May 19, 2010 - May 12, 2010
Sunday, April 12, 2009
love this picture. It confirms everything I was thinking from
reading his posts at National Review Online. Kind of reminds me of
Clinton's Esquire cover
though without the "below-the-belt" connotation. His
perpetual hard-on lives in his
, he's an estimable
Jim Manzi is CEO of Applied Predictive
Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software
company. Prior to founding APT, Mr. Manzi was a Vice President at
Mercer Management Consulting where he spent ten years directing
corporate strategy assignments across a wide array of industries on
five continents. He was previously employed in the Data Networks
Division of AT&T Laboratories where he developed PC-based pattern
recognition software. Mr. Manzi has published articles on science and
business topics in National Review and National Review Online. He
received a B.S. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, and was subsequently awarded a Dean's Fellowship in
statistics to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as
one of the eight top matriculants to the school's doctoral programs.
A week or so ago, I promised
a post on the "complex virtues of certain kinds of simple-mindedness."
This is that post. Jim Manzi is Exhibit A. I'm going to offer only two
pieces of evidence. The first is a secondhand summary of his views on Global
, though more concise than he tends to be.
Jim Manzi's article for the National
Review is one of the most intelligent descriptions I've seen of a
plausible conservative response to global warming. The National Review
isn't readily available in the United Kingdom but if you are at
university or otherwise have access to LexisNexis it is available over
that service. The article was in the issue of June 25 and is titled
"Game Plan - What conservatives should do about global warming".
The first thing Jim Manzi does is correctly identify the stage of the
argument that it is most productive for conservatives to address: what
we do about global warming rather than whether it exists.
This is clearly the right position to take. There is room for doubt
over global warming and the question of how much warming there will be
remains deeply uncertain. However, the political debate has moved on
and most non-scientists more interested in the political debate can
engage far more effectively on the question of what to do about global
warming, a question rooted in politics and economics, than they can in
the scientific debate. [boldface
added, along with this reference and this datum:
The second is a summary
of his views, in his own words, on the current "torture" controversy:
It seems to me that the real question
whether torture works strategically; that is, is the U.S. better able
to achieve these objectives by conducting systematic torture as a
matter of policy, or by refusing to do this? Given that human society
is complex, it’s not clear that tactical efficacy implies strategic
When you ask the question this way, one obvious point stands out: we
keep beating the torturing nations. The regimes in the modern world
that have used systematic torture and directly threatened the survival
of the United States — Nazi Germany, WWII-era Japan, and the Soviet
Union — have been annihilated, while we are the world’s leading nation.
The list of other torturing nations governed by regimes that would like
to do us serious harm, but lack the capacity for this kind of challenge
because they are economically underdeveloped (an interesting
observation in itself), are not places that most people reading this
blog would ever want to live as a typical resident. They have won no
competition worth winning. The classically liberal nations of Western
Europe, North America, and the Pacific that led the move away from
systematic government-sponsored torture are the world’s winners.
Now, correlation is not causality. Said differently, we might have done
even better in WWII and the Cold War had we also engaged in systematic
torture as a matter of policy. Further, one could argue that the world
is different now: that because of the nature of our enemies, or because
of technological developments or whatever, that torture is now
strategically advantageous. But I think the burden of proof is on those
who would make these arguments, given that they call for overturning
what has been an important element of American identity for so many
years and through so many conflicts.
I submit that both these items illustrate the phenomenon that it is
possible to be so damn smart you're a total idiot...
[For the completion of this post, go here
Friday, April 10, 2009
AT THE GRAPHIC INSTEAD
. It's Holy Week and therefore Open Season on
Christians in the mass media. (Is it ever Open Season on muslims during
Ramadan?) We've had a provocative cover story about the "Death of Christian America
in Newsweek, followed by a hasty clarification
article's anxious author. HotAir's Allahpundit chose Good Friday itself
for a link to this jackassery
which reinforces his customary snarky atheism. And we've already noted
at this site the embarrassing
of the Episcopal/Anglican Church that underscores the
media's delighted focus on this
Ordinarily, we at InstaPunk address such phenomena in a scattershot,
ad-hoc, and frequently satirical
fashion, in response to current
rather than specific dates, but today is
Good Friday, and I've decided to
respond more seriously than usual. (Feel free to run away...)
Fortunately, there is one recent event that provides a basis for
focused discussion. It was a debate
between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. William Lane
Craig, described in this article as "an 'evidentialist' in that he
argues for the existence of God based on evidence not presupposition."
I'll give you three excerpts from the account of the debate and then
address some of the arguments on both sides. Sound fair? Excerpt One:
The debate began with Dr. Craig’s
opening arguments. He made a challenge to leave our bias at the door.
Impossible, I know, but he claimed that the debate would be fought on
philosophical arguments. He would rule out bad arguments, offer the
historicity and logic of his good arguments, then challenge Hitchens to
make a positive argument for his own atheism. This demonstrates Craig’s
adherence to formal debate tactics. He doesn’t take his positions based
on emotion or preference, he uses argument and reason and follows the
Dr. Craig’s evidence is presented in 5 different lines of argument:
1. The Cosmological Argument; Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The
universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. God is
the best explanation for that cause.
2. The Teleological Argument; The fine-tuning of the universe is so
improbable that law or chance aren’t adequate explanations. God is the
3. The Moral Argument; If God does not exist, then objective moral
values do not exist. Rape isn’t just culturally unacceptable, it’s
4. The Resurrection of Jesus; The vast majority of historians generally
agree that the tomb was empty. Separately, the vast majority of
historians generally agree that Jesus appeared to people post-mortem.
The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation
of these facts.
5. The Immediate Experience of God; Belief that God exists may be
rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded in argument.
Hitch doesn’t claim knowledge that
there is no God. He claims ignorance, though he avoids calling himself
an agnostic. Because he doesn’t know and Dr. Craig claims to know that
God exists, the disadvantage goes to the one who says, “I know.” He
says that given the stakes are so extra-ordinary (ie judgment, Heaven
and hell, dying for one’s faith, killing in the name of God) the
evidence provided by Dr. Craig wasn’t extra-ordinary enough to prove a
The most common argument made by Hitchens was that the world contained
so much cruelty and brutality for most living creatures across most of
existence that a good God didn’t seem likely, and that if He did exist
that He had a lot of bloodshed to answer for. He gave examples of the
pre-Christ and even pre-Jewish people who died without ever knowing the
one true God. That their lives were lost in ignorance and that only
recently does God come on the scene to save some. Hitch returned to
this line of reasoning so many times that I’d say it was his core
reason for disbelieving God.
Hitch went back to how our belief that God should personally be so
concerned with us that we should have the benefit of being born
post-Christ to enjoy salvation was a form of solipsism. “It’s all about
us.” he said, “Everything else was wasted, but at least we’re here.”
Throughout the rest of the debate, be it the rebuttal, the conclusion,
the question/answer, Hitchens returns to this classic problem of
suffering, and mocks believers for finding selfish meaning in the midst
of evil; “You’re a worm but take heart, it’s all made for you.”
[I]n my opinion., though Dr. Craig won
the argument (he was the only one who even presented a formal
argument), Hitchens won the debate. It’s not the argument of the
debaters, it’s the condition of the audience that wins the day. While
few of Dr. Craig’s arguments are dispersed through culture, even
religious culture, I’ve been raised on most of Hitchens’ arguments. Dr.
Craig’s arguments are true and well-reasoned by difficult to comprehend
on a first hearing. Hitchens’ arguments are what we’ll find spoken
against God on prime time television, at the water-cooler, I’ve even
heard some of them on Animal Planet. Culture generally makes Hitchens’
argument by default. And it’s easier to claim the skeptic’s nothing
than affirm the something of God…even when I think the most robust
argument is self evident to all of us…we’re here.
I think this is an excellent preface to thoughtful discussion. It
illustrates the disconnect between the theological position and the
secular position. The theologians want to talk about existence itself
and its meaning or lack of it, and the secularists want to contrast the
primitive mind which "invented" God with the rational mind that has
come to perceive a vast gulf between mythology and hard science, and
between naive faith and brutal facts.The theologians are asking, "How
could we be here at all if there weren't some supreme power behind the
universe beyond our ability to fully comprehend?," while the
secularists are declaring, "If there is
a God, he has a hell of a lot to answer for: Nature is vicious, men are
vicious, all so-called scriptures are ignorant "Just So" stories, and
at least the "Just So" stories of science are backed by objective
observation, measurements not conceived of in Biblical times, hard
data, and a far less anthropomorphic perspective. If there is a God, he
can't be anything
conception of him."
If I've stated the terms of disagreement fairly, everyone should be
nodding their heads about now. I'm going to take an additional step
toward fairness here. You'll note I used the term 'secularist' rather
than 'atheist' in my initial description of the conflict. That's
because I believe most self-professed atheists are not
really taking a cosmological
position but a cultural position. They're not presuming they know where
the universe came from but rather asserting that all
organized religions date from a
time when we knew less about everything, particularly matters
scientific, and are therefore evidently uninformed. They believe that
all important matters -- social, moral, and political -- should be
decided rationally and scientifically rather than in terms of what
ignoramuses past projected onto a dimly understood and largely
unexplored world. To me, the term that best describes this position is
"secularist," not "atheist" or even "agnostic." The existence or
nonexistence of some supreme power, however defined, is simply
irrelevant to the decisions we make in our lives. Is that
fair? I believe so.
Now then. I still propose to take the position that the secularists are
demonstrably wrong and that the evidence
favors the Christian perspective more than it does the secular
perspective. Some of my arguments are old, and some are, well, new. But
how can I dare to make such an argument in the first place? Because
when it's impossible to find some external point of comparison to use
as a control (i.e., some other example of intelligent life that
grappled with matters of divinity and meaning), we are compelled to
look inward and learn from the recurring or exceptional patterns of our
own experience at every level of scale. All our evidence about
existence and its meaning or lack of it comes from the sum total of
human knowledge and experience to
. If we can't find external points of comparison, we must
resort to internal points of comparison, of which, it turns out, there
are virtually infinite examples. If these consistently resonate with
one another, we can begin to extrapolate some universality, even about
dimensions of existence beyond or below ourselves we know little about.
For example, let's consider one of the prime axioms of science. If
there is a large measurable effect, there must be a powerful cause. A
dropped brick falls to the earth. The moon orbits the earth without
wandering away. Related effects across a range of scales. There must be
a cause. The more universal and consistent the effect, the more
powerful the cause. Gravity. One of the four known forces of the
universe that explain its operation. At one extreme lies black holes,
where gravity is so powerful it sucks in everything that comes within
its remotest influence. At the other extreme lies what? A sparrow, a
butterfly, a mosquito, a gnat that falls to earth when it dies. No one
has ever seen gravity itself, only its effects. The secularists have
exactly the same problem with Jesus Christ.
It is true that no one can prove
Jesus Christ ever existed, let alone prove that he was a superposition
of human and divine identities who died for all of us and rose again
from the dead, offering eternal life after death and eternal redemption
from something called sin. But the effects of this invisible cause,
whatever it was, are far too huge to ignore. Indeed, the effects are so
stupendously enormous across all scales of human experience that it is
laughable to credit objections based on sharpshooting the verifiable
historicity or lack of it of the Bible. Note, expressly
, that I am not
postulating the accuracy of the
four gospels when I use the word laughable in the context of Biblical
criticism. What I'm saying is that secularists are faced with an
incredibly intimidating Christian mystery of their own -- if Christ didn't
exist and wasn't
who he said he was, how do
you explain what happened
And let's not make any mistake about what happened afterwards. The
cultural changes wrought by Christianity on our earth are the single
biggest ongoing act of creation that
we know of
since the origin of life and the still theoretical
Big Bang. This invisible cause, whatever it consisted of, redefined
human consciousness to such a degree that it led to everything we now
take for granted about ourselves -- our sense of ourselves as
individuals, the proliferation of competing interpretations of the
originating events in the form of hundreds of variant denominations of
"the faith" that continue blooming to this day, the egoistic impulse
toward liberty across lines of class and in defiance of authoritarian
aristocratic governments, and the curiosity that spawned modern science
in the first place, including cosmology, medicine, chemistry, biology,
zoology, anthropology, evolution, psychology, and even economics.
Without that invisible, unverifiable cause, all but a few of
Christianity's fiercest critics wouldn't exist at all.
The messiah who
wasn't somehow also fathered atheism, marxism, existentialism,
absurdism, and the Matrix. Not to put too fine a point on it, the
Hitchens who mocks Christianity wouldn't even exist without it. The
mind that he applies to the argument, the self who experiences such a
volatile antipathy to what he perceives as the tyranny of misbegotten
myth, would be empty, undifferentiated, and mute. Indeed, his is the
greater solipsism by far than any he imputes to Christians. For he,
like most secularists, imagines that somehow he could still be who he
is in all his rancorous ridicule, without the 2,000 year intellectual,
artistic, philosophical, and political tradition that produced him,
which is overwhelmingly Christian.
Which is to say that he wishes to bask and preen in the effects of the
Christian tradition even as he presumes to subtract from that tradition
allegiance demands must exist.
himself a kind of proof of the Christ.
Is there a muslim Hitchens? No. If there were, he'd have been dead long
before this. We'd never have have been allowed to hear of him of
him, let alone listen to
him. Which is a point of contact
with the real miracle of Christianity that distinguishes it from all
other major religions. And
point of contact with the fallacy of secularist objections to
Christianity that demonstrates just how shallow those objections are.
First things first. There's a notion abroad these days that Islam is
some kind of serious rival to Christianity as a religion in terms of
its scope and power. It isn't. They are not rivals but opposites. Only
the enemies of Christianity commit the fraud of comparing them as if
they were somehow equivalent.
If we're keeping track of some hierarchy of scripture and its relation
to what we think we know now about human nature and morality, here's
the ranking in terms of Most Advanced (1) to Most Barbaric (3):
1) New Testament
2) Old Testament
Let's compare 2) and 3) to begin. The Hitchens (and Allahpundits) of
this world love to deride the most arbitarily judgmental sections of the
Old Testament. In its pages, they claim to see a God who is vengeful,
violent, and even psychotic. What they never see is that the OT is also
a record of the people who worshipped that God. That as the Israelites
became more civilized, Yahweh (wonder of wonders) also became more
forgiving (suggesting that God changes his aspect to man as man becomes
more able to interact intelligently). That Psalms is more wise than
Leviticus. That Isaiah is more individuated and interesting than Amos.
That Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are more wise than Hemingway. That
what we're seeing in the Old Testament is the transition from early
proto-consciousness to modern consciousness. The god of three-year-olds
is likely to be less nuanced than the god of twelve-year-olds. The Old
itself reliably as part of a continuum to the New Testament. The
variable is not God, but men. The Bible is the story of the raising of
men from childhood to adulthood.
The Koran contains no such story of growth, It is all
variations on Leviticus. Full
of laws not to be broken, ever, and hatreds galore. To read the Koran
against the Old Testament is to uncover a vicious imitative hoax
against the original it's copied from. The Old Testament is about
maturation. The Koran is about control. The histories of the peoples
who followed these scriptures are the evidence. The Jews were both
victimized and enlightened by the effects of the follow-on to their
scripture called the New Testament. Their resistance to its status as
divine revelation cost them blame and persecution, but they absorbed
every lesson it offered about individual mentality. They flourished in
every new discipline made possible by Christianity's devotion to the
spark of divinity in aspiring minds. Both
testaments are needed to explain the contributions of Einstein,
Schopenhauer, Mahler, and Freud. They loved God but abjured hope. That's their curse. Despite
their obsession with the artistic imagery
of Christianity, they could never bring themselves to believe or wholly
embrace it. Having precipitated the greatest leap forward in human
consciousness ever, they insisted on remaining obstinately outside its
implications, which almost cost them their existence.
But they knew those implications nevertheless. (Today's Jews are
Christians minus the belief in Christ as Son of God.) The New Testament
is the single greatest work of scripture in the history of life on
earth. Why? Because it is endlessly productive and provocative at every
scale. It is too internally contradictory to be read successfully as
didactic. And while it speaks directly to matters of right and wrong
and other spiritual matters, its centerpiece is not a list of rules but
the most creatively open-ended symbol
ever promulgated in religious terms.
The cross is the "X" that marks
the spot of human existence in so many ways that it can never run out
of ways to be ingeniously reinterpreted, almost always in ways that are
positive for the human spirit. (That's the reason for the unending establishment of new Christian denominations, some of which are despised orphans but all of which are part of the endless flowering of the story
.) The story that goes with that cross is
also endlessly creative and consistent with both human and divine
stories before and after its putative place in time. The story is
local, universal, philosophical, psychological, mythological,
historical, human, archetypal, personal, passionate, abstract,
symbolical, dramatic, sensual, ambiguous, allegorical, literal,
literary, architectural, and, in its impossible aggregate of all these,
clearly transcendent. The men who existed before this time were not so
much damned as insufficiently developed to be conscious of an
afterlife, Socrates and a few others excluded.
One simple story that knits together every conceivable story ever told
about the human condition. Unfolding in a (relatively) few pages of an
archaic document in an obsolete language. The word "metaphor" is to the
gospels what the word "big" is to the cosmological definition of
I've never heard any secularist (or atheist) who can explain away this
mountain of mystery. Our own times have produced masses of conspiracy
theories, hoaxes, compelling fictions. The desire to believe on behalf of
a greater meaning can
perpetuate compelling fictions, or else we wouldn't have had fifty-plus
years of Kennedy assassination literature, but truth tends to weigh in
at the end like a ten ton weight. Oswald owned the rifle that killed
Kennedy. The shot that killed Kennedy was fired from the sixth floor of
the Texas School Book Depository. Oswald was there at the time. He
killed a police officer while he was running away from the scene of the
crime. Only 40-some years into this mesmerizing mysteryon, we can already foresee eventually
accepting that Oswald was
a lone, meaningless assassin. If you reject any of these conclusions, ask what you are
willing to pay for your beliefs. Are you willing to die
, 100 years after the
fact, because you personally knew the identity of the people who killed
a nonfictional character named John F. Kennedy? You might feel
emotionally and intellectually that you possess the truth, but are you
so sure that you would die a horrible death for your belief? Torn apart
by lions in the coliseum?
Really? But people were stupid back then,
right? They were willing to be tortured horribly to death on account of
someone who never existed, just because he said stuff that couldn't
possibly help them live easier lives in the current political regime.
Until their beliefs forced an authoritarian empire to agree. Fine. Now
explain to me the process by which the United States and Europe
suddenly agree to accept Scientology as a state religion. Are you you
starting to grasp the dimensions of the mystery?
A final comparison on this Good Friday. Christianity has produced so
many variations of its original story that there are those who have
amputated themselves from their sources. As I've written previously
here, I believe most of the fundamentalist and evangelical "Born Again"
sects of Christianity have done exactly this. Their desire to read the
Bible "literally" is a flat denial of where the Bible came from and the
languages in which it was originally written. This denial has
deservedly earned them scorn from rationalists and, yes, secularists.
But here's what's decidedly odd. When the Hitchens of the world attack
Christianity, do they attack the much greater and older population of
Christians who see the Bible as an infinitely layered metaphor subject
to many nuances of meaning, or do they snipe at the easy targets of
those who claim their American 'revised standard version' is word for
The answer is, of course, the latter. The secularists just love to beat
up on the people who see the Bible as a strict roadmap to heaven. But I
would argue that this is just one more instance of the dictum that you
target the enemy who most resembles you (e.g., Nazi
totalitarians in Germany hated Boshevik totalitarians in Russia). That
is, the fundamentalists have made themselves targets because they are
most like the secularists. They are mirrors of each other, narrow, preemptive, and intolerant.
Fundamentalists exist in an absurd bubble of
false history. They reject the fact that the Bible they take so
literally was constructed by a Roman Catholic Church they dismiss as
heretical. They behave as if their
Christianity were a spontaneous act of divination, achieved directly
through a book whose origins their fragile theology would require them
to disdain. Secularists also exist in an absurd bubble of false
history. They reject the fact that the science they take so
dogmatically was inspired by devout Christians (like Isaac Newton) they
now dismiss as superstitious fools. They behave as if their (claimed)
pristine objectivity were a self-generated manifestation of wisdom,
achieved in spite of the book that gave rise to their own reactionary
disciplines and derivative personal identities.
The ony inequity here is that the fundamentalists are scorned and
transparent while the secularists are admired and ambiguous. Both are
small subsets of the historical populations created by the Christian
enlightenment. They're both sideshows. Educated Christians aren't much
impressed by the quest to find Noah's Ark on some mountain that can be
called be Ararat. Nor are they impressed by scientists who claim they
fully understand the evolution of humankind when they can't begin to
explain the origins of life.
It was the great physicist George
Richard Feynman who said, "If I can't create
it, I can't claim to understand it." (I used to call him George
when we hung out together at NASCAR races. He never corrected me. My
That statement alone elucidates the difference between a real scientist
and the kind of poseur we see in Richard Dawkins.
But in the interim, we'll have to put up with pretentious secularists
jeering at contradictions in the Bible as if plot holes are all that's
necessary to make up for the glaring hole where an explanation of the
existence of the universe should be.
Today, though, I'm going to commit the irrational act of imagining the
meaning of crucifixion and resurrection. As if I were a Christian. As
stupid an exercise as that might be.
So I'll do the unthinkable. I'll visualize Christ on the cross, dying
for me. And for you, too. With this
This fairness thing is a bitch. Okay. I have to
warn you that this post
contains some deliberate holes, which are, in fact, traps set for the
unwary. If you come charging in through those holes, you WILL be
ambushed. Sorry. I know it's not Christian, but Scots have never been
more than half
I'm still more than a double-bogey away from Scottish par on that.
So. You Know. Be advised.
Thanks, Fred. For some technical reason I can't fathom, I can't even respond to a comment on my
own post at this particular moment. But I'm humbled by what you said. Convey my best to your
brother the priest.UPDATE
Beckoning Chasm likes Palestrina
So do we.
Enemy at the Gates
no attention to this trailer. That's not what this flick is about.
No, it's not really a romance, though there are are romantic scenes.
No, it's not about killing Nazis, even though Nazis are killed. What
it's about is today's Rasmussen
asking Americans to compare capitalism to socialism. Only 53
percent think capitalism is better. Nobody seems concerned. Not even my
closest intimates. Hell, it's all politics and all politicians are
corrupt. What does it matter what you call policy, given that they're
The worst possible thing, really, is that you would get so upset about
mere politics that you'd say something abrupt or insist on some point
of trivial experiential detail. They've always been corrupt. What are
you getting so goddam upset about?
This. It feels like death. It's not just politics. Rent this movie.
Wait for the scene where Ralph Fiennes explains politics to Jude Law,
just before he gets shot in the head. The scene where he wants
to get shot in the head right
before he gets shot in the head.
Bearing in mind that the politics happening right now are only politics
and don't matter. We really shouldn't get upset about them. It's
upsetting to others if you do that. But some of us always do that.
That's how we ruin movies other people were enjoying. So we're not
supposed to draw any inferences or lessons or parallels to current
events from the scene where the political officer talks about the
glorious ambition to achieve equality, and how it's always screwed by
the fact that there really isn't any such thing as equality, because there's
always the inequality of who loves who and who doesn't love who, and
other things, which makes the whole socialist dream impossible. Understand?
Sure you do.
Absolutely right, IP. I didn't even need to punch a hole in the garage.
She reminded me there was no chance Americans would ever make any
connection between the Battle of Stalingrad and their own lives, and I
had no choice but to agree with her. I'm still pissed about that but
not at her. She also reminded me she's the only insured driver on our
fully armored personnel carrier. So I told her we didn't need the APC to
go see Atlas Shrugged
movies. We could do that in my 1962 Dodge PowerWagon. We're good now,
many times have I told you not to mention the Old Days? It's pretty
lame pretending you'd hit a woman, but why do I think it's just a
cover? What you really want to do is ride a hardtail from Providence to
Los Angeles and back.
at all. I'm much too old and feeble for a stunt like that. I'm in pain
every day. I can barely get out of bed. That''s how much my old legs
hurt. In the interim, if you could look after my mail, I'll be back on
line in seven, maybe ten days.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
he's a liberal, French-loving weenie. But he has his moments.
. Honestly, I've never been a fan of Michael Kinsley
but I've always had a grudging respect for him. He played the liberal
foil amicably and cogently on William F. Buckley's Firing Line
, so I've never doubted
that he was one of the diminishing population of lefties who don't
stroke out at the mere presence of a conservative in the room. On the
other hand, I had the impression that he was boringly predictable, a
party-line kind of guy without much in the way of original ideas. Now
I'm thinking I might have been wrong about that. His op-ed piece today
in the Washington Post
Newspapers," is brilliant.
Regular readers here will know that I have a dog in this hunt. I've
written about the financial catastrophe facing newspapers many times,
most recently here
In the latest instance, I was responding to a newspaperman who took
strong exception to my assertion that the crisis was one newspapers had
brought on themselves, much of it through increasingly naked
political bias. A representative excerpt of his argument and my
Don't take for granted the crucial role
still played by newspapers in
informing us about the world. If every newspaper abruptly folded
tomorrow, we'd have a very empty Internet and a very clueless public.
And we'd suddenly be living in a very dangerous society. Even if you
don't read a single newspaper's website, you still know the news you
know because of newspapers.
If you respond by saying,
well, some other enterprise will step in and fill that role, then the
burden is on you to explain how such a business could be any more
sustainable than the ones that are struggling mightily to be
sustainable as we speak.
Sorry for the lengthy post. I'm
just getting weary of seeing this flawed argument about the newspaper
industry's decline (i.e., various versions of "they're too biased!"),
and it's hard not to wax on about it.
uh, well, "some other enterprise will
step in and fill that role." And,
no, I don't have any burden whatsoever "to explain how such a business
could be any more
sustainable than the ones that are struggling mightily to be
sustainable as we speak."
But I will explain a fact or two about economics to our overwrought
friend. The demand for clear, factual reportage is a constant, a market
that will never go away so long as it is permitted to operate freely.
Which means that it represents a huge economic opportunity, a source of
enormous wealth potential to the person or entity who figures out how
to meet the demand. Which also means that the demand will be met and
profits will be made. It doesn't matter how.
Since then, of course, bailout fever has spread, not surprisingly, to
newspapers who believe not that they're too big to fail but -- like my
antagonist above -- too important
to fail. Congress is actually considering the possibility of making
newspapers nonprofit "foundations" subsidized by the very government
they're supposed to be objectively reporting on. That should make
liberals happy, shouldn't it? Well, interestingly enough, not in
Michael Kinsley's case. It turns out he's the kind of old-fashioned
liberal who still believes in quaint concepts like the market and an independent
press. From his
Two recent articles in Slate argued
that newspapers (1) actually play a fairly unimportant role in our
democracy and (2) are in this pickle because of financial shenanigans,
not inexorable forces of technology. But let's say these are both
wrong: that technology is on the verge of removing some traditionally
vital organs of the body politic. What should we do?
How about nothing? Capitalism is a "perennial gale of creative
destruction" (Joseph Schumpeter). Industries come and go. A newspaper
industry that was a ward of the state or of high-minded foundations
would be sadly compromised. And for what?
You may love the morning ritual of the paper and coffee, as I do, but
do you seriously think that this deserves a subsidy? Sorry, but people
who have grown up around computers find reading the news on paper just
as annoying as you find reading it on a screen. (All that ink on your
hands and clothes.) If your concern is grander -- that if we don't save
traditional newspapers we will lose information vital to democracy --
you are saying that people should get this information whether or not
they want it. That's an unattractive argument: shoving information down
people's throats in the name of democracy.
He's also unsparing about how this crisis came to pass.
Few industries in this country have
been as coddled as newspapers. The government doesn't actually write
them checks, as it does to farmers and now to banks, insurance
companies and automobile manufacturers. But politicians routinely pay
court to local newspapers the way other industries pay court to
politicians. Until very recently, most newspapers were monopolies, with
a special antitrust exemption to help them stay that way....
And then along came the Internet to wipe out some of the industry's
biggest costs. If you had told one of the great newspaper moguls of the
past that someday it would be possible to publish a newspaper without
paying anything for paper, printing and delivery, he would not have
predicted that this would mean catastrophe for the industry. But that
is what it has been.
Wow. That's an acute perception. And true. What's more, he's not
But there is no reason to suppose that
when the dust has settled, people will have lost their appetite for
serious news when the only fundamental change is that producing and
delivering that news has become cheaper.
Maybe the newspaper of the future will be more or less like the one of
the past, only not on paper. More likely it will be something more
casual in tone, more opinionated, more reader-participatory. Or it will
be a list of favorite Web sites rather than any single entity. Who
knows? Who knows what mix of advertising and reader fees will support
it? And who knows which, if any, of today's newspaper companies will
survive the transition?
But will there be a Baghdad bureau? Will there be resources to expose a
future Watergate? Will you be able to get your news straight and not in
an ideological fog of blogs? Yes, why not -- if there are customers for
these things. There used to be enough customers in each of half a dozen
American cities to support networks of bureaus around the world. Now
the customers can come from around the world as well.
If General Motors goes under, there will still be cars. And if the New
York Times disappears, there will still be news.
It's enough to make you wonder if Michael Kinsley is becoming, um,
conservative. I confess it; I'm impressed.
Now, if only we could extend the grand option of "doing nothing" to a
bunch of other issues the Obama administration is interfering in so
recklessly and disastrously. Then
maybe, I could begin to share CountryPunk's naive hopefulness. Although
I'd also have to see some change
An attractive concept. btw, follow
every link in this post, or you just won't get
. Redemption lurks in the oddest corners. Reliable sources
telling me that the current nostalgia craze is for the Eighties, and my
experience of the past weekend bears that out. My wife paid rapt
attention to a five-hour VH1 special devoted to one-hit wonders of that
decade, and I found myself enraptured, too, despite my reflexive
the much more serious sixties era of popular music. But constantly in
thrall to this site as I am, I also took skeptical note of the canned
intro that was repeated at the beginning of each one-hour segment --
declaration that the 1980s were a "simpler time" and that without the
music we all loved the decade would have "sucked."
A simpler time? Hardly. Unlike many who have fallen vicariously in love
(or at least 'like') with distant decades, I actually lived through the
eighties, just as I lived through the seventies and sixties, and I can
report that there was nothing "simple" about them. Of course, I fully
understand why the people who keep track of popular music have to say
what they say, because the Eighties were the decade of Ronald Reagan,
the twilight of the Cold War, a time of prodigious global challenges,
and the last time that Americans were unashamedly proud
to be American. Uncomfortable
realities in the Age of Obama. It was a
time when time might very well have suddenly ended for us at any
moment, but also
a time when our nation was finally, after several diffident decades,
standing up to those who threatened us. It began, quite propitiously,
with the "miraculous"
1980 Olympic hockey victory against the Russians. (All right. I was
going to be content with just a link to Miracle
, but I can't. I want to
be sure you watch it. So, my apologies for interrupting the flow of
The decade ended with the total collapse of the Soviet Union,
engineered by a president whom the MSM hated so much it contrived to
give all the credit for sudden peace to the Soviet leader who had the
wit to fold an irretrievably bad hand.
Did the Eighties "suck"? No. Defiinitely
no. After twenty years of economic stagnation and inflation, the
Eighties were the beginning of a 30-year epoch of growth and
prosperity. And oddly enough,
prosperity also spurred a boom in the innovation and excitement of
popular music. Within months of the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, MTV
was born, and it became an international phenomenon. Are you starting
to understand why the Eighties are the source of a current nostalgia
craze? I have it on good authoriity that girls are suddenly wearing leg
warmers again, just as they did in the aftermath of the movie Flashdance.
In fact, my own grown-up daughter -- she's 24 now -- tells me that the
Eighties, especially the music, are all the rage now. I asked her what
was so special about this era she's too young to remember. What one
word characterizes her fascination with a long expired decade?
"Electricity," she told me. "The Eighties were electric."
That's an odd term to be used by a contemporary generation that carries
electricity in its
pockets and purses in a far more literal way than any denizen of the
Eighties could have. There were no cell phones then, no Gameboys, and
barely any internet connections. But I know what she means. In my
somewhat retro vocabulary, her description translates to vitality,
passion, aspiration, life
Particularly at the beginning of that decade, there was an explosion of
s that infected
everyone, but most of all young people, even if they didn't know or
credit the source. For just a moment, everything you could possibly
imagine was conceivable. Like all such moments, it ended, long before
the anguished 2000s, but the buzz of it still resonates in 2009.
Music, as always, is the key, the thing which gives us the feel and
rhythm of the time. It's part of a continuum obviously, which is why we
can look to the Rolling Stones (as usual) for bookends of eighties pop
music. They kicked it off with Start Me Up
, which is a new
beginning by any measure and concluded it with Mixed Emotions
, a monument to
the end of the long simmering and incredibly dangerous Cold War between
Mick and Keith. In between, there was a long ton of great music. Thanks
to MTV, there was a profusion of one-hit
, which provide an unsurpassed insight into just how
competitive the music industry is. So much talent harnessed to produce
one fleeting moment of fame. Do you remember these?
Men Without Hats. A guilty pleasure. Hallucinogenic and fun. What an
Come on Eileen
/ Dexy's Midnight Runners. Oh those Irish. They never even look like
Melt with you
/ Modern English. Pure romance. A guaranteed lay. Still.
the Music Play
/ Shannon. A song that produced an entire genre
(techno-dance) all by itself.
99 Luft Balloons
/ Nena. A novelty song about nuclear war by a hottie with tight pants
and hairy armpits. Kewl.
She Blinded Me
/ Thomas Dolby. A nerd star who went on to invent
cellphone ringtones. The Eighties!
Party All the Time
/ Eddy Murphy. One Word. Fun.
How much harder must it be to read the times well enough to dominate
them utterly? Here are the top ten
of the entire decade:
10. You Shook Me All
/ AC/DC. The most elemental beat of rock rocks on.
/ Aerosmith & Run DMC. Rock plus rap, a union that
wouldn't be repeated until Linkin Park
teamed up with Jay-Z about 20 years later.
8. Like a
/ Madonna. Yes, she was a slut. Blatantly so. You could love
her or hate her. But she never pretended her exhibitionism was somehow
inadvertent. In that respect the Eighties were
Child O' Mine
/ Guns N' Roses. The greatest trailer-trash love song
ever recorded. It still makes me want to suck down a 40-ouncer in a
brown paper bag while she whirls up a naked tornado of cheap perfume.
How about you?
6. I Can't
Go for That (No Can Do)
/ Hall & Oates. Eh. My wife likes them.
So does yours probably. Maybe we should listen more.
5. When Doves Cry
Prince. The only guy still figthing the doomed battle against Internet
sharing. So you'll just have to remember
this fabulous song, along with the greater classic, Purple Rain
/ Michael Jackson. uh, yeah. There was a time when he was
. That time
was called the Eighties.
Like the Wolf
/ Duran Duran. It was a new technology. Mistakes get
made. So MTV created some stars who looked better than their music. You
can't make a good looking omelet without coddling your eggs. (Don't
even try to ask me what that means. I'll just ignore you while I'm
watching Slash do this
Some Sugar on Me
/ Def Leopard. Metal. With a one-armed drummer.
Those were the days. I'm not kidding. I'd be willing to bet he never
tried to park in a handicapped spot. Those were the days.
on a Prayer
/ Bon Jovi. A monogamous Catholic boy from New Jersey
in the top spot. Who'd a thunk it? Those were the days.
The lists never tell the whole story, though. Time for me to come
clean. Child of the sixties that I am, I still had a tape or two (or
three) that I played every morning before I launched myself into
corporate America in my expensive suit. And, yes, it was Eighties
stuff. Come into my parlor...
The first one was actually the last gasp of the seventies, but it's no
secret I was once a punk. The rest are the music of my life in the
business world, about which I was as fierce and passionate as I am
here. These aren't all
songs I listened to. But they are the ones -- apart from the obligatory
Stones fix -- I remember most intensely. Psychoanalyze me at your own
peril. In case you don't know it yet, I bite.
What were the Eighties? A vivid
time. If you were there, you know what I mean. If you weren't, you
probably wish you were. Which is a good sign that you can trust your
gut. Nostalgia can
be a kind
of redemption. If it sends you in productive directions. I have a
nostalgic decade or two that I look to as well. Maybe I'll tell you
about them sometime. If you prove yourselves worthy. Until then, study
this about me:
Eighties. Pure and (not so) simple. Just like me. Not to mention electric
. After all, I am
the undercurrent. Of everything.
Monday, April 06, 2009
in the Age of Obamessiah
else seems happy to be headed
SING, BABIES, SING
. The Y-Gen website where I found this titled it
"Dumb.flv." But both the escalators in the shot are down
escalators. We can think of
them as the two parties in our political system. If you're determined
to go up
, what other choice
do you have? Even though the editor chose to cut before this young
woman made it to the top, it does look as if she's going to get there,
I've been searching, I admit it, for reasons, images, even excuses for
hope in the face of the daily avalanche of catastrophic news. They've
been few and far between. (btw I will personally
eviscerate the next person who writes "far and few between," which is
one of the latest viruses of illiteracy sweeping the internet,
included.) But I think I've found something. Not
an item or two to cheer about but a pattern
that provides a basis for cautious optimism. How to frame it? Simply.
(I have a post in progress about the complex virtues of certain kinds
of simple-mindedness, but you'll have to wait for that one; it's far
from simple to write.) The
Obamaniacs and their adoring lefties are overplaying their hand.
Yes, Americans are patient and slow to anger, but they will eventually
respond to the drip-drip-drip of liberal pessimism, insults,
authoritarianism, and hysteria. In this context, many of the recent
"bad news" occurrences are not really bad news but baby steps toward
massive repudiation of a worldview most Americans will ultimately and
Take the new Newsweek cover
celebrating the impending death of
Christianity in America:
It's just flat overstated. Twenty years ago, 86 percent of Americans
described themselves as Christians. Today it's only 76 percent. That still sounds like an overwhelming majority to me. And
probably more realistic than the old number anyway. If current events
affect your religious affiliation, you weren't very spiritual to begin
with. And even if the figure declines to 60 percent a decade or so from
now, it will remain a large enough majority to 1) take punitive umbrage at cover
art that translates its faith's most sacred symbol into political
propaganda and 2) recoil in disgust at the image of an American
to a muslim plutocrat who's in the business of secretly subsidizing
terrororism against Jews and Christians. I have no doubt that Newsweek
editors yearn for the death of Christianity in America, but declaring
that it's imminent doesn't make it so. It merely exposes their own
prejudice in the matter. Drip-drip.
I've been wondering quietly about the lack of media coverage of the two
journalists seized by North Korea. Two young women in the clutches of
the most indisputably evil political regime on earth. It's not even
clear that they were captured inside the North Korean border.
Regardless of their professional stature or lack of it, these are media
people. They work for Al Gore's
television network for
heaven's sake. How is it possible that this is not a
day-after-day-after-day headline story in the nation's leading
newspapers? No matter how left wing these girls are, even conservatives
would raise hell to secure their safe return. But it's been only a
rueful footnote in coverage of the "Hundred Days" of Obama. And the few
leaks we've been permitted to date suggest they're facing ten years of
imprisonment. Americans. Journalists. Women. Young
women. Imprisoned in North
Korea. Under who knows what godawful, abusive conditions.
Ironically, the only
I've heard expressed about their plight came from MSNBC's leftwing
Gorgon Rachel Maddow. I was actually applauding to myself when I heard
her say she was so mad about the situation she wanted to scream. That's
how I feel too. But then.... BUT THEN she transitioned smoothly into
video clips of Guantanamo and actually blamed the Bush administration
for creating the precedent of institutional oppression that somehow
enabled the North Koreans to justify their actions. American
journalists are kidnapped and imprisoned under the Obama
administration without the
least sign that that administration is trying to secure their release
and IT'S THE FAULT OF GEORGE W. BUSH??!! As if Kim Jong Il would be
more reasonable if the United States were more tolerant of muslim
terrorists... Yes, she said it with a perfectly straight face, but it's
over the top. The unavoidable inference is that she doesn't care at all
about the fate of her unfortunate media sisters. They're just
convenient chips on the table in the game she's playing against the
opposition party. Americans will subscribe to this bizarre
interpretation of responsibility? No. Drip-drip-drip.
The new six-dollar-a-carton cigarette tax to pay for S-CHIP went into
effect this week. No matter how anyone wants to spin it, including the
troglodyte conservative Neal
, it's a huge and hugely regressive tax increase on exactly
the people Obama promised to give tax relief
Nothing could demonstrate more convincingly that Obama doesn't care at
all about the disadvantaged, underprivileged folk he promised to care
for as his first priority. He isn't about happiness. He's about
punishment. For all the sins against his own personal conception of
right and wrong. Wherever Americans transgress his own own peculiar
code of morality, he will be there with a stick and a slick
self-justifying platitude. Drip-drip-drip-drip.
We're on the verge of the NFL draft, which is interesting in the wake
of the AIG and other bonus scandals. Obama and the mass media may think
they've successfully blitzed the question of how much talented
Americans should make in a free (or controlled) market economy, but
once again, they've overplayed their hand. How many people watched the
Super Bowl? Precisely. You can whip them up to a fever pitch over the
course of a few weeks of intense indoctrination, but at a level deeper
than the NYT or White House press office can ever get to, they
understand the market economy. When their NFL team selects the most
talented quarterback in the draft this year, they'll be clamoring on
sports talk radio for team ownership to make whatever compensation deal
is necessary and then they'll stand in line to shake the hand of the
brand new mega-millionaire they prayed
would join their team. Contrary to all the wouldas and shouldas of the
MSM and the libs, Americans do know that outstanding talent deserves --
and earns -- outstanding compensation. One or two news stories may
temporarily stir their emotions in an opposing direction, but they still
know what they know and in time they will remember it.
Meanwhile, President Obama stands up before an audiene in France
and declares that Americans
have been arrogant in their dealings with Europe. Excuse us? We've
been arrogant? Whose side is
this guy on? Is it somehow wrong to expect that a president of the
United States of America should be on our
Which perfectly highlights and crystallizes the essentials of the
mistake the Obamaniacs are making. They secured 53 percent of the vote
in the presidential election. In popular terms that's not exactly a
landslide. It's a decisive win but not a mandate equivalent to, uh,
say, the 76 percent of Americans who still describe themselves as
Christians. Chances are very good that a big chunk of the 53 percent
who voted for Obama didn't think they were signing up for a regime that
despises the country it's sworn an oath to protect and the religion
that gave rise to that country.
It will take time. But within the next four years, a majority of
Americans will come to understand the worldview of Obama and the people
who back him most fervently. Drip-drip-drip-drip-drip-drip. And guess
what. Even people who are dumb as rocks don't enjoy being insulted,
derided as racists, arrogant imperialists, foolishly obsolete for their
religious beliefs, and incapable of making decisions for themselves
about their own lives. The media are cutting their own throats -- and
Obama's. They just can't help their delirious impulse to parlay a
modest electoral victory into a license to assert their own twisted
vision of utopia as a fait accompli.
This is an act that will get old in a hurry. Maybe not tomorrow or next
month. But soon -- and permanently. Here's the news that's NOT being
reported during this disastrous Hundred Days. Americans have 300-plus
years of experience at being Americans. Meaning that at some very deep
level they do not accept being told what to do, how to live their
lives, where and who to work for, what (and what not to) smoke and
drink and eat and fuck, and especially
how they should regard themselves and their own lives vis a vis the
rest of the non-American world and the God who made us all.
The media do NOT have the power they think they have in such matters.
Nor does the Obamessiah. When the people finally realize he is not one
of them but something else, with an alternate agenda, they will turn on
him with a vengeance and all the bad that has been done will
In the meatime, all you conservatives, keep working your way up the
down escalator. It may seem
like you're bucking the tide, but remember that they're going down
because that's the way the escalator is going. Ever so slowly, they'll
remember that down is the wrong way to go, and before you know it,
they'll arrive en masse at the escalator switch box and reverse its
Yeah. I know. Come on, all you gloom and doomers. Do your worst. I
don't care. I'm an optimist. Because I'm...