Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
June 28, 2009 - June 21, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Loony Bin

Members of Congress preparing to vote on the Cap-and-Trade bill.

FREAKS, GEEKS, AND LUNATICS. I'm not going to cite a lot of facts and figures here. (You can find those abundantly elsewhere.) Today I'm just making a prediction: Every congressman and senator who votes for this bill is painting a bullseye on his chest for the next election. There aren't words enough to convey how incredibly stupid a politician would have to be to commit such a disastrous mistake.

Why? There is absolutely no conceivable upside to passing this bill. It represents a tax that will hit every consumer of energy in this country, both directly and indirectly. Direct costs are estimated (very conservatively) at $2,000 to 3,000 per household a year. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. The real costs are much much larger and will hurt lower and middle income people far more than everyone else. All goods that are transported anywhere during any phase of their production will cost more; ergo, there's an immediate bump in the cost of living. Businesses of all sizes will have to cut costs somewhere else to try to offset increased energy costs, which means more job cuts and, of course, outright business failures disproportionately affecting small businesses. The competitiveness of American products overseas will be diminished because China and India, for example, will not be paying artificially inflated energy costs.

Worst of all, this is being done in the midst of a severe recession from which the economy is trying to recover, despite the daily escalating burden of federal government borrowing that's sucking capital out of private investment markets. Cap-and-trade could bring on a recession all by itself. Undertaken at this moment in time, it's insanity. Or deliberate vandalism (but we're not talking Obama here...)

All this for a microscopic decrease in carbon output that will do nothing to reverse or even arrest the Global Warming crisis even if you believe in it, which a plurality of Americans don't. There's no chance whatever that any contemplated benefits of a few artificially created and taxpayer-subsidized "green jobs" will do anything in our lifetimes to pay back the enormous economic costs they entail. It's an empty, token gesture with very real and terrifyingly huge immediate costs. It's nuts.

So all I want to know is why would anyone in Congress vote for this hammer blow to an already stricken U.S. economy? Hurting the economy is not good for any of them. Nothing they get from a lobbyist can make up for getting booted out of office. And yet they seem determined to crush both American competitiveness and the ordinary taxpayers who put them in office. Taxpayers who will know who to blame every time they pay a utility bill and gas up their cars.

All I do know is that politicians voting yea today will all pay dearly at the polls for passing this bill. How come they can't see that?

I don't get it. Somebody explain it to me.


Apropos of Nothing...

The Chairman of the Board at Madison Square Garden, age 60.
YouTube link here for the browser-impaired. Aren't I nice?

PERSONAL PROVENANCE. For some reason there's been a lot of talk in the mass media today about pop star icons, and all the attention has been focused on just two of them, both the voice of their generations in different but also similar ways. I don't want to participate in that discussion particularly because both those stories have sad endings and ominous implications about what superstardom means in our celebrity-obsessed culture. And if you can't say anything nice, the rule is, don't say anything at all.

But there is a third 20th century pop star icon who was arguably greater and even more dominant than the other two, and I've been thinking about him, ironically, since last Sunday, Father's Day, when the inimitable Mark Steyn took the opportunity to reprint (what's 'reprint' on a website btw? A 'riposte'?") the history of Frank Sinatra's relationship with the greatest song yet written about the joys and fears of becoming a father: Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Soliloquy" from the Broadway show Carousel. (Here's an audio taste if you don't know it.) Like all such Steyn essays it illuminates the subtleties of a very complex song, its writers, the meticulous artistry Sinatra applied to his interpretation, and the devotion to his unique performance of it that made it finally his song. Here's a single excerpt that should make you want to read the whole essay:

Carousel opened on April 19th 1945. The following month, Zeke Zarchy, the lead trumpeter on Frank Sinatra’s radio show, went over to the singer’s pad for dinner. “There were half a dozen people,” he told Will Friedwald, “and we all walked into his den where he had his hi-fi set up. He played us some things from Carousel, which had just come out. We heard the big ‘Soliloquy’ that the main character sings, and we were all impressed with it. Frank said, ‘These are the kinds of things that I want to do.’”

That was tougher than it sounds back then. A brisk “Soliloquy” clocks in at eight minutes. That’s a long song, so long that (see page 139) the published sheet music cost twice the usual 50 cents. Even broken in two, as Columbia did with it in 1946, it’s a tight fit on both sides of a 78. But Sinatra recognized the uniqueness of the piece, from anticipation of all the fun the guy’s gonna have with “my boy Bill” to the slowly dawning terror of responsibility. Halfway through, on that line “What if he’s a …girl?”, Frank, a recent father of one of each, sings with a kind of bewildered disgust. But the sentiment leads into some of the most lyrical passages Rodgers ever wrote and Sinatra ever sang.

Mary Rodgers, a fine composer in her own right and also the author of her own exploration of parents and children, Freaky Friday, says she only once saw her father display any emotion - when her mother suffered a miscarriage late in life and dad sobbed on his teenage daughter’s shoulders because it was his last chance for a son. Thus, as she understood it, even his vulnerability was an implicit criticism of her. It’s a strange moment, weirdly echoing the “What if he’s a girl?” moment in “Soliloquy”. By contrast, Sinatra, for a showbiz pop, was a terrific father, loved to this day by all three of his kids.

So today I'm thinking Frank Sinatra was more of a man than most people thought at the time. Despite all the usual scandals and controversies (mild by today's standards), that he was "a terrific father" for a "showbiz pop" seems to be quite an accomplishment. And let's not underestimate the amount of adulation he received by patronizing the media technology of his day. He was the first singing star to experience the phenomenon of teenage girls screaming so loudly through his stage performances that no one could hear him sing. Likewise with the phenomenon of fans fainting in the audience and proposing marriage (and more) through the mails. There were also the glamour marriages (Who could survive, even today, being married to Ava Gardner, the ultimate goddess-whore of her generation?), the crashing end of his career as a teen heart throb followed by a determined comeback based on transforming talent into matchless technical craftsmanship, and the movies, and the notorious Rat Pack, and retirement, and a second comeback leading to a bright extended sunset that ended only with his death at age 83 after a 60-year singing career. And, oh yeah. An Oscar and Oscar nominations on the side.

I never cared that much for "My Way," a song penned for himself by the much lesser talent Paul Anka. But today it seems to embody a certain poignant wisdom about what it takes to survive a life spent in the public eye, under the relentless lenses and mikes of the media buzzards who hunt and pounce on the famous, the wounded, the sick, and the dying. And I'm reminded that he was featured, typically insouciant and bright-eyed, on the cover of Life Magazine when he turned 50 in 1965, almost a decade before his final Top 40 hit:

Lessons? I don't know. Maybe none. He was a tough little guy from New Jersey. Maybe that has as much to do with it as anything else. (Doesn't look like Springsteen's going to quit anytime before his eighties either...) But when I read the Steyn essays about individual songs, arrangements, and performances, I get a picture of a mentality you don't see that much of these days. Despite a whole world of glittering diversions, Sinatra was ultimately betrothed, like a nun to her savior, to his music. Everything that sounded casual and offhand about his singing wasn't. He wasn't a celebrity with an artistic talent. He was an artist who used and transcended celebrity to live up to his ideal of his own art. From Steyn on "Soliloquy" again:

With most of the standard repertoire, Sinatra eschewed corny stand-and-deliver big finishes, placing the climactic open-voweled high-note three-quarters of the way in and preferring to land softly, as he does in “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and a hundred others. But in his act he always liked to have what they call a real collar-popper and the big final note of “Soliloquy” – “…or DIE!!!” – stayed in his act till the very end. “I just wish more performers would do it,” he said. “If they had the guts, they’ve got the talent and big voices, but nobody does that.” Sinatra’s remains the only successful version of the piece outside the show.

His way seems to work better than some other ways. If you ask me. Which, of course, no one did.

And, yes, I feel sorry for his successors who fell under the wheels of the train they should have been driving. Mr. Steyn is eloquent about this phenomenon too. (UPDATE: I linked this without reading it. I trusted the author. But it's nasty. When I read it I was repelled. I thought I had deleted this sentence within hours of posting, but I apparently hadn't. Now I urge you to read this instead. I never liked the man in question, but it breaks my heart to read all this detritus about his decline. I never walked a mile in the man's shoes. It has never been my intention to trash him.)

Shit happens, as they say. That's life

P.S. Since I've learned from experience that you're not going to take the introductory link to the antecedents of this post, I realize I need to provide some context. Personal context. Here it is:

The very first time I fell in love was at the age of six when I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing "The Man I Love," and the very first time I knew there was a racial divide in my country was when my Dad showed me the Ella/Gershwin album cover -- Ella was not white, slim, or gorgeous the way women who can sing like that automatically are to little boys who have beautiful blonde mothers. "Forget the picture," my dad said. "Just listen to the way she sings. That's music. Sinatra is an ugly little guy. And you like him."

I did. Me and how many countless others who learned about him from Sid Mark. More than my parents did. In fact. my first rebellion was realizing that Sinatra was better than Dick Haymes and every other Big Band singer. I realized that he was singing my own parents' lives, the parts they couldn't admit, the pain and wistfulness and sorrow they could never acknowledge, along with the upbeat determination that kept them going, and dancing, even when they must have wondered what the hell was going on. It was as if the real appeal of Sinatra to adults was a secret -- they pretended he wasn't an arterial necessity; he was just historical and because he was connected to every successful jazz musician, composer, and arranger, he was safe. When he let loose with his "three o'clock in the morning," "when I was seventeen," or "strangers in the night" bits, the parents mixed another cocktail and fell silent.

I'm sure younger people feel much the same way about subsequent pop icons. Actually, that's a lie. I don't think that. But that's why I'm old and you're doomed.

ADDENDUM. Another brief but related essay published in the Providence Journal. It originated here, of course, all the way back in January 2008. But some things aren't topical.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michelle, Ma Belle

She's like a bronze goddess or something.

NOT OF THIS EARTH. Earlier today, Drudge was reporting that the new Time Magazine issue would feature the 17th Obama cover in the last year, this time showcasing Michelle. Now it looks as if the Iranian protest will bump her for a muslim woman who didn't go to Princeton or Harvard. Bummer.

She's never even been to Paris or Broadway. Sheesh.

Such a letdown. As if that muslim woman would know anything about what it's like to grow up in a country that continually subjugates you by forcing you to go to the best schools and take the highest paying featherbedding jobs just because of your race. The truly inspiring news is that the First Lady is fighting back. She's rededicated herself to getting even more attention than she's already been getting, if that's humanly possible:

A First Lady Who Demands Substance
Michelle Obama Wants to Be Part of Events That Have Purpose And a Message -- and That Parallel the President's Agenda.

For weeks, Michelle Obama had been telling her staff and closest confidantes that she wasn't having the impact she wanted. She is a woman of substance, with a background in law, public policy and management, who found herself relegated to role model in chief. The West Wing of the White House -- the fulcrum of power and policy -- had not fully integrated her into its agenda. She wanted more.

So, earlier this month, she changed her chief of staff, and now she's changing her role.

Her new chief of staff, Susan Sher, 61, is a close friend and former boss who the first lady thinks will be more forceful about getting her and her team on the West Wing's radar screen. The first thing Sher said she told senior adviser David Axelrod, whom she has known for years: When I call, "you need to get back to me right away."

The former chief of staff, Jackie Norris, 37, was "not on the first lady's wavelength," said one source, echoing others, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. "Susan is more of a peer," a senior White House official said. "I think that's probably a better model."

Although Obama's job-approval ratings have soared, the first lady -- a Harvard-educated lawyer -- wasn't satisfied with coasting. She is hiring a full-time speechwriter and has instructed her staff to think "strategically" so that every event has a purpose and a message. She doesn't want to simply go to events and hug struggling military families, she said; she wants to show progress. "Her desire is to step out more and have deliverables," said communications chief Camille Johnston. "It's about things that are coming up that we want to be a part of: child nutrition reauthorization act, prevention and wellness for health-care reform."

In the past couple of weeks, Obama has been more vocal about the specifics of the president's health plan, and she will play a substantive role in promoting it.

That last part is really interesting. Michelle Obama has been on the front lines of health care in this country. If anybody knows how the system works, she does. Here's just one example:

The White House, Democrats, and MoveOn liberals are spreading health care sob stories to sell a government takeover. But there’s one health care policy nightmare you won’t hear the Obamas hyping. It’s a tale of poor, minority patient-dumping in Chicago — with First Lady Michelle Obama’s fingerprints all over it...

While a top executive at the hospital, Mrs. Obama helped engineer the plan to offload low-income patients with non-urgent health needs. Under the Orwellian banner of an “Urban Health Initiative,” Mrs. Obama sold the scheme to outsource low-income care to other facilities as a way to “dramatically improve health care for thousands of South Side residents.” The program guaranteed “free” shuttle rides to and from the outside clinics.

In truth, it was old-fashioned cost-cutting and favor-trading repackaged as minority aid. Clearing out the poor freed up room for insured (i.e., more lucrative) patients. If a Republican had proposed the very same program and recruited black civic leaders to front it, Michelle Obama and her grievance-mongering friends would be screaming “RAAAAAAAAACISM!” at the top of their lungs.

Joe Stephens of the Washington Post wrote: “To ensure community support, Michelle Obama and others in late 2006 recommended that the hospital hire the firm of David Axelrod, who a few months later became the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Axelrod’s firm recommended an aggressive promotional effort modeled on a political campaign—appoint a campaign manager, conduct focus groups, target messages to specific constituencies, then recruit religious leaders and other third-party ‘validators.’ They, in turn, would write and submit opinion pieces to Chicago publications.”

Some health care experts saw through Mrs. Obama and her public relations man, David Axelrod—yes, the same David Axelrod who is now Mr. Obama’s senior adviser at the White House. The University of Chicago Medical Center hired Axelrod’s public relations firm, ASK Public Strategies, to promote Mrs. Obama’s Urban Health Initiative. Axelrod had the blessing of Chicago political guru Valerie Jarrett – now White House senior adviser...

In February 2009, outrage in the Obamas’ community exploded after a young boy covered by Medicaid was turned away from the University of Chicago Medical Center. Dontae Adams’ mother, Angela, had sought emergency treatment for him after a pit bull tore off his upper lip. Mrs. Obama’s hospital gave the boy a tetanus shot, antibiotics, and Tylenol and shoved him out the door. The mother and son took an hour-long bus ride to another hospital for surgery...

Following the Adams incident, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) blasted Mrs. Obama and Mr. Axelrod’s grand plan. The group released a statement expressing “grave concerns that the University of Chicago’s policy toward emergency patients is dangerously close to ‘patient dumping,’ a practice made illegal by the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act (EMTALA)” – signed by President Reagan, by the way – “and reflected an effort to ‘cherry pick’ wealthy patients over poor.”

So you can see how much she knows about the evils effected by the profit motive in healthcare matters. No wonder she's so committed to the government role her husband thinks will fix everything. Excuse me. No wonder her husband is so committed to the government role Michelle thinks will fix everything. She may not wear pants very much anymore, but chances are she's got the only ones in the Obama family --  if Iran and North Korea are any measure.

She's also got one hell of a big pair of balls. It's no wonder she walks with the spread-legged tick-tock motion of a man with a punishing case of jock itch. Only a goddess could ever sell that particular type of female locomotion as fashionable and sexy.

Thankfully, there are remedies.

P.S. I'm not going to dwell on it here, but tell me there isn't something creepily cold about both the Obamas. Tell me. I might even believe it. Or I'd try anyway.

P.P.S.  Don't even start with me about going all ad-feminam on Michelle Obama. I didn't hear Obama standing up to chastise David Letterman a week or two ago. Or Playboy Magazine's Hate F**k article. Or the media mauling of Carrie Prejean because she shares the president's opinion about gay marriage. Or even Barbara Boxer's vicious bitch tantrum at the general. Our president is equable and civil, but he doesn't give a damn about good manners. And guess what? If the First Lady is planning to be the new Hillary, she better get ready to endure what she and her husband did to Hillary. Besides. Any woman who walks like a damn longshoreman with hemorrhoids is going to be ridiculed privately if not publicly. I'm actually doing her a favor.

Blonde Joke

A Blonde Guy. Dumb as a box of rocks.

BIG HILL TO CLIMB. Turnabout is fair play. Proof:

An Irishman , a Mexican and a Blonde Guy were doing construction work on  scaffolding on the 20th floor of a building. They were eating lunch and the Irishman said, 'Corned beef and cabbage! If I get corned beef and cabbage one more time for lunch, I'm going to jump off this building.

The Mexican opened his lunch box and Exclaimed,' Burritos again! If I get burritos one more time I'm going to jump off, too..'

The blonde opened his lunch and said, 'Bologna again! If I get a bologna sandwich one more time, I'm jumping too.'

The next day, the Irishman opened his lunch box, saw corned beef and cabbage, and jumped to his death.

The Mexican opened his lunch, saw a burrito, and jumped, too.

The blonde guy opened his lunch, saw the bologna and jumped to his death as well.

At the funeral, the Irishman's wife was weeping. She said, 'If I'd known how really tired he was of corned beef and cabbage, I never would have given it to him again!
The Mexican's wife also wept and said, 'I could have given him tacos or enchiladas! I didn't realize he hated burritos so much.'

Everyone turned and stared at the blonde's wife. The blonde's wife said, 'Don't look at me. He makes his own lunch!

Yup. You got it. I'm a blonde too. An old blonde, but the hair is still more yellow than gray. Our curse. And, yes, we really can be that dumb.

World in Shock.

Alive. Unbelievable. I know.

WORLD'S END. Well, there may or may not have been a huge massacre in Tehran today, but who cares? The western nations have conclusively demonstrated their priorities today by reacting en masse to the stunning news from the music industry that Keith Richards is still not dead.

Hopefully, things will calm down enough in the next day or so that other kinds of news might begin to seep through the cracks in the wall of show biz glurge.

Who am I kidding? This is THE story of the decade. What could compete with it? A nuclear launch from North Korea? No. An Israeli attack on Iran's WMD facilities in the midst of a populist revolution? Not a chance. The news that some transvestite child molester died? Hardly. This is the kind of headline that makes Shepard Smith draw breath, man. HOT NEWS. Well, this time he's right.

Go get'em, Keith.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Liveblogging the ABC Spectacular

REMEMBER... Charlie Gibson looks so proud to be there. In the White House. As does everyone else in this utterly spontaneous town hall setting. In the White House.

Right out of the box, first question, the One is going after the rationing argument. His grandmother needed a hip replacement shortly before she died. He doesn't tell us if she got it or if she should have. But he says there's a limit to what we should do. Bye bye, grandma.

Moving smoothly into facts and figures and logical Spock mode. He's so plausible. Especially in this setting. When he talks about the government, people see the Oval Office, not the DMV, the Post Office, and every needlessly expensive government office staffed by the shiftless, uncaring clockpunchers we meet when we try to get a building permit. And Diane and Charlie are acting like emcees at a high-toned parlor game. I hope Mom and Pop America are impressed. I'm already nauseous.

Now we're sorry for all the doctors who owe money for their education. Wow. There's one in the audience. She owes $200,000. How will she ever pay that back? Oh. Obama wants to help her too.

Diane Sawyer is apparently walking point on the rationing argument. Too many tests, she says, too many unnecessary procedures. I'm sure she's opposed to unnecessary procedures. Like her last five facelifts. She's how old now? 35 going on 65? How about letting Obama lift her breasts and tell us if she's qualified for yet another $5,000 boob hike? No? Okay.

Commercial break. LensCrafters. Mr. President, are we still going to be able to get prescription eyeglasses, or do we have to get our specs at Walmart while we wait three years to see an ophthalmologist? Rude? Sorry.

Now we're talking about stakeholders -- doctors, nurses, patients, etc. Like it's all a big happy company. Here it comes. The public option. We can absolutely keep our current healthcare insurance. But it will be like a big marketplace. If we need to, we can go to the government for insurance. It's just competition. Like the way baseball would be if the Commissioner were a multibillionaire and had his own baseball team. He could rewrite all the rules of the game, game by game, and declare any player ineligible if, say, they were about to play his team. You know, competition. In a marketplace.

Sob stories now. Various cancers and other catastrophes that couldn't be afforded.

A lady asks if there's just going to be an age cutoff. Her mother needs an expensive pacemaker or doesn't. Who knows? Obama responds with charm, a joke. This is beginning to seem like a pattern. He makes a joke when the news is bad. "These are very difficult decisions. I don't want bureaucrats to make these decisions, but these decisions are being made already..." Shit out of luck, lady. Talking on and on... more and more tests, maybe better to forego the tests and take the painkiller... Thanks so much, Mr. O. Well, cool. The lady seems more upset by the cost of her mother's illness than the chance at prolonged life. Score one for universal healthcare.

Commercial. Yoplait. Yogurt will fix everything wrong with us. Ford! Are they still in business? Sure. Just like our private health insurers are. Isn't government-managed capitalism wonderful?

Gibson raises the cost issue. A questioner raises the Big Brother issue. Obama's glad he asked the question. He explains how insurers can make less profit and still keep Obama perfectly happy. Great. You see, the important thing is getting the overall cost curve going down. (Big Brother who?) Yes, we're going to talk about cost magic now. The government knows much much better how to spend the dollars that are available -- like on doctor education and, you know, stuff like that. Another joke. Something about eliminating paperwork and bureaucracy. Which the government always does, right? BIG SAVINGS ACROSS THE SYSTEM, INCLUDING IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR. Got it?

Commercial. A promo for the upcoming Farrah Fawcett death on reality TV. How perfect. This townhall bears about as much relation to real life as "the Bachelor" bears to ordinary courtship. Reality TV. Thanks for the reminder.

A woman asking about cost now. She's quoting figures, including CBO numbers. She's bound to lose on this. Obama laughs. It's complicated. It's not easy. The economy is bad. But the answer is that, uh, Americans always rise to a challenge when therre's a challenge. But we're going to need courage and cooperation. If we keep our eyes on the prize, we're going to, uh, DO it. Somehow. See? Feel better? Take two aspirintylenol and call Obama in the morning.

ANOTHER commercial break. An ad for the Post Office. Ha ha. They're just screwing with us now.

But they're going to keep going for another half hour -- after the local news. Because the government can never do anything in the time allotted.

Time to recap. Have they dealt with any of the serious issues at a level beyond banal generalities? No. Has Obama taken back any of his blatant misrepresentations and outright lies about cost and what the public option will really do to private insurance plans? No. Has he said anything to alleviate the legitimate fear that care will be rationed and even denied to those who do not fit prescribed demographic profiles? No.

But Charlie and Diane are tickled to death with how well it's all gone. Nobody threw up on the White House carpet, and Obama didn't have to deal with anything as hostile as Major Garrett's crude question at yesterday's press conference. BIG sigh of relief there.

On the whole, "Infomercial" was absolutely the right description of what happened here tonight. The only thing missing was the tiny print disclaimers informing us that the testimonials are being delivered by paid actors and the network on which the program appears is in no way responsible for its content, accuracy, or truthfulness. And nobody offered to give us two national healthcare plans if we send our $19.95 in today. Understandable, I suppose. The  $4 trillion shipping and handling charge might have wiped the smile off Charlie's face and put a crease in Diane's forehead. Just kidding. She's had way too much botox to get a crease in her forehead. It's called preventive medicine.

I'm not going to watch the extra half hour that slops over into the Nightline slot. Why? I don't think too many people will. Even in today's tough economy, most Americans have jobs they have to get up for in the morning. And even if they tried to stay up to watch it, I think they'd fail. Unless Diane does the final half hour topless, there's just no way anyone will be able to stay awake through more of this empty, phony bullshit.

Night all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Digital Dinosaurs

The rabbit died. What rough beast is being born?

THE MSM FOLLIES. Another apples and oranges post, though not really of course. Among the other world-crushing events Drudge was headlining today came this ominous bit of data about network news broadcasts:

New All-Time Lows for Both CBS & ABC Evening Newscasts

Breaking: TVNewser has learned the CBS Evening News has once again set an all-time low last week with 4.89 million Total Viewers and 1.42 million A25-54 viewers. But it was also the lowest (since records began in the 1991-'92 season) for ABC's World News with Charles Gibson. The Gibson program drew 6.42 million Total Viewers and 1.77 million A25-54 viewers.

Both CBS's Katie Couric and ABC's Charlie Gibson were off last week....

Insiders tell us at least one network is looking into the continued impact of the digital TV transition which occurred June 12...

NBC averaged 7.75m Total Viewers Mon-Wed but on Thursday and Friday gave their program a different Nielsen code -- "Nitely News." (The correct spelling is "Nightly News"). This is despite the fact that the network had regular coverage on those days. We're trying to determine if the U.S. Open Golf Championship had something to do with the coding change. Had Thursday and Friday been included, the average would have been lower. On Friday "Nightly" averaged 6.29m Total Viewers. [boldface added]
You might also ask whether the U.S. Open had something to do with the ratings of all three senile sisters in the world of withered crone TV newsreading. Golf is the ultimate old person's sport. It's good for the blood pressure to contemplate all those serenely long fairways and manicured greens. (That Tiger can be a bumptious fellow with his fist pumps and such, but you absolutely cannot fault his manners... Oh? Is the news on now? Well, that last bit was so exciting I think maybe it would be wise to pass up the news altogether and go to bed...)

Sorry if I sound petty, but just how much of a coincidence is it that these ratings 'anomalies' are occurring just when the nation's most aged and out-of-it TV viewers are struggling -- and failing -- to accomplish the hyper-ballyhooed transition from analog antennas to digital reception? Who didn't get sick of the endless, pointless ads on their cable TV services about getting ready for the end of rabbit ears when just having cable meant you had no problem? Who isn't shocked by the fact that it still appears to be a crisis for Henry A. Wallace groupies? Even supposedly technically literate greybeards are apparently at sea.

Tech Q and A: I Am Shocked, Simply Shocked!

Judging by the number of entries in the old inbox this week, it appears we weren't as ready for the DTV conversion as I opined two weeks ago...

Q: On Thursday I was able to receive Channels 3, 5, 8 and 19 with my antenna and analog television. Since hooking up a converter box, I am unable to receive digital signals for any of these stations.

The digital signal is too weak to reach my area in central Tuscarawas County. I cannot get any of the major networks and I'm only a few miles south of New Philadelphia, Ohio.

Why aren't people being told that they may not be able to watch stations they've viewed for 50 years?

A: If it was your project, and your career on was the line, would you be telling people it was going to turn out badly?

Sorry to sound cynical. I think that one of the factors in this whole conversion was the assumption that if current coverage could be replicated, things would be all right.

In other words, the analog system allowed for signal degradation for 10 percent of the time in 50 percent of the households. It was assumed that this would still be acceptable for digital TV.

The difference, however, is that when analog TV is "degraded," it gets a little snowy, but you can still see a picture. You don't lose reception.

With a digital TV, pixelization occurs, audio is lost and the programming becomes unwatchable. [boldface added]

50 years? Isn't that enough time to save up for a new TV? I think the real degradation in TV network news ratings is attributable to the the 65 to 95 demographic at which their advertisements -- Depends, Polident, miracle Alzheimers curesplacebos, Robert Wagner's reverse mortgage scam, and $45,000 Scooter Chairs (free with the help of our Medicaid Fraud Department) -- are aimed. Ratings may yet revive for a while when the federal government finally gets around to installing its free digital converter boxes (2012?) for the old and not too anciently dead who are still registered to vote Democratic, but the trends are not good. Hated Fox News is hammering CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, and CNBC every night:

P2 [Viewers older than 2]  Prime Time
FNC – 2,716,000 viewers
CNN—577,000 viewers
MSNBC – 996,000 viewers
CNBC – 118,000 viewers
HLN – 608,000 viewers

25-54 Prime Time
FNC – 681,000 viewers
CNN – 165,000 viewers
MSNBC –350,000 viewers
CNBC – 46,000 viewers
HLN – 196,000 viewers

35-64 Prime Time
FNC – 1,165,000 viewers
CNN – 220,000 viewers
MSNBC –500,000 viewers
CNBC – 66,000 viewers
HLN –265,000 viewers

Even MSNBC's post-modern lefty twit(ter) maniac Olbermann is getting killed by Fox News's curmudegeonly old coot O'Reilly in Total Viewers and the solid gold 25-54 demographic. Get a load of these numbers, which are actually competing from the cable news swamp with the network biggies who can still rely on their tie-ins to Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, NCIS and CSI, etc.

8PM – P2+ (25-54) (35-64)
O’Reilly Factor Classic —3,246,000 viewers (762,000) (1,357,000)
CNN Money Summit—418,000 viewers (111,000) (131,000)
Countdown with K. Olbermann – 1,201,000 viewers (414,000) (619,000)
CNBC Reports- 116,000 viewers (44,000) (61,000)
Nancy Grace – 859,000 viewers (288,000) (391,000)

The truth is that lefty viewers under the age of 80 are actually getting their news from Jon Stewart's Daily Show and the Colbert Report, which admittedly are to television journalism what the New York Times has become to newspaper journalism, but real lefties don't actually care about 'journalism' anymore. Witness these three funny but contemptuous takedowns by the Daily Show of its political and ideological progenitors, the New York Times, NBC, and CNN:

What was the Times thinking? That they'd be treated as reverently as they treat the corpses who host 60 Minutes? Maybe their rabbit ears were bringing in a signal too degraded to recognize as scornful and dismissive?

Yeah. I've even heard conservatives in years past -- including Limbaugh if I'm not mistaken -- express a certain fondness for Brian Williams. Never felt it. My sense was always that he was NBC's answer to the bone structure of clothes horse Peter Jennings. Beautifully tanned and supercilious pretty boys, the pair of them, and nothing more. But people tell me I'm harsh and simplistic. Although they're never willing to go toe to toe with me on the subtleties of my harsh, simple judgments. Perhaps the scriver is a more difficult vocation than they're willing to admit.

Oedipus slew his father and married his mother. In these vids, Jon Stewart has just done the same and upped the ante by cutting his grandfather's throat too. Pity he exhibits none of the anguish of Ernest Jones's Hamlet. He's just button-busting proud of himself. Like all permanent fourteen year olds. They're responsible for all the ideas he takes for granted and doesn't need to think about. He's inherited their certainty and boldly proclaims his youthful superiority. But there's nothing young about him. His political postulates are thick with age and weighted with many generations of repeated failure. His only innovation is to dispense with facts altogether and go all in with attitude and assumptive, unexamined 'wisdom.' Jon Stewart is Daniel Schorr juiced on YouTube and Twitter. An old old man pimped out for a final fling like Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice.

Zbigniew has a zbig zbrain.

Which brings me to the "apples and oranges" part of the discussion. Iran. Over the weekend, I saw Fareed Zakaria's CNN show called GPS. His first guest was Zbigniew Brezinski, who's only 104 now and stuffed with insight into the best way to deal with the Islamic Revolution he and his president, Jimmy Carter, ushered into being in the late 1970s.  He noted that there was a generational difference at the heart of the conflict. He said.... well, here's a good summary from someone who was able to watch him without being reminded of the villain in "The Mummy":
Zbig also interestingly brought up the infamous neocons: "And there are those who are supporting the regime, who in many respects are like our neocons -- very similar to our neocons."

Zbig believes that Obama so far has been handling the crisis correctly, and again mentioned the neocons: "he has struck absolutely the right note... He's identifying himself morally, historically with what is happening in Iran. But he's not engaging himself politically. He's not interfering, because that... could be exploited by the neocons in Iran to crush the revolution, to wipe it out."

Referring to those who are criticizing Obama for not being tougher, "One of the paradoxes here domestically is that many of the people who call for the most energetic involvement by Obama in the process, they simply would prefer to have an American-Iranian showdown.

"Whereas, in fact, if there is a change of regime in Iran, there's a greater chance of accommodation."

Looking down the road, Zbig adds, "...once we no longer have a Manichean, black-and-white, good-and-evil type of a regime confronting us in a hostile fashion, it will be easier to deal with the specific problems that we confront."

You see, in Brezinski's model of the conflict, the youthful protesters in Iran are like himself, Jimmy Carter, and the other desiccated retro lefties who are convinced they could negotiate with Satan himself to put an end to evil, whereas the "neocons" who long documented and militarily opposed the evil that is now slaying innocents and aspirants for liberty in the streets of Teheran are absolutely indistinguishable from the Ahmadinejads of this world. The term "Manichean" is to him not only colorless, it's also not even black and white. To identify evil as evil is as fundamental an error as to identify good as good. Liberalism, virtue, wisdom consist of immersing one's self forever in the grays of constant negotiations that never seek victory and never concede the defeat that flows inevitably from reasoning with unrepentant, determined evil.

Let's back up a minute. Youth, age, right, wrong, atrocity, principle, all these are merely pieces on the great chessboard of realpolitik that makes Brezinski's preferred foreign policy queen the voice of "hope and change" for the coming generation. He is prepared to negotiate with Ahmadinejad no matter what that monster does to the Nedas of this world. Because Brezinski is a wise liberal. Like Obama.

To put it even more simply, Brezinski depicts the "manichean" view of neocons as "old" and his own bitterly cynical and corrupt accommodation with obvious evil as "young." Are you listening, Jon Stewart? This cold-hearted zombie intellectual is supporting the policy of a president you worked your ass off to elect because you thought he cared about the little people so much that he would defy the power structures that treat little people as dispensable pawns. Now your messiah president is content to sweep the pawns off the board to pursue a negotiation strategy that has never worked. Mercy, humanity, and peace have never been arguments accorded a moment's notice by Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinejad, or Yassir Arafat. You can't talk psychopathic killers out of killing.  The determination to hold talks with such people, including Castro, Chavez, and other tyrants, can't help but call into question the mentality that yearns for it so. Why does Obama seem to prefer such company to western leaders like Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, and Sarkozy, whom he consistently insults? Are despots and self-proclaimed messiahs the real blood brothers of government? Is no one even allowed to ask such questions?

Which is the question that completes the circle. Obama seems to have a particular hard-on about Fox News. While the rest of the media adores him, Fox News does a so-so job of trying to ask journalistic hard questions. To a lot of us, they seem far too much on board with hope and change, too, but if you want to dig deeper, look at what the critics are saying:

"I've got one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration," Obama told John Harwood, who had asked him how he felt about coverage of his administration. "That's a pretty big megaphone. You'd be hard-pressed if you watched the entire day to find a positive story about me on that front."

Fox News (which Obama pettishly declined to name) is indeed a big megaphone -- big and getting bigger. And that's no accident. As I've written before, Fox is big because it speaks to an audience that doesn't feel its concerns represented elsewhere on TV (and, yes, because Roger Ailes is a pro at producing slick, loud, button-pressing programming in general). For Obama to turn his back on that audience because he doesn't feel like he gets a fair shake from Fox would be a mistake. He all but acknowledged that himself during the campaign, when he finally granted an interview to Bill O'Reilly after being hounded for months.

That's not to say Obama has no grounds for complaint. Anyone who watches Fox for a few minutes can tell that its default attitude towards him is skepticism. [boldface added]

Skepticism is "grounds for complaint"? By the president of the United States of America? Under what definition of freedom of the press is "skepticism" an acceptable basis for condemnation by the president of the United States? I thought that was the undisputed mission of the press. To keep the powerful honest by asking wave upon wave of relentlessly skeptical querstions. Not any more? Since when? Rhetorical question. Since about 2 pm on Inauguration Day, 2009.

There's a reckoning coming. Somewhat like the reckoning underway in Iran. With just as uncertain an outcome. You want a metaphor? The traditonal mainstream media are the elders of the Iranian Islamic Revolution -- the Guardian Council, the Revolutionary Guard, and in the case of Obama, the "Supreme Leader." The lefty blogosphere and the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are the Basij, the unofficial assassins beholden to no standard of decency as they enforce the morality of the ruling ideology. (Shoot the infidel woman in the heart and deny it afterwards: she's just a whore from AlaskaTehran.)

Most of it is an exercise in cultist insanity. But note how much the pundit observers agree on one key truth that keeps eluding western sympathizers. Even the young ones aren't rising up against the idea of a revolutionary Islamic Republic. They just disagree about what the correct definition of that is. In our terms, they're not "manichean neocons," none of them. They're all true believers. It's just that what they truly believe varies, depending on their education, sex, internet friends, and material aspirations. Their "Supreme Leader" is their particular vision of Obama. They don't want to be us. They don't want to be without a Supreme Leader. They just want him to cut them a break.

And neither do American leftists. All of them have bought into the Supreme Leader concept too. They yearn for the Obemessiah Republic. The old ones who still hang on the yellowing words of CBS, ABC, and NBC network news are thinking of Obama as FDR, the Supreme Leader they remember from World War II, if not from his eight feckless years of economic failure before that. The younger crowd have an even hazier idea of who the "Supreme Leader" might be, an uneducated half-awareness of a time when, if you haven't read enough books, it's possible to believe that a man on horseback could kiss every boo-boo in your personal life and make it better without you ever having to suck it up and do something on your own.

It's a generational thing. As all the Iran pundits keep saying. One difference. Even the opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran acknowledge that the 70 percent of Iranians who are under 30 are literate. They have the capacity to learn. The 40 percent of Americans who are under 30 are not literate. Not even close. Of course, their parents and grandparents (uh, that would be the network news anchors) don't have a clue about that, which partially explains their blind imbecility as well as the certainty that their entire form of news delivery will die within a decade.

The prospects are bleak. For Iran. And for the United States. The only hope for Iran is that the youngsters realize their religion is fundamentally incompatible with anything that could be called freedom. Won't happen. The only hope for America is that the youngsters will remember that rebellion against parents is far less important than rebellion against the infinitely greater powers of government, which eat out your heart even as they stunt your talents. Just sitting there gets too easy. Won't happen.

Unless. Unless the native instinct for rebellion among young people subliminally alerts them to the fact that slavish adoration of Obama in the condescendingly elitist mainstream media is a red flag to be reacted against. If the ancient assholes are for it, there has to be something wrong with it.

But all the anchors and newspapers are certain to die before the kids absorb that lesson. Which means we're all pretty much f***ed.


Monday, June 22, 2009

A Modest Experiment

You're still allowed to install a swivelling camera in your own yard.

NOT ALL MONSTERS ARE MONSTERS. Followers of this blog will know that we've shown photographs of the CP yard before, frequently to highlight dogs, hummingbirds, goldfinches, and turkeys. (Still working on photos of groundhogs, red-tailed hawks, and deer. They're here but you've got to get lucky.) So you may know the basic layout.

Well. We got a wild hare of an idea. It happens when you live out in the country. And we've seen that show Monster Hunters too many times probably, where they try to snap night vision photos of Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, and the Loch Ness Monster. It never works, of course. After days of trudging through the wild, they strap the camera to the tree and wait for the proof they can't get any other way. Nada. Then they go back home determined to persevere. It's always good for a laugh.

Which is why we thought it would be fun to set a "camera trap" for President Obama. Yes, most of you think he's a normal human being who just happens to be on TV every single minute of every single day, whereas most presidents would be spending at least a few hours a week closeted with expert people prepping them for decisions they shouldn't toss off the top of their heads as instant revelations. But that's not how the Monster Hunters would think of it. They'd imagine him as a paranormal being with an uncanny knack for always being where a camera was turned on, like some kind of Marshall McLuhan version of Santa Claus, always everywhere at the same time.

So why not test it? Like the Monster Hunters. When the test flopped, we could over-dub it with suspenseful music and other effects to make it seem like we'd been close even though we never were. Cool. So we installed a night vision camera right here in CountryPunk's familiar back yard and turned it on one day last week, right after the TV correspondents' dinner. The night vision was eerie and cool.

I mean, this was the middle of a moonless night. COOL. Here's how it looked through the Night Vision viewfinder:

That's how dark it was. But then we saw this.

Which turned out to be this. You tell us what it means. And how come the Monster Hunters have never had this kind of luck?

You think this is weird looking? You should've been there. He asked us for our help.

So. If you're wondering about the ice cream photo, don't. He can't help it. Wherever there's a camera, he has to be there. It doesn't mean he wasn't also simultaneously at the White House being photographed playing with his kids and the dog, squiring Michelle to her semi-nude Vogue photoshoot, reacting with authentic horror to the bloody murder of Neda in Iran, and praying in the White House Chapel with tears running down his cheeks for the thirteen or fourteen Jewish victims of the holocaust. He was doing all those things, with as much evident emotion as he evinced sucking down that ice cream cone. Because cameras were there. Take it from us. We have scientific proof. His empathy is peripatetic.

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