It's tough to know where to begin. Which is pretty much the case with
everything that's been happening since "The One" was sworn in in
January. So many basic aspects of American life are being thrown under
the wheels of the runaway left-wing train that focusing on any single
abuse is automatically backpage trivia. Who could care when the economy
is crashing and our new leader is busily remaking the world as well as
That's a continuing dilemma here at InstaPunk. Expressing outrage about
this or that individual act of semingly arbitrary vandalism appears somehow petty.
The enormity of the threat to the nation as a whole is really the only
story worth writing about.
What does it matter that the president screws up repeatedly in every
public appearance, even though public appearances seem to constitute
his only executive activity? What does it matter that he has launched
huge and reckless change initiatives in almost every sector of our
national life, creating the possibility of collapse through simple
system overload even before one considers the wisdom or lack of it
associated with each monumental change? What does it matter that his
Secretary of State is already exposed as a glorified housewife with no
experience or native competence in foreign affairs? What does it matter
that his Treasury Secretary continues to operate out of an empty office
building while ostentatiously refusing to consult the various officially
designated advisers and sages who have real-world experience in the
markets being seized and bullied by the federal government? What does
it matter that absolutely none
of the math in his combination rescue/redistribution plan for the U.S.
economy adds up to anything but generations of debt and decline for the
greatest nation on earth? What does it matter that our tyro president
arrogantly insults our allies and bows obsequiously to enemies who
laugh unambiguously in his face -- and by implication ours? What
does it matter that day by day he is pushing Israel toward certain and
U.N.-approved annihilation? What does it matter that every single one
of his legal appointments is driving the U.S judicial system toward the
abandonment of our own constitution in favor of international
precedents and organizations that would mortally wound American
Every single thing is a drop in the bucket in today's political
environment, but each of them would have been a front-page crisis, not
to say scandal, a generation ago. It's an exercise in the deliberate
creation of chaos. Throw absolutely fucking everything up in the air at
the same time and exploit the fact that too much is going on to permit
people to focus effectively on anything.
But I am going to focus on
one thing today. Because it's highly symbolic of the cultural
revolution that threatens to subjugate ordinary American citizens
permanently. And also because it's a darkside view of the "hope and
change" rhetoric this administration is using to buy time for its
destructive agenda. They have cast their intentions in terms of class
warfare (however much they disingenuously disavow the nomenclature).
They claim to be bringing about social justice for the little people by
punishing the rich and greedy who have stolen everyone else's opportunity. This is a crock.
What we're looking at is a process whose best point of comparison isn't
the New Deal or European fascism or Stalinism but ancient Rome. We're witnessing the
creation of two permanent new classes, the Patricians and the
plebeians. Of the United States of America.
It differs as much from traditional American economic stratification as
it does from feudal European aristocracy. In the American system, there
were checks and balances. Belonging entailed no particular moral
obligations or expectations; robber barons were welcome. But you could
lose the money and privilege through acts of profligacy and subside
into the middle class. You could also join the economic aristocracy by
earning your own brand new fortune in dozens of different ways. Social
acceptance might take a generation or two, but it could be achieved.
New Money could become Old Money. In the European system, classes were
defined by property ownership, inherited titles, and scrupulously
maintained family trees. There was an expectation of at least
superficial virtue -- exemplified by education and 'noblesse oblige.'
And one could opt out of the power politics of the day. Aristocracy did
not mandate any particular role in government. It was simply a
The Roman class system combined the worst features of both of these. As
with the European aristocracy, the class divisions were permanent. But
the concept of 'noblesse oblige' was defunct by the time the republic
gave way to the empire. By then, the Patricians were fully engaged in
the most ruthless power politics of the day. If anything, the moral
expectations were higher for plebeians than for their born betters. As
in the American system, one could become a Patrician, not easily to be
sure, though the criteria were not substantive accomplishment but a
devouring thirst for power at any cost. Class mobility with no
requirement for virtue or achievement. Think of untitled Kennedys
carousing their way to inherited U.S. Senate seats.
Precisely. What we're living through now ( ironically, given the
anti-American spin of the destroyers) is the death of the American
republic and the birth of the American Empire, a continuously declining
but still remarkably powerful player on the world stage ruled by
Patricians in every discipline that has some relation to political
power. The comparison to the transition from the Roman Republic to the
Roman Empire is especially apt. The Patricians contrived to retain the
respect and admiration earned by republican institutions long after
they had scooped out all the virtue of the original institution and
replaced it with raw power, ruthlessness, and intimidating pomp. The
institutions of empire became in many ways the opposite of what had
first elevated them to greatness. By the time anyone noticed, it was
If you want to see who the new Patricians are in the nascent
post-republican American Empire, look to the institutions that have
become the opposite of what made them great in the first place. I can
think of four principal ones. (You may be able to come up with others
on your own.) These are the people -- and their descendants -- who will
be "taken care of" regardless of what happens to the rest of us, until
at least the day when the remaining pie is too small to carve up
without jettisoning a Patrician or two, which can take a very very long time, let me assure you.
Think Kennedys, Rockefellers, Jacksons, Bayhs, Tafts, Clintons, Bushes,
Romneys, and Pelosis. Families that have become political families with
an expectation of being elected to office not for what they have done,
but for what their last names are. The total war that has been
conducted against the Bushes is, in fact, imperial politics. Caesar had
to destroy Pompey to consolidate his power. It was a Patrician skirmish
that required harnessing the outrage of powerless plebeians to resolve.
How they cheered when Pompey's head was finally skewered on a pike
above the walls of Rome. How little good it did them in the long run.
But note that this phenomenon is relatively new in American politics.
Yes, there were two Adamses, two Harrisons, two Roosevelts, but they
never became "dynasties," and we were never so crushed by their deaths
that we insisted on naming their wives or daughters to the offices they
vacated. There's already talk of running Michelle Obama for president
after Barack finishes his two terms. Where does that come from? Joe
Biden's aide is now a placeholder in his senate seat awaiting the
election of one of his sons to give Delaware its Patrician heir.
Democracy, my ass.
And what of all the tax cheats smoothly confirmed by the U.S. Senate
for key roles in the Obama administration. We have to pay our
taxes. The man in charge of the dreaded Internal Revenue Service
doesn't. The Patricians who boss us around don't. It's hard to arrive
at any other conclusion than that they are simply better than we are.
We must be virtuous. They can be merely "better."
Not to mention the two score and mounting total of lobbyists who've
gotten waivers from an Obama administration that vowed not to hire any lobbyists and is now appointing
them left and right (not so much the latter, literally speaking). But,
hell, they're in the power circle, and we're just dumb-asses. I guess
The Elite Universities. These
were the original bastions of American liberalism. Their names became
beacons of free speech, tolerance for dissenting views, academic
freedom, the marketplace of ideas. Today, they have become the exact
opposite of that. They suppress free speech on a systematic basis,
protect Islamic terrorists and sympathizers, conspire actively in the
increasingly inevitable annihilation of Israel, enforce "speech codes"
and totalitarian reeducation programs targeting white males, and via
Affirmative Action, actively discriminate against more qualified white
people, men, and (as they have shamefully always done) Jews. Why do they get
away with it? Because they provide the studies and surveys and findings
that justify the legislation political Patricians use to acquire
greater control over our economy, healthcare, environment, nutrition,
vices, private freedoms, political philosophies, and religious
affiliations. They're the Patrician "learning" that feeds the soaring
autocracy of the Empire. Protected.
Celebrities. There was once a
place called Hollywood where the purveyors of mass entertainment saw it
as their responsibility to promote an image of virtue, marital
fidelity, patriotism, and products that were wholesome for all ages.
Some of the "stars" that came out of that system actually lived up to
these impossible ideals and were more beloved by the public because
people can detect phonies. They knew that James Stewart was an
authentic and brave war hero, that Katherine Hepburn was a brilliant
emancipated woman, that Cary Grant really was a gentleman's gentleman,
that Humphrey Bogart really was an independent tough guy, and that Gary
Cooper really was Gary Cooper. But celebrity today has become the
iconic definition of the new Patrician class. There's nothing so awful
they won't do in public and expect a pass on. Because they're
Patricians. Above us. Above the law. Above all the plebeian
requirements of civil behavior. We're expected to love them anyway.
Which we do. We let multi-millionaire high school dropouts influence
our votes in political elections. We let pampered divas throw public
temper tantrums about world issues they've heard about from their
agents and other pampered divas. We buy tickets to the concerts
of moron rock stars who are openly campaigning for candidates almost as
rich as they are, as if both were somehow plugged into our lives and
our needs. We cheer. Which is what makes us plebeians.
The Mainstream Media. In many
ways, this is the worst of all. (Did you watch the video? Go do it now,
if you haven't already.) After all, we expect politicians to lie. We
have native, and utterly well founded, distrust of eggheads whose
opening presumption is that they're smarter than those of us who
actually have to earn a living. And we do understand, at some level,
that movie stars, professional athletes, and musicians aren't exactly
experts about real life. But one of the great American stories -- a
source of immense national pride, really -- is the maturation of the
independent American free press from its lowly origins in colonial
times, through the rank yellow journalism days of the nineteenth
century, to the paragon of objective "just the facts" reporting that
underpinned The New York Times
slogan, "All the news that's fit to print." I've written about this
before, here and in honest-to-God newspapers, and I'm continually
amazed that when I raise the subject of bias, people who claim to be
classical American liberals (and even some conservatives) defend what's
happening now by citing appalling journalistic excesses from the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As if they're happy to be in that
poisoned company. As if their avowed belief in human moral progress is
really a disposable pose that never mattered anyway. As long as the
yellow journalism of today accords with their own economic assumptions
or political viewpoints.
But it's worse even than that. Far worse. That's why Rome is once again
the only suitable comparison. The American news media created a new,
far higher standard of what journalism is as a profession, and they rode that
standard to absolutely unprecedented authority, wealth, privilege, and
power. They became, in effect, another branch of the United States
government, the ultimate check against the arrogance of the executive,
the judiciary, and the legislative branches. On the strength of their
commitment to truth and honesty, we permitted them the economic
exception of becoming an oligopoly on the nation's airwaves and
monopolies in dozens of major cities and towns. It was their profession
of virtue that procured for them this exalted status in the republic.
And now they have become imperial Rome.
The Patrician Press. They sit in their expensive aeries in New York and
dispense with all pretense at objectivity. They actually sneer at all
the journalistic standards that earned them the aerie in the first
place They contemptuously ignore stories that don't agree with their
politics. They nakedly, shamelessly persecute people whose politics
they oppose. And no matter what they do, no matter how much the market
detects their moral bankruptcy and punishes them for it, they still
have their resolute defenders, their indefatigable defenders who are
certain they know better than the plebeians who reject them and argue
that their corrupt shenanigans must be subsidized by the government, in the name of the people's need to know.
That's the significance of the video above. The august upper class of
the mainstream media is nothing but a social club. A Patrician
sinecure. It won't matter if they all go bankrupt, as they eventually
will. Somehow they will merge seamlessly with the Patrician government
whose attainment to absolute power would never have occurred without
them. They're the makers of truth,
regardless of facts. They get to decide who is "media" and who is a
seditious propagandist (Limbaugh and Ziegler, take note.) They are
Patricians. And ominously, they straddle all the other categories. They are simultaneously politicians,
activist representatives of elite universities, celebrities, and, of
course, the highest paid sleazy yellow journalists any nation ever had.
God save us from all of them. How does it feel to be a plebeian?
Oh, did I forget to give you the definition of a plebeian? We're everybody
else. The ones who pay the bills while the Patricians smirk and
bask in their own glory.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tea Parties and
hard to take such right-wing distortions seriously, isn't it?
TEA-CRAZY. We here at InstObama.com
are more than a little disturbed about all the extremist activities
planned for today. I think we can all agree that madness is afoot, but
what kind of madness are we talking about? I know conservatives and
their ilk believe in their own lack of responsibility for the course of
action our new president -- Obama be praised -- has been forced to take
in rectifying matters of eternal injustice within these United States.
They believe in fact that they are as innocent as put-upon children,
and that their tea parties will be a simple effusion of rollicking
silly can a tea party get? And what's an "Unbirthday" in the U.S.
Isn't this ultimately a cartoonish view of the truly dire fix the
nation is in? Is it valuable, or even valid at any level, to cast our
new savior as some kind of self-obsessed, monarchic idiot?
the MSM isn't "in the tank" for Obama (2:35 in). Nor is
it unfair to the right (4:45 in). Next thing, they'll
be calling InstObama.com the
It's all nonsense. Let's not forget that the participants in today's
tea parties are
the same people who put in place what passes for leadership in the
Republican caucus of the congress. When the country needed them to act,
they preferred to remain smug, indolent, somnolent, and entirely out of
touch with reality, with the result that the communal teapot is empty.
Not too hard to spot McCain and
Boehner and Specter, is it?
And with all that pouring of tea, why isn't there any in the cup?
Small wonder that right-wing extremist protesters have chosen to deride
and attack not just Obama
(PBUH), but the august Democratic congressional leadership consisting
of Speaker Pelosi and her legislative consort what's-his-name. Do they
really fancy that the vox populi they imagine themselves to be can rise
up like some sudden childlike giant against the duly authorized
command structure of the U.S. government? Fat chance.
tallness of Alice as "the people" is just an optical illusion. Nancy is
The truth is, they're in way over their heads. Their tea parties are
hardly innocent, and the situation is far less redolent of the American
dream than an existential nightmare. If only they knew how to see, like
liberal, through a looking glass darkly.
Everything is completely dire.
There's no leeway for luxuries like liberty.
When all is said and done, there comes a time for for putting aside
those rose-colored looking glasses and seeing reality as it is, plain and whole
and, well, ugly and not a little tedious.
of banging and shrieking, but move
along, folks. There's nothing to see here.
If you're grown up enough to understand the actual scientific facts
governing tea kettles, then, um, I guess we've wasted your time.
last thought for the day...
I'm starting to get the idea of what an "Unbirthday" is.
Honi soit qui mal y pense. Be careful out there.
InstaPunk, a.k.a. the Mad Hatter of the Internet
has a PhD. from Oxford. Impressed? I can't
tell you the credentials of Anna Marie Cocks. Sorry.
And, uh, yeah: Go here,
IS SMART. This has been worrying at me for a long time now, in a
of different ways. There's a place for crude. We've done it here plenty
of times. But if it ever works (and I know some of you doubt it), it
does so by verifying a depth of emotion that has no validity unless
it's backed up by sound reasoning and otherwise carefully articulated
positions. It serves as a kind of antidote to bloodless
intellectualism. Presented on top of a foundation of rational
argumentation, it says, "I mean this. I'm passionate about it. I feel
it in my gut as well as think it in my brain." It represents the opposite of sophistication, meaning
that tone of simply "knowing" that so often afflicts the attempted
communications of the elite, who have a penchant for literary
quotations, academic citations, and intricate historical references in
place of empathy with ordinary human experience.
Go to National Review online.
What's discouraging there these days is that with the exception of Mark
Steyn and Jonah Goldberg, the conservatives at NRO seem content to
debate with one another across the mummies of Burke, Rousseau, Thoreau,
Emerson, Locke, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Friedman, Justice Holmes,
and Pope Benedict. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It's
just that their intellectualism seems to downplay the constitutional
catastrophe we're experiencing in the headlines. They're sophisticated
thinkers and writers. But sophistication is the proverbial double-edged
sword. It distinguishes the brilliant, who should be looked up to for their
ideas. But it also separates the officers of thought from the
infantrymen of everyday life.
With one big exception. The Left. In this realm, an extraordinary
perversion of sophistication has occurred and taken a ferocious hold on
media communications. Almost unbelievably, the sophisticates of the
left have been permitted to redefine rarefied intellectualism as its opposite. The video above is
Exhibit A. As the caption states, Rachel Maddow has a PhD. from Oxford,
in addition to a bachelors degree from Stanford. But how does she
choose to demonstrate her supposed intellectual superiority to her
political foes? By sharing her knowledge of the political philosophers
who convinced her that socialist governments are somehow more
efficient, just, economically successful, and conducive to contentment than the capitalist
system she finds so unacceptable? No. Instead, her putative
intellectual attainments are nothing more than a platform from which
she feels free to go "slumming" in the common world of innuendo and
lowest-common-denominator sex jokes.
Bottom line. She's so much better than the prudes of Middle America
that the proof of her betterness is her ability to engage in smirking
double entendres intended to ridicule her political opponents without
ever dealing substantively with any
of their policy positions. She's just better
than they are because her sensitivity to crude allusions is less than
theirs. Which makes her, we must assume, more in touch with the lowest
and crudest of her egalitarian political base. Congrats.
I know it's not PC to mention her sexual orientation. But I will
anyway, because it's germane. I think she's an Affirmative Action
lesbian. Her Wiki bio makes a point of the fact that she was the first
openly female gay to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. Congrats again. But
given that her entire approach to discussing current political events
consists of a sanctimonious attitude rather than any learned reference
suggests to me that her only real intellectual credential is her lesbianism. And,
unfortunately, my own experience of lesbians is that they are the
single dreariest demographic on the planet. It's the only thing they
think about, care about, and talk about. And they're so astonishingly
narrow-minded and unsophisticated
that it never occurs to them just how monotonously repellent they are
to everyone else. Not because they're homosexual. But because that's all they are.
That's why the sex jokes get so dull so quickly. But then, again,
that's the nature of "sophistication" on the left. It doesn't have to
do with knowing, or thinking, or writing, or sparkling in any
particular way. It has to do with simply "being" -- single mother, gay,
Hispanic, lesbian, black, muslim, etc. These days, you get
scholarships, fellowships, book contracts, and media gigs for bullshit
circumstances like this. The reward is that you get to condescend to
everybody else and when you crack a dirty joke on top of your PhD.,
everyone else is bound to be impressed by how "sophisticated" you are.
Except me. I call bullshit on Rachel Maddow. In my sophisticated
opinion she's a dyke with 600 boards and a beneficiary of an Old-Girl
network most people would throw up if they knew the extent of. And I
could say the same about a lot of other people who are being lionized
in the post-accomplishment era. Andrew Sullivan, anyone? Chris
Matthews? Keith Olbermann? Katie Couric? Well, fill in your own names.
My challenge. Show me some real learning on the "sophisticated" left.
Something that isn't derivative, imitative, phony, or just plain damn
fake. And leave sex jokes and smarmy grossness out of it. Then we'll
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
you ever get that feeling of being watched? DON'T answer.
I admit it. I'm a bad guy. I've said some bad things about
the Obama administration. Well. actually, that's not true. Let me be
more precise. I admit I've said some
things that some people might
possibly construe as bad, if they were working for Janet
Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security:
What I want to convey is two things. First, how happy I am that DHS is
working so hard to protect us from subversive elements like these:
WASHINGTON – A newly unclassified
Department of Homeland Security report warns against the possibility of
violence by unnamed "right-wing
extremists" concerned about illegal immigration, increasing federal
power, restrictions on firearms, abortion and the loss of U.S.
sovereignty and singles out returning war veterans as particular
The report, titled "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and
Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and
Recruitment," dated April 7... goes on to suggest worsening economic woes, potential new
legislative restrictions on firearms and "the return of military
veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their
communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups
or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."
The report from DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines
right-wing extremism in the U.S. as "divided into those groups,
movements and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on
hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups) and those that
are mainly anti-government, rejecting
federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting
government authority entirely. It may include groups and
individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to
abortion or immigration."
"[T]he consequences of a prolonged economic downturn – including real
estate foreclosures, unemployment and an inability to obtain credit –
could create a fertile recruiting
environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations
between such groups and government authorities similar to those
in the past," the report says. [boldface added]
The other thing I wanted to say was that if somebody calls you up and
asks what we talk about here at InstaPunk, could you please, please,
please leave out the part about how we said, all in fun, of course,
things like how disastrous the Obama presidency is? I mean, you know it's all, like, satire, right? Like how we only
pretend we hate socialism and a federal government that gets ever more
gigantic and intrusive and authoritarian? Ha. Ha ha ha. It's our
favorite joke. We just laugh and laugh and laugh at silly posturings like
that. Don't we?
Everybody knows -- and you regulars more than anybody -- that there's
nothing we love more than the
idea of socialism and a federal
government that gets ever more gigantic and intrusive and
authoritarian. If you could just hear us discussing it behind the
scenes, how we're constantly
saying to one another, "If only the government could be here with us
right now, telling us exactly how bad these cigarettes and
single malt whiskeys and anti-immigration posters are for our health, we'd just be so grateful and
happy and obedient and ecstatic that we'd pay them two or three
times more income tax just for the privilege of having them search our
underwear drawers for those automatic pistols and hollow point bullets
nobody should have.
You remember all the times we said that, right? Sure you do.
The other other thing we
wanted to talk about today -- Obama be praised -- is some insignificant
technical information we don't even like to bring up. But since this is
mostly a technical blog, right(?), we thought maybe some of you could
help. Like, how can you tell if your phone is tapped, or if somebody is
hacking into your computer to copy some of your old not very well
stated posts on the internet, or can they tell if you're watching 24 no matter how ridiculous it's getting
about now, and what does it mean if there's always
an anonymous gray Government Motors sedan parked across the street from
your house with
drilled hubcaps and two guys with ties and sunglasses inside? That kind
Oh. And one other other, uh,
other thing. Something we've been meaning to do since January,
honestly, and have just been so busy cheering on the stimulus and the
European "America Sucks" Tour and all that we forgot to make it
official... although I'm pretty sure we hinted at it several times,
which you'll remember if you think about it, if anybody asks, about how
we're renaming the site InstObama.com.
Because we love and admire our new president so much.
Can you remember all that? And don't forget those technical questions.
We really love dialoguing about everything. And especially technical
questions. What with this being a mostly technical site and all. God,
is it just us, or is it getting hard to breathe in here? Forget that.
We're cool. Completely.
Oh. And praise Obama. Which is like how we always end all our posts.
Monday, April 13, 2009
were sometimes executed by hanging on a gibbet erected close to
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.
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. EagleSpeak.us 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
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
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.
are peaks and valleys. He was a peak. A tall one. Mighty tall.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
waiting, and sharing the game, and Harry chatting during rain delays
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.
Schmidt was always taciturn and self-contained until he uncoiled his
deadly bat or equally deadly third-baseman virtuosity. The genius
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.
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
love this picture. It confirms everything I was thinking from
reading his posts at National Review Online. Kind of reminds me of
though without the "below-the-belt" connotation. His perpetual hard-on lives in his
course, he's an estimable
Jim Manzi is CEO of Applied Predictive
Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software
company. Prior to founding APT, Mr. Manzi was a Vice President at
Mercer Management Consulting where he spent ten years directing
corporate strategy assignments across a wide array of industries on
five continents. He was previously employed in the Data Networks
Division of AT&T Laboratories where he developed PC-based pattern
recognition software. Mr. Manzi has published articles on science and
business topics in National Review and National Review Online. He
received a B.S. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, and was subsequently awarded a Dean's Fellowship in
statistics to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as
one of the eight top matriculants to the school's doctoral programs.
A week or so ago, I promised
a post on the "complex virtues of certain kinds of simple-mindedness."
This is that post. Jim Manzi is Exhibit A. I'm going to offer only two
pieces of evidence. The first is a secondhand summary of his views on Global
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
whether torture works strategically; that is, is the U.S. better able
to achieve these objectives by conducting systematic torture as a
matter of policy, or by refusing to do this? Given that human society
is complex, it’s not clear that tactical efficacy implies strategic
When you ask the question this way, one obvious point stands out: we
keep beating the torturing nations. The regimes in the modern world
that have used systematic torture and directly threatened the survival
of the United States — Nazi Germany, WWII-era Japan, and the Soviet
Union — have been annihilated, while we are the world’s leading nation.
The list of other torturing nations governed by regimes that would like
to do us serious harm, but lack the capacity for this kind of challenge
because they are economically underdeveloped (an interesting
observation in itself), are not places that most people reading this
blog would ever want to live as a typical resident. They have won no
competition worth winning. The classically liberal nations of Western
Europe, North America, and the Pacific that led the move away from
systematic government-sponsored torture are the world’s winners.
Now, correlation is not causality. Said differently, we might have done
even better in WWII and the Cold War had we also engaged in systematic
torture as a matter of policy. Further, one could argue that the world
is different now: that because of the nature of our enemies, or because
of technological developments or whatever, that torture is now
strategically advantageous. But I think the burden of proof is on those
who would make these arguments, given that they call for overturning
what has been an important element of American identity for so many
years and through so many conflicts.
I submit that both these items illustrate the phenomenon that it is
possible to be so damn smart you're a total idiot...
. 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
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
Dr. Craig’s evidence is presented in 5 different lines of argument:
1. The Cosmological Argument; Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The
universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. God is
the best explanation for that cause.
2. The Teleological Argument; The fine-tuning of the universe is so
improbable that law or chance aren’t adequate explanations. God is the
3. The Moral Argument; If God does not exist, then objective moral
values do not exist. Rape isn’t just culturally unacceptable, it’s
4. The Resurrection of Jesus; The vast majority of historians generally
agree that the tomb was empty. Separately, the vast majority of
historians generally agree that Jesus appeared to people post-mortem.
The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation
of these facts.
5. The Immediate Experience of God; Belief that God exists may be
rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded in argument.
Hitch doesn’t claim knowledge that
there is no God. He claims ignorance, though he avoids calling himself
an agnostic. Because he doesn’t know and Dr. Craig claims to know that
God exists, the disadvantage goes to the one who says, “I know.” He
says that given the stakes are so extra-ordinary (ie judgment, Heaven
and hell, dying for one’s faith, killing in the name of God) the
evidence provided by Dr. Craig wasn’t extra-ordinary enough to prove a
The most common argument made by Hitchens was that the world contained
so much cruelty and brutality for most living creatures across most of
existence that a good God didn’t seem likely, and that if He did exist
that He had a lot of bloodshed to answer for. He gave examples of the
pre-Christ and even pre-Jewish people who died without ever knowing the
one true God. That their lives were lost in ignorance and that only
recently does God come on the scene to save some. Hitch returned to
this line of reasoning so many times that I’d say it was his core
reason for disbelieving God.
Hitch went back to how our belief that God should personally be so
concerned with us that we should have the benefit of being born
post-Christ to enjoy salvation was a form of solipsism. “It’s all about
us.” he said, “Everything else was wasted, but at least we’re here.”
Throughout the rest of the debate, be it the rebuttal, the conclusion,
the question/answer, Hitchens returns to this classic problem of
suffering, and mocks believers for finding selfish meaning in the midst
of evil; “You’re a worm but take heart, it’s all made for you.”
[I]n my opinion., though Dr. Craig won
the argument (he was the only one who even presented a formal
argument), Hitchens won the debate. It’s not the argument of the
debaters, it’s the condition of the audience that wins the day. While
few of Dr. Craig’s arguments are dispersed through culture, even
religious culture, I’ve been raised on most of Hitchens’ arguments. Dr.
Craig’s arguments are true and well-reasoned by difficult to comprehend
on a first hearing. Hitchens’ arguments are what we’ll find spoken
against God on prime time television, at the water-cooler, I’ve even
heard some of them on Animal Planet. Culture generally makes Hitchens’
argument by default. And it’s easier to claim the skeptic’s nothing
than affirm the something of God…even when I think the most robust
argument is self evident to all of us…we’re here.
I think this is an excellent preface to thoughtful discussion. It
illustrates the disconnect between the theological position and the
secular position. The theologians want to talk about existence itself
and its meaning or lack of it, and the secularists want to contrast the
primitive mind which "invented" God with the rational mind that has
come to perceive a vast gulf between mythology and hard science, and
between naive faith and brutal facts.The theologians are asking, "How
could we be here at all if there weren't some supreme power behind the
universe beyond our ability to fully comprehend?," while the
secularists are declaring, "If there is
a God, he has a hell of a lot to answer for: Nature is vicious, men are
vicious, all so-called scriptures are ignorant "Just So" stories, and
at least the "Just So" stories of science are backed by objective
observation, measurements not conceived of in Biblical times, hard
data, and a far less anthropomorphic perspective. If there is a God, he
can't be anything 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
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
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
I've never heard any secularist (or atheist) who can explain away this
mountain of mystery. Our own times have produced masses of conspiracy
theories, hoaxes, compelling fictions. The desire to believe on behalf of a greater meaning can
perpetuate compelling fictions, or else we wouldn't have had fifty-plus
years of Kennedy assassination literature, but truth tends to weigh in
at the end like a ten ton weight. Oswald owned the rifle that killed
Kennedy. The shot that killed Kennedy was fired from the sixth floor of
the Texas School Book Depository. Oswald was there at the time. He
killed a police officer while he was running away from the scene of the
crime. Only 40-some years into this mesmerizing mysteryon, we can already foresee eventually accepting that Oswald was
a lone, meaningless assassin. If you reject any of these conclusions, ask what you are
willing to pay for your beliefs. Are you willing to die, 100 years after the
fact, because you personally knew the identity of the people who killed
a nonfictional character named John F. Kennedy? You might feel
emotionally and intellectually that you possess the truth, but are you
so sure that you would die a horrible death for your belief? Torn apart
by lions in the coliseum?
Really? But people were stupid back then,
right? They were willing to be tortured horribly to death on account of
someone who never existed, just because he said stuff that couldn't
possibly help them live easier lives in the current political regime.
Until their beliefs forced an authoritarian empire to agree. Fine. Now
explain to me the process by which the United States and Europe
suddenly agree to accept Scientology as a state religion. Are you you
starting to grasp the dimensions of the mystery?
A final comparison on this Good Friday. Christianity has produced so
many variations of its original story that there are those who have
amputated themselves from their sources. As I've written previously
here, I believe most of the fundamentalist and evangelical "Born Again"
sects of Christianity have done exactly this. Their desire to read the
Bible "literally" is a flat denial of where the Bible came from and the
languages in which it was originally written. This denial has
deservedly earned them scorn from rationalists and, yes, secularists.
But here's what's decidedly odd. When the Hitchens of the world attack
Christianity, do they attack the much greater and older population of
Christians who see the Bible as an infinitely layered metaphor subject
to many nuances of meaning, or do they snipe at the easy targets of
those who claim their American 'revised standard version' is word for
The answer is, of course, the latter. The secularists just love to beat
up on the people who see the Bible as a strict roadmap to heaven. But I
would argue that this is just one more instance of the dictum that you
target the enemy who most resembles you (e.g., Nazi
totalitarians in Germany hated Boshevik totalitarians in Russia). That
is, the fundamentalists have made themselves targets because they are
most like the secularists. They are mirrors of each other, narrow, preemptive, and intolerant.
Fundamentalists exist in an absurd bubble of
false history. They reject the fact that the Bible they take so
literally was constructed by a Roman Catholic Church they dismiss as
heretical. They behave as if their
Christianity were a spontaneous act of divination, achieved directly
through a book whose origins their fragile theology would require them
to disdain. Secularists also exist in an absurd bubble of false
history. They reject the fact that the science they take so
dogmatically was inspired by devout Christians (like Isaac Newton) they
now dismiss as superstitious fools. They behave as if their (claimed)
pristine objectivity were a self-generated manifestation of wisdom,
achieved in spite of the book that gave rise to their own reactionary
disciplines and derivative personal identities.
The ony inequity here is that the fundamentalists are scorned and
transparent while the secularists are admired and ambiguous. Both are
small subsets of the historical populations created by the Christian
enlightenment. They're both sideshows. Educated Christians aren't much
impressed by the quest to find Noah's Ark on some mountain that can be
called be Ararat. Nor are they impressed by scientists who claim they
fully understand the evolution of humankind when they can't begin to
explain the origins of life.
It was the great physicist George
Richard Feynman who said, "If I can't create
it, I can't claim to understand it." (I used to call him George
when we hung out together at NASCAR races. He never corrected me. My
That statement alone elucidates the difference between a real scientist
and the kind of poseur we see in Richard Dawkins.
But in the interim, we'll have to put up with pretentious secularists
jeering at contradictions in the Bible as if plot holes are all that's
necessary to make up for the glaring hole where an explanation of the
existence of the universe should be.
Today, though, I'm going to commit the irrational act of imagining the
meaning of crucifixion and resurrection. As if I were a Christian. As
stupid an exercise as that might be.
So I'll do the unthinkable. I'll visualize Christ on the cross, dying
for me. And for you, too. With this in mind.
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.
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.
Beckoning Chasm likes Palestrina.
So do we.
Enemy at the Gates
no attention to this trailer. That's not what this flick is about.
No, it's not really a romance, though there are are romantic scenes.
No, it's not about killing Nazis, even though Nazis are killed. What
it's about is today's Rasmussen
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
The worst possible thing, really, is that you would get so upset about
mere politics that you'd say something abrupt or insist on some point
of trivial experiential detail. They've always been corrupt. What are
you getting so goddam upset about?
This. It feels like death. It's not just politics. Rent this movie.
Wait for the scene where Ralph Fiennes explains politics to Jude Law,
just before he gets shot in the head. The scene where he wants to get shot in the head right
before he gets shot in the head.
Bearing in mind that the politics happening right now are only politics
and don't matter. We really shouldn't get upset about them. It's
upsetting to others if you do that. But some of us always do that.
That's how we ruin movies other people were enjoying. So we're not
supposed to draw any inferences or lessons or parallels to current
events from the scene where the political officer talks about the
glorious ambition to achieve equality, and how it's always screwed by
the fact that there really isn't any such thing as equality, because there's
always the inequality of who loves who and who doesn't love who, and
other things, which makes the whole socialist dream impossible. Understand?
Sure you do.
Absolutely right, IP. I didn't even need to punch a hole in the garage.
She reminded me there was no chance Americans would ever make any
connection between the Battle of Stalingrad and their own lives, and I
had no choice but to agree with her. I'm still pissed about that but
not at her. She also reminded me she's the only insured driver on our
fully armored personnel carrier. So I told her we didn't need the APC to
go see Atlas Shrugged at the
movies. We could do that in my 1962 Dodge PowerWagon. We're good now,
many times have I told you not to mention the Old Days? It's pretty
lame pretending you'd hit a woman, but why do I think it's just a
cover? What you really want to do is ride a hardtail from Providence to
Los Angeles and back.
at all. I'm much too old and feeble for a stunt like that. I'm in pain
every day. I can barely get out of bed. That''s how much my old legs
hurt. In the interim, if you could look after my mail, I'll be back on
line in seven, maybe ten days.