Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
August 31, 2011 - August 24, 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

List Happy

Columbia University. Not on the list. Awww. Holder will prosecute.

. Now colleges have to be "happy." Why? Isn't life serious and full of incomprehensible, world-ending woe? Uh, no. Apparently, a gotterdammerung zeitgeist isn't a deal-breaker any more. Coincidentally (I'm sure), two of Obama's alma maters are included in the Top Ten List of Happiest Colleges. What can I say? It makes me happy.

So happy.

Old Zoni's Misadventures
in Time, Part One

My experience was more positive.

I MUGGED THIS GUY. "You can only crisscross this little-ass globe so many times before you learn to hate everyone."

Not the good word a guy wants to hear from his future self. When the ruggedly handsome Brizoni of 2030 knocked on the door of my ramshackle crystal penthouse, I played it as cool as I could. No self-respecting man wants to fawn over his future self like a teenage girl shrieks and gushes over a Justin Bieber or a Leif Garrett or a C. Everett Koop. Even if-- BECAUSE-- he remembers what he was like when he was me, the moment I saw him I resolved to impress. "Come in," I said, my voice squeaking so subtly there's no way he could have heard it.

"Pour me some of that Bump in the Night," a robust Cascadian Dark Ale from the good people at Full Sail Brewing, Hood River, OR. "They don't make it anymore. Full Sail went tits up."

"The hell you say!"

"Yep. I was there when it happened. The beer I designed was the last they ever made." He stared into his glass like he was holding a stillborn baby. "Damn shame. I did what I could, but too much bubbled up too fast... here." He dropped a manila folder on my couch. "Here's what happened. I want you to save them." Not help them, or do what you can for them, but save them. It was reassurring to learn I'll still think in terms like that 20 years from now.

"You came back in time to save a brewery?" I asked like it was stupid, but a river of questions strained against my verbal levies. Just a brewery? Is time travel a regular thing for us at your point in our lives? Is time travel hyphenated? Do you erase, or revise, yourself every time you change your history? Do you remember that idea I had about going back to 1978 and taping the Star Wars Holiday Special when it first airs? Did you ever do that?

"Nah. That was just an afterthought," he said, gesturing half-consciously to the folder. "After the crash, I wrote down everything that happened and how I could have stopped it if I'd known what was coming. I printed my notes off before I left."

"We have a printer now?" That's like the one electronics I, present-day Brizoni, don't own. Who needs hard copies anymore?

"I know, right? I used to say 'I guess I'm an adult now,' but once you reach a certain age that stops being cute."

He folded his 6'6" frame into my custom oversize egg chair that still wasn't quite oversize enough but I wanted to circulate photos of famous friends sitting in it before I tried to resell it. A lucky shot becomes iconic, the chair goes from cool curiosity to historical artifact. Cha ching. "Is there some rule that says I can't visit my younger self when I've got a free evening?"

"Like, all the laws of thermodynamics? Are those the kind of rules you mean?"

"I want you to appreciate how charitable is was of me to let you make that stupid joke. I knew it was coming. I paused to let you have the dubious pleasure of telling it. Shame should be loaming up on the shores of your conscious awareness about now." It was.

"Alright," my future self relented. Did I mention his rugged handsomeness? "I have something you need to hear, but it's not the kind of thing I can just drop in your lap. We're gonna have to work up to it." He drank deep from his Bump. "God, Christ. That's incredible. I have the recipe, but I can never make it exactly right. Like the difference between generic Cheerios and real Cheerios. You know?"

"I do. I've been using that analogy since I was 11."

"Really? I came up with it that long ago?" His surprise was genuine. "Was there a story behind it?"

"Mom filled a box of real Cheerios with generics. She didn't say anything. We could tell they were kind of weird, but we never spoke up." I was suddenly struck with a vivid awareness that I was making too many hand gestures. Nerves. I was past the point of trying to impress the man who would be Z. All I could do was hope that I didn't suck as a person enough-- or that he hadn't improved as a person too much-- that he had sympathy for me. "When she triumphantly announced what she did, she was convinced that because we never mentioned it, we couldn't tell the difference. Frustrated the hell out of us, because what defense could we make? We couldn't just say that we'd noticed but kept quiet. Oldest lie in the book, right? Even though it was true in our case."

He stared ahead. "That doesn't ring a bell." His eyelids pressed under his brows. He shook his head slightly, trying to shake the memory loose. For half a second, I feared he thought I was lying, but then he said "Crud, I just don't remember that. That sucks, that... I know you're not making this up or anything. I just can't recall. Drat."

I sympathized, and I knew he knew I sympathized. I relaxed.

"OK. Listen. Z-Man." He looked down and flexed his chin. I was reminded that I make the same face when I get all serious. "When's the last time you went out of the country?"

I had to think a moment. "April of last year? No, Canada doesn't count. Must have been... wow, must have been the January before."

"Any particular reason you stopped travelling?"

"Got busy... haven't had a lot of interest lately..."

“Listen as hard as hell to me, sir. Back home, our biographers are struggling with this question. Brizoni used to jet set around the world the way a bullet ricochets. Then, one day, he didn’t. And it was years before set foot on a plane again? What happened? It’s a mystery. No one can figure it out. Even you don't know why you quit. But I do. And when I tell you, it’s going to break your heart like an old clay pot.”


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

(Belated) Metaphor
Monday (Tuesday)

THE EN-ROPE-ENING OF DOPES CONTINUES. Obama PAC strategist (and former Obama campaign press secretary) Bill Burton makes the best case for Rick Perry yet.

Rick Perry thinks that Medicare and Social Security are unconstitutional — he wrote it in his book. When the health care debate was heating up, he raised the specter of secession. And when asked about the chairman of the Federal Reserve, he used the word "treasonous."

While fair-minded Americans may view these moments as dangerous flashes illustrating the kind of man Rick Perry is, a plurality of Republican primary voters view him as their choice to be the nominee. …

For Rick Perry, the way he matches up with these voters has proven to be at least a short-term political bonanza for him — but in the long-term, his ideology could have devastating consequences for our country. Especially the middle class.

Perry’s view that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional is — to him — a very real justification for the House Republican plan that would essentially end Medicare. … Perry’s threat that Texas may secede from the union was popular among Texas Republicans and conservatives. 51% of Texas Republicans approved of his comments. His statement is consistent with the Tea Party's broad hatred of the federal government.

Perry’s very loose and dangerous use of the term "treason" is something that brought him criticism from many corners — just not Republican primary voters.

Voters who are disturbed by ending Medicare, what it means when a major governor threatens secession in the 21st century, and what it means for a major national figure to throw around terms like "treason" should be just as worried about this Republican Party as they are about Texas Governor Rick Perry.

You'll never guess what this reminds me of. I mean it. You'll never ever ever guess. Throw out the least sequitur ideas that come to mind. Go on. You still won't get it.


The Cosby Show used to be funny. Uproarious, even. Ruled the sitcom roost for 9 or 10 years. But that popularity was fatal to its longevity. For a while, every sitcom told jokes like The Cosby Show. Sitcom writers are no great intellects, but with that many minds focused on imitation, it wasn't long before the Cosby Code, as it were, was partially and then fully cracked. Sitcoms could "do" Cosby perfectly. And they did. All of them. And they still are. By now, returns on Cosby humor have diminished to almost nil.

It's not that the show was never funny. And it's not that it just hasn't aged well, as though humor naturally yellows or rusts or dries out like old newspapers or iron or a leaf pressed in a book. The Devil's Dictionary is as funny-- and as gleefully cruel-- as any Family Guy or South Park episode. And I'm reliably informed that John Cheever can still raise a giggle, despite having written in Ben Franklin days or whenever. The problem with Cosby is repetition. If you catch a Cosby Show on Nick at Nite now, you'll see 99 percent of the jokes coming, and that leftover 1 percent is gags you've heard and seen a million times so they're not funny anyway. The entire style is obsolete.

We are witnessing the Cosby Showizing of the Democratic and Progressive propaganda machine. Like Cosby, we've seen too much of it to be dazzled by it. We're too familiar with how it works.

"Treason" is obviously not a "dangerous" word to use if you're pretty much right-- Is the increasing printing of fiat money somehow not going to knife-fuck the country in the neck? Anyone marginally knowledgeable of what Perry has said knows a) Perry's book says SS and Medicare go against the spirit of "Constitution and limited government." Need I point out the propriety of a liberal not understanding the difference between letter and spirit? And b) Perry's secession "threat" was really a comment that secession is mentioned in the Texas constitution. Every truly objectionable element of Burton's Perry profile was a lie; every positive element-- the end of Social Security will only "devastate" the middle class in the sense that it's possible to be devastated by joy-- was something Burton is too reprobate to see as good.

It's all old hat. As corny as a Cosby Show rerun. AND THEY DON'T REALIZE IT YET. They might be too arrogant to see that they'll have to up their game to win this round. That should make you as hard as iron.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fury of the Storm

Overblown. Only 1.35 million square miles of hurricane. Hype. You know.

STORM STUFF. Just got back online. 30 hours without electricity, 48 without Internet access.

First, let me thank those who filled in during my absence with their amusing and instructive posts. My gratitude is boundless.

Now I have a few axes to grind, and grind them I will. Believe me, I have been provoked.

When the electricity goes out at 3 pm the day before the hurricane is supposed to hit you, you become glued to your battery-powered radio. Actually you have few choices. There's the all-news channel, which gives your the same five minutes of news every five minutes ad infinitum. And there's SportsTalk, where fill-in hosts talk nonsense in between hourly updates on the progress of the storm.

Which, excepting the second-string sports blather, they did an admirable job of. A heroic local weatherwoman almost my age was meticulous about charting the progress of the storm, its current and expected wind velocity, and the amount of rain and other havoc it might produce. By my count she was reporting for 18 hours straight.

She made it clear that the problem was the sheer size of the storm. Fifteen hundred miles high, nine hundred miles wide. Skirting the coast of the Delmarva peninsula and New Jersey. The tiniest deviation of path west or east could produce huge differences in wind strength and potential destruction. A bit west and the storm would begin to abate over land, although inflicting a possibly catastrophic blow in its initial Jersey landfall. A bit east and the storm could pick up wind speed over the waters of the ocean, returning to 125 mph strength. Either way, we were definitely going to get pummeled by a second 12-inch rainfall in less than three weeks. Which meant that trees would no longer have anything to hang onto in the soil and water would have nowhere to go.

I spent Saturday night on the couch with one ear on the radio and the other on the wind sounds outside. My plan was simple. If I heard enough wind, I would roust my wife from her bed in the bedroom so that the willow tree wouldn't fall on her.

By morning I was immensely relieved that the wind had been less than feared, although we had had a foot of rain. And still no power.

And we were, almost certainly, cut off from town and food and even the hospital should we have needed it. The first New Jersey fatality had occurred less than ten miles away; a woman on a major highway, who drove through waters she shouldn't have, called 911 when she was up to her neck, and wasn't found for another ten hours.

Cut to this morning. Electricity finally restored but cable not. I returned to the radio. All three hosts on WIP SportsTalk were jeering at the "overblown" nature of the media coverage of the storm. No big deal was their verdict. Media hype. How dare they scare us all just for ratings?

You see, they were all from Philadelphia. Which didn't get hit as hard as the media intimated they might. Host "Big Daddy" was furious that people had been ordered out of shore towns at 8 am on Friday morning. How dare they? (He made the point ten times in one hour.) Ex-jock Al Morgante did a five minute rant about how meteorology wasn't a science at all, that it was done by sucking your finger and sticking it in the wind. (It took quite a while to learn that his dudgeon was caused by the fact that his Pay-Per-View show was interrupted by a long weather warning. Poor baby.) Second-banana Rhea Hughes took it upon herself to beat up a caller who had a different perspective. Hell. They didn't get hit hard. The whole thing was a sham.

I switched over to WPHT TalkRadio, where local conservative icon Dom Giordano was on a similar tear. Quoting Rush Limbaugh, he jeered at media usage of the word "ponding" as a "new term" that had been suddenly invented to make us afraid. Then he tried to link the media "hype" to liberal exploitation of residual Katrina, anti-Bush sentiment. Another lightly hit Philadelphian.

Of course, unlike WIP, Giordano's own station was refuting his scorn at every newsbreak. Current figures at the time of his broadcast were documenting 3 million people still without electricity in ten states, 21 deaths, including four in his home state of Pennsylvania. But the media were exploiting a phantasm called Hurricane Irene.

I'm spitting mad at all of them. They are media. They are exploiting a reality called Hurricane Irene. And, in the process, they are demonstrating what numbnuts they all are with respect to events that happen outside their own family rooms. They ought to be embarrassed. Instead, they are smug, certain and, resentful of any opposing view. They are much much worse than the media they are raking over the coals.

I won't provide a link because you can find multiple for yourselves, but the most deadly natural disasters in history aren't fires, earthquakes. or winds but floods. Floods cut people off from aid. Why people died in New Orleans. Why people will still be dying in the aftermath of Irene. Floods kill electricity, access to food, medical care, and uncontaminated water. Twenty-four hours in a modern house without electricity turns most food into garbage, toilets into latrines, and residents into prisoners in solitary confinement.

"Ponding"? Come on down to South Jersey, Dom. A word we've used, and known the meaning of, for generations will be instantaneously real to you. Everything around you is a lake. Not a semantic joke.

Four phenomena to take note of here. First, the tendency to think that if nothing bad happened to you, personally, nothing bad could really have happened to anybody (Myopic Narcissism). Second, the impulse to believe that increased media attention to natural disasters somehow exacerbates natural disasters, that too much coverage makes them even worse, particularly if they don't live up to their billing (Nature is somehow like the Kardashians). Third, the tendency to believe that since we have all decided to believe in government first and ourselves second, the government must somehow have the inside track on what's going to happen in every circumstance, and if they get it wrong, it's a scandal that has to be hunted down and punished (Utter Personal Surrender). Fourth, the reality that all sciences are imperfect and not necessarily predictive. Medicine is a science, but it can't tell you if you will survive another year or the operation they intend to save your life. Statistics is a science, but it has no ability to predict whether the number you choose at roulette will win you a fortune or cost you your life. (Duh, I thought science knew everything.)

Lost in all these delusions is the fact that the "hype" undoubtedly saved human lives, whether it can be judged marginally excessive or not. People who would have driven blithely, like the Salem woman, into rip currents on the road, didn't. Old people at the shore who couldn't have survived without power and water on the shore were induced to move inland. A truly gigantic storm hitting the most populous section of the United States hasn't yet killed 30 people.

Take a look at what happens without media hype. Do a search for the Galveston hurricane. Did the wind kill them? Or the water?

Conversation as Contest

THE BIG LIE SWELLS. It takes a big man to admit when a cheap little prick like Al Gore has a point. And I'm as big as they come.

Not about racism being in any way equivalent with global warming climate change skepticism, obviously. Or about anything that would affirm the correctness of his lunacy. The ex-VP is right about one single solitary thing: Error must be challenged. That's not winning the conversation. There's no such thing as winning a conversation. That's winning the debate.

When your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances declare they're on the wrong side of that debate, don't hold your peace. And don't, contrary to Cap'n Manbearpig's suggestion, confront them with "the strength of your passion" or simply "assert your beliefs." Passion is awesome, but there's no moral gold stars for it alone. And what good are beliefs if you can't prove them? That's­ what you have to do. Not just challenge. Demonstrate. Prove.

Feel free to use any of these witty- and accurate-as-hell rejoinders next time the subject comes up.

- "Hide the decline. Hide the decline. Remind me which step in the scientific method involves hiding data."

- "Don't give me that 'same science that built your cell phone' crap. You really wanna stake your position on the premise that science is human error-proof?"

- No scientist is in it for the money? Not one? Here's a fact check, little dreamer: Scientists, because they're human beings, are subject to pettiness, greed, professional envy, straight-up incompetence, human error (see above), and the bad kind of pride that prevents one from admitting one has made a mistake.
Maybe you don't want to be that antagonistic. Whatev. Your life.

But seriously. Keep it civil. When appropriate. The race card is a moral cudgel. "What? You hate someone based on the color of his skin? That makes you horrible, and me awesome for announcing at the top of my lungs that I don't agree with you." That type of cheap, easy virtue is enticing, but don't throw someone you like or someone you have to work with under the bus for it.

REMINDER: They're on the ropes. They're also, to blatantly mix boxing metaphors, falling for the old rope-a-dope.

If the left keeps this up-- and they will, because it's all they got-- they'll run the racism canard into the ground once and for all. This is an exceptional time to be alive, good friends. Proof: To make his analogy, Gore had to admit racism has been marginalized in our society over the last 50 years. That's not the narrative you'll hear on the Al Sharpton show tonight.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Why all the Stones crap?

QED. I know it gets ugly, but I'm trying to come back. The Stones were always my Muse. They always had a talent for coming back, even in the worst of times. They inspired my original writing. I wanted to be the Rolling Stones of fiction.

But they have faded away and so have I. I'm tired of being an assassin, even though I'm good at it. I want to be alive again. What Brizoni doesn't know. What Mrs. CP doesn't know. There is one brief lyrical window in your life, when you can just stream the universe through your words. Then the window closes. Why I get so mad at Brizoni. He's fiddling at that window, slopping his elbows over the sill, as if it will always be open. It won't. After it closes, you can imitate what you did before, but there is never the raw pure fire again. You can do smart stuff, but never again the poetic stuff. Why they keep talking about the 27s. It's not a number; it's a fact of life. Hell, Keats was 26 when he died. So it's hardly a mathematical rule. It's an approximation, like most everything else. Lyrical genius belongs to the young. And when you've outlived that window, you grieve.

I'm the guy who lived another 30 years after. Another reason I look to the Stones. They talk about Jagger as if he's just the CEO of a corporation called the Rolling Stones. He's obviously more than that. I'm trying to figure out why and how. He's remained a creative force. Why can't I?

Because I'm asking -- as he must be asking -- why didn't he die young, too? There's a sense in which everything I've written at InstaPunk is simply afterlife. I said all I had to say in The Boomer Bible and Shuteye Town. And maybe a bit more in Shuteye Nation and The Naked Woman. I've done what I was supposed to do. Why am I still alive?

InstaPunk has become just a huge appendix.

I have become an appendix. Mrs. CP is incredibly mad about this. Which is why I've been trying to come back. The funny thing is, fighting back, actually trying to live, can look worse than passively dying.

But for all those who care about me --  rejoice in my renewed fixation on the Stones. That's always been the litmus test of my vitality. Even when it's ugly.

I'm trying to live again. Honest.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The History of Stones

It's an amusing show. The same guy thinks he's found Excalibur.

WHY DO I KEEP TALKING ABOUT STONES? We're all here for a brief time. What lasts longer than human aspirations? Among other things, stones. It's a perspective thing. The clip up top may seem a SyFy Channel frivolity, but it's unique in my experience. I've been a (guilty pleasures) sucker for MonsterQuest, UFO Hunters, and Destination Truth. They never find anything they're looking for. The one you thing you know for sure about each episode. They're the reality show update of the venerable History Channel series "Mysteries of the Bible." The bottom line? It's a mystery. This time, however, it's just possible that a silly Scot explorer has actually found the sacred Scottish icon called "The Stone of Destiny."

But if you're going to make a serious point, you always need three of something. What's the point? Stone. We fleeting beings crave the permanence of stone, its power to outlast and commemorate us, and we seek eternity by attempting to use, move,shape, and arrange stones in ways that enshrine our deepest values and beliefs. Can you blame us?

So the Scots had their Stone of Destiny, and its story is a typical Scottish story of war, politics, religion, deceit, misdirection, and immanent resistance against the hated English.

But theirs isn't the only story whose setting is stone. There's also the Mayan story, which is deeper and darker than generations of Mayan scholars have dreamed of till now. Which you can learn about at History International. The deal being, the Mayans thought life originated from below, in the incredibly deep caves of the Yucatan, and their cities were representations of the divine underground only their noblest and bravest dared to explore in religious fervor. Who knew?

And better by half than both of the above is the unknown Christian story of Ethiopia, southern refuge of Christians cut off from the Roman and Eastern Churches by the post-Roman Islamic occupation of the Mediterranean. Today, the only evidence left of this enigmatic history is the story of the stones that remain:

I'm not asking you to connect these stories to our plight today. Unless I am. But if and how and why would be up to you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Rising Tide

TWO MISSIONS. Good news. You're all at least a little wrong.

Yesterday I read Postcards From Hell, a photo essay of the worst-ranked countries in the Failed State Index, and had an imaginary argument with a Peace Corps-type I know.

"You're not doing any good for these people, Peace Corps gal. You can bring them hot lunches and build wicker baskets with them every day for the next hundred years. They'll still be impoverished, starving, living without sanitation and industrialization, and under tyranny's boot to varying degrees. The only progress made in all these benighted backwaters is the effect of First World technology as it fiters into-- ONE COULD SAY TRICKLES DOWN TO, EVEN-- the Third."

"Nuh-uh! I'm doing good work out here! You just want brown people to starve because you're racist and greedy. Also, Bill O'Reilly."

"You wish. Look, it's great you've discovered the importance of human life, but you're doing as much good as a damp rag on Tom Hanks' forehead in Philadelphia. Maybe it brings his fever down enough that he can sign his last will and testament, but he's still covered in lesions, a hundred pounds underweight, and voiding his internal organs as they liquefy one by one. I'm the scientist in the French lab, running centrifuges and studying slides under microscopes. Looking for a cure. You call me insensitive and uncaring because I won't waste time away from the lab on damp rag duty. If my condolences seem brusque, it's because I'm engrossed in my work. Which, I feel compelled to repeat, is trying to stop AIDS deaths from happening."

"That's a cute line about bringing the fever down. You glossed over the fact that sometimes a fever needs to be brought down immediately; otherwise you'll have spent all those hours in the lab working to cure a corpse."

"...You have a point."

Obama's the fever. We need damp rags and 50 ccs of that stuff that gets fevers down, stat. Otherwise our brain will pop and collapse like a scorched souffle. But Obama's just a symptom. Fevers attend sickness. We don't cure the sickness, the fevers will just keep coming, no matter how damp our rags or how many ccs of Fever Stop we pump into the IV. And after enough fevers take their toll one by one, we could airlift a rag factory into the Pacific and the patient would still be too far gone to help.

The sickness is deficient and defective national character. The sickness is bad philosophy. We're at a crossroads (it's a cliche because it's so perfectly apt). We need to decide who we ought to be. Merely recovering virtue lost is a good start, but it won't do alone. "Do what the Jacksonians did" is a crap plan, commenters. Letting the Union dissolve is no plan at all. Even crazy-ass Frank Miller understood that (the comic's from 1990). Even IF the Balkanization of America could somehow accomplish anything in the very short term-- and it can't-- we'd still be stuck with WE.

Jim Morrison thought he could kick his heroin
addiction by moving to Paris. Turns out he took his
addiction with him and keeled over inside six months.

WE are the problem, ultimately. We let Obama happen, we let TARP happen, we continue to let the Democratic party happen. We let legislators lard our lives with a hundred thousand unworkable laws and regulations. Here's another true cliche: With great power comes great responsibility. With great freedom comes great accountability. We've never been full sexy libertarian-free, but for actual centuries we've been free enough to determine our own destiny. We've made our bed. If we don't want to sleep in it, we need to make it again.

Bar none, the worst thing we can do is sit back and wait for history to ride in on a golden chariot and save us. The Boss is right: history does NOT have "its own imperatives and mandates." MEN move history. The American tide has to rise, but it won't rise on its own by magic. It must be made to rise. We must choose to be the kind of people who rise. And stay risen. Which means figuring out what kind of people can stay risen; figuring out what that takes. That's not idealism. That's ambition. "Your ideal vision of the country or the universe" matters. But it has to be a GOOD vision. Preferably, a great vision. Ideally.

Treat the symptom-- Throw Obama out of office. Cure the disease-- become a nation that won't elect another Obama. We have to do both. One's no good without the other.

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