Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
March 15, 2013 - March 7, 2013

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sifting the Comments

Is there gold in them thar spills?

EVEN THE BEST HAVE THEIR WEAK MOMENTS. I read all the comments but I can't respond to all of them. That would be folly. The good ones need no particular remark unless they start a new line of thinking. The bad ones are usually self-evident unless they illustrate a pattern of some kind or are so absurd as to need calling out. But if you want your comments replied to, I can give you some guidelines. 1) Be brilliantly original or provocative. Or 2) Demonstrate that you haven't read what I've written, 3) Be nonresponsive to what I've written while pretending to respond, 4) Ignore what I've written to pursue your own personal agenda, or 5) Cherrypick what I've written to register some great gotcha that bores everybody but you.

I've made no secret in the last week or two that I'm disgusted with things in general, but that hasn't deterred stratagems 2) through 5). Which is your right, of course. And some of you have been valued commenters in the past. Like William O'Blivion, who has many erudite thoughts -- but not this week. Case in point. He replied to my post about how dumb conservatives are being thus:

A slap at my dismissal of Herman Cain, sure. Fine. Never mind that Harry Truman was anything but an amateur. He was a skilled Washington politician who got lots of attention for pursuing war profiteers when he was in the House of Representatives. Yes, he was a haberdasher at one time and never earned a college degree. Not quite the same thing as never having held any kind of  elective office. But that was just the opening salvo. The bottom line here is the bottom line: "Not even Reagan was a Reagan." Uh, yeah. He was. Mr. O'Blivion is wallowing in his own despair and wants us to wallow with him. Disgust is not despair. In fact, it's the opposite. He's welcome to his own agenda, but I write my posts. Comments should be written too, not splattered across the Internet.

There's also Pittsburgh Guy -- uh, Bud -- all bent out of shape because KDKA broadcast a football game on the radio in the 1920s and the Wiki entry I quoted about the University of Pennslvania claimed that laurel for Penn. Which justified a slander only half mitigated by one of those opaque Internet typographical prompts:

Never mind what the post was about. Meaning the worst scandal in the history of amateur sports. Or that I wrote an actual -- if wry -- love letter to Pittsburgh a week or so ago.

Pittsburgh is a fine fine city. Like so many American cities are. Unique in history, architecture, cultural riches (Pippa has already studied Faberge treaures at the Frick), neighborhoods, and ethnic identity. I love this country. Wherever you go, there is beauty, stores of knowledge and art, and the people make you welcome and proud to be American. Even in the appalling moral cesspool that is the headquarters of Stiller (Steeler) fans.

Wrenching the whole discussion into a back alley nobody cares about is its own reward. Cherrypicking is its own reward, however off topic, distracting, and dull.

Yes, I'm grousing. William O and Bud will understand that I'm just teasing them. Commenters are entitled to commit most of the sins I've enumerated. But Sins 2) and 3) actually piss me off. Which brings me to SkinnyDevil. He's a Paulista. Initially he was befuddled by this post.

Then he collected himself and (non)responded to what he didn't like.

I admit it. This whole post is about sneaking up on SkinnyDevil, who has his own blog and seems to think the weight he's throwing around is somehow equal to InstaPunk's. Wrong. He commits the cardinal sins that make Lord Laird mad. He hasn't read what I've actually written, which answers the questions he triumphantly asks, and he is nonresponsive to the central point of the post he presumes to be superior to.

"You are well aware that Iran poses no direct threat to the US."

The weakest argument in the world is presuming that your own lame assumptions bind the person you're disagreeing with the same way they bind you. ("You are well aware that if I shoot your brother I haven't harmed you in any way.") I despise Ron Paul's foreign policy precisely because it doesn't conprehend that events in the world -- such as the annihilation of Israel -- would also be crippling assaults on the United States. Not perceiving that fundamental point is the stated reason for my detestation of Ron Paul. Why I -- in the text of my post -- call him "not a politician" but "a cult leader." So SkinnyDevil can't or doesn't read. Which is my problem with all Paulistas.

"Which brings us back to why you would take issue with Paul when every candidate on the stage with him agrees with much of what he says..."

Read what I fucking wrote: "The plan is published as a spreadsheet, with no description of how any transition is to be accomplished. The problem I've always had with libertarians. We're right. Who gives a shit about what happens when we finally take charge?" [Boldface added after the fact because it's apparently necessary for some of the tools in the audience.]

If Gingrich says he wants to do away with various federal departments, I know that he knows it requires more than the stroke of a pen and a crazy grandma smile of jubilation. Which makes him vastly different from the congressman who could guest star as the villain of the week on Criminal Minds without raising an eyebrow.

What part of that don't you get, SkinnyDevil?

Disgust, Part 2

The Mark Twain Prize

"I hope that, like Mark Twain, a hundred years from now people
will see my work and say, "Wow, that is actually pretty racist."

BY ALL MEANS LET'S IGNORE THE DESERVING.. Disgust. Here are the winners of the Mark Twain Prize:

    1998 – Richard Pryor
    1999 – Jonathan Winters
    2000 – Carl Reiner
    2001 – Whoopi Goldberg
    2002 – Bob Newhart
    2003 – Lily Tomlin
    2004 – Lorne Michaels
    2005 – Steve Martin
    2006 – Neil Simon
    2007 – Billy Crystal
    2008 – George Carlin
    2009 – Bill Cosby
    2010 – Tina Fey
    2011 – Will Ferrell

Disgust. Mark Twain was not a standup comic or movie actor or producer. Hemingway said of him, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." (Except that there was also Edgar Allan Poe.) He was a writer. Here's a reminder from a lovely and still affecting souffle called Innocents Abroad, which none of the winners could duplicate or even aspire to. So what else is new? As Keith Richards says, "90 percent of everything is crap." MT is an exception. Behold the American voice:

They pronounce it 'Pom-pay-e.' I always had an idea that you went down into Pompeii with torches, by the way of damp, dark stairways, just as you do in silver mines, and traversed gloomy tunnels with lava overhead and something on either hand like dilapidated prisons gouged out of the solid earth, that faintly resembled houses. But you do nothing of the kind. Fully one-half of the buried city, perhaps, is completely exhumed and thrown open freely to the light of day; and there stand the long rows of solidly-built brick houses (roofless) just as they stood eighteen hundred years ago, hot with the flaming sun; and there lie their floors, clean-swept, and not a bright fragment tarnished or wanting of the labored mosaics that pictured them with the beasts, and birds, and flowers which we copy in perishable carpets to-day; and there are the Venuses, and Bacchuses, and Adonises, making love and getting drunk in many-hued frescoes on the walls of saloon and bed-chamber; and there are the narrow streets and narrower sidewalks, paved with flags of good hard lava, the one deeply rutted with the chariot-wheels, and the other with the passing feet of the Pompeiians of by-gone centuries; and there are the bake-shops, the temples, the halls of justice, the baths, the theatres—all clean-scraped and neat, and suggesting nothing of the nature of a silver mine away down in the bowels of the earth. The broken pillars lying about, the doorless doorways and the crumbled tops of the wilderness of walls, were wonderfully suggestive of the "burnt district" in one of our cities, and if there had been any charred timbers, shattered windows, heaps of debris, and general blackness and smokiness about the place, the resemblance would have been perfect. But no—the sun shines as brightly down on old Pompeii to-day as it did when Christ was born in Bethlehem, and its streets are cleaner a hundred times than ever Pompeiian saw them in her prime. I know whereof I speak—for in the great, chief thoroughfares (Merchant Street and the Street of Fortune) have I not seen with my own eyes how for two hundred years at least the pavements were not repaired! —how ruts five and even ten inches deep were worn into the thick flagstones by the chariot wheels of generations of swindled tax-payers? And do I not know by these signs that Street Commissioners of Pompeii never attended to their business, and that if they never mended the pavements they never cleaned them? And, besides, is it not the inborn nature of Street Commissioners to avoid their duty whenever they get a chance? I wish I knew the name of the last one that held office in Pompeii so that I could give him a blast. I speak with feeling on this subject, because I caught my foot in one of those ruts, and the sadness that came over me when I saw the first poor skeleton, with ashes and lava sticking to it, was tempered by the reflection that may be that party was the Street Commissioner....

Then we lounged through many and many a sumptuous private mansion which we could not have entered without a formal invitation in incomprehensible Latin, in the olden time, when the owners lived there—and we probably wouldn't have got it. These people built their houses a good deal alike. The floors were laid in fanciful figures wrought in mosaics of many-colored marbles. At the threshold your eyes fall upon a Latin sentence of welcome, sometimes, or a picture of a dog, with the legend "Beware of the Dog," and sometimes a picture of a bear or a faun with no inscription at all. Then you enter a sort of vestibule, where they used to keep the hat-rack, I suppose; next a room with a large marble basin in the midst and the pipes of a fountain; on either side are bedrooms; beyond the fountain is a reception-room, then a little garden, dining-room, and so forth and so on. The floors were all mosaic, the walls were stuccoed, or frescoed, or ornamented with bas-reliefs, and here and there were statues, large and small, and little fish-pools, and cascades of sparkling water that sprang from secret places in the colonnade of handsome pillars that surrounded the court, and kept the flower-beds fresh and the air cool....

It was a quaint and curious pastime, wandering through this old silent city of the dead—lounging through utterly deserted streets where thousands and thousands of human beings once bought and sold, and walked and rode, and made the place resound with the noise and confusion of traffic and pleasure. They were not lazy. They hurried in those days. We had evidence of that. There was a temple on one corner, and it was a shorter cut to go between the columns of that temple from one street to the other than to go around—and behold that pathway had been worn deep into the heavy flagstone floor of the building by generations of time-saving feet! They would not go around when it was quicker to go through. We do that way in our cities.

Everywhere, you see things that make you wonder how old these old houses were before the night of destruction came—things, too, which bring back those long dead inhabitants and place them living before your eyes. For instance: The steps (two feet thick lava blocks) that lead up out of the school, and the same kind of steps that lead up into the dress circle of the principal theatre, are almost worn through! For ages the boys hurried out of that school, and for ages their parents hurried into that theatre, and the nervous feet that have been dust and ashes for eighteen centuries have left their record for us to read today....

And so I turned away and went through shop after shop and store after store, far down the long street of the merchants, and called for the wares of Rome and the East, but the tradesmen were gone, the marts were silent, and nothing was left but the broken jars all set in cement of cinders and ashes....

In a bakeshop... the exhumers of Pompeii found nice, well baked loaves which the baker had not found time to remove from the ovens the last time he left his shop, because circumstances compelled him to leave in such a hurry.

In one house (the only building in Pompeii which no woman is now allowed to enter) were the small rooms and short beds of solid masonry, just as they were in the old times, and on the walls were pictures which looked almost as fresh as if they were painted yesterday, but which no pen could have the hardihood to describe; and here and there were Latin inscriptions—obscene scintillations of wit, scratched by hands that possibly were uplifted to Heaven for succor in the midst of a driving storm of fire before the night was done.

In one of the principal streets was a ponderous stone tank, and a waterspout that supplied it, and where the tired, heated toilers from the Campagna used to rest their right hands when they bent over to put their lips to the spout, the thick stone was worn down to a broad groove an inch or two deep. Think of the countless thousands of hands that had pressed that spot in the ages that are gone, to so reduce a stone that is as hard as iron!

They had a great public bulletin board in Pompeii—a place where announcements for gladiatorial combats, elections, and such things, were posted—not on perishable paper, but carved in enduring stone. One lady, who, I take it, was rich and well brought up, advertised a dwelling or so to rent, with baths and all the modern improvements, and several hundred shops, stipulating that the dwellings should not be put to immoral purposes....

In one of these long Pompeiian halls the skeleton of a man was found, with ten pieces of gold in one hand and a large key in the other. He had seized his money and started toward the door, but the fiery tempest caught him at the very threshold, and he sank down and died. One more minute of precious time would have saved him. I saw the skeletons of a man, a woman, and two young girls. The woman had her hands spread wide apart, as if in mortal terror, and I imagined I could still trace upon her shapeless face something of the expression of wild despair that distorted it when the heavens rained fire in these streets, so many ages ago. The girls and the man lay with their faces upon their arms, as if they had tried to shield them from the enveloping cinders. In one apartment eighteen skeletons were found, all in sitting postures, and blackened places on the walls still mark their shapes and show their attitudes, like shadows. One of them, a woman, still wore upon her skeleton throat a necklace, with her name engraved upon it—JULIE DI DIOMEDE.

But perhaps the most poetical thing Pompeii has yielded to modern research, was that grand figure of a Roman soldier, clad in complete armor; who, true to his duty, true to his proud name of a soldier of Rome, and full of the stern courage which had given to that name its glory, stood to his post by the city gate, erect and unflinching, till the hell that raged around him burned out the dauntless spirit it could not conquer....

We came out from under the solemn mysteries of this city of the Venerable Past—this city which perished, with all its old ways and its quaint old fashions about it, remote centuries ago, when the Disciples were preaching the new religion, which is as old as the hills to us now—and went dreaming among the trees that grow over acres and acres of its still buried streets and squares, till a shrill whistle and the cry of "All aboard—last train for Naples!" woke me up and reminded me that I belonged in the nineteenth century, and was not a dusty mummy, caked with ashes and cinders, eighteen hundred years old. The transition was startling. The idea of a railroad train actually running to old dead Pompeii, and whistling irreverently, and calling for passengers in the most bustling and business-like way, was as strange a. thing as one could imagine, and as unpoetical and disagreeable as it was strange. 

uh, yeah. Like I said. He was a writer, not a comic. Or the racist of Tina's ignorant imaginings. Here's the bed he died in.

Imagine having sex with Tina Fey in that bed. Can't? My point exactly.

I'm betting if he were still in it he'd raise himself up and cuss a blue streak against the shallow nothings who have been lent his name as an honor they feel free to dishonor.

He was a great cusser. Just like me.


Finally Proud

Guess what. We're champions. Again.

NOT AS LOYAL AS THE PENN STATERS. I went to a lot of games when I was a student, and in those days the Patriots also played at Harvard Stadium on Sundays (yeah, I'm that old.) I saw Joe Namath subjected to the gentlest sack any NFL quarterback has ever received. They owed him.

But here's the funny thing. I never bought anything that said Harvard on it. I never bought a Harvard tee-shirt, sweatshirt, or class ring. I was so used to the squiggly-eyed look people gave you when they asked you where you went to college and you said "Harvard" that I just never went there. How many times can you hear people say "Hah-vid" and laugh as if it's the first time you heard the joke? Pahk the cah in the Hahvid Yahd? Fine. Go for it. Enjoy yourself.

Then I got married for the final time a few years ago. I introduced my bride to the fun of college football, which she had never cared about and suddenly fell in love with. We got Rutgers season tickets. And, as if by magic, I suddenly started getting all this Harvard stuff as presents from my wife. Tee-shirts advertising their frequent Ivy football championships, an official Harvard sweatshirt (my first one ever, at the age of 57), a long-sleeved gray jersey that felt almost discreet and another bright crimson one that boasted of the team Ryan Fitzpatrick led to the title. And my wife had a tee-shirt that contained the coats of arms of all the Harvard houses on the back. Presents for the female kids and grandkids turned out to be Harvard things, some of them involving glitter.

I was embarrassed. Sometimes I'd change my shirt before a family gathering or a trip to the hardware store. I always disliked people who wanted Harvard to be the first thing strangers knew about them. As if... well, who needs more snobs?

You know what, though? This week, I'm finally proud. Especially of Harvard football. Harvard Stadium has 40,000 seats, usually half-empty except for the Yale game. Franklin Field, Penn's home, has 60,000 seats, usually two-thirds empty when Harvard is playing there, and we've been there twice for that with abysmal results. The last time I actually had to apologize to the guests we'd invited to the dismal performance of Harvard -- it was the single worst, dullest college football game I've ever seen. Why I picked up the whole tab at the fabulous Ralph's Italian restaurant in South Philly.

I'm not apologetic now, though. I'm proud. Finally proud. With one week to go in the season, Harvard has clinched its 14th Ivy football title out of the last 56 years. It doesn't even matter what happens against Yale next week, except that Yale's quarterback should definitely attend his Rhodes Scholarship interview in Atlanta rather than play a meaningless rivalry game.

Which is why I'm proud at this point. Big time football has just exploded in a nuclear firestorm. The Ivy League ("The Ancient Eight" as one of my tee-shirts has it) has been, after all these years, vindicated. Harvard football players aren't physics majors and classics scholars. They tend to live with other jocks in Kirkand House. On the whole, they're dumber than the rest, but some of them still make it to the NFL, which they do NOT turn their noses up at. But, but, but... they are definitely, absolutely amateurs. They do not go to bowl games, there are no challenges or replays at Ivy games, and every one of us roots for Columbia to win at least one game every year, because they are the smallest undergrad population and we don't want them to become hopelessly discouraged.

Yesterday I had to run an errand that encompassed two states. I put on a 2006 Harvard football championship tee-shirt. I was just hoping someone would make a sleighting remark, so I could say we play football cleanly as a sport. Unlike some schools we could mention.

No one did.

I mean, who cares about Ivy League football? Let's be real here.

But we did help invent the game. Does that count for anything...?

uh, No. So be it. And I'm busting my buttons over it, for the first time in 40 years. Go figure.

We win. Or, rather, I win. Who out there has a wife like mine, who always knows what's important way ahead of time? I tell you, it makes me humble.

Dexter Season Five

Most shows get worse and gutter out... I tell the truth about such things.

FAIR WARNING: I HATED SEASON 4. I promised myself I would do four posts today. I concede I'm getting tired after just three. But the Lady and I have been watching Dexter Season 5 in our usual fashion -- all at once -- and I have to confess I have a confession to make.

Maybe I was burned out by watching the end of the Harry Potter saga. Deadliest Hallows XIX showed up in the queue on Friday, so we watched it. Okay. Best of the whole 45-movie saga. I can admit that. Who among you can say I'm not fair about all matters not pertaining to the Rolling Stones? See?

But then there were the On Demand continuations of CSI New York, NCIS, and Not CSI Somewhere, USA, and I have to tell you there's such a thing as series burnout. Too much of a good thing is still too much of a good thing, and there's no way I wouldn't tell the truth to my faithful readers about such a thing.

Which is why I have to report that Dexter Season 5 is absolutely the best ever. They've changed the show without changing the show. How Michael Anthony Hall doesn't automatically win the Emmy for most killer TV performance every year is far beyond my poor powers of film criticism.

I can't say much without risking spoilers, so I won't say much. Just watch. Especially if you're a Christian. Oops. I said too much. What I meant to say was, watch especially if you're a homicidal heretic with a grudge against the world. Except that...

Something I never ever thought would happen. Dexter making me cry. With him, for him, by him being human.

He does that. Lady Laird left home half an hour early this morning to mail the DVD so we could get the last epsiode ASAP.

I think I can stop writing now. Four posts. All done. Except one thing: Franco Harris? Fuck you. Dexter would know what to do with you, and being an NFL fullback wouldn't make a particle of difference. He's a, well, killer.

Friday, November 11, 2011


It's Veterans Day

GO SPARTANS? First, my gratitude and congratulations to all veterans. This is your day, and we should all feel honored to have you living among us.

Anything different this year that's worthy of special remark? Yes. A couple of things. The date: it's 11/11/11, which constitutes a natural numerical tribute to the original Veterans Day, called Armistice Day and set on November 11 because the armistice ending World War I was concluded at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. Sadly, I believe we have no more surviving veterans of that war. The time set aside to remember them is now Memorial Day.

The other thing is the basketball game that will be played between UNC and Michigan State on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson this evening. I confess to having mixed feelings about this event and am curious how others feel.

On the one hand I understand it's a great opportunity for the navy to show off one of its crown jewels in prime time, and I'm sure active service military personnel around the world will get a morale boost from the game.

On the other hand I've got some nagging doubts I probably shouldn't mention. But I will. The video clip shows the impressive and no doubt hugely expensive effort that's gone into making a flight deck into a basketball stadium, and I can't watch it without remembering the dire Drudge headline in which Leon Panetta declares that the U.S. military will become "a shell" of itself if the president's "supercommittee" can't agree on other ways to reduce budget deficits. So is this ostentatious one-off sporting event the right message to be sending the nation at this moment in time? I don't know. Especially given that some of the cuts being discussed involve serious reductions in veterans benefits.

Another question no one wants to raise. Is this whole show underway because our commander-in-chief loves college basketball? He's definitely going to be there (though I thought he was bound for Bali to get as far away from the supercommittee as possible). To the best of my knowledge he hasn't yet attended the regularly scheduled Army-Navy football game (played in an arena that doesn't have to be built from scratch), though I guess he will this year since it'll be his last chance before the 2012 election. And, you know.

Please forgive my skepticism. I know it's unworthy of the day. But I sometimes wonder if he is too.

What do you think?


A thought experiment
and a CONTEST!!!

Remember: the NYT would never say such a thing in an editorial.

POLLSTERS ARE SMART, RIGHT? Found an interesting essay today (h/t Hotair) that I agree with somewhat. It purports to explain why people engage in irrational loyalty to leaders and institutions that have betrayed them in profound ways. What's interesting is that the author is observant, and even self-deprecating at times, but still manages to omit entirely the very best example of the idea he's advancing, which makes him a sorry proof of his otherwise excellent point. The title is indicative:

Crushing Our Better Angels: How Tribalism & Self-Identity
Force Us to Support Penn State, Herman Cain and Rick Perry

Cute, huh? Penn State and two besieged Republicans automatically belong together. Is he saying that defenders of Penn State and Paterno are necessarily Republicans? Noooooooo. He's far more even-handed than that. He's so even-handed that no one would guess what he finally reveals in the second to the last paragraph -- "I'm not a Republican."

Well, actually I did guess, but I can be even-handed, too, and there's much wisdom in what he's saying:

The common narrative today is that we have lost all faith in our institutions. This is wrong, of course. We have simply lost faith in those institutions that most bind us together as one, such as being a citizen or a local newspaper that everyone in town reads. Instead, we’ve doubled down on those institutions that allow us to believe we are better than our neighbors. GOP, DNC, Tea Parties, Occupy Wall Street, alma maters, libertarianism, even churches whose primary message is that We Are The Good and The Others Will Burn are all on the rise these days. What all of these institutions have in common is that they stroke the very core of our ego. Stick with us, they say, because by being one of us you will be a fundamentally better person than your neighbor.

And so we join up, and by doing so are rewarded with constant reassurance that despite whatever our shortcomings may be, We are better, smarter, and more pure than Them. It’s hard for a message that powerful and self-affirming not to become a cornerstone of our self-identity. And in many ways, this message creates positive outcomes for us. Feeling like you have a grip on life is no small part of being successful in it. If nothing else, it allows us to feel part of a community in these days of everything and everyone being so plugged in and divergent.

The problem is that we humans will go to great lengths of denial to preserve our own self-identity. And if we have allowed our self-identity to be wrapped up in the success of people we have never met, we tend to close our eyes, cover our ears and go “LALALALALA” when those people slip and fail us.

He cites the examples of Rick Perry's record of crony capitalism, Herman Cain's repeated story changes about the sexual harassment charges leveled against him, and the Penn State scandal as instances in which tribal loyalty inspires the defense of behaviors no one in the tribe approves of or would accept in other contexts. And I believe he really is trying to be fair since he begins the column with his mistaken childhood adulation of Steve Garvey and also references the Monica Lewinsky scandal:

I saw the very same dynamic with Democrats, those self-proclaimed protectors of women’s rights, and Clinton. And I see the exact same thing happening right now with the GOP [regarding the audience applause for Cain when he was questioned about the charges in the most recent debate.]

And he's right about Cain:

[A]t each stage of this scandal breaking Cain has been caught in a lie. First he swore he have never been formally accused by anyone, ever. Then he claimed that he had been accused but had not known the outcome – yet still somehow knew no money had been paid out. Then he admitted there had been money paid out, but he had no idea how much. Then he admitted to having known that they got a very, very small amount. Then he bizarrely told his followers that there were going to be more of these allegations coming to light, and that they should ignore them. The Republicans have rallied around him every step of the way...

His bottom line advice is good, too:

The first [step] is to always be willing to take a step back and audit your beliefs. When someone you are supporting is being “unfairly crucified” by FOX or the lame stream media, take a step back and ask yourself: If this was happening to the other tribe’s team, how would I be reacting right now? If the honest answer is anything other than “the same,” it might be wise to go back through all of the facts you had previously dismissed to see if perhaps you’ve let yourself miss something. More important, though, is this:

Be an advocate for what your tribe stands for, not an advocate for your tribe.

I simply don’t believe that there aren’t a ton of Republicans out there that are very disturbed by what has transpired with Herman Cain this week...

These people need to speak up; not to the world at large, but to the members of their tribe. I’m not a Republican, so I can point to the myriad of things that don’t add up about Cain’s denials all day long and it’s going to fall on deaf ears. The same way, not incidentally, that Democrats shrugged off all evidence of Clinton’s pattern of sexual harassment fifteen years ago. People don’t listen to those outside their tribe when their self-identity is on the line. But they might be open to peeking at reality when it’s being presented by one of their own.

Peeking at reality. I like that. Why I couldn't help wondering why the article never took a single peek at Obama. Presumably, the tribe of Obama supporters still believes in transparency, the dismissal of lobbyists from the corridors of DC power, the end of the kind of crony capitalism that has this author so disgruntled about Rick Perry, and the spirit of civil bipartisan problem-solving Obama proclaimed as his ideal in the 2008 campaign. But somehow the need for self-questioning by Democrats about the performance of their hero with respect to these basic tribal values never made it onto the writer's radar. I guess some realities are too difficult to peek at, let alone examine with a fine-toothed comb.

So I was mulling his problematic essay when I encountered this entry at Hotair:

WaPo: Why aren’t people totally into
our awesome economic growth?

When something appears inexplicable, it’s best to start by checking assumptions first.  Ylan Mui at the Washington Post should have taken that advice before reporting on a “rift” between the supposedly good economic growth an the American state of mind:

A rift is emerging between Americans’ state of mind and the state of the economy.

The economy is getting stronger, with the nation’s gross domestic product growing at its fastest clip so far this year. The number of new people signing up for unemployment benefits has steadily declined, and consumer spending is rising.

But by almost any measure, Americans remain unhappy. Consumer confidence has plunged to levels last seen during the financial crisis. A recent Nielsen poll found that nine out of 10 Americans believe the country is still in a recession. … This persistent pessimism has perplexed economists.

So what are the assumptions that lead [sic] [to] this article?  First, Mui implies that the economy is heating up, and that the weekly initial jobless claims rate indicates a significant improvement that consumers should notice.  Neither are [sic] true...

Ed Morrissey does his usual competent job of explaining exactly why the WAPO claims aren't true, which is worth reading to be sure but entirely unnecessary. You don't have to be an economist to know that the economy sucks and that consumers are unhappy because there's no sign that things are going to get better anytime soon. When a consumer knows his house probably isn't worth what he owes on it, he's not going to be elated by decimal point changes in leading economic indicators. This "has perplexed economists?" Really? Which economists? Ah. The smart ones.

That's when I finally understood the oxymoron at the heart of the column I quoted above. Note that the whole thrust of the essay was about moral issues, which evidently concern conservatives more than they do liberals, at least in the sense that liberals regard conservative talk of morality as hysterical and naive, whereas their own is objective and nuanced (uh, persiflage designed to sound sensitive). The essence of liberal tribalism is not moral but intellectual. The thing they can't let go of because it's a "cornerstone of their self-identity" is their rational superiority, the unwavering irrational conviction that they are simply smarter than we are. Their obliviousness to the sheer, obvious awfulness and incompetence of the Obama presidency may be the biggest blind spot in the history of any American political party. And think just how much work it must take to keep from seeing how bad everything is and how much worse it is getting day by day.

I mean, what kind of mental, er, rational, gymnastics did Ylan Mui have to perform in order to write such a piece of fantastic bilge about the state of the economy? In terms of intellectual honesty, he's every bit the vandal of the Penn State students who overturned a TV news van and busted out its windows in protest of the Paterno firing.

Which is when I had one of those flashes I sometimes have. I flashed forward to the endorsement editorials we will all be reading in the fall of 2012 when the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times the Chicago Sun-Times, and the San Francisco Mother Jones Daily will soberly articulate their reasons for recommending Barack Obama over anything Republican.

Think about it. It's already a done deal. All those editorials could be written today and nothing would change between now and then but a few vagabond facts.

***** CONTEST!!! *****

So write me one of those editorials. If you don't want to pick a Republican candidate to beat up on, go with [Generic Republican], though I don't mind if you put your own favorite into the mix. The purpose is to do kind of the opposite of what our friendly columnist advises: put yourself into the minds of the libs who are committed to reflexively defending the worst president in U.S. history. It will take some imagination, some sleight of hand, and some artful phrasing.

I can help with an artifact from Shuteye Nation. I wrote an endorsement editorial well before the 2000 Republican nomination was decided. It may help you capture the appropriate objective tone. The winning entry can't sound like It's got to sound like Moses coming down from the mountain with his commandments in hand.

March 8, 2000

A Shuteye Times EDITORIAL:
Major Party Endorsements

Yes, the Super Tuesday primary showdown has come and gone. The results appear to be decisive. The nominees of the two major parties will be Al Bore and George W. Bush XIV. The primary for the state served by this newspaper will not be held for another few weeks, which means local voters have had no chance to participate in the momentous choices already completed. In this context, an editorial endorsement of any candidate(s) by the Times might seem at best irrelevant and at worst arrogant.

Yet we believe we must play our part in the process, however small that part has been rendered by the rush of events. As journalists, we must accept the responsibility that accompanies our constant daily focus on matters of policy, statecraft, and controversy. We are in a position to offer an informed and reasoned opinion. We have thus elected to publish our views about the candidates and to endorse those whom we believe would best serve the Amerian people, regardless of their chances for victory.

On the side of the Democratics, there has been a briefly contentious campaign between Vice Presdent Al Bore and former New Joisey Senator Bill Broadley.

Both have offered thoughtful proposals and plans in areas that undeniably concern the mass of common people, including health care, education, racial relations, and social security. In may respects, therefore, both Bore and Broadley are qualified to occupy the highest office in the land. Nevertheless, we are persuaded that a basis for choosing between them does exist. Senator Broadley’s health care proposal, while containing some positive features, has a crippling weakness which the Vice Presdent was able to discover: it would terminate the Medicare program on which many millions of Amerians depend. This is unacceptable. We therefore find it appropriate to endorse the candidacy of Al Bore, Vice Presdent of the United States.

With respect to the Republians, the field of candidates has been considerably larger, and the tone of the debate far more negative, perhaps to the point of obscuring both issues and qualifications. However, we have accepted the obligation to evaluate and choose one of their number. The first cut is not especially difficult. Candidates Keese and Bowser do not reflect mainstream views or concerns of the people, and their angry rhetoric on the Choice issue in particular has made it clear that they lack both the temperament and the responsiveness to the voice of the people which are necessary in a Presdent of the United States.

Steve Forbus is similarly lacking in temperament, and in retrospect, it would seem that the extraordinarily vicious style of campaigning which has marked the Republian race began with Forbus’s negative television ads about George W. Bush. For this reason, we have been compelled to eliminate him from consideration.

Several others appear not to have been serious candidates from the outset, despite obvious strengths. Senator Orange Hatch entered the race too late to be a factor, and former cabinet secretary Liddie Dull appears to have entered the race too early. We were impressed by both on the merits. Perhaps they will seek the nomination more ardently in future. Former Vice Presdent Dan Quail also dropped out early, but he has never been a serious factor in national politics. (P-O-T-A-T-O. Our apologies. We couldn’t help it.)

The choice for endorsement must, then, fall to one of the two remaining Republians, George W. Bush or John McKane. Like many Amerians, we have been impressed by the story of John McKane, and by his character and his commitment to campaign finance reform. Too, we were buoyed by his principled decision some weeks ago to refrain—unilaterally—from negative campaigning. That is a precedent which many would do well to follow.

It is sad that George W. Bush failed to rise to the occasion. His media assault on his rival in South Carelina and thereafter was unjustified. Unlike some of his adherents, we are unmoved by the tendered excuse that McKane started the negative campaigning in the south by comparing Bush to Bill Clitton. We note that Mr. Clitton is the Presdent of the United States, one who has been elected to that office twice and who has been approved for his performance by a majority of voters almost continuously for eight years. How could such a comparison be interpreted as a mortal insult by Mr. Bush, who has registered no accomplishment which measures up to those of Bill Clitton?

Depending on one's viewpoint, Mr. McKane's statement might be regarded as anything from ambiguous to incomprehensible, but it cannot be considered vicious. Mr. Bush must accept responsibility for the low standard of rhetoric which followed.

We have another bone to pick with Mr. Bush as well. The decision to speak at Bobby Joe University was indefensible. We sympathize with the millions of Roman Catholics the wurld over who must be wounded and frightened by his tacit endorsement of the Bobby Joe policy of religious genocide. And we cannot in good conscience endorse a candidate who would sell his integrity and honor so cheaply.

We endorse for the Republian Presdential nomination Senator John McKane. Perhaps we should have spoken out earlier. Still, we must draw what comfort we can from the notion that late is better than never.

Good luck, Mr. Bore. And good luck, Mr. McKane.

We will, of course, wait until the fall campaign to publish our endorsement of a candidate in the general election. As journalists, we can observe no less scrupulous a standard.

Pick any newspaper you like. I'll post any that are good. And then we can discuss what if anything we've learned through the exercise.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Guy Named Joe

. Something of a portmanteau post, encompassing a lot of what I'm disgusted about these days. The flashpoint is Paterno, of course, but there's also reference to Occupy Wall Street, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and Ron Paul (all of whom I've been asked about in recent comments). I'll even be touching on my own personal history. Not to mention political philosophy. Are you ready?

The clip above is from a 1948 movie of an Arthur Miller play, All My Sons. Here's a pertinent 'user review' from

Arthur Miller's First Stage Success, 3 May 2006
Author: theowinthrop from United States

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The film/play takes place in 1945 - 46. [Manufacturer Joe] Keller's oldest son has died in World War II, in a military aviation crash. His younger son Chris (Burt Lancaster) has returned too from military service upset -- he is aware that something is wrong about the death of his brother, but he is not sure what. He is also aware that his father has a secretive side -- one that he is sensitive about. It appears to be connected to the wartime trial of Keller's partner Herbert Deever (Frank Conroy). It seems that Keller and Deever's plant got a big government contract that required the delivery of airplane motors at a particular date. It was a very lucrative contract: in fact, it built their company. But there was a defect in the motors -- which did not prevent Deever from completing the delivery of the defective motors. As a result, twelve planes crashed in the South Pacific, killing their pilots and crews. Deever ended up going to prison, but the critical decision was made without Joe Keller being present (he was ill that day) and so Keller did not go to prison.

Somehow, despite Chris's perplexity about his brother's death in the war, the Kellers would seem not to have any problems. Joe is an apparently successful manufacturer and seems well liked. His wife Kate (Mady Christians) is always ready to smooth over any little flurries of difficulties that may pop up. But Chris comes home with his girl friend Ann (Louise Horton). This is upsetting to Joe and Kate, though they try to put their best face on it: Ann is the daughter of jailbird Herb Deever. And sometimes tagging along is angry, troubled George Deever (Howard Duff), who has occasionally visited his dad -- and has heard the story of the defective motors from a different perspective. And that perspective raises issues about "good old" Joe Keller.

Up to 1945 the subject of government contracts and corrupt cost cutting rarely popped up on stage or screen. But during World War II it became a big issue because of the huge government contracts that Washington set up for the war effort... the subject never really came up before in film...  So when Miller did this film it was, if you will, "virgin territory".

Miller, of course, turned the issue into a morality situation - as Joe Keller comes face to face to his sin against his partner, his country, the war effort, and his own sons. And he does, in the end, learn that the material gain was too costly - as he realizes, the dead pilots were all his sons.

It's hardly a secret that Arthur Miller was a leftist. His Death of a Salesman implicitly argued that capitalism robbed human beings of their native dignity. The Crucible presented the greatest straw man in dramatic history: there were no witches in Salem, so there must have been no communists or Soviet agents in Hollywood. Except that there were, as the historical record has abundantly confirmed.

So why am I recommending that you all watch a big chunk of All My Sons? (Whole movie available here. Some loading problems due to length... I recommend skipping to 59 minutes in, which worked for me. You'll see everything that matters.) Because in this play at least, Arthur Miller's ear as a writer served him better than his political views. The tragic flaw of Joe Keller is not capitalism or aggressive business ambition. It's his own character. His rationalizations may involve the primacy of family and the right to make a buck, but the solution to his frailties isn't the elevation of the collective; it's the sense of personal moral responsibility for his own actions. They are all my sons. Not a conviction any government can enforce. It's a personal, individual contract with life.

What Joe Paterno forgot. His moral lapse had nothing to do with capitalism. He wasn't a money-grubbing CEO. He was a deity. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. His elevation of "the program" over basic moral imperatives which require virtually no decision by decent men has more in common with ideologues than businessmen. At some point Joe Paterno forgot that the ends don't justify the means. Who else forgets that at greatest cost? Lenin. Stalin. Mao. Castro. Pol Pot. What I'm doing is so intrinsically important that it's okay if some nameless innocents suffer.

Businessmen don't come to conclusions like that unless they are no longer capitalists but factotums of the powerful who have the ability to eliminate the most essential element of capitalism -- competition.

Which brings us to another fascinating nexus. So-called "kids" at Penn State riot in response to the dethroning of their football god, which has absolutely nothing to do with the 'Occupy' protesters mounting anarchic attacks against the capitalist system, also involving violence and, well, tantrums, with no regard for the 'proletarians' they're hurting by shutting down restaurants, shitting on doorsteps, and otherwise demonstrating their ignorant infantilism.

But isn't it really all the same thing? A failure of consciousness? Always returning to the same bankrupt assumption. I'm not responsible. Everyone else is; that is, everyone else is responsible to me and my whims. Because I have this half-assed idea of how everything ought to be, and it doesn't matter at all that I haven't the slightest idea how to get there. I just want what I want, whatever it is.

And we've been taught to let it all go. As if having what we conceive of as a pure idea outranks all the hard work grownups have to do.

Ron Paul. Why am I so hard on him? I was asked. Is it just because I "disagree" with his foreign policy? No. He's the Joe Paterno of libertarians. Ask him about Iran and he answers that if we're nice to Iran, Iran will be nice to us. That's akin to pretending that a child molester will stop being a child molester because that's what's convenient for our 'program.' But it doesn't end there. This kind of delusional thinking feeds back into areas where we're supposed to be competent. Ron Paul has also called for the immediate end of the Federal Reserve, the Energy Department, the Education Department, the Commerce Department (excuse me, the constitution does require federal oversight of interstate commerce), and the immediate sale of all federal lands (parks too?). The plan is published as a spreadsheet, with no description of how any transition is to be accomplished. The problem I've always had with libertarians. We're right. Who gives a shit about what happens when we finally take charge? He's not a politician; he's a cult leader. Almost like the coach of a team that doesn't want to hear anything but a great halftime speech.

Eric Holder. No, he won't get canned unless there is no alternative but to throw him under the bus. Not only because Fast & Furious is a federal government version of the Joe Paterno scandal (did he know anything and if not, why not?), but because he's done so many incompetent things that the hearings for his replacement would turn into a nightmare of muckraking that would drench the Obama administration in ignominy. See? It's not about capitalism. It's not about money. It's about power and the careless arrogance that goes with it. The man never reads his memos. Pretty much the Paterno defense, eh?

Barack Obama. Another federal government version of the Paterno scandal. Solyndra. What did he know, and how could he have been so careless, egotistical and stupid? Because he has absolute faith in the virtue of his program. It's all of us who worry needlessly about the little people victims nobody honestly cares about, let's face it.

Herman Cain. A Republican version of the Paterno scandal. You're an embarrassment. Have the good grace to go. But your ego apparently won't let you.

Mitt Romney. Everyone's concerned he might compromise his principles. If he has any. Guess what. I've been there.

Sometimes you land smack dab in the middle of a moral mess. I did. I worked for a Fortune 100 computer company division that developed a risky product strategy. They accepted a huge custom contract for a software platform and then lied to the corporation that the custom product was a commercial product with immense market appeal. They made a big deal about a "Big Bang" release of all its parts and bullied the software organization into productizing it. There was even a huge mural reprising Pink Floyd's "The Wall" album cover intended to drive the code writers above and beyond the call of duty to a set-in-stone deadline. A colleague and I fought the "Big Bang" release tooth and nail. Toward the end, we shared a 36-hour day that began at world headquarters and ended in the software organization's auditorium as we argued that releasing such a product would be tantamount to fraud. The way we were thanked at the end of our presentation by the division VP made it clear our careers were over.

Did I resign? No. I was responsible for generating all the marketing materials for this phantom product. I delivered them on schedule and put them on the VP's desk knowing that I was the only one in the organization who had made the deadline he set. Then I gave him a one-page memo describing exactly how to avoid committing fraud without alerting the corporate brass that we had utterly failed in our mission.

I described the creation of a brand new Major Accounts Marketing Organization which would automatically take over the sales effort when an eager rep in the field tried to sell any part of the "Big Bang." The stated purpose of the new marketing organization was to make sure that nobody bought it.

A week or two later my boss, not the VP, informed me that my plan was being implemented. The Major Accounts Marketing Organization never earned a single dollar of revenue. Maybe the greatest achievement of my business career.

A year after that, the entire division was gone. I resigned right before the end, and I don't regret what I did. I trusted that if I did what I thought was right it would all work out for the best. What people forget about capitalism. The market decides -- when it's allowed to function. The market will decide the fate of Penn State as a football program and as a university. It hasn't done that yet but it will. The market will also decide about big Wall Street banks. The protest I happen to agree with is the decision by citizens to transfer their accounts out of the government-mobbed up giants into local savings & loans. We are the market.

And being part of the market, we bring to the market everything we've been brought up to be as moral human beings. Capitalism is a system. The purpose of being raised properly by parents is to know what the right thing is and when it's the right time to do it. Individuals operate within the system and contend against it when necessary. An idea inherent in a constitution which concedes that justice is God's province and the law our feeble attempt to imitate that justice.

You are the market too, and all your moral bases are part of that market.. If Mitt Romney is unacceptable, you will decide that. I don't know about him. Why I understand all your chaff. But he can't possibly be worse than Barack Obama.

The only positive point I can conclude on is that if we absolutely demand men of principle, they will eventually appear. That really is the American Way.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My MNF Commitment

Sorry, honey. I promise to grit my teeth and say 'nuth-think.'

I SPOKE TOO SOON. Ordinarily I wouldn't do two football posts in a row. But this is a special circumstance. I was all fired up about yesterday's post and it slopped over into my reaction to last night's Monday Night Football game. This is by way of explanation, not excuse. Because -- and I know you longtime readers will scarcely be able to credit this -- I made myself obnoxious to my wife by making continuousconstant fun of MNF color announcer Jon Gruden.

This isn't about the fact that the Eagles lost. I was expecting that. It's already dialed in, so to speak.The Eagles suck and we're both rooting for other teams anyway (Ravens, Bills, Lions, Raiders, and Raiders). My wife just wanted, quite understandably, to watch a football game without having the experience ruined by her husband. I plead guilty with extenuating circumstances. My impersonation of Jon Gruden is spot on, and most of you would enjoy a few minutes of it, as did my wife the first time she heard it. I draw on my knowledge of the dactylic nature of glossolalia ("speaking in tongues") to imbue my performance with satiric cruelty, which amuses the performer no end and ultimately bores the listener into a coma because once started -- just like glossolalia -- it just keeps going, impossible to stop.

So what conceivable circumstances could be extenuating?

I have a long history of problems with ESPN's Monday Night Football "talent." Suffering is not a thing which can be counted -- unless you have specific names to name:

There was a time when we thought nothing could be worse than Joe Theismann and whatever made-up storyline he clung to diarrhetically through thick and thin, usually having to do with what a brilliantly prescient football mind belonged to one Joe Theismann, who graduated from Notre Dame, don't you know, and could reduce any football game to the one-note plot he had dreamed up in his hotel room the night before, regardless of what was actually happening on the field.

But then came Tony Kornheiser.

[Thank me HERE for my beneficent omission of the endless list of broadcast crimes perpetrated by this pompous pseudo-intellectual's incessant outrages against every conceivable prior definition of the sins of repetition, loving the sound of your own voice more than life itself, and frankly nauseating homoerotic hero worship of the league's two most repellent permanent adolescent jerks. In NFL history. Ever. By a long, lo-o-o-o-o-ng way.]

And then I made perhaps the biggest single blunder of my whole career as a prognosticator:

Now he's gone. Maybe Gruden will be awful, boring, obnoxious. All we know for sure is that he can't possibly be as bad as Tony Kornheiser.

Incredibly, against all odds, and absolutely catastrophically, Jon Gruden is worse than Tony Kornheiser. He cannot stop talking and he cannot prevent himself from seeing every single play as a Hall of Fame performance worthy of a ringing motivational speech to the nearest Kiwanis Club (er, you and me on the couch in TV land). Every player is the greatest player ever, every play is the greatest play ever, and could you really, just once, SHUT THE FUCK UP?!!!

How I got into trouble in the first place. Thing is, when you start doing Gruden, you start to feel how he does what he does. It's all in the meter. When I start that damn dactylic praise rant, I find myself knowing more about football than I really know. It spills out of me like the Sunday halleluiahs of a Pentecostal in a Kentucky double-wide church: I praise blocking schemes, run blitzes, three-four defenses, man-man-zone transitions, and triple-move wide receiver routes I never heard of till they tumble from my double-loud teflon vocal cords and scare the cats into the garage.

Jesus. No wonder she walked out on me and went to bed. It's a wonder she hasn't actually shot me.

At least she was spared the ignominy of a season-ending fourth quarter for the Beagles, which I narrated helplessly to myself to the bitter end, in tongues.

This morning, in Philadelphia, WIP SportsTalk is hoping for Jon Gruden as a replacement for Andy Reid. Frankly, I'm with them. At the very least it would get his immensely annoying ass off Monday Night Football. And we'd have a whole year to save up for a cable package that'd let us see every Raiders game instead of the ones involving flightless birds (Ravens excepted).

If you know what I mean.

To be clear, what I mean is, I'm committed. No more Jon Gruden impressions. But what do you think of my Raiders idea?

P.S. Just so you don't miss it, there's a pool underway at the previous post, with (I think) a pretty decent prize. Go take a look. Enter early and often. Time's a'wasting...

NEWS FLASH: Conservatives
Still Dumb as Ron PaulRocks.

LONH: Light on, nobody home.
Also called: Tea Party Passion.

DIDN'T THINK YOU'D BE MISLED. Sorry. I never really thought Herman Cain would be the nominee. I apologize to everyone who thought he would. My assumption was that a stone amateur politician wouldn't be exactly what America was looking for in 2012. If you thought otherwise, I'd like to apologize, but I can't. You're a fucking idiot. We've had an amateur in office for three years now. It's going to take us a decade or more to get out from under what he's already done. Yes, it's fun to play with the idea of the oddball hero. I love the movies where the hang-glider stewardess lands the 747 so she can go home to her fatherless infant son, BUT... that's just the movies. Amateurs don't win the U.S. Open, and they don't parachute in from nowhere to run the most complicated organization in the history of life on earth. Sorry. Cincinnatus is just a Roman fable, and our modern version of it -- William Tecumseh Sherman -- is still the most relevant lesson you Paulistas and Randians need to learn from.

The other morning, one of the weekend doofuses on Fox & Friends -- Jeff Briggs, if you're counting -- was all bent out of shape about the Cain-Gingrich "debate." He was actually offended, all het up about the fact that the two agreed more than they disagreed, as if Gingrich should have taken down the 9-9-9 plan and then what? Made life easier for Romney? Why was Briggs so fired up? Because he's a nincompoop. Gingrich played the opportunity flawlessly. He didn't have to attack Cain to prove he was smarter and more credible. He does that everywhere he goes by just showing up.

Some uncomfortable facts. Cain is done. If he isn't, he should be. And the longer you postpone the inevitable, the worse our prospects get. If you're serious about getting rid of Obama, you have to start listening to the the smart ones, and there are only a few of them: Charles Krauthammer, Thomas Sowell, Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, George Will, and (obviously) me.

Oh. One more. Andrew Klavan. He's every bit as smart as the rest:

So the double standard continues with Cain. Not only have the reliably left wing news sites like ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN been acting as if this were the story of the decade, but right wing sites like Fox and our own PJMedia have added fuel to the fire, eagerly tracking down more details. You can be sure that will keep happening as the story proceeds. And if Cain turns out to be guilty, you won’t be hearing any excuses for him here.

And yes, it’s unfair. But there’s a reason it’s unfair—a reason it should be unfair. There’s a reason we right wingers vet our candidates while the left adulates theirs, a reason we condemn our miscreants while the left elevates theirs, a reason our news outlets cover stories that the left covers up.

The reason is:  we’re the good guys. We have to do what’s right. The left doesn’t. Sorry, but that’s the way it works. It’s the price you pay for defending what’s true and good, the price of holding yourself to a high moral standard. Our politicians have to be better than their politicians. Our journalists have to be more honest. Even our protesters have to behave with decorum and decency—and still suffer being slandered—while theirs can act like animals and commit acts of violence and lawlessness and spew anti-semitic filth and still find themselves excused and glorified.

I'll make a couple of quick points before closing this post. Last time, wooing the independents didn't matter. They were all going to vote Obama regardless. What convictionless clowns do. This time, the independents do matter. Yes, Romney is going to be the nominee. Bad? Up to a point. As president, he'd be better than Obama. The purpose of the debates and the primary process is to drive Romney farther right than he would go otherwise. Which is not a waste of time. Democrats can dispense with their campaign promises the moment they're sworn in. Republicans can't. If Romney promises to be the new Coolidge, he probably will be. That's the best thing about Mormons. Dull as they are, they do what they're told.

Not happy about Romney coasting to the nomination? Get behind Gingrich. He'll force Romney to make specific commitments. He'll force Romney to issue real plans and legislative promises. And if Romney suddenly somehow blows up, Gingrich isn't the worst of all possible worlds. Sure he's a shit with a trophy wife and a dead-of-cancer wife, but... Bill Clinton? Anybody? And we already know that about Gingrich. He ain't Mother Theresa. But neither are most people who run for president, including the skinny, lying little self-obsessed shit sitting in the Oval Office right now. It would be the ultimate treat to see Newt debate Obama. I'm thinking it's O-person's worst nightmare. He's gone nearly 50 years without having to be on his own in a mano a mano confrontation with a guy who's twice as smart as he is.

I'd pay cash money to see that happen. At my age, that's as close to heaven as I can imagine -- Obama throwing up in the men's room while his Bill-Russell wife lashes him back to the podium.

"Be a man, Barry!"

However that scenario turns out, it's a win. (Extra credit for Barry's response as he's wiping the puke off that Mussolini jaw....)

Bottom line. Are we clear yet that Cain is done? Of course not. I await the inevitable tide of Cain supporters and Paulistas who desperately want to lose this election for the greater good.

Proceed. Just don't comment to that effect unless you're as dumb as a fucking rock. Do we understand one another? Good. Feel free. What the First Amendment is all about.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Penn State
As a Metaphor

Delbert McClinton Because I'm InstaPunk.

FOOTBALL. I'm not saying this is fair. I'm saying it's a metaphor for a lot of what I'm feeling right now. We all start from various points of local chauvinism, and we all have a bunch of those points, which entail multiple layers of personal experience, some of them almost too subtle to recognize. So this is an exercise in personal revelation. Make of it what you will.

I've been listening to WIP SportsTalk in Philadelphia all morning. The Philadelphia Eagles have a season-critical game with the Chicago Bears tonight, but the morning guys spent 80 percent of the time talking about Penn State. The mid-day guys took over at 10 am and promised all-Eagles, all show. Except that the only thing they and their callers have talked about for two and a quarter hours thus far is Penn State and Joe Paterno. It makes me prouder than usual of Philadelphia sports fans. What's happening in Happy Valley is far more important than what's happening tonight at the Link. Why is it so important? All the answers to this question are personal. Some -- hardly most -- of the callers are prepared to defend Joe Paterno to the last codicil and semicolon of his carefully crafted statement of non-responsibility. I'm not. Why I'm sharing my reasons for feeling the way I do. Some basic background...

I've probably been rooting for Penn State football for more than 40 years. When they were an independent (like Notre Dame, Army, Navy, and virtually no one else) building contending teams, they were the Boise State of their generation. The big-time traditional football factories automatically received more respect, and even some spectacular, high-profile bowl wins failed to earn them the national championship they once or twice seemed to deserve. They were the perpetual underdog whose discipline and focus, exemplified by their minimalist uniforms, made me admire them.

Importantly, though, that fan loyalty wasn't strictly geographical. I regarded Penn State as the heir to an older tradition that had been, to some extent, honorably abrogated. Which is a self-serving way of admitting that I was in those days the Ivy League snob I was raised to be. The majority of states have two large state universities, one called "The University of [Whoever]" and the other called "[Whoever] State University". Generally, in terms of prestige, the "University of" outranked "State" because the latter were subsequent land-grant creations designed to teach more technical disciplines than the liberal arts curricula of the older schools. That ranking still obtains to this day. The University of Michigan famously committed a public relations error in recent years by referring to Michigan State as "Little Brother." This differential has no greater degree of distinction in the nation than in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where The University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League institution founded by Benjamin Franklin, and Pennsylvania State University is an afterthought located in the hinterlands famous mostly for, well, football. 

Still, for the willing, there was an argument for Penn State as a species of guerrilla avenger. The University of Pennsylvania had been a national football power in its own right once upon a time, until it voluntarily deemphasized the game as a threat to its academic integrity with the formation in 1956 of a formal "Ivy League" conference that awarded no athletic scholarships and banned spring practice. I should also reveal that my paternal grandfather was a Penn graduate and his son was an alumnus of Penn's inveterate and still season-ending rival Cornell (the only university in the nation which can boast a 2-0 record against the Ohio State Buckeyes AND which voluntarily surrendered a national championship via an act of honorable sportsmanship.) There was a sense in which Penn State was picking up this fallen standard:

Penn's home stadium Franklin Field is not only the oldest stadium in football but holds many other records as well. It is the site of the oldest stadium scoreboard (1895), the "original horseshoe" (1903), the first college football radio broadcast (1922 on WIP-AM), the first double-decker football stadium (1925), the largest stadium in the country (1925 to 1926), the first college football television broadcast (1940 on KYW-TV) and the first FCS stadium to host ESPN's College Gameday (2002).

National Championships

Year Coach Record
1894 George Woodruff 12–0–0
1895 George Woodruff 14–0–0
1897 George Woodruff 15–0–0
1904 Carl "Cap" Williams 12–0–0
1907 Carl "Cap" Williams 11–1–0
1908 Sol Metzger 11–0–1
1924 Louis Young 9–1–1

Seven national championships beats Paterno's two (over how many years?), but the sense of continuity was reinforced for snobs like me by the fact that "Joe Pa" originally went to Ivy League Brown University and professed a devotion to the education and graduation of his players that contrasted sharply with other images of the time. As the son and grandson of three Ohio State Buckeyes, I can still remember seeing a dismaying parade of no-necked plug-uglies from Ohio State and Michigan in the 1970s announcing their majors as "Phys Ed" before various Big Games. It felt almost seditious to root for the Nittany Lions of Penn State.

So I liked Paterno for reasons other than those of the National Press, who heard his accent as blue collar. I thought he had higher values than his coaching peers. But my regard for Penn State, and Joe Pa, has deteriorated over the years, more and more of late. Here's why, In no particular order:

Gradually, the home of Penn State -- i.e., State College, PA -- has come to be called "Happy Valley." Wiki cites no source for this name. But there is a source, in Nairobi Kenya:

The Happy Valley set was a group of privileged British colonials living in the Happy Valley region of the Wanjohi Valley, near the Aberdare mountain range, in the colonies of Kenya and Uganda during the 1920s - 1940s. The elite social group became notorious for stories of drug use and promiscuous sexual encounters

The area around Naivasha, Kenya was one of the first to be settled by white people and one of the hunting grounds of the hedonistic Happy Valley set. The colonial town of Nyeri, Kenya, to the east of the Aberdare Range, was the center of Happy Valley settlers.

You may think it anomalous. But I had lived in Ohio. I had a straitlaced Roman Catholic (albeit union-loving MIT graduate) consulting partner there who warned me about the isolated towns like Lima and Findlay along our customary route to Detroit, where so much of our work lay and where I once came close to being stranded by a broken rental car. He said a few years back he'd had an assignment in Findlay, which has no neighbors for fifty miles in any direction, and he was shocked by the activities he was offered to participate in. Nairobi? Findlay? State College? No accounting for where affluent boredom will turn into something else.

I mean, you think rural locations in the middle of nowhere would be safe places to send your daughters to school, right? Traditional values, football the chief entertainment, yeah! Until I read about Penn State'sHappy Valley's Cuntfest.

Empowering to some, offensive to others, Cuntfest arrives at Penn State this Saturday.

The all-day festival, sponsored by Womyn's Concerns and the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, is inspired by Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, a book by Inga Muscio. Muscio feels the word, which once had positive connotations, should be reclaimed by women.

In her book, Muscio says 'cunt' stems from words that were either titles of respect for women, priestesses and witches, or derivatives of goddesses' names.

"Cunt originally started off as a good word," said Michelle Yates (junior-women's studies), who initiated the event. "And it got transformed into one of the worst words you can call a woman."

The word's negative connotation was not lost on Penn State Police Services, who received a number of complaints Wednesday about a Cuntfest banner on the Osmond building.

"It didn't take long for people to get offended by it," said Bruce Kline, assistant director of Penn State police.

The police removed the banner less than half an hour after Yates hung it, Yates said. Soon after, she told the police she had written permission to hang the banner, and they hung it back up within several hours.

"It was a mistake to take it down," Kline said.

Further explained by a student thus:

Our beloved mother tongue contains a certain number of words that are designated as "bad" or "obscene." One might wonder just how bad a word can be: picture it robbing convenience stores or dumping toxic waste into the watershed.

Like Harley mechanics, the bad words of English are a happy, useful group. Rich in Anglo-Saxon percussiveness, full both of definite meaning and allusive complexity, they are capable of turning vague everyday blah-blah into stuff that pisses off the elders.

If that was the intention of the Womyn's Concerns group at Penn State when they organized the Cunt Fest! and then the Sex Faire, they certainly succeeded. The first of these events was a feminist art fair; the second was an attempt to educate students about sexually transmitted diseases, rape, the concept of consent, and so on.

Now if you've ever tried to get the attention of college students off beer and basketball long enough to ponder something like feminism even for a moment, you will understand the marketing strategy of Womyn's Concerns, who wanted to make their events - in themselves fairly tame - sound sexy. They tried to wrap their informational content in the black leather of bad words so that people would show up.

State Representative John Lawless from Montgomery County, our very own Jesse Helms, was also provoked into attendance, and now demands that Governor Ridge suspend funding to the Penn State system. It is not perfectly clear how much in the way of taxpayer funds were used for these events, though it appears to be a fairly small amount; most of the money came from student fees.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger got hold of the story last week and lent her angelic contralto to the choiring whine of outrage. I think it's fair to say that, like Womyn's Concerns, Lawless and Schlessinger are pursuing the marketing strategy of provocation.

One thing we absolutely do not have to worry about is the defunding of Penn State; if Ridge tried that he'd be tarred, feathered, and run out to Cherry Hill on a rail. Indeed the deepest concrete risk is that we will be seeing Lawless continually on CNN and listening to Dr. Laura's weedeater voice into the indefinite future.

Perhaps the most controversial element of the Sex Faire was the "Tent of Consent" in which students who volunteered could disappear behind a curtain for two minutes of consensual, or perhaps merely conceptual, activity. I do not for a moment minimize what can happen in two minutes, but I suspect that there was more bashful aversion than orgiastic groping. Indeed this is a version of the pre-adolescent party game known as "seven minutes in heaven," which in my experience of parenting twelve-year-olds turns out to mean nothing at all.

College campuses such as Penn State University Park are themselves tents of consent, little spheres of post-adolescent experimentation, in which the wild temptations of freedom suggest themselves but internalized conservatism originating in the students' parents almost always wins out in the end. Future accountants fight ineffectually for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal; recovering high school cheerleaders pierce their noses. [boldface added]

As long as the nose's owner consents, what, we may ask, the heck? Or the f**k, for that matter? Soon these same people will be our state legislators, and then they and Lawless can be outraged together.

Which begins to seem much more ominous than semiotic feminism when you factor in Penn State's stratospheric ranking as a top 2011 party school.

Students in Happy Valley can raise a glass because they are being recognized for partying with the best of them.

Penn State is No. 2 on Playboy’s 2011 Top 10 Party Schools in North America.

Playboy Magazine got “input from students, fans of Playboy’s social media pages, alumni, feedback from Playboy campus representatives at schools across the country, and interviews with countless others,” they said.

Other factors like male-female ratios, winning sports teams (go Nittany Lions), proximity to the mountains, beaches and lively music scenes also played a role in picking the Top 10, Playboy said.

The only school that beat PSU on Playboy’s list was the University of Colorado at Boulder, which like Penn State boasts ski slopes, a great bar scene and a lively music scene.

But, Boulder doesn’t have JoePa or the Gingerbread Man or the Dark Horse or the Deli.

We are! Penn State!

Why am I making a big deal out of the doings at a mediocre state university that has never produced much? Penn State never belonged in the Big Ten. They have nothing like the record of graduates produced by Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, or even Ohio State. And much as I hate to admit it, my old snobbery is rising to the surface. In the Ivies, only Princeton is consistently, permanently juvenile, holding class reunions for every class every year. Penn State is the public version of that neurosis.

My final point. I won't claim serendicity again, but I'll at least propose it. Lady Laird and I went to the Link earlier this year to cheer for the underdog Owls in the Penn State-Temple game. Before Lady Laird adopted Temple as one of her teams, I used to root for Penn State unless they were opposing my mother's Buckeyes. The missus even rooted for the Nittany Lions (secretly) against the Buckeyes. No more.

She still won't admit it, but she's been rooting against Penn State ever since. You see, the black players of Penn State are Nittany Lions, while all the players of Temple are ghetto monkeys who need to have racial imprecations shouted at them by drunken louts in "white-out" Penn State jerseys. Kewl? No.

Doesn't all this come together somehow? Is there such a thing as illiterate narcissism that can infect thousands of otherwise civilized people, so that the Nittany Nitwit identity of their half-assed consciousness blinds them to the simplest and deepest of moral responsibilities? I don't expect Princetonians to be anything but egotistical turds. But Penn Staters don't have the excuse of high board scores. And they really do have a responsibility to explain a cosmology in which Linebacker U. trumps human decency, geographic jingoism, sliver-like icons half-dead in an upstairs booth (God nodding off above it all?), and the obligation to cry rape when a child is, uh, raped.

Joe Paterno is a shit. He's let down everything. As an Ivy-Leaguer, he's just a dumb jock. As a coach, he''s a company man. As a generational example, he's an empty shell, a fake.

Which is where we've landed. There's no one left to admire. Why I'm so disgusted. Why we're (in my opinion today) doomed. The only person I admire anymore is my wife.

Apart from these electronic friendships, I have no respect for anybody. And no hope for us.

Because there's some Penn State in all of us.  The program is the program and I'll serve the program because the program is the program and Michelle tells me this is my legacy. Whether it kills you or not.

Isn't that where we are now? Everyone and everything corrupt? I just want to throw up. Me, I'm seeking the comparative Galahad-like purity of Ohio State players who traded championship rings for tattooes. Where can I get a tattoo that separates me from the countless whores who are destroying our nation?

Done, done, done.

But think of the red Terminator eye. It goes out. But then it reignites.

Wait. I'm sure it will reignite. Sometime.

P.S. I propose a pool. Pick a date and time when Joe Paterno will join Jim Tressel as a disgraced ex-coach. The prize for the winner is a (relevant) framed graphic from Shuteye Town 1999. (but only if we get ten entries or more... although you can enter more than once.)

Which one would you trust to look out for your grandchild?

I mean, yeah, I know, it's awful to think of. Tressel knowingly allowed several of his players to make as much as $250 on merchandise their university was making millions from. Whereas Joe Paterno is an icon in an upstairs booth on the verge of ascending straight to the right hand of the Football Father. Almost unearthly at this point. How dare we question him? Disgraceful times we live in, eh?

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