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The Tory and the Masochist

It's time for another coruscating installment of Movable Snipe, the Jewcy feature where two hierophants of ink-stained journalism spend a week reading five blogs of our choosing and offering their harshest or gentlest verdicts. ("Internet, schminternet. I was writing notes on camp when Steve Jobs still had hair.")

This week's Snipers are John Derbyshire, our favorite cant-hating National Review Tory who thinks Humbert Humbert wasn't that bad, and Daphne Merkin, the unpredictable feminist of belles lettres, for whom the expression "tell all" — not to mention "safety word" — might have been invented.

Their quarry:

1. James Wolcott: It's been said that Jimmy Jazz lost his touch until Adam Gopnik came along to replenish the Midas quotient. What's it like clicking "Publish" without Graydon looking over your shoulder? Are liberal hawks just costumed attack poodles pissing and shitting in front of landmark buildings on Sutton Place? Is it cool for a former Village Voice chronciler of punk rock to have so many cats lying around the house?

2. Reason's Hit and Run: The Cato Institute meets the Sex Pistols under the leather-dudded stewardship of Nick Gillespie (full disclosure: he's a bud of mine and was very kind to me during my abortive D.C. stint at Wonkette a year ago). Reason specializes in collective editorial blogging and unity of voice. Not like 'round these parts with the Trotsky-this, K-Fed-that.

3. Design Observer: A graphic arts and culture hodepodge run by the people who bring you shiny and new publications by NextBook. For some reasons, visions of SoHo, glass blocks and brushed steel furniture and a little something to get you started, love mom and dad — flit through my head.

4. Kesher Talk: Where John Bolton's cookie-duster mustache is damned sexy, Moynihan and Glazer's Beyond the Melting Pot was too hard on the blacks, and Israel may also be mentioned.

5. Matt Yglesias: Andrew Sullivan names an award for political self-criticism after him. Because admitting your side is wrong is now as laudatory as letting that call from Judy Miller go straight to voicemail.

Round One begins with Derbs. Enjoy!

Michael Weiss

To: Daphne Merkin From: John Derbyshire Subject: Coulter, Lolitas, and Waugh

Dear Daphne,

Coultergate! For heavens’ sake, it was just Ann being Ann. What a fighter the gal is, though! I saw her on Hannity & Colmes last night, totally not apologizing, blasting away at all the conservative weenies who, says Ann, are just letting liberals dictate the agenda. I’m with Ann on this point, while also somehow being at one with the liberals in finding Ann a bit… scary. Then some slagging off of my own blog-home, NRO, of K-Lo and Jonah. This gets my back up. I can give noogies to my NR colleagues, call K-Lo’s pet project a cult, or tell Jonah he doesn’t have a religious bone in his body and ought to come right out and say so; but I don’t care to see other people doing it. It’s family business. But then James Wolcott gets right back in my good books with an affectionate sketch of Clive James, of whom I’ve been a big fan since those Observer reviews Wolcott mentions. Loved Clive’s autobiography, too. His advice to schoolboys on what to do if you cack your pants in class was, I thought, invaluable.

I feel about Reason the way I feel about strenuous physical exercise—a jolly good thing, in the grand cosmic schema, but somehow not for me. The first headline I saw on Hit and Run amply, abundantly, confirmed that feeling: Pediatricians Continue to Resist the Government’s Urine Grab. Uh-huh. Then: “Can private-public toll partnerships revolutionize the way we drive?” Pass. Kerry Howley’s piece on the sexualization of little girls (thongs now come in kid sizes etc.) was nicely counterintuitive, and played right into my growing irritation with
Bill O’Reilly’s furious jihad against “child abusers,” a category that, on the Big Mick’s expansive definition, would sweep up several harmless and really very nice old men of my own childhood acquaintance into the O’Gulag along with, to be sure, the very occasional genuine monster. And then—oh boy!—a YouTube clip of the old Soviet National Anthem! Priceless! The pop version (second link in that posting), by contrast, stank.

“News and views from a hawkish liberal Jewish perspective,” says the banner at Kesher Talk. I had Babelfish translate that into Hebrew and then the Hebrew back out into English. Funny—it came through as: “We’re guilty as all get out about blacks, Hispanics, and all the other people we are smarter and richer than, but don’t even think about messing with Israel!” Well, it’s nice to know where you are right up front. Some Judaic stuff—Rosh Chodesh Ellul, Simchat Torah—that all bounced right off my poor, and poor, gentile brain. Fair enough, it’s a Jewish site—just so long as they feel guilty about me, too. What else? Some talk about that Wilson gal & the Plame guy, pure insomnia cure as far as I’m concerned—I’d rather read about Rosh Chodesh Ellul. Then—Rudy! They got my attention there. A good, long, interesting post about Rudy’s dark side. Yeah, yeah, but the guy understands key things—e.g. that govt. spending is mostly squandered, that govt. bureaucracies are mostly incompetent, that govt. programs of every kind, including wars and “diplomatic initiatives,” almost always do more harm than good—and this is a new thing in our national life, at least since Ronald Reagan, pbuh.

At Design Observer, I found myself looking right into (so far as physical laws permit) the cross-eyed squint of
Evelyn Waugh, “as good a writer as it is possible to be while holding untenable opinions” (G. Orwell). (Imagine a stare-off between the late EW and the current President of Iran! It would rip the fabric of spacetime.) There followed a nice bit of Waughiana. Scrolling down, the next mugshot is of Idi Amin, who had a personality even nastier than Waugh’s, and who could not even write fiction. (At least Saddam Hussein tried.) And, nut job though Idi undoubtedly was, his random thuggery did less harm to Uganda, and killed fewer Ugandans, than the more systematic nation-wrecking of his predecessor and successor, the quasi-Leninist hack Milton Obote. Then a lot of postings about design—it’s a design website, duh. Where’s that Rosh Chodesh Ellul link?

Matt Yglesias is one of those names I’ve been hearing bandied about for ever, yet never really had much clue who he was—like the Plame guy, or Ludwig von Mises, or Jessica Simpson. Well, here I am, looking at his blog at last. Wall to wall political wonkery, lightly seasoned with some TV arcana. Must try, must try, … zzzzzzzzz.


To: John Derbyshire From: Daphne Merkin Subject: Ellen's Duds, Kingsley and the Women, Waugh and the Jews

Dear John,

Here's my question about Wolcott: why does any print journalist or writer need a blog? Doesn't Wolcott get enough space to air his sometimes interesting, sometimes merely snappish thoughts and mini-thoughts in Vanity Fair? He can be funny but he's rarely unpredictable–sort of like Frank Rich with fangs. And didn't his one and only novel (who am I to talk, having fallen into a Henry Rothian silence after the publication of my one and only novel over two decades ago) feature something about a cat, either on the cover or in the plot? I hate and fear cats and never entirely trust people who like them.

I do entirely concur with his points about Ellen DeGeneres being astonishingly bland in her hosting role at the Oscars; she even repeated one un-funny joke, as both my daughter and I noticed. That all said, I'm completely uninterested in hearing about or reading about Ann Coulter at this point; she seems like a parody of herself, and clearly would never have captured the limelight (what is the blogosphere form of limelight?) if not for those incredible legs and that endless blonde hair.

She makes conservatives look like blowhards, the lot of them, which plays nicely into the unreflexive views of the Left. And yes, it was nice to read the bouquet he tossed to Clive James, although I found James' defense of Kingsley Amis in the TLS on the occasion of the Zachary Leader biography beyond bizarre. Instead of analyzing his somewhat thwarted promise as a writer and his paralyzing phobias, James defends Amis' bedroom habits, of all things, insisting that Amis wasn't a compulsive womanizer so much as an appreciator of the infinite variety of womankind. And that every female he ever bedded not only knew that he saw them in all their uniqueness but forgave him because of it.

I don't buy it. But I do think James' piece on The Sopranos is one of the best High/Low essays I've ever read.

Hit & Run seems like a well-intentioned and thoughtful site, but a little on the earnest side. Of course earnestness is infinitely preferable to hipness or archness or knowingness Neal Gabler wrote a perceptive piece in the LA Times not long ago on "Hollywood in Decline" in which he referred to "an ever-growing culture of knowingness, especially among young people, in which being regarded as part of an informational elite — an elite that knew which celebrities were dating each other, which had had plastic surgery, who was in rehab, etc. — was more gratifying than the conventional pleasures of moviegoing."

The "print archives" features articles that remind me of old-fashioned articles, the kind I used to read inside the covers of a magazine at night in bed. In that sense, it's refreshingly retrograde and I liked two pieces I read, one on "Enforcing Virtue" by Cathy Young, which was fairly nuanced in its analysis of what she calls "the tension between liberty and morality." Not revelatory but not plagued by the typically intransigent Left/Right ideological agendas, either.

The piece that really interested me but proved a bit wispy was called “iWorld". I must admit that I have been obsessed with getting an iPod and learning how to download music on to it for the last two years. I was given one as a gift and I think I bought the second one, but one went missing and the other was appropriated by my daughter. Two days ago I decided to attempt to get control of the situation once again by ordering a new iPod, which has yet to arrive, although the iPod skins have arrived ahead of the gizmo itself. Now I have to learn how to use the damn thing, which my daughter has terrorized me into believing is beyond my limited technological grasp. This is no country for older people, the young in one another’s arms, communing with their white earbuds, the birds in their trees…

Don't have much of an opinion about Kesher Talk, at least yet, except that I'm tired of Jewish puns—if that's what they are—being used for the names of magazines, blogs (like this one), etc. It seemed to fall between the stools of the particular (as in tribal) and the general (as in the larger political scene). I never followed the Wilson-Plame affair with quite the scandalized ardor so many others seem to have felt as they watched it unfold. I mean, I'm glad justice was served and Cheney seems ever more like a malign version of the Wizard of Oz, but—and I hope I don't sound too blaise when I say this—it seems like another example of corruption in the corridors of power rather than the paradigmatic, Ur instance. It’s one of those incidents that people who don't generally get exercised about political malfeasance mostly because they don't follow politics with any but glancing attention batten on to. But even as I write this, I see the righteous Bush-bashing elite-gathering to air their views on NPR or the Sunday morning chat shows, none of which I tune in to.

Speaking of names of things, from whence comes Design Observer? I was expecting comments on the latest designs, sort of like a blog version of Wallpaper, and instead I got come cultural comments— on Evelyn Waugh and The King of Scotland—that have only the thinnest link to issues of aesthetics. I thought the movie was very strong and Forest Whittaker is a great talent but didn't I read somewhere that Idi Amin’s son complained that the actor didn't bear any resemblance—physical or psychological—to his father?

As for Waugh, he’s infinitely compelling in the way that people with astringent but vulnerable sensibilities always are. But then, I am always brought up short by the knowledge that he wouldn't have warmed to either me, as a Daughter of Zion, or God knows, this blog. This is evidence of either serendipity or synergy (remember how excited people once were by the prospect of synergy?) or simply old-fashioned coincidence, but just tonight, while reading a piece about the late and memorable Caroline Blackwood—who played muse to and married several gifted men (including Lucien Freud and Robert Lowell) before going off and writing her own chilly novels and acid-dipped journalism (she and I were quite friendly for a period, but she was possessed of a quite breathtaking destructive streak that suggested her heart had been permanently broken early on and never quite cohered again)—I happened
upon this comment in a letter Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford upon hearing that Blackwood had married Lucien Freud: "You know that poor Maureen's daughter made a runaway match with a terrible Yid?"

I've heard a lot about Matt Yglesias and I know Matt’s father, Rafe, so I'll be diplomatic and say that from my brief perusal thus far I wasn't bowled over. I didn't think the level of dialogue about Giuliani was particularly insightful. He is authoritarian; he did make the city safer, at least for the upper-middle-classes; I don’t recall Dinkins as having been particularly active on any front; and I can't claim to know enough about the architectural logistics of the city's emergency response center or the World Trade Center to know whether he should have put the center in WTC 1 or 2 instead of 7. Do these bloggers have blueprints of the buildings in front of them?

Can we talk about Lolita and your National Review essay tomorrow, even if none of these blogs mention the book?


[Click here for the next series of letters. Check the Daily Shvitz for immediate updates.]

Previous Movable Snipes:

Michael Helke and Fiona Maazel [, , , , ]

Spencer Ackerman and Melissa Lafsky [Captain’s Quarters, Feministing, TNR's The Spine, Jossip, Wonkette]

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