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July 2, 2010 - June 25, 2010

Monday, April 13, 2009

Intelligence on Pirates

Pirates were sometimes executed by hanging on a gibbet erected close to
the low-water mark by the sea or a tidal section of a river. Their bodies
would be left dangling until they'd been submerged by the tide three times.

CONTEXT. Two different kinds of intel for you. First a link to the one website we know of that has continuously covered the modern-day piracy problem for years. has been a good friend to this site, and it's good to be able to give them a shout-out at a time when there may be a huge audience for their patient and painstaking work. Keep scrolling for more comprehensive reporting (and images) than you'll find in such accessible form anywhere else. Put them on your radar and keep them there.

The other kind of intel is the highly intelligent historical and political context provided by Mark Steyn's scathing essay on the subject, A World of Distractions. He wrote it before the rescue, but his conclusions are likely to hold up nonetheless. It's vital to read the whole thing, so I'm only going to give you two separate excerpts without much explanation.

Obviously, if the United States Navy hanged some eye-patched, peg-legged blackguard from the yardarm or made him walk the plank, pious senators would rise to denounce an America that no longer lived up to its highest ideals, and the network talking-heads would argue that Plankgate was recruiting more and more young men to the pirates' cause, and judges would rule that pirates were entitled to the protections of the U.S. Constitution and that their peg legs had to be replaced by high-tech prosthetic limbs at taxpayer expense.

From some of the questions asked at the press conference yesterday and subsequent developments, his prediction may have been right on the mark. More important, though, is Steyn's perspective on what this mess tells us about the state of the world:

As my colleague Andrew McCarthy wrote, "Civilization is not an evolution of mankind but the imposition of human good on human evil. It is not a historical inevitability. It is a battle that has to be fought every day, because evil doesn't recede willingly before the wheels of progress." Very true. Somalia, Iran and North Korea are all less "civilized" than they were a couple of generations ago. And yet in one sense they have made undeniable progress: They have globalized their pathologies. Somali pirates seize vessels the size of aircraft carriers flying the ensigns of the great powers. Iranian proxies run Gaza and much of Lebanon. North Korea's impoverished prison state provides nuclear technology to Damascus and Tehran. Unlovely as it is, Pyongyang nevertheless has friends on the Security Council. Powerful states protect one-man psycho states. One-man psycho states provide delivery systems to apocalyptic ideological states. Apocalyptic ideological states fund nonstate actors around the world. And in Somalia and elsewhere nonstate actors are constrained only by their ever increasing capabilities.

Yes, Obama did the right thing yesterday. I thank him for that. But there's a great deal more that needs to be done, and yesterday notwithstanding, I'm not hopeful he's going to do it.

Harry Kalas

There are peaks and valleys. He was a peak. A tall one. Mighty tall.

KARMA. The game goes on. T'was ever so. The audio file is of today's Phillies game. You'd never know that the greatest Phillies play-by-play announcer in the club's history had died earlier in the day. I'm not accusing. I'm too old to get maudlin for mere effect. I know Harry Kalas will be honored and that the announcers who are routinely calling today's game are merely doing their professional duty, that they will wax as eloquent as they can about what his death means to them when the occasion calls for it. In the interim, well, there's no crying in baseball.

But I can't help experiencing tons of emotion, even though I never once met or saw Harry Kalas in person or the player I most closely associate him with, Mike Schmidt, the greatest third baseman in the whole history of baseball. What I'm remembering right now is a magical season -- no, not 2008, the World Series Championship that made Harry's exit today somehow elegant and timely -- but a pair of careers that somehow seemed to soar together in a joint eloquence that the City of Philadelphia has rarely known to an unparalleled triumph in 1980.

My explanation begins with a step back. When I was a teenager I was already a veteran of the most catastrophic collapse ever suffered by a major league team on the verge of a pennant. I went away to school and ran immediately into fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Very opinionated fans, some of whom played baseball as avidly as I followed it. I heard ad nauseam about The Great One, Roberto Clemente, about the greatest World Series victory in history, weak-hitting shortstop Bill Mazeroski's decisive homerun in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series (after the most lopsided scoring against the ultimate winner ever), and worse than that, the unkindest throwaway cut of all -- the dismissive judgment that the Phillies, apart from all their other failings, failures, and weaknesses of the day, had the worst play-by-play announcers in major league baseball. Pittsburgh, of course, had the best -- Bob Prince.

I, too, came to admire Roberto Clemente, and to appreciate the miracle win in the 1960 World Series, but I never understood why Bob Prince was better than By Saam of the Phillies. In fact, I still don't think he was. But what had been impressed on me was the idea of considering the play-by-play announcer as part of the team, its personality, its character, its greatness. The Pirate lunatics prepared me to appreciate the coming of Harry Kalas.

Have I mentioned that the Phillies remained an obsession with me? That even after high school and college, I still burned for the World Series shot that had been denied in '64? Before the Phillies became contenders in the mid-seventies, I remember the arrival of an outlander named Harry Kalas, who was now calling balls and strikes for my home team. I regarded him as suspiciously as I did the supposedly hotshot young third baseman who repeatedly struck out with the game on the line. He couldn't hit for average, he seemed sullen, and after several disappointing visits to the uncomfortable new replacement for Connie Mack Stadium, I confess I began to call him by my private nickname, Mike Schidt. Same old Phillies. One more savior power hitter who would always let you down. Another Richie Allen.

I stopped going to games. I tried to stop paying attention. But you can't ignore your parents. Mine were from a generation that could still listen to baseball on the radio. They'd sit on their screened-in porch at night with the radio on and listen to the ballgame. And much as I didn't want to listen or care anymore, it was Harry Kalas who sucked me back in.

To this day, I can't listen to radio broadcasts of basketball or hockey. It's just a bunch of machinegun rat-a-tattery. I can listen to Merrill Reese doing Eagles play-by-play, but chiefly because he reminds me of Leonard Graves narrating Victory at Sea; the enormity of events bulges in his voice and he conveys a sense of momentum on individual plays, the sheer martial spirit of the proceedings. He's on your side. You'd prefer to hear his version of the narration while watching, if only you could synchronize it with the television feed.

But baseball play-by-play is a different discipline altogether. (Although I know Harry took over from John Facenda at NFL Films, the only appropriate heir.) In baseball, on the radio, the announcer creates the game for the listeners. The still of the time between pitches, the gathering suspense as the pitcher goes into his windup, the drama of the umpire's call -- or the sudden electricity of contact with the ball, base-running, fielding, or HOMERUN.

Two things I'd never heard on the radio before Harry Kalas came along. He knew instantly when a batter had hit a homerun. I never heard him make a mistake about it. When his voice barked "long drive," it was leaving the park. Think about that on the radio. It's like being there. Second, only Harry Kalas could make you see the brilliance of infield play on the radio. I learned from Harry Kalas that Mike Schmidt was a better third baseman than he was a hitter -- by listening to him call the games.

And now we enter the realm of myth. Purists will dispute some of my memories on this, I know, but they're my memories, and who are they to intrude? I would swear, and others would deny, that I could detect a moment or two ahead of time in Harry's voice what was happening in the Phillies' three failed attempts at making the World Series before they finally succeeded in 1980. Let that go. But I will never forget 1980 itself, the year when it seemed the pennant hopes of the Phils were a thing of the past until late in the season, when Mike Schmidt suddenly awoke into one of the hottest streaks any major league power hitter has ever had. I listened to almost all of it on the radio. The Phillies won 22 of 24 games en route to the pennant. I recall the Phils down to the Cubs in that stretch with Schmidt at the plate, two out in the ninth, against baseball's most unhittable sinkerball closer, Bruce Sutter, against whom Schmidt was 0 for 22 lifetime, and then hearing Harry bark, "Long drive..." It still gives me the chills. I stayed up all night during the Phillies-on-Schmidt's-back streak when it culminated in a rain-soaked doubleheader on the west coast and the Phils finished winning both ends of it at something like five in the morning. It was a grueling marathon of waiting, and sharing the game, and Harry chatting during rain delays with Richie Ashburn in their wry way, and we won, and all of us on the other end of the radio were also part of it, and nothing on cable TV can ever compete with it. Al Michaels on Hi-Def TV is, to me, pale compared to Harry Kalas on a staticky transistor radio roaring "long drive" in the thick of an unlikely pennant race.

And I remember the playoff with the Houston Astros that got the Phils to the World Series. The greatest playoff series ever. Two teams who absolutely refused to give up, both scratching and clawing their way back from certain defeat multiple times.  Houston's Terry Puhl belongs in the Hall of Fame for that five-game series, regardless of what he did in the rest of his career. Harry Kalas alludes to it here in his final thoughts on the now defunct Veterans Stadium, where the 1980 Phils won the first World Series in their history.

But he's downplaying it, of course, just as Mike Schmidt would if you asked him about it. Kalas was always quiet and conversational until the drama of the situation ran through him like a vocal lightning bolt. Mike Schmidt was always taciturn and self-contained until he uncoiled his deadly bat or equally deadly third-baseman virtuosity. The genius athlete needed that genius voice to complete the masterpiece. (uh, you New Yorkers... at the time you were bleating about the all-time 3rd baseman Graig Nettles. Anybody remember him now? No. You've developed a talent of late for hyping mediocrities. B-Rods, if you will.)

Yes, I know Harry Kalas went on long after Mike Schmidt retired. Which is why I know Mike would belittle the point I'm making here. He was always a modest man. And Harry Kalas would also probably downplay the role he played for thirty-some years in bringing alive a sport many people weren't watching but listening to into technicolor drama.

I always wanted to shake Harry's hand and thank him for bringing me back to baseball. I owe him a debt I can never repay. I hated Veterans Stadium. It was hot, cramped, handicapped by the artificial turf that made playing on it an ordeal for the players, and yet I mourned when I saw this sorry scene. Part of me died that day.

My last remaining hope, now that Harry is gone, is that I can still one day get the opportunity to shake the hand of Mike Schmidt, a player who was even greater than The Great One. (We both have strong connections to Dayton, Ohio. Hey. Shouldn't that get me an audience?) He means more to me than I can ever express, just as Harry Kalas does. But that's a chance I left too long. My loss. (At least Mrs. CP got to meet John Runyon last week.)

Baseball goes on. Philadelphia goes on. But whether anyone admits it or not, we've left the peak and entered a valley. Still. In my dreams, I will hear it again... Schmidt... 0 and 2... two outs... the stretch... the pitch... l-o-o-o-ong drive...

Harry is "Outta here," with his usual homerun finale.

God bless him and keep him safe. I'm going to make a point of watching tomorrow's game. No. Crying. In. Baseball.

UPDATE:  In case my memories aren't enough, here's a tribute already posted on YouTube.

Everybody here will miss him. Truth is, there's no one right way to remember him. Everyone will do it in his or her own way. And, I guess I have to admit, sometimes there is crying in baseball.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Incomplete Post:
Nattering Nabob

Jim Manzi.

CF. I 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 brain. Of course, he's an estimable intellect:

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 Warming, 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 is 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 efficacy.

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

Good Friday Thoughts

LOOK 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 from that 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 bankruptcy of the Episcopal/Anglican Church that underscores the media's delighted focus on this bizarre phenomenon.

Ordinarily, we at InstaPunk address such phenomena in a scattershot, ad-hoc, and frequently satirical fashion, in response to current events 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 about atheism 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 evidence.

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 best explanation.

3. The Moral Argument; If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Rape isn’t just culturally unacceptable, it’s actually wrong.

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.

Excerpt Two:

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 God exists.

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.”

Excerpt Three:

[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 like your 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 date. 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 afterwards?

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 the cause his scientific allegiance demands must exist.

Christopher Hitchens is 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 a 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
3)  Koran

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 Testament does establish 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 infinity.

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 word true?

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 bad.)

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 in mind.

FAIR WARNING: 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-Christian. And I'm still more than a double-bogey away from Scottish par on that. So. You Know. Be advised.

UPDATE. 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

Pay no attention to this trailer. That's not what this flick is about.

POLLS. 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 poll 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 all corrupt?

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.

UPDATE. 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 at the movies. We could do that in my 1962 Dodge PowerWagon. We're good now, thank you.

IP. How 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.

LP: Not 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

Unexpectedly Brilliant

Yeah, he's a liberal, French-loving weenie. But he has his moments.

THE NEWSPAPER THING. 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, "Life After 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, here and 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 response:

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 op-ed:

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 particularly worried:

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 in this depressing statistic.

YouTube WednesdayTuesday:

ELECTRICITY. An attractive concept. btw, follow
every link in this post, or you just won't get it.

NO POLITICS. Redemption lurks in the oddest corners. Reliable sources are 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 allegiance to 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 -- the 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 this paragraph...)

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 possibilities 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 wonders, 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?

Safety Dance / Men Without Hats. A guilty pleasure. Hallucinogenic and fun. What an odd combination.
Come on Eileen / Dexy's Midnight Runners. Oh those Irish. They never even look like they're trying.
Melt with you  / Modern English. Pure romance. A guaranteed lay. Still.
Let 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 with Science / 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 songs of the entire decade:

10.  You Shook Me All Night Long / AC/DC. The most elemental beat of rock rocks on.

9.  Walk This Way / 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 Virgin / 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 simpler.

7.  Sweet 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.

4.  Billy Jean / Michael Jackson. uh, yeah. There was a time when he was absolutely great. That time was called the Eighties.

3.  Hungry 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.)

2.  Pour 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.

1.  Living 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 the 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

The Conservative Challenge
in the Age of Obamessiah

Everybody else seems happy to be headed downhill.

. 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, doesn't it?

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, conservative websites 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 forcefully reject.

Take the new Newsweek cover story 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 president genuflecting 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 outrage 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 Boortz, 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. Drip-drip-drip-drip-drip.

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 side?

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 be undone.

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 direction.

Yeah. I know. Come on, all you gloom and doomers. Do your worst. I don't care. I'm an optimist. Because I'm...

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