Long before there was Gawker, but a little after there was Wired, there was Suck. A smirking, ironic underground in the dotcom dystopia of the fin de siecle, Suck was an online politics and pop culture magazine read by those of us already too far into our teens to be billionaires, but too damned young to go back to print. Every day saw a short, witty essay published in a “snaking” column of text that never exceeded 200 pixels in width, and bylined by a too-clever-by-half pseudonym like Polly Esther or CGI Joe. And Terry Colon's accompanying art (see above and to the right) was simply the shrewdest thing in pastels.
You wanted a net mogul’s ego punctured, a politico’s horizon darkened, or a celebrity’s lipstick smeared – you knew where to point your browser between ’96 and ’01. (After the industry it took the piss out of became incontinent on Wall Street, Suck was bought out by Feed magazine, then fell into a state of permanent suspended animation. A little bit of Cisco Systems employee died in us all that day.)
The site's motto – “A fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun” – may have been a paean to know-it-all Gen X cynicism, but make no mistake: the accomplishment was lasting and profound. Suck made the adolescent internet turn its head and cough.
Nick is the editor-in-chief of Reason magazine, which would have been Adam Smith’s favorite subscription if he were a member of Joy Division.
Tim, who’s now the web editor of the Los Angeles Times opinion page, actually invented Reason’s popular blog Hit & Run, a name he conveniently stole from a popular proto-blog feature at Suck. (Plagiarism’s the new scoop; remind me to forward you the Slate article.)
Their quarry for the next three days:
Swampland: Time’s collective corporate journalism blog, which I’ve found is best experienced as a drinking game. Every time Joe Klein reluctantly tugs his forelock before the almighty netroots, do a shot. Every time Wonkette emerita (and fellow Suck alumna) Ana Marie Cox wishes she could still make her mortgage payments on ass-fucking jokes, do two.
Unclaimed Territory: All right, I picked this one out of pure sadism. Lefty civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald blogs at Salon, once the bete noir of the Sucksters. I don’t know if your browser does this, but that “smug cloud” from South Park always appears as pop-up in Firefox whenever I click on this blog.
Kausfiles: Will Slate’s in-house blogger finally have done with this whole charade and confess his Victor Mature-like man-love for Andrew Sullivan? More importantly, is Mickey furry enough to make it work?
Michelle Malkin: Everyone’s favorite, internment camp-championing, link-happy vixen. Better looking than Ann Coulter, and Charlie’s favorite Angel (she’s good with knives).
To: Tim Cavanaugh From: Nick Gillespie Subject: Elementary, My Dear Cavanaugh
So, Tim, we meet again, like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarity at Reichenbach Falls. Or maybe Sandler & Young at the Foxwoods Casino, together again for the last time. Is it too early in the week to start snorting Adderall? Or sticking needles in my eyes? Or how about in your eyes? In a land of blogs, the blind man may be king.
Before we get on to discussing a bunch of blogs that I literally need to be paid to read—life being too short on such pursuits even if we live to be 200—I want to underscore how sick and tired I am of being paired professionally with you, first at Suck, then at Reason, and then occasionally at your current perch, where you shill for big media and corporate interests. Suddenly I know how Eydie Gorme must have felt all those years, carrying a real sack of rotten potatoes around on the stage and trying to keep the smile going. You know better than anyone how lucky you were that the Los Angeles Times hired you just minutes before I was going to shitcan you at Reason for conduct unbecoming a libertarian (really, Tim, how can you not agree that Mother, Jugs & Speed makes a great case for privatizing emergency medical services?). But I do owe you for a remarkable piece of advice—"Never pass up an opportunity to have sex on TV with Gore Vidal"—that I look forward to using at some point in the future, preferably after the Rapture has begun. (Are we even allowed to make Rapture jokes at Jewcy? Writing for this site, I haven't felt this Catholic since Mark Foley stopped IM'ing me).
So I went over to Kausfiles as directed, for about the first time in about a decade (slight exaggeration) and was immediately discombobulated by the newest item, "To Wuss or Not To Wuss," in which Mickey Kaus rats out Andrew Sullivan as a hypocrite about using the term "wussy." Everything really did change on 9/11, Tim, and the stakes have never been higher. Mickey—who I know a bit and with whom, at least up until now, I have always been on very friendly and flattering terms, except for the time I likened Bloggingheads TV to a lost act from Waiting for Godot—always seems to narrating a soap opera whose storyline is absolutely impenetrable, like Dark Shadows without the implied vampire sex (and hence much less interesting). It seems that Sully got mad at Mickey for defending Ann Coulter for saying John Edwards is light in the loafers. And then Old Duke, the trusty dog, came barking like mad from the old coal mine on the edge of town, where Jimmy and Mike were trapped while playing hide-and-seek, blah, blah, blah. There's so much blogrolling going on at Kausfiles, you can't read the damn thing without getting splinters in your teeth (and while we're at it: Thanks, Mickey, for linking for a column about speeding-crazed and accident-prone politicians by Reason's own Radley Balko).
Whenever I read Kausfiles—and knowing that Kaus writes mostly from bee-yoo-tee-ful Southern California—I'm always reminded of those stories about German intellectuals hanging out in Santa Monica during the Holocaust. Despite the sunshine and the beach, Adorno, Mann, et al., just couldn't get the horror in Europe out of their minds. With Mickey, it's like the opposite. You can imagine him in a death camp somewhere, practically on his way to the showers, and he'd still be fervently debating some technical point about capital gains, or welfare reform, or the new grill on a Chrysler LeBaron: "Matthew Yglesias is trying to sucker me into blogging about a 'variety of education-related topics.'"
Speaking of horrifying scenes of human carnage, let's truck on over to Michelle Malkin's blog. You know, nobody uses the terms "wingnut" and "moonbat" better than our finest diagnostician of Bush Derangement Syndrome (who once, long ago in a distant galaxy, wrote a great story for Reason about racial dynamics in the war on drugs). Really, she can sniff out BDS from farther away than Bill Frist could read Terri Schiavo's aura. But the fact is that Malkin's blog today is a snooze, with items about stuff like "John Doe legislation" that will protect folks who turn in suspicious-looking Arabs who turn out to be innocent. "Watch this bill closely," muses Malkin. "Keep an eye on who supports and who opposes it. This will tell you much." You can get that sort of vitriol from a Magic 8-Ball, Tiresias!
It's tough to believe that Malkin hasn't peaked after her riveting turn a couple of weeks ago as a cheerleader belting out "The Defeatocrats' Cheer" in living video. I haven't felt that sorry for someone in a cheerleading outfit—or been that sick to my stomach—since "Hey Mickey" went out of heavy rotation on MTV in 1982. Seriously, fuck the surge in Iraq: Just drop Malkin and Toni Basil on the Sunni Triangle and watch the fight go out of those insurgents faster than John Kerry got out of Vietnam.
Does anyone use italics in the blogosphere better than Glenn Greenwald? I don't think so, Tim, and I'm willing go to the mat on this. This guy gets it, you understand? In fact, sometimes he gets it with italics and bold. Just take a look at the long, indented paragraphs that run through his blog like, I don't know, stink on rice (where is that Adderall?). Greenwald is the author of The New York Times bestseller How Would a Patriot Act? (yeah, I stopped reading too after "Times bestseller") and the surefire forthcoming smash, Tragic Legacy, which will also savage George W. Bush. Finally, someone willing to take on an all-powerful president with approval ratings in the low 30s!
I like the fact that Greenwald attacks Fred Thompson, who really ought to be the next Breath Assure pitchman once his presidential bid goes South (which ought to happen as soon as the Tennessean enters the race). Greenwald also attacks a bunch of "real journalists" (e.g. Joe Klein, Jonathan Alter, and John Yoo—yes, that John Yoo) who attack bloggers. More power to him, and to me. Though not to you, Tim, as part of the corporate media. Beyond the italics, though, the most striking thing about Greenwald's Salon blog is that you don't have to sit through the 20-second ad to read the content. Which really had become the best part of Salon, don't you agree?
That stink filling the room isn't simply my own decaying prose, Tim—I'm about to head over to Time mag's Swampland, "a blog about politics in the nation's capital." Only a gigantic journalistic behemoth such as Mr. Luce's mag could marshal the resources required to deliver Jay Carney's laser-like insight into a new 5-minute "testimonial" video by Bill Clinton about his better half that's posted at Hillary's official website. "The question, of course" writes Carney, "Is the video effective? Or does it backfire? Will Bill's fluid and persuasive delivery remind people that Hillary's not nearly so good a politician as her husband? Or will having the ultimate political salesman making the pitch on her behalf be a net benefit? Having watched it a few times, it feels to me like a net plus for Hillary. But I could be wrong."
Goddamnit, Tim, why can't you and I write prose like this? Does this guy eat dilithium crystals for breakfast?
Seriously, journalists everywhere—and especially at your misbegotten rag, which can only do 20 percent ROI, so it's understandable why your billionaire owner has to start cutting the fat—are always bitching about how penny-pinchers are shutting down foreign bureaus. Read a couple of items into Swampland—"That's Hagelian!" reads one groaner by Joe Klein—and you'll be complaining that Time hasn't shut down enough of its domestic bureaus yet.
Wired's Danger Room is a better big-media blog (based on two five-minute reads today). It's written by Noah Shachtman and it covers "what's next in national security." I'm not sure I care all that much about the general topic but, oddly enough, the blog has a more interesting range than most of the others we've been told to read over the next couple of days. Certainly the graphics and headlines are fun and the content is informative, if only because it actually aggregates news rather than simple bloviation.
Who wouldn't find a post about government researchers working to help dogs track down terrorists based on their body odor? But maybe that just appeals to me because of the years I spent working with you.
From: Tim Cavanaugh To: Nick Gillespie Subject: Reality is a Crutch for People Who Can't Handle Drugs
Nick, I thought I was taking the Art Garfunkel part in this particular reunion, but it's clear now that I had the wrong twosome: I'm obviously the Simon figure while your cavalcade of hilarity is every bit as boffo and painful to watch as the deathless physical comedy of Chevy Chase in the "Call Me Al" video. Here's hoping we can extend the suffering of the readers for some time before they figure out they've been had.
Taking your blog picks in reverse order (my efforts to find a squeegee man to fill in on this assignment having fallen through), I'd have to concur on Wired's Danger Room, which is as much a future-of-policing blog as a future-of-national-security blog. Crammed in with all the reporting on fighter drones and hand phasers and plasma UFOs there's this tidbit about a cop so wimpy he panicked and called 911 after feeding his wife some pot brownies. This is exactly the sort of "bad trip" or "bummer" we were warned about by luminaries ranging from Sonny Bono to Bro and Dude; and it's proof, as if we needed any more, that reality is just a crutch for people who can't handle drugs. The good news is that when the boys in blue are on the verge of going into a hallucinatory mind-spiral from being "baked" on the "chronic," they'll be able to knock themselves into a coma with new sonic blasters. Or they could just open up a sonic riot-control barrage on a bunch of demonstrators waving U.S. flags.
The best I can say of Time Mag's Swampland is here's the link – and when will our do-nothing Congress outlaw the tired use of "swamp" imagery for everything related to D.C.? It's like the old law that everything about the Middle East has to be called "On shifting sands" or "Lines in the sand" or "House of Saud built on sand" or "Like sands through an hourglass." MSM blogs are, I think, going to end up among such curiosities of history as the Monkees or the rappin' Selective Service ads from the eighties. Blogging while holding to the standards of a family publication is like taking a shower with a raincoat on. You've got two competing value propositions: the broadcast model of thrice-edited, quadruply-censored content fit for millions of viewers and the unbuttoned, sisters-doin'-it-for-themselves, narrowcast quality of the blogs. The two may just be an impossible fit, and barring a timely pot-brownie infusion from some panicky cop, I don't see any way for a big-magazine blog to be ba-a-ad (you know the kids today say "bad" when they mean "good") in a way that will ever catch fire. The tell here is probably that the most-emailed story currently on the site is "Oral Sex Can Add to HPV Cancer Risk." How can Karen Tumulty can compete with that? Then again, maybe we've just caught Swampland on an off day; Lord knows the very name "Joe Klein" usually inspires me to the highest flights of sleep.
Truly Glenn Greenwald has gone an italic too far. Italicizing blockquoted text is like taking a shower with a raincoat on while wearing a belt and suspenders: Just do one or the other. Or else, go the whole nine yards and italicize, blockquote, boldface, underline and just to be one the safe side put everything into MS Word "Symbol" font. This passage from Greenwald, for example:
????? ???, ??? ???? ????? ????? ??? ??? ?????? ???????, ???????? ??????? ??? ???? ????? ?????????? ?? ??? ??? ??? ??? ????? ????.
This is a classic example of why straightup Reps-and-Dems pitches go past me: It's not that I think Scooter Libby should get pardoned; I just can't get exercised by the idea that the rule of law will collapse in ruins if that happens. I do like that Greenwald caricature, which I hope brought lunch money to some art student on the boardwalk.
Which brings me to Michelle Malkin's blog, which bears the elliptical epigraph (blurb? dedication? copyright info?) "Firecracker." With a tag like that, cheerleading is, as you've noted, inevitable. For my money, it's Malkin's three-inch vertical jump that really makes the Defeatocrat video a human tragedy, but as always, my heart is torn. Malkin, like many obsessives, is actually pretty useful when she's on about her favorite topic: Islamist crazies of various sorts. I was reading her blog with interest last week after the Fort Dix Six mini-story. As a matter of personal history, Malkin and I both bear the shame of South Jersey upbringings, but she attended Holy Spirit High School while I went to seed at Atlantic City High. So she was well placed to cover last week's vaguely planned terror attack on that undead military base, while I could only look on longingly, reminded again that if my parents hadn't been so stingy with the tuition dollars she might be Michelle Cavanaugh right now, and on date night I'd be allowed to wear the cheerleader outfit. But I digress. No-one dast blame the only person left who considers the Aqua Teen Hunger Force twosome a threat to society.
Of such roads untaken are our lives made, Nick. On second thought, it seems you and I are neither Sandler and Young nor Simon and Chase, but rather Rocky Sullivan and Father Jerry—one fast enough to escape into a life of piety, the other condemned to the penal system, but both, ultimately, institutionalized. If only I hadn't taken that pot brownie before the SATs; if only you had just said no to the brown acid they were passing around at the Us Festival, then neither of us would have to be reading Kausfiles at this unhappy hour. As always, I can't actually understand what Mickey Kaus is writing about, but I'm sure it must be incisive. It's interesting to see him scrambling in the following passage:
Sullivan responds by re-dragging out his charge that I have a "long record of homophobia" because I wrote a piece 24 years ago defending a famous/infamous sign at an L.A. bar called Barney's Beanery–a piece I almost immediately rethought and regretted, and that Sullivan surely knows I publicly repudiated years ago, the issue having surfaced in a recent blog back-and-forth. Like I said, "any weapon to hand." Also, intellectual dishonesty.** …
I've never seen Kaus fazed into unironic umbrage like this. Well actually I saw him pretty fazed just a couple weeks ago at a bookstore, but that's because I was accompanied by my two-year-old kid and Kaus was clearly horrified at the idea of being in an enclosed space with a germ-ridden human child. But I'm suspicious of one detail in that 24-year-old story–the reference to Mickey "moping in my beer." It's my understanding that Mickey is strictly a near-beer guy. Does he have some boozing, hell-raising past that never gets discussed? Pass the pot brownies and let me think about it…
Continue reading… "Leave Jerry Falwell to Heaven: I Mourn for Richard Paul!"
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