Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
June 4, 2009 - May 28, 2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Shrewd Investments

If you have the original of this "primitive pre-NWO masterpiece," it's worth
$17 trillion.
If you have a numbered print, it's worth $2 trillion. Or a job.

MASTERPIECES. We're not just a fun satirical blog. We're a financial blog too, always on the lookout for ways to improve your portfolio. Long ago, we gave you a tip you all ignored. Now we're giving you another one. Forget gold. (That's what Glenn Beck did. Fat lot of good it did him when the administration criminalized betting against the American economy...) Buy art. Specifically, Obama art. You've got to think long term. Ahead to the Obama Silver Jubilee in 2033, when he will have been president for 25 years and recently voted, by acclamation, President for Life.

Things will be very different then. If you bet on the dollar rather than the yuan or dinar, you'll be living in the street. Hopefully, you won't have made the mistake of cozying up to too many Jews, because there won't be any of them left. The great news is that universal health care will be there to take care of our radiation illnesses, and many of us will have two meals a day courtesy of our Blessed Leader. Unless we've done something rash like protest against sharia or secretly attended Christian church services. But we'll all be grateful for the new dispensation allowing us to burn Catholics in order to keep the new ice age at bay, which is, in fact, a new kind of planetary patriotism, since the earth is everybody's responsibility, along with going barefoot, and humming, and confining our romantic activities exclusively to unconsummated same-sex fantasies. Unless you win the federal lottery and get to travel to the new sin capital of the world in Palestine, Las Jersusalemos, where hispanic immigration has created the last great epicenter of donkey shows in the world. (Sorry if you didn't know this part. When  the Palestinians moved into nuked-out Israel, they all died, and the Mexicans moved in, proving to the world that Tequila is the only effective preventative for nuclear contamination. Something about that worm in the bottle.)

Anyway. After the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution was itself unconstitutional, Obama was cleared to run for a third and a fourth term, and then, of course, with the endorsement of NWO Chairman Hugo Chavez, for a life term. Which is when the Federal Times newspaper started devoting its front page to all the ways we average citizens could honor our Blessed Leader.

That's where the tiny sliver of economic opportunity exists. People who are in possession of early Obama art have a brief moment in which they can sell those artworks for cash or favor to the federal officials who would like it to be known that they always felt the commanding loyalty to the Blessed Leader that's become so hard to prove, sometimes with disastrous consequences. (The public beheading of the Health Czar last month has boosted the market considerably. All the Obama artwork in his household turned out to be forgeries. At least, according to Secretary of Truth Malia Obama, who is justly celebrated for her absolute integrity.)

So. Here are the most valuable pieces of priceless art ordinary citizens might be able to trade for modest housing, jobs, and one or two sharia dispensations (excepting certain exclusionary factors mandated by Secretary of Fairness Sasha Obama, who has been wildly popular in all the polls since the Oprah interview in which she tearfully explained her very difficult decision to order the death by stoning of former Female Czar Michelle Obama. Something about expensive shoes and talking back to the President.)

This one has a certain 'Malcolm X' quality about it. Very valuable.

Before the new flag, there was another flag. Some top insiders remember.

The "Mystery" portrait. Who could be bigger than Obama? No one knows.

Danger, danger, danger. Don't get caught with this one. Obama will kill you.
He was never EVER a Christian. There is only one God; Muhammed is his
prophet and Obama is Muhammed's bitch. So ditch this rag or the NWO will
go old-world jihad on your ass. Like they did with Muhammed Cosby in '22.

There. Our investment advice for the day.

uh, what? WHAT? It's not June 2030??!!

Forget what we said. Erase this! It's all been a terrible mistake.

(Damn right it has.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Finch Club, etc.

The first rule of Finch Club: Don't tell the wives about Finch Club.

A NEW SPRING. The goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey. Mrs. CP and I are lucky to have a bunch of them. They loooove their thistle seed, but for most of the year you don't get quite the display shown in the photo above. (See if you can spot all five...) Ordinarily, each of the gloriously yellow males is accompanied by a dull greenish female. It looks very much as if the females don't trust their mates to gollup down some thistle seed without wifely supervision. They know how irresistibly handsome their husbands are, and so they stick close. Really really close.

But now it's nesting season. The wives are busy, thank you very much. And so their husbands convene a meeting of Finch Club. Lots of chirping and chowing down and flying to and fro in that dipping style of flight people attribute to flying saucers. Except that goldfinches are a lot more spectacular and beautiful than UFOs. They are the perfect distillation of what nature means by the color yellow. In this respect, the photo does them no justice. Still, we thought we'd share.

It's been a soggy spring. While the new president was drowning the economy in debt, our little patch of ground was, with appropriate symbolism, mostly underwater. That's the price you pay for living below sea level, between salt marshes and the Delaware River. Maybe that's why we don't get too excited about all the Global Warming chatter. Coastal peoples grow accustomed to the ubiquity of water or they move to higher ground.

There are compensations. After the rainy season, the land turns green and smells green. Lush things happen, so quickly that it takes weeks to catch up and reassert some kind of control over the runaway growth. We're not there yet. But we're making progress, even though the gazebo and barnlet beyond are slowly becoming a "Ruin Garden" I wish I had the energy to forestall.

Beyond the rose arbor, our red-tailed hawks are nesting in a tall pine.

Turkeys? Did someone mention turkeys? They've been wandering through too since the floods receded. They're drawn despite their fears to the bird feeders behind the house. Thankfully the chickadees, cardinals, titmice, and nuthatches, and especially the sparrows and woodpeckers, are incredibly messy eaters. (There's a bratty squirrel, too, but I'm not allowed to use my pet name for him. Mrs. CP actually likes the little blankety-blank.) The ground is littered with seeds and corn all the little flying pigs slop out of their beaks during their multiple feeding frenzies each day. The turkeys look as if they're meandering aimlessly about the property, but their movements are ultimately purposeful. They eventually arrive at the easy feast. Which is where Mrs. CP is waiting to snap them with her digital camera.

This guy is NOT hen-pecked. He may not be smart, but he's in charge.

Is there a point to all this? I don't know. Maybe I should be opining about the New Jersey primary held yesterday. But I don't feel like it. Maybe Christie can get elected governor and do something to rescue our state from ruin, but fall is a long time from now if you're counting time the way nature does. Which is reassuring. As I write this, the grass is growing and blessed events are looming in dozens of concealed nests within a hundred yards of my computer. Life goes on. It's the most hoary of all platitudes, but it's also the truest.

The paulonia tree is young, the willow is dying. But they're both in the here & now.

Take the time today to look for something, anything, special. Finch Club is a spur of the moment celebration, an interval of freedom from drab routines. Last week, Mrs. CP saw a bald eagle. Yesterday I saw a bluebird. Both are pieces in the mosaic of my Hopes. And that will never Change, thank God.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

63 Percent Approval

Wait it out through the "narcissistic metrosexual" remark. At least.

NEVER SAY WE DIDN'T WARN YOU. I dunno. Patience seems like an impossible challenge sometimes. Americans are famously slow to anger, but what does it take to get under their skin? The greatest manufacturing corporation in history is swirling down the drain, its suicide facilitated by a 31-year-old law school student, while the president authorized by no constitutional authority whatsoever unilaterally sets "green" mpg standards for a moribund U.S. auto industry that is doomed because he is running it. Is he just dumb or is he actually maleficent? His foreign policy wonks waver from day to day on whether or not North Korea -- announcing its capability to target Alaska with missiles  -- constitutes a threat to the United States even as he defunds missile defense, as if what he truly wants is American casualties. When he isn't running around the world apologizing to some of the most murderous thugs on earth for America's offenses against their barbaric grievances, he's conspiring to suppress political free speech at home and transforming the Justice Department into an enabler of black-on-white race hatred for the purpose of further corrupting the electoral process.

Obama's assault on American liberty and capitalism is occurring at such a blistering pace that even Pravda has noticed that he's a Marxist. Yet what do the MSM choose to splash all over their disgracefully sycophantic front pages? Date Night.

The Republicans in congress refuse to make any kind of stand on principle because they've forgotten what principles are. They bow and scrape and apologize and excuse Obama's excesses because they're so determined to like and admire him. After all, from their perspective, their careers depend on it.

Are there 300 real conservatives left to fight to the end for the United States of America? Yes. There are. But we still have to be patient, however hard that is, and wait for the American people to realize the danger. Yes, we need our pusillanimous politicians to stand as tall as they can and do what can be done in the interim (write them, phone them, threaten them with electoral defeat), but we must be content with the fact that they and we will not win, not even a skirmish, until our nation remembers who and what we are. Until then, the order is neither retreat nor surrender. It is:  Hold!

If you're impatient, you can skip to 4 minutes in....

In the meantime, our imperative is to understand the enemy and learn his ways and weaknesses. That's what Andrew Klavan is offering above. Obama is not Hillary. He is not even a garden variety socialist. He is a wrecking ball intent on taking our great country down. He sees himself as a puritan dictator, a Cromwell, a Robespierre, a Castro, a Lenin, a Mandela, a secular god of social justice. But all gods are alike in one way at least. They are so full of themselves that they cannot stand the sound of laughter. Ridicule is their (to mix metaphors) Kryptonite. While we wait, and Hold, we must never lose our sense of humor. We must make a point of laughing with heartfelt hilarity. It's our best and truest defense against the setbacks to come. That's why Klavan's piece is more than a video essay; it's a valuable strategy. Here's the scene you can barely see behind his irreverent description of it:

The profile shot of the mouth (2:11 in) looks really familiar, doesn't it?

And here's the South Park version of it, in case the original wasn't risible enough for you:

NSFW. Seriously.

Finally, here's a golden sentence that should become our watchword, uttered first by a mere schoolgirl, namely Jonah Goldberg's daughter. whose brilliance was honored in an email to her dad.

An e-friend sends this:

Ironically, the last thing I did last night before going to bed was watch the bloggingheads where Peter Beinhart told you that his son, when being pushed to finally go to bed and that he can't just stay up all night, said "yes we can!"

To which you responded that one day your daughter was hearing you and the wife watch the news with Obama on, and she yelled "Is Barack Obama STILL the President??!"

I thought your daughter was quite eloqent there...better line than the tiger-meat thing, for sure.

-[Name withheld]

P.S. I'm gonna start saying that now every time I see the [redacted] on T.V.: "Good God, is Obama STILL the President???!"

Are you starting to get it? We WILL win. Because anyone who sees himself as a living god has a fool for a god.

And Americans can see through that in a heartbeat. As soon as they start looking in earnest.

George Tiller
Rest in Peace

ANOTHER DOORWAY. He goes to his death as a symbol. The pro-choicers are seizing on the excuse to blame pro-lifers for his murder. The pro-lifers are distancing themselves from the actual murderer's decision to end his life for acts that are not illegal even if they are immoral. But nobody's talking about him.

So I find myself wondering. Wondering what it would be like to be him. By some counts he ended the lives of 60,000 late-term fetuses. I won't do the easy thing and show a baby here. Mostly because I don't want to juxtapose a specific living baby with his image, which would be a kind of taint on the baby I chose. Yes, murdering him was a crime. I don't deny it. I'm also not going to show blacked out images the same size as his photo above for one or many of the lives that didn't live because he practiced what he called medicine. I'm not writing to take cheap shots or muddy the waters. I'm writing because I'm curious.

What was it like to be him? We'll never know now. He's dead. Before he could share his point of view from his side. I'm not talking about his argumentation, his logic, his position. I'm talking about what it was like to get up each day, exchange pleasantries with the family, and face the face that showed up in the mirror when it was time to shave.

I don't even know if he was married, had children of his own or, at age 67, had grandchildren he dandled on his knee and spoiled with the usual grandfatherly indulgences. If he didn't, I assume he had nieces or nephews or friends who had infant  children. What is your experience of life like when every baby's bright effulgence isn't a reminder of the beauty of life but of the preemption of life that pays for your house, your car, your vacations, your books, and all your other entertainments?

What do you dream about? Do you see a montage of mangled bits of bodies rolling by, like some prisoner on a sausage assembly line? Or are you immune, inured, free as any adolescent to conjure the breasts and other curves of wish fulfillment fantasies realized in sleep? I don't know, can't imagine.

But here's what I believe. It's an either-or thing. You're a sociopath with no conscience, remorse, or vaguest thought of the 60,000 lives that would have lived without you. In which case your recent death isn't that much of a change of state.

Or your whole life is lived at some fatal remove from life. You can hear Mozart and his keen, succinct beauty as well as anyone, but you know his music is not meant for you; you are merely an eavesdropper, an interloper overhearing the music of the living. You have exactly the same feeling about a wren, a Goya, a woman's warm eyes, the Pieta, and the Psalms. You are outside, sealed off from all human comfort by a wall of bloody mutilated flesh that could have been loving eyes welcoming you into the community of men.

Is there some middle ground? Perhaps. Some rationale that grinds like the wheels of a mechanical adding machine. Some strip of addends and subtrahends that unfurls like an inventory of possessions. But that's really nothing more than being outside without acknowledging what's been traded away off the books.

I feel sorry for the man. What enormous energy and resolve it must have required never to confront the sorrow of mothers who decided rashly and too soon, to the detriment of their whole lives. It must have been exhausting to spend so much time not thinking of what you were doing with your medical equipment and instruments.

I can think of only one consolation for Dr. Tiller. He has put the lie to Shakespeare, which is hard to do. "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is often interred with their bones." The evil he did does not live after him, and that is the peculiar hell he must have experienced in life. I can only hope that death brings him something better.

UPDATE. We got the comment I was hoping for, and so my apologies to Harley, who gracefully ended his piece with a sentiment consistent with my post, "I only know that I could never do what Dr. Tiller did for a living." But he made the classic, easy argument you'll hear from every defender of what this man did:

You raise some very valid questions, IP. There seems to be no escaping issues of ethics and morality in the medical community. I have also wondered how doctors can deliver a baby to a mother who stopped taking drugs just long enough to give birth, or who perhaps was still feeling the effects during delivery. How do doctors feel when they deliver babies to parents who lock their children in their apartment, alone, living in filth and eating dog food, while the parents go out on the street to score drugs or find a john?

How do doctors face themselves when they deliver a baby to a girl too young to even drive, knowing that baby will see nothing but the least that life has to offer? How do doctors feel about delivering children into certain death – those who cannot possibly live beyond a few minutes outside of the womb once deprived of that protective environment? How would a doctor feel about putting a woman through the risks of pregnancy and childbirth if laws did not allow abortion for an incest or rape victim?

How does a doctor face telling a mother that her infant is about to die because of an untreatable birth defect that was discovered long before birth? How can a doctor feel good about delivering any child into this world with all the doom and gloom with which we have been lately assaulted? Or go beyond issues of birth – how does any doctor deal with any terminal illness, particularly in children? How can they possibly keep their sanity when death and illness is all about them? How can they not compartmentalize their medical practice from their personal life?

There are no easy answers. A cliché, yes, but the truth. When we finally live in a world where all people take responsibility for their own actions, doctors like Dr. Tiller will pursue other medical practices. Somehow I don’t see that world as being just around the corner. On the contrary, it seems further and further away each day.

I only know that I could never do what Dr. Tiller did for a living.

uh, why, Harley? If life is so miserable that doctors should second-guess their decisions to deliver live babies into the world, why bother having doctors at all? Death is the great release from this vale of woe, and everyone who delays that release is a metaphysical criminal.

I'm calling bullshit on the whole phony spiel. Sorry, Harley. You're "Exhibit A" in fake empathy. Your comment actually made me angry. DOCTORS ARE NOT GODS. THEY'RE FUCKING MECHANICS. End of argument. Their job is to preserve life in whatever state they find it, not to pass judgment on who should or should not get to draw another breath. You give yourself away. Disastrously:

How can a doctor feel good about delivering any child into this world with all the doom and gloom with which we have been lately assaulted?

Oh really? Really? Really?  What an ass. Never before in human history have expected human lifespans been so long. And you weep for the prospects of babes who might have to face a few more challenges than you did. Do you wish you had never been born because Obama is president and lots of powerful people are acting stupidly. Really?

Would we be closer to Utopia if elite doctors had terminated Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking before their parents had to undergo the inconvenience of teaching them to face life with crippling physical deficiencies? Or would your godlike docs draw the line at handicaps that don't initially appear to affect brain function?

Never mind that the instances you cite are an insignificantly tiny minority of the ethical challenges doctors face. Where do you get the right to say that physicians should agonize over the births of children who are simply poor, mired in difficulty from the start, and likely facing tall odds to become masters of their own lives?

News bulletin: Life is tough. For everyone. For absolutely e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. Including Paris Hilton and Chelsea Clinton. We don't get to pass judgment on that. And doctors who know the chemical composition of placental sacs are no more adroit spiritually than Dick Butkus. Their job begins and ends with a healthy, or at least living, baby. Anatomy and philosophy exist at opposite ends of the human intellectual spectrum. A doctor who suffers metaphysically because he does his job of preserving human life is possibly a tragic figure, a subject of literary exploration. A doctor who ends life when his avowed mission is to preserve it is a vandal. The two plights are not comparable. One is exquisitely sensitive. The other is plainly insensitive. At least.

Who all would your lordly god docs have deprived us of? Bastards born into into a doomed life of poverty and  failure? Blind or otherwise disabled babies whom doctors would know have no chance of escaping from misery?

You see, you may think you'd rather have been aborted than born without some of your most cherished physical capabilities. But that's what makes you average. Us average folks don't get to pass judgment on the life prospects of the truly extraordinary. That's what makes life, and human beings, extraordinary. Your ostentatious empathy is its own kind of murder.

As I said. You pissed me off.

Sorry if you merely didn't think it through. But you didn't think it through. Your bad, not mine.

UPDATE 06/08/09. Because we're fair. Here's Harley's response, with only one interpolation before a comment at the end:

Yep, you caught me, IP.

If I'm reading you right, sounds more like you caught me. Leaning toward second and picked off by a damn southpaw throw.

It is rare that someone can play the game by your rules and still throw you off balance. In your original post, you chose to use third-person speculation in regard to Dr. Tiller’s mental and emotional state as a result of his medical practice, so I decided to do the same for the “opposition.” At no point in my comments did I make a personal claim to any position - I “merely” speculated. Far from not thinking it through, I thought it through so well that I actually fulfilled your hope for the right comment.

You are correct – doctors are not gods. Comparing them to mechanics is an interesting concept, and one with which I find little fault. Indeed, I fear the growing practice of doctors not only telling us how we should live a healthy life, but being given authority to make us live how they think we should live, but I digress. Yes, a doctor is a human’s mechanic whose job it is to get the engine started and keep it running as smoothly as possible until we hit that final breakdown that takes us to the junkyard in the sky.

However, the idea that a doctor will never face questions of ethics and morality in the practice of his profession is naïve at best. There are issues of life and death that require more consideration than just keeping the organism alive. Just one personal example - when my father was diagnosed with cancer, would it have been the doctor’s duty to force my father into treatments that may have prolonged his life by months but would have made his life a living hell until the end? My father didn’t think so. A moral and ethical dilemma for a doctor? Yes, and a situation that they face all too often and one for which there is, as I said, no easy answer.

Do I personally consider abortion to be the same type of moral and ethical dilemma? I do not. I believe that life is the proper moral and ethical choice. Unfortunately, I am conflicted over certain circumstances, as are many other others who do not support abortion in general. This is the one place in my comments where I skated on the edge. Is it moral or ethical to force a woman (and very often a child) who is a victim of rape or incest to deliver that baby? Is it moral or ethical to force a woman to go through a pregnancy that will most likely result in her own death? Yes, you can say that there should be no exceptions. As an old man who will never have to personally face the situation, one would think that it should be easy for me to make that judgment as well, but it is that very fact that makes it difficult for me to find that hard line.

You quote me particularly (even disastrously), “How can a doctor feel good about delivering any child into this world with all the doom and gloom with which we have been lately assaulted?”

This was hyperbole. It was meant to be the extreme that you took it to be, and quite honestly I’m surprised you didn’t see that.

I also wrote, “When we finally live in a world where all people take responsibility for their own actions, doctors like Dr. Tiller will pursue other medical practices. Somehow I don’t see that world as being just around the corner. On the contrary, it seems further and further away each day.”

While I do not excuse Dr. Tiller through the expediency of defining his practice as “just a job,” neither do I excuse the people having the abortions. Despite stories of patients being scared into abortions and similar circumstances, it is the patient who makes the final decision. That is where the real buck stops. When people do not face the consequences of their own actions, you get doctors like Tiller who do act like a mechanic and merely treat a baby as a part gone bad that needs to be removed.

I see the world, and particularly our country, changing more and more into a society of personal irresponsibility where we expect easy answers to our mistakes. Personally, I want a world where people do not want abortions – a world where doctors can’t find work in that field – a world where there are consequences for actions. However, am I crazy enough to think that if doctors do not provide abortions, or if it were against the law, that there would be no abortions? Nope, I'm not that far out of touch with reality. That's not to say, however, that I think that the solution should be as simple as being able to walk into a doctor's office and say, "Do it."

Again, as I said, no easy answers, and I suspect that my comments here do not fit totally within the hard edges of your personal doctrine. However, I think we are much closer to agreement than disagreement. I am surprised that you didn’t see that my original comment was just a restatement of your post with a load of irony thrown in.

When irony masquerades as a better than usual defense of commonplace advocacy, I can (do) get taken in. But here's where I caught you, Harley:  Read my first serious post about abortion (July 2004), which was referenced at the very beginning of the entry. I have never failed to acknowledge that there are complexities and subtleties we've never addressed as a nation because both sides are dishonest about the subject to a significant degree (a point reinforced by my exchange with one Thomas Jackson in the Comments on this post). You assume too much about my position. I have convictions about what's right and wrong, but I long ago conceded that things can look different if you've ever confronted the dilemma in real life. Which I haven't. It's why I was wishy-washy about even discussing the subject for way too long. I am nowhere close to 50-50 on the basic issue. But as to exceptions, well, my door is at least half open.

And let this be a lesson to the rest of you. Speak your mind. If you score points, you'll have your day. Honest. Blisters heal. Real argument abides.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Obamas Shining

"Pay them no mind, darling. Tonight is about you and me."

DEJA VU. Chalk it up to the Monday morning blues. When I first saw the coverage of the Obamas' "Date Night" in New York, I didn't feel especially negative about it beyond wondering if it wasn't courting some resentment among voters who are being hard hit by the recession. On Fox & Friends, Tucker Carlson spoke for the elite northeastern conservative media by dismissing this concern out of hand and confining his own complaints to the delays and inconveniences the First Couple's night out occasioned the better sort of Manhattanites. Video clips like the one above, though, made it clear that the adoring Obamasses at the scene were perfectly delighted with the whole event, proving both me and Carlson wrong. The New York Post account seemed to close the deal:


 Two martinis, a swank restaurant, a Broadway show -- President Obama really knows how to treat a First Lady.

"I am taking my wife to New York City because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished," the president said yesterday after touching down at JFK for an intimate night on the town.

The first couple left their girls, Sasha and Malia, behind at the White House yesterday afternoon, taking two helicopters and a small Air Force jet to make their way to Manhattan.

The Obamas were dressed to the nines -- Michelle in a sleeveless, black cocktail dress adorned with fringe, a pair of low, strappy heels and a turquoise clutch; and the president in a dark suit and white shirt, no tie.

The first stop was a meal at low-key, but elegant, Greenwich Village restaurant Blue Hill, which boasts farm fresh, locally grown dishes.

The Obamas were tucked into an out-of-the- way corner table where they enjoyed a multi- course feast specially prepared by the chef. They washed down the fine fare with wine, said a fellow diner, who also no ticed Michelle relaxing with a couple of martinis.

Photographers were kept blocks away be hind barricades for the first couple's privacy.

"We left them alone the entire night," said Blue Hill diner Rachael Levit, of Manhattan. "Nobody asked for autographs or took any pictures. They were laughing and talking and seemed like they had a genuinely good time."

But as the Obamas departed, the respectful diners, who had been screened by Secret Service personnel before they could enter the eatery, erupted into a round of applause.

Then it was up to Broadway, where they had tickets at the Belasco Theatre for "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," a play by August Wilson about a man coming to terms with the history of slavery.

"I'm nervous, excited, honored," said Andre Holland, who plays character Jeremy Furlow, before the show. "It's like in Shakespearean times, when the king would come to the show."

Although the play's up for a Best Revival Tony Award, the first couple got the biggest standing ovation of the night as theatergoers applauded and took photos of the dashing duo for 10 minutes before the show began.

The president gallantly guided his wife to their orchestra seats with his hand on the small of her back, while shaking hands with fellow theatergoers and smiling broadly. Due to security screenings, the curtain rose an hour late... [boldface mine]

I'm not going to make a big deal out of the fact that taxpayers footed the bill. Of course, we did. He's the president. That's not what I'm feeling grumpy and skeptical about. But I am feeling grumpy and skeptical. Like I'm being played at a surface level and subtly propagandized at a subliminal level.

Don't bother telling me I'm trying to read too much into it. Everything a president does is symbolic of something. The only question is whether the something is something obvious or something deeper. The press always thinks it knows, and maybe it does, but what they think is not always the story they choose to write and show.

One thing I know for sure because I'm not a complete moron is that this was not "an intimate night on the town" intended to "wow [the] First Lady with dinner and [a] Broadway show." There's nothing intimate about a flight to New York accompanied by two jets full of press, a motorcade through Times Square, a dinner that concludes with a standing ovation, and theater attendance that begins with a standing ovation from the audience and ends with the cast waxing nostalgic(?) about "when the king would come to the show." If the intent was to "wow" the First Lady, it was with yet another victory lap by a politician who has yet to quit campaigning for the office he already occupies. If he had a message for her, it wasn't an intimate "I love you truly and deeply regardless of all that has changed in our lives; it was "Look at how truly and deeply everyone loves me -- and you by extension."

I know this sounds harsh, and there will be those who protest, "What's a President to do?" uh, plenty. If the American people had made the disastrous mistake of electing me president, I could think of a lot of ways of fulfilling the promise Obama purportedly made to Michelle. I wouldn't be at all shy about the expense. If it was just for her, I would make it all just for her. I would bring New York and Broadway to the White House -- the restaurant setting, the chefs, the waiters for a dinner for two. And I would invite her favorite Broadway performers to put on a show just for the two of us. Because a president can do that. They keep telling us he's creative -- a writer, right? -- and it's the creative, personal touches that melt a woman's heart. The mystery beforehand, the stopping of the world's outside clock on her behalf, the total attention to pleasing her for a change, to living up to her: for example, I'd have worn a tie, probably a black tie. For the one person who, more than any other, merits my determination to put my best foot forward.

But this wasn't that. It was a vulgar exercise in showing off. The First Lady "dressed to the nines" certainly, but the president was attired only in expensive casual, as if... what? He'd already had a long day and if it was going to be even longer, he at least had the consolation of ditching the tie from his workaday suit? Or was it for all of us? He was tieless because he could be? Because the bright lights of New York impress him less than a roomful of foreign dignitaries or network news stars? Because the whole exercise was maybe just a little beneath him? Wall Streeters dress up for dinner and a show, and so does his own wife, but not the One? Does he, in fact, find it all a little bourgeois and boring?

There are signs that this is so. I'm well aware the Post article is at pains to tell us about all the smiling that was going on, and to prove it they led off their photo gallery with this shot:

"We've got matching outfits. Cool."

But that's a picture they knew was being taken. In the course of the evening that followed, Post photographers took other more candid snaps as well:

"It's worth it. Trust me. I'll explain later."

Having fun were they? Or, in their deliberate black attire, were they summoning a subliminal memory of black-coated Robespierre grimly condescending to the Parisian aristocracy during the French Revolution? Amping up for the Directorate and the Terror. The third photo in the series is from the "show" they attended. I certainly can't read faces like the fictional protagonist of "Lie to Me," but I sure wish I could. The expressions are ambiguous, but they don't look at all to me like, "I've just had a glorious night of personal celebration capped by a show that makes me grateful just to have seen so much talent on an American stage."

Or would it make you, personally, feel better to have your president attend a show that reminds him just how pissed off he is about all the injustices his country has subjected him to -- right before he leaps back into his limo, his "casual" jet, and Marine One en route back to the White House?

You think "pissed off" is overstated? You probably do. Do you know anything about the play he picked -- above all other candidates for his celebratory night on the town with his beloved wife?

"Can you believe it? Rahm wanted us to see Jersey Boys?"

I'm no expert on this dramatic work, but here's how Wikipedia characterizes it:

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is the second in a series of August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicled the struggles and lives of African-Americans in the 20th century. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is set in the second decade of the 20th century and chronicles the lives of a few freed African-American slaves in the North. The play deals with issues of race and reconstruction, but also more broadly examines finding your personal identity and finding your way in life.

Well, why not? Even we have speculated that President Obama has more than a passing interest in Reconstruction, and that's fine, of course, except that I can't help wondering what the Obamas' facial expressions mean in the context of what Wiki reports about the final scene in the play:

Scene Five- In the final scene Loomis and Zonia leave the boardinghouse as it is Saturday. Bertha tells Mattie that all she needs in life is love and laughing- which they all start to do. Then Martha Pentecost [Loomis] enters with Selig looking for Loomis and Zonia. Loomis reenters with Zonia and he recounts the last decade of his life; his search for her and the heartache it has caused him. Martha tells him that she has moved on with her life because she couldn’t wait for him any longer. Martha also reveals that she had Bynum put a binding spell on her and Zonia and that is why they have come to find each other. Loomis goes into a rage and pulls out a knife. He denounces his Christian background and slashes his chest. The stage directions read “Having found his song, the song of self-sufficiency, fully resurrected, cleansed and given breath, free from any encumbrance other than the workings of his own heart and the bonds of the flesh, having accepted the responsibility for his own presence in the world, he is free to soar above the environs that weighed and pushed his spirit into terrifying contractions.” He leaves and the play ends with Bynum yelling “Herald Loomis, you shining! You shining like new money!” [boldface mine]

I admit, as a writer, I'm not reassured by the quoted stage direction. To me it sounds like a play that's meant to be read, not performed, which also suggests that it's as self-consciously symbolic and pretentious as all the stuff that got Tennessee Williams so roundly trashed by critics in the final two thirds of his career. But what concerns me more is the question of what exactly about this play means so much to the President of the United States that he preferred seeing it, all things considered on this night of all nights with his wife -- with the American people looking raptly and adoringly on -- to the many other Broadway productions that are actually joyful, celebratory, spectacular, and, well, conducive to fooling around with your wife when the two of you get back home.

Or is "shining like new money" an aphrodisiac I've never heard about? So much hotter when you have a faithless partner, a self-inflicted slash in your chest, and a repudiation of Christianity fueling your allegiance to the flesh.

I'm also concerned that nobody but me has any concerns of this sort.

But don't mind me. As I said, it's probably just the Monday morning blues.

Friday, May 29, 2009

American Crossroads

REVISIONISM. The nation is clearly in love with the star-making template of American Idol, which interestingly enough is a format that dates all the way back to the radio era. Before there was Simon Cowell, there was Major Bowes, who stopped poor performers in mid-act with a gong, and the much kinder Ted Mack's Amateur Hour from the early days of television. In fact, we have Major Bowes to thank for Frank Sinatra and Ted Mack to thank (if we do) for Wayne Newton. In the cynical Seventies there was The Gong Show, which contrived to make a dirty joke of the aspiration for fame, and then, in the more hopeful Eighties came Star Search, which lasted a dozen years and facilitated the careers of quite a few show business successes, though few of the actual winners did become stars.

Since the latest reincarnation of this venerable formula, we have seen it proliferate into every conceivable area where notoriety can assist a fledgling career -- models, hairdressers, clothing designers, chefs, dog groomers, television hosts, boxing, mixed martial arts, enterepreneurs and inventors, and even corporate flunkeys (Isn't that what The Apprentice is testing for?) Traditional show business has also followed suit. There's a show for stand-up comics. And a show for dancers, called So You Think You Can Dance, whose peculiarities are the real subject of this post. But some more background is necessary first. Please bear with me. I'll get there. Promise.

Ironically, the current fad has also spawned a kind of inverse derivative in which the somewhat or formerly famous seek to heighten their celebrity by demonstrating a middling talent outside the arena that made them famous. Thus, we have had Dancing with the Stars, Skating with Celebrities, and even something (a flop, so excuse me if I can't remember the correct title) Magic with the Well Known.

What's interesting about the new shows is that they combine the best and the worst of the older shows. The programs that appear on the major networks allow the mass media audience to vote on which performers they like and even, in (usually) vaguely defined terms, to trump the pronouncements of the judges. That's clearly superior to the relatively recent Star Search procedure which allowed the TV studio audience to break ties in the judges' scoring. BUT. The role of judges has also been transformed. They're not the silent voters of old-time beauty pageants or even the tactfully measured critic/cheerleaders of Star Search. They're the preening perfomers of The Gong Show, established by production context and personal attitude as the real stars of the show, who as often as not, are simply using the contestants as raw material for their own displays of ego, wit, sarcasm, and ridicule.

That's why the big network shows begin as cattle calls. Gong Show judges require Gong Show victims. Performers so bad we in the television audience can experience the double pleasure of laughing at them, like the invisible voyeurs we are, and feeling outrage at the merciless putdowns of the prominent public voyeurs who are saying exactly what we think while we congratulate ourselves on both our outrage and our superiority. Which is the more important trend, you ask? Mass media democracy or obnoxious judges? The answer is: obnoxious judges. The cable shows have neither the schedule control nor the money to harvest umpty million cellphone votes after a single broadcast. So they retain only the most important element: haughty, condescending judges.

Amazingly, the composition of judge panels conforms absolutely to the Simon Cowell model on shows which achieve network status. There must be an arrogant Brit, a loony female, and some sort of contrasting wild card. There is, of course, Simon Cowell on American Idol; Len Goodman on Dancing with the Stars; (was) John Nicks on Skating with Celebrities; and Nigel Lythgoe on So You Think You Can Dance. (We're not even going to mention Gordon Ramsay on Hell's Kitchen. Oops.) When did we cede to the Brits the implicit authority to stand in judgment of our accomplishments and our dreams? Or didn't we do that at all? Did we, instead, subconsciously agree that petty, catty, nasty, patronizing dismissals are somehow less reflective of our own worst instincts if they are rendered in a British accent? We can abjure the tone and vocabulary as alien while secretly taking credit for the acumen behind the damning words uttered.

People who claim to understand American culture keep intimating that the American Idol phenomenon isn't important in any profound way. They'd prefer to see it as proof that we're mostly shallow and ignorant, that its net meaning is as an indictment of a populace that votes in greater numbers for singers and dancers than for presidents. But I'd like to propose a different interpretation. I believe that all the phenomena I've described above are part of a deep debate we're having with ourselves about who and what we are as a people -- and how we really feel about where we seem to be heading. And if this is so, it's more important in the long run than who we elect as president for the current four-year term.

What's going on here? Are we really infatuated unto idiocy with celebrity for its own sake? No. Are we really mean at heart, so envious of any attempt by the average joe to poke his head above the herd and get noticed that we enjoy seeing him slain on live TV? No. Are we so bored and alienated from the ordeals of day-to-day living that we're prepared to toss it all in exchange for a sliver of participation in the making or unmaking of other people's dreams? No.

We are all judges, and we are deliberating complex issues. We know things the supposedly wise don't credit us with knowing. We know that the official judges, the so-called experts, all have agendas of their own. We don't cede them superiority to our own gut instincts, even if we agree with them on occasion or cheer them on when they voice our own views. We know, without having to formulate the thought specifically, that they are the politicians who ask us to trust their closeness to the issues. We accept the stereotyped roles in which they appear to us because it's indicative of a reality we've dealt with all our lives -- the overeducated know-it-all male who always insists he knows better than everyone else (Gingrich/Schumer, etc, etc), the somewhat crazed female activist acting on pure emotion (Pelosi/Schlafly, etc, etc), and the special interest insider who always claims to be closer to "the people" even though he really isn't (fill in your own hundreds of et ceteras). Sometimes we do agree with them. Sometimes we don't. They're the familiar face of government, science, art, media, academe, and evey other kind of institutional expertise. We don't dismiss them out of hand, but we reserve the right to call them an ass when they are. And we enjoy the rare opportunity to see them forced to put their expertise on the line in a human way, so that we get to observe, and judge, the personalities behind the self-proclaimed objective expertise. It turns out the way we'd expect. Sometimes they're on the money. Frequently, they're justifying irrational opinions no better founded than our own.

This isn't that big a deal, except in the context of the contestants. We're smart enough not to trust them either. Who is it exactly who's willing to subject himself to the scorn of the self-ordained priests of culture, be it singing, dancing, or cooking? Only three kinds of people. The truly gifted who have a passion that's proof against the slings and arrows of the pompous, the (uh) less gifted who have a passion but neither the talent nor the objectivity to see they've made a mistake, and the frankly delusional, who ignore every redlight to persist in a course that can do nothing but humiliate them in the long term.

One could argue that all three groups are deserving of compassion. One could argue that if we were all, indeed, idiot consumers of mass media tripe. But we're not. The participants in these shows are not innocents. Everyone who shows up for the cattle calls is declaring a willingness to appear on national television, even if it is to be made a fool of. More often than not, those who are rejected by the judges make a final defiant appearance in the lobby outside the audition theater to assert that they know they're talented and that the judges were wrong, unfair, or biased.

It's this phenomenon that the American people are thinking about. The truth is, most of the people who line up around the block awaiting their chance at fame are in the delusional category, and even the ones in the "less gifted" category are suspect. If you were serious about a discipline in which you had doubts of your talent and competence, would you choose national television as the medium in which to receive definitive feedback? Wouldn't you opt for more work and more private knowledgeable feedback as an alternative to being humiliated in front of an entire nation? The overwhelming majority of people who show up for such auditions are not serious about anything but their wholly unmerited self esteem. Whatever they say about passion, their chief need is for attention.

A lot like our kids these days. Here's a fascinating author talk about the book "The Epidemic of Narcissism." I urge you all to watch it. It makes two points relevant to this discussion. First, that contrary to psycho-babble mythology, Narcissists do not suffer from low self esteem at any level. When you tell them repeatedly for years that they are special, they believe it. Who'd a thunk it? Second, that a Narcissist personality is a recipe for failure in every part of life -- financial, emotional, and spiritual. It also turns out that passionate self confidence has almost nothing in common with Narcissism. The former is rooted in character and talent. The latter is rooted in lies and vanity.

And there's another result as well. It has to do with personality tests. All kids these days are scoring much higher than generations past on the scale of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Celebrities score higher than the rest of the population. But not nearly as high as reality show contestants.

I believe that when the television audience watches American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, they know the underdogs they're rooting for are not like themselves, but needier, more self-absorbed, more inflated in every possible way. Sure, they respond to the personal stories of loss, deprivation, and ordeals overcome, but they remain keenly alert for signs that these are people who are living for themselves alone. They also know, without being told, that the fame they're being asked to help generate is an ephemeral thing, a brief moment in the sun that may prove more curse than blessing. They're conducting a laboratory experiment of sorts. These shows will all go away when the audience finally concludes, as I believe they will, that the celebrity lifestyle the mass media have tried so determinedly to sell them is insubstantial and not at all worthy of their support. They will want better for their own children.

Which brings me, at last, to the current season of both American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. Even the pundits who scorn American Idol are trying to make an issue of the fact that a straight guy beat out a gay guy in the final showdown. They wanted to cast it as a Red State vs Blue State showdown and now that the Blue State lost, it must have been the result of some conspiracy by AT&T or somebody.  Fools. The straight guy won because he comes across as more genuine. It's possible to imagine him having a normal life after the flurry of celebrity goes away, as it has done very quickly for all but one or two of the American Idol winners.

I admit this post has gotten more complicated than I envisioned it at the beginning. But I only have two unsimple points left to make. And they're related. They both have to do with the phony, media-created passion for egalitarianism. Why doesn't American Idol produce real stars? Because they force every contestant to sing in every possible genre of music. Which guarantees that the survivors of a process designed to reward generalists will produce mediocrity rather than individuality. American Idol is dedicated to finding a 21st century Rosemary Clooney, not a Janis Joplin or Nina Simone.

That's why I prefer So You Think You Can Dance. It also drives its contestants toward generalism -- witness the standard practice of forcing Hip-Hoppers to pass through choreography while idiosyncratic modern dancers get direct tickets "for Vegas" -- but what's different is the art form itself and, thanks to Nigel Lythgoe, a majority of the judging.

At the beginning of the show, Lythgoe was a kind of clone of Simon Cowell. But after the first or second year, he underwent a conversion of sorts. He announced that he was through with being needlessly snotty. Since then, he has not only enforced this rule on himself but on other judges as well. He has not abandoned his standards. Rather, he has traded in the easy insults for seriously educational comments about dedication, motivation, character, talent, technique, and maturity. He has become a pedagogue of dance. The show still features heartwarming personal stories and personal oddities, but as executive producer, he has grown into the role of wise elder to a dregree I'd never have expected from a tycoon Brit. His show is showing signs of integrity. During the audition phase of the current season, he has publicly (severely) rebuked two of his "guest" judges who were unable to focus more on contestants than themselves. And he has shown a sense of humor about the less talented when he detected that they simply loved dancing and evidently wanted to share that love with the audience.

Here are two clips from the show's audition episodes.

It's called talent and guts. Something Americans recognize instinctively.

Nigel Lythgoe's a bastard, right? How about the
dancing? And one of them is, uh, straight. Right.

He's presently drawing fire for his comments on the second clip. I ask you to note both the rebuttal represented by the first clip (Who cares what her ethnicity or sexual orientation are? She can dance. The judges' comments affirm it.) and the parallel with current events -- a Supreme Court nominee whose story is supposed to be more important than her talent at her chosen profession. Lythgoe seems to be drawing an important line in the sand. Dance well and your personal details don't matter at all. Dance like your personal issues matter more than being good or winning a competition, and you'll get the scorn you deserve. That's not homophobia or racial prejudice. It's professionalism. Something Americans know something about.

And there is a bottom line which relates to the difference between singing and dancing. Singers are bound to specific words and therefore a kind of acting. Dancers operate at a deeper level not involving words. The movement of their bodies is a manifestation of being. A much harder thing to fake. So when the audience asks itself who is trying, who is posing, who is real, who is an opportunist, they have a much better chance of determining who to believe in and who to scorn. Unlike the tongue, the body does not lie.

We have a president with a very talented tongue. But I regard it as just possible that a much deeper education process is underway. Maybe the puff piece before the dance isn't as important as the dance itself. Even to moron American voters.

We're at a crossroads right now. Do we believe the tongue? Or are we prepared to vote on the damned dance?

Y'know, in the end we ARE going to win. Because we do have the talent and the drive, and the place where everyone else in the world knows they can make their talent and drive turn their dreams to reality. Obama and his Stalinist urges notwithstanding.

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