Category Archives: The Blogosphere

Edwards Blogging Controversy: A Summary (Updated)

You have probably heard by now that Michelle “Dancing on the Ceiling With My Head Up My Ass” Malkin and Bill “Jews Are Taking Over the World” Donohue have attacked the Edwards’ campaign for hiring pandagon‘s Amanda Marcotte and Shakespeare’s Sister‘s Melissa McEwan to, as the NY Times put it in its own inimitable fashion, “reach out to liberals in the online world”. Donohue, notorious himself for such temperate comments as “If you asked” some Hollywood actors “to sodomize their own mother in a movie, they would do so, and they would do it with a smile on their face” and “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular” claimed that Amanda was a “potty-mouth”.

This is what’s known as a “double standard” given Donahue’s spirited defense of Mel Gibson‘s attack of intensely profane anti-semitism only a few months ago, and what my mother would have said was “the pot calling the kettle black” as the way he did it was, well, pretty G-D profane. Continue reading

Can’t You Just Smell the Mendacity?

That quote from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the title of a post at A Violently Executed Blog that you really shouldn’t miss. Adam pretty much eviscerates Liz Cheney’s recent WaPo Op-Ed like he was shredding hog guts.

Confined Space Closes Down

Jordan Barab is shutting down his landmark blog. It’s a loss we can’t even measure. He was the only one doing it, and what he was doing – unlike most of what the rest of us do: screw around – was important. He was part of the inspiration for Trenches, and I owe him for that as well as for educating me and everyone else about the parlous state of workplace safety since Bush was elected and promptly turned the Labor Department over to ace anti-union corporate lawyer Elaine Chao, cut OSHA’s funding in half, fired its inspectors, and put in place his idiotic “voluntary” system of compliance (“voluntary” meaning companies could ignore the health and safety of their workers and never hear a peep from the Bush Administration).

It was a bad time and Jordan was that rare sane voice you hear – if you’re lucky – when the wind is just right as you’re stumbling around, lost, trying to find your way home. In the midst of madness and fear, there he was. Quiet, compelling, and righteously pissed off.

He was – is – one of a kind, and so was his blog. My obit here. Better yet, click the link above and go say good-bye.

Kevin Hayden’s Leaving the Street

I just discovered that The American Street‘s founder and site-spirit, Kevin Hayden, is going to be leaving. I don’t know why he’s leaving but my assumption is that the financial difficulties and time constraints he was already struggling with last year have reached the breaking point. As he wrote me a year ago just before I had to give up my websites and phoneline because, cheap as they were, I couldn’t afford them any more – and I’m paraphrasing because I lost all my mail files the last time the computer crashed – “Blogging is time and energy consuming. At some point you have to take care of real life.”

The blogosphere has lost a number of important voices in the year I’ve been gone, and it’s still losing them. Michael Berube is hanging it up soon, Chris at fafblog hasn’t written a post since last July, and Jeanne D’Arc’s Body and Soul is now a private blog closed off to the public. These and others were – are – important voices we’re losing, unique and not replaceable. (And yet PowerLine and the Rottweiler coast on. Go figure.) To some extent, they are the ones who helped make the blogosphere what it is and they’ll be sorely missed.

Kevin’s case is a little different. While his individual voice will certainly be missed, he’s leaving behind one of the 2 or 3 best group blogs on the net. The American Street is a near-perfect blend of personalities and points of view, and Kevin’s willingness to give comedy and satire equal space right alongside pithy commentary and thoughtful analysis has created one of the most eclectic and readable group blogs around. For many of us, it’s the first stop of the day. “What are they saying on the Street?” has a much different meaning for us than it does in the non-virtual world. Continue reading

RIP, NOTA: Going Gently Into That Good Night

For those of you who became addicted to the fine writing and even finer level of thought and discussion at Notes on the Atrocities, this does not come as welcome news, and you probably already know it, but Jeff Alworth has decided to close NOTA down. For good. His reasons (given here) are inarguable, but there’s no question that he will be missed even as we respect his choice.

Jeff was always reaching for the truth behind the truth, trying to understand how this or that political or social development/event impacted our lives, where it had come from, where it was going, and how the pieces fit together. He was never content simply to sift the day’s happenings into this or that category, like so many of us. Instead, he worked to pull meaning out of chaos and connections out of isolationism.

Long before I found my own voice as a blogger, Jeff’s NOTA was one of the few blogs I eventually used as a template for my own, sort of. I wanted to do some of the same things he was trying to do. I was–am–not as widely knowledgeable as he is, nor as patient, so I fail more often than I succeed, but his example is always before me and I live up to it when I can.

I’ve said several times–and I’m going to say it again now so get ready to hear something you’ve heard before–that Jeff’s Daily Link was the inspiration for both the Women Blog, Too series and, eventually, LitBlogs‘ attempt to recognize talented bloggers and, hopefully, widen their audience if only a little. His generosity in sharing his success with those struggling to establish a small beach-head in a sea of blogs was extraordinary, and those of us lucky enough to have made his list are grateful for it.

He could be brilliant, he could be maddeningly obtuse, he could be startlingly perceptive or remorselessly pedestrian, but whatever he was at any given moment, he always wrote like an angel, and you gotta admire that in a blogger. Any one of us would be proud to manage half as well during our time in the ‘Sphere.

The death of NOTA is going to leave a gaping hole of good sense, rational discussion, and outstanding writing that isn’t going to be easy to fill. We can try–we owe it, in a sense, to the pioneering example he set, along with some others, that proved blogs could be something more than structureless diatribes and partisan whining–but whether or not we will succeed is a question I wouldn’t even attempt to answer. NOTA set the bar pretty goddammed high and most of us don’t jump all that well.

In the meantime, raise a glass to the death of an old friend and keep an eye on The American Street and Blue Oregon for new posts by the old friend’s creator. May his pen never waver and his ink never dry up.

Emma, we hardly knew ye.

Women Blog, Too! #10: Cyclopatra

Between the Iraq blogs and LitBlogs, I’ve sort of bailed on WBT the last couple of weeks, so to make up for it (a little, anyway) I’ve got a real tasty one for you this week. Cyclopatra is one of those blogs where everything is on the table, from family news to complaints about her work to politics to philosophy to– Well, you get the idea. I’ve seen dozens like this but rarely are they as well-written, as honest, as funny, or as perceptive as this one.

Cyclopatra (the blogger’s handle is the same as the name of her site) is a free-lance programmer with a client-list that is from Hell, and some of my favorite posts are the ones where she vents on this or that management style/technique/ploy designed to drive her nuts and give them an excuse for not paying her at the same time. Perhaps that’s because it warms the cockles of my working-class heart to know that these bozos don’t treat the professionals they deal with any better than they treat us, but it might also be because Cyclopatra is rarely in better form than when she’s ripping their entrails out by the roots and stomping all over them.

He disapproved of my database design, despite not knowing what it is or how to design a database, and despite my assurances that I could report on the data therein in any format he pleased, if he would only deign to whisper that format to my eager ears. He rejected one almost-invisbly-changed screen as too ugly, despite the fact that he designed it himself and demanded the change that I made. And he accused me of not testing my code (for the 15 millionth time; you would think this man had never enountered Windows before, considering his expectation that he should never encounter so much as a hiccup in his software usage, even of beta software) without ever describing a single bug he had enountered – apparently I was too breezy in my description of moving new code to the beta site. Now, I’ll grant that ‘let’s hope nothing explodes’ was a fanciful construction, and that my intended joshing tone was probably not adequately conveyed by the too, too stark screen-text that it was printed in, but is it too much to ask that he wait until he actually finds a bug before he excoriates me for failing to test the code that I write?

Sarcasm as beautifully placed as the knife of an expert between the fourth and fifth ribs at an upward angle is always a pleasure to read, let’s face it; we can dream about saying such things to our own private Nemesis and watching them wilt. It’s as satisfying as a hot fudge sundae on a hot summer day, and one settles into the fantasy with a long, happy sigh. ‘If only I could say that and get away with it….’

But her talent and her interests go further than slicing her enemies up in pieces so small you could feed them to Japanese tourists on a bed of brown rice, pleasant as that is to behold. She is remarkably candid in discussing her life and relationships, even for an anonymous blog. In a post titled ‘Everything is catching, yes, everything is catching on fire’, she gives a riveting account of her grandmother’s recent injury.

Last week my grandmother had to take a letter down to the mailbox. She’s eighty-six, but she’s healthy, and while she doesn’t drive anymore, she’s still fairly spry – she gets tired easily, but she can get around and take care of herself, and she can still cook dinner for the whole family when she gets a yen to.But my dad had had the dogs out last weekend, tied to a lead that gave them plenty of room to run and frolic around while he mowed the lawn. And he didn’t roll up the lead and put it away when he brought the dogs back in. And my grandmother tripped on that lead, and tumbled down the driveway. She broke both her wrists – not just broke them, but fell to the concrete with bloody, white shards of bone poking out just under each hand.

My mother heard her scream as she went down, and she dropped the load of laundry she had been carrying out to the laundry room, and ran out to find out what had happened to my grandmother.

As much of a bad grandchild as it makes me feel, I am glad I wasn’t there at that point – I don’t deal well with other people’s blood and injuries, and I probably would have had hysterics or fainted. My grandmother was trying to sit up, nearly passing out from the pain, with her hands dangling at the ends of her wrists, the bone poking up over the unnatural angles her limbs were making. I know this because my mother told me the story later, in a tone of quiet horror that made it obvious, even over the phone, that she was still seeing the woman who gave birth to her and raised her greying out on the driveway with blood running down her wrists and her skeleton exposed to the air.

This is vivid writing that has you standing on the driveway next to a badly wounded woman, wondering what to do. And even when you’ve finished reading, you find yourself thinking later on: ‘What would I have done if it were my grandmother? Would I have been able to keep it together?’

That kind of ability as a storyteller is a gift, and Cyclopatra is good enough to bring it to subjects not ordinarily thought of as ‘stories’. Sometimes it seems she can make a compelling story out of no more material than what’s inside her head at any given moment. In a post called ‘Epiphany’, she brings that skill to one of those small moments in life when the curtains part and the Wizard is revealed to be in the one place we weren’t looking. One night, while dealing with a coding problem, she had such a moment.

And then it hit me. It was exactly like every description of epiphany you’ve ever read. A sudden blinding light going on in your brain. Being hit upside the head with a hammer you can’t feel. A feeling like the ground shifting underneath my feet: I had been going about it all wrong the entire time.In retrospect, it seemed unbelievably simple. I was trapped in my own assumptions. I was receiving points, therefore I was storing points. But the points themselves didn’t matter – they were just a way of receiving user input. What mattered were the boundaries of the square I was drawing. Once I started to think of it as four lines instead of two points, everything fell into place. I have to rewrite half my code now, but it’ll be easy, because half the mucking around I was doing before was to translate points into lines.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this sort of instantaneous paradigm shift before, where the whole world just sort of moves a few inches to the left and shows you a new picture. I think I’m glad, because as helpful as it was, it was unsettling. Most of the time I like the earth to stay right where it is when I’m standing on it.

Don’t we all? But how many of us recognize the moment when it’s on us? And how many of those would be able to stand their ground with the earth spinning around them and recognize it as ultimately a Good Thing? Cyclopatra is one of those rare humans who can not only see these small moments and recognize their significance, she can describe them in such lively terms that she takes you right into the heart of them–physically, almost. Take the little post she wrote about frozen grapes.

[A] deathly stillness has settled over the city, bringing with it heat and humidity. We haven’t hit the godawful 100+ temperatures of last summer (yet, knock on wood), but we’re all wilting, opening every window and sliding door in the house, praying for a breeze, and trying to find out how much it would cost to get central A/C (more than we can afford).In the midst of our tribulations, though, L has brought us frozen grapes. A memory from her childhood prompted her to place a bag of seedless red grapes in the freezer, and she brings out little bowls of them in the evenings, when the heat refuses to disappear with the sun. Each one is like a miniature popsicle, bursting with sweetness and an icy bite of refreshment. We’re eating them like popcorn.

Heat or no, she almost makes you wish you were there with her.

That’s the charm and the magic of Cyclopatra. Anybody can make lemonade out of lemons; it takes a real master to make a whole summer come alive with a little thing like frozen grapes.

Note: I have only one small complaint about Cyclopatra, and that is its total lack of visual distinction. She’s not only using one of the earliest and least pleasing of Blogger’s templates, she’s done nothing to individualize it. Perhaps a programmer who specializes in making other people’s sites look good is like the carpenter who never fixes his own house–when the long workday is over, the last thing she wants to do is more of the same.

I can understand that but she’s doing her site and her talent a disservice. A blog this good deserves a look that matches its uniqueness, its depth, and its iconoclastic, highly personal flavor.

PS. Be sure to check out her ‘Kossack Blogroll’ (did she spell it wrong intentionally?). It is one of the longest and most eclectic collections of links I’ve ever seen.

Sgt Missick Rebuts

On Sunday, I reviewed three blogs by soldiers from Iraq, including one written by a Sgt Chris Missick called A Line in the Sand which I suspected wasn’t legitimate because of the way it read. It would seem I have done Sgt Missick a gross injustice.

Much of the following was written tongue in cheek.1. To address Mr. Arren’s fist fallacious statement, that I am “a PR flack for the military,” I have this to say: I am a 31 Romeo, a multi-channel systems transmission operator/maintainer. I am currently working with Army phone and internet networks, administrating them to ensure they run properly. Unfortunately I can not go too much further into my daily job descriptions because of something the military refers to OPSEC, Operational Security, and I can not breach that trust. I have never admitted to being on the frontlines on a daily basis and have always made quite clear that I am simply proud to be a cog in the wheel that is the machine of the US Army. Mr. Arren, you may just be receiving a confirmation from my lieutenant after he reads this, he’s a good man and can verify that my word is good. I do have PR experience in my civilian career, but when I am in uniform, I simply a soldier with a blogging hobby.

That isn’t necessary, Sgt Missick. I believe you. That was Charge No 1. Charge dismissed. To the charge that the required disclaimer is missing:

I beckon you all to now examine my pages, each one of them, and look at the very bottom. On each page I state, “© 2004, please request permission to use any images from this site: This site reflects the opinion of the author and is in no way connected to the US Army, DOD, or any Federal agency.”

He’s right–it’s there and I missed it. It’s in very small letters at the very bottom of the screen, but it’s there. Charge No 2. Dismissed. To the charge that it’s a complicated site that must have required a lot of time:

The essays are the same thing as the blog, the two are actually the same page. In terms of the pictures, check the last time I had a chance to post any: May 4, 2004. That’s nearly three months ago! The letters page is long, but again, I have not had any time to post new one’s since sometime in May. The video section is complete with a list of recuitment videos’, (er, wait) I have actually never posted anything up there. And the guest book, where I even request e-mail addresses… I am sorry Mr. Arren, but this is not a dark recruitment scheme. Rather, I have tried in the past to thank those who take the time to sign it by sending them a thank you e-mail for supporting the troops. Hhmm, I’ve never been told I look like Oliver North, that’s a first. And finally, the Signal Battalion reference: I do help build and monitor the phone networks, sounds a lot like the Signal Corps to me. Take a look at the pictures, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

For this, there is no excuse. I made a snap judgment without actually checking and jumped to a conclusion I shouldn’t have made. My abject apologies, Sgt Missick and I assure you I will not make that mistake again. It was bonehead, bush-league, and arrogant. Truly, I’m not usually any of those things–well, at least I’m not usually amateurish; one out of three is better than nothing, isn’t it?

In any case, I grovel at your feet. I fucked up, Big Time, and I’m sorry. I should have checked the tabs and I should have looked more closely at the bottom of the page. I owe you an apology and you may consider that you have it. Now let’s get to what’s really important.

In this entry [Desperate Enough to Serve–MA], I made the case that people all too frequently make the assumption that military personnel are the most desperate of our society, the intellectual dregs and simpleton’s who have no other opportunity than to work for Uncle Sam until s/he can receive their pension and finish out their mediocre American dream. Within this typecast soldier that some media personalities have fostered as indicative of the American soldier, many honestly begin to doubt the ability of our fighting men and women to do anything but kill. My blog has been my own attempt to help break that stereotype and allow people to open their minds and see a soldier who has undying love for his country, his Army and the people whom we have attempted to liberate in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sgt, what I just quoted above is much clearer, more passionate and more readable than what’s in that post. I think I need to make this point clear: My critique has nothing whatever to do with what you wrote and everything to do with how you wrote it. If what you wrote above was the point of that post, you buried it in so much institutional language that it was all but invisible, and that’s a goddam shame because your point is well-taken and deserves real discussion and thought. And my question is: if you can write as well as you do in the above paragraph, which is clear, direct and provocative, why in god’s name are you putting such an important human issue under layers of bureaucratic PR-speak like this:

I am however typical of many of the people I know in the Army, who were driven to service in recent years by a determination to serve this country, to make a contribution, and to earn our freedom.

It isn’t that I disbelieve the emotion, necessarily, but that it’s so general, so remote from personal language that it could have been ripped whole off a recruiting poster, which means, to me, maybe it’s true and maybe it’s something he thinks he’s supposed to say.

Blogs aren’t recruiting posters or campaign speeches, they’re personal journals. What you wrote above (in the bold) are nothing but slogans; as a reader I want more than that. Tell me why you believe them so passionately; tell me about some of the people you’re talking about, in their own words if possible–what did you and they sacrifice to be answer this call? why did you decide to do it? why did they? If you have seen things or heard things since you’ve been there that confirmed your belief–or didn’t–what were they? what happened? who was involved? how did it go down? what did they say to you? You, Chris, not the Army or the politicians or the Great Geo-Political Imperative.

Come out from behind the bureaucratese and write as you did in the passage from your rebuttal: directly. There isn’t one slogan in that passage. Instead, that passage contains this:

…the intellectual dregs and simpleton’s who have no other opportunity than to work for Uncle Sam until s/he can receive their pension and finish out their mediocre American dream.

Now that’s writing. You don’t need slogans. Your writing is far better–more forceful, more persuasive, clearer–without them. That’s a marvelous sentence (well, half-sentence): pissed off at a wrong-headed and unfair judgment by people who are making assumptions and generalizing about other people they don’t know but who are individuals and have more reasons than poverty for what they chose to do. All of that comes through that sentence (and the rest of the passage); none of it–NONE OF IT–comes through in the original.

Write more like that and A Line in the Dust will be not just a better blog, but potentially a must-read. You’ve obviously got things to say, and if they’re like your concern over the ‘desperation’ stereotype, I want to hear them. So will a lot of other people.

I write in a civilized tone and live my life in the very same manner because I am here not just for one demographic of our country, I am here for all Americans.

That’s the problem, Chris–no, not the civilized tone. You may be there for all Americans but you are NOT all Americans. You’re Sgt Chris Missick, one American, one soldier, as far as we and your blog are concerned, and you can only speak for yourself; you may represent the feelings and beliefs of others to some degree, but you can only speak for them effectively through your voice, the voice in that passage.

Your blog–and the others I read–prompted me to offer some advice on writing to military bloggers. One section was specifically the result of reading your blog. Here it is:

4. Write what’s in front of youWriting is about people, not things. Somebody once said that if you set out to write the Great American Novel about The Immigration Experience, you’re going to end up with nothing but social-scientist cliches and platitudes. You can only write about the people who immigrated–who they were, the experiences they had, what happened to them. The ‘Immigrant Experience’ comes through them. Blogs are no different. They’re about you, the people you work with, the people you hang out with, the people you meet, not about The Great Geo-Political Issues. Those things will come–can only come–from writing about the people who live with the consequences. A story about how a family’s life changes when its electricity gets turned on is worth a thousand stories repeating again and again like ad copy, ‘We turned on their electricty!’ Maybe it shouldn’t be but it is; that’s the way people are.

In the case of the ‘Desperation’ post, one story about somebody you know and why–in personal terms–they gave up so much to be there, or even you explaining your own decision writing as directly and honestly and passionately and convincingly as you do in your rebuttal, is worth more than 10,000 pages filled with slogans.

My criticism stands. In fact, having seen how you can actually write free of the stultifying cliches, it’s stronger than ever. You have an interesting and unique voice and I urge you to let it loose. You’ll be doing a disservice to those you would like to use your blog to explain and/or defend if you don’t. Sloganeering isn’t going to help them; explaining them to us as the people they are, will. I don’t say it will be easy; I say you have the ability if you choose to develop it.

PS: Sgt? It’s ‘Arran’, not ‘Arren’. But don’t worry about it. Everybody makes mistakes.

(Cross-posted at LitBlogs)

Omnium Interviewed!

Yes, we said it and we meant it. We were interviewed! We feel like we have arrived. We feel like celebrities. We feel plural.

Jamison of BiteSoundBite is interested in bloggers and why they do this (I told him it was ego but he’s looking for a more complicated answer) so he’s decided to interview a blogger-a-week until he can at least answer the question without rolling his eyes and gagging. For some warped reason probably best kept to himself, he decided to start with us. We could have told him he was wasting his time but we didn’t want to spoil the fun. And we never have been able to resist talking about ourselfs. So we did it.

Jamison asked some excellent questions, we have to give him that, which we then expounded on at inexcusable length with marginal coherence and an almost impossibly complete absence of chromosomal integrity. Among other things, he asked about blogging itself–

BSB: Do you have many unfinished drafts that just sit on blogger unpublished, or do you pretty much hit the “send” button for everything you write?Mick: …I’ve read that other bloggers do drafts and I guess it’s a good thing but I don’t see the point. By the time you get back to it somebody else has already said it, probably better than you did, and everybody else has moved on. Blogging moves as fast as the news, for better or worse–and, like marriage, it’s both. As David Neiwert said, one of the great strengths of blogs is their ability to jump on an issue, spread it around, correct mis-statements or lies almost as soon as they’re told, and track the tale as it makes the rounds. They’re less successful at long, thoughtful, magazine-style essays.

–familial relationships–

BSB: Do you tell your friends and family about your blog?Mick: …[M]y friends tend not to be as politically radical as I am. This is a conservative part of MA. I didn’t used to worry about spouting off now and then and neither did they, but Bush’s quasi-election polarized people here just like it did everywhere else and politics got to be a dangerous subject….In the interest of keeping them as friends, I agreed to keep politics out of the discussion. Actually, given everything that’s happened, I may need to test them again; their attitudes may be changing.

–the ‘larger purpose of blogs’–

BSB: You…[call] attention to other bloggers that you enjoy…. [I]s there a larger purpose to this?Mick: …I’m not really sure yet…I’m in the process of figuring it out…

–and our almost pathological distaste for Tom DeLay and Grover Norquist.

BSB: …You’ve called Tom DeLay a cockroach and Grover Norquist a toad. Why these two in particular and not, say Bush, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz or a host of others?Mick: …They are both pompous, arrogant, primordially self-centered, elitist ambulance-chasers who have shamelessly crow-barred their way to power using nothing but extortion, bribery, threats, and blackmail. They don’t have a single redeeming quality or selfless act between them, and either of them would call down a nuclear holocaust if they thought it would advance them one small step personally. They recognize no limitations or restrictions on either their monumental greed or their slimy, inhuman, criminal tactics. ‘Might Makes Right’ is their Golden Rule. They’re miniature Hitlers–and I mean that literally, not figuratively: at root, they are autocratic, dictatorial types who would ‘cleanse’ the earth of their enemies, real and imagined, by whatever means necessary, given half a chance. Delay would have run a crematorium without a qualm; Norquist would have planted himself in the central warehouse to weigh and count the gold teeth shipped from the ovens and been proud of his work even as he stole half of everything that came in and put it in a numbered Swiss bank account….Maybe DeLay is nice to his family, but I doubt it. Maybe Norquist gave a homeless man on the street a quarter once, but I’d want to see the videotape….Does that answer your question?

In short, we covered a lot of ground, mostly with mud and string cheese, and brought terminal opacity to an otherwise crystalline topic. We were brilliant.

Jamison was good, too.

Blogs From Iraq

While surfing this week, I stumbled across a remarkable new blog called MY WAR–Fear and Loathing in Iraq. Written by a combat infantryman currently serving in Mosul who goes by the tag ‘CBFTW’, the writing is so strong that I added it to LitBlogs‘ ‘Journals’ list. You can read the review there; the post title is a link to My War. I urge you to check it out. It is a first-hand, real-time glimpse at the war from ground-level, and one of the best war diaries I’ve ever read. You’ll be sorry if you miss this one.

I began my review by saying, ‘This is, as far as I know, one of a kind. Not only is it a blog written by a soldier now serving in Iraq, it’s written by a soldier who can write.’ A commenter, Kayz, wrote in to tell me of others written by soldiers currently serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and left a link to a page devoted to such blogs, Bloggers 4 Freedom. There are 8 or 10 by soldiers, and an equal number by Iraqi citizens. I just spent the afternoon reading through most of the soldier-blogs, and while the first part of that sentence is certainly wrong, the second is not: whatever other virtues these blogs may have, good writing is generally not one of them. A couple of them are hard slogs to get through–dense with adjectives tripping over each other, light on actual information–a couple are readable, and I think at least one of them is a fake.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to give you a thumbnail description of each of them, soldier and civilian, at least enough to know if you might want to check them out. I’m going to do three of them today, and I’ll start with the one I think may be a phony.

# Not phony in the sense that he’s not a soldier or not in Iraq; a phony in the sense that Sgt Christopher Missick’s blog, A Line in the Sand, reads like the last piece I saw written by a PR hack: it’s superficial, full of cliches that he uses like slogans and taglines for ad copy, and he hits all the right talking points with the kind of turgid hyped-up prose you’d expect.

The first time this form of “culture shock” surfaces for members of the national guard and reserves, it is a shared experience with those who will be entering active duty. Basic Training is more than a period of physical conditioning, it is a rite of passage into a new life structured by discipline and guided by values. The 9 weeks of basic training is continued as soldiers enter AIT, Advanced Individual Training, and receive class room and hands on training in their MOS, or Military Operational Specialty. After these months of joint training and rigorous preparation to become a member of America’s fighting forces, the experiences of Reserve/Guard soldiers and Active Duty soldiers becomes starkly different. Reservists return to their civilian careers and colleges, and active duty soldiers continue in their military careers, living their lives day in and day out as soldiers.In theater however, we all must meet the expectations of being soldier’s on active duty, and as the nature of this war has placed 40% of the force in theater in the hands of America’s guard and reserve forces, the expectations of our performance are high.

It’s all like that, like somebody auditioning to write recruiting pamphlets. Which is what I suspect Sgt Missick really is: a PR flack for the military, one of whose assignments–or brainstorms–is this blog.

To begin with, his page is entirely without the usual disclaimer the military demands for material written outside its authorization by its members, a disclaimer presented prominently on every other one of these blogs I looked at, in one form or another.

This website is privately operated and is designed to provide personal information, views and commentary about the authors experiences in Iraq. The images depicted and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the author and contributors and not those of any agency of the United States Government, expressly including, but not limited to, the Department of Defense, the United States Army, or the United States Army Reserve. The site is not designed, authorized, sanctioned, or affiliated, by or with, any agency of the United States Government, expressly including, but not limited to, the Department of Defense, the United States Army, or the United States Army Reserve. Users accept and agree to this disclaimer in the use of any information accessed in this website.

That’s on the My War sidebar and it’s clearly straight out of the manual. That it is absent from A Line in the Sand is virtual proof that Missick’s site is ‘authorized, sanctioned or affiliated’ by or with the US military.

Second, for a serving soldier, this guy seems to have a lot of time on his hands. His site is complicated, with tabs leading to separate pages devoted to essays, pictures, letters, even videos and a ‘Guestbook’–which asks for an email address, no doubt; his entries are longer by far than any of the other blogs; his header features a cloudy picture of a soldier who looks a lot like Oliver North; and finally, his description says he’s with a ‘Signal battalion’, that curious Army catch-all that includes everything from message-relay to and from the battlefield, to PR and organizing entertainments.

None of that means that his blog is useless; it just means that what it says should be taken with a grain or two of salt. I did, however, come across a passage that suggests that either a) Sgt Missick is starting to question the Iraq mission, or b) that the Army has decided to acknowledge the doubts that have arisen due to the vast gulf between neocon promises of an easy war and the reality of a growing insurgency.

Andrew J. Bacevich’s article in the American Conservative entitled “A Time for Reckoning,” similarly evokes the need for us to learn from our mistakes in Iraq, the same way we were forced to learn from our mistakes in Vietnam. Mr. Bacevich does lay a convincing argument of several aspects to the war in Iraq that went wrong, with the most predominant failure being the expectation of ideology to carry the strategy. Expectations were high in Iraq, and the concerns expressed and articulated by Colin Powell often took back seat to those who believed a free Iraq would fully embrace its newfound freedom and consequently the American forces that provided it. Ironically, recent weeks have displayed that foreign terrorists have done more to further the case of America’s efforts in the minds of the Iraqi people, than a year of Paul Bremer’s occupational government.

Still in my early twenties, part of my idealism has been shaken from time to time, and as a soldier in theater, I am able to witness aspects of this war firsthand that are shaping new opinions and beliefs.

But it’s a token gesture. He soon retuns to a flat-out defense.

I for one am in no rush to begin another war, but that does not mean the cause for pre-emptive war is dead, that the MCA is no longer applicable, or that I no longer support the roadmap the president set forth. Rather, as the sole super power in the world, we must learn from our mistakes and victories in Iraq, and move forward with a policy of defeating terrorism and securing American safety at home and abroad. You may take a few hours out of the day to be entertained by films like Fahrenheit 9/11, but we can not afford as a nation to take time away from our vigilance in extinguishing the threats among us that seek to end the world as we know it.

He even manages to get in the regulation swipe at Michael Moore’s film. The major strength of this blog is its strong defense of the status-quo. I don’t know that you’ll read anything you haven’t read before, but he at least puts the case with genuine conviction. Its major weakness is that it almost entirely lacks any real news or information that CNN didn’t have weeks ago. It’s a straight-up polemic, but if you read as many lefty blogs as I do, there’s a value in getting an opposing viewpoint that comes from conviction rather than hatred or contempt. Missick makes it clear where his sympathies lie, but he is never mean or threatening or uncivil. Whether that was his choice or the Army’s, it’s a refreshing change from the hate-filled profanities of the freepers. You come away thinking it might actually be possible to have a civilized discussion with this guy, whether you ended up agreeing or not, and that’s a rarity among war-bloggers.

# Iraq calling lacks breaking news, too, but for an entirely different reason: nothing much is happening where he is–or so he says.

Just finished reading a well written and interesting blog from one of the guys in the Stryker brigade up in Mosul. He’s riding around in an armored vehicle on missions every day doing infantry stuff. Made me feel like I’m doing very little in comparison. Same stuff every day here, it lacks the excitement and adrenaline of combat patrols. Its also less tangible, except when I occasionally work as a medic.

He goes by the letter (not even a handle) ‘J’, and won’t say who he is, what he does, or where he is ‘for security reasons’. He does admit that he’s some sort of medic and that he’s stationed at one of the new bases we’re building, and reading between the lines, it’s probably in the south.

Iraq calling is full of day-to-day events and his opinion of them, much more like the kind of standard war diaries we’re used to. His sense of humor is a nice leavening agent, as well.

We’ve got some Strykers here too. During April, when all the convoys were getting hit they started accompanying the trucks. The PMO (Provost Marshall) – the sheriff on post had to get the guys to slow down while driving around base. They were tearing around the perimeter road and caused some accidents with other vehicles. The tanks sometimes have similar problems of not playing well with others. A few days ago one of the tanks broke down when out on patrol. The recovery vehicle went out and picked it up. On the way back somehow the towbar came undone. The loose tank rolled right over some poor guys car – a small opel. We will send the reimbursement team out and make restitution. Someone joked at one of my meetings that the army just bought a “new, mint condition 1989 Opel with a very rare Elvis music collection”. Commenting on the fact that we will pay significantly more than the car was worth partly based on exagerations from the owner. Hey, he didn’t ask for a car pancake!

A description of the ‘Union Meeting’ held by the Bangladeshis who work in the chow hall before they’re allowed to eat will be followed by thoughts on TCNs (Third Country Nationals, as the military calls soldiers from the coalition).

I’m not sure what the effect of the Philippine withdrawl of troops will be on the Filipino workers here on base. We have well over 1000 of them. A few weeks ago a mortar round landed right in the middle of a cookout some of the guys were having. I think 15 or so were wounded, several very seriously. A few were evacuated to Germany for medical treatment.Politically, the withdrawal is another victory for the terrorists following that of Spain. The terrorist are drawing extremely dangerous conclusions. The threat to the US this summer and fall is very real. I think a terrorist attack for the purpose of throwing the election would backfire. Bush would be sure to win. Of course removing the current administration is just one of many goals. America is an ideological and moral enemy and any pain inflicted is seen as a plus. If they are thinking strategically they will not attack before the election to give voters a chance to kick out President Bush. I fear that they think Spain and US are more similar than they actually are.

The strength of this blog is its everyday voice. It isn’t hard to read, unlike some of the others, and while he occasionally sabotages himself when he tries to ‘Write’, for the most part it’s a straighforward account of what J sees, thinks, and feels. It reads honest and sincere, a good combination, and the details are sometimes telling, sometimes funny, and almost always interesting.

I’m running out of time and probably trying your patience, so for the third I’ll pick the most promising of all because it’s also, at this point, the shortest.

# Hard Deck is new, and I mean brand new: last Tuesday. There’s only one post up, so what in the world would make me think this is the most promising? Three things:

1) It’s going to be written by an Army scout helicopter pilot.
2) He promises pictures.
3) While it’s really nuts to reach conclusions based on a single post, I have a feeling, OK? I think he writes well. The first post is short but concise, relaxed, and anything but timid.

Being a fan of blogs for some time, I wanted to run one while I was here in Iraq. Finally, 7 months later, I’m doing it. My primary goal with this weblog is to share stories, insights, and views from my experiences as a OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilot here in Iraq. I’ll be posting pics, links, and stories somewhat regularly once I get this whole weblog business figured out. Right now, this blog is primarily for friends and family to follow along with the highs and lows of my year ‘in the sandbox’, but I certainly welcome any visitors who feel like dropping by. More to follow soon!

OK, not much. Call it a hunch but there’s something about the easy, casual way he puts words together that makes me think this guy is going to be interesting once he gets rolling. This is one to watch, and remember: You heard it here first.

LitBlog Update

# The latest entry at LumpenBlog, ‘Mickey Snaketail’, has Nefertiti Snorkjutt in Maui attempting to rescue Lola from the clutches of Bruce–who Lola rescued Nef from after Nef rescued Lola from… You know, this could go on forever. Cut to the chase: Bruce wins.

At last I have a chance to report on my search for the misogynist Bruce and the, well, intrepid Lola. Lola rescued me from Bruce’s clutches, only to be taken by him to Maui, where I tracked them to a popular nude beach called Baby Makena.I decided to perform what I believe the, well, gendarmes call a “stake-out.” I thought that I had come rather well-prepared to look inconspicuous, but on the very first day a presumptuous woman with nipples that point straight up walked past me and said, “Can you sweat through leather?” So I decided to sacrifice my last, well, what you might call shred of modesty and remove all of my clothes, save for the plastic strap holding my binoculars.

And if you can resist reading the rest of that, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

# At The Mermaid Tavern, the philosofairy encounters creatures in the shower drain and gets a best-selling book idea out of it. Would that it were that easy for me.

Early this morning, as she stepped into the sparkling freshness of her shower, the philosofairy came up with a surefire bestseller Book Concept.But before she tells you about this surefire bestseller Book Concept, you need to know something. The philosofairy is a lover of nature. She has immense respect for all creatures big and small, including those alligators that live in underground New York City sewers and that take their breakfast straight from the homeless person’s box. She is an advocate to the animals, and does not endorse harming any living thing (note: an exception would be made for Ashton Kutcher).

I won’t give it away but it includes references to hairy eight-legged things and The Da Vinci Code, not necessarily in that order.

# Emmett at Maine Line has written a rather unsettling post called ‘Father’s Day’. It was hard for me to read, not because it’s badly written–in fact it may be the best writing he’s done so far–but because it details the kind of horrific family nightmare we all dread: skeletons escaping from their closets. The day starts well and ends…badly. Here’s a piece of it from just before the shit hits the fan. After a decent day when ‘Nobody started a fight or picked on anybody else or went off and sulked in a corner or called anybody else vile names or gave them the finger’, they go in the house to play cribbage.

As [the game] went on dad kept getting up and leaving the room for a minute and then coming back, and he was doing this every couple minutes and I was starting to get worried, thinking he was out in the kitchen nipping off his stash on the sly. Which is just what he was doing, it turns out. Howie and me were just about to slam them with double when I put down a card that let dad hit 21 for extra points. “That was a bonehead move,” he says. I didn’t say anything but I must have looked it because Cyn jumped in and started telling a funny story about one time when she got Ma to play poker (which she didn’t know how to play) and this one hand she leaned over to Cyn and showed her her cards and whispered, “Is this any good?” and Cyn said, “Ma, you got a full house!” and Ma said, “Don’t be silly. We’ve had twice this many people over. There’s plenty of room.” Even Gary laughed at that one but then dad said, out of nowhere, “She was one stupid bitch, that woman. Don’t know why I put up with her all those years.”I froze.

What comes next is the recounting of a previous incident that left me a bit shaken, and a more or less predictable end to the day. I have never, thank god or whatever, been in that position but I know way too many people who have, and they didn’t handle it any better than Emmett. There is no good way to handle an alcoholic parent, and Emmett is honest enough to admit his wasn’t the best. If you have an alcoholic parent or are close to someone who does, read it. It won’t be easy but you’ll be glad you did. I think.

# Finally, there is a new story at Snake Tales, ‘belinda c and fergus the leprechaun plan an uprising’, the title of which pretty much says it all.

she was prepared for a rat. she was prepared for a kid swiping her tomatoes, dry, shriveled things that they were. she was even prepared for a burglar, though what he might have hoped to steal in a neighborhood like this would bear explaining. of all the things belinda c was not prepared for, at the top of the list was what she actually saw–a leprechaun perched on her chickenwire fence, munching on a lettuce leaf and talking to himself. or maybe that was singing.”shoo”, she said. “shoo. shoo.”

the leprechaun–if that’s what it was and what else could it have been?–looked up at her with mild amusement in his tiny hazel eyes. “i’m not a housefly,” he said. “or a timid field mouse with his racing shoes on at the slightest crack of twig. i’m not that easy to get rid of, if that’s what you’re hoping. why don’t you sit down in that old stuffed chair you threw out last year, and we’ll have a talk.”

Fergus has a favor to ask that involves pixies, a city construction project, and–he promises solemnly–no dragons at all. (They all moved to Cleveland.)


(cross-posted at LitBlogs)

Women Blog, Too! #9

Fact-esque, by blogger eRobin, is a site that discusses politics and current events in general but focuses more on tracking specific reporters’ and newspapers’ reactions to and reporting on current affairs. It began, apparently, as part of the Journalist-Watch Project in which bloggers picked the work of a particular journalist and tracked them over time, reporting on observed biases or lack of same, but it has evolved way past that initial limited premise.

First, eRobin has enlarged her concern from Calvin Woodward and Judy Bumiller (her original ‘Objective’ reads:

This blog is part of an effort to adopt a journalist and track his/her writing during the 2004 campaign. I chose Calvin Woodward of the AP because although he can be less than fair, he can also do good work. Contact Mr. Woodward at CWoodward@ap.orgI’m adding Elizabeth Bumiller of the NYTimes to my watch. She seems very fair and writes about the BushCo election campaign.

–an impression I’m willing to bet has been drastically revised since this was written) to take in critiques of the two major papers–the NYT and WaPo–as well as media outlets like Fox and NPR. At the moment she’s concentrating on the NYT’s Jodi Wilgoren, with whom she is less than thrilled.

John Kerry and John Edwards have ideas to improve America, and they’ve been talking about them during the last two days, but don’t look for any of them to show up in the reporting in the NYTimes.Jodi Wilgoren instead reports that the second Kerry fundraiser that had to be postponed when Reagan died happened last night despite Wilgoren’s public worrying that “[r]euniting the performers and rebooking those locations will be difficult.” Somehow Team Kerry has defied the odds again – this time to the tune of $7.5 million.

The rest of the story outlines the remainder of the “carefully choreographed multimedia campaign” that Kerry and Edwards have been on since the VP announcement. It’s really not bad, if you want to hear a rundown of appearances and cutesy sound bites (Mrs. Kerry says Mrs. Edwards has a “huge brain”, Sen. Kerry has no plans to see F911) instead of a story that actually says something we could use to decide how to vote.

She is particularly withering on entertainment passing as news, and is capable of skewering unmercifully anyone who doesn’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between the two. She’s a very talented writer, too, but that doesn’t show up to good advantage in the shorter posts; catch her on a rant, though, and her way with a phrase is wondrously free. She tosses off insightful observations and biting critiques that would take me hours to compose as if they just rolled off the edge of her mind–or maybe she’s so good it just seems that way.

eRobin’s mind and interests range much too widely to be confined to press criticism, though. Here she is cutting to the core of the AIDS problem–no dancing around the delicate issues for her:

The Institute of Medicine is calling for an effort along the lines of the Peace Corps, to fight AIDS worldwide. It sounds good to me. It’s a good idea to push the idea of community when fighting AIDS since it is a communicable disease and we are all at risk. But I’m not sure even it gets at one of the biggest causes of the epidemic. Most people involved with the situation say that we can’t fix the problem with treatment alone; we have to work the prevention angle. I’d go a step further and say that unless women are economically empowered to be able to be independent of men, prevention plans aren’t going to work either. So there are two big things that need to be done (condoms and the economic empowerment of women) and they are both counter to most traditional cultures and the will of the Catholic Church, which is influential in many of the most desperate countries. Any effective plan will have to deal with those two stumbling blocks.

Soft-peddling isn’t eRobin’s thing. It’s strictly cut-to-the-chase time at Fact-esque. eRobin doesn’t think we can afford the luxury of cushioning our delicate sensibilities while people are dying from our inattention or antagonistic policies. She has no time for and little patience with pussy-footers and excuse-mongers, yet she manages to savage them without seeming either bitter or cruel. She isn’t trying to hurt people’s feelings; she just isn’t trying not to hurt them.

A final note. eRobin does something I’ve never seen any other blogger do: she not only puts the links to the sources of her posts in the text, she puts them in again in the post footer, adding sources she used but may not have quoted in the actual piece. It’s an interesting practice. I don’t know how useful it actually is but it shows an enormous respect for the intelligence, curiosity, and innate skepticism of her audience. It’s as if she assumes we’re all from Missouri–or should be.

LitBlogs Is Born

As you know, I’ve been quite taken lately by the blogs I’ve run across that use a blogging format as a creative device. So taken, in fact, that after a night of flowing wine and an excess of hubris, I decided to start yet another blog, this one devoted to pure literary creativity in the blogosphere. I call it LitBlogs, and from time to time I’ll be posting reviews and/or descriptions of new finds there as well as short precis of new updates to old favorites.

For those of you who think I’ve completely lost my mind, here’s the rationale: I’m doing what I would be doing anyway, I’m just putting it all together in a single convenient place, posting there what I would have posted here. It’s not really extra work, just a shifting of focus. (How was that? Convincing, huh?)

The first three posts are edited and enlarged versions of posts first published here, so you can skip them without feeling like you may have missed something. From now on, though, all the posts on these litblogs will go there. I expect a once-a-week check of it will be plenty, probably on Monday or Tuesday. The next one will be the review of Fafblog! that I never got around to, probably today or tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you know of any imaginative blogs that might fit the LitBlog criteria, please pass them along to me by clicking the Russian postman on the sidebar (this will bring up your mail client’s composer with my email address already in the “To:” bar; this has caused some confusion, apparently, but it was an attempt to make communication easier, not harder. For those of you who prefer to copy-and-paste, the actual address will be added shortly). I am particularly on the prowl for poetry and short-short sites, humor sites, and really good journal sites, which means sites where the entries are well-written essays rather than tossed-off personal news-and-views (think of Maine Line as a template example). No politics or current events, please; everything else is fair game. I’m looking for sites entirely devoted to creatively re-imagining the blog format, not individual posts on an otherwise normal site. I may get around to that later, but right now I want to concentrate on the macro rather than the micro. Thanks.

With summer here and the political season heating up–the Democratic Convention, at least, is right around the corner–the need for release from oppressing news is greater than at any other time of the year. I think once we get going, we’ll be able to find something different and entertaining for everyone’s summer blogging needs while at the same time giving some welcome encouragement to a brand-new development in blogging. And have some fun while we’re at it.

Blogging Comes of Age

WaPo reports that the Democrats are going to allow some bloggers to cover their convention.

More than 15,000 people will converge on Boston later this month to cover the Democratic National Convention — including, for the first time, bloggers.The Democratic Party plans to give media credentials to a select group of bloggers who want to cover the event, where Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) is expected to accept his party’s presidential nomination. The group has not announced which bloggers might get the passes, but that information will come in the “next few weeks,” an event spokeswoman said. The convention begins July 26.

But officials said whoever gets credentials will have the same opportunities to cover the four-day event that journalists enjoy. “We want to treat them just the same as other reporters,” said Mike Liddell, the convention’s director of online communications. “We’re even planning to do a breakfast for them the first day of the convention.”

A Blogger Breakfast! We’ve hit the Big Time, gang.

Of course, they’ll be picking who gets to go. The Pubs will invite Reynolds, Sully, Mickey Kaus, and the Corner’s Kool Kids, and the Dems will invite Atrios for sure, and probably kos. Josh Marshall will be covering it for the Washington Monthly presumably, but Kevin Drum is a good guess. So is Patrick Neilson Hayden. There are a lot of good ones from the upper tier to choose from, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Now here’s the bigger question: Will gadfly bloggers like Atrios and kos get sucked into the mainstream media game and become no better than the people they’ve been criticizing? Or will they maintain their standards and refuse to fall for the ‘Blogger Breakfast’ crap?

By the spirit of IF Stone, I hope it’s the latter.

Women Blog, Too! #9 – The Mermaid Tavern

‘indiejade’ of The Mermaid Tavern (Born Feb ’04) is helping to redefine ‘the blog’ by exploring its creative possibilities. Forsaking the standard socio-politico-cultural-personal rant/analysis format in favor of humorous or satiric monologues and set-pieces on the vagaries and anomalies of everyday existence, she uses her own life as a launching pad for exploring all the stuff we only notice when it drives us nuts. In the process, she dedicates herself to providing potential solutions to problems or answers to complex and difficult questions like ‘What’s the deal with shampoo?’ Asked by a supposed reader, ‘Do you believe the “repeat” part of the directions is a ploy by the shampoo companies to sell more shampoo?’, she answers:

Congratulations on bursting the bubble. You have inadvertently destroyed $1.4 trillion dollars worth of potential profit for the shampoo companies with your discovery. And now it is time for the truth to come out.The first part of the truth is that the shampoo companies are actually fronts for the National Committee of Librarians against Harry Potter.

The National Committee of Librarians against Harry Potter believes that there is a direct linkage between the number of bottles of shampoo sold and the amount of sorcery that occurs at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This linkage has actually been prove[n] in a complex algorithm that nearly shut down the Internet and mysteriously caused the pine tree needles of the world to stand on end. The algorithm has since disappeared.

The second part of the truth is that the shampoo companies have been deceiving consumers for years. Most people do not know that shampoo is simply a by-product of a chemical called “air” that has the amazing ability to purge itself of toxicity.

Or trying to explain one of THOSE days:

*the sky turns dark and thunder crashes*Do you know what I mean? THOSE days are days that you wish you hadn’t gotten out of bed. THOSE days are days when absolutely nothing goes your way. In the morning, you burn your bagel, pour orange juice into your coffee (instead of milk), and accidentially lose your keys. Later you realize, halfway through the day, that you are wearing your shirt inside out. Your shoes keep coming untied. You cannot remember where you parked your car. The deli has run out of smoked turkey breast, when, that’s all you really feel like eating. Rush hour traffic is at a standstill (ironic that they call it “rush hour” while everyone is stuck going nowhere, eh?). Your dog has had a heyday while you were away — taking every single pair of underpants you own and decorating the living room.

So yeah, it’s been one of THOSE days.

Or commenting on a recent scorpion outbreak in Seattle (Seattle? Is this true?):

Recently in Seattle (motto: “You smell like a two-day fish”), residents reported an outbreak of scorpions. Perhaps you think there are no scorpions in Seattle. Perhaps you are an idiot.As the French say, au contraire (literally: “Yo momma’s so fat that when she stands on the scale, it says: TO BE CONTINUED!”). I have here on my desk a copy of an Associated Press article sent in by alert reader Ziggy, whose name can be rearranged to spell “ZYIGG”, although that is not my main point. “Ziggy”, by the way, only has the letters “iy” in in common with “Monica Lewinsky,” so there is no other reason to mention Monica Lewinsky in this article.

But her glory is showcased in a 2-part piece just published after a lengthy hiatus (I was going to make indiejade the first WBT review but she wasn’t posting at the time because she was trying to get through finals, and some of you know what that’s like). Titled ‘The Hangover Monster’, it’s a hilarious send-up not just of hangovers and what they feel like, but of why we tell ourselves we do them: ‘Somebody made me.’ The evening starts out reasonably enough–

It was to be a simple gathering with friends . . . well, okay, I lie. It was to be a simple gathering of burned-out college students who may or may not know each other, all gathered in the name of social drinking. The simple gathering of college students milled about, chatting “small talk” while the water cooler bubbled moodily in the background #. The vibrant notes of Erasure pulsed out of the speakers.The philosofairy was proud of herself, for a moment, as she surveyed the scene. She’d actually dragged herself away from the house and attended . . . dum da dum . . . a Social Gathering!

(Please hold the applause)

–but with the arival of ‘Beatrice’ (‘names have been changed to protect identities, affiliates and potential lawsuits’), things start to slide downhill. Mud-slide, actually.

“Yeah,” says Beatrice*, finishing her drink. (Imagine ravenous gulps of alcoholic beverage consumption followed by insane laughter and punctuated by the slam of an empty glass on the counter) “I’ve just been workin’. Goin’ to school. . . .. Girl, you look great! Hey, you need a drink? You look like you need a drink.””I don’t really –”

But by then it’s too late. The philosofairy has a coconut mudslide in her hand.

Fast forward one hour, and the philosofairy is suddenly taking generous shots of tequila, sipping (something) and drinking some more of (something) which is 49.2 percent alcohol, but, for legal purposes, has been spiked with (something) that contains 110 percent alcohol.

In Part II, the predictable results of this behaviour are described with ruthless precision:

Sunday: 10:20 a.m.When she finally has the courage to open her eyes, the philosofairy realizes that the scientists have been right all along. There really are things called “molecules” and “sound waves” swimming in the air around people. Trillions and trillions of molecules and sound waves. The philosofairy knows this because she can feel every individual molecule and sound wave assaulting her poor, bedraggled body. If she closes her eyes and concentrates very carefully, she can feel every molecule and sound wave bounce off her body at speeds of perhaps three hundred thousand miles per hour. She is especially aware of the sensation on her left foot because her left foot has somehow become sockless in the course of the night. She is also aware of the sensation acutely in temples.

It’s a molecular homicide, of sorts, wherein the molecules of the earth have, sometime during the night, conspired with the sound wave of the earth to create a cacophonous symphony of discord. The philosofairy winces when the symphony reaches its crescendo. All she can do is utter a groan which, when she thinks about it, sounds something like a water buffalo giving birth.

And which of us hasn’t been there?

The Mermaid Tavern is Robert Benchley translated for a modern audience, and the good news is: when she’s on her game, indiejade writes every bit as well as Benchley, sometimes better. But even when she’s off, she’s still one of the funniest and most human reads on the net. If she’s not as flat-out funny as Fafblog!, that’s because it’s a deeper kind of funny, the kind of rueful, ‘O jeez, I did that?’ funny that comes with recognition and self-awareness of and resignation to your own foibles, flaws and weaknesses. You know the ones: those little ones you think nobody notices. indiejade knows all about them and is exposing them for all of us, god bless her.

So read and enjoy. Pretend she’s not talking about you if you have to, but understand this: we know who she’s talking about….

Power to the People

Nick at Net Politik (another brand-new blog–May 16) writes in comments to ‘Censoring Blogs’ (he’s the one I got the letter from) of a paper by James F Moore of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School on the ‘second superpower’. At least in part, Moore thinks it’s us.

As the United States government becomes more belligerent in using its power in the world, many people are longing for a “second superpower” that can keep the US in check. Indeed, many people desire a superpower that speaks for the interests of planetary society, for long-term well-being, and that encourages broad participation in the democratic process. Where can the world find such a second superpower? No nation or group of nations seems able to play this role, although the European Union sometimes seeks to, working in concert with a variety of institutions in the field of international law, including the United Nations. But even the common might of the European nations is barely a match for the current power of the United States.There is an emerging second superpower, but it is not a nation. Instead, it is a new form of international player, constituted by the “will of the people” in a global social movement. The beautiful but deeply agitated face of this second superpower is the worldwide peace campaign, but the body of the movement is made up of millions of people concerned with a broad agenda that includes social development, environmentalism, health, and human rights. This movement has a surprisingly agile and muscular body of citizen activists who identify their interests with world society as a whole—and who recognize that at a fundamental level we are all one. These are people who are attempting to take into account the needs and dreams of all 6.3 billion people in the world—and not just the members of one or another nation. Consider the members of Amnesty International who write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, and the millions of Americans who are participating in email actions against the war in Iraq. Or the physicians who contribute their time to Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres.

It’s a good point and it’s also one of the reasons I think we have to fight for the freedom of the internet: this is our major tool for communication, organization, and cohesion. It crosses all borders, ties people together who have no other connection, and makes it possible for the people of the world to talk past their govts. The inherent power of that capacity has to be terrifying to govts everywhere–it may be the biggest single threat to their power that they’ve ever faced. It is almost inevitable that they will try to control it to their own advantage when that threat becomes more than a mere annoyance.

And that’s why the actions of the South Korean and Chinese govts are so dangerous–they are leading the way in putting into the hands of the powerful the capability of crippling if not destroying the only weapon we have–and a powerful one it is, too. It is the planetary voice of the people, nothing less, and it must be guarded and protected as the precious resource it is. We have not even begun to see what this thing can do; the possibilities are endless–international coalitions, international co-ordinated movements, international online meetings, preparations, and discussion.

This is the voice we’ve never had before in history, the tool we’ve never had that will allow us to come together. We can’t risk losing it.