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October 21, 2012 - October 14, 2012

Friday, July 15, 2011



Lake checks in:

Apple Just Smirks

Too precious by half.

LIES 2.17? This is less of a proper post with a grand point and more a collection of notes, experiences, and impressions about my experience with Apple and its products. Fair warning, since the Mac vs. PC debate has provoked thousands of internet flamewars over the years and for all I know, it could lead to one in the hardened halls of Instapunk comments.


I proposed this guest post with some trepidation: the Boss is old school to the core, and I could only imagine his disdain for the haughty hipster output of a 'magical' company like Apple. I was shocked to hear that like me, Mrs. CP's life has been altered for the better by her iPhone. I was less shocked to hear that the Boss himself loves his iPod -- all that music from every era, yeah, I can picture him liking that.

I started out as one of those hardcore computer nerds who not only didn't use a Mac but scorned those who did. Even before the too-cool-for-the-room ads, I saw them as pretty little packages that couldn't be doing real computer work and the people who used them as n00bs who had their cute little computers but didn't know about anything under the hood. I found myself spouting all the common lies when friends and relatives questioned me about it: "They're great for design work and art stuff, but if you want a real computer, get a PC;" "They have no choices between programs, and there's a lot you can do on a PC that you can't do on a Mac;" "Macs are twice as expensive as PCs, and I could build a much better machine for under $500."

When I came to this teaching career, now ten years ago (my life is accelerating!), I found a campus evenly split between Mac and PC users. Our computer labs were Macs because they were used for design courses and managed by one of the top tech gurus on campus. But faculty were given PC laptops to use and that was perfect for me. I immediately customized mine and quickly gained a reputation for being a guy who can help you out with computer problems. A lot of colleagues had a lot of problems, and since the head tech guy was primarily an Apple acolyte, they came to me. This worked out well for me, and my disdain for students and teachers who were such rabid Apple 'fanboys' grew, despite the fact that some of the smartest people on campus used them.

Then it happened. The screen on my beautiful, light, and fast PC laptop got cracked. No big deal, all data was safe, but it was going to take a week to repair and I was about to take a trip to the southwest national parks. Tons of pictures and video would need to be processed, we'd need some entertainment for the slow parts of the trip, and I had to stay in contact with the wider world to keep up with my master's program work. So I was given a loaner: A Mac. An overly-designed little white clamshell with this foreign operating system. I did a whole grin-and-bear-it act with the tech guy, but I was secretly interested to see just what all the hype was about.

It only took a week. It was a fun challenge to switch mental models, figuring out how Mac used the centered 'dock' vs. the Start menu of the Windows world, why programs didn't seem to quit when you closed them, why a menu bar was ever present at the top of the screen. But by the end of the week, I was hooked. I had never been more efficient as a computer user, and as much as it irked me, they were right, it just worked. There was no threat of malware and viruses. I never had to install any drivers or spend hours on the internet trying to find someone who got that same cryptic error message. It was blazingly fast and had dozens of keyboard shortcuts that I thrived on. By the time my PC screen was fixed and I gave back the loaner, I was sold -- my next computer would be a Mac.

So here I am, five years later, typing away on a MacBook Pro, surrounded by Apple gear. My iPad sits next to me, already loading itself up with the day's news, weather info before we get on the road, and the books I'm going to read on vacation. The iPhone in my pocket just reminded me about my meeting with the new headmaster, and it occurs to me how organized it's made me. Did you read that? It made me. As ridiculous as it seems, these devices are literally transforming my life.

I know how that sounds, and I don't like it either. But I have to be honest with myself. Reading apps for kids on the iPad have truly helped my three year old son with a speech delay learn to verbalize. The phone's GPS maps have helped us get lost with style: instead of doggedly pursuing a set path, we took random exits off the Jersey Turnpike and found wonderful little towns to eat something other than fast food. The AppleTV has transformed our viewing habits, and commercials are a thing of the past. When my dad got a Mac at my suggestion, it rekindled his love of finding new music, and the two of us have communicated better and more frequently than ever.

Yes, these devices are more expensive than their non-Apple counterparts. But they work beautifully, Apple continues to innovate, and I'm left with a more efficient and enjoyable life, so the premium has been worth it for me. Does that make me a snotty fanboy? Well, I can still laugh at a good Mac-bashing...


So, Instapunk readers, Mac or Windows? Or are you one of those Linux guys?





Ten Best Novels

The ones who wrote in ways I can't.

BESTS ARE A TRICKY GAME. Now Brizoni intends to talk about death. Before he does, I want to talk about life. Therefore: the ten best novels of the twentieth century. I won't say much about them. Just a line or two. The rest would be up to you. My criteria are simple. The book gets you, and you want to read whole passages out loud, because the words are so determined to be said.

Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Maybe the most moving novel ever written. Speaking the words of the text makes you despair of ever saying anything half as beautiful.

The Sun Also Rises. Ernest Hemingway.

Yes, it should have started with Chapter 3, but it's still the best writer's textbook I know. Oddly, you're seeing writing done to perfection and being drawn in, but only as far as the writer's willing to let you. The buffer between him writing and you reading is the whole point.

The Waves, Virginia Woolf.

She didn't need any of us to read it. It was enough that she wrote it. But without the affectations of Joyce, she made stream of consciousness a scoop of shimmering water, not a literary and philological final exam.

The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford

Hemingway minimalism without the "look at me writing" factor. Brilliantly subdued and ultimately devastating.

The Tin Drum, Gunther Grasse

Pure explosion of genius. Can't tell you how many times I've read the chapter called "Faith, Hope, and Love" out loud to myself. Even in translation, it's a wonder.

Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh.

The absolute apex of satire. Funny, vicious, and true. Follow the life and death of Lord Tangent, son of Lady Circumference, and report back that you are a good person because you didn't laugh.

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner.

Someone finally played around with point of view. In many ways his most accessible work. And, yes, he was a genius.

The Trial, Franz Kafka.

Who else has written one novel that got copied a thousand times by lesser lights who all got great reviews in The New York Times? Nobody. I understand he was actually a cheerful and charming soul. Figures,

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry.

If confession is the soul of twentieth century fiction, nothing can ever surpass this book. He confessed, and converted, countless readers to his own fatal illness. That's talent.

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Courage to write what is forbidden. A literary talent? In this case, yes.

1984, George Orwell.

To introduce ideas into fiction, in the twentieth century? No! Yes! If only it were more world-shaking than it has proven to be.

If you think I'm trying to buy more time for Brizoni and starting a fight as some kind of distraction, you're wrong. Well, not really. Actually, I'm just showing off. Which is my way.

CP knows about westerns. I know about novels. Let's fight.




Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The Ten Best Westerns

The Westerner. Not on the list. Proof that the list is too short.

FLASH-FORWARD. An explanatory prelude. Someone gaffed me about thinking of myself as Shane. So I revisited an old post about the ten best gunfights, in which I promised to come up with a list of ten best westerns, which is infinitely harder to do. But Brizoni is offline at the moment for excellent reasons, so I feel an obligation to post for your entertainment, and when I looked at Drudge this morning, I had to go throw up. Everything's falling apart and there's no resolution in sight. Presto. Ten best westerns. A completely arbitrary list, designed to make you all mad as hornets about stuff that doesn't really matter all that much. A post that's only a setup for your own memories and icons.

You're welcome. [simpering mock bow, because my list really is the right one. Only the order is actually up for grabs. Which is why there is no order. Only the Ten Best.]

I'll begin with a confession of biases. No Howard Hawks. He's overpraised and John Wayne is always loafing in his movies, as if the production is just an opportunity for old friends to get together and drink after the set is struck every day. No High Noon. A ghastly, awful abominatiobn of a movie, well skewered by Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, which is also not on the list because it's a remake of, uh, High Noon. You're all free to disagree, of course. It's just that if you do, you'll be wrong.

There will also be an Honorable Mention list at the end, with brief explanations of why they're not on the list. Best I can do.

Herewith, the List, in the order in which I initially typed them off the top of my head. No YouTubes. If you're interested, go find them. I'm too lazy. I know they're there, but trailers are misleading and if you care about your favorites, I know there will be abundant links in the Comments section.

Stagecoach

Ah. The young John Wayne and the young John Ford. Completely iconic. Even the cliches don't matter because they predate the dozens, hundreds, of imitations that would follow. The drunken doctor, the pregnant lady, the hooker with a heart of gold, the fugitive outlaw who's brave and good behind the wanted poster. Amazingly, it's still engaging in black and white, not just as a taproot of movie western conventions but as an elemental narrative that enduringly compels your attention.

The Searchers

Before there was an official Hollywood antihero mold, there was John Wayne in The Searchers. It's been nominated many times as the greatest western ever, but there's a lot wrong with the movie that really should deny it that laurel. Jeffrey Hunter hadn't really learned how to act yet. The reversal at the end is a bit too sudden. But it's still great. John Wayne commands the screen as an obsessed and relentless force of nature whose motives we don't entirely understand or accept, and John Ford the director gets away with it by filling in a background of frontier life that is as warm and moving as Wayne is cold and monotonic. Extremes. Meaning life on the frontier. What it took to survive and prosper in the infant west. Iron men, strong women, family ties, hard work, love, and the inevitable tensions and accommodations among them.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

More John Ford. I'll defend myself with Orson Welles's response to the question, at the height of his own fame, who were the best three directors in Hollywood. He said, "John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford." Here's a precis of this movie's highpoints from a third party:

In an Oscar-calibre performance, 42-year old John Wayne plays sixtyish Cavalry Captain Nathan Brittles. In his last days before his compulsory retirement, Brittles must face the possibility of a full-scale attack from the Arapahos, fomented by the recent defeat of Custer and by double-dealing Indian agents. After a series of minor victories and major frustrations, Brittles decides to ride into the Arapaho camp, there to smoke a pipe of peace with his old friend, Chief Pony That Walks (Chief John Big Tree). Before he leaves, he is presented with his retirement present by his troops: a gold pocket watch, with the inscription "Lest We Forget"(Wayne's playing of this scene, barely holding back tears as he adjusts his spectacles to read the inscription, is one of his finest moments on film). Brittles is able to forestall an Indian attack, just in time for his official retirement.

Anyone who thinks John Wayne couldn't act either hasn't seen this movie or should just be shot.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

Yeah. Robert Altman. An anti-western. Dark, sad, cliche-breaking, and shockingly memorable from the music to the cinematography to the masterful direction of ugly murder. Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, and Keith Carradine in career-high performances. The wild west buried in snow and blood. And drugs and sex and cold-blooded murder. A haunting piece that can be watched again and again, but only at great intervals. Because it is more affecting than it is fun.

Tombstone

The only good recent western. Val Kilmer steals the show, but Kurt Russell is surprisingly effective as Wyatt Earp, backed by predictably strong performances from Michael Biehn and Sam Elliott. There is a line between good guys and bad guys, but it's fuzzier than we'd like to think. Myth and history intertwine here, and there are subtle references to older classics like Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The ending is somehow almost contemporary, a time displacement that puts the prior theatrics into doubt, as if our entire wild western memory was simply a dream or hallucination. Kilmer again. His greatest role ever.

The Magnificent Seven

The only time I ever understood Yul Brynner's shockingly bald head was in Taras Bulba (which I saw on the HMS Queen Elizabeth in 1963). Apart from that, this is a great movie, despite the fact that it was remake of a Kurosawa film. Flawed by the performance of the German kid (don't remember his name), but elevated by the only good acting performance I've ever seen from Robert Vaughn. The plot is classic, the gunfighters are stars, and it's just impossible not to put this one on the list. And don't forget the music.

Fire Creek

A minor piece, but great music is written in both major and minor keys. It continually surprised me that Jimmy Stewart appeared in almost as many fine westerns as John Wayne, and his performances did not vary nearly as much from great to awful as Wayne's did. This movie has always stuck with me, because it's not a story of frontier heroism. It's the opposite. What happened to the families who couldn;'t withstand the privations of the wagon train, the ones who gave up and settled for less? Fire Creek. Jimmy Stewart makes a heroic last stand in this movie, but only because there's no place left to run to, and he's at the very end of his illusions about hope, faith, and duty. Jacqueline Scott, Inger Stevens, and Henry Fonda are also on hand. (More shades of Liberty Valance as well).

Destry Rides Again

A rollicking romp that can't be described but has to be seen. Marlene Dietrich in her finest role. Jimmy Stewart young, insouciant, and incredibly charming. Bar fights with all the wild haymakers anyone could want, and maybe the first of many attempts to introduce pacifist ideas westerns. Doesn't work, of course, At the end, Destry has to open the trunk and pull out his sixguns. Hurray.

Shane

Speaking of trunks containing sixguns... that would be Shane. If I were ordering this list, Shane would probably be number one. Lyrical, visually beautiful, cunningly written, elegantly crafted and acted, stunningly complete in its climax, there's nothing more to say about it.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

No. Not necessarily best because last. Just too huge to be anything but the final word. Operatic. Viscerally cinematic and memorable. Maybe one of the most repeat-watched movies ever, along with the Godfather and Gone with the Wind. The Man with No Name. Which is to say an archetype with no filters or screens. He just is. Walking Nemesis. Sergio Leone really did rip away all the dross and show us the God of the Gun. As we always wanted him to be. A movie that will never die.

There you have it. The List. If you disagree, as I promised, you're just wrong. Now for my Honorable Mentions. Red River is on a lot of lists, but Montgomery Clift was never a fit antagonist for John Wayne. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is mentioned several times above,  but it's hardly the best work of John Ford, John Wayne, or Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was 50 playing 25. Doesn't work. Unforgiven, also an Honorable Mention, did a much better job of contrasting reality with legend, so much so that it makes Ford seem self-serving late in his career, as if he were saying, I could have filmed the truth but the legend sells more tickets. But Unforgiven was just a boring overlong movie with a slambang finish. Clint Eastwood's other western directorial efforts -- High Plains Drifter, Pale Rider, and The Outlaw Josie Wales -- are also only Honorable Mentions because they're mostly remakes, critical homages but homages nonethess. Not Josie Wales! you say. Yes. It's the one that goes aaaallll the way back. To Stagecoach (with more than a nod to Yellow Ribbon). Others? Silverado? Too Hollywood, too spoofy.

Oh. The Westerner. Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan. Brilliant. Ambiguous. Subtle. Before Robert Altman was born. No excuses. As I said, the list is too short.

I dunno. Maybe I'll go back later and stick in some YouTubes. Got my feet up on the desk, don't you know. But you can get started without me. I know you know how wrong I am even before I post this absolutely perfect definitive list.

P.S. My thanks to Bud and Bill, who ante'd up more than I did. Brizoni still needs some time, so let's argue heatedly about these trifles in the interim. (I was going to do a post a la Criminal Minds, the best bad TV show on the air, in which I finally delivered my "profile" of Obama, but when I got to my first criterion, "white male, age 35 to 55," I got cold feet. Discuss.) Anyhow. A few Youtube videos to bring your competitive juices to a boil.

Bill likes The Wild Bunch because it has William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, and Warren Oates:



And Bud wants to nominate Once Upon a Time in the West for best film score (embedding disabled). The link also reminds us that the movie had Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Jack Elam, and Woody Strode. AND Claudia Cardinale. Not too shabby. As I conceded, the list is too short. So, keep fighting for your favorites.

And since they've gone to that trouble, I'll proffer two Youtubes of my own. McCabe and Mrs. Miller:



And from Stagecoach, the grand entrance of John Wayne onto the stage of superstardom..



Keep pushing and I'll respond in kind. I think Bud has a right idea. Nominations for particular aspects of westerns. For example, I know somebody could come up with a unique laurel for Quigley Down Under. Discuss.




Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Tour de France


LANCE.  We got into it initially because of Lance Armstrong, but now we're hooked, even though Americans aren't a factor. But why? There are so many strikes against it. A single sporting event that takes three weeks to complete is even worse than the most boring of all British sports, cricket. Worse even than that, you can think of it as soccer on wheels, incredibly long stretches of incredibly boring absolutely nothing happening involving guys with unpronounceable names in short pants. All of whom are being continuously investigated for use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The so-called sportscasters (employed by Versus, uh, VS) are even worse, mostly Brit-Aussie-New Zealanders who -- like all Commonwealth sports announcers -- would rather die than explain anything they think you should have known before displaying the brazen temerity to up and watch. So all their commentary starts somewhere in the middle of something or other (VS couldn't be bothered to show the beginning of the race this year) and degenerates from there into personal reminiscences, naked rooting for Brit-accented or rent-boy fantasy favorites, and a striking lack of interest in such matters as who's ahead in the, you know, whole fucking race.

A race which covers more than 2000 miles in 21 (or so) stages. In most stages, the overwhelming majority of the 200 riders get exactly the same time (elapsed time being the measure of victory) because they travel together like a school of fish in a mass called the Peloton. Every day, a few cyclists try to escape from the Peloton and make a dash for victory. But every day, the Peloton hunts them down like a posse so they can all finish together, like always. Is this a sporting event? Really?

Well, yes, actually. It is. It took us years to figure out and we know there's no chance of convincing you to watch, but that's why I'm finally willing to write this post. I don't care anymore. The Tour de France is a lovely thing and I don't mind if you've already clicked to the results of a better sporting event like, say, the Homerun Derby (yawn).

First and foremost, it takes place in France and since the only way to cover a competition that averages between 100 and 150 miles a day is with helicopters, you get to see a LOT of France. Which is every bit as beautiful as it's reputed to be. This week, for example, I got to see a chateau I hadn't seen in person for 48 years.



But it's the same every day. A lovely travelogue with a bike race attached. The grand finale is in Paris, of course, on the most beautiful street in the world, the Champs Elysee.

And then there's the bike race itself. Which is absolutely astounding. Forget the rotten announcers. Forget the fact that all the competitors look exactly alike. What they do is just breathtaking. They're organized into teams of nine or so riders, who are all committed to promoting the achievements of just one or two riders intending to win the overall race or outpoint the opposition in sprints or mountain climbing. You see, they may all look alike -- 6 feet tall, 160 pounds, bodies with zero fat, faces like skulls -- but they're not the same, except that most of them are champions -- Olympic, national, various other tours, etc -- and some of them are fast, able to accelerate stupendously after 100 miles of slogging, some of them are superhuman strong, able to run away from the Peloton in mountain stages that break your will just watching them pedal, and some of them are just plain indestructible, with a reserve of energy that's somehow still there after 2000 miles of fatigue. When the whole race is on the line, these are the ones who leap from the Peloton like tigers and bury everyone. That's who Lance Armstrong was.

I admit I was scornful at first. Europeans being weird, as usual. Who cares? I have always loved Grand Prix racing, and how could this possibly measure up? It does. What I hate to admit is that it's like -- God, I hate to admit this -- like, gasp, baseball. The longer you watch, the more subtleties you see. There is layer upon layer of complication in what the teams are doing. Specialists abound. There are domestiques whose job it is to stuff water bottles and food packets into their jerseys and deliver them to team members en route. Because (Have I pointed out?) they never stop for meals or water breaks or simple rest during any stage. They go. There are lead-out riders whose job it is to set up the conditions for a sprinter to win a stage. There are, well, drones, whose job it is to protect the team's overall contender from the mishaps of the road. And there are team skills as well, formations of riders who lead the Peloton or don't, taking turns at the lead and rearranging themselves like fighter planes or, say, the Blue Angels.

Over the top with the Blue Angels reference? No. The Peloton is like the world's biggest mobile formation. They are packed so closely together that any one rider can bring down dozens around him. And it happens all the time, not because they don't how to ride but because they're riding for days, day after day, through wet and dry and woods and blind corners, and at any moment they can get killed by falling off a mountain or seriously injured by careening into woods. Here are some of the mishaps this year:





The race isn't even half over yet. It takes more than talent to win. It takes luck. Not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Last year's winner and this year's favorite is already in trouble because of delays caused by wrecks.

And did I tell you about the last American whose luck ran out in a wreck? He's 39. He got knocked cold in the big crash shown above. His team managers woke him up, put him back on the bike, and somehow got him to finish another 50 or so kilometers to the end of the stage. By then, he didn't even know he was in the Tour de France. But that's not why he "retired" the next day. He had a hematoma on his leg that made it impossible for him to walk. That's how tough these guys are.

And why I'm telling you about the Tour de France. It's not a bunch of Euro-sissies pedaling their way through tourist destinations. It's a bunch of men who are stronger, more durable, and more committed than most of what you can find in the NFL. It's mesmerizing. If you can meet the challenge of figuring out what's going in spite of the rip-roaringly awful announcers.




Monday, July 11, 2011


The Honorary
Punk Award(s)

A rare difecta! Even rarer than the word "difecta" itself!

JOIN US. Here at InstaPunk HQ, the debates never stop. From matters large to small, significant to trivial. From the moral imperative of continual refinement of our legal system to the tiniest cosmetic minutia of the muscle car era (he still won't concede the '73 Torino Fastback has the finest rump ever crafted by the hand of man OR God, incompetent spot welding notwithstanding). I don't even holster my scriver anymore. No point.

This hour, the bone of contention is Twitter. I say it's great fun and all things future tech are generally awesome. The Boss says it's symptomatic AND emblematic of the decline of language and therefore of thought in our civilization. You'd think there'd only be a few different ways to restate that idea, but he... well, God bless him, he is a writer. Rephrasing is kind of his jam. He sometimes calls it "text-speak." I'm not sure he understands they're two different things. He'll also yell at me to stop rotting my brains with "those MTV video games."

He's a wrong writer, is what he is. Yes, Twitter is a fine, a too fine, place for children of all ages to gibber and emote unintelligibly-- and sidebar, can we start using that phrase as a pejorative, please? "Children of all ages"? We haven't had as assload of childhood yet?-- but for those who know how to write and think, it's a stern taskmaster. Its simple format-- 140 characters at a time-- mandates pith in those who would be lucid. Like war, only the stout and(/or) loony are cut out for it. Wasn't it some old guy way back in Biblical times who said brevity is the soul of wit?

"Wit" doesn't just mean "funny." Our first winner, Texas Public Policy Foundation Vice President for Communications Joshua Treviņo, was inspired by a lone news item last month to give an impromptu symposium on the real impacts of colonialism and decolonization.



He proceded to school the guy even further, as he does with all comers.

His most recent major tussle came when he expressed a sentiment about the Gaza flotilla that no rational mind could find fault with. Despite attacks from just about the entire Left, he never retracted, redacted, or retreated. Not such much as a flinch. Not once.

We're impressed. And you, Josh Treviņo, should feel honored. Only for one of our own would we take the trouble to learn how to type the N with that goofy squiggle over it.

The other Punk? Longtime friend of the site Doc Zero. These days he goes by his civilian identity, John Hayward. In practical terms, he's been an honorary Punk from his very first blog post. We should have made him bona fide long ago.

His live tweet of Obama's disastrous unemployment press conference last Friday is only the good Doctor's latest triumph.



At that point, the President finally showed up. Someone at the White House should have taken a gander at Doc Zero's Twitter feed. They could have cut their losses and whisked Barry off to an undisclosed location. Lucky for us, it didn't go down that way.



I quote from the first Honorary Punk Award: "Note the insouciant confidence of Mr. Card in this excerpt: 'I'm painting Mr. Collins's book far too negatively, and I'm doing it deliberately.'" Insouciant confidence? Check and double check. Painting the subject too negatively? Not so much, this time. That'd be a tall order.

Gentlemen, for fighting the good fight with dignified ferocity; for holding to the little-r right with unwavering pride; for proving social media is not solely the province of the blind and the stupid and the unduly smug; and most of all for helping me win an argument with the Old Man for once, I, Brizoni, hereby name you Honorary Punks.

What fabulous wealth and prestige attends an Honorary Punk Award? Again, from the first: "There will be no plaques, no ceremonies, no luncheons, no lucrative book contracts, no lissome literateurs eager to fraternize with greatness. There is only the punk promise: if ever [the recipient] is in trouble, trouble unto death that is, he can smile death in the face and wait serenely for his inevitable rescue by the Shuteye Train."

Trust us. That's a good thing.

Follow @jstrevino and @Doc_0 on Twitter. If that's your jam.





Obsolete
or
'The New Conservative Moral Relativism'

You need more than killers now. You need people who understand complexity.

RANCOR, ETC. There's been a lot of snapping around here of late, much of it by me. I know it doesn't seem like it, but I can take disagreement and even criticism. Some things arouse my ire, though, and I feel obligated to explain why. Two recent examples should introduce my broader subject, which I'll summarize below without names or specific quotes. Then I'll generalize. Which I do and will always do. There's nothing of retribution in the discussion that follows. My private email discussions with my antagonists remain cordial, if still confrontational. I'm getting to a larger point here, I promise.

1. Casey Anthony

I defended the Casey Anthony verdict. This was unacceptable to more than one of the posters and commenters here. I said the prosecution had over-charged her and didn't prove its case. I also said a more appropriate charge might have resulted in a conviction but pointed out that the jury was only allowed to find on the charges filed. I mentioned God's justice. Which inspired a reflexive counter-attack from the atheist Rand contingent.

We can't default to God, it was argued. God has nothing to do with our responsibilities. And why shouldn't a jury find a more appropriate charge to convict on? It was at least implied that any objection I had to this proposed improvement on the judicial system was traceable to my belief that the founders had thought of everything and so we needn't think about it ourselves.

2. Louis CK

I condemned Louie CK in no uncertain terms based on watching one of his TV shows and what were billed as "drunk tweets" about Sarah Palin's cunt. I was told that humor is a matter of taste, and I commented to the contrary, earning the wrath of a bunch of people, including my wife, because I went on to suggest that finding Louie CK funny was some kind of betrayal of our obligations to young people, particularly those under our own tutelage. I was arrogant enough to put my own judgment, based on slight acquaintance, above that of even a valued commenter for whom I have great personal respect and affection.

That commenter pointed out, with some justice, that I seem to have a double standard. I defend Eminem as a second Rimbaud, recommend shows that no mixed audience should watch (e.g. South Park) and yet come down like a ton of bricks for no apparent reason, with insulting personal asides, when my own snap judgments are not immediately accepted. There was no resort here to Randian ideology because it was understood that the victim of my insults is more devoutly Christian than I am.

It's therefore time to remind everyone who I am and where I stand. Why I'm increasingly obsolete. The age has passed me by... BUT.

Yes, the age has passed me by. I was 58 yesterday. But I am older than that. Chronologically, my wife is slightly older than I am, but she is twentieth century and I am nineteenth century. (This is your last chance, kids, to see how far those old values can stretch and adapt without breaking.) The man I really looked to as my moral and cultural exemplar was my grandfather, born in 1885. He died in 1967, leaving me alone with your parents, and, yes, grandparents. I was raised by a man with identical values, in the country, miles apart from suburban kids, and sent to schools that reflected those values almost identically, by tradition if not in actuality. Does anyone ever wonder why and how I came to believe in God? (HINT: I started at the age of six. And I feel sorry for all of you who can't manage it. Most direct route to retracing my steps? "Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman." On most of your cable stations.)

I am a dinosaur. I have stretched as far as I can stretch, but now the pace of change is breaking me. To cite one small example, most of the states have abandoned the teaching of cursive writing, because "it is more important to teach kids how to type." I'm one of a very very few who know how wrong this is, though I started my typing on manual typewriters weighing 40 pounds (where The Boomer Bible began btw) and have been strident about the Luddite nonsense of writers like David McCullough who continue to insist on using typewriters rather than computers to promulgate their deathless prose. Yet I could, and should, write a whole post about what individuals lose by not developing their own cursive styles, which represent a physical, analyzable mirror of what they are becoming, or not, in relation to authority. Even though I can barely reproduce my own signature of thirty years at this writing. And even though I don't really know "how to type" myself. I'm simply the fastest two-finger composing typist in the world, as anyone who's ever watched me on a roll would confirm.

Does all this seem far afield from rancorous arguments about Casey Anthony and Louie CK? I suppose it does. But it isn't.

You can get mad at me all you want. I encourage you to. So long as you remember that apart from a fading acquaintance with high technology that surpasses that of most of my chronological peers, I am the closest you will get to a voice from the pure past. I'm the one who remembers the specific political contexts of all the writers and artists of the prior century you've been taught to admire. I know what satire is, and I know the philosophical and historical roots of writers, composers, and artists who had no ostensible political views. I know what art (so-called) means. And I have studied all the modern assaults on the constitution, which is not as hard as I might make it sound, because they are so depressingly the same. Right or left, they just know better how things should be.

Am I saying I'm smarter than you? Absolutely. I am. Are my judgments, even my snap judgments, superior? Yes. They are. Why?

Not because I have a higher IQ. Several of you in the commenter and posting ranks might be officially more "intelligent" than I am. But my intelligence is -- what's the current terminology? -- "informed by" experience you don't have.

Upset by my abrupt dismissal of controversy in the Casey Anthony case? Well, quoting from the new Netflix hit "George Gently," tough titties. What happened to the truism, especially among libertarians, "better that ten guilty go free than one innocent falsely convicted"? uh, until us smart people disagree. Obviously. As for the notion that juries should convict on whatever charges they think fit, I don't even have to cite the constitution. It's ridiculous on the face of it. If juries could negotiate charges in the jury room, there would never be a hung jury and there would never be an outright acquittal. It's a bullshit argument. To propose such a monstrosity is an instant gratification ploy. Hell, we all know who's guilty here. Let's substitute a lesser charge for the lynching rope, and go home.

An aside I can't let go: Has anyone anywhere but me noted the irony of the fact that it's the most highly educated legal and media elites who are the most upset about this verdict? I've watched enough true crime shows on TV to know that next to Ohio, the state whose jurors are most likely to convict on purely circumstantial evidence is Florida. The defendant is charged; he must be guilty. This jury did a hard thing, not an easy thing. Why I'm inclined to trust them. So what's behind the dudgeon of the smart people?

They think a white trash defendant got let off by a white trash jury. Is that what you think, oh you libertarians and conservatives and tea partiers? It's an even more superficial assessment than I've been accused of with regard to Louie CK. The historical record shows that's not what usually happens in Florida. Tell me, please, exactly why and how it is that your own knowledge of the case -- obtained through the filter of the media -- is automatically superior to that of the actual jury, who sat there day in and day out and weren't just tuning in at odd intervals to CNN or Fox News for sensational highlights. I think the only possible answer is the easy one. You're just smarter than the rednecks who sat on the jury. Got news for you. I'm a redneck too. Partly because I also believe in God and His justice. Which I'm sure would make Louie CK equate me with Sarah Palin's disgusting cunt.

Ah. Louie CK. Angered by my peremptory consigning of him to hell? The evidence is too ephemeral? Taste is not to be debated because "chaque a son gout" and "degustibus non disputandum est"? (How many rednecks of your acquaintance can still quote Vergil?) Yeah, I know the historical roots of this argument. Why it still pisses me off. Couple of points on that.

I've spent 40 years writing satire. I've said some terrible things myself and I've defended others who have done the same. You know what? There's a difference between humor and filth, and there's a difference between satire and shock jock sensationalism. I'm actually an expert on this difference, more than most of you anyway, because I've been writing for 40 years. Key thing to bear in mind: satire is always defending a moral position, not the rights of rutting hogs.

I can read a few lines and know whether someone has a talent for poetry or not. Whether they can write a paragraph or not. Whether they have a love of life or a self-destructive obsession. I don't have to defend this to anyone. I just know. The measure of its honesty is that I can defend an Eminem or, at times, a Jon Stewart, while instantly dismissing a Louie CK.

I'll close with a notion that isn't built on my own appraisal of my work, education, or talent. Based on life experience alone. Those of you who think I'm being a complete dick mostly haven't (yet) been through the teenage years with a daughter and granddaughter. The protectiveness you feel for female children entering puberty doesn't actually change with the passing of years and the devolution of cultural mores, fashions, and slang. It stays the same. The only thing that changes is your anger at the continuously escalating vulnerabilities they face, while the consequences remain -- for all the lame talk to the contrary -- frighteningly the same.

You can be as modern as you want, reinterpret cultural cues as creatively as you want, smile at the purple hair dye and piercings and tattoos as passing fads, but when she's the one you've sworn to look out for and protect, you realize there are absolute lines of right and wrong to which you are accountable by remaining silent or tolerant.

I know. As I said, I'm obsolete. But the measure of my obsolescence is that I can identify what you haven't lived long enough to recognize. Conservative moral relativism. Boys and girls are different. There's no equality in the new realism that boys and girls talk frankly about "hooking up for sex" and we elders had better get used to it. There's no sophistication about the new movie convention of showing women as equally lethal in martial arts and gun handling as men. The measure of constancy is the constancy of consequences. There's no modern, hip, enlightened way around the facts.

Teaching our daughters that gutter language is an acceptable fact of life means that we are also teaching them there's no way to tell a predatory pig from a foul-mouthed matrimonial prospect. Teaching them that everybody's hooking up and after that, "shit just happens" does not inoculate them against the age-old dilemma of being pregnant, unmarried, and way too young to make an adult decision about what to do next. Pretending that women are as fearsome warriors as men twice their size may momentarily pump up their self-esteem in some odd way, but it puts them at terrible risk when they discover in a parking lot that a black belt is not, and has never been, proof against the sudden left hook of an average-sized man.

Against this, is it a small error or a large one to be "their friend" and say, "I liked that movie where the girl kicked ass." "I liked that TV show where the comedian showed that all relationships come down to fucking for a while and regretting it forever after." "I liked that TV musical series where all the Catholic school girls had plaid skirts shorter than their white panties." "I liked that rap video where all the hot ho's jumped the gold-toothed guy with the Bentley Mulsanne." "I liked that sitcom where the hero hates everyone and helps his slut sister only because he doesn't want her water to break on his couch." "I liked that new cop drama where all the women are castrating bitches who make the men want to smack them in the face but can't because they'd be on their asses if they tried."

It's all just entertainment. Ya know? And everybody's watching the same shit, so there's no real harm, right....?

Try watching those when your adolescent daughters and granddaughters are the ones determined to show as much skin as possible, speak as profanely as they can think of, cite all the most scurrilous shows everyone's watching, and act as if they're tough as Chuck Norris because they think that's how they get noticed. And btw, it's okay for women in politics to have their private parts discussed, lampooned, and obscenely ridiculed, because, hey, "Maybe we could hook up later and I'd get a political career out of it, or at least a show on CNN."And never mind asking anyone, female or otherwise, what it might feel like to be a decent mother of five whose cunt is the punchline of every "edgy" comedian in the nation. Degustibus non disputandum...

...er, Matters of taste? No. Matters of a line we all know about, one that shouldn't be crossed but has been written over with obscene graffiti.

An epilogue. It's no secret there's a pig side to most if not all men. Civilized societies have taught men to hide these tendencies in public even if they indulge them in private. Hypocrisy? No. Protection for their own wives, daughters, and granddaughters. The shame of the hidden parts is not hypocrisy either. It's the recognition that there's a responsibility not to spread contagion that might be harmful. If the younger men have the same traits, at least they didn't learn them from you. And for all they know, you will kill them if they transgress.

But you're the new conservative moral relativists. Let's all be honest. There are no private, no guilty, no shameful pleasures. Because we have to pretend that men are exactly like women, only dumber. So let's pretend that men and women are different only in their plug-socket configurations. Everybody loves a good dirty joke. Let's be honest about that.

Let's not. Because I'm 58. And I know that shame or the possibility of it trumps gutter nihilism every day of the week.

But who's behind shame, the concept of shame? Only God.

What the Randians can't answer. She may have written about patriotism and the glory of dying for what you believe in. But she never wrote about deep, life-changing, moral guilt. She never once wrote about the shame of desires we hide because they might somehow cause harm if they were unleashed or became generally acceptable.

Which, when you get to be old enough, is what you will become obsessed with. Not for outrageous crimes committed. Because most of us haven't, regardless of what we've thought and fantasized about. What you remember and stew about are the small crimes you can't take back. Because you were so sure you knew better than all the stupid people who were only trying to help.

My confession. I'm this angry now because I put so many people second to my own writing. I thought I had a direct line of some sort. My older self sees that I didn't. When I see youngsters acting like me, in one way or another, too sure of ideological or cultural convictions that haven't been put to the test by experience. I get really nasty then. I hurt people's feelings. Sorry. When you're a hammer, you see every problem as a nail. When you're a gunfighter, you see every opponent as a future dead man in the street.

Why. I'm. Obsolete. Not wrong. Just obsolete.

But not dead yet. "I wasn't quite as sick as I made out."

I'm still your huckleberry. "Play for blood, remember?"

I was never just fooling around.




Friday, July 08, 2011


Good Dog.


PSMITH 2012. Take a moment today to raise your gingerbread, and remember.

* * *

Chain Gang and company have done an excellent job keeping InstaPunk lively over the past few months, but InstaPunk himself has been AWOL. An imaginative truant could think up plenty of excuses -- death in the family, moving to a new home, illness, the holidays -- but honesty compels a truthful accounting. The primary reason for the long absence is a six-month-old boy named Psmith. He's a thing called a Scottish Deerhound. Most people have never seen or heard of them, and those who have perpetuate the notion that they're a breed of dog, albeit an unusual one, of ancient lineage and imposing size, developed for the purpose of overtaking stag in the open field and wrestling them to ground with tree-like legs. Of course, those who actually live with deerhounds learn speedily that they are not dogs at all, but wraiths of Scottish lairds killed long long ago in the fruitless battle against the innumerable enemies of Scotland. You'll note that deerhounds exhibit no trace of redeye; the anomaly disclosed by color photography is an artifact of a human soul trapped in an animal body.



* * *

Three or four times a day, two greyhounds and a deerhound charge out of the big white box into the open air, and they see EVERYTHING. The deerhound in particular feels compelled to comment whenever he sees a turkey. He says, "HOO HOO HOO HOO HOO." Then he springs about five feet straight into the air and says, "HOO HOO HOO HOO HOO."


Due North: "HOO HOO HOO HOO HOO."

* * *
It's precisely when they take actions of various sorts that Presidents get into so much trouble. Psmith is the perfect antidote to that problem. He has no platform except for his own mammoth deerhound posterior. He has no ideas of any kind. If elected President of the United States, he would serve by standing (and sitting) there quite handsomely. He might want some gingerbread, but a multi-trillion dollar economy like ours ought to be able to handle that.

And just imagine how soothing and reassuring it would be to the America people to know that their President is snoozing on his great big couch in the Oval Office rather than talking to people, giving orders, making speeches, signing bills, and getting dangerous folk the world over all riled up about problems nobody can really fix.

We're running Psmith (the 'p' is silent) on the Do-Nothing Party ticket, and nobody can beat his experience. He's been doing nothing with imperturbable consistency all his life. He's not even asking for your vote, because that would be doing something.

* * *

We told him it would be okay. He was a couple weeks away from his sixth birthday. And now I'm assailing myself with the idea that the dumbass actually believed us. That if he could make it from the car to the foyer, our promises would be fulfilled.

But that's not true. Psmith did that last journey from the car to the vet foyer on sheer courage. I know it because the thought of it brings me to tears every time I think of it. He did it because we asked him to. Because we asked him to. And he made it the whole way.

O Lord. Give me the courage of Psmith to do one impossible thing and I will be content.



Give me one moment of the beauty of Psmith and I will lay down my pen.



* * *
He's seven today. I didn't get a chance to meet him before he left. But Mr. and Mrs. Boss love him. So I do too.

Good dog. Good pooch.




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