May 4, 2008 - April 27, 2008
Friday, June 22, 2007
Feet of Clay
Oxymoron of the Week: Los Angeles
. People are
always saying, "InstaPunk, why can't you be nicer?" They say, "You make
fun of Malkin
you're disrespectful to the Blogfather
you go out of your way to irritate Hugh
you're downright mean to Ace
, you're too snide by half about Sean
, you're actually crazed on the subject of Neal
, and every time you attract the attention of the big
conservative bloggers, all you do is piss
True. I really should be nicer. You know. Hell,
I've even been confrontational with LaShawn
, which is absolutely verboten
on the righthand side of the blogosphere. And now I've made an enemy of
the Duke of Los Angeles, Patterico
(Look at the comments. He comes back again and again and again. I got
under his skin, I guess. You'll note that he never responds to the
substance of my critique, only the legalism that I ascribed to him a
thought he exemplified without explicitly endorsing.)
What's up with that? Is InstaPunk self-destructive? No. InstaPunk is
merely honest. And fed up. Here's who he admires on the right: Thomas
Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, and Mark Steyn. They're all writers, not
bloggers. Most of the righty bloggers are tiresome mediocrities, and we
can't help pointing it out when their posts make it too obvious. Thing
is, the conservative cause really does need first-rate bloggers. It's a
damn shame we don't have them.
Well, except for Glenn Reynolds. That man has a first-rate mind. You
can actually see it dancing across the surface of the Internet like
some waterbug who's on every watercourse at once without ever sinking.
He's a prototype of the glorious future of the human mind --
constantly, dynamically referential, with a nose that pokes into
absolutely everything and yet never gets out of joint. I admire him
more than I can say. It's just that he's not punk enough. He'd much
rather link than fight. Which is his prerogative, of course. That's why
I feel compelled to tweak his nose from time to time. He responds
creatively to the experience. "Oh," he says, and lays out a new field
of references as numerous as ripples on a river.
It's all the other conservative combatants I get tired of. They can
dish it out, but they can't take it. They march off to their
various little wars, but if you have the gall to disagree, they shut
down like a bunch of little girls who can't believe anyone would flout
their whims. You can't possibly know how depressing this is to
InstaPunk, who is mostly older than they are and who finds it utterly
incredible that self-styled conservatives are so hyper-sensitive about
being criticized. It's like getting into the ring with a supposedly
great prizefighter who starts snuffling and tearing up at the first jab
that penetrates his guard.
There are great matters at stake in the world of today. The bloggers on
the left are warriors. They're not smart, but they're game. The
bloggers on the right are, sad to say, pussies. They have no real taste
for combat. They have no stomach for debate. It's a sad state of
affairs. They're little girls playing
in the pool
. And, yes, Patterico, I'm talking about you, too. Quit
worrying about whether I was mistaken in ascribing to you a thought you
linked and respond instead to the real charge I levied against you --
that you're an ignorant snob on the subject of popular culture. An
adult male who doesn't know anything about Michael Schumacher or Annika
Sorenstam is a wuss. And I'm tired of the fact that the battle for
western civilization rests in the hands of so damn many wusses.
As for the rest of you -- Boortz, Goldstein, Ace, et al -- get over
your fragile egos and learn how to fucking write. And the ones who do
know how to write, like, say, Dean Barnett, learn how to fight without
shrieking every time some prole bloodies your nose. That's why
InstaPunk is here. To make you tough enough to go fifteen rounds in the
only ring that matters -- the debate over how our nation might best
survive the ordeals ahead.
We know our place. We're the right-wing blog the right-wingers hate.
Because we recognize mediocrity every time we see it, and we're not
afraid to call you on it. So be it.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
It's got to be lonely in that ivory
AVOIDING THE PROLES
I really don't know what to make of this. Two powerful conservative
bloggers have recently posted personal reactions to the Forbes
list of top 100 celebrities
. Both seem to be taking a certain
perverse pride in not knowing a lot of the names on it. Here's Ilya
from the Volokh Conspiracy:
Looking at Forbes' list... it turns out
that there are 26 of these people that I've never heard of, and another
10-15 whom I vaguely recollect but don't really know what they do....
Just as the average American is rationally ignorant about politics
because it doesn't interest him much, I am rationally ignorant about
Hollywood and pop music stars because most of them don't interest me
much (other than the ones who co-star with Randy Barnett, of course!).
The lesson to be learned, if there is one, is that rational ignorance
is a universal phenomenon, not limited to the "stupid" unwashed masses.
We are all inevitably ignorant about a wide range of topics.
Unfortunately, however, popular ignorance about politics probably
causes more social harm than academic geeks' ignorance about pop
The highest-ranking celebrity I'd never heard of: Jay-Z, ranked no. 9.
Then there's Los Angeles luminary Patterico
who gets very specific:
I list the names of the people I never
heard of in the extended entry. I recognize that I’m particularly
ignorant in this area, but I’m still willing to bet that you’ve never
heard of some of these “celebrities” yourself.
People I never heard of:
Larry the Cable Guy
There were several other people whose names sounded vaguely familiar,
but who I couldn’t place exactly. For example:
Vince Vaughn (I guessed he was a singer, but the wife reminded me he
was in the Wedding Crashers and I then remembered him)
Alex Rodriguez (I thought I didn’t know who he was, but then my wife
said “He’s some sports guy, isn’t he?” and I remembered I knew him as a
big-time home run hitter when he played for my hometown Texas Rangers)
Emeril Lagasse (I have seen his face on sausages I have bought at the
store but didn’t know for sure if that was him because I don’t know his
Annika Sorenstam (I knew she was some kind of sports babe, but thought
her sport was tennis, when it’s actually golf)
Hilary Duff (I thought she was an actress, but apparently I was
thinking of Hillary Swank. This person is a singer of some sort. But I
think I’ve heard the name.)
How about you?
Of the 28 people listed by Patterico, I know 22. And I'm honestly
struggling with the statement, implicitly seconded by Patterico, that
"popular ignorance about politics probably
causes more social harm than academic geeks' ignorance about pop
Whether the statement is true in some absolute sense or not, I can't
escape the logic that it would be almost impossible for an "academic
geek" to view the question any other way. What we don't know, after
all, is obviously less important to us -- and less obviously harmful in
our eyes -- than what we do know. In other words, how could Somin and
Patterico possibly believe otherwise? There's clearly a huge amount of
popular culture they have missed or deliberately ignored. And if
Patterico's commenters are any indication, they're not alone.
I have a problem with that. The people on the list have, collectively,
a huge impact on who we are as Americans and westerners, for both good
and ill. To be ignorant of such a high percentage of them bespeaks a
narrowness and rigidity of interests that may be as injurious to
political perceptions as an inability to name members of the
Jay-Z is number nine on the list because he is a cultural archetype of
the emerging phenomenon of the rapper as business mogul and social
trendsetter. To know nothing of him or 50 Cent suggests a person who
hasn't looked much below the surface of the hip-hop gangsta movement
that's in the process of transforming American (and European) youth in
ways that may
to our future. (And don't claim you've read a book or two about it. If
you haven't heard Jay-Z with Linkin Park, you don't know squat about
Others, primarily sports figures to be sure, represent extremely
significant accomplishments that don't deserve to be patronized even by
'academic geeks.' Michael Schumacher is possibly the greatest Grand
Prix driver of all time. Ditto for Roger Federer in tennis. Annika
Sorenstam is almost certainly the greatest woman golfer in history;
calling her a "sports babe" actively derides the talent, discipline,
character, and perseverance it takes to become the best at anything,
which really does include sports in addition to law practice, academic
research, and political power. LeBron James may be on his way to
breaking the records of Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. I'm
certainly no fan of the NBA, but as with the other sports names
(including Beckham of World Cup fame and A-Rod
of the New
York Yankees, for heaven's sake), the only way I can imagine not
knowing who he is would be through deliberate refusal to discuss
anything with my fellow man but the topics I'm
most interested in. I used to
rail at the kind of hausfrau who lived with a football fan husband for
years without ever learning the first thing about the rules of the
game. It struck me almost as an act of malice, her perpetual ignorance
requiring more effort to sustain than would a modest learning curve. Now I see that women own no monopoly on that kind of small-mindedness.
Several of the actors on the list are noteworthy for having done some
very good work and/or participated in projects that generated social
controversies or large popular followings. If you haven't heard of
Dakota Fanning, you probably missed an affecting movie called Man on Fire
, in which she
and Denzel Washington shone. You also missed the aborted release of Hounddog
, in which
Hollywood suddenly had to reexamine its responsibilities to child
actors because of a scene involving implied child rape. If the name
Daniel Radcliffe means nothing to you, you're probably one of the few
who turned his nose up at the Harry Potter phenomenon, which
simultaneously outraged fundamentalists and attracted young people to
the reading of books more effectively than a decade of lame public
service ads. If you've pigeonholed Vince Vaughn on the basis of a
chance encounter with one bad comedy, I have to feel sad that you're
probably never going to see his tour de force performance in Return to Paradise
, one of
the best movies in years about the meaning of personal moral
responsibility in the ambiguous modern context.
None of these omissions invalidates an individual person's right to
comment on matters political and social, but just how arid and remote
is the mindset of a man whose circle of acquaintance includes no old
lady fan of George Lopez's TV show, no youngster who forces
confrontation with the bizarre persona conveyed by Dane Cook's stand-up
comedy routines, no countrified pals who laugh uproariously at Larry
the Cable Guy, no serious sports fan who scratches his head at
the Paris Hilton-like self absorption and questionable ethics of golf's
enfant terrible Michelle Wie, and no woman or metrosexual
male who gushes enthusiastically about the cooking feats of Paula Deen,
Bobby Flay, and Emeril Lagassis?
I would argue that experience of the culture itself -- its highs, lows,
and in-betweens in a wide range of human pursuits -- is also an
important credential for those who presume to assess where we are as a
nation and where we might go from here. In this perspective, our
celebrities are not simply the kaleidoscope background of the
simple-minded, but a glimpse of potent forces that touch, shape,
inspire, lead, and occasionally mis
the people who are ultimately responsible for making decisions in the
voting booth. If you know nothing of their interests, and care less,
I'm guessing you're darn near as handicapped as the folks who can't
name the three branches of the U.S. government.
At the very least, some contact with the popular culture is invaluable
in perceiving how it is that the great issues of the day seep into the
public consciousness to the extent that they do. If you studiously
dismiss sports and television and the movies as perpetually beneath
you, I will never listen to a word you have to say about the strengths
and weaknesses of the mass media, because these matters are destined to
remain perpetually above you.
And if you don't know who Danica Patrick is, you're definitely an old
fart and probably a eunuch besides.
first saw this news story on Fox & Friends, where all the hosts
agreed that it was ridiculous to object to the noise little girls can
make when they're disporting themselves in a swimming pool. Here's the press
William and Rachel Poczatek, who live
in the village of Bayville, were hit with a notice of violation after
neighbors complained about the couple's daughters, aged 5 and 11, who
they said played too loudly around the family's backyard pool.
The couple is due in court Wednesday to face the charge of violating a
noise code usually reserved for "the shouting and crying of peddlers,
hawkers and vendors which disturbs the peace and quiet of the
The penalty if convicted? According to the village code: $250 fine, 15
days in jail, or
both for each day the offense continued.
Rachel Poczatek, 43, said she didn't know how to solve the problem.
"Should I muzzle my children?''
Neighbor Mark Kostakis, whose wife, Angie, is listed as one of the
complainants on the summons, said he began making audio recordings of
the children to document the noise. He said he spent three years
complaining to the village and the Poczateks.
"This is it for me,'' he said. "I don't work 12 hours a day to come
home and listen to this....''
"Should I muzzle my children?" Uh, if need be. Of course, the
It's what kids do: squeal in delight
when they're having fun.
But to some Long Island residents those squeals were unwelcome noise,
and they wanted two neighborhood girls playing in a backyard pool to
The complaints fell on deaf ears Wednesday night when Bayville's acting
village justice dismissed a summons accusing the girls' parents,
William and Rachel Poczatek, of violating a village noise ordinance.
"I think the village did the right thing," William Poczatek said.
Poczatek said he was shocked when he and his wife were slapped with a
summons. Sure, he said, Ashley, 11, and 5-year-old Chloe make noise
when they're outside enjoying their aboveground swimming pool.
"What, are you telling me that a kid can't make noise?" he protested.
"It's not fair."
Right. Full-grown adults can't possibly be expected to tell kids to
pipe down and make it stick. It's just not possible. It hasn't been
possible since the 1950s when the last parents who made any attempt to
discipline their children were informed by Benjamin Spock and company
that it's malicious parenting to make demands of children, to put them
in their place as junior and subsidiary members of the family, and to
spank them if they fail to learn basic lessons about how to behave in
Since then, we've all been subjected to the trail of loud noises and
broken things left by parents shuttling their unformed larvae through
the homes and malls of America. In that time, most parents have learned
not to apologize for the casual destruction their little darlings wreak
and not even to attempt rectifying the damage they leave behind.
Toddlers have become gods, and we're all supposed to accept their
unprecedented divinity without question. It's bad form to object.
I object. Children are not angels. Uncorrected and undisciplined, they
are monsters. Parents are not ladies-in-waiting. They are continuously
responsible for the havoc their reproductive urges might inflict on the
world. Little girls can
cute. Their glass-shattering shrieks are not cute. It's possible for
children to have fun without requiring the evacuation of an entire city
Control your kids, people. The kids will be much the better for it. And
so will the rest of us.
This is for J. I grant there's a generation gap here. I thought you
might find it helpful to review an older InstaPunk entry from June
. Those were cruder times, but they had their compensations.