Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
October 18, 2009 - October 11, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Pinball

TGIF-I-TUDINOUS-NESS. I've got a couple of real posts I'm working on, which I may get to even today if time is kind, but a lot of what I do is lurch around the internet looking for things that take my fancy or provoke my ire. Internet lurching doesn't always produce ideas that go anywhere, but sometimes it's like being in a pinball machine -- you bump against something and there's a jingling accompanied by a light flash -- and then you bounce off in some unexpected direction. It can be fun even when the end result is disappearing into the black hole between your own incompetent flippers. You win when there's that distinct CHUNK of a free game sound, and then you know there's a post you want to write.

Here's a bit of pinball that just didn't do that. Some flipper action, maybe, but not enough points scored to jazz the adrenalin.

I'll give you one example, but after that it'll be mostly as random as it mostly is.

I came across this fascinating NYT piece about the Large Hadron Collider. The one that's searching for the elusive Higgs particle, which some people have colorfully nicknamed the 'God Particle.' But the multi-billion-dollar project has had its problems. So much so that when it restarts:

[I]t will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science...  the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.

Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, put this idea forward in a series of papers with titles like “Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal” and “Search for Future Influence From LHC”...

“It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”

This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”

After a few irrelevant jingle-flashes, I hit the flippers and banged into this, an article by Richard Dawkins called, "God Among Atheists," presumably explaining why the idea of divinity is antithetical or entirely inferior to all the accomplishments of Oxbridge science. Then, I admit, I didn't read it. Not a word. I may go back, but I just didn't feel like it at the time. The man makes my skin crawl, and so the steel ball rocketed straight between my dilatory flippers into the void, the one in which, I suppose, the great man created his own random universe. Personal laziness on my part? Possibly. By all means check out his argument and flip it back into my ken if you think I should flipper it. I just never heard the CHUNK I was listening for...

Maybe the intervening jingle-flashes had something to do with my mood. I got caught in one of those rat-a-tat scoring stretches with some Jonah Goldberg posts about defending against worldwide zombie attacks, which I recommend to you sci-fi critters in the audience, before the ball tumbled into one of those perfect black holes pinball machines have, in which you're rewarded for basically being stuck in place with no control over when you'll be suddenly popped back into the game. Jonah's fiendish trap was one of the simplest and most addictive shooting games I've ever come across.

It's here. I got to Level 4 before something intervened -- the phone or a FedEx delivery -- and disgorged me into motion.

A lot of the slamming around is pointless because it sends you careening into the same bumpers everyone else has unquestionably collided with today. I know some of you tell me I shouldn't take it for granted that you've also encountered what seems over-hyped to me, but I don't think you come here for what so many other sites exist to copy, repeat, and try to take ownership of with a single lame remark or caption. But, like everyone else, I do bumper into them:

Jingle-flash. Nobel Peace Prize Rap:

Jingle-flash. Black-on-black racism in re the Limbaugh slanders:

Jingle-flash. Balloon boy and the torrent of accusations against his father, who is actually skeptical of the theory that Hillary Clinton is a reptilian alien:

Oh, but flip-flip to a pointless cul de sac of more YouTube evidence. I never knew she was a reptilian. Never even knew that reptilian shape-shifters were a proven fact:

Jingle-flash. How can one believe anything anymore? Now they're saying that Harry Reid has actually admitted government healthcare will cost $2 trillion.

Gotta be nonsense. Kind of like these reptilian lies:

Democrats understand how dangerous the [Price-Waterhouse-Coopers] study is to their effort to pass a health-care bill because it exposes a crucial and irrefutable flaw in the health-care plan approved this week by the Senate Finance Committee.

And what is that flaw? In short, the plan sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus would almost certainly lead to a death spiral in many private health insurance markets.

Insurance death spirals occur when regulators force insurers to offer coverage (“guaranteed issue”) at premiums below the known risk of those they are insuring, without any assurance that the shortfall can be made up elsewhere. When insurers comply with these rules and offer relatively low cost health insurance policies to all comers, quite predictably, many sick people step forward to sign up. When the insurers then try to turn around and charge higher premiums to the relatively healthy to cover their costs, the healthy, also quite predictably, are more reluctant to enroll because they can see the premiums they would have to pay would very likely exceed their health-care costs. So they often say "no thanks" to the insurance and decide to take their chances by going without coverage instead. As more and more healthy people exit the marketplace, insurers are then forced to raise premiums for everyone who remains, which only further encourages the lower risks to opt out. This vicious cycle of rising premiums and an increasingly unhealthy risk pool is called a ‘death spiral’ because it eventually forces the insurer to terminate the plan.

This is not a hypothetical, textbook scenario of what might happen to a poorly run insurance market. It has happened before — many times and in many places. See, for instance, the experience in Kentucky, and in Washington state, and in Maine too. There’s no reason it couldn’t happen nationwide.

People like this are evil, dangerous, or dreaming dangerously evil dreams.

No way to tell if he's reptilian or the Higg's particle...

FLIP. But there might be a way to tell some truth about the nature of the empathy contemporary rational-atheists have for the people whose lives they feel so well equipped to guide and govern. I skipped by an anecdotal post that seemed interesting in passing but not necessarily significant until I caromed off this brief observation at NRO:

Are You Good to Your Maid?

Wanted to share a note that made me smile — maybe it will you, too. A reader wrote in response to an item I have in today’s Impromptus about personal wealth and personal politics. He said, “Fifty-five years ago, my New Deal dad said of some of his friends, ‘I never knew a Communist who was good to his maid.’” 

Perfect. And it reminded me of an old line, which I learned — and learned the truth of — long ago: “A Marxist is someone who loves humanity in groups of 1 million or more.”

The post was by Jay Nordlinger, who, in addition to Jonah Goldberg, has become my favorite National Review writer. (They're complementary opposites if you care. Goldberg is an erudite South Park Republican, as in love with sci-fi as the youngsters here; Nordlinger is truly learned in music and language, but with a mischievous sense of humor that eliminates any possibility of pomposity.) Look for Nordlinger's regular column Impromptus and you'll see what I mean.


FLIP back to the anecdotal post I hadn't dwelt on before. It's about the recollections of Secret Service agents who served presidents from JFK to the present. These excerpts suddenly seemed significant:

[T]he president subject to the greatest scorn is Jimmy Carter.

Carter is portrayed as a phony according to the agents interviewed by Kessler. Carter would put on a show for the public to convey himself as a common man, but it was never anymore than an act. For instance, we are told that when Carter would make a point of carrying his own luggage in front of the press, he was really carrying empty bags. He expected others to carry his real luggage. Unfriendly, Carter “didn’t want the police officers and agents looking at him or speaking to him when he went to the [Oval] office,” explained an assistant White House usher. “The only time I saw a smile on Carter’s face was when the cameras were going,” one former agent told Kessler.

After his presidency, Kessler reports that when Carter would stay at a townhouse maintained for former presidents in D.C., he would take down pictures of other presidents and put up more pictures of himself! “The Carters were the biggest liars in the world,” one agent told Kessler of the Carter era.

Carter, not surprisingly, denied to Kessler through a lawyer many of the allegations in the book.

The man who sent Carter packing from the White House could not have been more different according to accounts from agents. Ronald Reagan would constantly interact with his secret service agents and other staffers who worked for him. He was apologetic when he would take secret service agents away from their families on holidays. While Carter would make secret service agents pay for any leftover food they consumed after White House parties, we are told Reagan would insist the secret service eat leftover food (without charge, of course)...

Vice President Al Gore was exceedingly obnoxious to his agents according to Kessler. When scolding his son for not doing well in school, Gore chastised him by warning that “if you don’t straighten up, you won’t get into the right schools, and if you don’t get into the right schools you could end up like these guys.” The “guys” Gore was referring to were his secret service agents!

Still no CHUNK, though. It's all exactly as I would have guessed, including the kindness and consideration of Bushes 41 and 43. Exception? The Obama part:

While many conservatives may bristle at the domestic and foreign policies of current President Barack Obama, judged by the way he treats his secret service agents it is fair to conclude that Obama is personally a decent man. One agent who protected Obama on the campaign trail says that Obama twice invited agents to dinner at his home.

Kudos to him. Which, on a cold Friday in October, is as as close to hope as I can get today. Unless he's really a canny reptilian, I think it's a very good sign. Best news I've had in nine months. But vague, unsubstantiated hope is hardly the basis for an illuminating post...



YOU tally my final score.

UPDATE. Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer gets the satisfying CHUNK of a Free Game. Well earned. If you've wasted any time reading the post above, please expiate your sin by reading this. Even if it makes you feel like more of a pinball yourself. Which was the main point here anyway. YEAH, that's the ticket. The post was actually ALLEGORICAL-like. Or so.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Billy Refines the Obvious

Sherlock Holmes and his more 'intellectual' brother Mycroft.

THE IP ADVANTAGE. It's great when readers get fired up enough to post an essay in the Comments section. Billy Oblivion took exception to my post about "Proving the Obvious." Here's what he had to say. (The indented sections in quotes are citations from the original post.)

And now for YOU, Mr. LocoPunk.

For some reason Mr. InstaPunk gots the idea in his skull that I am somehow anti-intellectual. Fuck, man, I gots me a Fine Art Degree. From a Private School. And before that I studied Poetry and Philosophy. I *IS* an intellectual, and more'n that I'm a CERTIFIED Intellectual. A Credentialed Intellectual. Fer sur, I'm a Midwestern Gun Loving Religion Respectin' Intellectual, but that ain't no cause to be slaggin' off on bein a thinkin' man.


"The big news. You pick the world you live in. And after you've picked, it's very difficult to see the worlds other people live in, even if most people are living in a world vastly different from your own."

Most people *do not* pick the world they live in, they don't pick their perspective. They either take the one that their youth defines, or one that is useful to them in early adulthood (aka "college" these days). You could argue that accepting this default is still a choice, and I could not bring a strong argument to bear other than "pick" is active, and most people are not at all active in their selection.

This was, in part, the goal of a (true) Liberal Education, the understanding and learning that there are multiple perspectives, and many of them are "right" for the questions they seek to answer. Most however are myopic and delusional and only answer the question "how is it not my fault".

I would also strongly argue your definition of "liberals" (I do NOT think that we should surrender this word to the Progressives. I think we need to take it back) and "Conservatives". A true conservative (Burke) isn't really all that concerned about the hows and whys of the market or how people develop perspectives. That contemporary "conservatives" do suggests that they are much more Smith/Locke influenced liberals who desire to nail down the status quo in a time of relative freedom from state interference.

Conservatives are inherently reactionary--we tend to view society as a complex thing that needs care and a thing which cannot be safely changed rapidly. We tend to have a preference for the status quo, or for the past. We tend to view "new" with a bit of concern. Contemporary Conservatives (other than those who make their living off the government and even then some) tend to believe that Government is problematic almost to the point of illegitimacy, thus, other than evangelicals, we don't WANT to force our worldview (aka "perspective") on others, other than our children.

What some of us do develop--intentionally in some cases, is the ability to use a non-default perspective. This can be useful for analytical purposes.

"CONSERVATIVES DON'T NEED TO BE INTELLECTUAL GIANTS. They just have to know that the liberals are obviously, utterly, unbelievably wrong about key points. Namely, that the government has ever been efficient about anything that isn't cost-no-object and related to national security."

Yes we do need them. Because Conservatism is NOT an ideology, it does not do battle with Liberalism, with Progressivism and its various splinter factions (fascism/corporatism, socialism/communism, communitarianism etc.) or with other big 'isms.' Much of what is ascribed to "Conservative" ideals would cause Edmund Burke to choke.

We need Intellectual Giants to continually go forth and pick apart the idiocy of left in ways that the pseudo-intelligentsia understand. We need someone who can turn their obfuscation against them, call them on their abuse of language (such as assuming the mantle of liberalism) (watch for an upcoming metalkort rant).

We have solved most of the simple and easy problems in the world. We *can* feed the world, no one goes to bed starving because of crop failures. Most of the "modern" world finds female circumcision and chattel slavery to be abhorent, and there are movments in the developing world along these lines.

Now we're on to the hard stuff, the stuff of deep complexity that can further the Enlightenment or destroy it.

Reconciling Christianity and Science, a process that has been going on since Copernicus, needs continual upgrading. Someone has to get in Dick Dawkins's face from time to time and let him have it.

Progressives, who are "our" main intellectual opponents (the militant Mohammedans are also opponents, but theirs is not an opposition that can be beaten intellectually except in their influence on Progressives and the more deluded Liberals) will not give up. They fundamentally disbelieve everything we believe in.

The problem is that MOST people, even those who claim to be conservatives, aren't conservatives. They are reactionaries only, without grounding principles or guiding philosophies, they simply want tomorrow to be like today.

Conservatism DOES require some intellectual capacity, and most people just don't want to devote what capacity they have to politics and social matters. They want do Fantasy Baseball, or go to the range and talk guns and hunting and dogs. Or old cars, or new cars, or whatever they enjoy.

And this is fine and proper if you don't vote. If you do vote, you need to at least bring some of whatever intellect you have left to bear for a couple weeks before the election; then you can stick your head back in the sand and let the rest of us cover you.

But we need the Intellectual Giants, or at least those [who are] intellectual strong and combative because the world doesn't break down more-or-less-evenly between the Progressives and the Conservatives. Especially since Progressivism is an ideology and Conservatism isn't. We need to do battle with those twits because there is a vast and mushy middle ground of people who can be swayed one way or the other, who CAN be swayed by arguments like, "The world has gotten too complex" and "The World Is Getting Warmer."

The first argument is true--the world HAS gotten more complex, but that is NOT an argument for more government, but an argument for LESS government. Government, ultimately, forces a one-size-fits-all solution on us. Maybe they'll be nice and give us 4 or 10 sizes. But it will NEVER fit right, and if you're a narrow or a wide your feet will ALWAYS hurt.

To put this in the context of WAAN's post [see Comments on original post], in a Conservative World if you want to get married, you marry a Person of the OPPOSITE sex. What you do in the bedroom, or the living room, or the spa is up to you, as long as everyone is a consenting adult. Don't do it where you can scare the horses and we don't really give a shit. And don't do it to those too young to give informed consent lest we kill you.

In the Progressive World, once the Experts decide that your lifestyle is unhealthy, they're going to come into your bedroom, living room, that little play room in the basement with the paddles and the whips and the lifelike silicon toys and MAKE you behave responsibly. No more riding bareback and bug hunting for YOU. Water sports? As a Conservative I just don't want to know. No, seriously -- LALALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU. But as soon as the Experts decide it's dangerous it's OVER.

It wasn't conservatives that banned smoking in rental buildings in Belmont, California. It wasn't Conservatives that banned transfats (although they are a bad idea). It may be Conservatives (at least nominally) that often seek to ban or shut down sex stores, but we're not perfect.

Anyway, yes we all SHOULD tell them, "Get off my lawn," but sometimes you need to bring a little more to the fight.

I don't disagree with most of this. His characterization of InstaPunk's opinion of him is flat wrong, however. (Look through the site comments -- I'm too busy to do it for you -- to find the one sometime back in which IP outed him as a smart and well educated man who should drop the "aw shucks" routine he's using again here...) The rest of it I'll buy with a few nitpicks regarding what I was saying and why.

I said, "Conservatives don't need to be intellectual giants." They don't. The elite conservative braintrust, though, is arguing either that they ought to be intellectuals or at least content to let the intellectuals make all the big political decisions for them. I'm saying that in most cases, and all the really big cases, the obvious answers are the right ones. Hideously complicated solutions mostly don't work, and government solutions are usually hideously complicated products of committee compromises rather than common sense. In this context, I think Billy overstates the rigidity and ignorance of what he seems to deride as a 'reactionary' mindset. For example, even so-called reactionaries can accept change that's designed to correct a clear wrong they can understand in terms of fundamental human decency. The eventual peaceful success of the civil rights movement proves that. At the same time, they're a natural and useful brake on all kinds of change for the sake of change. Change that really is necessary will make itself known through, uh, necessity.

I have no problem whatever with the kind of intellectual combat Billy describes as valuable and important. Otherwise, InstaPunk itself wouldn't exist. We wouldn't contend with Dawkins's excesses the way we do or seek to delineate the anti-liberal roots of the newest breed of progressives. But the most important role of  "conservative intellectuals" is not to lecture the base about their inadequacies or "bring them up to speed" on what all the smart people are thinking and talking about now. It's to say, "Trust your instincts, the arrogant others are not unchallengeably right because they say they are, and if you're that tuned in and vitally interested, we can give you additional ammunition, maybe even some interesting new ideas to think about."

There's also a bottom line point that needs to be made here. 'Intellectual' is not a synonym for 'smart.' Conservatives do need to be smart, alert, and vigilant. They just don't need to know who Edmund Burke was. Yeah, he's historically important and educational and all, but I don't really need to be conversant with Burke to know that the current healthcare bill is a clusterfuck of staggeringly sinister proportions.

As I said, intellectual is not a synonym for smart. But the conservative elites are, disingenuously or not, suggesting that it is. That's the basis of their attacks on Sarah Palin. She didn't go to one of the elite schools so she's obviously not qualified to run for high office. And it's not true that we have to accept gigantic federal impositions on our lives because all the momentum has been in that direction for close to a century. That's the nature of the bullying this post was intended to deter. But we're also on record here as saying that Palin is not presently qualified to run for high office because she needs to learn a great deal more about the issues and the way the country and the world work. But there's no reason she can't learn it just because her formal education probably didn't include all the names Billy drops in his rebuttal. And if she can learn it (still in doubt), there's every chance she'd make a better chief executive than an intellectual. She'll be able to make hard, clear decisions without all the paralysis through analysis that the "multiple perpectives" of the eternally thoughtful tend to result in. I don't think Billy would disagree.

Which is why I suspect Billy of being a "two hat" man. In real life he's almost certainly a smart, decisive, no-nonsense action guy. In the Comments section at InstaPunk, he's a "Let's look at all sides before we jump to conclusions" sort of fellow. Sherlock and Mycroft by turns, depending.

We're onto you, Billy. Which is a good thing. Keep those comments coming. Even the slander's fine. But it doesn't really fool us. Mister Oblivion.    :)

UPDATE. An afterthought. Billy went to great lengths to address commenter Waan's points and examples. He did a good job of that. Except that most of his (necessarily) tedious arguments boil down to the difference between utopian good intentions and the unintended consequences of government overreach. Which is the heart and soul of MY point. He correctly identified the fact that our national security expenditures and policies aren't always efficient even when they're ultitmately effective. The point is not that government is great at cost-no-object requirements, only that they're the only ones who can finance and administer the degree of inefficiency necessary to be effective when failure isn't an option. Which it isn't when the life of the nation is at stake.

And Waan himself is a beautiful example of why I wrote the post. He was at pains to point out that he disagrees with the result of many government interventions. He's maybe even not a big government guy at heart. It's just that he's never bothered to imagine what the alternative might be, that people can work things out for themselves at a local level far better than lofty experts can. Which, incidentally, is why I termed Mamet's 'pessimism' ludicrous. The specific examples Mamet cited weren't based on the assumption that people are bad. To the contrary. The one closest to his own experience was the difference between a play with a director and a play without a director. He came down on the side of the play without a director. That's an argument for fundamental human virtue. That he insists on seeing his 'conversion' in a light negative with regard to human virtue is simply the persistence of dark vision. He's a dark man. Esthetically, it assists his conversion to view it as a recognition of greater darkness than his abandoned 'liberalism.' But everything he says apart from his airy generalizations supports a kind of dawning of light. Left alone, people work things out, despite their self-interest and personal fears. Authoritarian interference, however well intentioned, tends to make things worse. How is that not an affirmation of basic human goodness?

But Waan is at pains to repeat the obligatory and widely accepted 'liberal' contention that men are essentially evil and need to be controlled by, uh, who? The makers of fire code regulations and schoolmarmish education bureaucrats. Because the alternative would be ever so much more catastrophic.

In this discussion, Billy's effort was valiant but wasted. The disagreement wasn't political or factual but philosophical. Who do you think people are? If you think they're rotten, of course you believe the real role of government is to head off the unspeakable catastrophes human nature will wreak. It doesn't matter what Waan's political bents might be, libertarian, progressive, or totalitarian. He believes at base that people must be protected and restrained from their native instincts. Which means that in the final analysis, he is a totalitarian. Every government failure is simply a proof of ill-conceived tactics that must be corrected next time around. He never questions the need for control.

Billy himself is somewhere in between Waan's position and mine. Which is why he allows himself to get sucked into the briar patch of Waan's oh-so-tempting bureaucratic examples. Read the exchange. Watch what happens there. Instant descent into bureaucratic definitions of who was in charge of what, when, and why the whole thing went south or didn't but seemed to.

My position is no Pollyanna vision of sweetness and light. People are flawed. They have venal desires, selfish agendas, and bad (very bad) thoughts. But they also, in aggregate, have a truly surprising sense of decency, fairness, and virtue, even if it's, at times, only the desire to be seen as virtuous. This perception is not strictly my imagination. It's an inevitable inference from the history of human civilizations, which have moved gradually, with various awful exceptions, toward a social contract that has become more open and tolerant and forgiving and mindful of individual rights than any history of specific governments could take credit for in place of the basic dispositions of the human spirit. It is governments which have repeatedly failed in properly reflecting the desires of human beings, not that governments have, through the force of their intellectual wisdom, dragged people toward new and improved conceptions of justice.

Take a look at history, if you know any. Governments are almost uniformly stupid, self-destructive, and obsessed with petty but malignant ambitions for power. It's people through the aeons who have come to believe in themselves and one another enough to overthrow tyrannies and push the bureaucrats in the direction of human rights rather than government perquisites.

The United States of America represents the first full flowering of that victory of the people over their government. The belief in limited government is by no means a surrender to cynicism about human nature. It's the ultimate affirmation.

And, I submit, any presumptive 'intellectual' who can't see that fact and understand what side he should be on is an idiot, regardless of how many books he's read and how many degrees he has.

Yes, I'm saying what you think I'm saying. It's entirely possible to be an acclaimed intellectual and a fucking idiot.

UPDATE 2. And now the esteemed Peregrine John weighs in. (Maybe the rest of you should too.) He also favors Billy's take over mine. That's what makes a horse race -- or a damned good discussion. PJ says:

Bloody hell. If that's the result of misunderstanding the post, here's to misunderstanding!

My take on things is most similar to Billy's, since as a denizen of Kalifornia, I am hourly surrounded by draconian law motivated by good intentions (c.f. Lewis' essay on tyranny sincerely exercised) and supported by the most amazing collection of self-impressed rubes and lemmings to ever grace this golden land.

I should point out, though, that many or most people consider conservatism (with or without capitalization) to be an ideology, including most whose definition otherwise matches Billy's. But then, how many have read Burke, or for that matter, Paine? Outside of the intellectual conservatives, that is? Oh, the round of irony and paradox this produces; but it all boils down to using the right tool for the right job. As LP and Billy both suggest, you've got to untangle and discredit lies at their root and encourage the use of flat common sense.

That's a wordy version of the even more damnable, "Yeah, I agree," but this topic is one that affects us in the Blue Zone on a daily basis, where the reeducation of the masses has derailed common sense to the point where accepting that 2+2=4 makes one suspect. The end goals of the new progressives are dangerously close to being realized, here, and it is dangerous to even question the basic assumptions.

Good lord, do I have a lot of catch-up reading to do. Loco's been out throwing delicious bombs, I see.

That's what we do here, Peregrine John. What do the rest of you think?

We're not sexist;
just discriminating.

Brilliant book. In case we never said that before.

MASTERPIECE OR FAKE? We've registered our disappointment and disapproval of Camille Paglia before. Not because we think she's a mediocrity, but because we know she can do better than she did, for example, here.

Truth is, she's a national treasure. Her book Sexual Personae was stunningly innovative, insightful, detailed, and illuminating. Everyone who cares about art, culture, and civilization should read it. Even though she used the word 'chthonic' too much. What she did in this monumental work was describe the enormous creativity and power of male mentality in creating civilization, art, and religion in the first place. And I refuse to make Lesbian jokes. In my opinion -- and that matters to some of you or it doesn't -- she's one of the great intellects of our age. Everything you think about the history of civilization will be changed by a reading of her book.

And then, of course, she became a celebrity. Essays and pontifications about Madonna, etc. Predictably tedious pronouncements about politics. Enough to make one tired. BUT. If I had to pick one woman celebrity to talk to it would be Camille Paglia. Her column in Salon today is proof. She's ninety five percent on the mark in what she says, and the five percent that's not is what I think we all desperately need to understand about the Obama cult. Bear in mind that I'm quoting one of the only things in her remarkably candid Q&A piece that I have a problem with, but I do have a problem with it. Here it is:

Dear Camille,

I am amazed at the easy pass you still give the Obama administration. You continue to excuse his blunders and misses as the result of a lack of experience and bad advisors.

Many of Obama's policies have been a scary continuation of the worst ideas of the last year of the Bush administration, while undoing some of the few things they got right.

You have been hitting that note about the need to shake up his staff for quite a while. Yet isn't it true that people tend to surround themselves with like minds? You said recently that "I am hopeful that he will rid himself soon of these simplistic anti-American clichés." Has it occurred to you that maybe that is just who he is and the people he surrounds himself with are just a reflection of himself?

I see Obama and his presidency as the crowning of the ideas of that northeastern liberal aristocracy you so much criticize. He appears to me as a cliché of all their pathologies, and yet you seem infatuated with him. You continually praise his speech and demeanor while to me it seems like a mask for his lack of substance. I find him to be a man of an oversized ego, with a messianic complex and a cult-like following, which would not be so scary if he didn't wear the media as his own personal lap dog.

As a person born and raised in Latin America who studies history as a hobby, I can't help but see President Obama as the closest thing we have had in this country to the long line of populist leaders who have been the scourge of Latin America for decades and sent many of us here into exile. He is not a Chavez-like figure who uses vulgarity and threats as a weapon but a more sophisticated version of a young Peron.

Hermes Diaz


Yes, ever since week one of the Obama administration, I have been doggedly calling for heads to roll. As months of crass ineptitude drag on, however, the blacklist of those who should be tagged for the guillotine gets longer and longer. The most recent fiasco, of course, was sending the president of the United States on a humiliating fool's errand to beg for the Olympics as a Chicago boondoggle. I cheered when splendiferous Rio de Janeiro rightfully got the gig.

You are correct to argue that the cluster of appointees around a person in power reflects his or her belief system and modus operandi. However, it is a mark of leadership to recognize the need for professional evolution beyond an old comfort zone. Obama is approaching a turning point which will define his political future, if he has one. He is surrounded by some mighty small potatoes who need shoveling into the dumpster. The petty provincials need to go, and far more sophisticated and world-savvy analysts must urgently be brought on board.

Opponents of Obama are perplexed by the disconnect in polling between Americans' rejection of Obama's policies and his personal popularity. Count me among those who are very critical of many of Obama's actions or evasions but who continue to like him and to believe in his potential as a world leader. It's true he has accomplished nothing thus far and did not remotely deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, a gift carrying a terrible curse. The Nobel should have been the crown of Obama's career and not the butt of jokes. Yet the award has tangible significance insofar as Obama has endorsed the humanistic (if unrealistic) dream of a world without nuclear weapons. The lion may never lie down with the lamb, but politics will always be mired in seething, selfish squalor unless idealistic leaders appeal to our higher nature. [boldface added]

It's unfair to Paglia to pinion her on this one point exclusively (yeah, read the whole thing, seriously; you'll love most of it...) but it's the one vital point.

I actually have a theory about Paglia's blind spot, and I'm interested in what the rest of you think about how that might relate to all the other dupes in the American intelligentsia.

It's clear that Paglia's bias is toward art, performance, and symbolism. That's why she shares our own unabashed admiration for William Blake. I believe she's so infatuated with Obama as a symbol, indeed his esthetically perfect manifestation as a symbol of messianic African-American resurrection, that she can't bear to let go of her artistic vision of him even though the rest of her senses and brains are telling her he's a (pun intended) bust.

What's interesting is how many of her own criteria Obama violates. He's not a man's man, which she routinely calls for in her commentary on the popular culture. There's no standard she's ever offered that would classify Obama as 'educated.' He's a lawyer. Ugh. His taste in art is polluted, shallow, and political. His wife is a dimwit slug who leans heavily and chthonically (yeah!) on her husband. By Paglia's own standards, Obama is a pussy-whipped nonentity, which she usually has no patience with. In fact, her allegiance to him belongs to the realm of the chthonic (we're actually starting to get into this), that swamp of femaleness which has tended throughout history to swallow reason in favor of emotional urges which routinely drown civilization in irrational tides of instinct.

The swamp is where most of the media are wallowing. Can you smell it? And what does that tell us about the state of our nation? [Discuss.]

On the whole we think it's nice that Camille Paglia is still a woman. Some things are eternal. But we also think a person of her intellectual heft should be able to back off for the necessary instant of recognition and see that Obama is not a symbol but a very poor and ill-equipped president of the United States -- at a time when we need a competent president of the United States.

Enough. Here's a YouTube video of an American superstar we share Paglia's enthusiasm for (referenced movingly in her post), even though everyone has mostly forgotten her. We love Jean Seberg. She did the French the way Obama can only wish he could do the French...

C'est la guerre. That's French for "screw all the fruity Euro-trash." Or something.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Real Reason Not to
  Pick a Fight w/Fox News

The Fox Business Channel is upping the ante. Obama can't win against this.

YEAH, WE HIT THIS BEFORE.  So you'll pay attention to me, I'll get the most important info out there immediately. Her name is Nicole Petallides. She's an anchor at the Fox Business Network. When she guested on Fox & Friends the other morning, Brian Kilmead had to physically remove himself from the set and the substitute host I always thought was gay was literally restraining himself from pawing her. She's Greek. Like Helen of Troy was Greek.

She's also smart. Or smart enough. Probably within a spike heel of the intelligence of Obama's new White House Communications Gorgon.

I was going to make this a fairly serious post, particularly in light of all the officious commentary on both sides, from righties like Malkin to lefties like The Nation and New York Magazine, as well as supposed centrists like Daily Finance, all of whom think it's a bad idea for Obama to go to war with Fox News. Their reasons vary, of course, except for the one inevitable outcome they all foresee -- continued increases in the ratings of Fox News, which are already higher across the board than the ratings of CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC combined. I urge you to read the linked essays because they all assume (excepting Malkin, of course) that the Fox audience is mostly Republican, even though Fox claims (I couldn't find any verification data) that its audience is only 39 percent Republican with 22 percent Independents, 33 percent Democrats, and 6 percent bald geeks in raincoats (more about them later). What I did find was this scholarly analysis by the Accuracy in Media folks, who seem to think they've got it pretty well nailed down that liberal media bias is real and documentable, which translates to a significant and growing flight from mainstream media to FNC. Read them too. Interesting if a bit verbose for a piece that's only confirming the obvious.

The other thing I found in my search for demographic data about Fox News was a consistent claim by media watchers that the channel's audience consists mostly of old folks. But there was no data to verify that assertion, either. Which seems a bit fishy given that Nielsen numbers, which are verifiable, show that Bill O'Reilly, the Lawrence Welk of cable pundits (unless Larry King is) trounces the youth voters' Murrow -- i.e., Keith Olbermann -- even in the prized 18-to-Cialis demographic. (The audience slice that buys all the shit advertised on TV but doesn't, er, vote.)

Which is when I began to think that everyone involved in this discussion is just making stuff up to sound, you know, smart.

Which I can do, too. Not sound smart especially, but make stuff up. Except that not all my evidence is made up. For example, do you really think it's old guys in raincoats who are running this website? I don't and I'll bet you don't either.

So here's my take on the Obama versus Fox News war. Nobody believes professional journalists anymore. They're all in the tank for some ideology or bias. But there are still a lot of us who want some idea of what's going on out there in the country and the world at large. What's the least painful way to consume that? Get your news from good-looking women. Let's concede that Roger Ailes identified a market niche for conservatives who were sick of NPR and the alphabet networks' constant trashing of Republicans, traditional values, and suspicion of big government in all its forms. What percentage was that of his business model for Fox News and the new Fox Business Network? About 20 percent. (Or else he wouldn't be paying millions every year to the lefty Mississippi pretty boy Shepard Smith.) What's the other 80 percent? Pretty women.

Plain as the nose on your face, guys. If we have to hear about recession, appeasement, government bailouts and takeovers of everything under the sun, and taxes on burgers, beer, and big cars, then at least we want to get that news from pouting lips, pert boobs, and splendid gams. That's what Roger Ailes is providing -- a whole new interpretation of "fair and balanced" that far transcends the humorless jibes of the Fox-haters. The faces are fair and the ugly bad news is balanced with beautiful curves and glossy hose.

Behold: journalistic "balance" in action at the Fox News Channel:

From 6 to 9 in the morning. Gretchen Carlson.

From 9 to sometime, Megyn Kelly. A ruthless attorney.

From noonish to whenever, Martha MacCallum. Even Rush was smitten.

From whenever to the afternoon, Julie Banderas. Sense of humor, too.
(See the dire for CNN ratings performance of Fox's Redeye, source of
Julie's pit-sniffing show. She's also a stone killer in news interviews.....)

Courtney Friel covers Hollywood for Fox News.

Ainsley Earhardt fills in where needed. She bakes cookies too.

And the usual suspects, of course. Still babes, of course.

her. Not to mention him.

A religion correspondent who plays classical piano
and a gun-toting Lesbian conservative. Fox News.

only good looking Democrat female. And Fox has her.

Needless to say, the prime time Foxers routinely call on all these babes to be guest experts or whatever. (Except Beck. He sticks to his blackboard, bad hair, and basketball sneakers. Which should really freak out the opposition given his sky-high ratings.) O'Reilly plus Carlson plus Kelly plus MacCallum leaves Olbermann and the CNN drab in the dust every time. This isn't a fight the Obama administration can win. Let's face it. Most lefty women are ug__, uh, plain.

They do seem crabby, don't they? And no sleek hose.

Does this mean anything? Yes. Of course it does. But it doesn't have to mean anything. It does, however, serve Roger Ailes and the Fox News Channel. Slowly but surely, they're going to corner the market on males of all ages, Republican, Independent and Democrat, who would rather look at lovely females than dour old men like Bob Schieffer, Keith Olbermann, Charlie Gibson, Wolf Blitzer, and Katie Couric.

What does Obama have to put up against that?

Yeah. We forgot. She likes Paris, though.

Right. Like that's going to work. Which is why the media, and Democrats in general, are starting to panic. The real edge in the upcoming elections the Republicans have discovered is that their women (for whatever reason (Ha Ha)) are much (much) more attractive than the androgynous feminazis of the left.

Cheney, Palin, and Bachmann. Foxes all.

They're terrified. Because Fox News has shown the way. That's the real beef. If we have to have a nanny government, the nanny had better be a knockout. Are you listening, oh you moderate compassionate conservative, Michael Steele?

Oh, and, uh, yeah. Rupert Murdoch is thinking about buying NBC. Roger Ailes works for Rupert Murdoch. Or didn't you Gorgons know that?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Incredible Pitfalls
of Attempting to
Prove the Obvious

THE KITTY-CAT PRECEDENT. I have so much personal and professional experience of this, and there's so much evidence of this on the Internet right now, that it's almost irresistibly tempting to turn this into a complicated essay that would entirely defeat the point while proving it yet again through another over-intellectualized example.

But there are a few points worth making that suggest the need for paragraphs rather than bumper stickers. I'll try to keep the paragraphs short.

As a manager in a marketing organization, I once (well, repeatedly) tried to convince my senior company executives that the market wasn't looking for excuses to indulge an automatic preference for products that bore our logo rather than that of our competitors. The market was looking for the best, cheapest, and safest investment of resources, period. I failed. The point was too obvious. They couldn't see past their own irrational loyalty to the entity that provided their living and personal identities. So they couldn't be dissuaded from charging a premium for a (yes, clearly superior) product the market regarded as far riskier and harder to justify than the one offered by their much (much) larger competitor with infinitely supeior brand name identity. Their idea of business was making a proft on every unit sold. If this idea cost them the market itself, then it was the market that had to be wrong.

The company I'm talking about is NCR, makers of the most successful cash register in manufacturing history. For a couple of decades they competed successfully in retail and banking automation as a computer company. But they were never a computer company. They were always a cash register company. Never about software and service breakthroughs; always about manufactured hardware margins. AT&T bought them in the belief they were a computer company and discovered they were, sadly, just a cash register company. Today, they survive -- having been spat out by AT&T in one of the most humiliating dis-acquisitions ever -- as an ATM company. Meaning they're still basically a manufacturer of the cash registers of the 21st century.

Does this matter and, if it does, why does it matter? Because every particular perspective on the world closes off other perspectives. It's not a matter of intelligence per se; it's a matter of the universe people choose to live in, which is usually a function of how they were brought up to regard the world itself.

The big news. You pick the world you live in. And after you've picked, it's very difficult to see the worlds other people live in, even if most people are living in a world vastly different from your own.

This is the source of the divide between conservatives and liberals, and even the divide between conservative "intellectuals" and conservative people in the country at large.What world are they living in?

Liberals are living in a world that has to be fixed, at once, by their own superior intellect and secular morality.Their belief in government answers is a manifestation of their own superiority complex; they, and some others, know what it takes to make everyone's life better, more equitable, more pain-free. That's why the only liberties they're concerned with are the liberties of the weak, the failed, the reviled, the lost, the listless, the aggrieved, and the vengeful to exact a price from everyone else. In the ideal society, everything should be great for everyone. If this isn't the case, the scales must be readjusted, no matter who else gets hurt.

Conservatives have a different view. They believe that life itself is a kind of market, that those who work the hardest and demand the most of themselves obtain the sweetest fruits. They believe that people who prosper in this fashion, untrammelled by interfering authorities, are also the most personally productive, far-seeing, generous, forgiving, and charitable towards those who are weak, failed, etc. (This is also synonymous with the view that capitalism is also fundamentally christian.) Their politics are notably simple. Government leads to bureaucrats. Bureaucrats lead to inhumane rules and illogical costs and penalties. Therefore: keep government from interfering in people's lives wherever and whenever possible.

Well. Most conservatives have that view. There are notable exceptions. In every population, the smartest are the most dangerous. They intellectualize topics others regard as obvious and even instinctive. Like opposing increased government control of the lives of average citizens. The average citizen says, with admirable aplomb, don't do it. Don't seek to control my life. The intellectual says, by golly, I can build the argument for why not.

That's where Bill Buckley came from. When it looked as if the the smart people had crated an inescapable argument for why the smart people should be in charge of the rest of us, he became necessary. An intellectual who could articulate complex arguments to counter the complex arguments of those who wanted the government to be in charge of everyone.

But that was always a ruse. It was just a matter of being taking seriously. When the intellectuals controlled all the communication venues, it became momentarily important to have an intellectual saying, "No, we can counter your intellectual superiority with intellectual objections of our own."

Which created a cottage industry of conservative intellectuals whose job it was to prove that all the idiotic assertions, positions, and notions of the liberals could be debated on their own terms -- and therefore had to be taken seriously -- even though the people who were actually making the country work never took their ideas seriously.

The Truth? Liberals were always a little in love with Marx, his rational model of how society worked and how it could be made better by the intellectual horsepower of the wise. This romance led them to awful dalliances and incredibly convoluted social engineering schemes. Meanwhile, the people who were living their lives outside of universities and labor unions just wanted to live their lives. Their conservativism was not an esthetic or philosophical formulation; it was a simple desire to be free, which does not have to be articulated as a contemporary restatement of the Constitution. All it has to do is accept the bald bias of the Constitution toward regarding government as the most dangerous evil  in life.

You see, American conservatism is not as anti-intellectual as the Frums and Noonans insist. It's a-intellectual.. Meaning leave us alone or "Get off my lawn."

If we want to be intellectual, we'll talk about Shakespeare, Mozart, Dante, and Twain, not how much government we're prepared to accept in our daily lives.

I've withstood the temptation to quote people here and there in support of my beliefs. But I'm going to end with some links designed to make you think. For example, here's David Mamet confessing that he's done being a liberal, except that he thinks he's making a move toward a kind of pessimism about the human condition, which is ludicrous.

And here's conservative luminary Stephen Hayward, who we were of a mind to fisk (politely) for his patronizing defense of Glenn Beck, but instead we're only going to remind you that people who spend most of their lives in Washington, DC, are prisoners of their own devise.

Washington, DC, is the worst trap any conservative will ever face. It suggests, shouts, screams that it's the whole country, that what it believes or decides is somehow the will of the nation.

It isn't. People who spend too much time there fall prey to the worst fallacy of all -- that it's the mission of liberals to save people from themselves and of conservatives to refute in objective detail the sorriest arguments of the liberals in infinite detail. It isn't. All that marble. All that architectural grandeur. Everyone who lives there comes to believe that DC really is the whole country... or all of it that matters. Especially given how much smarter they are than everyone else. Because they live in a world of marble and immanent power. The FBI. The IRS. The Supreme Court. The White House. They think it outweighs Texas, Iowa, and Montana. Except that it's all a lie. Washington only thinks it's the nation. The nation is the nation, a place a million times more potent than the self-important capitol.

CONSERVATIVES DON'T NEED TO BE INTELLECTUAL GIANTS. They just have to know that the liberals are obviously, utterly, unbelievably wrong about key points. Namely, that the government has ever been efficient about anything that isn't cost-no-object and related to national security.

Everything else they've ever touched they've made more expensive, more inefficient, and more destructive of individual achievement. Everything. What makes us think they can fix health care, regardless of what the CBO says? What? Why shouldn't we all be running like hell for the exits when it comes to health care? Oh. Most of us are.

That's the ultimate "proving the obvious" point. The government always makes things worse when it intervenes in our lives. We all know that in our bones. Always have. If you take that as an invitation to debate Global Warming, think twice and three times. We can't wait to clean your clock on that one.

And as to conservative intellectuals... there's no need for chess players. The basic points don't require you to feel like you're Roman tribunes standing up for the abused plebeians. You don't even need to be as much smarter than we are as you compusively think you do. We never neeeded Buckley to utter our creed. We needed him only for the one thing he was good at -- being snootier and snottier than the Massachusetts libs.

Never EVER needed all the Thesaurus-based stuttering. After all, Yale isn't Oxford and the "uh, uh, uh, uh" prelude to a polysyllabic Greek root doesn't fucking matter in Ohio or even New Jersey. Still, you found it necessary to take seriously idiots like Galbraith, Chomsky, and Greenfield. Argue the niceties. Politely. What a crock.

All we know and ever needed to know: 1) Government is too big; 2) Liberals want government to keep getting bigger; and 3) Get off our lawn. That's how simple it really is. A lot of us never liked your politesse with the clowns who always, explicitly, wanted to rule us.

Just for fun and to show you we bear no ill will to Stephen Hayward... except maybe he reminds us of someone he shouldn't:

Stephen Hayward and Robert Benchley
Not the same guy... Almost certainly.

I mean, who are these luminaries -- like Larry Summers and Ted Geithner -- who keep explaining away what they've done to the economy? We should believe, accept, and listen to what they have to say... why? Because at least one of them is associated with Harvard? Well, so was a much abler man named, uh, Robert...

The conservative position -- the real conservative position -- doesn't have to be about much more than saying "no." All government sucks. Why do any of us need a Ph.D. in that subject to be taken seriously? The obvious?

A L L   G O V E R N M E N T   I N T E R V E N T I O N S   S U C K.

Could anything be more obvious?

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