Tuesday, July 31, 2007
OYSTERS. There are people out there who know that it's easier to criticize blogs than to write them. They're something like ambulance-chasing attorneys. They wait for some accidental opportunity to apply their skill at transforming order into chaos. We welcome such folks here at InstaPunk, because we're every bit as nasty and destructive as they are. On most blogs, the sly, pejorative comment slips through the cracks. Not here. We read, we smack our lips, we rejoice. Then we sail in. Of course, now and again, there are comments worth responding to in polite terms. To these we do respond. Politely. But most of them are just silly and we wouldn't go on about them except for the advice I once got from a smart blogger who said, "If they're worth responding to in the Comments, they're worth a blog entry -- because why waste your time talking directly to one fool when you can talk to a bunch of fools all at once."
So we've gotten some weird comments lately, and it seems like it might be fun to share them with you, along with our usual impeccably right responses. For example, we did a post a few days ago about the MSM's refusal to give Nancy Pelosi credit for her fashion brilliance. This inspired "Rez" to comment:
I was disappointed in the piece. Not one of the women featured would be considered real good looking in California. Same with the mediabistro-reported conflict between "money-honey" Maria Bartiromo and Erin Burnett -- both of those women look like racoons to me.... Maybe East Coast folks just have a different aesthetic sense. What am I missing?
Uh. Uuuuuuh. What's "real good looking in California," Rez? Six and a half feet tall, 100 pounds, 18 years old, plastic tits the size of basketballs, and no panties under a crotch-length skirt? Is that it? But here's what we replied:
"What am I missing?"
Clothes. With all your focus on flash and red carpet trash, you've lost sight of elegance.
Probably unfair. Ever since, we've been experiencing a mysterious burning smell that must be Rez's brain overheating during his search for a definition of 'elegance.'
Then there was our tribute to Muhammed Ali, whom we nominated -- hardly uniquely -- as the greatest athlete of all time. This upset the guy in the graphic above ("Bud") so much that he felt compelled to comment as follows:
Put him on a set of skates and watch what would happen. A) he wouldn't be able to play the game, and B) John Ferguson would have whipped his ass.
Greatest boxer? Maybe, although Sugar Ray Robinson gets my vote. Greatest fighter? It would have been interesting to watch him and Rocky - two guys who both could take an enormous amount of punishment and, at the same time, had devastating punches.
But I'm sorry, no way for general "athlete".
John Ferguson? Huh? Has anyone ever even heard of him? We shouldn't have, but we responded:
What a doltish argument. Give Wayne Gretzky a basketball. Throw Babe Ruth in the pool. Call Lance Armstrong in from the bullpen to pitch to the Red Sox. It means nothing.
Well, look at the guy in the picture above. You know he couldn't take that lying down. He couldn't take anything lying down but life itself. He came back to explain:
Not a doltish argument, a doltish proposition.
"Athlete" describes a vast range of physical and mental skills, and proposing one person as the greatest is an exercise in futility, but if you must, at least pick someone who has demonstrated 999th percentile performance in more than one sport, which certainly doesn't describe Ali. Jim Thorpe, maybe.
And John Ferguson had Ali in personal demeanor, as well. An animal on the ice, but a seflf-depreciating perfect gentleman off.
It's the way of things, isn't it? The right idiotic statement can force you to articulate your point more clearly and correctly than you did when you thought you were talking to an intelligent audience. So, thanks to Bud, the real argument finally got made:
Hardly a doltish proposition, Bud.
It's the stuff of which great conversations are made, unless you're making the mistake of trying to converse with a Canadian hockey fanatic.
There are, of course, criteria that cut across individual athletic disciplines, just as there are criteria which cut across writing forms, military situations and ages, the history of music, and the history of nations and the world. That's why it's entertaining and educational to hear advocates make a case for the greatest writer, the greatest general, the greatest composer, and the greatest American president. Sport is hardly as important as any of these other categories, and yet -- in some cases, notably with Ali -- sport occasionally intersects with other cultural factors like politics, class, ethnicity, and populist symbolism to become far more than sport.
I'm sure your John Ferguson was a great athlete, but he is little known outside hockey. Thus, I can say with confidence that he never entered the ultimate arena -- one in which his ability to perform at his sport also carried the burden of large populations of nonsporting people's dreams, fears, aspirations, dreads, and faiths. Strange as it may seem to you, there have been more than a few of these. One you mentioned: Jim Thorpe. Others include Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Satchell Paige, Ben Hogan, Babe Didrickson, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Lee Trevino, Arthur Ashe, Greg Louganis, Lance Armstrong, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Undoubtedly there are others. What they have in common is that they became more than their sport and were pushed to exceed their own limitations for a larger purpose. In succeeding they gained more than a trophy or a place in some hall of fame. They became milestones in the changing values and beliefs of their times.
Note that they couldn't have done these things unless they had been truly outstanding performers in their individual sports. But their winning performances are all the more brilliant for the additional sometimes crushing pressures under which they were achieved.
Most people past that age where history is synonymous with "what I remember personally" recognize that Ali has to be considered in any evaluation of the list above or its expanded versions. He earned the love and admiration of people who were prejudiced against him in three monumental categories: his color (least of the three), his religion (Islam), and his politics (anti-Vietnam War and flagrantly defiant of the U.S. government).
He therefore still has enemies to this day, people willing to belittle his achievements and his character. But he was for many years the most famous man in the entire world and among many of those he was the most beloved. He was also the first in his sport to regain its most valuable championship (heavyweight) twice -- despite losing three of his best years to enforced inactivity.
I know hockey guys are tough. But they fight their fights in pads and the referees break them up quickly. They don't begin every contest in their sport with the knowledge that they have a significant chance of being killed within the rules. Boxing shares this fact with horse racing, auto racing, and rodeo. But only in boxing is the competition specifically focused on inflicting maximum bodily injury to the exclusion of all other purposes, one on one.
One can make a case for other athletes in the Greatest category, but if you do any research at all into the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila, you'll realize that the contenders are few and that the case for Ali is strong.
I also guarantee that a debate among the proponents of Owens, Louis, and Ali would be far more illuminating than any of your maunderings about whats-his-name Ferguson.
Also, on very rare occasions, comments give you the opportiunity to be educational, to summarize things you assume most people know. We did an entry about Newt Gingrich, which elicited the following earnest objection:
Why? Because we're at war? I'm sorry, I just think I missed the part about how Newt would be good for self-governance.
I wonder who would promote the more vigorous police state, the greater blow to our sovereignty, the more totalitarian abuse of newly consolidated executive powers, wanton breach of privacy or destructive affront to the rule of law, Giuliani or Gingrich? It's hard to say.
I know Newt values the rights of a life while it's in the womb, but other than that what's the difference between he and the great mayor? (Ok, Newt's funnier, wittier, makes some great criticisms and can effectively draw from history for his arguments, while Rudy doesn't even seem to have read the 911 Commission report)
Based on their example of conservatism and especially their restraint, I think both Reagan and Goldwater would be turning, no spinning in their graves at what their party has become. Yes, Gingrich is critical of the spendthrift Bush administration. But both they and most of the "pygmies" ride a wave that's throwing us into a state of eternal warfare, drowning the foundation of our nation and eroding the greatest achievement of capitalism and very pinnacle of civilization. In the ebb, the Christians will wonder how their faith allowed them to forsake that other thing they believed to be so precious, that now "anachronistic" Constitution which was once the law of the land.
Yeah, we're at war, but we'll be at war a lot longer if Newt takes the helm. Of course, I guess that works for anyone promoting some sort of national security state to supplant the republic.
Ah. Idealism. The convictions of the young. "Pete" was polite and hopelessly wrong-headed. So we actually worked to respond as politely as we could in a right-headed way:
I know it's hard to accept that the U.S. really is at war with a determined enemy bent on our utter destruction. It's so easy to pretend otherwise. Especially since all your leading lights are so anxious to argue that the people who want to murder us have legitimate grievances. By all means, proceed with your denial. I can't do anything to alter that perspective; only circumstances can. I expect they eventually will.
Viewing Republicans as the fomenters of a police state and, by implication, Democrats as defenders of our civil liberties is frankly perverse. No Republican prior to this decade and no pre-McGovern Democrat would ever have considered extending the constitutional legal rights of an American citizen to foreign combatants or illegal aliens, which seems to be the current dominant ideal of so-called progressives. Such policies may seem sweetly virtuous but they are suicidally counter to our (and your) long term interests.
Would that they were willing to defend the most important rights of their own citizens with equal ardor -- freedom of political speech, freedom of choice in matters of education, health, property, and economic opportunity, and real equality under the law for all U.S. citizens.
But it is the 'progressives' who seek to limit political speech via campus speech codes, campaign laws that abridge the First Amendment, reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, and laws denying a private ballot to workers targeted by unions for membership; who condemn the poorest to remain in failing public schools and make a joke of equal educational opportunity by redistributing that opportunity based on sex, race, and ethnicity; who aspire to impose a government monopoly of health care options on everyone and pretending that the expensive rationing which would result is somehow "free"; who endorse the seizure of private property for 'community benefit'; who subscribe to the totalitarian policy of making the U.S. and its citizens subject to anti-capitalist, anti-democratic international organizations in the name of a phony crisis called global warming.
Can you smoke a legal substance in your favorite tavern? Can you buy a car without an explosive device installed six inches from your chest? Can you drive yourself anywhere without a seatbelt with legal impunity? Can you drive your children anywhere without them in the backseat, you in the front like a 1930s chauffeur? Can you sell your house without having to make thousands of dollars of improvements, regardless of whether you or the buyer want them? Can you get an incompetent teacher fired at your children's public school? Can you object successfully to the latest PC curriculum innovation at your children's public school? Can you spank your child for disobeying your direction, or does some government social worker tell you what you can and cannot do in raising him?
Who passed and who continuously promotes the laws that now police your private behaviors in such ways? Whether you agree with their intent or not, they all represent reductions of your ability to live your private life autonomously.
These are the real roots of a police state, one which draws limitless power from the vague argument that the state has the right to protect people from their own stupidity, poor decisions, and wrong-headed convictions.
I'm sure you're one of those who lament the ceaseless incomptence of the Bush administration. In all likelihood you have fogotten the ceaseless incompetence of the Clinton administration (Waco, Elian, Kosovo, Oklahoma City, Chinese missiles, etc), AND that of the Bush 41 administration, the Reagan administration, the Carter administration, etc, etc, etc. Government is always incompetent because it is too big, too ham-handed, too bureaucratic, and too subject to long-term institutional corruption. It's much much worse than Enron or WorldCom because no matter how badly it screws up, it can't be driven out of business, and it can always extort more money to finance even more screwing up.
Why do you think that most young people start out liberal and then many become increasingly conservative as they age? The primary reason is experience. They learn that organizations, by definition, don't actually care about people, even their own. That's why they decide that the best policy -- no matter how ugly and seemingly wasteful it can seem at times -- is to leave as many decisions as possible in the hands of individual people.
Note how easy it is to decide -- always -- that a committee of elite officials knows better than any individual what that individual should do with his money, his education, his children, his diet, his amusements, his home maintenance, his credit options, his transportation options, his healthcare, and for that matter, his choices of clothing, expression, and interior decorating. And especially his money. Government always knows better than Joe Sixpack how the money should be spent, right?
Do you really trust the government to make such decisions for you more than you trust yourself? Or do you just trust them to make the decisions for all those other sick bastards out there who aren't quite so wise and well informed as yourself?
The two indispensale roles of government are to provide a framework of laws equally applied to all citizens and to protect the citizens of the nation from exterior dangers and threats. There are a few others, perhaps, but they are all debatable. It's interesting indeed that it's the progressives of our nation who want our legal framework to be UNequally applied and who consistently take the side of those who do pose external threats to the nation. But both of these preferences pale beside their consuming desire to tell everyone else how to live their lives in every particular.
A Gingrich police state? You should be so lucky, my boy.
This time, at least, there's the chance of a happy ending. I actually know Peter, who doesn't look anything like the graphic above, and we spoke by phone after the exchange shown here. He still thinks I'm an old fuddy-duddy, but he's willing to entertain the possibility that big government is its own kind of evil and that the United States is engaged in a real war againt a real enemy.
That's why we allow comments here. If you're an idiot we enjoy smashing you. If you're interested in real conversation, we're delighted to talk.
Every sword has two edges. Keep commenting, Peter. And everyone like you.