Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
April 17, 2009 - April 10, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Bad Rap Times Two

Look at all the extras in these scenes. A time full of grown-ups.

FAIR & BALANCED. I really hesitate to do this in the immediate aftermath of IP's essay on the New Patricians. But I've seen two slams today, of George Will at HotAir and of Peggy Noonan in the Comments section of the IP post. And I feel compelled to defend both of them because I think they're groping toward the same thing, and it's a valid thing, even if they're not expressing it terribly well.

George Will is inveighing against blue jeans, which makes him an easy target for HotAir's Allahpundit:

George Will: Stop wearing blue jeans, you juvenile rabble

The most painful line, the one where it slips into outright self-parody, is where grandpa George urges us to dress more like Fred Astaire and Grace Kelly. I’m almost disappointed he didn’t say Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Anyone know where I go to get my recession tux?

Says [Jim] Treacher in the comments to the Headlines thread, “His next column is all about the dangers of Elvis Presley record albums.”

Peggy Noonan is pondering a "return to nature" fantasy that earns IP commenter Jaytee's scorn:

Sorry for beating this dead nag, but read today's Peggy Noonan column in the WSJ for a full flown case of IP's Patrician syndrome. And she's a "conservative".

I hasten to say that we're very fond of both Jaytee and Jim Treacher at this site. I mean no offense to either of them, but when I read these columns against each other and in the context of the past few months and days, I see the makings of a valid point that isn't about snobbery or reactionary impulses toward feudalism but something more fundamental.

Will begins his piece:

On any American street, or in any airport or mall, you see the same sad tableau: A 10-year-old boy is walking with his father, whose development was evidently arrested when he was that age, judging by his clothes. Father and son are dressed identically -- running shoes, T-shirts. And jeans, always jeans. If mother is there, she, too, is draped in denim.

He starts to go astray immediately afterwards with some far-fetched talk of false agrarianism and egalitarian levelling, but buried in his paragraphs is a more important idea:

Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies...

Now compare this to what Peggy Noonan dreams of in the course of her (frankly) muddled paean to the Luddite "simple life":

More predictions. The cities and suburbs of America are about to get rougher-looking. This will not be all bad. There will be a certain authenticity chic. Storefronts, pristine buildings—all will spend less on upkeep, and gleam less.

So will humans. People will be allowed to grow old again. There will be a certain liberation in this. There will be fewer facelifts and browlifts, less Botox, less dyed hair among both men and women. They will look more like people used to look, before perfection came in. Middle-aged bodies will be thicker and softer, with more maternal and paternal give.

Yes, George Will seems to be experiencing some kind of snotty retro fashion spasm, and Peggy Noonan appears to be indulging another one of her airy-fairy flights of prose unhooked to any reality you or I would recognize, but I suggest that regardless of their wayward conclusions, they share a common inspiration which has become so faint in our culture that their wrong turns are almost forgivable.

They miss grown-ups. Will pines for the days when adults dressed like adults. Perhaps he thinks if we dressed the part, we could manage the trick of becoming grown-ups. Noonan yearns for the kind of relatively home-centered family unit that used to produce grown-ups almost automatically. But underneath their rhetorical gambits, they are both reacting to the same phenomena, and in this respect they are both dead right.

Aging men with flat, fifty year old asses are still dressing exactly like their kids, in saggy jeans and enormous white sneakers that make them automatically and sadly clownlike. Men and women both, but especially prominent women, are engaged in a tragically doomed quest to stay young. Women disappear from public view and return wearing, well, blurred masks of themselves, as if they have no conception whatever that lines and crow's feet can add to a woman's stature, attractiveness, and, yes, her beauty, too. And the women who cannot afford plastic surgery seem content to follow the male path of just dressing like teenagers, no matter how gruesomely pitiful the contrast between their chronological age and their clothing becomes.

This isn't a fashion problem. It's a character problem. The Baby Boomers in particular, whom Noonan seeks to lionize for heaven knows what reason, have resisted growing up at every stage of their lives. Every responsibility they have accepted to date -- careers, children, community leadership -- has been undertaken late and always with a selfish streak that seeks to assign ultimate responsibility to someone other than themselves. They've never stopped counting on their "Greatest Generation" parents to clean up the messes they made, and when their parents died, they simply turned toward the government with an in loco parentis expectation that was never part of the constitution.

Like the kids they were, they always had to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted children but not at the expense of time subtracted from their careers. They wanted their children to excel and prosper, but not if it meant giving up the casual buddy relationship with them that made them feel they were still young and not disciplinarians, examples, or -- perish the thought -- parents. Anything they failed at along the way was the responsibility of the institutions with which they'd had a lifelong love-hate relationship, continually rebelling against every "establishment" demand while relying on its sympathy and ultimate willingness to set all wrongs right on their behalf. The result? A massive generation of self-obsessed teenagers growing older and older and older while they fixated on two types of denial. They deny that they are getting old physically, which is why we confront the macabre images of famous women whose faces are effaced by surgery, bodies dehumanized by inflated breasts and butts, life experience erased by eye tucks, cheek implants, and cartoonish collagen lips. They also deny that they have an obligation to become the elders of the culture, enough beyond the madess of hormones to use their heads for something other than flattering reflections in the mirror, with the grave responsibility of trying to be wise rather than fashionably up to date.

Why does the world now seem as if it's plunging into unrestrained insanity? Because where there should be elders shaking their heads and counseling the verities of the ages, we have grotesque degenerating children instead, with their hands extended in greedy entitlement exactly like everyone else.

Janet Leigh and Leopold Stokowski. Old can be even more beautiful.

Or, in your heart of hearts, do you prefer for yourself the eternal adolescence we've been trained to expect?

Courtesy of Jim Treacher. Sorry, Jim. But I think you'll take my point...

So I'm giving Will and Noonan a partial pass here. Which is more than we've done at this site in the past. Maybe it's just that we're getting older (a lot) and wiser (a little). Impossible as that may seem.

Not Getting It.

Lansing. Right wing country? This is just a sex joke?

MUCH MORE THAN A JOKE. For all you faint hearts out there. The ones who think we're done, defeated, and doomed. We're capitalists and so we're allowed to make use of quantitative concepts the know-nothing political science majors of the MSM have never heard of. One that's vitally relevant is something that came out of the whole quality improvement/customer satisfaction initiative of the 1980s and 1990s:

CNN, MSNBC, etc, wanted to dismiss the April 15 tea parties because the nationwide total was only somewhere between 225,000 and 250,000 active protesters. Look at the graphic. The active protesters were registering customer complaints against the federal government. The analogy works because unlike professional performances such as WTO protests and anti-war protests (which are organized and staffed by trained agitators), the tea parties were spontaneous, amateur, middle-class demonstrations. Every participant was, in fact, an unhappy customer who actually voiced a complaint to management, usually without any prior instance of having done so in such a direct way. Now look at the multipliers. The unavoidable implication is that there is a huge population of unhappy customers of which the tea party activists are a tiny subset.

Now consider two more facts. According to participants in a wide range of locations, this action was not confined to Republicans. There were Democrats aplenty involved in addition to Republicans and self-styled conservatives. Again, not professionals but ordinary citizens who were moved to protest in public for the first time in their lives. Imagine how bad the food and service have to be at a restaurant before you send a meal back for the first time in your life, no matter how shy and retiring you have always been about confronting your server.

Second fact. The real tax increases and personal impacts of the new administration's policies haven't occurred yet. We're still less than 100 days into the Obama regime. How many more will be willing to complain in public when this kind of economic punishment is passed into law?

Waxman Won’t Compromise on 20% Carbon Cap in Climate Measure

April 17 (Bloomberg) -- House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said he won’t compromise on his proposed 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases over the next decade in the face of criticism from lawmakers who say the economy could suffer.

“I want to keep those caps in place,” Waxman said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “It’s what the scientists are telling us we must do” to avoid a global catastrophe, he said.

Waxman, a California Democrat, said he would be willing to give ground in other areas of the measure, which comes up for its opening round of debate in Congress next week.

The four days of subcommittee hearings will follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling today that greenhouse gases pose a danger to the public, a finding that opens the way for new U.S. regulation of cars, power plants and factories.

Waxman, 69, said he expects his climate bill, as well as health-care reform legislation, to clear the House before August.

He took issue with President Barack Obama’s plan to use 80 percent of the estimated $646 billion in revenue raised from carbon permits under a so-called cap-and-trade system to help fund middle-class tax cuts.

“I don’t think that’s the best use of it,” Waxman said. “By and large” it should be spent on green technologies, he said, and part of it could be used to “help consumers with higher energy costs” and hard-hit industries, “especially coal.”

What Waxman is promising is dramatically higher energy costs deliberately imposed by the federal government to blunt the theoretical long-term effects of climate change. Whether they call it a tax increase or not, this will be a punch in the gut to tens of millions of Americans who will know that this effective tax increase comes directly from the administration and the Democrat congress.

How dangerous to the political establishment is this iceberg? Already, it's safe to say that the April 15 tea parties mean that people who sat on their hands in November 2008 because they couldn't abide McCain will not be sitting on their hands in 2010 or 2012. It's also safe to say that some independents and Democrats who voted for Obama are already sorry they did.

When the unavoidable consequences of the sweeping anti-capitalist policy changes presently racing through congress start to be felt by average citizens, the iceberg will grow substantially larger.

Another point. When a customer complaint is met by denial, derision, and ridicule, all the multipliers increase. That's why smart businesses always apologize to unhappy customers. The MSM is stabbing their own cause in the back right now, like a Maitre D' who calls the bouncer to hurl complaining diners into the street. There's nothing that can make them understand this. But it's not important for them to understand it. All that's important is that we understand it. And use it to our advantage. Because there's more at stake than a dinner out. We're complaining on behalf of our constitution and our country. Remember that.

Just saying. Do NOT give up hope. I'm confident enough that I won't even make any sex jokes about who's going to be bending over the desk in the Oval Office.

So there.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The New Patricians

Link: Ziegler Arrest

STILL TIME TO BUCK THE TIDE. Watch the whole video before you read this. I'll get to it, I promise.

It's tough to know where to begin. Which is pretty much the case with everything that's been happening since "The One" was sworn in in January. So many basic aspects of American life are being thrown under the wheels of the runaway left-wing train that focusing on any single abuse is automatically backpage trivia. Who could care when the economy is crashing and our new leader is busily remaking the world as well as the country? 

That's a continuing dilemma here at InstaPunk. Expressing outrage about this or that individual act of semingly arbitrary vandalism appears somehow petty. The enormity of the threat to the nation as a whole is really the only story worth writing about.

What does it matter that the president screws up repeatedly in every public appearance, even though public appearances seem to constitute his only executive activity? What does it matter that he has launched huge and reckless change initiatives in almost every sector of our national life, creating the possibility of collapse through simple system overload even before one considers the wisdom or lack of it associated with each monumental change? What does it matter that his Secretary of State is already exposed as a glorified housewife with no experience or native competence in foreign affairs? What does it matter that his Treasury Secretary continues to operate out of an empty office building while ostentatiously refusing to consult the various officially designated advisers and sages who have real-world experience in the markets being seized and bullied by the federal government? What does it matter that absolutely none of the math in his combination rescue/redistribution plan for the U.S. economy adds up to anything but generations of debt and decline for the greatest nation on earth? What does it matter that our tyro president arrogantly insults our allies and bows obsequiously to enemies who laugh unambiguously in his face -- and by implication ours?  What does it matter that day by day he is pushing Israel toward certain and U.N.-approved annihilation? What does it matter that every single one of his legal appointments is driving the U.S judicial system toward the abandonment of our own constitution in favor of international precedents and organizations that would mortally wound American sovereignty?

Every single thing is a drop in the bucket in today's political environment, but each of them would have been a front-page crisis, not to say scandal, a generation ago. It's an exercise in the deliberate creation of chaos. Throw absolutely fucking everything up in the air at the same time and exploit the fact that too much is going on to permit people to focus effectively on anything.

But I am going to focus on one thing today. Because it's highly symbolic of the cultural revolution that threatens to subjugate ordinary American citizens permanently. And also because it's a darkside view of the "hope and change" rhetoric this administration is using to buy time for its destructive agenda. They have cast their intentions in terms of class warfare (however much they disingenuously disavow the nomenclature). They claim to be bringing about social justice for the little people by punishing the rich and greedy who have stolen everyone else's opportunity. This is a crock.

What we're looking at is a process whose best point of comparison isn't the New Deal or European fascism or Stalinism but ancient Rome. We're witnessing the creation of two permanent new classes, the Patricians and the plebeians. Of the United States of America.

It differs as much from traditional American economic stratification as it does from feudal European aristocracy. In the American system, there were checks and balances. Belonging entailed no particular moral obligations or expectations; robber barons were welcome. But you could lose the money and privilege through acts of profligacy and subside into the middle class. You could also join the economic aristocracy by earning your own brand new fortune in dozens of different ways. Social acceptance might take a generation or two, but it could be achieved. New Money could become Old Money. In the European system, classes were defined by property ownership, inherited titles, and scrupulously maintained family trees. There was an expectation of at least superficial virtue -- exemplified by education and 'noblesse oblige.' And one could opt out of the power politics of the day. Aristocracy did not mandate any particular role in government. It was simply a birthright.

The Roman class system combined the worst features of both of these. As with the European aristocracy, the class divisions were permanent. But the concept of 'noblesse oblige' was defunct by the time the republic gave way to the empire. By then, the Patricians were fully engaged in the most ruthless power politics of the day. If anything, the moral expectations were higher for plebeians than for their born betters. As in the American system, one could become a Patrician, not easily to be sure, though the criteria were not substantive accomplishment but a devouring thirst for power at any cost. Class mobility with no requirement for virtue or achievement. Think of untitled Kennedys carousing their way to inherited U.S. Senate seats.

Precisely. What we're living through now ( ironically, given the anti-American spin of the destroyers) is the death of the American republic and the birth of the American Empire, a continuously declining but still remarkably powerful player on the world stage ruled by Patricians in every discipline that has some relation to political power. The comparison to the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire is especially apt. The Patricians contrived to retain the respect and admiration earned by republican institutions long after they had scooped out all the virtue of the original institution and replaced it with raw power, ruthlessness, and intimidating pomp. The institutions of empire became in many ways the opposite of what had first elevated them to greatness. By the time anyone noticed, it was too late.

If you want to see who the new Patricians are in the nascent post-republican American Empire, look to the institutions that have become the opposite of what made them great in the first place. I can think of four principal ones. (You may be able to come up with others on your own.) These are the people -- and their descendants -- who will be "taken care of" regardless of what happens to the rest of us, until at least the day when the remaining pie is too small to carve up without jettisoning a Patrician or two, which can take a very very long time, let me assure you.

Professional Politicians. Think Kennedys, Rockefellers, Jacksons, Bayhs, Tafts, Clintons, Bushes, Romneys, and Pelosis. Families that have become political families with an expectation of being elected to office not for what they have done, but for what their last names are. The total war that has been conducted against the Bushes is, in fact, imperial politics. Caesar had to destroy Pompey to consolidate his power. It was a Patrician skirmish that required harnessing the outrage of powerless plebeians to resolve. How they cheered when Pompey's head was finally skewered on a pike above the walls of Rome. How little good it did them in the long run. But note that this phenomenon is relatively new in American politics. Yes, there were two Adamses, two Harrisons, two Roosevelts, but they never became "dynasties," and we were never so crushed by their deaths that we insisted on naming their wives or daughters to the offices they vacated. There's already talk of running Michelle Obama for president after Barack finishes his two terms. Where does that come from? Joe Biden's aide is now a placeholder in his senate seat awaiting the election of one of his sons to give Delaware its Patrician heir. Democracy, my ass.

And what of all the tax cheats smoothly confirmed by the U.S. Senate for key roles in the Obama administration.  We have to pay our taxes. The man in charge of the dreaded Internal Revenue Service doesn't. The Patricians who boss us around don't. It's hard to arrive at any other conclusion than that they are simply better than we are. We must be virtuous. They can be merely "better."

Not to mention the two score and mounting total of lobbyists who've gotten waivers from an Obama administration that vowed not to hire any lobbyists and is now appointing them left and right (not so much the latter, literally speaking). But, hell, they're in the power circle, and we're just dumb-asses. I guess we are.

The Elite Universities. These were the original bastions of American liberalism. Their names became beacons of free speech, tolerance for dissenting views, academic freedom, the marketplace of ideas. Today, they have become the exact opposite of that. They suppress free speech on a systematic basis, protect Islamic terrorists and sympathizers, conspire actively in the increasingly inevitable annihilation of Israel, enforce "speech codes" and totalitarian reeducation programs targeting white males, and via Affirmative Action, actively discriminate against more qualified white people, men, and (as they have shamefully always done) Jews. Why do they get away with it? Because they provide the studies and surveys and findings that justify the legislation political Patricians use to acquire greater control over our economy, healthcare, environment, nutrition, vices, private freedoms, political philosophies, and religious affiliations. They're the Patrician "learning" that feeds the soaring autocracy of the Empire. Protected.

Celebrities. There was once a place called Hollywood where the purveyors of mass entertainment saw it as their responsibility to promote an image of virtue, marital fidelity, patriotism, and products that were wholesome for all ages. Some of the "stars" that came out of that system actually lived up to these impossible ideals and were more beloved by the public because people can detect phonies. They knew that James Stewart was an authentic and brave war hero, that Katherine Hepburn was a brilliant emancipated woman, that Cary Grant really was a gentleman's gentleman, that Humphrey Bogart really was an independent tough guy, and that Gary Cooper really was Gary Cooper. But celebrity today has become the iconic definition of the new Patrician class. There's nothing so awful they won't do in public and expect a pass on. Because they're Patricians. Above us. Above the law. Above all the plebeian requirements of civil behavior. We're expected to love them anyway. Which we do. We let multi-millionaire high school dropouts influence our votes in political elections. We let pampered divas throw public temper tantrums about world issues they've heard about from their agents and other pampered divas. We buy tickets to the concerts of moron rock stars who are openly campaigning for candidates almost as rich as they are, as if both were somehow plugged into our lives and our needs. We cheer. Which is what makes us plebeians.

The Mainstream Media. In many ways, this is the worst of all. (Did you watch the video? Go do it now, if you haven't already.) After all, we expect politicians to lie. We have native, and utterly well founded, distrust of eggheads whose opening presumption is that they're smarter than those of us who actually have to earn a living. And we do understand, at some level, that movie stars, professional athletes, and musicians aren't exactly experts about real life. But one of the great American stories -- a source of immense national pride, really -- is the maturation of the independent American free press from its lowly origins in colonial times, through the rank yellow journalism days of the nineteenth century, to the paragon of objective "just the facts" reporting that underpinned The New York Times slogan, "All the news that's fit to print." I've written about this before, here and in honest-to-God newspapers, and I'm continually amazed that when I raise the subject of bias, people who claim to be classical American liberals (and even some conservatives) defend what's happening now by citing appalling journalistic excesses from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As if they're happy to be in that poisoned company. As if their avowed belief in human moral progress is really a disposable pose that never mattered anyway. As long as the yellow journalism of today accords with their own economic assumptions or political viewpoints.

But it's worse even than that. Far worse. That's why Rome is once again the only suitable comparison. The American news media created a new, far higher standard of what journalism is as a profession, and they rode that standard to absolutely unprecedented authority, wealth, privilege, and power. They became, in effect, another branch of the United States government, the ultimate check against the arrogance of the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative branches. On the strength of their commitment to truth and honesty, we permitted them the economic exception of becoming an oligopoly on the nation's airwaves and monopolies in dozens of major cities and towns. It was their profession of virtue that procured for them this exalted status in the republic. And now they have become imperial Rome.

The Patrician Press. They sit in their expensive aeries in New York and dispense with all pretense at objectivity. They actually sneer at all the journalistic standards that earned them the aerie in the first place They contemptuously ignore stories that don't agree with their politics. They nakedly, shamelessly persecute people whose politics they oppose. And no matter what they do, no matter how much the market detects their moral bankruptcy and punishes them for it, they still have their resolute defenders, their indefatigable defenders who are certain they know better than the plebeians who reject them and argue that their corrupt shenanigans must be subsidized by the government, in the name of the people's need to know.

That's the significance of the video above. The august upper class of the mainstream media is nothing but a social club. A Patrician sinecure. It won't matter if they all go bankrupt, as they eventually will. Somehow they will merge seamlessly with the Patrician government whose attainment to absolute power would never have occurred without them. They're the makers of truth, regardless of facts. They get to decide who is "media" and who is a seditious propagandist (Limbaugh and Ziegler, take note.) They are Patricians. And ominously, they straddle all the other categories. They are simultaneously politicians, activist representatives of elite universities, celebrities, and, of course, the highest paid sleazy yellow journalists any nation ever had.

God save us from all of them. How does it feel to be a plebeian?

Oh, did I forget to give you the definition of a plebeian? We're everybody else. The ones who pay the bills while the Patricians smirk and bask in their own glory.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

YouTube Wednesday:

Tea Parties and Such

It's hard to take such right-wing distortions seriously, isn't it?

TEA-CRAZY. We here at are more than a little disturbed about all the extremist activities planned for today. I think we can all agree that madness is afoot, but what kind of madness are we talking about? I know conservatives and their ilk believe in their own lack of responsibility for the course of action our new president -- Obama be praised -- has been forced to take in rectifying matters of eternal injustice within these United States. They believe in fact that they are as innocent as put-upon children, and that their tea parties will be a simple effusion of rollicking free spirits:

How silly can a tea party get? And what's an "Unbirthday" in the U.S. context?

Isn't this ultimately a cartoonish view of the truly dire fix the nation is in? Is it valuable, or even valid at any level, to cast our new savior as some kind of self-obsessed, monarchic idiot?

No, the MSM isn't "in the tank" for Obama (2:35 in). Nor is it unfair to the
right (4:45 in). Next thing, they'll be calling the Cheshire Cat.

It's all nonsense. Let's not forget that the participants in today's tea parties are the same people who put in place what passes for leadership in the Republican caucus of the congress. When the country needed them to act, they preferred to remain smug, indolent, somnolent, and entirely out of touch with reality, with the result that the communal teapot is empty.

Not too hard to spot McCain and Boehner and Specter, is it?
And with all that pouring of tea, why
isn't there any in the cup?

Small wonder that right-wing extremist protesters have chosen to deride and attack not just Obama (PBUH), but the august Democratic congressional leadership consisting of Speaker Pelosi and her legislative consort what's-his-name. Do they really fancy that the vox populi they imagine themselves to be can rise up like some sudden childlike giant against the duly authorized command structure of the U.S. government? Fat chance.

The tallness of Alice as "the people" is just an optical illusion. Nancy is in charge.

The truth is, they're in way over their heads. Their tea parties are hardly innocent, and the situation is far less redolent of the American dream than an existential nightmare. If only they knew how to see, like an enlightened liberal, through a looking glass darkly. 

Everything is completely dire. There's no leeway for luxuries like liberty.

When all is said and done, there comes a time for for putting aside those rose-colored looking glasses and seeing reality as it is, plain and whole and, well, ugly and not a little tedious.

Lots of banging and shrieking, but move
along, folks. There's nothing to see here.

If you're grown up enough to understand the actual scientific facts governing tea kettles, then, um, I guess we've wasted your time.


Praise Obama.

P.S. One last thought for the day...

Maybe I'm starting to get the idea of what an "Unbirthday" is.

Honi soit qui mal y pense. Be careful out there.

False Sophistication

Maddow has a PhD. from Oxford. Impressed? I can't
tell you the credentials of Anna Marie Cocks. Sorry.
And, uh, yeah: Go here, here, here, and here, too.

DIRTY IS SMART. This has been worrying at me for a long time now, in a variety of different ways. There's a place for crude. We've done it here plenty of times. But if it ever works (and I know some of you doubt it), it does so by verifying a depth of emotion that has no validity unless it's backed up by sound reasoning and otherwise carefully articulated positions. It serves as a kind of antidote to bloodless intellectualism. Presented on top of a foundation of rational argumentation, it says, "I mean this. I'm passionate about it. I feel it in my gut as well as think it in my brain." It represents the opposite of sophistication, meaning that tone of simply "knowing" that so often afflicts the attempted communications of the elite, who have a penchant for literary quotations, academic citations, and intricate historical references in place of empathy with ordinary human experience.

Go to National Review online. What's discouraging there these days is that with the exception of Mark Steyn and Jonah Goldberg, the conservatives at NRO seem content to debate with one another across the mummies of Burke, Rousseau, Thoreau, Emerson, Locke, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Friedman, Justice Holmes, and Pope Benedict. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It's just that their intellectualism seems to downplay the constitutional catastrophe we're experiencing in the headlines. They're sophisticated thinkers and writers. But sophistication is the proverbial double-edged sword. It distinguishes the brilliant, who should be looked up to for their ideas. But it also separates the officers of thought from the infantrymen of everyday life.

With one big exception. The Left. In this realm, an extraordinary perversion of sophistication has occurred and taken a ferocious hold on media communications. Almost unbelievably, the sophisticates of the left have been permitted to redefine rarefied intellectualism as its opposite. The video above is Exhibit A. As the caption states, Rachel Maddow has a PhD. from Oxford, in addition to a bachelors degree from Stanford. But how does she choose to demonstrate her supposed intellectual superiority to her political foes? By sharing her knowledge of the political philosophers who convinced her that socialist governments are somehow more efficient, just, economically successful, and conducive to contentment than the capitalist system she finds so unacceptable? No. Instead, her putative intellectual attainments are nothing more than a platform from which she feels free to go "slumming" in the common world of innuendo and lowest-common-denominator sex jokes.

Bottom line. She's so much better than the prudes of Middle America that the proof of her betterness is her ability to engage in smirking double entendres intended to ridicule her political opponents without ever dealing substantively with any of their policy positions. She's just better than they are because her sensitivity to crude allusions is less than theirs. Which makes her, we must assume, more in touch with the lowest and crudest of her egalitarian political base. Congrats.

I know it's not PC to mention her sexual orientation. But I will anyway, because it's germane. I think she's an Affirmative Action lesbian. Her Wiki bio makes a point of the fact that she was the first openly female gay to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. Congrats again. But given that her entire approach to discussing current political events consists of a sanctimonious attitude rather than any learned reference suggests to me that her only real intellectual credential is her lesbianism. And, unfortunately, my own experience of lesbians is that they are the single dreariest demographic on the planet. It's the only thing they think about, care about, and talk about. And they're so astonishingly narrow-minded and unsophisticated that it never occurs to them just how monotonously repellent they are to everyone else. Not because they're homosexual. But because that's all they are.

That's why the sex jokes get so dull so quickly. But then, again, that's the nature of "sophistication" on the left. It doesn't have to do with knowing, or thinking, or writing, or sparkling in any particular way. It has to do with simply "being" -- single mother, gay, Hispanic, lesbian, black, muslim, etc. These days, you get scholarships, fellowships, book contracts, and media gigs for bullshit circumstances like this. The reward is that you get to condescend to everybody else and when you crack a dirty joke on top of your PhD., everyone else is bound to be impressed by how "sophisticated" you are.

Except me. I call bullshit on Rachel Maddow. In my sophisticated opinion she's a dyke with 600 boards and a beneficiary of an Old-Girl network most people would throw up if they knew the extent of. And I could say the same about a lot of other people who are being lionized in the post-accomplishment era. Andrew Sullivan, anyone? Chris Matthews? Keith Olbermann? Katie Couric? Well, fill in your own names. (Exception: Paglia.)

My challenge. Show me some real learning on the "sophisticated" left. Something that isn't derivative, imitative, phony, or just plain damn fake. And leave sex jokes and smarmy grossness out of it. Then we'll talk.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Do you ever get that feeling of being watched? DON'T answer.

I HATE TEA, TOO. Okay. I admit it. I'm a bad guy. I've said some bad things about the Obama administration. Well. actually, that's not true. Let me be more precise. I admit I've said some things that some people might possibly construe as bad, if they were working for Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security:

What I want to convey is two things. First, how happy I am that DHS is working so hard to protect us from subversive elements like these:

WASHINGTON – A newly unclassified Department of Homeland Security report warns against the possibility of violence by unnamed "right-wing extremists" concerned about illegal immigration, increasing federal power, restrictions on firearms, abortion and the loss of U.S. sovereignty and singles out returning war veterans as particular threats.

The report, titled "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," dated April 7... goes on to suggest worsening economic woes, potential new legislative restrictions on firearms and "the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."

The report from DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines right-wing extremism in the U.S. as "divided into those groups, movements and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups) and those that are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."

"[T]he consequences of a prolonged economic downturn – including real estate foreclosures, unemployment and an inability to obtain credit – could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past," the report says. [boldface added]

The other thing I wanted to say was that if somebody calls you up and asks what we talk about here at InstaPunk, could you please, please, please leave out the part about how we said, all in fun, of course, things like how disastrous the Obama presidency is? I mean, you know it's all, like, satire, right? Like how we only pretend we hate socialism and a federal government that gets ever more gigantic and intrusive and authoritarian? Ha. Ha ha ha. It's our favorite joke. We just laugh and laugh and laugh at silly posturings like that. Don't we?

Everybody knows -- and you regulars more than anybody -- that there's nothing we love more than the idea of socialism and a federal government that gets ever more gigantic and intrusive and authoritarian. If you could just hear us discussing it behind the scenes, how we're constantly saying to one another, "If only the government could be here with us right now, telling us exactly how bad these cigarettes and single malt whiskeys and anti-immigration posters are for our health, we'd just be so grateful and happy and obedient and ecstatic that we'd  pay them two or three times more income tax just for the privilege of having them search our underwear drawers for those automatic pistols and hollow point bullets nobody should have.

You remember all the times we said that, right? Sure you do.

The other other thing we wanted to talk about today -- Obama be praised -- is some insignificant technical information we don't even like to bring up. But since this is mostly a technical blog, right(?), we thought maybe some of you could help. Like, how can you tell if your phone is tapped, or if somebody is hacking into your computer to copy some of your old not very well stated posts on the internet, or can they tell if you're watching 24 no matter how ridiculous it's getting about now, and what does it mean if there's always an anonymous gray Government Motors sedan parked across the street from your house with drilled hubcaps and two guys with ties and sunglasses inside? That kind of thing.

Oh. And one other other, uh, other thing. Something we've been meaning to do since January, honestly, and have just been so busy cheering on the stimulus and the European "America Sucks" Tour and all that we forgot to make it official... although I'm pretty sure we hinted at it several times, which you'll remember if you think about it, if anybody asks, about how we're renaming the site Because we love and admire our new president so much.

Can you remember all that? And don't forget those technical questions. We really love dialoguing about everything. And especially technical questions. What with this being a mostly technical site and all. God, is it just us, or is it getting hard to breathe in here? Forget that. We're cool. Completely.

Thank you.

Oh. And praise Obama. Which is like how we always end all our posts.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Intelligence on Pirates

Pirates were sometimes executed by hanging on a gibbet erected close to
the low-water mark by the sea or a tidal section of a river. Their bodies
would be left dangling until they'd been submerged by the tide three times.

CONTEXT. Two different kinds of intel for you. First a link to the one website we know of that has continuously covered the modern-day piracy problem for years. has been a good friend to this site, and it's good to be able to give them a shout-out at a time when there may be a huge audience for their patient and painstaking work. Keep scrolling for more comprehensive reporting (and images) than you'll find in such accessible form anywhere else. Put them on your radar and keep them there.

The other kind of intel is the highly intelligent historical and political context provided by Mark Steyn's scathing essay on the subject, A World of Distractions. He wrote it before the rescue, but his conclusions are likely to hold up nonetheless. It's vital to read the whole thing, so I'm only going to give you two separate excerpts without much explanation.

Obviously, if the United States Navy hanged some eye-patched, peg-legged blackguard from the yardarm or made him walk the plank, pious senators would rise to denounce an America that no longer lived up to its highest ideals, and the network talking-heads would argue that Plankgate was recruiting more and more young men to the pirates' cause, and judges would rule that pirates were entitled to the protections of the U.S. Constitution and that their peg legs had to be replaced by high-tech prosthetic limbs at taxpayer expense.

From some of the questions asked at the press conference yesterday and subsequent developments, his prediction may have been right on the mark. More important, though, is Steyn's perspective on what this mess tells us about the state of the world:

As my colleague Andrew McCarthy wrote, "Civilization is not an evolution of mankind but the imposition of human good on human evil. It is not a historical inevitability. It is a battle that has to be fought every day, because evil doesn't recede willingly before the wheels of progress." Very true. Somalia, Iran and North Korea are all less "civilized" than they were a couple of generations ago. And yet in one sense they have made undeniable progress: They have globalized their pathologies. Somali pirates seize vessels the size of aircraft carriers flying the ensigns of the great powers. Iranian proxies run Gaza and much of Lebanon. North Korea's impoverished prison state provides nuclear technology to Damascus and Tehran. Unlovely as it is, Pyongyang nevertheless has friends on the Security Council. Powerful states protect one-man psycho states. One-man psycho states provide delivery systems to apocalyptic ideological states. Apocalyptic ideological states fund nonstate actors around the world. And in Somalia and elsewhere nonstate actors are constrained only by their ever increasing capabilities.

Yes, Obama did the right thing yesterday. I thank him for that. But there's a great deal more that needs to be done, and yesterday notwithstanding, I'm not hopeful he's going to do it.

Harry Kalas

There are peaks and valleys. He was a peak. A tall one. Mighty tall.

KARMA. The game goes on. T'was ever so. The audio file is of today's Phillies game. You'd never know that the greatest Phillies play-by-play announcer in the club's history had died earlier in the day. I'm not accusing. I'm too old to get maudlin for mere effect. I know Harry Kalas will be honored and that the announcers who are routinely calling today's game are merely doing their professional duty, that they will wax as eloquent as they can about what his death means to them when the occasion calls for it. In the interim, well, there's no crying in baseball.

But I can't help experiencing tons of emotion, even though I never once met or saw Harry Kalas in person or the player I most closely associate him with, Mike Schmidt, the greatest third baseman in the whole history of baseball. What I'm remembering right now is a magical season -- no, not 2008, the World Series Championship that made Harry's exit today somehow elegant and timely -- but a pair of careers that somehow seemed to soar together in a joint eloquence that the City of Philadelphia has rarely known to an unparalleled triumph in 1980.

My explanation begins with a step back. When I was a teenager I was already a veteran of the most catastrophic collapse ever suffered by a major league team on the verge of a pennant. I went away to school and ran immediately into fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Very opinionated fans, some of whom played baseball as avidly as I followed it. I heard ad nauseam about The Great One, Roberto Clemente, about the greatest World Series victory in history, weak-hitting shortstop Bill Mazeroski's decisive homerun in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series (after the most lopsided scoring against the ultimate winner ever), and worse than that, the unkindest throwaway cut of all -- the dismissive judgment that the Phillies, apart from all their other failings, failures, and weaknesses of the day, had the worst play-by-play announcers in major league baseball. Pittsburgh, of course, had the best -- Bob Prince.

I, too, came to admire Roberto Clemente, and to appreciate the miracle win in the 1960 World Series, but I never understood why Bob Prince was better than By Saam of the Phillies. In fact, I still don't think he was. But what had been impressed on me was the idea of considering the play-by-play announcer as part of the team, its personality, its character, its greatness. The Pirate lunatics prepared me to appreciate the coming of Harry Kalas.

Have I mentioned that the Phillies remained an obsession with me? That even after high school and college, I still burned for the World Series shot that had been denied in '64? Before the Phillies became contenders in the mid-seventies, I remember the arrival of an outlander named Harry Kalas, who was now calling balls and strikes for my home team. I regarded him as suspiciously as I did the supposedly hotshot young third baseman who repeatedly struck out with the game on the line. He couldn't hit for average, he seemed sullen, and after several disappointing visits to the uncomfortable new replacement for Connie Mack Stadium, I confess I began to call him by my private nickname, Mike Schidt. Same old Phillies. One more savior power hitter who would always let you down. Another Richie Allen.

I stopped going to games. I tried to stop paying attention. But you can't ignore your parents. Mine were from a generation that could still listen to baseball on the radio. They'd sit on their screened-in porch at night with the radio on and listen to the ballgame. And much as I didn't want to listen or care anymore, it was Harry Kalas who sucked me back in.

To this day, I can't listen to radio broadcasts of basketball or hockey. It's just a bunch of machinegun rat-a-tattery. I can listen to Merrill Reese doing Eagles play-by-play, but chiefly because he reminds me of Leonard Graves narrating Victory at Sea; the enormity of events bulges in his voice and he conveys a sense of momentum on individual plays, the sheer martial spirit of the proceedings. He's on your side. You'd prefer to hear his version of the narration while watching, if only you could synchronize it with the television feed.

But baseball play-by-play is a different discipline altogether. (Although I know Harry took over from John Facenda at NFL Films, the only appropriate heir.) In baseball, on the radio, the announcer creates the game for the listeners. The still of the time between pitches, the gathering suspense as the pitcher goes into his windup, the drama of the umpire's call -- or the sudden electricity of contact with the ball, base-running, fielding, or HOMERUN.

Two things I'd never heard on the radio before Harry Kalas came along. He knew instantly when a batter had hit a homerun. I never heard him make a mistake about it. When his voice barked "long drive," it was leaving the park. Think about that on the radio. It's like being there. Second, only Harry Kalas could make you see the brilliance of infield play on the radio. I learned from Harry Kalas that Mike Schmidt was a better third baseman than he was a hitter -- by listening to him call the games.

And now we enter the realm of myth. Purists will dispute some of my memories on this, I know, but they're my memories, and who are they to intrude? I would swear, and others would deny, that I could detect a moment or two ahead of time in Harry's voice what was happening in the Phillies' three failed attempts at making the World Series before they finally succeeded in 1980. Let that go. But I will never forget 1980 itself, the year when it seemed the pennant hopes of the Phils were a thing of the past until late in the season, when Mike Schmidt suddenly awoke into one of the hottest streaks any major league power hitter has ever had. I listened to almost all of it on the radio. The Phillies won 22 of 24 games en route to the pennant. I recall the Phils down to the Cubs in that stretch with Schmidt at the plate, two out in the ninth, against baseball's most unhittable sinkerball closer, Bruce Sutter, against whom Schmidt was 0 for 22 lifetime, and then hearing Harry bark, "Long drive..." It still gives me the chills. I stayed up all night during the Phillies-on-Schmidt's-back streak when it culminated in a rain-soaked doubleheader on the west coast and the Phils finished winning both ends of it at something like five in the morning. It was a grueling marathon of waiting, and sharing the game, and Harry chatting during rain delays with Richie Ashburn in their wry way, and we won, and all of us on the other end of the radio were also part of it, and nothing on cable TV can ever compete with it. Al Michaels on Hi-Def TV is, to me, pale compared to Harry Kalas on a staticky transistor radio roaring "long drive" in the thick of an unlikely pennant race.

And I remember the playoff with the Houston Astros that got the Phils to the World Series. The greatest playoff series ever. Two teams who absolutely refused to give up, both scratching and clawing their way back from certain defeat multiple times.  Houston's Terry Puhl belongs in the Hall of Fame for that five-game series, regardless of what he did in the rest of his career. Harry Kalas alludes to it here in his final thoughts on the now defunct Veterans Stadium, where the 1980 Phils won the first World Series in their history.

But he's downplaying it, of course, just as Mike Schmidt would if you asked him about it. Kalas was always quiet and conversational until the drama of the situation ran through him like a vocal lightning bolt. Mike Schmidt was always taciturn and self-contained until he uncoiled his deadly bat or equally deadly third-baseman virtuosity. The genius athlete needed that genius voice to complete the masterpiece. (uh, you New Yorkers... at the time you were bleating about the all-time 3rd baseman Graig Nettles. Anybody remember him now? No. You've developed a talent of late for hyping mediocrities. B-Rods, if you will.)

Yes, I know Harry Kalas went on long after Mike Schmidt retired. Which is why I know Mike would belittle the point I'm making here. He was always a modest man. And Harry Kalas would also probably downplay the role he played for thirty-some years in bringing alive a sport many people weren't watching but listening to into technicolor drama.

I always wanted to shake Harry's hand and thank him for bringing me back to baseball. I owe him a debt I can never repay. I hated Veterans Stadium. It was hot, cramped, handicapped by the artificial turf that made playing on it an ordeal for the players, and yet I mourned when I saw this sorry scene. Part of me died that day.

My last remaining hope, now that Harry is gone, is that I can still one day get the opportunity to shake the hand of Mike Schmidt, a player who was even greater than The Great One. (We both have strong connections to Dayton, Ohio. Hey. Shouldn't that get me an audience?) He means more to me than I can ever express, just as Harry Kalas does. But that's a chance I left too long. My loss. (At least Mrs. CP got to meet John Runyon last week.)

Baseball goes on. Philadelphia goes on. But whether anyone admits it or not, we've left the peak and entered a valley. Still. In my dreams, I will hear it again... Schmidt... 0 and 2... two outs... the stretch... the pitch... l-o-o-o-ong drive...

Harry is "Outta here," with his usual homerun finale.

God bless him and keep him safe. I'm going to make a point of watching tomorrow's game. No. Crying. In. Baseball.

UPDATE:  In case my memories aren't enough, here's a tribute already posted on YouTube.

Everybody here will miss him. Truth is, there's no one right way to remember him. Everyone will do it in his or her own way. And, I guess I have to admit, sometimes there is crying in baseball.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Incomplete Post:
Nattering Nabob

Jim Manzi.

CF. I love this picture. It confirms everything I was thinking from reading his posts at National Review Online. Kind of reminds me of Clinton's Esquire cover, though without the "below-the-belt" connotation. His perpetual hard-on lives in his brain. Of course, he's an estimable intellect:

Jim Manzi is CEO of Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software company. Prior to founding APT, Mr. Manzi was a Vice President at Mercer Management Consulting where he spent ten years directing corporate strategy assignments across a wide array of industries on five continents. He was previously employed in the Data Networks Division of AT&T Laboratories where he developed PC-based pattern recognition software. Mr. Manzi has published articles on science and business topics in National Review and National Review Online. He received a B.S. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was subsequently awarded a Dean's Fellowship in statistics to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as one of the eight top matriculants to the school's doctoral programs.

A week or so ago, I promised a post on the "complex virtues of certain kinds of simple-mindedness." This is that post. Jim Manzi is Exhibit A. I'm going to offer only two pieces of evidence. The first is a secondhand summary of his views on Global Warming, though more concise than he tends to be.

Jim Manzi's article for the National Review is one of the most intelligent descriptions I've seen of a plausible conservative response to global warming. The National Review isn't readily available in the United Kingdom but if you are at university or otherwise have access to LexisNexis it is available over that service. The article was in the issue of June 25 and is titled "Game Plan - What conservatives should do about global warming".

The first thing Jim Manzi does is correctly identify the stage of the argument that it is most productive for conservatives to address: what we do about global warming rather than whether it exists.

This is clearly the right position to take. There is room for doubt over global warming and the question of how much warming there will be remains deeply uncertain. However, the political debate has moved on and most non-scientists more interested in the political debate can engage far more effectively on the question of what to do about global warming, a question rooted in politics and economics, than they can in the scientific debate. [boldface added, along with this reference and this datum:


The second is a summary of his views, in his own words, on the current "torture" controversy:

It seems to me that the real question is whether torture works strategically; that is, is the U.S. better able to achieve these objectives by conducting systematic torture as a matter of policy, or by refusing to do this? Given that human society is complex, it’s not clear that tactical efficacy implies strategic efficacy.

When you ask the question this way, one obvious point stands out: we keep beating the torturing nations. The regimes in the modern world that have used systematic torture and directly threatened the survival of the United States — Nazi Germany, WWII-era Japan, and the Soviet Union — have been annihilated, while we are the world’s leading nation. The list of other torturing nations governed by regimes that would like to do us serious harm, but lack the capacity for this kind of challenge because they are economically underdeveloped (an interesting observation in itself), are not places that most people reading this blog would ever want to live as a typical resident. They have won no competition worth winning. The classically liberal nations of Western Europe, North America, and the Pacific that led the move away from systematic government-sponsored torture are the world’s winners.

Now, correlation is not causality. Said differently, we might have done even better in WWII and the Cold War had we also engaged in systematic torture as a matter of policy. Further, one could argue that the world is different now: that because of the nature of our enemies, or because of technological developments or whatever, that torture is now strategically advantageous. But I think the burden of proof is on those who would make these arguments, given that they call for overturning what has been an important element of American identity for so many years and through so many conflicts.

I submit that both these items illustrate the phenomenon that it is possible to be so damn smart you're a total idiot...

[For the completion of this post, go here.]

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Thoughts

LOOK AT THE GRAPHIC INSTEAD. It's Holy Week and therefore Open Season on Christians in the mass media. (Is it ever Open Season on muslims during Ramadan?) We've had a provocative cover story about the "Death of Christian America" in Newsweek, followed by a hasty clarification from that article's anxious author. HotAir's Allahpundit chose Good Friday itself for a link to this jackassery, which reinforces his customary snarky atheism. And we've already noted at this site the embarrassing bankruptcy of the Episcopal/Anglican Church that underscores the media's delighted focus on this bizarre phenomenon.

Ordinarily, we at InstaPunk address such phenomena in a scattershot, ad-hoc, and frequently satirical fashion, in response to current events rather than specific dates, but today is Good Friday, and I've decided to respond more seriously than usual. (Feel free to run away...) Fortunately, there is one recent event that provides a basis for focused discussion. It was a debate about atheism between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. William Lane Craig, described in this article as "an 'evidentialist' in that he argues for the existence of God based on evidence not presupposition." I'll give you three excerpts from the account of the debate and then address some of the arguments on both sides. Sound fair? Excerpt One:

The debate began with Dr. Craig’s opening arguments. He made a challenge to leave our bias at the door. Impossible, I know, but he claimed that the debate would be fought on philosophical arguments. He would rule out bad arguments, offer the historicity and logic of his good arguments, then challenge Hitchens to make a positive argument for his own atheism. This demonstrates Craig’s adherence to formal debate tactics. He doesn’t take his positions based on emotion or preference, he uses argument and reason and follows the evidence.

Dr. Craig’s evidence is presented in 5 different lines of argument:

1. The Cosmological Argument; Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. God is the best explanation for that cause.

2. The Teleological Argument; The fine-tuning of the universe is so improbable that law or chance aren’t adequate explanations. God is the best explanation.

3. The Moral Argument; If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Rape isn’t just culturally unacceptable, it’s actually wrong.

4. The Resurrection of Jesus; The vast majority of historians generally agree that the tomb was empty. Separately, the vast majority of historians generally agree that Jesus appeared to people post-mortem. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.

5. The Immediate Experience of God; Belief that God exists may be rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded in argument.

Excerpt Two:

Hitch doesn’t claim knowledge that there is no God. He claims ignorance, though he avoids calling himself an agnostic. Because he doesn’t know and Dr. Craig claims to know that God exists, the disadvantage goes to the one who says, “I know.” He says that given the stakes are so extra-ordinary (ie judgment, Heaven and hell, dying for one’s faith, killing in the name of God) the evidence provided by Dr. Craig wasn’t extra-ordinary enough to prove a God exists.

The most common argument made by Hitchens was that the world contained so much cruelty and brutality for most living creatures across most of existence that a good God didn’t seem likely, and that if He did exist that He had a lot of bloodshed to answer for. He gave examples of the pre-Christ and even pre-Jewish people who died without ever knowing the one true God. That their lives were lost in ignorance and that only recently does God come on the scene to save some. Hitch returned to this line of reasoning so many times that I’d say it was his core reason for disbelieving God.

Hitch went back to how our belief that God should personally be so concerned with us that we should have the benefit of being born post-Christ to enjoy salvation was a form of solipsism. “It’s all about us.” he said, “Everything else was wasted, but at least we’re here.”

Throughout the rest of the debate, be it the rebuttal, the conclusion, the question/answer, Hitchens returns to this classic problem of suffering, and mocks believers for finding selfish meaning in the midst of evil; “You’re a worm but take heart, it’s all made for you.”

Excerpt Three:

[I]n my opinion., though Dr. Craig won the argument (he was the only one who even presented a formal argument), Hitchens won the debate. It’s not the argument of the debaters, it’s the condition of the audience that wins the day. While few of Dr. Craig’s arguments are dispersed through culture, even religious culture, I’ve been raised on most of Hitchens’ arguments. Dr. Craig’s arguments are true and well-reasoned by difficult to comprehend on a first hearing. Hitchens’ arguments are what we’ll find spoken against God on prime time television, at the water-cooler, I’ve even heard some of them on Animal Planet. Culture generally makes Hitchens’ argument by default. And it’s easier to claim the skeptic’s nothing than affirm the something of God…even when I think the most robust argument is self evident to all of us…we’re here.

I think this is an excellent preface to thoughtful discussion. It illustrates the disconnect between the theological position and the secular position. The theologians want to talk about existence itself and its meaning or lack of it, and the secularists want to contrast the primitive mind which "invented" God with the rational mind that has come to perceive a vast gulf between mythology and hard science, and between naive faith and brutal facts.The theologians are asking, "How could we be here at all if there weren't some supreme power behind the universe beyond our ability to fully comprehend?," while the secularists are declaring, "If there is a God, he has a hell of a lot to answer for: Nature is vicious, men are vicious, all so-called scriptures are ignorant "Just So" stories, and at least the "Just So" stories of science are backed by objective observation, measurements not conceived of in Biblical times, hard data, and a far less anthropomorphic perspective. If there is a God, he can't be anything like your conception of him."

If I've stated the terms of disagreement fairly, everyone should be nodding their heads about now. I'm going to take an additional step toward fairness here. You'll note I used the term 'secularist' rather than 'atheist' in my initial description of the conflict. That's because I believe most self-professed atheists are not really taking a cosmological position but a cultural position. They're not presuming they know where the universe came from but rather asserting that all organized religions date from a time when we knew less about everything, particularly matters scientific, and are therefore evidently uninformed. They believe that all important matters -- social, moral, and political -- should be decided rationally and scientifically rather than in terms of what ignoramuses past projected onto a dimly understood and largely unexplored world. To me, the term that best describes this position is "secularist," not "atheist" or even "agnostic." The existence or nonexistence of some supreme power, however defined, is simply irrelevant to the decisions we make in our lives. Is that fair? I believe so.

Now then. I still propose to take the position that the secularists are demonstrably wrong and that the evidence favors the Christian perspective more than it does the secular perspective. Some of my arguments are old, and some are, well, new. But how can I dare to make such an argument in the first place? Because when it's impossible to find some external point of comparison to use as a control (i.e., some other example of intelligent life that grappled with matters of divinity and meaning), we are compelled to look inward and learn from the recurring or exceptional patterns of our own experience at every level of scale. All our evidence about existence and its meaning or lack of it comes from the sum total of human knowledge and experience to date. If we can't find external points of comparison, we must resort to internal points of comparison, of which, it turns out, there are virtually infinite examples. If these consistently resonate with one another, we can begin to extrapolate some universality, even about dimensions of existence beyond or below ourselves we know little about.

For example, let's consider one of the prime axioms of science. If there is a large measurable effect, there must be a powerful cause. A dropped brick falls to the earth. The moon orbits the earth without wandering away. Related effects across a range of scales. There must be a cause. The more universal and consistent the effect, the more powerful the cause. Gravity. One of the four known forces of the universe that explain its operation. At one extreme lies black holes, where gravity is so powerful it sucks in everything that comes within its remotest influence. At the other extreme lies what? A sparrow, a butterfly, a mosquito, a gnat that falls to earth when it dies. No one has ever seen gravity itself, only its effects. The secularists have exactly the same problem with Jesus Christ.

It is true that no one can prove Jesus Christ ever existed, let alone prove that he was a superposition of human and divine identities who died for all of us and rose again from the dead, offering eternal life after death and eternal redemption from something called sin. But the effects of this invisible cause, whatever it was, are far too huge to ignore. Indeed, the effects are so stupendously enormous across all scales of human experience that it is laughable to credit objections based on sharpshooting the verifiable historicity or lack of it of the Bible. Note, expressly, that I am not postulating the accuracy of the four gospels when I use the word laughable in the context of Biblical criticism. What I'm saying is that secularists are faced with an incredibly intimidating Christian mystery of their own -- if Christ didn't exist and wasn't who he said he was, how do you explain  what happened afterwards?

And let's not make any mistake about what happened afterwards. The cultural changes wrought by Christianity on our earth are the single biggest ongoing act of creation that we know of since the origin of life and the still theoretical Big Bang. This invisible cause, whatever it consisted of, redefined human consciousness to such a degree that it led to everything we now take for granted about ourselves -- our sense of ourselves as individuals, the proliferation of competing interpretations of the originating events in the form of hundreds of variant denominations of "the faith" that continue blooming to this day, the egoistic impulse toward liberty across lines of class and in defiance of authoritarian aristocratic governments, and the curiosity that spawned modern science in the first place, including cosmology, medicine, chemistry, biology, zoology, anthropology, evolution, psychology, and even economics. Without that invisible, unverifiable cause, all but a few of Christianity's fiercest critics wouldn't exist at all.

The messiah who wasn't somehow also fathered atheism, marxism, existentialism, absurdism, and the Matrix. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Hitchens who mocks Christianity wouldn't even exist without it. The mind that he applies to the argument, the self who experiences such a volatile antipathy to what he perceives as the tyranny of misbegotten myth, would be empty, undifferentiated, and mute. Indeed, his is the greater solipsism by far than any he imputes to Christians. For he, like most secularists, imagines that somehow he could still be who he is in all his rancorous ridicule, without the 2,000 year intellectual, artistic, philosophical, and political tradition that produced him, which is overwhelmingly Christian.

Which is to say that he wishes to bask and preen in the effects of the Christian tradition even as he presumes to subtract from that tradition the cause his scientific allegiance demands must exist.

Christopher Hitchens is himself a kind of proof of the Christ.

Is there a muslim Hitchens? No. If there were, he'd have been dead long before this. We'd never have have been allowed to hear of him of him, let alone listen to him. Which is a point of contact with the real miracle of Christianity that distinguishes it from all other major religions. And a point of contact with the fallacy of secularist objections to Christianity that demonstrates just how shallow those objections are.

First things first. There's a notion abroad these days that Islam is some kind of serious rival to Christianity as a religion in terms of its scope and power. It isn't. They are not rivals but opposites. Only the enemies of Christianity commit the fraud of comparing them as if they were somehow equivalent.
If we're keeping track of some hierarchy of scripture and its relation to what we think we know now about human nature and morality, here's the ranking in terms of Most Advanced (1) to Most Barbaric (3):

1) New Testament
2) Old Testament
3)  Koran

Let's compare 2) and 3) to begin. The Hitchens (and Allahpundits) of this world love to deride the most arbitarily judgmental sections of the Old Testament. In its pages, they claim to see a God who is vengeful, violent, and even psychotic. What they never see is that the OT is also a record of the people who worshipped that God. That as the Israelites became more civilized, Yahweh (wonder of wonders) also became more forgiving (suggesting that God changes his aspect to man as man becomes more able to interact intelligently). That Psalms is more wise than Leviticus. That Isaiah is more individuated and interesting than Amos. That Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are more wise than Hemingway.  That what we're seeing in the Old Testament is the transition from early proto-consciousness to modern consciousness. The god of three-year-olds is likely to be less nuanced than the god of twelve-year-olds. The Old Testament does establish itself reliably as part of a continuum to the New Testament. The variable is not God, but men. The Bible is the story of the raising of men from childhood to adulthood.

The Koran contains no such story of growth, It is all variations on Leviticus. Full of laws not to be broken, ever, and hatreds galore. To read the Koran against the Old Testament is to uncover a vicious imitative hoax against the original it's copied from. The Old Testament is about maturation. The Koran is about control. The histories of the peoples who followed these scriptures are the evidence. The Jews were both victimized and enlightened by the effects of the follow-on to their scripture called the New Testament. Their resistance to its status as divine revelation cost them blame and persecution, but they absorbed every lesson it offered about individual mentality. They flourished in every new discipline made possible by Christianity's devotion to the spark of divinity in aspiring minds. Both testaments are needed to explain the contributions of Einstein, Schopenhauer, Mahler, and Freud. They loved God but abjured hope. That's their curse. Despite their obsession with the artistic imagery of Christianity, they could never bring themselves to believe or wholly embrace it. Having precipitated the greatest leap forward in human consciousness ever, they insisted on remaining obstinately outside its implications, which almost cost them their existence.

But they knew those implications nevertheless. (Today's Jews are Christians minus the belief in Christ as Son of God.) The New Testament is the single greatest work of scripture in the history of life on earth. Why? Because it is endlessly productive and provocative at every scale. It is too internally contradictory to be read successfully as didactic. And while it speaks directly to matters of right and wrong and other spiritual matters, its centerpiece is not a list of rules but the most creatively open-ended  symbol ever promulgated in religious terms.

The cross is the "X" that marks the spot of human existence in so many ways that it can never run out of ways to be ingeniously reinterpreted, almost always in ways that are positive for the human spirit. (That's the reason for the unending establishment of new Christian denominations, some of which are despised orphans but all of which are part of the endless flowering of the story.) The story that goes with that cross is also endlessly creative and consistent with both human and divine stories before and after its putative place in time. The story is local, universal, philosophical, psychological, mythological, historical, human, archetypal, personal, passionate, abstract, symbolical, dramatic, sensual, ambiguous, allegorical, literal, literary, architectural, and, in its impossible aggregate of all these, clearly transcendent. The men who existed before this time were not so much damned as insufficiently developed to be conscious of an afterlife, Socrates and a few others excluded.

One simple story that knits together every conceivable story ever told about the human condition. Unfolding in a (relatively) few pages of an archaic document in an obsolete language. The word "metaphor" is to the gospels what the word "big" is to the cosmological definition of infinity.

I've never heard any secularist (or atheist) who can explain away this mountain of mystery. Our own times have produced masses of conspiracy theories, hoaxes, compelling fictions. The desire to believe on behalf of a greater meaning can perpetuate compelling fictions, or else we wouldn't have had fifty-plus years of Kennedy assassination literature, but truth tends to weigh in at the end like a ten ton weight. Oswald owned the rifle that killed Kennedy. The shot that killed Kennedy was fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Oswald was there at the time. He killed a police officer while he was running away from the scene of the crime. Only 40-some years into this mesmerizing mysteryon, we can already foresee eventually accepting that Oswald was a lone, meaningless assassin. If you reject any of these conclusions, ask what you are willing to pay for your beliefs. Are you willing to die, 100 years after the fact, because you personally knew the identity of the people who killed a nonfictional character named John F. Kennedy? You might feel emotionally and intellectually that you possess the truth, but are you so sure that you would die a horrible death for your belief? Torn apart by lions in the coliseum?

Really? But people were stupid back then, right? They were willing to be tortured horribly to death on account of someone who never existed, just because he said stuff that couldn't possibly help them live easier lives in the current political regime. Until their beliefs forced an authoritarian empire to agree. Fine. Now explain to me the process by which the United States and Europe suddenly agree to accept Scientology as a state religion. Are you you starting to grasp the dimensions of the mystery?

A final comparison on this Good Friday. Christianity has produced so many variations of its original story that there are those who have amputated themselves from their sources. As I've written previously here, I believe most of the fundamentalist and evangelical "Born Again" sects of Christianity have done exactly this. Their desire to read the Bible "literally" is a flat denial of where the Bible came from and the languages in which it was originally written. This denial has deservedly earned them scorn from rationalists and, yes, secularists. But here's what's decidedly odd. When the Hitchens of the world attack Christianity, do they attack the much greater and older population of Christians who see the Bible as an infinitely layered metaphor subject to many nuances of meaning, or do they snipe at the easy targets of those who claim their American 'revised standard version' is word for word true?

The answer is, of course, the latter. The secularists just love to beat up on the people who see the Bible as a strict roadmap to heaven. But I would argue that this is just one more instance of the dictum that you target the enemy who most resembles you (e.g., Nazi totalitarians in Germany hated Boshevik totalitarians in Russia). That is, the fundamentalists have made themselves targets because they are most like the secularists. They are mirrors of each other, narrow, preemptive, and intolerant.

Fundamentalists exist in an absurd bubble of false history. They reject the fact that the Bible they take so literally was constructed by a Roman Catholic Church they dismiss as heretical. They behave as if their Christianity were a spontaneous act of divination, achieved directly through a book whose origins their fragile theology would require them to disdain. Secularists also exist in an absurd bubble of false history. They reject the fact that the science they take so dogmatically was inspired by devout Christians (like Isaac Newton) they now dismiss as superstitious fools. They behave as if their (claimed) pristine objectivity were a self-generated manifestation of wisdom, achieved in spite of the book that gave rise to their own reactionary disciplines and derivative personal identities.

The ony inequity here is that the fundamentalists are scorned and transparent while the secularists are admired and ambiguous. Both are small subsets of the historical populations created by the Christian enlightenment. They're both sideshows. Educated Christians aren't much impressed by the quest to find Noah's Ark on some mountain that can be called be Ararat. Nor are they impressed by scientists who claim they fully understand the evolution of humankind when they can't begin to explain the origins of life.

It was the great physicist George Richard Feynman who said, "If I can't create it, I can't claim to understand it." (I used to call him George when we hung out together at NASCAR races. He never corrected me. My bad.)

That statement alone elucidates the difference between a real scientist and the kind of poseur we see in Richard Dawkins.

But in the interim, we'll have to put up with pretentious secularists jeering at contradictions in the Bible as if plot holes are all that's necessary to make up for the glaring hole where an explanation of the existence of the universe should be.

Today, though, I'm going to commit the irrational act of imagining the meaning of crucifixion and resurrection. As if I were a Christian. As stupid an exercise as that might be.

So I'll do the unthinkable. I'll visualize Christ on the cross, dying for me. And for you, too. With this in mind.

FAIR WARNING: This fairness thing is a bitch. Okay. I have to warn you that this post contains some deliberate holes, which are, in fact, traps set for the unwary. If you come charging in through those holes, you WILL be ambushed. Sorry. I know it's not Christian, but Scots have never been more than half-Christian. And I'm still more than a double-bogey away from Scottish par on that. So. You Know. Be advised.

UPDATE. Thanks, Fred. For some technical reason I can't fathom, I can't even respond to a comment on my own post at this particular moment. But I'm humbled by what you said. Convey my best to your brother the priest.

UPDATE. Beckoning Chasm likes Palestrina. So do we.


Enemy at the Gates

Pay no attention to this trailer. That's not what this flick is about.

POLLS. No, it's not really a romance, though there are are romantic scenes. No, it's not about killing Nazis, even though Nazis are killed. What it's about is today's Rasmussen poll asking Americans to compare capitalism to socialism. Only 53 percent think capitalism is better. Nobody seems concerned. Not even my closest intimates. Hell, it's all politics and all politicians are corrupt. What does it matter what you call policy, given that they're all corrupt?

The worst possible thing, really, is that you would get so upset about mere politics that you'd say something abrupt or insist on some point of trivial experiential detail. They've always been corrupt. What are you getting so goddam upset about?

This. It feels like death. It's not just politics. Rent this movie. Wait for the scene where Ralph Fiennes explains politics to Jude Law, just before he gets shot in the head. The scene where he wants to get shot in the head right before he gets shot in the head.

Bearing in mind that the politics happening right now are only politics and don't matter. We really shouldn't get upset about them. It's upsetting to others if you do that. But some of us always do that. That's how we ruin movies other people were enjoying. So we're not supposed to draw any inferences or lessons or parallels to current events from the scene where the political officer talks about the glorious ambition to achieve equality, and how it's always screwed by the fact that there really isn't any such thing as equality, because there's always the inequality of who loves who and who doesn't love who, and other things, which makes the whole socialist dream impossible. Understand?

Sure you do.

UPDATE. Absolutely right, IP. I didn't even need to punch a hole in the garage. She reminded me there was no chance Americans would ever make any connection between the Battle of Stalingrad and their own lives, and I had no choice but to agree with her. I'm still pissed about that but not at her. She also reminded me she's the only insured driver on our fully armored personnel carrier. So I told her we didn't need the APC to go see Atlas Shrugged at the movies. We could do that in my 1962 Dodge PowerWagon. We're good now, thank you.

IP. How many times have I told you not to mention the Old Days? It's pretty lame pretending you'd hit a woman, but why do I think it's just a cover? What you really want to do is ride a hardtail from Providence to Los Angeles and back.

LP: Not at all. I'm much too old and feeble for a stunt like that. I'm in pain every day. I can barely get out of bed. That''s how much my old legs hurt. In the interim, if you could look after my mail, I'll be back on line in seven, maybe ten days.

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