Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
July 25, 2012 - July 18, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Debate Summary:
Lake's Last Word.

It's all in the mind and fingers... The future awaits.

I GET THE LAST WORD. My opponent and I have decided to finish the debate at the risk of running around in circles. Who won? Hope had its supporters, but Despair generally seemed to rule the comment threads. We undertook this debate in order to get all of you, my fellow commenters, reading and discussing again with passion (on a post that wasn't about a sci-fi movie). It worked, though a few of you still sabotage every comment thread you enter. I'm looking at you, Helk.

I would count my own performance as a loss in the present, but with the potential for a future win when we see what actually happens. My opponent wasted no time pointing out how dire our current situation is and how hopeless the future appears in the hands of the next two generations. I responded with pie-eyed optimism about the transforming power of technology to redeem the Gamma generation. Many of you rightly saw that neither of us completely held the points of view we argued.

As a teacher, there are many days when I come home with a deep despair for my students and their prospects, and I work at a very good school. I was glad to hear from some fellow educators in the comments, even though you were prone to despair as well. I have to ask you the question that I ask myself on a fairly regular basis: Why do we keep doing this? The answer, of course, is hope. Deep down, we hope that we'll get through to just a handful of promising students a year, and this drives us forward and keeps us motivated to continue bringing our best. But I'm not consumed by hope, not every day. I live and work at a real school, and the situations I face make me frequently question the future of these children. 

My opponent, Robert, is not consumed by despair either. How could the man who first dreamed of the fire on South Street despair forever? Something from nothing: a fiction and a dream, Dirty Rotten Varmint, until someone makes it real against all the odds. Robert is convinced that another term of Obama will be the final nail in the coffin, a point of no return for the country. He's been arguing this for years, and the mission of the site has become the defeat of the incumbent. I'm going to fight like hell here in enemy territory (New England) to ensure that Obama loses, but you know what? Even if Obama is reelected, I think there's hope for the future. The youth are not turning out like they did for Obama the first time. Four years revealed to them just what a poor President he's been, and I most often see dismay and anger toward him in even the most liberal online communities. I don't think he's going to win, but as Robert points out, things don't really get started until the conventions.

Beyond this summary, I wanted to expound briefly on my expectation of the internet's role in a hopeful future. On its own, the internet provides no hope whatsoever, and it can even march us to an even quicker despair. As pointed out by Robert on this site, much of the internet is poorly written bulletin board postings, masturbatory memes, and outlets for narcissists. Facebook and Twitter, Reddit and World Star Hip Hop, YouTube and the blogosphere: all allow the worst of our society to spray the lowest and meanest words and images onto a world-sized stage. But even the Punks were making music before fire came to South Street. I think it's a step in the right direction that people are competing to produce music, art, humor, movies, and stories online, rather than just sitting back and consuming television. It is in this potential to share with a wide audience and therefore to motivate new creation in internet users that I find some degree of hope.

In the debate, Robert mentioned Gammas 'stumbling upon' the keys to learning, thought, and knowledge. As most of you know, there is in fact a site called, a site that many of my current students are hooked on. At its worst, it is no better than channel surfing -- 10 million channels with nothing on -- but it can serve to stoke curiosity and exploration, to dive deeper and learn more. It unfortunately plays to the ADD-like need for instant gratification that is so rampant among them, but again, it gives me some measure of hope.

The hope for the future is not in the internet, it is in the people. I spoke of another generational rebellion against the current state of being, and I hope that I can be part of its trigger. I have a vision of students who want to learn more, to write better, to *think* just to spite their progenitors. It will take much discomfort to provoke this, and we're not there yet. But we may be soon, and I want to be there to convince them that there is hope.

What about you, the commenters who despair? Are you really so uncreative that you can't think of a scenario where the tide turns and things get better? Don't go back into your holes. The debate got us all talking again, let's see where this takes us.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thoughts on Penn State

Why was he always scowling? Shades of the Dark Crystal?

TAINTED LEGACY. I know, I know. I should have thoughts on Colorado instead. Don't. Insanity isn't about thought. It's, uh, about insanity.

The word tragedy is thrown around too often, too freely. It's not a tragedy when bad things happen randomly to good people or innocents. That's a calamity. It's not about pure evil unleashed. That's self-defining: it's evil. The Colorado shooter is evil. Jerry Sandusky is evil. The drama of Joe Paterno and Penn State, however, is tragedy in accordance with its formal definition by Aristotle a couple millennia ago. An otherwise upright man is destroyed by a single fatal flaw in his character or decision-making. It's important to note that the destruction is utter. One can lament the virtue that perished in consequence, but that virtue does not redeem. That's what makes it a tragedy. It's a function of the great -- great in power, great in gifts, great in accomplishment, great in ambition or aspiration, or all of the above. In such men the damning flaw is amplified in effect and scope until it shakes the earth with the aftershocks of their downfall.

Shakespeare's tragic characters tend to be complicated: Lear, Othello, Hamlet, and MacBeth. Though each had a flaw that could be described by a single word, there were nuances that both aggravated and mitigated their offenses. The two archetypal Greeks of Aristotle's era are simpler. Oedipus might be a victim of fate: through ignorance of the facts, he killed his father and married his mother, which doomed him at once. Creon, the tragic hero of Antigone, was either too proud or too stubborn to do the right thing according to the familial moral customs of his day and was destroyed as a result.

I think Paterno fits the Greek model, which goes a long way toward explaining the resistance we keep seeing from the Penn State community. I say this as someone who has had no ounce of sympathy for the Nittany Nonsense we've been hearing since the story first broke. The media response to the unfolding revelations is not really a demonstration of superior conscience. It is part of the necessary shattering, the utterness, of Paterno's tragic destruction. But these are, lest we forget, also small-minded people, the ones who jump with both feet onto every tale of woe in a world of icons. People who routinely cut each other's throats and plant knives in the backs of their colleagues over segments of airtime nevertheless want to destroy Tiger Woods, utterly, LeBron James, utterly, Barry Bonds, utterly, and if they get the chance at last, Lance Armstrong, utterly. Keep your Pat Bermans, Mike Lupicas, well, fill in your own blanks. They're all small men trying to look big in a middling arena.

What the Penn State folks are grappling with, very unsuccessfully, is the fact that Joe Paterno was a giant in their lives. He was larger than their lives and therefore took up an extraordinary amount of space on their individual horizons. He did more virtuous things than they believe they could, can, or would do in their own lives. He built/financed a library, created an edifice of local pride, and served as surrogate father or role model to hundreds of young men over a lifetime of dedication to a single institution, Penn State football. In many ways, he made Penn State University itself a larger and more influential educational institution than it would ever have been otherwise, and multitudes of ordinary people are better off economically, socially, and experientially than they'd have been if Paterno hadn't been the sovereign of Happy Valley.

Thus, the disconnect. None of this absolves Joe Paterno. The destruction of his reputation and legacy is and has to be -- utter. This time the media reflex is operating as the hand of fate. Tragedy as Aristotle conceived it and Sophocles demonstrated it.

There's a very small and improbable potential silver lining to what is called in Aristotelian terms the catastrophe (when all the chickens come home to roost), but I'll save that for the end.

In Greek tragedy, all the action, all the crimes and violent acts, take place off stage. The narrators of such events are the chorus, anonymous figures who explain in concert the key events and their consequences. Enter the NCAA. More minor players, small men trying to be bigger in a grand situation. The justice they've meted out this time is unexpectedly divine. The dreaded NCAA death sentence would have allowed Penn Staters to hide from their accusers and moral nemeses. Lick their wounds for a year and pretend that there's such a thing as a fresh start in the role of underdog. There isn't. After 14 years of stained leadership long idolized, there is no such thing as a fresh start. They must play all their old rivals and former doormats for years of atonement and humiliation.

An old truism is in play. Be nice to those you meet on the way up, because you will meet the same people on the way down. I've seen Penn State run up the score on the lesser teams they play early to get ready for the ranked teams. I've heard from firsthand witnesses of the students at Happy Valley who fling bags of urine at opposing marching bands. I've witnessed the racial slurs their fans hurl at Temple in the games they play at the Link (the home field of the Eagles and Temple by courtesy). All this will come back to them again and again. The doormat teams will clobber them and give no quarter. The lowliest Big Ten teams will annihilate them and (probably) give no quarter. Temple will, if it sees the chance, score a hundred points against them.

The sin, you see, was pride, or if you want a Greek word, hubris. Paterno had it and it percolated down through all the players into the students, alumni, and others in the stands. What has the NCAA done with its bans and restrictions? It has for all intents and purposes deemphasized football at a university whose whole identity consisted of almost nothing but. After the transfers, no-shows, scholarship constraints, and budget cuts, the Penn State Nittany Lions will be fielding teams of walk-ons that should probably be competing against their Pennsylvania academic superiors Lafayette, Lehigh, Villanova, and Penn. But the Big Ten didn't let them off the hook. They'll have to play those games year after year, until maybe they learn humility via the bruises bullies earn in the field rather than simple amateur collegiality. Penn State never belonged in the BigTen. Not a good enough university. Just a mighty football program with a jumped-up community college attached to its stadium exits. Can a sports coach build a great university? No. An unfortunate truth they'll learn the hard way.

The end result of Greek tragedy is supposed to be "catharsis," or cleansing. In other words, feeling better afterwards. The potential bright spot in this mess probably won't happen, but we can hope. The NCAA decreed that students with PSU athletic scholarships could choose to remain at the university on scholarship without playing football. Some sixty-plus kids just got an opportunity to use their scholarships for education rather than a fleeting chance at the NFL and the likelihood of crippling head injuries. If only a dozen take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity, it would be something to set against the ten or so damaged kids who had to testify against Sandusky in court.

Not enough, certainly. But something. Something good. Any chance the next generation of Penn State pep rallies will look like this?

But the beat is good. Better than a damn Penn State fight song...

Nah. I don't think so, either.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Do yourselves a favor:
Go see Batman.

OLD NEWS IS BIG NEWS. How did a movie get to be a political football? Simple but complicated. The Dark Knight was regarded by many conservatives as a defense of George W. Bush. Which it may or may not have been. Then, with this sequel, the name coincidence of the villain Bane with Romney's firm Bain was identified ahead of time as something the Obama campaign was determined to exploit. Except that the actual movie turned out to be easily seen as an assault on the Occupy movement, again whether or not there was any such intention.

Now the shooting in Colorado. ABC News has already tried to link the crazed, lone gunman with the Tea Party movement. More recent evidence suggests the shooter was aping the Joker. Regardless, the stage has been set for killing the movie.Going to see it is physically dangerous, subsidizing violence, or politically incorrect in the wake of the massacre.

Well, given that it does serve to show the Occupy movement as the potentially violent anarchistic and anti-social phenomenon it is, I'm thinking that the Obama campaign would really like to see this bizarre crime empty the theaters and slaughter The Dark Knight Rises at the box office.

Don't let that happen. Buy your tickets, go, watch the damn movie. Don't be frightened sheep. Leave the kids at home. Where they should be left for all movies like this.

When you've seen it in the theater, check in here with your reviews, good, bad, or indifferent.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Republicans need a
HUMOR SuperPac.

Kind of a greatest hits clip. By no means the whole enchilada.

DERISION. The biggest mistake Romney, Republican politicians, and conservative pundits are making is taking Obama seriously. The guy is a joke. Sure, they can't double over in laughter at the thought of this clown seeking a second term, but that's what SuperPacs are for. The right one could ask and answer a few simple questions in an entertaining way the electorate would grasp at once. Then Romney could huff and puff and shrug and say his hands are tied, but the message would be rolling out anyway, Examples of the questions:

Obama is smart?

He didn't correct himself despite the laughter.

He made the same error twice. He's illiterate.

This one's like an eighth grader mistake.

More Greatest hits.

Obama is cool?

If you can't bowl, don't. Not cool.

Throws like a girl. Not cool.

No wonder he throws like a girl. He's a fake Chisox fan.

They can't stand each other. Of course they'd need a second take.

Obama is honest?

Didn't talk to him, got the facts wrong, but the point is dead on. Right.

Total lie. About his mother, no less.

Got to admit, when it comes to lying he's got a good fastball.

Obama keeps his political promises?

He's the ultimate know-nothing, do-nothing president, and a total phony besides, perhaps the greatest mediocrity elected to the White House since Warren Harding. Independent SuperPac money can drive that point home. The material is abundant, almost endless. And then there's this, which should paper the airwaves with huge amounts of canned laughter:

Maybe the one time he was telling the truth about what he believes.

Let's get Dennis Miller to be our emcee and start winning this election with laughs. I'm serious. Though chortling like a hyena.

P.S. In the interim, you can get closer to POTUS than you ever thought possible, via Office Jerk.

Who he is. The world's most invulnerable nerd.

Unless he's the world's most incoherent idiot...

Which he is. Jesus. How did we get saddled with this creep? Sad thing? I know. White guilt. I have a Dartmouth grad friend older than I am who thinks I'm unfair and who I KNOW thought he was doing good by voting for this monstrosity against the Constitution. He thinks I'm getting personal about things that shouldn't be. But it IS personal. Your nonsensical so-called idealism, at an age when you should be well past delusion, is slaying my country. I hate you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


You keep thinking you can guess the next turn. You can't.

YOU DIDN'T MAKE THAT. A lot of nonsense being talked about entrepreneurs right now. Yeah, Obama revealed himself when he said small business owners didn't create their own success. But conservative hagiography on the subject is also getting a bit thick. The guy or gal with a business idea is not doing it to create jobs. He's doing it to make money. The good he does in the way of jobs and improvement in general living standards is, uh, collateral damage. Capitalism is not a religion, not even a philosophy. It's a mechanism. As better men than I have put it, it's war by other means. Which is its chief strength.

Who are the entrepreneurs? They're the aggressors. They want more, need more, and they will pay any price to get it. There is no unifying vision that describes them. Some of them are creative and charismatic, if not manipulative, in pursuit of an imaginative vision. Some of them are stolid hard workers who never ever ever quit when there's another dollar to be made. Some of them are dutiful inheritors of a family tradition. Others are maniacs who keep throwing crap against the wall until some of it finally sticks. They fail and fail and fail until sheer perseverance brings home the bacon. Mostly, they do put in the hours. Because they really really hate losing, however they conceive of it. And more often than the conservatives would like, the winners are beneficiaries of dumb luck -- being in the right place at the right time to make a killing. Start a restaurant? Really? THE worst business prospect there is. Nine out of ten close their doors within a year. But some still make it. It's called the American Dream. Some people know so little about the odds against them they succeed in spite of themselves. In certain cases, ignorance really can be bliss.

The same traits are involved in the pursuit of power. People who want to be the reigning figure on the totem pole of the social structure they occupy. Why incredibly rich tycoons are still trying to throw their weight around into their seventies and eighties. They suffer from the same disease that Obama does. They just took the long detour through market competition that born politicians short-circuit by grabbing for power before they've actually accomplished anything else. Why elders in every walk of life begin groping toward the ultimate aphrodisiac of civilization: power. They're all deranged, of course. Sane men in old age want to reconnect with families they've ignored in their egotistical march to wealth. The insane want to extend their phantom empires, as if great monuments on their graves will make them great men. Not a chance.

Just a few points I need to make. The question at issue isn't about virtue. Obama betrays his naivete by wanting to make it about that. It's about human nature. There are those who are legitimately inspired and want to leave a mark, those who are trying to provide for their families, those who are driven by irrational ego, those who would do absolutely anything to be admired in purely materialist terms, and those whose whole idea of fulfillment consists of conquest. Why capitalism is simultaneously a safety valve for villains and a source of prosperity and comfort to those who just want to get along.

Not guns but butter, to recast the Econ 101 analogy. What a hell of a lot of butter the American Way has produced. The real danger of the Obama Way is that when you eliminate free enterprise as the way to accomplish debatable personal objectives, what you will get is naked aggression. Government joining hands with business is a formula for nightmarish oppression. Eliminating the risk by making business predators immune to failure is the most direct route to fascism anyone could conceive.

Something conservatives should concede. Business does not care about social objectives and social welfare. The Constitution protected us from depredation by preventing business from joining hands with government. When the federal government bails out business and deems some too big to fail, the road to perdition is assured. All the lies they tell in defense of a fascist policy are propaganda.

Which brings me to the YouTube above. The American Dream is NOT about government support for individual paths to prosperity. America has always been a chaotic and unfair petrie dish. Limited government has, however, made it possible for individuals to find cracks in the system. It's those cracks entrepreneurs of every stripe have worked, wriggled, and muscled their way through to success. Often enough, government has nothing to do with those individual travails. Their habitual practice is to keep making the cracks smaller. Regulate them away, because cracks are unfair. Except that cracks have always been the way OUT.

If there's only one opportunity, a few will find it. Most will fail. (Sick of hearing Hannity-like comments that hard work always succeeds. It doesn't.) Found this movie and thought most of the way through it would be a fine parable of how little a person needs from family, school, etc, to plot a new course. The script is pitiless. All that matters is one indomitable will, and, yeah, there's a teacher, but one who only becomes engaged after the student proves she is worthy of the dollar and time investment. Oh, and, yeah, talent and will. Admittedly, the third act is absurd, but the movie itself is sufficient proof of what I'm talking about. The leading lady trained for three months in a boxing gym to win the role, and her determination has bought her a career in show business.

She found a crack and hit it hard. She won. Compare this with our president. Who has never had to worm through a crack in the system. He's looked at nothing but doors that swing wide open when he relates his exotic personal narrative.

Pshaw. Or should I acknowledge our sophisticated commenters by saying instead, meh?

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