on humor, thoughts on Noir and Neo Ranga, an essay on cats and dogs.  All of these are close to final draft.  And when I thought, “Should I post those before I retire?” the loudest voice saying “I wouldn’t care” was…my own.

So, thank you for your patronage over these four years. I love you, one and all, and wish you every success.

As for me, well, one day, I may be back. Yes, I may be back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties.  Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I was not mistaken in mine.

This is a mea culpa. I missed it. I'm sorry. I'm sure he will understand the reason, though, because at one point in the final post he says, affectingly:

When I started this blog, I would sometimes do three or more updates a day in my enthusiasm. Now, it seems like a pressing obligation to do one a month, just to keep blood pumping through the system.

The word “obligation” above seems apt. Blogging was fun, then it became something akin to a duty. Then it became work. I’d worry and fret about whether I was having ideas worth writing about, and if I wasn’t, why wasn’t I? What’s wrong with my creativity?

Everybody here knows that feeling. It is a burden. It's also how you miss the good work of other people. You're so caught up in the effort, the duty, the demand of trying to be worthwhile yourself, you don't ever take the easy nourishment other people's creativity may offer.

I'm sure that many of you have discovered Beckoning Chasm on your own. But if you haven't, I'm encouraging you to go over there and ramble through his blog archives and his artwork. Then share your thoughts on what is now a completed work with him at the address of the final post.

Perhaps then he'll be moved to strike out in a new direction or even continue the course he set out on before. Everything seems less like work when there's an infusion of new energy and new minds contributing their own bits of light.

But don't stop coming here, BC. Your thoughts and creations are welcome. If you could bear it, you're welcome to post here whenever you feel the urge.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What to Do:

Warriors & Whistleblowers

It's all weirdly relevant, but our punchline is 2 minutes in: Command Center!

UPDATE. Everyone feeling helpless in the face of what appears to be a leviathan assault on everything that made our country great. Wanting to know what to do in playing some part, however small, in overthrowing the ideological coup that could make us all slaves faster than anyone dreamed possible. A couple days ago, TruePunk urged us all to "learn from the left" and take to the streets to register the kind of public protest no one has ever seen or expected from the conservative backbone of the nation. Almost immediately, naysayers chimed in, urthshu to say, "Is that it? All that's left?" and Peter to say, "No, no, that's all wrong. Here's how the left really does it and that's what you have to do, too."

Who's right? Both of them. Or, counting TruePunk, all three of them. TruePunk is right because unprecedentedly noisy protests from the right have already begun and are news that will spread through the alternative media if not the MSM, and if they continue will carry an emboldening message to many previously passive 'good citizens.' Peter, who laid out an action plan straight from the Saul Alinski subversion manual, is also right. He's describing the shock troops -- the dedicated hero types -- who are willing to fight fire with fire against an enemy that is every bit as unscrupulous and implacable as he says it is.

But urthshu is also right. There has to be much much more than that if we are to have any chance at real victory. Peter and TruePunk are talking about warriors. We need them. People who are willing to stick their heads above the camouflage of anonymity and endure the hail of bullets that will surely come. But they can easily become mere martyrs if good people are content to cheer quietly on the sidelines.

That's why I began this post with what many might consider a humorous reference to the movie Live Free or Die Hard. It strikes me as a (probably) unconscious allegory of the situation we find ourselves in today. The bad guys have deliberately targeted the infrastructure of the nation, everything that's actually made it go from day to day, decade to decade, and century to century. They intend to destroy everything that obstructs their psychotically power-hungry plan. In the movie, only two people stand effectively in their way: an old-school tough guy willing to give his last breath at every moment and a talented but timid nerd who actually understands how everything works and what precisely it will take to stop the worst things from happening. Early on, there's a telling exchange between the two. After realizing just how dangerous the circumstances are, the incredulous nerd (Farrell) interrogates the tough guy (McClane) about what's involved in playing the hero, being "that guy." Why would anyone do it? Here's what's said in the script:

McClane: "Do you know what you get for being a hero? Nothin'. You get shot at. Pat on the back, blah blah blah. 'That a boy.' You get divorced... Your wife can't remember your last name, kids don't want to talk to you... You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me kid, nobody wants to be that guy. [I do this] because there is nobody else to do it right now. Believe me if there was somebody else to do it, I would let them do it. There's not, so [I'm] doing it."

Farrell: "That's what makes you that guy."

As it happens, of course, the nerd ultimately becomes "that guy" himself. He's the 'whistleblower' of this post's title. Once he accepts that he has some responsibility for the final outcome, he grows into the role the situation demands him to play. At the end he is critical to saving the day.

So you don't see yourselves as protesters or political operatives of the sort TruePunk and Peter are describing. There are good reasons for that. One of the primary definitions of traditional American conservatives has been that they leave obnoxious political activism to the victims and supplicants who have nothing to lose in demanding special favors from the government. That sign in their hands -- or the jargon-laden petition -- is a de facto confession of loserhood. Historically, conservatives have been content to sign a separate peace with the government, ignoring its most egregious excesses as long as they remain free enough to build a life outside the utopian liberal agendas of Teddy Kennedy, Barney Frank, Maxine Waters, and Nancy Pelosi.

But that's a separate peace that now lies in ruins. Conservatives can no longer afford to ignore the government and go their own way. As taxes go up, inflation goes up, regulation of all kinds goes up, and government intrusions into your eating, smoking, driving, religious, media, and child-rearing preferences go up, so too does your responsibility to tithe an appropriate portion of your attention and effort to fighting back, If you continue to ignore them, or surrender entirely, everything you value will be lost. But none of you has to start out to be a hero.

Let Peter be Peter. And be thankful there is "that guy." The rest are perfectly positioned to be whistleblowers, the ones who are living inside the monster and expert in various aspects of its ways.

Among you are teachers, entrepreneurs, corporate employees, attorneys, doctors, nurses, real estate professionals, engineers, computer jocks, scientists, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, truckdrivers, union members, government administrators, sociologists, journalists, writers, clergymen, charity volunteers, parents, children of aging parents, and most importantly residents of townships, cities, counties, and states. You are also consumers of products, services, financial institutions, entertainment, news, medical care, the legal system, nonprofit organizations of all kinds, and government services, including highways, public construction projects, police, fire, trash collection, recycling regulations, building and occupancy codes, health inspectors, water and sewer departments, zoning boards, planning commissions, freeholders and city councils, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

You live inside the belly of the beast, and you probably have intimate personal knowledge of how exactly many of these parts of our societal infrastructure work -- and don't -- and you'll be an eyewitness to how it changes in the months and years ahead.

This site has drawn fire previously for dissing the Internet as mere "letters to the editor" or a 'bulletin board" (an antecedent, though there are others, too). But a bulletin board is all it is. The good news is that each and every one of us can make that bulletin board better. Probably any one of us could choose from multiple disciplines in which to be a whistleblower -- that is, a faithful recorder of just how inefficient, wrongheaded, and sometimes evil a top-heavy bureaucracy can get in carrying out the mandates of the untouchable elite that makes and remakes the rules.

What to do? Pick something. Anything. Devote a percentage of your time to tracking it, learning more about it, chasing down the dirty details and despicable failures. What in particular? As I said, anything. Elementary textbooks. Malpractice law. No-bid highway contracts. The political bias of your hometown newspaper. The political correctness outrages of your hometown university. The  skewed decisions of your municipality's family court proceedings in matters of divorce and child custody. The difference between your local high school's publicity campaigns and the anecdotal evidence about drug usage, promiscuity, and teenage abortions in your school district.  The specific influence of  The $780 billion Generational Theft Act on your town, city, or state.

Pick something you're close to. Something you know something about by dint of education, personal or professional experience, or avocation. Become a reporter and critic -- not a flamethrower but a scrupulous poster of informational index cards on the Great Bulletin Board. And, critically, seek out links with one another on related topics, locations, and lifestyles. Make yourself easy to find in case anyone is looking. (I won't tell tell how to start a free blog. If you can't figure that out, you're as useless as you fear you are.)

Chances are, you'll never have to make Matt Farrell's decision about whether to step up and be a hero. Leave that to the Limbaughs, Palins, and Santellis. Mostly, you'll be plugging away at your tithing routine just as you would as a member of a devout church congregation. But your information will be there when one of the heroes needs it, and he'll be thankful you were there when he did need it. Occasionally, though, lightning does strike, and it's always possible that one of your index cards will become a streamer for a miracle that could either destroy you in an instant or save the day at a vital moment in the nation's history. Think of all the subject matter experts who weighed in on RaTHergate to turn the tide in CBS's attempted smear of George W. Bush's military service. The only barricades they manned were the ones they were uniquely equipped to defend.

That's what you do. It's work. It's likely never recognized. It will take valuable time away from work and family. But it will make you stronger, more committed to the outcome you desire. And, yes, your own basement is a Command Center in the great fight to come.

Yippee ki-ay.

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