I’m as jaded on the snark-subtitled Hitler-in-the-Bunker vids as the next blogger, but this version did have a bit of a kick to it. So in the spirit of Monday, enjoy:
Posted tagged ‘Snark’
A digression from the usual themes of this blog:
Many synagogues actually welcome dissenting views (though that often means welcoming only the dissenting ideas, not the ideas they dissent from).
I do recommend Goldberg’s piece, as it is an important corrective to the notion that AIPAC = American Jewish opinion and votes. (See this post of mine for a look at the kind of derangement that follows from the cognitive dissonance felt by those who feel that one minority view of both Judaism and the meaning of the phrase “support for Israel” is the only possible one.)
And I recommend the piece to myself for the reminder that it is not AIPAC’s fault that it is taken more seriously than it deserves.
I am to blame, and so are those whose views fall into the same quadrant as mine, as long as we, as Goldberg points out, fail to show up to make our disagreement obvious.
Image: Maurycy Gottlieb, “Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur,” 1878
The first two paragraphs of today’s Times piece on the Boston Celtics victory over King James and his Cleveland court, presented uncut, for your edification:
When the Boston Celtics sputtered through the regular season, they were dismissed with descriptions appropriate for a high-mileage car. They were old, slow and unreliable.
They might have leaked leads often this season — particularly in the fourth quarter — but they are still effective in large doses, and Rajon Rondo, their point guard, remains a blur on the court and a pest to opponents.
Mix metaphors much?*
This blog is ostensibly about science, especially in its intersection with public life. It does a fair amount of politics/critique of political coverage (in which I try to nod, at least, at something informed by science defined pretty damn loosely). But every now and then the reader and writer in me just gets loose.
This is one of those times.
So, to recap: the Celtics are a malfunctioning car; they leak (which I suppose a car could do, but is something I associate more with boats and buckets), they are a drug, an optical illusion and must be very well dressed, for a key player is identified as quite gnatty. (Sorry.)
Oh FSM, is this bad writing.
Not only do the images collide into incoherence, the whole thing just doesn’t make sense. How does being a drug that is effective when consumed with Belushi-like incaution fix leaks? I mean, huh?
I know that sports pages have long been an incubator for self-consciously edge-teetering writing/writers. Some of the habits have infected other sections, some places (see, e.g., the metaphor happy stylings that shows up from time to time in Science Times.)
But while the play of images can truly transport a reader into the world of the story, you have to remember: you, the writer are the master and commander of that transport, and not the other way round. The author of the passage above had long since lost control of his charges. What you see there is what happens when the inmates (swarming one’s brain) take over the asylum.
Ah. That feels better.
*I know, I know. But I got my professional writing start at Time Inc., where not only backward reeled the sentences until boggled the mind, but alliteration alleviated that aggravations of the day. Sometimes the apple just doesn’t fall that far from its aboriginal arborial accomodations.
Don’t forget to tip the nice people bringing you drinks — and come back, y’all. I’ll be here all week.
Image: J. W. M. Turner, “The Fifth Plague of the Egyptians: The Plague (die Peste).“ 1800. O.K.: I know it’s a reach. But I love Turner, and the title almost gets us there, and heck, it’s no more a non sequitur than anything in the original, so there. Plus, it’s my blog. Also.
From Peter Robins, wondering what fictional art might have anticipated the surreal reality of the British election, comes an economy of scorn I wish I could master:
I hadn’t read First Among Equals, but it’s a Jeffrey Archer and therefore seems unlikely to be true even by coincidence.
Image: François Lemoyne — completed on the day before the artist’s suicide — “Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and envy,” 1873
Actually, there were some useful suggestions here.
Though on reflection, the memo in quesiton may be better read as the fastest “I think I may be more suited to a different line of work” composition since Kurt Vonnegut delivered his resignation note to his bosses at Sports Illustrated.
Image: The sacrificial death of Marcus Curtius (1550/52) by Paolo Veronese
Some of the problems faced by traditional newspapers (the MSM, dead tree dept.) are imposed from without. It’s not anyone in particular’s fault that the emergence of the intertubes and related digital developments is destroying most of the economic pillars on which newspapers have prospered for a long time.
But there are plenty of wounds that are self inflicted. No one has forced newspapers to emphasize, say, style at the expense of reporting, especially the kind of gasbag opinionizing that dare not speak its name. See this latest via Balloon Juice for just one small instance of major media deciding to render themselves irrelevant.
And most bizarrely, no one has forced folks to create a star system of punditry, despite the fact that the only unique advantage major media possesses over the digital wild west is a knowledge of journalistic craft and the institutional infrastructure that supports sustained inquiry and local and or investigative reporting.
But that’s a disastrous miscalculation. Training up an institution to do real reporting well is hard — and would provide one distinctive competitive advantage over independent knights of the keyboard. Opinion writing does not. Anyone, even yours truly, can take a whack at it; over time big, fixed cost dinosaurs can compete on neither quality nor quantity (or, as we say in my house — both Rock and Roll.)
And if, for example, that house organ to the powerful, The Washington Post has to rely on work like that George Will eructates to lay claim to a distinctive place in our media culture…well, on the evidence of his latest, the end can’t be far off now.
In fact, if I were Fred Hiatt (what a horrible thought…really for Fred or me….) I’d demand my money back. There truly is nothing there, no actual facts, no analysis, no thoughts. It’s got some of the Will trademarks — the mandarin disdain; the cocktail-party level faux sophistication (look at me! I look at paintings! the pretentious anglophilia); the relentless projection (I’m not really a sneering asshole; YOU are!); but at bottom, this is just Will finally going alll Norma Desmond on us. From top to bottom this reads as an almost pitiable cri de coeur: “pay attention to me; I used to be somebody!”
The winceable stuff starts right at the top, with a typical Will trope:
Consider nature. Not the placid nature that Constable painted, but nature as Tennyson saw it, “red in tooth and claw.” To glimpse a state of nature as Hobbes imagined it, where human life is “nasty, brutish and short,” visit the Whole Foods store on River Road in Bethesda.
Ooh, ooh teacher, I know this one!
If you want to impress the gullibles, and you want to assert an authority you have not earned, make sure you scatter into your writing/speech — preferably near the top — two or three droplets from the handbook of safe bits of smart-people stuff. Here we have a famous painter, a nicely canonical poet, and the one quote everyone has heard from someone you can be pretty sure most of your readers have not read well (or recently) enough to expose you for the superficial pseud you are.
Will does this all the time — he is glib, he affects a broad and deep knowledge, he has plenty of access to research assistants. And particularly in a town like DC, which dotes on culture in the service of power, this kind of stuff goes down a treat.
It’s pitiable nonsense, of course, neither good writing nor in fact an intelligent reading of his sources. Tennyson’s godawful poem* contrasts nature to human beings — the poet! — and their relationship to the divine, which has in essence nothing to do with what Hobbes is talking about. But who cares — certainly not Will. Rather, these are just cliches with Dior labels attached– ”red in tooth…” and so on, both familiar and useful reminders of the speaker’s status.
Will at this point isn’t worth a whole lot of effort to fisk or debunk. All you will find in this latest evidence of fatal decline is a tally of imagined horror:
*Liberals arguing over parking spaces to buy expensive vegetables proves that those who think that George Will is an idiot are just as awful as those who bring guns to political rallies.
*He argues (really? is that the verb? – ed) that because he does not like liberals, therefore liberals are elitist hypocrites.
*He asserts that liberalism’s interest in rights has somehow destroyed the civility, even the legitimacy of the health care debate.
*He thinks that a local traffic dispute proves that liberals stand on rights too much to resolve disputes — and that, by implication somehow this means that whatever it is that stands for conservatism ought still to command respect.
That is: this is one long screed of “I hate you guys,” so much so that in the end, it is not worth the bother of deconstructing. Just take one short quote for an illustration and you’ll get the whole. Consider:
If our vocabulary is composed exclusively of references to rights, a.k.a. entitlements, we are condemned to endless jostling among elbow-throwing individuals irritably determined to protect, or enlarge, the boundaries of their rights. Among such people, all political discourse tends to be distilled to what Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls “rights talk.”
“If our vocabulary is composed exclusively…” And if it’s not, as patently it isn’t? What’s there? A lazy old man whose moral and intellectual hemmorrhoids are acting up.
See e.g., the very health care dispute to which Will makes reference. The argument about the public option is heated indeed, but it’s not about a right. Rather its about what would be the best politically possible way to reach a particular policy goal: how to insure as near to everyone as possible at the lowest cost to society. End of story. Which Will has to know, unless he picked this as the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. (That universal health care can be expressed as a right isn’t what the left is arguing about. It’s how to achieve the end of instantiating that right — or as it is sometimes conceived, that essential moral and pragmatically social-order-serving obligation of a modern developed society.)
“rights a.k.a. entitlements.” So free speech is an entitlement? The free exercise of religion? How about the expectation as a human right that in detention one will not be subject to torture? If these are entitlements, then the eternal Inigo Montoya rises up once more.
“Endless jostling among elbow throwing individuals?”… Timing is everything, but on the weekend of the LBGT march on Washington, I’d have to ask if Will thinks it inappropriate for someone to take to the streets, peaceably, elbows and all, to jostle his delicate sensibilities with demands for equal treatment under the law. Note also the sleight of hand: ”to protect, or enlarge.”
Speaking as someone enjoying my bloggy moment of free speech, its protection in all kinds of ways (net neutrality, e.g.) seems important. To condemn it ever so slickly by conflating it with enlarging…well, from the point of view of the writer’s craft, that’s slick, skilled, and wholly dishonest. (Also, I’m not so sure what is so bad in the abstract about enlarging rights: from sufferage to equal access to public benefits, as in Title 9 seems like exactly the logic of a view of humanity that accepts the essential notion of equal treatment under law.)
“Among such people” — ahh, here’s the real nub. Who are these people? Will never says. The wrong sort, no doubt. They’re the imagined Prius drivers who dare to shop at Whole Foods. They are pissed off drivers slowing for speed bumps, profiled in a strangely anachronistic Post piece that presents as new what has happened in neighborhoods all over America (all over the world) when traffic engineers use their tools to shift driving habits.**
Whoever they are, these mythical liberals, these hypocrites, these folks who dare speak of rights — they are not, in fact, the people who have truly provoked the great George Will. Rather, those offenders would be, I think (a) the large subset of the governing party that is ignoring everything he has to say, and (b) the American voters who have sent a young, smart, not-one-of-us man to the White House, along with 60 of the wrong party to the Senate and a similarly large delegation to the House.
Which is to say that most of Will’s career has been, in effect, repudiated by those results. The electorate and a growing (though not yet dominant) faction of the ruling party understands that Will has gotten most of the important calls wrong for a very long time now. They and we realize that he has nothing much left to say, given how thoroughly his earlier arguments have been shown to be wrong — not through debate, nor the easy abstractions of armchair argument, nor by raising his Constable with any of a number of Turners, but in the hard school of the real world in which he has lined up on the side of grotesque political and policy failure.
Which leaves Will with this: a column that says nothing, as little-boy-nastily as possible.
And that, my friends (channeling my inner McCain, there folks — sorry) leads back to the beginning at which we will end. If the Post doesn’t start breaking some real journalism soon; if all it has to offer is “such people” kvetching by tired old Gloria Swanson impersonators, then what reason for being will they have? Why would anyone lay down a buck or whatever they charge these days for wrap any self-respecting fish would reject?
*and endless. I dare you to read the whole thing. And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Will has not.
**It may come as news to Will, but this has happened before. And what usually goes down is this: people get pissed off for a while about speed bumps or other bits of traffic engineering when they first are installed, and then they just deal, as most folks figure out that slowing down in neighborhoods full of kids is not the worst idea in the world. Only a world-class asshole would assume that the “conflict” between neighborhoods and drivers passing through was a measure of political sincerity or sophistication.
Image: Vincent van Gogh, “Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)” 1890
Here, hour by hour, see the the diabolical sequence of moves through which the gay militia will achieve their nefarious ends:
1. Get up at 6
2. Drink 2 cups of coffee
3. Get stuck in traffic on way to work
11. Get up at 6
And you know what’s worse?
Once those dastardly destroyers of my own personal marriage get their way, they’ll have spouses and kids who will increase the deadly efficiency with which the gay agenda as they find themselves in parent-teacher conferences; bread sales to raise money for school trips; long, unheard explanations about why cleaning up one’s own Lego instead of watching Danny Phantom is in fact an essential element of childhood; extended conversations about whose in-laws are least likely to drive their own child back into infantile derangement during the holidays; whose turn it is to bag the recycling…and so on.*
You have been warned.
*Not that I, my wife, and my son have experienced any of these phenomena, of course.
Image: Caravaggio, “Amor Vincit Omnia” (Love conquers all), 1602-1603.
Update: From the point of view of those of us enjoying the moment, it’s all going to according to plan. See also Erick’s contribution to the cause; it reads like Jesus’s dumber younger brother planning his resurrection.
From that fount of deep thought, Lisa Schiffren:
…all Republicans who watched their candidate these past few months, must have been struck, as I have been, by the sense that he was holding back. I wondered, too often, how it could be that no one at the campaign could frame and muster the arguments that were clear to all conservative writers here and at the other publications and blogs that share our view.
By this, I suppose she means arguments that include equating support for mildly progressive taxation with socialism, e.g. or this kind of incisive criticism (or grace in defeat).
Seriously, a number of much more attentive watchers of the self-delusions of the right have suggested that the lesson the dead-enders will take from this election is that the GOP was not radically right enough. I hope they continue to believe this, because the problem with movement conservatism is not the passion with which its beliefs are maintained, but that their catechism is deeply unhinged from reality.
After I recover from this election, and after I clear my now Khumbu Ice Falls-replica inbox, I’m going to post a piece I’ve been working on for a bit on the a- or anti-historicism of the right, the commitment to an axiom based style of argument, that in my opinion has led our friends in places like The Corner to leave the arena of reasoned debate and to enter a self-made hall of mirrors. They see what is astonishingly clear to them over and over again– and the rest of us can only wonder where they’ve gone.
In other words — conservatism is not in need of repair, IMHO. It can’t be repaired. It needs to be dismantled by its adherents who in its place need to build a much less revelation-based view of the world. (I use the epithen in the secular as well as the sacred sense).
For now though, conservatism as it actually exists in the US, as opposed to the way its romantics idealize it — yes, I mean you, Andrew Sullivan — has failed because it no longer meaningfully anchors itself in the understanding of what has happened and what is happening. Lisa Schiffren’s belief that somehow, the voters did not understand the emptiness of the case she celebrates Palin for making (sic!) is just one among many telltales of this willed self-blindness. As a partisan, I can only hope she persuades her party of the stirring correctness of her line.
Image: Hugo Oehmichen, “In Kindergarten,” 1843.
Sir Charles announces his intention to run for governor of Alabama in 2014. Along the way, he discusses the issue of sociological rankings of his own and nearby states thusly:
“When asked if he was serious, the former Philadelphia 76er said, “I am, I can’t screw up Alabama.”
He added that his native state could only improve. “We are number 48 in everything and Arkansas and Mississippi aren’t going anywhere,” Barkley said. (h/t T-N C)
Now if only another famous politician would take note: this is how you do straight talk, my man.
(Now if we could only suspend geography and perhaps partisan affiliation (I really don’t know) and get Basketball Jesus to run against Sir Charles. The depth, breadth and sheer outrageous quality of the trash talk would threaten to end the universe as we know it.)