Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
June 15, 2012 - June 8, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012


Okay, I admit it. I identify with the dude. Sue me.

IN CASE YOU FORGOT. Going into the weekend, does anyone care about dueling bores of economic speeches by the Dull Ones? Obama still believes in government. Romney still believes in the market. Yawn.

What would be news? One of the best sequels ever. Not talking here about the vigorous debate about whether Godfather I or Godfather II is superior. I'm talking about the kind of discrepancy that existed between Mad Max and The Road Warrior. You know. The Wow Factor. Who could believe that the first led to the second? Night and day.

So the good news is, I have a candidate. Which just hit DVD and On Demand. Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance.

The sequel is every bit as good as the original was bad. Nicholas Cage is what he is, sometimes good, sometimes slumming, but this time he's got help from Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba, and even a good cameo turn by Christopher Lambert. The special FX are better, the plot better, the pacing, cinematography, and characters better.

Not that it's Road Warrior (which it borrows from, along with Terminator 2). It isn't. But there's something to be said for hot motorcycle chases, hot flaming skulls, and the possibility of angels. A good thrill ride.

If you want to get away from it all for 95 minutes, you could do a lot worse.

Have a nice weekend.

P.S. Here's my Flag Day moment. Got involved in personal business yesterday. Please remove your hat while you take in the video. For a video, hand over your heart is optional....

I'm guessing you've all been busy too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Old Folks Day, Part I

It isn't the nipples.
It's the context.

NSFW? Nah. Except for you people who've never seen a woman's nipple.

NOT A MADONNA FAN. My wife and I don't always agree. As it should be. Sometimes she's wrong. Sometimes I'm wrong. Sometimes we're both right but approaching things differently. I think this is one of those occasions. I told her I was tempted to come to Madonna's defense for the first time in my life because of the abuse she's taken for showing a nipple in Istanbul. She told me I shouldn't do it, that Madonna deserves what she gets, having earned it over a lifetime. I thought I saw some mitigating factors, especially given that she was in Istanbul, where muslim culture represses, distorts, and often criminalizes female sexuality. I thought I could see a certain bravery in Madonna being Madonna, particularly in a hostile environment. She wasn't impressed. I subsided.

Yet there's always a submerged part of any destructive media iceberg. Here's an ice knife I found this morning:

Madonna is at it again. The woman with the insatiable appetite for attention – any attention – is making news on her worldwide MDNA tour.

With the way this over-the-hill exhibitionist is behaving, instead of the title of her album and tour being a play on club-drug MDMA (Ecstasy), “MDNA” should stand for “Menopausal Diva Needs Attention.”

Over the last 30 years the entire world has been intermittently subjected to the Material Girl in various stages of undress. Before her previous Latina/Evita phase and more recent faux-British phase, a coffee-table edition of her exhibitionist book entitled “Sex” even treated the public to a totally nude Madonna hitchhiking.

Since then, Madonna’s estrogen levels have greatly diminished, but not her desire to shock. So that’s probably why Madame Ciccone felt it was her civic duty, as if anybody cares, to update the public as to the changes middle age inflicts on a woman’s body.

While in Turkey on tour, a woman too deluded to accept the fact that nobody cares what her nipples look like anymore, injected a huge dose of Granny disgust into the Istanbul show when she whipped out one boob while singing "Human Nature."

Early-onset senile dementia must be kicking in because Madonna criticized Janet Jackson for a similar wardrobe malfunction in 2004, when she called showing your nipples “cheap attention grabs.”

So, according to Madonna, the intent of her “cheap attention grab” was to garner more press, up the shock ante, offend any traditionally Islamic members of her audience, and while she was at it, send a strong message to the male-dominated Muslim culture.

The 53-year-old must want Middle Eastern fans to know that if she gets the urge to act like a trollop, cultural mores will never prevent her from doing so. To drive home that point, Madonna scribbled “No Fear” on her back. By tattooing “No Fear” on her body, Madonna unintentionally conveyed to her audience another, more important message, which is that age does not prevent a grandstanding narcissist from embarrassing herself on stage when she should be home tucking in her children and sipping a cup of chamomile tea.

Besides, Madonna’s “No Fear” pretense is a boldfaced lie. “Little Nonni” merely feigns fearlessness when she’s flouting religious sensibilities, especially in a country where female modesty is mandated by law. She’s also Ms. ‘No Shame’ when it comes to defiling a generation of other people’s children with her lewd promiscuity, Godless message and self-masturbatory conceit.

But when it comes to accepting the reality of aging, Madonna is obviously riddled with fear. Moreover, up until now, a fearful Madonna tried desperately to preserve the purity and innocence of her daughters Lourdes (Lola) Leon and Mercy James and sons Rocco Ritchie and David Banda Mwale by shielding them from exposure to what she has purposely inflicted on other people’s children for the past 30 years.

Madonna has apparently decided it’s about time to expose her offspring to their mother’s unique brand of perverted antics, so she took Lourdes and Rocco on tour with her. From a mother’s perspective, it really doesn’t matter who Madonna thinks she is; subjecting her own children to watching her writhe around on stage depicting violent, sadomasochistic pleasure borders on child abuse.

It calls to mind Cher singing “If I Could Turn Back Time” on the deck of the USS Missouri in front of a group of sailors, skipping around in a fishnet body stocking while her 12-year-old son Elijah Blue Allman played backup on the guitar with the band.

Nevertheless, apparently Madonna has decided to follow Cher’s lead because Lourdes and Rocco are both fully involved in the production of the MDNA tour. Pre-teen son Rocco sings with the gospel choir in “Like a Prayer,” break dances and gets to see Mom up-close and personal “stripped nearly naked and tied up in a corset by a dancer, then dragged around the floor.”

And as if that weren’t bad enough, while Madonna exhorts the crowd to world peace young Rocco witnesses gun violence complete with images of “shattered skulls, brains, and blood splashing” across Jumbotron screens.

The real kicker occurs when this impressionable child gets to observe his mother cavort on the stage with a 24-year-old Kabbalah devotee/lead dancer with an apparent Oedipus complex named Brahim Zaibat.

Daughter Lola, whom self-described “disciplinarian” Madge used to prohibit from watching television, eating ice cream, and reading magazines, now serves as a backup dancer but mostly works backstage in wardrobe helping Mama slip her bony body in and out of bondage outfits, chains, and lingerie.

By inviting her children to participate in the tour, the ravenous-for-attention Madonna clearly disregarded the effect that a deliberate wardrobe malfunction would have on her own children, let alone anyone else’s.

Perched center stage, unable to control the impulse to shock her audience, Madonna lowered one side of her brassiere like a mother preparing to nurse a baby before she remembered her nursing days are long gone and covered her teat.

Word to former children’s book author Madonna from one 50-something to another: rather than look for new ways to make the world cringe with your perverse exhibitionism, maybe you should gather up your two kids and head home to whatever corner of the world you presently identify with.

And while you’re there picking up a new fake accent, for the love of God, please start acting your age.

Okay. Why my wife was right. There is something perverse about having her 12-year old son on stage while she flashes her boob at 50,000 people. But there's still something troubling about the language of this and other attacks on Madonna. I didn't realize what it was until I happened (yeah, I always happen on things, don't I?) on a BBC America bit of fluff called "The U.K.'s 20 Sexiest." I was multi-tasking: listening to Laura Ingraham on the iPhone, tracking news and blog sites on the iPad, and watching a TV show with the sound down and the captions turned on. The show was a better version of the kind of thing the E! Channel does. Cleverer. And the captions were all spelled correctly. Clever? In the top five was "Aston Martin." The on-screen wits all agreed you'd have to go to bed with Aston Martin on a first date but that you couldn't count on a long-term relationship. Irresistibly sexy, though, because he's been to all the right schools, lived in all the right places, and would be a stupendous if selfish lover. I think Aston Martin was Number Three on the list. But it was Number Four that snapped my eyes open: Helen Mirren.

The wits were all obeisant. She's in her sixties and still getting sexier, as if she hasn't even peaked yet. One agonized over the fact that her seventies might be even hotter but confessed he'd never felt desire for a woman in her eighties. Maybe Helen would change that. I remembered that Dame Helen had shown her own nipples on screen at the age of 58, in a comedy-drama called Calendar Girls:

This clip is edited. I've seen the movie. Trust me. Nipples.

See, the problem I was having with the attacks on Madonna had to do with the fact that condemnation of her and her lifestyle had been conveniently conflated with an attack on her age. The references to breasts that no longer produce milk, to menopause, to an unstated assumption that female sexuality is actually offensive, even disgusting, when it outlasts some sort of young-woman-mandated "sell by" date. That's what I take issue with. Benjamin Franklin famously made the case for older women as lovers. They know more and they smell better, he said, or words to that effect. I'm certain there are a lot of young men out there who would still think they'd died and gone to heaven if they got to see (and, uh, experience) the nipples and other parts of Sophia Loren and Raquel Welch. And Helen Mirren is a special case of her own. This is a woman who has been throwing off her clothes on-screen for 40 years, including multiple full frontal nudity and simulated sex scenes well into her forties. Why is she not a slut?  Simply because sex is not all she is. Her acting is equally good clothed or naked. She doesn't need to exhibit her body. But she's utterly uninhibited about doing so. Which is its own nth degree of erotic appeal.

I've called this Old Folks Day. I'm an old folk. Or Old Fogie if you want to be less polite. I wasn't offended by the Janet Jackson scandal at the Super Bowl. I don't think nipples are the finger-wagging of the beast. Most young boys have seen their mother naked.  Hell, most mothers have a hard time keeping the kids out of the bathroom when they're trying to have a quiet pee.  What long-term damage does that do? John Ruskin, the great Brit painter, nearly divorced his young wife when he discovered on their honeymoon that she had pubic hair. He was so disgusted he painted nothing but the destruction of the world by fire for the rest of his life. If only he had known... Well, never mind. We can never know. Some people just obsess about things that are more natural than they can abide.

Like nipples. They don't have an expiration date. They're like truly fine wine, reserved for occasions where the right time and setting make them an exquisite peak of life experience.

My point? Infinitesimal. To register my opposition to furious, frequently right-wing overreaction in wrong-headed terms. Plenty of reasons to condemn Madonna. Enough said. But don't be making all the 50-plus women think their sexual parts have become mysteriously disgusting because bitter female op-ed writers are jealous of the unbounded attractiveness of women who are twice or thrice their age, or worse, exactly their age but vitally NOT ice cold about their own bodies

Have I succeeded in avoiding vulgarity thus far? I thought so. Why I have to prove my own masculinity with a final joke, stolen from the standup comedian who recounted his first experience at a full-monte strip club: "Seen one? Want to see them ALL."

Everything else is just hypocrisy. Women, bless their hearts, have to learn how to cope with that. Which, given the bald fact of monolithic male response, is their responsibility. Madonna chose poorly. Mirren maybe better.

We at InstaPunk will NEVER discriminate against nipples of any age. Think we could smuggle that into the Romney platform? Hokay. Guess not.

Old Folks Day, Part II

Let's Try John McCain for

NOW he's upset. We were upset in 2008.

PINK. You think I'm not serious. I'm dead serious. This man accepted the nomination of his party and ran against Barack Obama in 2008 for the presidency of the United States. But he never intended to win. He only wanted the honor of having been nominated. He vetoed every suggestion that his campaign should vet Obama's checkered and mysterious personal history, research and use the links with Bill Ayers and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and then in the critical final days of the campaign when he had actually pulled ahead in the polls thanks to his firebrand running mate, he shut down his campaign altogether to run to Washington, DC, where he did absolutely nothing.

In boxing it's called taking a dive. Now, though, he seems to have suddenly discovered what so many of the rest of us knew at the time: Obama is a positive danger to the republic and its national security. When the boxing match in question is a presidential election on which the welfare of 300 million souls hangs, a dive is called treason.

It's Old Folks Day. The thing about old folks is that they are usually more than willing to atone for past sins. As death approaches, the brain and the conscience begin to interact, even if they've never met one another at a cocktail party before.

Of course, the DOJ will never arrest John McCain. But there's good and brave stuff in him. I propose that he surrender himself on the charge of treason and demand a fair trial. He can even plead guilty and use the courtroom time to let witnesses testify as to the extent of the damages to the country which should determine his sentence. He's a patriot. I feel confident he'd do it. He's done it before.

I'm not looking for the death penalty here. I'm seeking an opportunity for the American electorate to learn just how catastrophic this presidency has been to the hopes and future of our nation. When McCain puts himself in the dock, he becomes a symbol for every American and every Republican who did the easy rather than the right thing by facilitating the rise to power of an inexperienced and incompetent young ideologue who could never have taken the oath of office without crossed fingers. Because -- despite all the eloquent excuses made for him on all sides -- this president never believed in the constitution, never loved his country, and always wished it harm. The trial could surface and document facts the Romney campaign can offer up but never verify. It could be an American turning point.

If you're the guy who had a chance of beating him and wished to ride off into the sunset instead with a rosy addition to his resume, how should you feel? You should feel like a traitor. McCain knows that feeling. If he could step up this time, he might still become an American hero. Instead of an asshole.

Which, to be honest, is all he is now. His sentence (in my opinion) should be having to live out the rest of his days exclusively in the company of his daughter Megan. History might not understand. But all those of us alive at the moment sure will. In the words of Scott Turow, "There may not always be justice, but there IS punishment."

See? Old Folks Day wasn't nearly as dull as your usual day, was it? Don't answer. Pretty sure you're not good at it. Wouldn't want any of you to get hurt.

Old Folks Day, Part III

"A tall ship and a star
 to steer her by..."

Twenty five years ago yesterday.

BONUS. A Parthian shot before we hit the hay at our usual disgustingly early hour.

My granddad, the WWI vet, had a sign in his basement workshop which I somehow remember even though the walls were mostly papered with topless 'Esquire' girls. The sign said, "Too soon old and too late smart."

I loved those Esquire girls, whom my mother laughed off when I asked about them and didn't even tell me not to look, but the sign has stayed with me longer, along with the the murderous trench knife I inherited from him and still keep close to my bed.

Old men know things young men don't. Old men who are bad know that nothing matters but their own ambitions and appetites. Old men who are good know that you have to keep pursuing the same goals all your life, win or lose.

I'm not sure why but we're suddenly getting a lot of George H. W. Bush this week. He's 88. His son Jeb is pontificating about how we need more politicians like dad, who was something like Ronald Reagan.

Uh, No. He wasn't. I like 41. I think he's a good man. But he was nothing like Ronald Reagan. He got himself elected by nerving himself up to a promise he did not keep.

The clip above is quintessential Reagan. But it's not just a rhetorical flourish. It's a fulfillment of a lifetime conviction that never wavered. Here's the proof. This is the speech that launched Reagan's political career. The exact same guy that stood at the Brandenburg Gate three decades later. Why they call it "The Speech."

Who he was, who he remained, and how he prevailed.

Why all the political pundit talk about packaging and imaging and repackaging and reimaging is pure bullshit. Truth is, you always are what you were when you first chose a star in the heavens to follow.

Young men are fooled by adroit star switching. Old men know better. Or they should. If they don't they never had a star in the first place.

I know the stars I've followed. They haven't changed. How about you?

The title? From a poem by John Masefield:


I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Forget it. You know. It's old folk stuff...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crisis at Philly's
Franklin Institute

Photo by Joe Debold.

HISTORY.  All weekend the missus was crouched over her laptop staring at a live feed from a surveillance camera. No, she hasn't succumbed to internet voyeurism. She was in full-on mother mode. Let me explain. First, I'll quote the intro of a blog I'll talk more about later.

Hawkwatch at the Franklin Institute

2012 will be the fourth year for two Red-tailed hawks to successfully nest on a window ledge at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. A live-feed camera allows thousands of people in the USA and around the world to watch the eggs hatch, and then observe the feeding and care of the young hawks until they fledge in mid June. Each year, this Red-tail pair have successfully raised three eyasses [er, baby hawks]

Second, I'll quote myself from this year's experience:

My wife watches this every day. Red-tailed hawks having babies on a ledge at the Franklin Institute. Three years now she's been watching the chicks hatch, grow, and learn to fly. Mom and Dad are stupendously dutiful, exchanging shifts on the nest and going out hunting for food for the voracious youngsters. She calls the chicks "the Bobbles," and keeps me updated.

But this year is different. Dad got killed by a truck. Mom was all alone and in something of a panic. No time to mourn, only hunt. The Institute folks tried to fill in, sneaking food into the nest when Mom was away, but everyone watching knew the chicks were in trouble.

Then the New Guy showed up. He stepped seamlessly into the Dad role, bringing food and doing his turns of babysitting and hunting. Something about what marriage is.

Red-tailed hawks are monogamous. Even liberals might like this plot. He raises the ones who aren't his own. Will he be back next year? I'm thinking yes. Liberal TV casting would have him played by John Ritter. The rightwing action movie genre would make him Jason Statham. I'm pretty sure I see a shoulder holster under his right wing. What do you see?

In the meantime, the Bobbles are surviving. Let it continue so.

Third, the reason for my wife's weekend obsession (and, well, yeah, mine too.) This is the time when the eyasses (more eloquently termed "the bobbles" by my better half for the way the chicks' heads move early on) leave the nest. Which they can only do by flying for the first time. They don't all go at once. It's a glorious and moving phenomenon to watch. When their flying feathers start to come in, they actually look bigger than their parents, maybe the way sleek adults would look after a tumble cycle in the dryer, things sticking out all over, baby feathers bulging and clouding the new more purposeful plumage. They start "winger-cising," startling the camera with spreads and spans and beats that seem impossible for such infants to have in them. Three Bobbles. One has to be first. After lots of false starts, the main event is always sudden. An explosion of wings and then he's gone. But he doesn't go far. He finds a nearby tree or another building to attempt his first landing, which is a lot like kids without training wheels for the first time trying to stop without falling off the bike. It doesn't always go smoothly.

Meanwhile the parents are monitoring the whole process. They make fewer trips to the nest. They still hunt for food, but not for the nest. They place it where the Bobbles will have to fly to get it. This year, the second Bobble left within a few hours of the first. They both had adventures recorded by the "hawkarazzi" on the ground. Then the vigil began. The vigil the missus and I spent much of our weekend keeping.

The third Bobble had doubts. The chat room which accompanies and records every moment of Bobble life kept referring to this one as "she," and so I will too. She was all alone now. Mama did not come. Dad (known as T2 because he was the hero stepfather) brought her fresh green leaves, which Bobbles like to sit on for some reason, but all the food was across the street, on a city monument. The nest camera kept clicking. She went through every vicissitude of emotion. She stood hopelessly on the leaves, backed up against the window of the Institute. You could see her thinking, "I'm not buying the whole flying thing. Maybe I'll be a new kind of hawk. A sitting and watching and moping hawk. Where is everybody?" Then she'd walk hesitantly toward the middle of the nest and look out across the street for long minutes. She knew the others were out there. Hawks see everything. A brief winger-cise would seem to alarm her. She'd turn her back on the street and stare grimly at the window. "Shit," you could hear her say. "Shit."

And so we watched. And watched. And watched. At times she nerved herself up to go stand at the edge overlooking the street. The wings would spread. Then, in the staccato rhythm of a video made by only fairly rapid still photos, we'd see pedestrians pass by on the sidewalk below. She looked at them. "People. That's a long way down." This always changed her mind. Eventually she always wound up huddled in the corner that had the leaves, looking lonely and lost.

It took her, I don't know, 36 hours or more to follow the second of her siblings into the air. That happened yesterday morning when my wife couldn't be watching, of course. All three of them are now out there, still having adventures. Sometimes they walk into the street and the hawkarazzi have to run after them, stopping cars to keep them from getting run over. It's all so very new to them. 

I could probably have saved you reading this by directing you sooner to this extraordinary blog, which has recorded everything I've just described, in journal fashion as it happened and illustrated by some truly great photography. Do yourselves a favor and read and view the whole blog. It's an astounding and beautiful slice of wild life in the big city.

Happy ending? Did I captivate you with "The Crisis of the Third Bobble"?

No. That's not the story. Not the crisis.

The crisis is this. Tonight at 5:45 pm, President Obama is arriving at the Franklin Institute for some remarks, a fundraiser, whatever.

All those SUVs barging into the Bobbles' street. Who could or would stop them from running down a confused and frightened baby hawk? We stop construction projects and oil drilling in the name of snail darters and democrat owls. Why can't we get an injunction against a needless presidential photo-op to save a few young raptors?

You tell me.

I'm worried. That's the crisis. Call me an environmentalist wacko if you want. But somehow these Bobbles have become my Bobbles, and I don't want the president to kill them.

Monday, June 11, 2012


The Smell of
 Bitter Almonds

Don't know him. Is deriding his writing ad-hominem? You tell me.

ODOR OF DEATH. When I first read this Sunday New York Times essay over the weekend, I thought I would fisk it. But it's not worth a full fisking. Key quotes and some attendant comments are all that's required. The piece is introduced and repeatedly emphasized as a mea culpa. The author, Steve Almond, is a former adjunct professor of creative writing at Boston College. He rose briefly to media prominence when he resigned from Boston College in protest of the school's invitation to Condoleeza Rice to speak at commencement. He accepted an invitation to appear on Hannity's show (whom he did and does despise), which didn't go as he expected though he felt pumped at the time, and he has since come to recognize that he, like many others, has been enabling the right-wing propaganda machine. We're supposed to read his essay as a kind of liberal "coming to Jesus" moment (irony intended) and a call to action for other liberal enablers like himself. For example, he admits that he has long enjoyed listening compulsively to conservative talk radio for the easy moral indignation such shows aroused in him. He now feels the imperative to recommit himself to reason and responsible moral thought and discussion even with non-liberals. Except not really. In fact, he's committed to the same old lefty poison dressed up in the camouflage of false humility. The following quotes are as long as they are to convey his nuances of tone and the slow tightening of his rhetorical vise. Boldfaced sections are my own highlighting, not his.

Of course, not all right-wing pundits spew hate. But the ones who do are the ones we liberals dependably aggrandize. Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.

Any hope of that conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate. The left took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end, though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least in the short term.

His statement of the "underlying question" is fraudulent, unquestioningly in line with lefty spin. The question was not contraception per se, which is both relatively cheap and covered by a great many group and corporate health plans with no objections from the right wing. The question in the Fluke case was that as a student at an historically Jesuit Catholic university she was demanding free contraception via the force of government, which is a violation of the constitutional right to free religious expression. (As a law student she clearly had no idea what she was doing, being just a dumb victim woman of the male hierarchy... in a law school whose first job after graduation would net her $100K a year. Poor baby. Or, as Bill Maher would have it, idiot twat.) For Almond to state otherwise is dishonest, politically opportunistic, and simplistic to a degree that belies his ostentatious new commitment to rational discussion.

But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.

Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.

Even programs that seek to inject some levity into our rancorous political theater run on the same noxious fuel. What would “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” be without the fulminations of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing hysterics?

Let's see. Limbaugh is just a businessman? I guess that would explain the lefty pose that Bill Maher is just a comedian? So how come Limbaugh is culpable for calling Fluke a slut while Maher is blameless for calling Palin a dumb twat and a cunt? Whence the out of the blue assertion that "we (meaning liberals) just react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right"? Probably because creative writer Almond has also contradictorily defined Limbaugh as "the alpha male of conservatism." uh, What's Maher again? Maybe the alpha misogynist of the tolerant, feminist left?

I'm tempted to suggest that the legion of conservative viewers who patronize Fox News, which Almond characterizes as "the reliable conduit by which paranoid hogwash infects our mainstream media," would nominate Charles Krauthammer over Limbaugh as the alpha male of conservativism. But I won't point that out because tolerant liberals would immediately fill the airwaves and intertubes with disgusting jokes about cripples in wheelchairs. And worse.

Which brings me to the disgraceful lie that liberals are just reacting to voices on the right. If we confine the comparison just to Fox News and MSNBC, which is not so much simplistic as scientifically and appropriately reducible to an apples to apples comparison, the notion that MSNBC is merely reacting to Fox is self-evidently absurd. As a student of both (and a strong long-term critic of Fox), I can assert with confidence that the most right-wing hosts on Fox News are Sean Hannity, Steve Doocy, and Gretchen Carlson. (O'Reilly is more old-fashioned FDR/New Deal Democrat than crazed wingnut. Lots of us wingnuts despise him as much as libs do.) Hannity is an unabashed conservative partisan. Doocy is the plastic-faced Stan Laurel of obviously half-informed conservatism. Carlson is a former Miss America and outraged mom who has outrun her education. Hardly provocative in sum of the death wishes and various equally malevolent wishes of MSNBC stars. Other Fox hosts such as Shepard Smith, Greg Jarrett, and Allisyn Camerota are probably Democrats, just as Bret Baer and Greta van Susteren are probably Republicans. Others -- notably Chris Wallace and most of the mid-day hosts -- are harder to pin down, though I'd bet a sawbuck Chris Wallace voted for Obama the first time even if he won't again.

MSNBC, on the other hand, is stocked with unabashedly left-wing hosts -- Mika Breszinski, Chris Matthews, Ed Schulz, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell (and the new nonperson of MSNBC Keith Olbermann) -- who have collectively said absolutely despicable things about Republicans across the spectrum, particularly women, and particularly Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham, Nikki Haley, S.E. Cupp, and on and on. (All cunts who deserve to be hate-fucked to death. Unless that was just a "liberal-leaning publication" of some sort. Or was it just-businessman Maher?) The media rings like a gong with liberal disavowals of such remarks (including their discreet tut-tutting of death wishes for Cheney and their quiet tsk-tsking of types cheering for cancer diagnoses to conclude in horrific deaths for Laura Ingraham and Tony Snow, who was notoriously less than idolatrous about the sheer machinegun genius of Chris Matthews. I won't speak of the worse fate idealists had in mind for Malkin with their highly educated anatomical knowledge of the sideways orientation of Asian female genitals and what their diversity-committed souls would like to do with it.)

[Well, maybe not like a gong. More like a Simon-Garfunkel song about how silent silence can be. You know. Because everyone knows liberals love all people equally. Unless some of us are old or white or male or heterosexual or Catholic or Protestant or conservative. In those cases it's more like a "Hmm.." Which can be roughly translated as "Do you to death up the ass with a Bible written in acid on a corncob." You could look it up. Hmmm. What am I thinking now?]

Excuse me. If this kind of venom is mere reaction, it's exactly the kind of reaction the left imagines about the right: wholesale nuclear annihilation launched in response to emotional provocations they're hard put to define. Lamebrain that he can sometimes be, Hannity has never referred to a female Democrat politician as "a bag of meat." Ad-hominem is not the invention of the right. As Almond's own denunciatory prose confirms. Even as he basks in his own newfound humility, he proves himself an adept at the art of transmuting named political opponents to figures of contemptible derision. The benefits of a Wesleyan University education.

So who's the provocateur here? And who's the restrained reaction arguing for simple civility? Don't ask the left to think about it. They have their answer, already sealed in Glad Wrap.

But Steve Almond has another axe to grind with the right wing he can't forgive them for. Not ever. What's that? He finds right wing talk radio addictively entertaining. Left wing talk just ain't. His whole call for political conversations that deal more in ideas, initiatives, and pro-active programs for planning the future is in fact a confession of profound failure of his own ideological comrades across the board. While he treads water waiting for a new revealed Word of the Left, he finds himself listening to the constellation of radio hosts who are incredibly pissed off at the status quo.

So why do I do this?

The first and most damning reason is that some part of me truly enjoys resenting conservatives. I know I shouldn’t, that I should strive for equanimity. But secretly I feel the same helplessness and rage that animates the extreme right wing of this country. I see a world dangerously out of balance — morally, economically, ecologically — and my natural impulse is to blame those figures who, in my view, embody the decadent ignorance of the age. They become convenient scapegoats.

Rather than taking up the banner and the burden of the causes I believe in, or questioning my own consumptive habits, I’ve come to rely on private moments of indignation for moral vindication. I fume at the iniquity of Pundit A and laugh at the hypocrisy of Candidate B and feel absolved — without ever having left my couch. It’s a closed system of scorn and self-congratulation.

He's drawn like a moth to a flame by people who are talking about real stuff. His rationale for listening is different, though. They're all just dumber than he is. How he can hear bone simple truths and frustrations again and again and again without realizing that his own complicating impotencies are not superior but debilitating and silencing. He has no real rebuttals but his own conviction of superiority.

My fixation on conservative demagogues also includes a share of covert envy. The truth is that I feel overrun by moral uncertainty, bewildered by the complexity of our planetary crises. Wouldn’t it be nice, I ask myself, to feel entirely sure of my beliefs? To shout down anyone who disagrees with me? To dismiss peak oil and global warming as fairy tales? To accept capitalism as a catechism?

But what’s really happening when I scoff at Sarah Palin’s latest tweet amounts to a mimetic indulgence: I’m bleeding the world of nuance, surrendering to the seduction of binary thinking.

This pattern of defensive grievance, writ large, has derailed the liberal agenda and crippled the nation’s moral progress.

Moth meet flame. Flame meet moth. One of you is in mortal peril. Guess which one. The verities are the verities, rarely complex. A few I'll share with you. You, the one who is "overrun by moral uncertainty, bewildered by the complexity of our planetary crises," and who is not "entirely sure of my beliefs" nevertheless believes that a benevolent technocratic dictatorship which subordinates the proletariat to your superior intellect is the only way out of the planetary crises you agonize over. You feel that you are "bleeding the world of nuance, surrendering to the seduction of binary thinking," and at the exact same moment you maintain a childlike belief that ever-expanding bureaucracies of rules and regulations and domination of common error in lesser people's lives will somehow restore and revitalize the "nuance" of your perception? If you, in all your uncertainty, can have the comfort of authority over what they drive, what they eat, what they MUST believe, how they are processed as organic entities by an omnipotent government whose moral certainties you cannot positively lay claim to, then you will will feel morally authenticated. And anyone who views this as hubris, totalitarian, a projection of your own doubts and fears upon a world that doesn't actually need another creative writing instructor, must be folly and a priori proof of insanity. Which makes the nation, and perhaps the whole world, the intended foil for your own desperate need for a self esteem you confessedly cannot bring yourself to accord yourself.

Cushioned by the cosseted life you have lived (did you ever take a course in Economics at Wesleyan?), you have never entertained the possibility that binary thinking is sometimes right thinking. Life and death. Good and bad. Right and wrong. Go this way and die, go that way and live for another day. Probably how the human race survived one of those great bottleneck moments anthropologists are so fond of. You talk about nuance. But you don't even know what nuance is. It's not about the priests in their sanctuary debating fine points of orthodoxy. Nuance is about seemingly simple concepts like the straw that broke the camel's back. Nuance is about perceiving that straw's imminent descent. It's a nuance of perception, not of hairsplitting intellectual distinctions. Proof that I know you don't understand this point?

[C]onsider the popular response to the Great Recession. The Tea Party — inflamed and partly financed by well-funded lobbying groups — took to the streets to blame government for a crisis caused primarily by Wall Street. Liberals did little aside from condemning the Tea Party. It wasn’t until the Occupy Wall Street movement began, nearly four years later (at the instigation of the Canadian magazine Adbusters), that those on the American left began to protest economic inequality, and even then the movement could articulate no specific policy goals. The same general passivity marked our reaction to the perceived moral atrocities of the Bush era, from the war in Iraq to domestic surveillance to our torture program. The most insidious effect of our addiction to right-wing misanthropy has been the erosion of our more generous instincts. At least for me. I’ve come to regard all conservatives as extremists, a mob of useful idiots plied by profiteers, rather than a diverse spectrum of citizens, many of whom share my values, anxieties and goals.

The Tea Party perceived the nuance you don't and never will. Government can get too big. It operates exclusively by force: we tax you and if you don't obey we punish you. Which has nothing to do with liberty and everything to do with force -- and parasites. It wasn't just Wall Street that led to the Great Recession. Another falsehood in your disingenuous fiction of an essay. It was the age-old assumption by parasites in all times and places that something can be had for nothing. The Ultimate Parasites, the U.S. Congress, decided that Wall Street should finance homes for people who were unable to earn them. Your benign idealists made it the law of the land and destroyed the U.S. economy. Not capitalists maddened by greed, but government conjoined with corrupted capitalists in a triumph of influence and giant bureaucracies over common sense. Result? Bubble bursts. Then the Tea Party. For once, in my entire lifetime, the people in the streets were not sheep bleating for a new species of handout but a rarely roused and incomprehensibly tolerant electorate who had willingly paid for a generation of "generosity" you have done little or nothing to fund. When you side with government against them you are saying, binarily and again without nuance, that you don't like or trust or believe in the native goodness of people or the inherent virtues that carried us from near extinction in the past to the unparalleled and astonishing prosperity of the current day.

And when I say prosperity, I am not referring to Exxon or Goldman Sachs. I am referring to a human capital so vast no list can encompass it or even hint at its extraordinary, incredible, transforming wealth. Sneferu, Akhenaton, Moses, Homer, Socrates, Pythagoras, Sophocles, Plautus, Catullus, Caesar, Octavian, Jesus, and on and on and on, until there was Galileo and Kepler and da Vinci and Michelangelo, and Newton and Shakespeare and Milton, and Locke and Rousseau, and still on and on and on, until the thing that is you was finally made and you turned on it with bilious contempt and decided, in defiance of Voltaire and Mencken and Lincoln, that people of the right sort of educational background should just take over the whole human enterprise. Otherwise it would collapse in ruin. Anyone who disagreed with your self-appraisal of transcendent human brilliance was probably a wingnut. Anyone who thought that five thousand years of human history had stumbled across some verities of its own were demonstrably nuts. Which, thanks to Freud, we can now term "pathologies."

I’m not trying to soft-pedal the very real pathologies of the modern conservative movement. The rich and powerful have clearly found in the Republican Party a willing collaborator. They’ve spent billions peddling Americans a failed theology of deregulation and lower taxes that is designed to foster and protect obscene wealth, not to serve the vast majority of our citizens. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the coming election will mark an unprecedented infusion of corporate propaganda into the political bloodstream.

Never thought you were. Capitalism is obviously inimical to the new understanding of the world that is owned by the very few who should be taken care of without risk of any kind. We need them to steer us the rest of the way. It's obviously pathology to doubt the certainty of your moral uncertainty and just let the human experiment continue. Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton obviously knew nothing, no matter how often the wingnuts cite them. Their vision is far inferior to your own.

Imagine if you will, the domino effect that would ensue if liberals and moderates simply tuned out the demagogues. Yes, they would still be able to manipulate their legions into endorsing cruel and self-defeating policies. But their voices would be sealed within the echo chamber of extremism and sealed off from the majority of Americans who honestly just want our common problems solved. They would be marginalized in the same way as activists who rant about racial purity or anarchy.

Kind of hard not to see this as an appeal for the end of free speech. What you really do want.

Very liberal. Very humble. You want a good conversation with people who mostly agree with you so that we can soft pedal our way into the neolithic past. Cool.

Dare I say Kewl.

This last measure, I realize, hasn’t worked for President Obama. But he’s up against a cohort of politicians underwritten by special interests. We citizens can’t use that excuse. We all have the same basic interests: to provide for our families, to worship as we see fit, to pursue happiness. We live in a country of unimaginable abundance. It shouldn’t be so hard to find common ground.

I’m as heartbroken as the next liberal at the cynicism of the Republican Party and the inability of Democrats to confront them in blunt moral terms.

My, my my. You can't see that a president who gets more money from Wall Street than his Republican challenger and spends all his time in office hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities -- five times the fundraisers, already, of the past five presidents' reelection efforts put together -- isn't eschewing special interests, even though most of his staff are lobbyists from, uh, Wall Street, is not a "liberal" as you define it but an American Chavez? Really? (And question for extra credit: why all the religious/liturgical references? Your usual condescension? Are you struggling desperately to believe in something beyond yourself? We can only hope.)

A country of unimaginable abundance? Really? Where did that abundance come from? It didn't come from Boston College. It didn't come from the government. It came from people -- like the first farmers who created economics in the first place -- who created wealth by working hard and producing things that didn't exist before. Things people wanted. But everything YOU have ever been and come from is NOT a source of American wealth. You are a luxury produced by a country you have never understood or appreciated. So who exactly are you to speak to the rest of us about "blunt moral terms?"

And we're the ones who are dumb? Really?

Let me know if you ever figure it out. I'm pretty sure you won't.

What I'm absolutely sure of? I smell bitter almonds whenever liberal 'idealists' open their mouths. Poison has pretty much the same aroma whether it's on a dagger or in a pie. Coward's tools both.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Brain Food

A somewhat disappointing interview, but interesting nonetheless.

LIBERTARIAN RHETORIC. Five books and a movie. Something to do while you grapple so fetchingly with existential despair.

1. Jonah Goldberg: The Tyranny of Cliches.

2. Edward Klein: The Amateur.

3. Stanley Kurtz: Radical-in-Chief.

4. David Limbaugh: The Great Destroyer.

5. Dick Morris: Screwed.

6. Movie: U.N. Me.

Call it an investment in waking up.

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