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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stop that man before he washes another dish at sub-minimum wage!

This is the sort of guy Bush is trying to keep satisfied lately:

Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn’t possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don’t speak English and are not integrated into American society.

I question the wisdom of thinking you can please someone who goes to sleep in Hitler Youth® brand footie pajamas, but Bush is going to try with his asinine plan to send the National Guard to the border. Since there is no emergency situation to speak of, it’s safe to say there’s exactly no real reason to court violence on the border, but since when Bush need a reason to send troops to point guns at people? Hell, that it’s a warm, sunny day is reason enough to deploy troops in the hopes someone gets shot. Nice weather just calls for someone’s brains to be blown out all over the ground.

If I seem a little hostile to the idea of sending troops to the Mexican-American border, well that would be because I’m real hostile to the idea. Troop build-up on the border has led directly to a situation where someone pointed a gun at me many years ago and don’t think I’m going to forget it. It was 1997 and the spring semester had just ended and my college roommate decided to accompany on a trip back to West Texas to visit my family and take a gander at our quaint, retrograde way of life out there. Also, we were going to go hiking in Big Bend National Park. The day before we went to the park, I took her up from Alpine (where I’m actually from) and up to Fort Davis to see a town that resembles 1957 even more than Alpine. We stopped in the drugstore/soda shop for a malt (I’m not kidding) and a friend of mine from high school was working the counter. When we told her that we planned to hike in the park and even cross the border to get lunch in a teeny weeny town in Boquillas Canyon, she said, “Ah, be careful if you go to Mexico. There’s federal police and military all over the place lately.”

In retrospect, I probably should have taken that to mean that I shouldn’t have taken my roommate, who was from Nebraska after all, to Mexico. But hell, we figured this was our best shot at becoming world travelers, so we went ahead and crossed the Rio Grande to go to the town of Boquillas in Mexico. I suspect we were breaking some kind of law with the way we crossed the border, which was paying a guy $2 to take us in a rowboat, and therefore we certainly deserved what happened next when a Jeep full of federal police met us on the other side of the border, armed to the teeth and scared the living shit out of us.

“We’re here for lunch!” I said, trying to remember if I knew a lick of Spanish.

It turns out that tensions on the border were what you might call high because just a few days before the Marines that had been deployed to the border due to escalating drug war violence had shot and killed a teenager who was, depending on who you ask, herding goats or possibly just hanging out. (They weren’t indicted, even though the autopsy shows they shot him in the back.) The Marines defended their actions because there was no doubt the teenage boy, Ezequiel Hernandez, was carrying a gun, which in West Texas is roughly like saying someone looked suspicious because he was walking on two whole feet. The Marines claimed Hernandez was shooting at them; popular sentiment in the area was that the Marines were lying to cover their own asses because it’s hard to really argue someone is shooting at you when he is facing away from you. The government abandoned the idea of having the Marines on the border after that, though they didn’t abandon the War on Drugs, which was and is the only reason that there’s so much gang violence on the Mexican-American border in the first place. And the lesson was learned much too late to save Hernandez that military deployment to “protect” Americans from human beings and contraband that are only coming over because Americans demand it is a stupid idea.

Not of course that Bush ever shied away from an idea merely because it’s stupid. Perhaps from his viewpoint it’s not stupid. After all, he might hope that another horrible injustice like the shooting of Ezequiel Hernandez happens again, and that is sufficient to satiate the blood lust of the people hysterically calling for Bush’s impeachment and get them back on his side.

Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 05/16 at 07:37 AM
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Monday, May 15, 2006

A passel of swoopers

In Timequake, the book by Kurt Vonnegut I’m just finishing up reading, Vonnegut says there are two kinds of writers.

Swoopers and bashers.

He’s a basher, he says.

"Swoopers write a story quickly," Vonnegut says, "higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way.  Then they go over it painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work.  Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one.  When they’re done, they’re done."

"Writers who are swoopers," he says, "find it wonderful that people are funny or tragic or whatever, worth reporting, without wondering why or how people are alive in the first place.

"Bashers, while ostensibly making sentence after sentence as efficient as possible, may actually be breaking down seeming doors and fences, cutting their way through seeming barbed-wire entanglements, under fire and in an atmosphere of mustard gas, in search of answers to the eternal questions: ‘What in heck should we be doing?  What in heck is really going on?’"

Vonnegut says that in his experience most bashers are men and most swoopers are women.

I like the words.  They strike me as useful and apt.  Vonnegut doesn’t explain their etymology, but it sounds to me as though swoopers are writers who like to get things done in one fell swoop, while bashers spend their working days bashing their heads against imaginary brick walls trying to shake loose one decent thought or one perfect word.

But as catch-all categories they don’t work for easy sorting of the writers of my acquaintance.  For one thing, my swoopers and bashers don’t divide along gender lines.  For another, the bashers I have known and loved have seemed more intent on bashing their way toward an ideal of poetic beauty than on discovering the answers to any eternal questions.

Vonnegut, of course, has known more writers, and more great writers than I have.  He can talk off-handedly about a casual conversation he had with his old cronies and colleagues Nelson Algren and Jose Donoso.

I have known some talented writers, but I can’t claim that any of them are in a league with Algren and Donoso.


My old crony and once-upon-a-time colleague Tom Bailey has recently published a very fine novel called The Grace That Keeps This World.

I would say Tom is a basher.

My friend Steve Kuusisto, the poet and memoirist, has a new collection of essays coming out this fall.  It’s called Eavesdropping.  The cover photograph alone is going to sell a lot of copies.

Steve’s a swooper.

On the other hand, because he’s legally blind, Steve has to work very slowly, dictating his poems and essays to his computer, which gives him plenty of time to bash his head against imaginary brick walls.

Tom, however, is a human dynamo, and does everything at six times normal speed.  I pity any brick walls he bashes up against, imaginary or solid.  He must do a fair amount of swooping just because he can’t put the brakes on quick enough to give himself time to bash.

As Vonnegut himself might say, and does say, often, in Timequake, whatever.

The point is that if Vonnegut hadn’t told me what category he put himself into I’d have called him a swooper.

I’ve been a fan of Vonnegut’s writing since I graduated from the Hardy Boys.  Vonnegut, Mark Twain, and Allistair MacLean were my first grown-up writing heroes.  Yes, Allistair MacLean.  The Guns of Navarone Allistair MacLean.  Come on.  I was 14.  So I’ve been reading Kurt Vonnegut since the dawn of time and I thought I knew my man.

Apparently not.

Timequake, though, however much bashing Vonnegut had been doing up until 1996 when he wrote it, strikes me very much as a swooper’s book.  It is written higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way, except that Vonnegut doesn’t seem to have gone back over it quite as painstakingly as he might have.  There’s a lot in it that is just plain awful and doesn’t work.

It’s not been dull or felt like a waste of time to read, I have to give it that.

Vonnegut calls Timequake his farewell to writing novels.  It’s a strange confection, made up of pieces salvaged from what would have been his last novel if he could have forced himself to finish it, a book put out of its misery in mid-progress that Vonnegut refers to throughout Timequake as Timequake I, the pieces connected by snatches of autobiography, musings on contemporary events and art and culture, political opinionizings, brief sermons, jokes, summaries of imaginary stories by Vonnegut’s alter-ego the imaginary science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, bits of literary criticism, reminiscences about writers and normal people he has known, random observations about life, the universe, and everything, and the
occasional attempt to answer the eternal questions:  What in heck
should we be doing?  What in heck is really going on?

Thinking about this the other day, after suffering another case of intellectual whiplash brought on by Vonnegut’s suddenly dropping his pursuit of one idea and making a sharp turn around a corner in his brain to speed off after another new thought, I asked myself if I’d ever read anything so determinedly, maddeningly, and enjoyably higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum before.

And it hit me.

I read stuff like that every day.  Online.  They’re called blogs.

Timequake is a blog.

A decade ago, back when even the pioneers of the wide-open cyberspaces hadn’t heard the word---they called what they were doing e-journals or, simply, webpages---Vonnegut had come up with a blog that he had mistakenly written with a typewriter on paper instead of on a computer keyboard with bytes of code.

Yep, I decided, it’s a blog.

I thought about this a little more.

Wait a minute.

It’s my blog!

In his going-away post last week, in which he announced his upcoming holiday from blogging and warned you that Amanda Marcotte and I would be taking over this space for the couple weeks he plans to be away re-charging his batteries, Michael wrote about the hostility some toilers in the traditional media feel toward blogs and bloggers.  He speculated that their ill-will and spite are motivated by fear.  They see bloggers doing what they do, faster and in many cases smarter than they do it, stealing their readers while subjecting them to a kind of criticism they’ve never had to face in their careers.

Michael listed some bloggers he thought could do, and in fact are doing, a better job of political writing than many of the celebrity pundits and journalists bobbing their heads on the Sunday morning talk shows and wasting ink and paper for the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post.

Graciously and too generously Michael put me on the list.

While it is true that I am smarter about politics than, say, Joe Klein or Richard Cohen, I am smarter the way I am smarter about baseball than some particularly boneheaded managers.  But that doesn’t mean the Yankees should put me in the dugout and let me run the team day in and day out.

But even if I was smart enough to write for the Times or the Post day in and day out, that wouldn’t be what I’d want to do, and it isn’t something I try to pretend I’m doing on my page.

One of the mistakes critics of blogs in the traditional media make is that they judge blogs as if they were all one type of thing, and that one thing is what they themselves do in print and on the tube.

Some bloggers are trying to be pundits and journalists, and doing an excellent job of it.  Ezra Klein and Josh Marshall, to name two of the obvious and best examples.

But most of the bloggers I like and admire are doing something else, something more along the lines of what Vonnegut is up to in Timequake.

In A Scream Goes Through the House, Arnold Weinstein writes, "My view of art is quite at odds also with the electronic network that stamps our age, because the Internet culture, however capacious it might be, is also largely soulless and solipsistic---informational rathar than experiential---when contrastred with our engagement with art."

Weinstein, being a professor of literature, recommends literature, and the arts in general, as the antidote to the soullessness and solipsism of the Internet culture.  But I think that the bloggers I read most often are the ones who use their blogs to write their way through the informational to the experiential, who try to turn what is impersonal and overwhelming in the constant wave of information that comes to us through our computer screens into something intimate, coherent, comphrehensible, human.  It sounds too high-flying to call them artists.  But it is accurate to call them writers.

Judged as strings of editorials and op-ed pieces, a great many blogs make absolutely no sense, and it’s no wonder traditional media types are contemptuous.  But judged as works in progress akin to what’s happening in Timequake, it’s easy to see what bloggers like Shakespeare Sister, Nancy Nall, Neddie Jingo, Amanda, The Heretik, and Michael are up to.  They’re writing.

Most bloggers are swoopers because they have to be.  The demands of the space and time and their readers’ limited opportunities for paying attention make them have to write short and write quick, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way, but without much chance to go back and take out what is just plain awful or doesn’t work.

They all have to do some bashing along the way, though, because while it’s wonderful how funny or tragic or whatever---worth reporting---the doings of our fellow human beings are, everybody has to ask from time to time, just what in heck is really going on.  But some bloggers among the passel of us swoopers are more basher-like than others.

I’m kind of a swooper’s swooper.  This means that I tend to move from one subject to the next, higgledy-piggledy, etc.  I don’t often know what I’m going to post about when I sit down to write.  I write a lot about politics, but I write as often, or more often, about movies or what I just watched on TV or what happened to me when I went to get a cup of coffee the other morning.

At any rate, I’m very grateful to Michael for asking me to sub for him, but I can’t make you any promises about what you’re going to find here from day to day.

I can warn you about a couple of things though.

I have a bad habit of multiple-part postings.  In fact, I’ve already got a follow up to this one in mind, although I’ll try to keep the meta-blogging down to a minimum.

And---and I know this is going to come as a big disappointment to a lot of you---there will be no hockey blogging.

Posted by Lance Mannion on 05/15 at 09:55 AM
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Friday, May 12, 2006

Arbitrary But Fun Friday: Insufferable Music Snobbery Takes the Helm

Hi everyone! 

Whoops! I’m from Texas.  Let me try that one again.

Howdy, y’all! 

It is my great honor and pleasure to be pulling down guest-blogging duty with Lance Mannion while Michael is away.  At my blog Pandagon, which I’m sure y’all are aware of, we are big on talking up progressive politics, pro-queer feminist politics, centrist-Democrat bashing, wingnut-mocking, our overblown egos, and we even occasionally discuss what’s in the news.  But my true love is Insufferable Music Snobbery, which is why I was chomping at the bit to kick off this guest blogging stint with an Arbitrary but Fun Friday. 

Sexier than Neil Young and smarter than Mick Jagger.  (From here.)

My choice of a topic isn’t nearly as specific as some of Michael’s can be, but I’m hoping it’s no less fun. And it’s only arbitrary in theory; in practice, I have a specific reason it’s on my mind, which is that I’ve been helping a friend put together a mix CD dedicated to cover songs.  So here it is:

What makes a great cover song?
I don’t mean just the myriad of good cover songs out there, but the really stand-out cover songs.

In my never-humble opinion, I suggest that while both good and great cover songs should be enjoyable on their own merits, what a great cover song brings to the mix is that it functions as a commentary on the original song. Sometimes the commentary on the original provokes conversation, sometimes just laughter, but mainly it makes you think about the song just beyond simple enjoyment.

So, in the process of putting this mix CD together, my friend and I find ourselves gravitating towards songs that provoke at least the laughter, and hopefully the conversation. When Michael does these Arbitrary but Fun Friday topics, he usually sticks to one example, but I couldn’t limit myself. Here are some of my favorite great cover songs:

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine"--The Slits. This one counts as great because it’s just as listenable as the Marvin Gaye or Gladys Knight version, but it couldn’t be more different. The Slits are amateurish and sloppy, and the Motown versions are polished and mature. It upends the preconception that the quality that makes a performance “good” is ever going to be something as simple as technical skill.

“Superstar"--Sonic Youth. This is my pick for the subcategory of great cover songs where the cover is so good it makes you rethink a song you otherwise would loathe.

“Walking the Cow"--Mike Watt. It’s easier to get people to see the much-ballyhooed genius of Daniel Johnston when they hear Mike Watt cover this song in his strangely heart-breaking fashion.

“Let It Be"--Aretha Franklin. Franklin takes a deplorably maudlin Beatles song and turns it into a stunner, makes the shallow pseudo-philosophical lyrics come off as genuinely moving.

“Lola"--The Raincoats. I’ve yet to meet a person who isn’t amused by this off-kilter song where female vocals take the place of the original’s male narration about picking up a woman in a bar only to find out later that she’s a man. The layers of fucked-up-ness are delightful.

All sorts of cover songs by Devo. Devo are the kings of the great cover song. They’ve got a knack for remaking songs in such a way that it permanently renders the original boring due to a lack of sardonic yet poppy weirdness. Their most famous cover song is ”Satisfaction”, of course, but I’m very fond of their version of ”Ohio” as well.

But I’ll admit, my all-time favorite Devo cover is their version of ”Head Like a Hole” where they take the tediously dark song and manage to rock it the fuck out. I wouldn’t say “Head Like a Hole” provokes a deep reaction, but it does make people say, in so many words, “Reznor got PWNED!” Who can’t get behind that sentiment?

The flip side of this is cover versions that are so bad they actually make people enjoy the original version less. The classic example of this is “I Will Always Love You”, a fine Dolly Parton song that was damn near permanently ruined by Whitney Houston’s cover of it.

Leave your suggestions and/or tell me I’m nuts in comments.  If you find this topic as fun/fascinating as I do, I have a couple follow-up links.  First of all, check out this blog that’s dedicated to nothing but MP3s of cover songs--Copy, Right? And if you like cover songs and you like airy French female vocals--and who doesn’t?--check out this band Nouvelle Vague.  These French producers dug up some singers and got them to sing a bunch of punk and post-punk songs from the early 80s in various lounge-y styles.  The kicker is that the singers had never heard the songs and are working off the sheet music.  I recommend their covers of “Guns of Brixton” and for laughs, “Too Drunk to Fuck”.

Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 05/12 at 06:32 AM
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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Three things for Thursday

Thing the First: Stanley Cup Playoffs

I’ll keep this part (relatively) brief, because I know only four or five of you are going to bother with it.  Everyone else can skip down to Thing the Second.

Right now, it looks like my predictions for the second round are not going to pan out.  Sure, the Devils and Senators could win their next four, and then my predictions would be fulfilled to the letter.  But that’s not gonna happen.  So where did I go wrong?

First of all, I picked the two top seeds (after tempting fate by picking the top four in the first round, against all odds), thinking that Ottawa’s first line was literally unstoppable and that Brodeur would make up for New Jersey’s offensive shortcomings and grievous Scottlessness in the defensive corps.  But Brodeur is playing like a mortal man, and all mortal men die, being mortal.  Perhaps he realized, upon skating to the bench after giving up six goals on his 34th birthday, that it would be a formidable task indeed to carry the Devils into the conference finals.  If that’s the case, then that’s one task he can cross off his To Do list for May.  The Hurricanes’ forechecking has been relentless, and, as I’ve been saying since April, the Canes can play much better defense than they’re usually given credit for.  That’s the real trick to these predictions, by the way—pick one team, but throw in a lot of praise for the other team, on which you can fall back in such a way as to suggest that you weren’t really all that wrong in the end.

Which brings me to the Sabres.  Look, both these 3-0 series leads are absurd.  The Sabres and Canes simply aren’t that much better than the Sens and Devils.  They’re just playing this much better in every single game—and actually, I’m not convinced that the Sabres have actually outplayed the Senators in all three.  But before you Ottawa folk jump all over your poor backup G, Ray Emery, look again at the game tape: the Sabres are out-forechecking you.  Even after game one, when you decided to stop giving the Sabres the puck in your own zone just to see what they would do, the Sabres have created all the turnovers they need.  And while you’ve got four or five truly terrifying scoring threats in Spezza, Alfredsson, Heatley, Havlat, and Fisher (who has played brilliantly), the Sabres have about ten.  Connolly may be out for the count, but Hecht is back, and now I’m hoping the Sabres become the dominant paradigm for New NHL® teams (pay attention, Calgary front office): three offensive lines of potential scorers, each of whom accounts for 50-80 points per year.  The Senators simply haven’t been able to let down their guard: after one wave of Sabres storms the blue line, another one comes along 45 seconds later, and eventually their crisp passing and dogged cycling wears ‘em down.  And did I promise you a fierce-skatin’ series, or what?  Almost every damn shift is exciting, and when these two teams play 4-on-4, it’s like watching Frictionless Hockey end-to-end.

So yeah, I blew my picks.  And I’m very happy about it.  I have my thoughts about how the conference finals will go, but I will keep them to myself, so as not to jinx the good people of the City of Lights.

In the West, what can I say about the Ducks except I told you so, Scott Lemieux?  This 3-0 lead is more indicative of the actual play on the ice than the two Eastern series, though—the Avs are simply outmanned and outclassed.  Up north, late last night (I went to bed at 2:30), the Sharks spent most of game three watching the Oilers skate by them, but managed to drag the game into triple OT despite being outshot 15-2 in the first period and 58-34 overall.  Still, the Oilers will need to win game four as well, or the West is going to be an all-California conference final.  I’m still thinking the Sharks are going to the final finals, but my goodness, those Ducks look scary good.

One last thing.  I have kept my remarks focused on the actual play of the game, but there are other considerations here as well.  Most important, it is critical that the Hurricanes not play another series against a team whose jerseys are just a slightly different shade of red than their own.  These Canadiens-Canes and Devils-Canes series are hurting my eyes, and if I were forced to watch yet a third (Sens-Canes), I would go out and get myself a black and white TV with a channel knob and a UHF button.  Second most important, the Ducks have taken a step in the right direction and gotten themselves third jerseys that are suitable for adults (if a bit dull), but those other two jerseys make one wonder why a bunch of 13-year-olds are playing in the NHL, and where’s Emilio Estevez?  And that nasty coach of the evil Iceland team?  A name change would help, too.  Also moving out of Anaheim and into a real city as opposed to a zoning complex.  I hear Quebec City would like a replacement for their Nordiques.  Otherwise, all good.

Thing the Second: Richard Cohen Aftermath

The United States is not necessarily a better place today because the left blogosphere has ridiculed poor Richard Cohen.  But there a couple two-three serious points to be made here.  One is that (as lots of people seem to have forgotten) the question was never, “was Stephen Colbert funny?” There’s really no way to legislate that one, now that Richard Pryor has passed on and the world lacks a Universal Humor Meter.  The question was whether Colbert was newsworthy.  Now, it’s no secret that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are culture heroes to much of the left blogosphere, because we tend to look upon them as oases of smart snark in a vast desert of Timmehs and Cokies on TV and raving lunatics on AM radio.  So when the press, having been skewered by Colbert, brushed off his performance and spent all its time the next day on Bush’s lighthearted self-parody, the blogs smelled a rat (yes, a critical mass of blogs can have an aggregate sense of smell), and they rallied around the snark.  Then, when the Clueless Wanker Contingent sniped back at us, we believed that they had made Colbert’s point for him just beautifully (though Colbert had done quite well on his own), and we went into full mockery and denunciation mode.  But Peter Daou’s original point still stands: “The AP’s first stab at it and pieces from Reuters and the Chicago Tribune tell us everything we need to know: Colbert’s performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media.” If not for the blogswell of outrage and general WTF, Colbert’s routine would simply have disappeared from public view.

Now, it’s true that blogs can be silly things.  At their worst, they work precisely the way mass media do—in Jon Stewart’s immortal words, like a bunch of kids chasing the soccer ball all over the field—except that they do it in fast-forward, so that you see a bunch of kids chasing the soccer ball in these comically jerky, hyperkinetic motions, and you want to have a brisk ragtime piano score for a soundtrack.  (Have I participated in these soccer games myself?  Sure, every now and then.  Sometimes they’re kinda fun in a hyperkinetic kinda way.) But at their best, politics - and - culture - commentary blogs have demonstrated something remarkable: there really are a lot of talented writers and critics out there in the English-speaking world, and some of ‘em are smarter and more talented than Richard Cohen or Joe Klein or Howard Fineman or David Broder or . . . you get the idea.  Accordingly, the print-media pundits, some of whom have occupied their perches for decades and are not used to discursive competition from another medium, are trying to dismiss bloggers as indiscriminate ranters.

Greg Sargent’s recent column gets this just right:

This fight doesn’t really have anything to do with the “tone” of the blogosphere at all. Rather, it’s actually about the efforts of bloggers to establish the legitimacy of their medium, and about the reluctance of major news organizations and their employees to recognize that legitimacy.

The unhoodwinkable Gene Lyons thinks we’re seeing the end of the Era of the Celebrity Pundit, but that’s probably going a bit too far—and in the wrong direction, too.  (Before we get too cheerful, remember, Instaguy and the Powertools can still be found in mass media.) What we might be seeing—I hope, I hope—is the end of the era in which invertebrates and inside-traders like Klein and Cohen serve as the official representatives of liberalism in the literate public sphere.  Liberals and progressives from Eric Alterman to Tom Tomorrow have spent a decade and a half decrying mass-media “debates” that pair wishy-washy centrist/liberals (in the patented Mark Shields “patient and deliberative” mode, bless Shields’s heart) against fire-breathing avatars of Goebbels, and Hannity & Colmes is merely the self-parodic terminus ad quem of that phenomenon.  The faux-liberal routine has simply got to stop, not least because it has now reached its Late-Roman Decadent Phase in which faux-liberal aspirant Peter Beinart gushes embarrassingly all over faux-liberal eminence Joe Klein:

Another great strength of Politics Lost is that, whether by accident or design, it models the kind of political discourse Klein would like to see. Against the neutered, white-washed language that dominates contemporary American political life, Klein counterposes his own edgy, raw and often hilarious rhetorical style. Again and again, he uncorks one-liners so good that the reader stops to savor. Carter was “as serious as cancer and as colorful as cement.” “The 1970s were the 1960s for nerds.” Dukakis “hailed from the National Public Radio wing of his party.” In their obsession with the minutiae of environmental policy, Democrats “had trouble seeing the forest for the tree huggers.”

There’s your fighting faith, my liberal and progressive brethren and sistren.  (And thanks to Bob Somerby for a mess of wonderful posts on Politics Lost.) And there’s your really brilliant writing, too, brought to you from the world in which the sparkling witticisms of Richard Cohen are teh funny.  The forest for the tree huggers!  Guffaw, guffaw!  That one really slayed ‘em at the Leadership Institute seminar, let me tell you.  Edgy, raw, hilarious!

But why should we take out after Klein and Cohen and their ilk, when George Will continues to bloviate into his eleventh decade as a pundit and John Tierney carries on the proud tradition of making shit up?  Because the faux-liberal routine really does produce all kinds of political pathologies in our national discourse, that’s why.  It leads conservatives to think of liberals as meek, squishy little creatures who cannot help but start every paragraph with “on the one hand” and end it with “but on the other hand, Russ Feingold / Howard Dean/ Nancy Pelosi has clearly led the party into the spider-hole of McGovernism.” And then, when these complacent conservatives run up against a reasonably vertebrate and articulate progessive-liberal writer, they scream in horror at the horrible incivility and the radical Symbionese Liberation Army far-leftism of the Dangerous Digby and the Terrible Kos.  And thus the “far left” gets redefined as “supporters of Al Gore,” and the center gets moved to the capital of McCainia.

Look, folks, I’ve been around this block a few times myself.  Fifteen years ago, when I first noticed that the academic left was no match for a hostile pack of journalists, I decided to try to write me some things for magazines and newspapers.  And you know, while it’s true that some of us academic liberal-lefties write rather obscure prose, on the grounds that strategic obscurity is both a negation and repetition of itself, and that, more importantly, it effectively stages the suturing of the self-differential subject by interrupting and interrogating the subject’s ethico-enunciative position in the project of modernity, thereby obscuring—or “de-scribing”—hegemonic Western narratives of homogeneity and clarity (you know, that old shtick), there are lots of us who can write rather clearly and effectively, too.  But weirdly, as I point out in Rhetorical Occasions, we “rarely respond to these routine charges by pointing out that the vast majority of us are quite capable writers—certainly as capable, on balance, as the great mass of journalists, not all of whom are exemplars of precision, clarity, or Kemptonian élan.” The point is all the more obvious when it comes to the best political bloggers.  The secret is out: it’s not all that hard to write a couple of smart, well-crafted columns every week.  Plenty of bloggers do it all the time, and some of ‘em are the sharpest crayons in the Internets box.

In a weird way, the left end of the blogosphere (again, much of which consists of people who like Al Gore and Russ Feingold and Wesley Clark more than, say, the International Committee to Keep Defending Slobodan Milosevic Anyway and/or the Symbionese Liberation Army) is now making the same “army of Davids” argument often associated with the Pajamas Right.  But you know, there always was something deeply ludicrous about that crew and its bizarre self-representations.  Think of it this way.  The past five years have witnessed the ascendancy of a truly radical right in the United States, and along come a bunch of allegedly conservatarian bloggers to say we rebel against the stale orthodoxies of our era!  Now is the time for a full-scale revolution in public discourse, in which the brave souls of the Resistance stand up to parrot everything the Bush Administration tells them!

Now, that’s funny.  Almost as funny as the Powertools turning to Dungeons and Dragons masters for military advice.

Whereas your local liberal-left bloggers really do constitute an alternative news- and- commentary source, and some of them could step up and replace the Beltway Boys tomorrow.  Gene Lyons cites “Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, the inimitable Digby, Glenn Greenwald, Billmon, Atrios and many others,” but these are only the most obvious, public-wonk figures.  Don’t get me wrong; I heart them all with many hearts.  But among those “many others” I could add Jane, Chris, Amanda, PZ, Lindsay, and Lance, just off the top of my head (and with apologies to everyone who is currently residing in the lower layers of my head).  I don’t know if any of them would actually want to work in the politics- and- culture- and- sex- with- squids section of a major daily paper, but they could, is all I’m saying.

Which brings me to

Thing the Third: a Special Announcement!

Having said all that, I have to announce that I’m stepping down, taking a break, handing over the reins for a while.  I’m burned out.

I realize that I hit the blogburn on a regular basis every six months, so it must be seasonal.  Last year at this time, when I was thoroughly tired of my own writing and turned over the blog to John McGowan (who wrote a series of wonderful posts on the Republican assault on democracy, well worth revisiting today), I promptly found myself in the emergency room, having an appendectomy in which the offending appendix was so uncivil as to burst as they were removing it.  (That last link takes you to my unprecedented live-blogging of the appendectomy itself!)


(Graphic NSFW pic courtesy of Elayne Riggs).

In the end, I was out of commission for about a month.  I don’t know how long I’ll be on hiatus this time (not longer than that, I hope), but I can’t wait to find out what kind of emergency surgery is waiting for me this year!

So I’m going to turn off the computer now and go outside, where, they tell me, the weather has been quite nice lately.  I might even start writing my next book soon.  But not just this minute.

In the meantime, please welcome two guest bloggers whom I’ve never met, but whose work I’ve come to know and love in the past two years.  The infallible and gracious Amanda Marcotte will start things off tomorrow with something arbitrary yet fun, the contents of which I cannot predict any more than I can foresee the winners of the Stanley Cup (hem, hem), and the inimitable and generous Lance Mannion will join her on Monday with whatever is on his mind and at the tips of his fingers.

My sincere thanks to both of them for being so kind as to take over this little blog while I rest my weary soul. 

Posted by Michael on 05/11 at 01:59 PM
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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sometimes the simplest explanation


is the best explanation.  So let’s have no more idle chatter about hookers and limousines and guys named “Duke” and “Dusty.”

Posted by Michael on 05/10 at 03:15 PM
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Draining the malaria swamp

It’s getting kind of dank in here, so let’s try airin’ out this humid blog with some Contrarian Wisdom.

It would be suicidal for the Democrats to talk about opening “investigations” if they win the House or Senate this fall.  This kind of petty “gotcha” nonsense is precisely why the American people rejected the Democrats in 2000, when they had become the Party of Partisan Rancor, spending millions of dollars in pointless “investigations” and fanatical vendettas.  Remember Filegate?  Travelgate? Mike Espy?  Henry Cisneros?  Alexis Herman? The American people do, and that’s why almost half of them, as well as 55.5 percent of the Supreme Court, chose a uniter rather than a divider in 2000.

Overheated liberal bloggers have to realize that the American people don’t share their obsessions du jour.  The American people aren’t worried about a little yellowcake here and a string of secret “detention and torture” sites there.  By and large, Americans don’t concern themselves with arcane technical matters like the “separation of powers” and “signing statements” and “FISA courts.” They don’t lose sleep at night over who’s “disclosing” or “not disclosing” the identities of covert intelligence agents.  They’re not all bent out of shape about a few missing “appropriations” in Iraq.  Why, in the founding days of very our own democracy, mysterious no-bid contracts and corporate corruption accounted for almost three trillion dollars in “unaccounted allocations” (adjusted for 230 years of inflation).  Did Alexander Hamilton throw a hissy fit?  No, he did not.  He knew, as we know, that when you’re making a democracy omelet, you almost always lose a few trillion eggs. 

No one cares about pre-9/11 things like “Enron” and “energy policy.” No one wants to know all the mind-numbing minutiae of Jack Abramoff’s bipartisan fundraising operations.  And no one, but no one, wants to hear about hookers and limousines.  Not again—not after eight long demoralizing Clinton years of hookers and limousines, exhaustively documented by independent reporter Gary Aldrich.

It’s time for Democrats to “move on,” as they say, and give up these embarrassing revenge fantasies.  And as they move on, they should consider this: for all their squawking about the “politicization” of “national security,” they have not expressed one word of gratitude for the fact that our national threat level has remained at “yellow” almost constantly since November 2004.  That’s right:  even though it’s gotten lost in the hurly-burly of far-left conspiracy-mongering and the baleful resurgence of Stalinist aesthetics, President Bush has made America safer in his second term, just as he had promised to do.  Only once in the past eighteen months have we moved to the heightened “orange” alert—and even that one time, in the wake of the London bombing in July 2005, Michael Chertoff explicitly pointed out that the warning was “targeted only to the mass transit portion of the transportation sector—and I want to emphasize that—targeted only to the mass transit portion of the transportation sector.” Since the “mass transit portion” accounts for only .0003 % of the American transportation sector, most ordinary Americans were completely unaffected by this brief alert, and for that, most ordinary Americans are grateful.  Far-left bloggers should take a moment to reflect on their security—and their good fortune—the next time they post their juvenile pictures of ponies.  Those ponies enjoy their freedom today because of the vigilance of the President.

Posted by Michael on 05/10 at 07:55 AM
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