Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
December 2, 2006 - November 25, 2006

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Stepping in it.

WHEN MOMS CRY. Since nobody else will say it, I will. This woman is having an ugly nervous breakdown, and if her family have any sense of dignity or propriety they will go to Texas and drag her home.

I understand the circumspection that has accompanied most commentary on the matter of Cindy Sheehan. She's a mother who (gulp) lost her son. Thus, even those who are deeply offended by her rhetoric express it indirectly. They blame the leftist hate machine which has obviously worked hard to exploit her, or they speak on behalf of the military mindset which is not flattered by the attempt to reduce their brave sacrifices to victimhood. You can see this kind of tact well executed by Michelle Malkin, Debra Saunders, and others all over the internet. Ms. Malkin and Bill O'Reilly discussed the matter on television and couldn't begin a single exchange without reiterating their profound sympathy for Ms. Sheehan. I appreciate their dilemma, but there are too many important points at issue here to let it go.

Yes, it is a terrible thing to lose a child. But I'm getting tired of hearing the rote assertion that it's the worst thing that can ever happen to you, you never get over it, and no one who hasn't had the experience can ever understand. It's as if this category of event, "lose a child," represents some kind of emotional tree-line which, once passed, automatically elevates a person into a new state of existence from which ordinary mortals are excluded. It's the Skull & Bones of parenthood, an elite membership which confers extraordinary privilege and exemption from all merely human judgment or criticism.

Pardon me, but that's a crock. On several levels. Anyone who has lived more than a few decades comes to understand that life is largely about loss. The longer we survive, the more we lose: grandparents, parents, friends, lovers, wives, husbands, family, pets, and any number of dreams, possessions, and ideals, including -- for many -- faith, hope, and love. The whole idea that there is a Publisher's Clearinghouse Jackpot of Loss is absurd and demeaning to the human spirit.

A relatively recent addition to our psychological jargon is the term emotional intelligence. Surely it's emotional idiocy to declare all instances of the generic event "lose a child" equal. The perception of "worst thing in the world" is easy to appreciate in the case of parents who lose a small child to abduction, murder, disease, or accident. There is the awareness that there was never any choice by the child, that there can be no compensation of any kind for the loss, and that in addition to the terrible void they must live with, the parents may also feel guilt for having failed to protect their helpless, innocent offspring from the twists of fate before they had a chance to live life.

It may seem mean-spirited to suggest, but I will, that even in these kinds of tragedies not every parent is equal. No matter how many times we dutifully repeat the mantra, many of us must suspect that there are parents who do get over their loss and damned quickly at that. We can also surmise that others learn not to look back with the same degree of agonizing intensity. Most hurts hurt less over time unless we choose to make them into a cross or an excuse. That's not bad. It's the source of human strength. We go on. We live through loss. Otherwise, no culture would survive earthquakes, floods, famines, epidemics, and wars.

Except for losing a child, of course. How many parents have we taught to cling tightly to their grief lest they feel less of it and enter a new purgatory of guilt for not being exquisitely sensitive enough to remain emotionally ruined for all their days?

For whatever reason, we have exalted grief in this nation to a supernatural force that must be honored and appeased rather than overcome. As recently as the Victorian era, infant and child mortality was so pervasive that few large families did not experience it. Before the age of modern medicine, sudden, unexpected death was an everyday companion of the living. They learned to control grief with defined periods of mourning in prescribed clothes and then to proceed with life. And they learned not to lose their faith and humility in the process.

Now we teach even our youngest children that grief is a devouring god to whom they must genuflect whenever the bad thing happens. Every incident at school -- fire, death, insect infestation -- is followed by an invasion of professional grief counselors who carefully implant the idea that what has happened will resonate through the rest of their lives like some gong of doom.

We have taught ourselves to view the grief-stricken as secular saints imbued with the mystery of new age stigmata, and we watch in awe as they bleed continuously from their invisible wounds. In their actions we consecrate what we cannot comprehend, and we collectively offer up to them the key to a kind of free-fire zone, in which they can act out all they want while we do their penance for them in hushed, admiring tones.

Has it helped? No. Are the eternally bleeding really saints? No. The evidence indicates that the death of a child tends to destroy marriages these days, promote substance abuse, vandalize careers, and perpetuate depression. Appeasing and worshipping grief strengthens the power of grief and causes people to lapse into self-absorbed obsessions.

But we must not blow the whistle on Cindy Sheehan? She has contrived to turn her son's death and the whole Iraq War into her own personal soap opera. This was all something done to her. By the President of the United States, no less. Let us take all our cameras to Texas and watch her bleed from her hands and feet. Nonsense. It's time for some plain talk.

Her plight is a very far cry from that of a mother who views the mutilated body of her six-year old daughter at the morgue. Cindy Sheehan's son was a man -- more a full-grown man than his mother is a full-grown woman -- and the sacrifice that was made was his, not hers, willingly given in return for compensations that made sense to him at the time he decided to join the military.

She does defame his life and his memory by behaving like a spoiled adolescent on the national stage, by lying, and by actively seeking to humiliate her (and our) Commander-in-Chief. We do her son no honor by pretending that her behavior is anything other than what it is -- a disgraceful exhibition of self-annihilating selfishness which reveals the sickness of the conviction that every loss is total, inconsolable, and license to revert to the infantile fantasy of a universe with ourselves at the center.

It's also sad and ironic that we entangle her tantrum with the concept of motherhood. Her accomplices in assaulting the national war effort are, lest we forget, of the political stripe which views motherhood as a game of craps, with every player free to plunk her fertilized egg on the "Pass" or "Don't Pass" line, depending on her whims of the moment. They believe that she is to feel NO grief for the innocent life she takes herself while retaining the infinite right to make the whole world accountable if the life she chooses to perpetuate should somehow perish before it reaches the age of mandatory commitment to nursing homes and Medicaid-financed euthanasia. How is this preferable to a short heroic life given freely as a gift for others, in the name of home and liberty?

This is perversion. And it's time somebody said it out loud. Cindy Sheehan, your son died a hero. Go home now and find some meaning in it that isn't just about you and the politics of those who hate their country.

MAJOR UPDATE: 8-18-05. Now that we know who has the moral authority, it's time to put the chickenhawks and other offenders in place for good. Here's how.

POSTSCRIPT. In a seemingly unrelated story, Radley Balko reports on a disturbing new campaign by M.A.D.D. that all parents of teenagers should be aware of.

When they learned that their son planned to celebrate the prom with a booze bash at a beach 40 miles away, William and Patricia Anderson instead threw a supervised party for him and his friends at their home. They served alcohol, but William Anderson stationed himself at the party's entrance and collected keys from every teen who showed. No one who came to the party could leave until the next morning.

For this the Andersons found themselves arrested and charged with supplying alcohol to minors. The case ignited a fiery debate that eventually spilled onto the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving oddly decided to make an example of William Anderson, a man who probably did more to keep drunk teens off the road that night than most Providence-area parents.

Read the whole thing. We'd comment, but we already said something about this way back in 1999 (NSFW). And to close the loop, make sure you click on mom's tear.

UPDATE. Michellanche underway. Thanks to La Malkin. Visitors, feel free to shop around for more outrages and offenses against decency correctness.

UPDATE 2. I pass this along without proof of its authenticity, but perhaps others can confirm or disprove that for themselves. Let us know in the Comments section.

UPDATE 3. A quick look at Michelle Malkin's latest updates discloses that she is once again receiving the kind of high-minded progressive communications that presumably demark the moral superiority referenced by those who are posting their negative comments here at InstaPunk. To save you all a lot of time, don't expect to receive any response to your haughty putdowns if you aren't also prepared to acknowledge that the "right-wing" invective you read here is a far cry from what has become standard (here, here, and here) for the enlightened, tolerant, and peace-loving left wing.

UPDATE 4. Click here for the August 12 InstaPunk entry on the same subject.

UPDATE 5: 8-17-05. Welcome, all you cat fanciers from Obsidian Wings. Here's a little something we clawed up just for you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


PSAYINGS.5Q.56. Sometimes it's fun to take a look at what's happened since we covered a topic at InstaPunk. Here are a few updates to recent entries.

We liked the cool infrared photography of the landing.

THE SHUTTLE. Yeah, we criticized the shuttle's aged technology, but we were as delighted as everyone else that they made it home safely. Needless to say, but definitely worth saying.

MECCA. We dared to disagree when Hugh Hewitt not only condemned Tom Tancredo's saber rattling about Islam but decreed that no one from the "center-right blogosphere" was allowed to defend him. Since then, it's been interesting to observe that so-called moderate muslims have been subjected to more heat and pressure than ever before to declare their true allegiance. No, it's not all Tancredo's doing. The U.K.'s recent discovery that terrorists want to kill people has been a big contributor. But the fatuous pose that all muslims are peaceful unless they're actually flying airliners up your ass has begun to slip. We could cite many examples, but a couple will do for now. The first is an editorial in Investor's Business Daily about the supposedly moderate Council on American Islamic Relations. Here's an excerpt:

We wonder who and what CAIR, which calls itself a civil-rights defender, is really protecting when it fights targeted profiling at train stations and airports.

CAIR may talk a good patriotic and moderate game. But it has a secret agenda to Islamize America.

Before 9-11, its founder and chairman, Omar Ahmad, also a Palestinian American, told a Muslim audience: "Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Quran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth."

Before coming to Washington, Hooper himself is on record stating: "I wouldn't want to create the impression that I wouldn't like the government of the United States to be Islamic"...

It turns out that an anti-Israeli foundation run by the crown prince of Dubai owns the very deed to CAIR's headquarters located almost in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The foundation has held telethons to support families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

The whole piece is a must-read. The second item is from a column by Andrew McCarthy about an unusual confrontation on MSNBC between Monica Crowley and a muslim "moderate" named Azzan Tamimi. McCarthy provides plenty of background about Tamimi, including this:

Tamimi, in particular, is a Palestinian extremist who not only has publicly advocated suicide bombing ("For us Moslems martyrdom is not the end of things but the beginning of the most wonderful of things") but has also declared his personal willingness to commit a suicide bombing (“If I have the opportunity I would do it.... If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself I would do it. Why not?”).

He is, moreover, a rabid detractor of the United States who has publicly praised the “courageous” Taliban, observed that "[i]n the Arab and Muslim countries, everyone jumped for joy” upon seeing the Twin Towers felled by al Qaeda suicide hijackers, and labeled the U.S. the “imperialist master” of Iraq...

What role has he played in this country since 9/11?

You’ll be shocked to learn that all this has resulted in … Tamimi’s being packaged by fawning academic, media, and even U.S. foreign-service circles as a respectable intellectual spokesman for Islamic causes. As the invaluable Martin Kramer has explained, Tamimi’s air of dignified scholarship is indebted to Professor John Esposito, director of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, who has sat on Tamimi’s board at the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, and coedited a book with him. Naturally, Tamimi has also been feted by the State Department — invited in 2002 by the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James to the Iftar dinner State now hosts at the conclusion of Ramadan.

With such notches on their belts, the Tamimis of the world all too often skip with impunity from soapbox to soapbox, spewing their bile while their oh-so-deferential moderators nod in studied pensiveness at the seeming profundity of it all. But not so Ms. Crowley.

Read the rest of the story here. It may be that Mr. Hewitt will have to have a word or two with Ms. Crowley to set her straight. Unless it's possible that even the Pope can learn from a good example, as McCarthy suggests people should:

The reason Tamimi and others like him get away with calling themselves “moderates” while defending mass murderers is that, too often, they are allowed to breeze through their talking points without being pushed. This time he got pushed, and we all got to see how “moderate” he really is. Authentic moderates will never succeed unless the poseurs are exposed. That means we’ll need a lot more Monica Crowleys willing to grill them. You can’t win a war about ideology without engaging the ideology.

CANADA. Not long ago, we wrote a little essay about Canada that was considered too harsh in some quarters. For example, we offered the following unkind observation:

But for the miraculous wisdom and courage of our founding fathers, the United States might be just like Canada, with a population of 30 million enervated Europeans, an incompetent socialist government, a social and cultural history lacking in brilliance or innovation, and a role in world politics as irascible pawn of the United Kingdom. Indeed, we might be several such nations, 7 to 10 million strong (or weak), quibbling and sniping and sneering at one another from sea to shining sea.

Overstated, some people said. But yesterday, we saw an item in Drudge that seemed to undermine their view:

CALGARY (CP) - More than one-third of western Canadians surveyed this summer thought it was time to consider separation from Canada, a poll suggests.

In the survey, 35.6 per cent of respondents from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia agreed with the statement: Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own country.

As Professor Reynolds would say, Hmmm.

EVOLUTION. We also committed the mortal secular sin of suggesting that the volatile subject of Evolution might be less so if we dared to consider that it might not be necessary to choose between the Truth of the Creationists and the Truth of the Darwinian Biologists. We suggested that advances in other sciences might enable us to discover a process of change among species that wasn't entirely accidental without requiring us to cite Genesis as our authority. We even suggested that there might be a kind of intelligence operating at the species level capable of reprogramming genes when the situation called for it. These ideas did not come from the Bible. They came from systems theory, chaos, complexity, quantum mechanics, string theory, Wolfram's ideas about programming in nature, and (to be candid) various Jungian hypotheses.

We knew we'd be assaulted for proposing such an idea, and we were. Various blogs and commenters accused us of being creationists (of course), antiscience, stupid, ignorant, ill-read, or pitifully naive, and some disallowed us the right to comment at all.

Since then, as if via synchronicity, there has been a public flap about the President's statement that he thought it worthwhile for public school students to understand the nature of the debate between the Darwinian biologists and the Intelligent Design (ID) advocates. Wearying as it is to repeat it again, we'll state, yet again, before proceeding that we don't subscribe to the ID position. But we have been entertained by the nature of the debate that's occurred about the President's remarks.

It was amusing to see the Virginia biology professor who showed up to discuss the matter with Bill O'Reilly. He took the position that ID should never be mentioned in the same classroom with Evolution because ID wasn't a theory. It's quite true that ID is not a theory, but that shouldn't have ended the discussion  It didn't occur to O'Reilly, of course, to suggest that it's still okay to pose objections to a theory without having a complete alternative to replace it with. If there are fatal objections to a theory, it's wrong -- even if you don't have any idea what to propose instead. What was more interesting than the verbiage, though, was the professor's body language. No sound was necessary to comprehend his position and his message. He couldn't even look at the camera. He heaved and twisted in his chair as if he was powerless to contain his utter contempt at being asked any questions at all. In fact, he looked as though he were about to cry. Thank God, O'Reilly was too ignorant to make the interview really hard on him.

Predictably, the press weighed in quickly against the President. It would be easy to cite a dozen articles, but we'll make do with one, from the Boston Globe. The title really says it all -- God vs. Darwin: no contest. Here's a sufficient excerpt:

Now, it's quite true that mainstream scientists vehemently reject the idea of allowing evolution and ''intelligent design" to compete freely in the nation's public school classrooms. The reason is that ''intelligent design" is not science. A scientific hypothesis must be testable -- meaning that, if it is wrong, there should be a way to disprove it. (That's why assertions that there is no conclusive proof of evolution are basically pointless.)

''Intelligent design" boils down to the claim sarcastically summed up by aerospace engineer and science consultant Rand Simberg on his blog, Transterrestrial Musings: ''I'm not smart enough to figure out how this structure could evolve, therefore there must have been a designer." Simberg, a political conservative, concludes that this argument ''doesn't belong in a science classroom, except as an example of what's not science."

The notion that the teaching of evolution is some kind of left-wing plot is, to put it plainly, absurd. In addition to the people mentioned above, opponents of teaching ''intelligent design" as an alternative scientific viewpoint include John H. Marburger III, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy

Remember the "testable" criterion. It's really the linchpin of the defense against any kind of challenge to Darwinian theory: even if it isn't right, it's right because it's more testable in its parts. Now let's turn to a surprising dissent written by an actual academic, Peter Wood, Provost of King's College in New York City. His article is titled Thumbs Up: President Bush is right about evolution and design. Huh?

He begins with this bit of heresy:

A good place to start is to distinguish between the theory of evolution (without the capital E) and Evolution as a grand and, apart from a few rough edges, supposedly comprehensive account of speciation and genetic change. Small-e evolution is an intellectually robust theory that gives coherent order to a huge range of disparate facts. In contrast, capital E Evolution, is a bit illusory. Like a lot of scientific theories, on close inspection it is really a stitched-together fabric of hypotheses. Some of them are central and well-attested, while others are little more than guesswork. Some phenomena such as natural selection and genetic drift are on solid ground; but others like late Stephen Jay Gould's theory of "punctuated equilibrium," in which evolution proceeds in widely spaced bursts, are pretty speculative. Evolution (with the capital E) is today far from being a single comprehensive concept.

Glossing over the difference between "Big E" Evolution and "little e" evolution is perhaps the greatest achievement of contemporary biology. That's how they can keep referring to their own theories as fact while asserting that they are not doing so. (The nonscientific discipline of sentence diagramming can prove unexpectedly useful in exposing their inside-out logic.) Wood then cites some problems with neo-Darwinian descriptions of process we won't go into here, except to note that biologists scream like schoolgirls at any suggestion that they haven't completely refuted them. Next, he moves to the question of modern man, which is where the biologists actually hurl themselves to the floor and hold their breath if anyone challenges their fragile speculations:

And above all, evolutionary theory hits a wall in trying to explain what happened with the emergence of fully modern humans about 150,000 years ago.

Again, he fills in details you can read for yourselves before making his major points. Note that we are also compressing the argument quoted below. It's not our intent to mischaracterize him, merely to hit the highlights. Please do read the entire piece.

We can give a name to what happened: with the biological emergence of modern humans came both the capacity for and the realization of "culture." Maybe geneticists will, at some point, isolate a gene or genes that make complex, symbol-based culture possible...

But to speak of the beginning of culture and the emergence of our species by way of some genetic mutations from anatomically similar ancestors does little to explain the profound mystery of the event. Of course, if we are convinced in advance that genetic mutation is a random, material event, the results of which are sorted out by the struggle for survival, the immense mystery dissolves into happenstance blips in strands of East African DNA, c. 150,000-200,000 years ago.

But at that point, we have moved beyond scientific evolution to doctrinaire Evolution. The randomness of the mutation cannot be demonstrated or proved; it is simply an article of belief, no different in character from a belief that an intelligent Creator nudged the adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine bases of that DNA strand into the right order. Or that he took the clay of archaic homo sapiens and molded Adam in His own image.

At bottom the dispute between Evolutionists and Creationists always comes down to the question, "What is random?"...

Whether the universe is truly random or whether apparent randomness is order-not-yet-apprehended seems pretty clearly a philosophical or theological debate....

But I also don't think science is well served by elevating to the status of unquestionable truth the image of a material universe governed solely by random and otherwise inexplicable events. That's a worldview, not a scientific conclusion, and it has no better claim to our intellectual assent than views that postulate an underlying purpose, meaning, or destination for humanity.

Actually, a line of argument that depends on seeing events as random is in a rather worse position than one that postulates, even if it can't prove, underlying order. In science, what's random today is frequently modeled tomorrow. To base a theory of life on ever-more-emphatic repetition of the idea that, "No, it's random," is a bit like stamping your foot and saying, "It's so because I say it's so." [emphasis added].

Can you hear them shouting and denouncing and fulminating? Loud, ain't it? Now here's a little something extra to make their heads explode. Think about the discussion of "randomness." Think about the criterion of "testability." Then read the whole story that is selectively excerpted below:

 Can This Black Box See Into the Future?

DEEP in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream.

At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the ones found in modern pocket calculators.

But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events.

The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.

Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers.

'It's Earth-shattering stuff,' says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the 'black box' phenomenon.

'We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's going on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark.' Dr Nelson's investigations, called the Global Consciousness Project, were originally hosted by Princeton University and are centred on one of the most extraordinary experiments of all time. Its aim is to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind that we can all tap into without realising.

And machines like the Edinburgh black box have thrown up a tantalising possibility: that scientists may have unwittingly discovered a way of predicting the future.

Although many would consider the project's aims to be little more than fools' gold, it has still attracted a roster of 75 respected scientists from 41 different nations. Researchers from Princeton - where Einstein spent much of his career - work alongside scientists from universities in Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. The project is also the most rigorous and longest-running investigation ever into the potential powers of the paranormal.

Go ahead. Read it all. It's just a possibility. But it's a damned tantalizing one.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Big Dog

WHO KNOWS? There's a good piece in the Christian Science Monitor this morning about blogging. Columnist Dante Chinni cuts through some of the mainstream media's paranoia and the blogosphere's growing self-importance to arrive at some common sense. He begins by limning the paranoia:

"The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog," Richard Posner wrote last week in The New York Times Book Review. Actually Mr. Posner wrote about a lot of challenges the media faced, but gave blogs a lot of space as he spelled out their advantages. They bring expertise. They bring flair and opinion. They bring more checks and balances than the mainstream media.

"It's as if the Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising," he explained.

Ah, yes, in the future news will be bountiful and free with no advertising. Can't beat that. If they throw in complimentary ice cream we've really got something here.

It' not just the MSM that views things this way. I suspect a lot of bloggers are also persuaded that they make up a kind of anarchic Reuters. Mr. Chinni has some cold water to toss on such delusions:

But if you really look closely, all this "and in the future ..." talk seems a bit far-fetched for a number of reasons.

For all the bloggers' victories (like raising questions about memos in CBS's Bush/National Guard story) there are numerous failures (gossiping about John Kerry's affair that never happened or how the presidential election was rigged in Ohio). And most bloggers simply don't have time or staff to, say, launch an investigation into the internal workings of the Department of State. Getting leaks and tips is one thing, digging for the fuller story is quite another.

An excellent if obvious point, as is his conclusion:

For all the fretting, blogging ultimately is bound to be less a replacement for the traditional media than a complement. The fact is, journalism's most critical responsibilities in a democratic society - seeking, reporting, and analyzing news and holding people accountable - aren't easy to fulfill.

People rightly point out that the media often fail at those tasks. It's just hard to see how making it a volunteer position or a part-time job could improve the situation.

But there's more to it than volunteerism versus professionalism. One important question, it seems to me, is what blogging would look like if the mainstream media really did slide into the sea, as some seem to hope for and others confidently predict.

Well, here's an image to chew on. It would most likely bear a strong resemblance to radical feminist scholarship, in which all the supposed authorizing footnotes are just links to other dreary screeds written by other angry drabs relying on the same gossamer and fraudulent sources. In other words, three-card monte camouflaged as fact-based research.

Analysis cannot occur in any legitimate fashion without a base of facts. These are provided to the blogosphere by the mainstream media -- the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the network news organizations and dozens of other media outlets around the world. The reason the MSM evinces the irrational hostility it does to the blogosphere is that they correctly understand that bloggers are parasites. The linking capability on which all bloggers depend is the means by which the parasite attaches to the host. And without the host there is no source of nourishment.

I'm not downplaying the importance of the role bloggers can play. Blogs can be effective at fact-checking the hypothetical facts which have been gathered by the host. They can improve on the quality of analysis provided by those who are so close to the story or the actors that their judgment becomes blurred, biased, or myopic. In short, they can be useful parasites.

Still, it is folly to dream of the blogosphere replacing or even reducing the importance of the mainstream media. They're the big dog and will remain so. If some of them plunge into oblivion because they can't abide the new infestation of parasites, that doesn't mean the MSM is going away. It means that if the New York Times or the L.A. Times fail, they will be replaced by other mainstream media that do a better job of accumulating and reporting the facts.

How, then, should bloggers view the blogosphere? To each his own, of course, but I see it as a gigantic Letters to the Editor department. There's no shortage of column inches for letter writers, and so our letters can be a lot harder to ignore, but we still need them more than they need us, and we would be wise not to forget it.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Happy 60th
to the
Baby Boom

. If there's a single seminal moment for the post-war baby boom that produced the Not-So-Greatest-Generation, it's August 6th, 1945, when the United States unveiled its war-ending technology in Hiroshima, Japan.

The history may not be so important anymore, because nobody cares about history since the baby boomers reduced it to a pulpy list of crimes against political correctness. What is important is what happens now that the most narcissistic and self-indulgent generation in American history embarks on the great adventure of aging. It's not going to be pretty. The same folks who demanded that the world be remade in their image when they got to college in the '60s will insist -- just as they have in every other tedious phase and fad of the past 40 years -- that meeting their needs is all that matters. Look for the country to be transformed into some kind of senior citizen's amusement park, a 50 state implementation of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a wheelchair ramp at every strip club and free bus transportation to every reunion of septuagenarian Deadheads.

As for the rest of you, get ready to pay some real taxes in years to come. The baby boomers' appetite for drugs has always been legendary, and they're going to need pills for blood pressure, and body aches, and the pain of post-cosmetic surgery, and erections, and depression, and all the new syndromes that will be invented by a population of sissies who are growing old without ever having grown up. And they're going to want it all for free.

This is also a special day for the brat kids the baby boomers brought into being without actually raising them. The long cushy ride is over as of now. Your job is to drop whatever you're doing and make sure that mom and dad get the attention they've  always always wanted and just can't get anymore from shopping, and showing off, and chasing the coolest new trends. They won't have the energy for all that. So they'll sit there, and complain, and demand something, anything, from you to divert them one more time from the emptiness inside.

But if you want, you can pretend that all this isn't happening, because as they enter their sixties and their seventies, the cleverest of the boomers will be sitting down at their computers to prove they weren't really the worst generation, but the best, because it's so much easier to make it up after the fact than live it for real. Yes, there's an orgy of self-congratulation to come, and you'll all have the unforgettable experience of paying through the nose for the final round of boomer instant gratification while increasingly ancient anchormen and other doddering celebrities exalt the beauty of oldness and demand the respect for elders they scorned throughout their lives.

Has everybody caught the mood? I hope so, because now it's time for all of us to lift our voices in song. Are you ready?

"Happy birthday to you... Happy birthday to you..."

Where is everybody? Why aren't you singing?

You're going to have to do better than that. You really are.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Mr. Daniel Ruben for joining in the celebration-- welcome to blinq. visitors. Feel free to take a look around.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

American Waugh

Denis Leary

THE 9/11 FILES. After all the bluster and hype about Over There, it's time to focus on what really is the best series on television, a show that could easily be named Over Here. Denis Leary's Rescue Me is probably the finest work yet produced for the small screen. The credit belongs to Leary because he writes, produces, and stars in the show and does all three jobs with brilliance and subtlety. The view he gives us of New York firefighters is comical, pitiless, scathing, and yet -- to use a word much abused in recent times -- realistic. In the landscape of Leary's creation, firefighters are dumb as rocks, juvenile in their relations with women, borderline sociopathic in their personal lives, and ridiculous when they attempt to explain their stupid behaviors to civilians. They are also the men who charge into burning buildings to save anyone and everyone inside. Despite a long string of attempts by Martin Scorsese and HBO, the holy grail of a riveting story based on asshole characters had seemed unattainable to me.  Somehow, Leary seems to achieve this impossible goal with ease. He's not a stand-up comic who does other things. He's a master.

Tommy Gavin, the character Leary plays in Rescue Me, is selfish, choleric, violent, abusive to women, friends, and family, almost incapable of self control in any setting, and -- on top of this, not because of this -- irretrievably damaged by the events of 9/ll, in which he lost firefighter family and friends in large numbers. I didn't see the first season, but it hardly matters. What he succeeds in showing us is that there are men for whom every minute not spent in the life-and-death situations they were born to face is simply killing time, including marriage, fatherhood, and everything else the rest of us consider all of life.

The miracle of Rescue Me is that Leary's writing and acting seduce us into accepting the appalling personal frailties of firefighters and even understanding them. He doesn't use music to gloss over the rough spots or to highlight the heroism. He uses humor, an intuitive razorlike skill with dialogue and delivery, and patience -- the willingness to let the pathos or absurdity of any situation make itself felt over time rather than under trick lighting or ham-handed theatrics. To find a counterpart to the writing in these scripts, one must look all the way back to Evelyn Waugh, who possessed the sublime nastiness to inform us of the death of Lord Tangent (son of Lady Circumference) in a dependent clause dozens of pages after the glancing shot of a starter's pistol dealt him a mortal blow. That's the esthetic at work here. Big events can be trivial, and trivial events enormous. Gavin's jilted girlfriend confronts him in front of the firehouse and threatens to scream in order to embarrass him. He tells her to go ahead. She lets loose like the heroine of a horror movie and -- eventually -- firefighters come outside, greet her merrily, and disappear inside. None of them ask Tommy for an explanation afterwards. Emotional fireworks are routine and unimportant here. But a firefighter who overhears his son having gay sex is stunned into speechless fury -- not by the sex, but by the discovery that his son is not, as he had been promised, the "man" of the couple. In Rescue Me, all depends on the perspective of the lunkhead characters, who talk with one another in stark but stupid terms about even the most intimate and embarrassing incidents in their lives.

A mentally challenged firefighter develops a morbid fear that his penis is somehow deadly after two successive girlfriends die. His supervisor in counseling him begins by remarking that the firefighter has a small sliver of brain matter floating around somewhere in his skull and hopes the observation doesn't give offense. "No offense taken," responds the young man, without the least change of expression. He is still waiting for advice, which comes quickly. The problem, the supervisor tells him, is his dating pool, which should be drained dry, filled in, and paved over with asphalt.

"Then there's nothing the matter with my cock?"

"No. Get back out there."

The next step is absolutely typical of Rescue Me, which includes in its regular cast a hallucinated Jesus who haunts Leary's character but is refreshingly tongue-tied about the meaning of life's constant tragedies. Jesus torments Leary for a buffoonish performance at an AA meeting, but there's nobody on hand to chastise the dumb firefighter when he accompanies a Vicodin-addicted colleague to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and discovers that it's an "ocean of pussy," a panoply of ex-models, hookers, and party girls, all vulnerable to the charms of a firefighter willing to make up stories about a crack-addicted past. Which he immediately proceeds to do.

In fact, every single kind of bad and unfair treatment of women is on constant display in Rescue Me, and the firefighters' understanding of this unending quest in their lives never rises above the level of eighth grade boys. But then Tommy Gavin gives mouth to mouth to a little boy who has stopped breathing after receiving third degree burns to his face, and he registers no emotion when another firefighter tells him the boy's lips are still glued to his own. The show then resists the temptation to play for sympathy when Gavin goes to the hospital to sit by the critically burned boy's bed. Instead, when the mother leaves for a moment, Jesus appears in her chair, ducks the question about what such tragedies mean, and offers to "put in a word" for the boy's life if Gavin will reconsider his dismissal of God.

In response to the proposition, Gavin says, "I want full use of the hands."

Nothing is sacred in Rescue Me. Not even the PC standards of our day. A supervisor berates a female probationer who disregarded orders at a fire by calling her a "stupid twat." Predictably, she threatens legal action when he refuses to apologize.  Then she is made to realize that namecalling is a part of the life of a firefighter, and the offender makes everyone pay for his crime by refusing to lie about what he said. All the firefighters, including the "victimized" woman, are sentenced to sensitivity training.

That's how the show strikes me overall -- as a kind of sensitivity training about a kind of man who has become unfashionable and even despised, despite the fact that we need and depend upon him. He's rude, crude, often drunk, frequently obtuse, coarse in even the most rudimentary social occasions, but when the terrible thing happens, he's the one who will disregard the danger and battle his way into further danger to pull our sorry asses out of the fire.

I'm getting the lesson because it's being delivered with such flawless timing and unflinching honesty. I urge all of you to enroll for the rest of the course, no matter how long it lasts.

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