Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Today we return to the creed of the radical right’s defense of domestic spying, “I trust in the Bush admin’s good faith and in the process that led up to authorization of the program.” I don’t imagine that I have to work very hard to convince readers of this humble—but never credulous—blog that anyone who utters such a sentence in 2005 should not be trusted with any task more consequential than ordering pizza. But because national security inevitably involves matters about which government cannot be perfectly transparent, it is not unreasonable to expect ordinary citizens to have some level of trust in their leaders regarding foreign and domestic intelligence to which we have no access (even if we do have a couple of “friends” in intelligence). So for now, I’m going to pretend that the burden of argument is on me to explain why I don’t trust the Cheney Administration with any secret powers.
The first reason has to do with the law itself: as Russ Feingold points out,
• FISA established a secret court that could issue wiretap orders if the government showed probable cause that the individual to be tapped is an “agent of a foreign power,” meaning he or she is affiliated with a foreign government or terrorist organization. This is an easier standard to meet than the criminal wiretap standard, which requires that there be: (1) probable cause that the individual to be tapped has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, and (2) probable cause that communications concerning that crime will be obtained through the electronic surveillance.
• In the 27 years since it was established, the FISA court has turned down only a handful of applications for wiretap orders. The number of approved FISA wiretap orders has jumped since September 11, 2001, with 1,754 FISA orders issued last year, up from 934 such orders in 2001.
• FISA already addresses emergency situations where there is not time to get pre-approval from the court. It includes an emergency exception that permits government agents to install a wiretap and start monitoring phone and email conversations immediately, as long as they then go to the FISA court and get a court order within 72 hours.
(The full text of Feingold’s statement is up at TalkLeft.) FISA already gives any administration all the tools it needs to conduct surveillance of anyone suspected of being an “agent of a foreign power.” The Federal Intelligence and Surveillance Courts are “non-adversarial”; there are no challenges to any case brought before them by the government, and, as you can see, they almost always approve applications for wiretap orders. So the idea that the radical-right Cheney Administration needed some extra-FISA authorization for really fast, really secret surveillance is simple nonsense. Any person making such a claim is a person I do not trust, and any government making such a claim is a government I do not trust.
The idea that FISA speaks or belongs to a “pre-9/11” world is especially disingenuous. Exactly how is FISA’s emergency exception inadequate to the world after 9/11? It permits the government to begin surveillance immediately. To make the kind of case Condoleezza Rice tried to make this past Sunday, you would have to argue that the Cheney Administration needed to bypass FISA in order to go back in time and install wiretaps before they decided to do so.
But there’s another reason I don’t trust the Cheney Administration, quite apart from its production of faux-news reporters and programs, its doctoring of scientific reports on the environment, its delusional claims of Iraqi WMD and Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda, and its response to natural disasters in the Gulf Coast in non-election years. That reason is Jose Padilla.
Now, sometimes I’m as gullible as the next fellow. (Just ask him! He’ll tell you.) When the Department of Justice first announced its apprehension of Padilla, I got the impression that John Ashcroft himself had intercepted Padilla on his way to Dupont Circle, about to detonate a dirty bomb that would kill millions. (Am I alone in this? I need to ask the next fellow. Do you get that impression too?) Only gradually did I learn that although Padilla was, in Bush’s words, “a bad guy” who may have had very, very bad thoughts, his dirty bomb was not about to go off in any American city anytime soon. Instead, Padilla, for all his thuggery and all his contacts with al-Qaeda abroad, seems not to have gotten past the stage of having ideas for dirty-bomb-related program activities. Nevertheless, this did not stop the Cheney Administration from adducing Padilla as Exhibit A in the domestic front of the War on Terror:
WASHINGTON (CNN)—President Bush on Tuesday plans to highlight the disruption of an alleged “dirty bomb” plot as proof of his view that government agencies are cooperating effectively to fight the terrorist threat, officials said. . . .
According to his prepared remarks, the president will make the case that having the intelligence analysis in the same department as the agencies that would respond to threats will streamline the government’s response time and reduce the possibilities for delay and confusion.
In those remarks, Bush refers to the arrest of Padilla as proof that his directives to improve coordination between the CIA, FBI and other government agencies “are yielding results.”
Remember those wild and crazy days of May-June 2002? Padilla was the very first American citizen we nabbed in the post-9/11 world, and the Cheney Administration wasted no time or effort in trumpeting his arrest to that world. Indeed, as you’ll recall, Padilla was deemed to be so dangerous that he was held for over three years without legal representation and without being charged with a crime. So while we mourn the Cheney administration’s shredding of the fourth amendment, folks, let’s take a moment of silence to remember the passing of the fifth, as well. You know, the bit about not being deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
Exactly how close was Padilla to detonating his bomb? Lewis Koch, writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, explains just what it takes:
The richest source of radioactivity is spent fuel rods. But spent nuclear rods are not exactly lying around like piles of abandoned automobiles. Terrorists looking to get the “dirt” for a dirty bomb from spent nuclear fuel rods would have to get them from a nuclear facility.
Putting aside the controversy surrounding security at U.S. nuclear power plants, a would-be dirty bomber faces a Herculean task. A spent fuel rod weighs about 28 kilograms, with 36 rods weighing more than a metric ton. Heavy shielding and remote controls are required in their handling, because each rod exposes anyone standing nearby (within a meter) to a lethal dose within seconds. To prevent a quick death from radiation, the thieves would need to encase the rods in a 40-plus-ton, lead-lined shipping cask (18 rods will fit in one cask) and use shielding and remote handling equipment to move the rods at every stage of the operation. After securing the rods in a protective cask, the thieves would need to move them to a location where they could be matched with explosives, then move them to the target site. All that shuttling means the gang would need a specialized truck built to handle the rods and cask. These trucks are, as one can imagine, large, cumbersome, slow-moving, and easily identifiable—not exactly stealthy.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not suggesting that we should have waited until Padilla and his friends (if he had any) had collected a dozen or more rods and put down a rental deposit on a large, cumbersome, specially designed truck. This humble and law-abiding blog will not become the online headquarters of Free José Now. On the contrary, I think Padilla should have been charged and tried a long time ago, and it would be OK with me if he were convicted on conspiracy charges, too. But that’s not my point. My point is this: based on how the Cheney Administration handled the arrest of Padilla, I don’t believe they’ve used their extra-FISA powers to apprehend a bunch of Padillas we don’t know about in the intervening years. Everything about the Cheney Administration tells me that if they had uncovered more “agents of a foreign power” like Padilla, they’d have wasted no time in making the announcement, crediting themselves with having averted death and terrible devastation, and designating their would-be terrorist as an enemy combatant. Honestly, they’re not shy about doing things like that.
So I tend not to think that the Cheney Administration needs super-secrecy in order to do lots of good anti-terrorist deeds they can’t tell us about. Quite apart from the fact that they didn’t need to evade FISA to apprehend Padilla in the first place, there’s the fact that they used his arrest—and deprived him of certain rights we once considered inalienable in this country—as part of a PR campaign for their version of the post-9/11 world. And that version looks like this: as Lewis Koch writes,
The government’s case rests on an unusual argument. The spokesman for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Bryan Sierra, contends that U.S. Code 18, section 4001(a), which reads, “No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress,” provides no check on the president’s powers as commander in chief. Instead, Sierra cites section 4001(b)(1), which reads, “The control and management of federal penal and correctional institutions, except military or naval institutions, shall be vested in the attorney general.” And to whom does the attorney general report? The president. In other words, in the Justice Department’s tortured logic, as commander in chief, the president is not bound by Congress’s rules on imprisonment and detention.
This is a radical-right government at work, folks. It specializes in tortured logic, just as it specializes in torturing suspects until they tell them whatever the Cheney Administration wants to hear.
And for lack of a steady supply of more Jose Padillas right here in the land of the free, your radical-right government has been
snooping into interlibrary loan, interrogating college students [12/24: nope, it turns out they haven’t been doing that—check the new link] and threatening scholars and publishers with “grave legal consequences for editing manuscripts from Iran and other disfavored nations.” I know, it’s sometimes too much to think that it’s really happening here. But I believe that’s no excuse for being so foolish as to trust this government with anything as serious as national security, and I also believe I’m not alone in this belief.
Monday, December 19, 2005
They hate our freedoms
Over the weekend, Mark Earnest, a local conservative-libertarian blogger, wrote to me to say that even though he still considered me a Communist liberal leftist (to which I replied, I really resent being called a liberal), he wanted me to know that he could no longer recognize his compatriots on the right as “conservatives.” His post reads, in part:
I almost feel I don’t know these people anymore. It seems now they feel government cannot have nearly enough power. Secret courts, secret warrants, secret prisons, suspect torture, massive data gathering on all aspects of US citizens including medical records, library records, and financial records are all wonderful things. . . .
I truly and honestly do not understand. People who once proudly quoted Franklin’s “Those who give up essential liberty for a little safety deserve neither” now cheerlead the executive branch on in removing any judicial oversight, congressional oversight, and in fact ANY oversight (as most of these laws are secret) from the land. Far from the transparent government the founders imagined, we are now entering a system where laws are kept secret, prosecutions are kept secret, and national security is a password to removing any and all liberty that stands in the way of anything government wishes to do.
That’s just about right, Mark, except for one thing: when they’re not cheerleading for the executive branch, they’re calling the rest of us “traitors,” and demanding that the New York Times be prosecuted for reporting that the Cheney Administration has been spying on American citizens by executive fiat since 2002.
But I don’t want to quibble over tiny details—not when a sane conservative- libertarian has reached across the ideological chasm to join me in opposition to secret domestic spying and torture by executive order. So let me change direction.
Late last Thursday night, Atrios tossed down the gauntlet as the Times story found its way into print (after only a year’s delay): “The End of Conservatarianism,” he wrote . . .
Not quite, but I think their response to the NYT story on domestic spying is pretty much the test.
And I’m happy to say that I know of—hell, I’ve met and served on a blog/ wiki panel with—one guy who’s met that test with political and intellectual honesty.
Not so the chirpy fellow responsible for “Protein Wisdom,” who, most of the time, takes pains to assure us that his conservatism is nothing like that of the religious right, but, rather, is a swingin’ party full of happy tax cuts and South Park marathons. Curious to see how P. Wisdom would respond to the news that his President had been engaging in domestic surveillance by diktat, I read this:
The Democratic spin doctors, spurred on by their disingenuous Congressional taskmasters, are all over the tube this morning trying to gin up additional outrage over this NSA domestic “spy story”—even as the President stands firm and defends the practice.
Well, give Jeff G. credit for density: Democratic spin doctors, disingenuous Congressional taskmasters, ginning up outrage, “scare quotes” around “spy story,” and a firm hard President, all in one lede. It’s like a neutron star of wingnut talking points, it is.
But what makes this post especially strange, even by faux-conservatarian standards, is this:
If it turns out—like I believe it will (and I’ve heard now from several people familiar with intelligence)—that what the President was doing (and will continue to do) was not only legal, but from a practical standpoint, critical to monitoring domestic terror cells and stopping terrorist attacks here and abroad, I believe that any pro-defense American with the power to do so should insist that these intelligence leaks be investigated.
That parenthetical, by the way, is the second time Mr. Goldstein refers to his “intelligence” contacts in the course of five paragraphs. What kind of speech act is this, I wonder? Domestic spying by the NSA, on secret orders from the President, is as illegal as illegal gets—unless, of course, you believe the Nixon/ Yoo theory that the President can never act illegally. But we’re supposed to take this guy’s word not only for its legality but for its effectiveness because he claims to have heard from several people in intelligence?
Perhaps one of those people is “Steve in Houston,” whose “excellent comment” Jeff recommends to us all, because “it sums up the anger many of us feel at the partisan undermining of the war effort”:
I’m just bewildered by this whole thing, and the ongoing maneuvering to kneecap any of our more effective terroristic countermeasures. . . .
No one that I know is saying that gives license for wanton snooping; speaking for myself, though, I’m willing to give up a portion of “privacy” that I didn’t realize I had in order to more effectively combat the people who have declared war on us and are trying to kill us.
I’m willing to give up a portion of “privacy”—and what is it with these postmodern faux-conservatarians and their scare quotes?—that I didn’t realize I had. There, folks, is your new Patriot Motto: dude, I didn’t even know I had a right to be secure in my persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures! Besides, what does that really mean, anyway? It’s not like I was even using that right, so, like, whatever.
(As for Jeff’s “legal” claim: sure enough, in a later post he turns for support to noted legal analyst Al Maviva of the Institute of Simply Making Things Up, and dismisses political scientist Scott Lemieux as someone nobody takes seriously. Which is probably true on the right side of the blogosphere, since Scott has what they regard as the distinct disadvantage of knowing what he’s talking about.)
The belief in Bush’s effectiveness is another matter, and Jeff does not fail to recite the creed: “I trust in the Bush admin’s good faith and in the process that led up to authorization of the program.” I’ll come back to this one tomorrow, when I discuss how “critical” it is for intelligence officials to visit the homes of parents of college students who request Mao’s Little Red Book from interlibrary loan. But in the meantime, I’d like to propose a simple and straightforward clarification of terms, for future reference.
People who support a clandestine program of warrantless domestic spying are not “conservatives” or “libertarians.” Neither are people who support the creation of a worldwide archipelago of secret torture sites. Neither are people who support the usurpation of the functions of government by the executive branch; who espouse the theory that the executive branch is the final arbiter of the legality of the actions of the executive branch; and who call for the investigation or prosecution of a free press that dares to report on the executive branch’s secret programs of domestic spying and outsourced torture.
Those people, my friends, are called the radical right.
Forget Jesusland. Forget the War on Christmas. You don’t have to be a crazed theocrat to be a member of the radical right! All you have to do is support the right of the Leader to create secret torture and domestic spying programs, and vent your spleen at the few remaining journalists with the courage to report on them. That’s what a radical right does for a living. It’s what a radical right lives for.
Do you know a self-described conservatarian who needs new shoes for
Christmas the holidays? Shoe-fittings are available free of charge.
UPDATE, Dec. 22: reader Marc Simmons informs me that some principled Republicans are kicking off their old shoes.
Friday, December 16, 2005
The Wizbang Weblog Awards are now final and certified, and as expected, Sadly, No! ran away with its (and my) category, Blogs Roughly As Big as Rhinoceroses.
Sadly No 26.94 % (2240)
Michael Berube Online 15.85 % (1318)
Austin Bay Blog 12.07 % (1004)
baldilocks 7.68 % (639)
Confederate Yankee 7.40 % (615)
Betsy’s Page 7.38 % (614)
Sister Toldjah 4.45 % (370)
Florida Cracker 3.03 % (252)
Speed of Thought 2.96 % (246)
Yourish 2.75 % (229)
Nickie Goomba 2.56 % (213)
Chase me, ladies 2.38 % (198)
Straight White Guy 2.14 % (178)
The American Mind 1.25 % (104)
Ex-Donkey Blog 1.15 % (96)
Congratulations to Seb, Gavin, and Brad for running a clean and honest, if somewhat postmodern, race. I think it’s a testimony to the soundness of our blogging philosophies that through all our campaign hijinx and japes, we engaged in none of the organized voting fraud that almost marred the General’s exceptionally heterosexual triumph over Scott Adams of Dilbert fame. Would that Ohio and Florida had voting certification systems as rigorous as Wizbang’s.
I just want to add two things. One: as first runner-up and most tearful contestant, I stand ready to serve as Mister Best Blog of the Blogs That Inhabit the Two Hundred and Fifty-First through Five Hundredth Positions of the Large Mammal Section of the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem should Sadly, No!, for whatever reason, prove unable to carry out its duties. Like, for example, if someone publishes sexually explicit photographs of their blog or something.
Two: never mind all this. The Koufax nominations are open! Last year, as some of you may recall, I managed to squeak into the top four in Best Writing (losing to Digby), the top four among Best New Blogs (losing to Amanda, back when she was Mouse Words), and the top three in the Most Humorous Post competition (losing to The Editors). Not that I keep track of these things! This year we’re hoping, like the Rangers, simply to make the playoffs. So if you’re so inclined, please stop by Wampum and nominate me for something like Best David Horowitz Smackdown Series or Best Post about Jamie, because I’m told there is no Best No-Longer-New Blog category.
I am proud to be the owner of a blog that loses to the blogosphere’s very best.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Who writes short shorts?
OK, I’ve never heard of anything like this before, but Bruce Holland Rogers writes short shorts and sends them directly to you. Seriously: he writes short short stories and sells subscriptions by email. For $5 a year, you get yourself three short short stories every month. Even this notoriously arithmetic-challenged blog can figure out that’s 36 stories a year, emailed to you every month, for five bucks. You can check out sample stories and a description of the service, if you like, and Bruce says he’s happy to grant trial subscriptions for review purposes. He also promises to answer questions about the service—why he started it, where he publishes his stories after they’ve been distributed by e-mail, and how he deals with the peculiarities of the genre. And you should have questions, because even though literary works have been sold by subscription before, all the way back to Virgil’s innovative Augustan Priority Remuneration plan for each book of the Aeneid (which gave rise to today’s so-called “A.P.R. financing” deals), I don’t think there’s been a literary production-and-distribution system quite like this one, ever.
And in the More Information Department, there’s a very nice (and informative) review from Infinity Plus.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
From the desk of David Horowitz
More precisely, from the desk of David Horowitz to the website of NewsMax:
Will you help me place the enclosed advertisement in college newspapers across America?
It conveys an important message to all Americans: There are thousands of Ward Churchills indoctrinating students on college campuses from coast to coast!
Thousands! But wait—your graphic says “100 Ward Churchills.” So which is it? Are there 100 Churchills on college campuses, or are there thousands? You shouldn’t play around with powers of ten, David. They’re really tricky! You might wind up with hundreds of thousands of Ward Churchills by some counts, or maybe just one by others.
It really all depends on how intellectually corrupt Discover the Networks is!
You remember Ward Churchill, don’t you? He’s the tenured University of Colorado professor who has written, among other things, that the people in the World Trade Centers deserved to die on September 11, 2001. They were, Churchill said, “little Eichman’s” comparing them to Adolf Hitler’s right-hand butcher!
Well, it’s Eichmann, not Eichman, and he wasn’t the right-hand butcher, and you don’t use an apostrophe to indicate a plural noun. If we don’t correct bad English usage, you know, the terrorists win. But let’s get back to the letter.
One of our most important missions at CSPC is to expose the Ward Churchills of America. And there are many, many more where he came from. That is one reason we worked hard with the support of thousands of Americans to create our Discoverthenetworks.org website.
Or maybe with the support of hundreds of Americans, or maybe just tens of Americans. OK, actually it was just David and his assistants. Never mind. The important point is that there are as many supporters of Discover the Networks as there are Ward Churchills.
Discoverthenetworks.org casts a bright light on the radical left and shows, in detail, the connections between hundreds of radical organizations. We’ve also provided substantial evidence revealing the financial support these groups receive from left-wing foundations, like Ford, MacArthur and Pew, and self-serving billionaires like George Soros and Peter Lewis.
Oh, speaking of the Holocaust! Tony Blankley’s still not sure how that sneaky Soros guy managed to escape it. But now David’s on the case, with the help of a few altruistic billionaires who only want to serve humanity.
I’m hoping you’ll help us prepare for 2006! I want to place this advertisement in at least 250 student newspapers across America over the next 60 days. To do that, the Center must raise $131,250.
Will you help me do that today? Will you take a moment to make a contribution of $25, $35, $50, $100 or even $1,000 to CSPC right now?
We want to open 2006 by getting students, professors, and administrators’ attention: we’re watching radicals on campuses and we’re going to expose them to the public!
In order to defend their academic freedom! Honest! Our Academic Bill of Rights is all in favor of academic freedom.
We know from experience that running ads in 250 student newspapers that nearly 500,000 people will see this ad and be exposed to our Discoverthenetworks.org website.
We know from experience that running ads in 250 student newspapers that? I’m sorry. David is hereby reassigned to Objectively Pro-Saddam University’s remedial Freshman English program. His instructor will be Professor Ward Churchill.
And the first papers we hit will be the hotbed schools for anti-Americanism—schools like Cal-Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia!
The Center made tremendous strides against the left this past year. Now we must take advantage of the momentum we’ve generated over the past year and take our battle for our culture to the next level. Discoverthenetworks.org is a vital tool in that battle. . . .
Ah, takin’ it to the Next Level. And just wait ‘til you see what level that is!
What emerges is undeniable proof of the radical left’s anti-American agenda. They’re not anti-war. They just hate America. And they’re camped out in our classrooms spewing their hatred to our young, future leaders.
By placing our ad in student papers across the country we can expect our already popular and useful website’s influence to grow. Frankly, without your support we won’t be able to get into the trenches with the radical left and battle them into submission. That’s why I’m asking for your financial support today.
Yes, the next level is one level down, where David and his army of one will get into the trenches and battle professors into submission. (And if you print out David’s letter and hold it up to the light, you can see that under the word “battle” is the word “bludgeon.”) Let academic freedom reign!
There’s no contradiction here, actually. Submission is freedom. That’s why David’s troops will be welcomed as liberators!
Still, let’s take a closer look at the charge that we’re “spewing our hatred to our young, future leaders” and “indoctrinating students.” (I’m going to leave aside the “camped out in our classrooms” bit, because, c’mon, that’s kind of silly. Everyone knows we only spend six hours a week in our classrooms.) David brings up an important issue here, one that I’ve been thinking about lately. Let’s say that professors really do spew hatred to the young. And let’s say that Churchill provides a perfectly paradigmatic example of the things we spew. What, in practical political terms, has been the effect of Churchill’s profoundly stupid and vile “little Eichmanns” remark? Did it lead to an important “teaching moment” for the left? Has it led thousands, or even tens, of American students and citizens to the conclusion that the World Trade Center dead were, indeed, comparable to the technician of the Holocaust? Has it spawned Departments of Little Eichmann Studies in which far-left professors calculate the precise degree to which the 9/11 dead shared in the responsibility for the events of that day? Or has it led thousands, and even millions, of Americans to the conclusion that O’Reilly, Hannity, and Horowitz are right about college professors? Has it served as the anti-academic right’s Exhibit A and primary recruiting tool, invoked in one state legislature after another when Horowitzian bills are brought to the floor? And has it allowed the right to smear everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman as America-hating, terrorist-sympathizing fanatics?
Back to Horowitz:
Discoverthenetworks.org is doing what the major media won’t: exposing a serious threat to our nation’s well-being, the powerful, well-financed radical anti-America left! I’m counting on you to stand beside me in the months ahead and I look forward to your help today. God bless.
God bless? Excuse me—did somebody sneeze?
Now, as a member of the powerful, well-financed radical extra-adjectival anti-America left, I do know that this is very serious stuff. In fact, I have my very own page on Discover the Networks, so that makes me a Ward Churchill too! Though I’m still waiting for my standard-issue black beret, aviator-frame sunglasses, and rifle. I think they’ll look boss.
But I’m not going to discuss Discover the Battle of the Anti-American Network Stars this time around, because, as some of you know, I
earlier this year, and in so doing, provided thousands (really, thousands!) of readers with well-deserved Horowitz mockery. And when I was finally honored with my own page, complete with its weirdly blurry photo, I respectfully read it through and paid careful attention to every last one of its distortions and misstatements.
No, instead of trying to drive David to the next level of batshit insane (this would be level thirty-one in the thirty-three Masonic levels of wingnut batshit insanity), I’m simply going to direct you to John Holbo’s Discover the Nutwork, where you can learn about the links between Leo Strauss and Sideshow Bob . . .
. . . Grover Norquist and Grover . . .
. . . Tom DeLay and Red Skull . . .
and most crucially, David Horowitz and Zod!
Folks, I will need $131,249.95 over the next 56 days in order to place “Discover the Nutwork” ads in campus newspapers around the country. Obviously, I can’t do it alone, because unlike David, I don’t have the backing of crazed reclusive far-right billionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife (part owner of NewsMax! Hey, talk about discovering the networks!). I need your help, dear readers, as I’ve never needed it before. Will you take a moment to give me $25, $35, $50, $100 or even $1,000 right now? I’m counting on you to stand beside me in the months ahead—or, to be more exact, to stand far away from me and watch me as I pocket the cash.
Sadly, no more
All right, here’s what happened. Over the weekend, the trio of merry pranksters at Sadly, No! took pity on me. You might recall that last week, I foolishly issued a challenge to SN. Or maybe I issued a challenge to my readers. Or maybe I just dreamed I issued a challenge, and then woke up to find that everything I dreamed was real. I’m not clear on what kind of speech act was involved. Whatever. The point is that by Saturday, Sadly, No! had pulled so far in front of me in the all-important Best of the Blogs That Inhabit the Two Hundred and Fifty-First through Five Hundredth Positions of the Large Mammal Section of the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem Awards Competition (or, as SN put it, “blogs that are less popular than Firedoglake, but more popular than The Iowa Voice") that I could no longer even see their dust, let alone eat it. Clearly, I had been treated to an extra heapin’ helpin’ of Poutine Power. (What is poutine, you ask? Don’t ask. It’s a French-Canadian thing—you wouldn’t understand.)
Actually, the competition was probably over a few minutes after it started—and it had nothing to do with poutine. Within two hours of answering my challenge, Sadly, No! posted its selection of holiday gifts for the Liberal War on Christmas, and once I saw their gay creche . . .
I knew I was completely out of my league. Unfortunately, for this all-important campaign I had hired Bob Shrum as a blog awards advisor, and he had insisted that I devote my week to a series of discussions of Steve Fuller and Intelligent Design. “The people love a long science-studies argument with 120 to 180 three-paragraph comments,” Shrum told me. “Leave the gay creches and the Fitzgeraldian Hip-Hop to them, and concentrate on the swing states.” Was Shrum right about this? Sadly, no.
So on Saturday, Gavin M. wrote with a proposal. Since SN’s lead was now insurmountable, they could afford to be gracious (and funny) about the whole thing, and maybe even lift me out of my virtual second-pace tie with Austin Bay. (Nothing personal about Austin Bay. He’s a smart and honorable fellow whose political beliefs simply happen to differ from mine.) Vote-switching would obviously be wrong, but blog-switching could be fun! Plus, it entailed all kinds of interesting hijinx that would demonstrate yet again the amazing frictionlessness and vertiginousness of the Internets!
I thought it over. Was it an incredibly arcane, more-postmodern-than-thou kind of joke? Check. Would it involve a lot of time and effort to no clear purpose? Check. Would it confuse the hell out of everyone? Check. Would I get to post pictures of people with limes on their heads? Check.
It sounded perfect.
So Sunday night, we got to work. Kurt did the site redesign (I’ve learned how to mess with the templates now and then, but this job involved some serious coordination between SN’s engine room and ours, not least because most of SN’s programming is written in French), and I set about the task of creating three new users and writing posts for each of them, along with some graphics helpfully provided by Gavin. (Thanks!) And voilà, yesterday I became Sadly, No! for a day. It was a thrilling experience, seasoned throughout the day by any number of strange people leaving strange comments under Nabokovian pseudonyms.
Didn’t you have anything better to do with your time? you ask. Well, yes, of course. But I didn’t feel like doing those things yesterday.