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Monday, February 28, 2005

What is Neo-Bolshevism?

I’m holed up in a hotel in St. Louis writing my book (still almost done!  I keep finishing exactly half of what I have left to do!) and visiting Nick, but I’ve learned that Alex at Color Me Impressed (a cool blog which, for all its lack of color, is really quite impressive) has been called a “Neo-Bolshevist” by You-Know-Who.  Those of you who’ve been faithfully reading the comments on this blog (see Saturday’s post) know that Alex has now promised to purge him some neo-Menscheviks, and even to defeat Alexander Kerensky sometime this afternoon.  The Sons of Lenin salute you, Alex!

But beyond all this purging and routing, fun as it is, there’s an important theoretical point at stake here.  What, precisely, is the meaning of Neo-Bolshevism today? The debate has begun on Alex’s blog, featuring some of the left’s leading Neo-Commenters.  Corndog asks how a Neo-Bolshevist differs from a Trotskyite, and Chris Clarke replies that “a Trotskyist rejects the ‘Socialism in one country’ strategy. By way of contrast, a Neo-Bolshevist recognizes that all so-called ‘countries’ are merely part of the Matrix, and rejects accomodationist elements in the Zion People’s Revolutionary Councils.”

Well, we know a thing or two about Left theoretical disputes and The Matrix at this leather-clad blog, so we chimed in to disagree with Chris:  “Don’t forget the lesson of Matrix Revolutions-- ‘Neo-Bolshevism’ rejects compromise with the Zion People’s Revolutionary Councils only to sell us out by making a separate peace with the machines in the end, preserving the Matrix on a ‘purely voluntary’ basis. Don’t go down that road, Neo-- you’ve been there before, you know where it ends.” But now I think this reply raises more questions than it answers.  Would a Neo-Stalinism involve signing a nonaggression pact with Agent Smith?  Would a Neo-Kerensky have been able to fly through the air in a long black coat at Pulkova, defeating the Bolsheviks in hand-to-hand martial-arts combat?  (We know that a Neo-Gramsci would still have cool glasses.) And what about Trinity-Bolshevism and Morpheus-Bolshevism?  Most important, where does Monica Bellucci fit into all this?

Deep, disturbing questions.  Ah, can’t answer them now-- that’s the phone ringing.

Posted by Michael on 02/28 at 04:09 PM
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Friday, February 25, 2005

New look, same topic

Hi, folks!  it’s the new Iron Grey Winter version of this blog, replacing the chirpy, sunny, lighthearted summer-in-Paris version of this blog.  And in keeping with the season, it’s time to respond to David Horowitz’s response to Wednesday’s post.  Here we go!

David writes: 

Michael Bérubé has written a blog response to my comments in Frontpage about our picture grid which has got leftists like him climbing walls.  It’s not much of a response since it merely repeats the same squeal about putting radical Islamicists in the same database (and therefore on the same picture grid) as Michael Moore, Ward Churchill and Barbra Streisand.  But of course Moore and Churchill are on the record as supporters of the Zarqawi “resisters” referred to by them as “patriots” and “revolutionaries” and deserved avengers of “root causes"– and of course so are a very large number of leftists.

Well, that explains why Roger Ebert and Barack Obama on are that page!  Who can forget Ebert’s incendiary review of 28 Days Later, the one that began, “All power to the patriotic revolutionaries of the Iraqi Maquis!  May al-Sadr and his resistance sweep through the imperialist occupation forces like the biological agent in this film sweeps through the decadent British Isles!” Of course, calling for the withdrawal of US troops isn’t quite the same thing as supporting Zarqawi; on the contrary, a very large number of leftists complained bitterly that the incompetent Bush/Cheney crew let Zarqawi get away in the course of “planning” their botched war in Iraq.  Do you remember that, folks?  I remember it.

Of course there are leftists who are not supporters of the radical Islamicists, but so what? As I pointed out, Stalin put an ice pick in Trotsky’s head for calling for a revolution against Stalin’s police state. Does that mean one shouldn’t put them in a database on Communism and post their pictures on the same Communist grid?

It’s a fair cop.  The analogy to Sean Penn and the Ayatollah Khomeini pretty much speaks for itself.  Though it was unclear just who had the ice pick.  No, wait, that was Basic Instinct.

The striking thing about Bérubé’s response is his unwillingness to join the intellectual argument.

Damn, this humble blog doesn’t know anything about intellectual argumentin’!  You’ve all come to the wrong place for that kind of thing.  But then, I didn’t realize there was an intellectual argument here.  I thought Horowitz was complaining, last time around, that people like me had “seized on a quirk in the format, an entirely innocent feature of the site”– yes, I do believe those were the exact words– and that “the mere listing of these figures in the database was not intended to suggest that there are organizational links or common agendas or coinciding agendas between these individuals.” Now he tells me that there was an intellectual argument at work after all, and that there apparently are organizational links or common agendas or coinciding agendas between these individuals.  Color me confused!

But actually, folks, I think we all know I did join the intellectual argument.  I read David’s response to the critics of his website, and I found it, er, disingenuous.  Apparently he did too, because he’s abandoned that “entirely innocent format quirk” nonsense, and has gotten down to the serious shit-slinging.  Like this:

I have written an entire book called Unholy Alliance:  Radical Islam and American Left which describes the common agendas of the left and analyzes at length the writings of his friend Todd Gitlin who I describe 1) as a leftist who has attacked the Chomsky left (which shares the affinity of Churchill and Moore for our enemies) and 2) yet someone who regards America in terms pretty similar to those of Hamas, Churchill, Chomsky and Moore. Not a single leftist has bothered to engage the views in this book, so why should I expect Bérubé to engage the arguments of my explanation for the inclusiveness of the database.

When someone says that Todd Gitlin “regards America in terms pretty similar to those of Hamas, Churchill, Chomsky and Moore” (and what is it with the Moore obsession, anyway?), no, I don’t take him seriously.  Sorry about that!  I don’t “engage” with people who plaster the subways with wheat-paste posters explaining in six-point print how the Trilateral Commission killed Bruce Lee, and I don’t engage “arguments” like this, either.  That’s how it goes in the real world of intellectual argumentin’.

But of course Bérubé and Gitlin and academics like them inhabit a monolithic academic universe where they don’t have to answer their critics because they’ve effectively purged them from the faculties of the universities they so gracelessly dominate.

Quite true!  I never answer my critics.  But it’s good to see that David’s been reading this blog for a while now.  It was hard work– hard, hard work– purging the English department of its legions of tweedy, meerschaum-chomping Irving Babbitt fans, and then wiping out all the Horowitz moles infesting our graduate program.  But every reign of terror has its good side, too!  Even if we’re a bit graceless about it now and then.

Which brings me to the second and third themes of Bérubé’s blog– I fibbed about my invitation to Hamilton and about my Academic Bill of Rights.  My appearance on O’Reilly did present me with a problem. I had called Maurice Isserman a leftwing academic I knew at Hamilton and asked him to invite me to speak on campus which he graciously did. O’Reilly was asking me a question the gravamen of which is can I get faculty invitations to speak on campuses. I have spoken on somewhere between 250 and 300 college campuses in the last 15 years. The invitation from Isserman is the only faculty invitation I have ever received and I initiated it, forcing Maurice into the position of refusing me or saying yes. He could have refused me but he didn’t, so in writing about it I tried to be gracious to him. On O’Reilly I didn’t have time to explain all this and so I glossed over it because it was truer to say that I had to be invited by students (and the second time I went that was exactly the case) than to say the faculty there-- the Kirkland project in particular, which is what we were talking about-- would invite me.

Oh, please.  O’Reilly said,”but it is to Hamilton’s credit that you were invited to speak there, correct?” Exactly how much time do you need to say, “why, yes”? 

Enough of this silly stuff, folks– yes, even I have my limits when it comes to silly stuff!  The real issue is this.  Some years ago, I referred to David Horowitz as a former member of the “far left.” By this I meant that he stayed with the Panthers for years after every sane leftist in America realized that they’d degenerated into a handful of paramilitary thugs, and now he goes around blaming the rest of the sixties left for his own hideous political judgment.  This made him mad, understandably enough, and he insisted to me that he was never a member of the far left, by which he meant groups like the Weathermen.  Fine, so be it.  Let’s grant David the distinction, and let’s call him a former member of the “almost far left” instead of the “far left.” And yet his database– like so much of his work after the attacks of September 11– is designed not merely to blur the distinction between the far left and the far far far left, but between the far left and goddamn Barack Obama, Barbra Streisand, and Bill Moyers.  “It should be obvious,” David writes, “that even the otherwise innocent Barbra Streisand shares negative views of the Bush Administration and its mission of liberating Iraq with anti-American jihadists like the aforementioned Zarqawi, even though we are sure that she deplores some of his methods.” So there it is– anyone with negative views of the Bush Administration, anyone who opposed this war, is in cahoots with Zarqawi. You don’t see what’s wrong with that, well, that’s your business, but don’t complain when sane leftists respond to this nonsense with squeals of outrage– or, here on this blog, howls of laughter (read the comments again, David!  they’re really very funny.  Ishtar of the Internets– damn, I wish I’d said that).  Don’t complain when we don’t engage “arguments” that are patently ridiculous.  And don’t complain– on your way from the Ohio state legislature to Fox News to the Colorado state legislature, eking out an existence on the very margins of American society– that you aren’t getting more speaking invitations from the very people you insult and slander.

Posted by Michael on 02/25 at 10:04 AM
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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Clumpy v. smooth

In his latest, most Ward Churchillesque attempt to make the worst of a bad situation, my occasional sparring partner David Horowitz defends his “Discover the Network” site by pointing out that many of its critics have not, in fact, adequately discovered the network:

In the first place it should be pointed out that even though DiscoverTheNetwork consists of thousands of files, and is the product of years of work and decades of experience, these critics have launched their attacks within hours of its appearance on the web and before any serious person could have digested a fraction of its contents.

David’s right about this, of course.  The project was years-- nay, decades-- in the making, and smug snarkmeisters like me came along within hours to make fun of it, just because it contained an “Individuals” page that listed people like Roger Ebert next to Mohammed Atta.  David has every reason to feel sandbagged.  All that time, all that effort-- only to meet with uncomprehending derision.  Now he knows how Michael Cimino felt when he screened that seven-hour version of Heaven’s Gate for those bean-counting United Artists executives!

It is difficult not to regard such attacks as politically motivated attempts to stigmatize, tarnish and yes, smear, the new website, and thus bury the enterprise in a way that would preclude having to deal with the information it displays.

Hey, if it’s difficult, don’t do it!  Just go ahead and say that the leftists and liberals smeared on the site are themselves smearing the site.  We won’t mind!  We love this kind of thing.

Thus, instead of parsing and analyzing the actual contents of the site– the detailed profiles of individuals and organizations and their links to networks defined in the site– these critics have seized on a quirk in the format, an entirely innocent feature of the site, as an opening for their attacks. This is the “Individuals” search page, which functions as a table of contents for one section of the site. Actually it is even less than that. What they have attacked is a picture grid on the Individuals search page which was intended as a kind of visual enticement to enter the actual profiles of the site. Thus if one were to click on the picture of Barbra Streisand or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Michael Moore on this page, one would be immediately directed to their individual profile pages.

The mere listing of these figures in the database was not intended to suggest that there are organizational links or common agendas or coinciding agendas between these individuals.

My apologies for seizing on a mere quirk in the format, FrontPage fans!  Not being very good with computers (as this blog’s regular readers are well aware), I had no idea that the posting of Bill Moyers’ picture alongside the Ayatollah Khomeini’s was an entirely innocent feature of the site.  Nor did I understand that the mere listing of these figures in the database was not intended to suggest that there are organizational links or common agendas or coinciding agendas between these individuals.  Again, I’m not very good at deciphering databases.  I simply thought we were being invited to, uh, how you say, “Discover the Network,” and that the “Individuals” page indicated pretty clearly that the Network consisted of people like Bruce Springsteen, Zacarias Moussaoui, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Rob Reiner.  My mistake!  Thanks for clearing that one up!

And then it gets personal. Not content with the defense of the site’s formatting quirks and innocent features, David proceeds to make fun of my tentative, innocuous, well-meaning post on the Network, calling it “a pretty good rendering of the paranoid fantasies of the left” and claiming that “its ‘humor’ . . . is so clumpy, however, that you would hardly suspect his expertise was literary.” Well, I ain’t no Ring Lardner, people, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard tell of “clumpy humor.” It’s true that some of my jokes have had to huddle together for warmth in recent months, because the Bush Administration has been deliberately withholding heat from blue states (and no, that isn’t a paranoid fantasy, David-- the BTU readouts don’t lie, dude), but that doesn’t make them “clumpy.” In fact, as the recent Koufax Awards have definitively demonstrated, this blog’s humor is exceptionally smooth, with a full body and an effervescent finish.  Cheers!

More important, this blog has a really good memory.  For example: David appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on February 1 and claimed that although he had been invited to speak at Hamilton College, it was at the behest of “conservative kids”:  “It’s not like the faculty brought me up there,” he said.  But actually, it was like the faculty brought him up there.  In fact, it was exactly like the faculty brought him up there.  And who says so?  Why, David Horowitz says so-- or he did, on his very own blog back on September 18, 2002:

Today I am at Hamilton College in Clinton NY to speak on the Sixties. It is one of the rare occasions I have been officially invited, in this case by historian Maurice Isserman with whom I have had an email correspondence for some time. Isserman is that rare specimen, an honest leftist. He has written an excellent biography of Michael Harrington called The Other American, and one of the only studies of the Sixties by a leftist that I would recommend, If I Had A Hammer. I had dinner with Maurice and another leftist here whom I respect, Phil Klinkner, the author of a book on the civil rights movement, The Unsteady March, whom I once blasted on these pages. Having talked at length to Klinkner I realize I misjudged him, an error encouraged by the fact that his article appeared in The Nation.

Well, misjudging Klinkner was an understandable mistake on David’s part, and it was good of him to own up to it-- The Nation is part of The Network, after all.  And speaking of The Nation, I see that Bruce Shapiro’s memory of Horowitz’s visit to Hamilton is every bit as good as mine.  Anyway, David is right-- Maurice Isserman is an honest leftist.  Let us all emulate his example, cough cough.

On the “Academic Bill of Rights” front, by the way, David is now claiming that

[w]hen I drafted the Academic Bill of Rights-- and before I published it-- I took pains to vet the text with three leftwing academics-- Stanley Fish, Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube-- and with Eugene Volokh, a libertarian law professor at UCLA, who is one of the nation’s leading experts on First Amendment law. Anything in the original draft of the Academic Bill of Rights that so much as irritated these gentlemen I removed.

But as Stanford professor Graham Larkin has pointed out (with a little help from Fish, Gitlin, and me), that’s not quite right either.

Thanks once again to everyone who voted for me in the Koufaxes and honored me with three very respectable finishes.  This humble blog vows to remain humble, to remain full-bodied, and most of all, to remain smooth.


I remember David’s visit to Hamilton College because he wrote to me about it back in 2002-03 when we were sparring about leftist “second thoughts” and the leadership of the antiwar movement.  At the time, he complained to me that he rarely received invitations to speak as a serious intellectual historian of the sixties, and I’d replied that surely this was partly his fault:  you invite David Horowitz to your campus, you don’t know whether you’re going to get the guy who aspires to be a serious intellectual historian of the sixties, or the agent provocateur who peppers campus newspapers with ads that claim (among other things) that welfare constitutes a form of reparations for slavery (which must surely come as a surprise to all the white folks who received welfare checks between 1935 and 1996!).  But I did not know that Horowitz had-- ah, how should I put this-- innocently misstated the facts about his invitation to Hamilton when he appeared on The O’Reilly Factor.  For that I have to thank the invaluable Rick Perlstein, who sent me a transcript of the show (which, in my computer-coffee travails, I quickly misplaced):

O’REILLY: All right. We’re talking—Nancy Rabinowitz is on the faculty at Hamilton, and . . .


O’REILLY: You know-- but it is to Hamilton’s credit that you were invited to speak there, correct?

HOROWITZ: Yes. Well, I-- you know, the conservative kids invited me.  It’s a little different when you’re invited as a-- you know, a speaker paid by and invited by the faculty. It’s not like the faculty brought me up there.

Thanks, Rick!  Now we know that honest leftist professors who invite David to speak on their campuses run the risk of being pissed on in national media.  Smooth!

Posted by Michael on 02/23 at 05:54 PM
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Dear Madame President

Via Mouse Words, I’ve learned that President-for-Life Sheelzebub is handing out ministries.  Since I was in line for the position of Minister of Culture and Beer in a Kerry Administration, I’d like to claim that post now, if I could.  I am also qualified to serve as Minister of Culture and Coffee, Madame President, should yours turn out to be a “morning dictatorship” full of “morning people” as opposed to a “night dictatorship” full of “night people.”

And don’t worry, folks, I haven’t forgotten about my reply to David Horowitz and his unsupportable claim that my humor is “clumpy.” I’ll get to it later today-- sorry about the delay, but I just finished writing a 4000-word talk ("Shame by Association") for this weekend’s conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and I’m a third of the way into the final chapter of that book of mine.  And I know I haven’t responded to everyone’s comments this week, but thanks to Alex, I am planning to buy a Freedom Press from Alberto Gonzales.  When I get a chance!  I’m only one man!  (Actually that’s not true-- I’ve been employing a team of writers since last September.  I tell them there’s no “I” in team.)

Posted by Michael on 02/23 at 12:56 PM
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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Attack of the machines

First the laptop goes, then the coffeemaker.  It’s not as bad as (almost) losing two chapters when you’re writing a book, but it’s not trivial, either-- not if you’re one of those addicts who simply cannot function without caffeine in the morning, and by “cannot function” I mean “cannot dress oneself or speak coherently or type intelligibly.” And I wouldn’t bother blogging about such a thing if not for the fact that the coffeemaker in question-- one of those nice steel carafe things that keeps your coffee warm without having it sit and stew on a hot plate-- succumbed, like the laptop, to a Mysterious Malfunction while insisting that it was actually in working order.  (The laptop is still in denial about the loss of its USB ports; the coffeemaker continues to tell time and to insist that it will make the next pot of coffee at 6:38 AM even though it no longer heats water and brews coffee.)

It’s not a big deal to get a new coffeemaker.  (Let’s see how many people urge me to get a Mac!) I’m just saying-- I’m this far (maybe five or six thousand words or so) from completing a draft of this dang book, and the machines are trying to stop me.  That’s all.  I’m simply letting them know that I’m onto them.

Which reminds me of something I forgot to post when my family and I got back from our four-day trip to Hawai’i.  We were in this village on the east shore of Kaua’i, eating a late lunch of ahi and such things and just having a fine old time, when Janet had the bright idea of getting some Kona coffee to bring home.  So we looked around for a coffeeshop, and sure enough, next to the organic grocery and the hemp-acupuncture emporium there was a little place selling Kona beans-- at $35 a pound.  Janet suggested that we go in for half a pound, whereupon I said, “look, we’ve flown five thousand miles and we’ve spent god knows what on airfare for four-- you want to save $17.50 in the coffee shop?  Let’s just get a pound of the stuff and we’ll mix it into the merely human coffee we have at home, and then at some point when we’re feeling low we’ll make one pot of Kona by itself.” Janet agreed, and we decided also that we’d buy one cup of Kona on the spot, to check it out and to fortify ourselves for the 17-hour journey home.

The young woman in the coffeeshop then told us that the Kona-for-drinking was a couple of hours old and that she’d brew us a new batch so we could get a good sense of what we were getting into.  We could come back in, oh, maybe ten minutes.

When we returned, we sipped our fresh Kona, gave it an ecstatic thumbs-up, and ordered a pound of beans to take home.  The woman brought out a large bag of beans and a scale that measured weights in the thousandths of grams, and poured us precisely 1.000 pounds (that would be 453.400 grams for you gram fans), for which we duly forked over $35.  And as the sipping and the pouring and the weighing and the bagging and the cash-transacting was going on, I asked myself, why does this feel so much like a drug deal? Until I remembered, oh yeah, it is a drug deal.

And, speaking of writing and drugs, this blog will now observe a moment of silence for Hunter S. Thompson.  For some reason I’m struck today by the fact that along with the gonzo-ether-Nixon stuff that made him famous, Thompson did some inspired sportswriting; I’ll remember him as much for his line that the 1-iron is a club so evil that pros will not allow it in their bags for fear of its corrupting influence as for his line about Nixon representing the “dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character.” But maybe that’s just me.

Posted by Michael on 02/22 at 08:10 AM
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Friday, February 18, 2005

Final day for Koufax voting

So I might as well make public my own votes.  Here goes:

Best Blog by a Non-Professional:  Atrios, still my first stop for most of my blog-reading needs.  Honorable mention, Digby, almost always my second stop.
Best Blog by a Sponsored, Professional, Paid Person Who Gets Money of Some Kind, as Opposed to Shleps Like Me Who Do It Only for Love and Maybe Also for Truth, Justice, and Universal Harmony:  Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo.  Second, James Wolcott.
Best Group Blog:  Corrente.  Also very fond of Pandagon.
Most Humorously Funny Blog:  The Poor Man, with Fafblog so close you couldn’t even wedge a piece of ham jello between ‘em.
Best Single-Minded, er, I Mean Single Issue Blog:  Brad DeLong, runner-up David Neiwert.
Best Expert:  Pharyngula, followed by Juan Cole.
Best Writing:  David Neiwert at Orcinus.
Best New Blog:  Amanda Marcotte, Mouse Words.  Followed by Wolcott.
Most Deserving of Universal Admiration, or, Failing That, Wider Recognition:  Tough, tough call.  Suburban Guerrilla by a micron over Majikthise and Sisyphus Shrugged.
Most Humorously Hilarious Post:  Much as I’d like to vote for myself here, since I’m still remotely in the running, intellectual/comic honesty compels me to give it up for The Poor Man’s “Poker with Dick Cheney.” The stuff of genius.
Best Series:  Orcinus, “Pseudo-Fascism.” Read it and weep.
Best Post:  Jeanne D’Arc, Body and Soul, “And in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Read it and weep some more.
Best Commenter:  You’re kidding me, right?  I have the best commenters and everybody knows it.

As for my own categories:  right now I appear to be in fourth for Best New Blog (among eight finalists).  Mouse Words 83, Wolcott 63, and then a steep dropoff to a virtual tie for third-- Bradblog 43, me 41, AmericaBlog 37.  In Best Writing (ten finalists), it’s Digby 99, Meteor Blades 81, Wolcott 72, me 67.  And in Most Humorous Post (nine finalists), I stayed in the race all week but just couldn’t keep up with the front of the pack.  The Poor Man 49, Rude Pundit 43, me 41.

Of course, these vote counts represent only the votes that were sent to Wampum’s comments section, so they’re not accurate vote totals.  Still, when you consider that when I started this blog last January, I said to Kurt Nelson, “let’s try to make this the sixteenth best new blog of 2004, with the ninth best writing and maybe the sixth funniest post of the year,” you can see that we’re pretty damn happy with the way things turned out.  We think it was a good idea to do this, in the end, even though I started it up chiefly because I was getting tired of standing by and watching little bits and pieces of my essays being batted around the right-wing blogosphere, like unto beach balls in football stadiums.  More important, I learned about-- and was sustained by-- dozens of sharp wits and smart writers out there.  Many thanks to you all.

Posted by Michael on 02/18 at 01:44 PM
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