March 3, 2009 - February 24, 2009
. I'm not trying to be a provocateur here. I don't
much care what the Democrats do to extricate themselves from the
nomination mess they're struggling with. It's probably irrelevant to
the outcome of the general election. My own conclusion is that John
McCain doesn't really want to be president. Otherwise, he wouldn't keep
punching conservatives in the mouth with his brass-knuckled
Hispanic-pandering immigration policies and loony-toon "Global Warming
Tour." He'd rather be maverick than president, and just maybe, age is
more of a factor than even Obama hopes. It's beginning to look as if
the 2008 Republican nominee is merely a less lovable version of Bob
Dole, secretly subverting the race for the nation's highest office into
a kind of shining last moment in the Indian Summer sun. Not
getting elected will be the consummate relief, immediately followed by
a self-satisfied retirement into celebrated semi-private life.
Nobody seems to hold it against Bob Dole that he never tried to win and thus threw away a very real opportunity to prevent the ignominy of Clinton's Lewinski term. McCain knows this and probably counts on the likelihood that his own defeat will be blamed, like everything else that's happened in the 21st century, on one George W. Bush. Wouldn't that be the easiest vindication of all for an old man in the grip of a festering eight-year-long grudge?
Only time will tell if that's an accurate read of the situation, but at the moment it hardly matters to the Democrats, who fear they might be flinging away their best opportunity to win the White House since Bill Clinton rose like a golden mirage from the tumbleweeds of Arkansas. And given that fear, why all the bile and irrational anger directed at Hillary rather than where it properly belongs?
I'm referring, of course, to Howard Dean. It was his leadership of the Democratic National Committee which designed the 2008 nomination process for the express purpose of ensuring that Democrats would pick their candidate early. He was the one who front-loaded the primaries so dramatically that individual states like Florida and Michigan, afraid of being left out of the big circus, rebelled against his authoritarian rule and scheduled primary dates in defiance of Dean's grand Big-Brother dictates.
And like any overweening anti-democratic despot, he punished them for their disobedience. Michigan. And Florida. Think about that for a minute.
Florida. The state in which the Democratic Party made its absurd last stand in 2000, determined to rewrite settled election law on the fly in order to insure against some phantom but absolutely unacceptable disenfranchisement of voters who couldn't read a ballot or marshal the motor skills needed to punch out a chad. Florida. A major state which has been so close to a dead-even Democrat-Republican split that many of us in other parts of the country could be forgiven for believing that the home of Disney World actually decides the outcome of the presidential race for the rest of us. But Dean in his wisdom chose to piss off Florida Democrats by disqualifying their delegates.
The result has been the classic unintended consequences of most overly ambitious Democrat schemes. You change a process too much, too suddenly, and what you get is chaos. The Hillary campaign guessed wrong about all the new variables in the nomination race. What was intended to secure her early coronation proved to be her undoing. The Obama campaign guessed right, but not because they were brilliant. Instead, they were maximally cautious. They knew it would be impossible to stop Hillary's Panzer divisions in their tracks during the initial offensive. So they decided instead to survive the first wave and mount a massive, careful, and comprehensive infantry assault that could win, eventually, by attrition. Organize in every state, contend in every caucus, put troops in every foxhole. No genius involved. Just ground-pounder determination. Which, by virtue of its ubiquity, is almost always everywhere that luck strikes when it does. And so it came to pass. Hence, Obamessiah, the cold and remote new divinity of the party of the common man.
Now, though, the great strategy of Howard Dean has landed the Democrats in a quagmire that may not kill them but will still cause them many sleepless nights and the necessity of accepting wholly unnecessary risks. That's why the current profusion of articles demanding Hillary's withdrawal and indicting her hubris is so perverse, so bizarre, so laughable. It's not her fault the Democrats are about to nominate a candidate as weak as Michael Dukakis and as doomed to failure if elected as Jimmy Carter. It's Howard Dean's fault. Hillary is the stronger candidate. You can see it in the new tone of grudging respect and even affection (gasp!) being expressed for her by conservatives who have despised her since she first appeared at Bill's side in the '92 campaign. It's unthinkable. And yet it's a function of the fact that campaigning across America has made her warmer, more human, more attractive and sympathetic than she ever was as First Lady or carpetbagger senator. Even diehard Clinton enemies are contemplating the possibility that a Hillary presidency might be survivable.
To be fair, it was also Howard Dean's bungling that forced Hillary to dig deeper into herself to find an authentic connection to her fellow Americans. But in the same stroke, he has made it impossible for his hungry hungry party to nominate a candidate who has genuine appeal beyond the ivory tower millionaires, the left-wing crazies, and the always monolithic black vote.
Why isn't the Democrat party establishment furious as hell about this state of affairs? Why aren't there as many choleric columns about Howard Dean as about Hillary Clinton? Is it that the real problem of Democrats is that they're just too stupid to understand anything?
Your guess is as good as mine. Camille.
. One of my younger email correspondents -- with
whom I've had a bruising ongoing debate about the meaning of
conservatism -- recently threw me an unexpected bouquet but asked me a
troubling question: "I think you're amazing, although not old. What is
up with this new old
fart/curmudgeon pose? I'm being taught parliamentary procedure and
political organizing by a team of people that were Goldwater and Reagan
national delegates. They're oldddd. Maybe you're just wiser than you
thought you'd be at your age, although the McCain thing makes one
Well, he's winning on the McCain front. (Does that make me youthfully flexible?) But it doesn't answer the real question. Why do I feel so old in the current political environment? And I do. Even though I'm not racing to find a wheelchair in which I can ride out the rest of my years and still feel quite perky and vital most days, I also feel like a yellowing chapter of yesterday that will never be read by anyone but historians as atavistic as I am.
The answer is actually pretty simple. I was raised in an environment where facts actually mattered. Then I went to college during the period when facts ceased to matter and became grist for the political mill which ground them into whatever consistency was convenient for the cause of the moment. Stripped of its pretensions, that's all post-modernism is: the deliberate perversion of facts into solipsistic bumper stickers. I'm older than most of the elder statesmen (and women) of the mass media, and so I'm aware that for the most part they don't even know what they're doing as they slant their coverage, undermine objectivity in the name of hidden agendas they believe in passionately, and treat facts as the malleable clay of a truth they honestly believe they can reveal through clever videotape editing and politically correct editorial rhetoric.
I'm old because I can look at Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Brian Williams, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Katie Couric, Jonathan Chait, Glenn Reynolds, Markos Moulitsas, Ace of Spades, etc, etc, and perceive the limits of their experience, the incredible dimness of their relation to the continuum of American life. They claim authority, swell with that authority like cornered toads, and then prove that their self-professed wisdom, altruism, and lofty perspective are nothing but adolescent braggadoccio. In a word, they're kids. Ambitious, obnoxious, repetitive, predictable, ill-educated, attention-hungry, opinionated but not terribly perceptive kids.
Sooner or later, the tyranny of even aging kids results in disaster. That's the deal with today's government determination that polar bears are an endangered species. They're nothing of the kind. The classification, though, is one of those silent catastrophes that truly wise folk fear the most -- the kind of invisible turning point that almost no one sees at the time but proves in retrospect to have been the first irrevocable step toward ruin. To find an equally dire precedent, one would have to go all the way back to the banning of DDT precipitated by Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," which has killed upwards of 30 million people and is still racking up malaria casualties at this very minute.
That's the difference between smart and wise. Smart sees the short-term advantage of seizing on a popular cause-celebre to drive home the reality of a danger they think they perceive based on bumper-sticker scripture. Wise sees the danger of holding entire nations hostage to an invented crisis that has the potential to deprive the only free societies on earth of fundamental liberties, even life itself -- in a fraudulent, cold-blooded conspiracy to manipulate good intentions into a surrender of political and economic freedom. To more, bigger, and hungrier government. You won't believe what we'll be asked, and told, to do to save the polar bears. Until it's too late.
I feel old because I can't believe such naked machinations succeed. Without even a whimper.
I'm not worried about the polar bears. They can take care of themselves. I'm worried about us. The ignorant fools who can't be bothered to learn the facts and happily consent to halfwit Byzantine plots against our way of life.
Today was a turning point. If you don't know that, you're a child. A remarkably backward and not terribly worthwhile child.
And I am older than Methuselah.
. Yes, the magical week is here, the third one in May, when all
the media drop every other story and immerse us in a raging river of
sex, sex, and, well, sex. If you don't ordinarily watch your local news
shows, make an exception. You'll learn more than you ever thought
possible about orgasms, female anatomy, naughty women, and naughtier
experts. Why? Because it's the week when the most important ratings
measurements are taken. The network entertainment shows are also
guaranteed to chip in with their most salacious plots, boldest cleavage
displays, and dirtiest double-entendres.
What's interesting is that the same phenomenon also appears to infect the Internet, which has no similar ratings pressure. But there seems to be some principle of contagion at work. Suddenly, in this week of all weeks of the year, sex is on everybody's mind as if by magic, for good and ill.
Unfortunately, though, this year it's tending more toward the 'ill' side. The gossip site tmz.com, for example, is obsessing about individual female body parts to a degree reminiscent of dismembering serial killers. Today's HOT photo feature is about famous women who have "Man Hands." Ugh. Although, to be fair, they're also not overlooking the sturdy appeal of breasts, breasts, and, of course, breasts.
Breast fever has also reached the gnome who compiles HotAir.com. (Why should he give a rat's ass about Neilsen ratings?) But this week he's linked to a sad story he calls "The Scourge of Buxomness," a Fox News piece about men's nipples (yuck), and a Newsweek investigative piece about the quest for the 'Perfect Bra.' The pic at the top of the post comes from the online edition of Newsweek, which if you click on the main graphic allows you to virtually 'try on' the perfect bra and adjust its straps to your own comfort preference and fashion sense. I guess that's a bonus for the ladies, perhaps to make up for the bonus they toss to the men, a definitely NSFW video feature called the "Bounce-O-Meter," which is nominally educational for women but also one of the more dangerously hypnotic and addictive visual drugs for men we've ever seen. But HotAir still hasn't had his fill of sex. He also links to a story about a recent tabloid survey which disclosed that Brit sex is kinky and getting kinkier.(Yawn). And to yet another piece about designers creating sexy burkhas, including a punk rock 'abaya,' whatever that is.
Well, you get the idea. We're not going to do a site by site analysis of the Internet to prove the main point. It's Sweeps Week, that's all. If you're one of those continental Euro types who don't have any interest in sex anymore, turn off the TV, the radio, the computer, and avoid every periodical publication until next week.
You know it's bad when even RealClearPolitics.com (yaaaawn) can find a sexual angle to opine about. Yup. They did. Take a gander at this piece about the horrible sexist hatred of women that's responsible for Hillary's flameout in the Democratic primaries. It's wrong, of course. Men obviously love women, or Sweeps Week would be about beer and sports, not all boobs all the time. But how else are they going to sneak our favorite subject into their political monomania? A Paul Begala column on strange sexual positions Hillary refused to try with Bill? Not going to happen.
Mostly, we're pleased that whatever causes the May Sweeps to exert a contagious influence on all forms of media, we, happily, are immune to the impulse to exploit and pander to it. (Let us know what you think of the Bounce-O-Meter. And if you like it, email all your firends about InstaPunk and then send us some money.)
There was some grand final inference we were going to draw, but it's slipped our mind for the moment. If we think of it, we'll let you know. Later in the week. It might be something about vaginas. Friday-ish.
P.S. About the audio file. If you think about it the way Randy Newman does, hats are actually sexier than bras. Is that the point we couldn't quite remember earlier? No. But it's more intriguing than anything tmz.com has to offer. Unless you're the kind who gets off on this kind of (NSFW) 'Girls Gone Sweeps Week' gallery. But in that case, we don't want to have anything to do with you. Unless you send money.
. I may have misunderstood his intent, but well respected
InstaPunk reader Joshua Chamberlain seemed to be declaring his
impatience with the subject of UFOs in his comment on the Thursday, May
8 post, which concluded with the sentiment, "Too many credible stories
about UFOs and USOs. If any of
them are true, the scientists are full of shit. Which isn't that much
of a reach. Let's face it." Mr. Chamberlain's observation was, "You're
To be blunt, yes, I am. There are two poles of scientific certainty: the theories scientists are certain are true; and the theories scientists are certain are nonsense. Examples of the first kind are black holes, neo-Darwinian evolution, and man-made Global Warming. Examples of the second kind are ESP, reincarnation, and UFOs. Most people follow the easy middle path mapped out by the scientists, accepting what they say is true and rejecting what they say is untrue. Some have the temerity to question what scientists believe in while still following their lead in dismissing phenomena that are documented by more evidence than has ever been put forward for black holes. On the face of it this seems rather arbitrary. If scientists can be mistaken about subjects they have spent entire careers studying, why can't they be just as mistaken about subjects they've barely studied at all?
Yes, I know there are professional skeptics who make their money by wading into one controversy after another -- always claiming to be objective and devoted to the scientific method -- and always emerging from their investigations with exactly the same conclusion: nothing to it. To me they'd have more credibility if they occasionally (or even once) conceded that they don't know enough to be certain one way or the other. They're incredibly tiresome about repeating the Sagan Rule, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," but they almost never consider the possibility that the difference between extraordinary and ordinary may consist of baseless assumptions. Moreover, they're just as remiss in acknowledging that most of the phenomena they apply this standard to don't actually have what a real scientist would call a control -- that is, an equivalent population that can be compared to the population being studied or experimented on. There is no other self-conscious intelligent species we can look to as a basis for determining whether or not it is an extraordinary claim that ghosts exist, or reincarnation, or remote viewing, or Jungian synchronicity, or visitation by advanced alien species. If we really did have such a control population, it might be that the ordinary assumption regarding all these phenomena is that they're routine and to be expected.
If we could kidnap Leonardo da Vinci from the fifteenth century and bring him to ours, what would we have to do to convince him that a smaller unit of matter than any he was aware of could be split apart to produce an explosion that would level Florence and kill everyone who lived there? Would it be enough to show him the physics calculations and explain the technology? After all, that's all it would take to transform our faith that this is so into knowing certainty, and most of us aren't half as brilliant as Leonardo What if we showed him film of the first Los Alamos detonation and he didn't believe it? Is it really the claim that's extraordinary, or is it rather that his assumption set is simply too primitive? Even if he refused to believe it until we actually set off a nuclear warhead in his line of sight, it doesn't change the authenticity or the matter-of-fact correctness of the calculations and technology descriptions we showed him in the first place.
The Sagan Rule doesn't relate to evidence per se; it relates to the point of view of the percipient, specifically the closed-mindedness of the determined skeptic. If you're pre-disposed to disbelieve something, you're going to be harder to convince. That doesn't change the acceptable measure of proof at all. None but a handful of people has seen the wreck of the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. But we all (agree to) believe it exists, even though photographic evidence can be faked and all the supposed eyewitnesses have an economic incentive for making us believe their claims.
Yes, but we all just know that the earth isn't really being visited by a extraterrestrial civilizations. Sure we do. We also know that there's such a thing as an electron, which is sort of there and sort of not there too, according to quantum physics. What kind of evidence do you accept for the latter? And why is that so much more plausible than the evidence you dismiss for the former? Or haven't you ever really bothered to look into either?
You're on your own in researching the reality of the electron. But I can give you a start into investigating the possibility that the UFO phenomenon is a deeply mysterious reality of some sort whose fundamental nature isn't understood by anyone:
1952 White House Flap
Edwards Air Force Base
Browse and sharpshoot to your heart's content. At the end you may think you know. But you won't know. Nobody does. And the scientists who keep telling us they're sure how the universe works are guessing along with the rest of us.
That might be kind of sad, and it also might be kind of wonderful. It sort of depends on your point of view. Like everything else.
UPDATE. On a different subject, faithful InstaPunk readers please note the update to the May 4 post about the Liberty Medal. I really am asking for some audience participation here. Not for Country Punk, who posted the original. But for Sid Mark, the amazing gentleman he was writing about. Thank you.