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March 25 2013


Closing War Film Credits and the Iraq Apologia Genre


We watched Zero Dark Thirty the other evening, and it struck me that as a big screen country we've reached the cinematic region located roughly halfway between The Green Berets and Platoon in terms of how America copes on film with disastrous, ethics-destroying wars of adventure.

Of course, Zero Dark Thirty isn't about Iraq. It's barely about Afghanistan. But it's most certainly about an era in U.S. military and geopolitical history, an era of crazed intervention and reactionary excuses from both major political parties, an era whose closing credits we're just beginning to glimpse. Perhaps the flick is best understood as The Deer Hunter of the post 9/11 war era - gritty and judgemental of extended American arms in the showing, not the telling, defined at least in part by the gimmick of Russian roulette just as Zero Dark Thirty has concentrated discussion around CIA dark sites and torture.

Frankly, I found Zero Dark Thirty brilliant and honest - not jingoistic at all. From the ghostly voices in lower Manhattan, recorded and doomed to die on that horrible day to the zipping of bin Laden into a U.S. Navy body bag, the film never really cheers, and Kathryn Bigelow doesn't so much create a gleaming American hero from the obsessive Jessica Chastain character as she molds a lasting anti-hero.

I'm embarassed for hit-and-run progressives who believe the film somehow "justifies" water boarding and "enhanced interrogation." It does not. It presents them as facts. As Lance Mannion correctly argued, those lefty critics were all "too distracted listening for speeches that were never delivered." The movie is also long and uncomfortable, like this long dark epoch itself. And the torture is as troubling as the bin Laden killing is matter of fact and mundane.

Indeed, Zero Dark Thirty is an antidote to the entertaining but anodyne Argo, which won Best Picture and is something of a paean to the days when we could all root for the hard-working men and women of the underdog CIA, represented by the handsome, bearded humanist Ben Affleck. In other words, the days of the late 70s - the Deer Hunter era itself, when the U.S. was the weakened world power limping home from Vietnam, and the echoes of the Church hearings still rang in our collective ears like the last chord of a Ramones set.

I was thinking about all of this when Blue Girl's instinctively bilious reaction to Andrew Sullivan's Iraq mea culpa crossed my feed reader.

Andrew Sullivan needs to stop writing about the Iraq war

Rumsfeld and Cheney were great at projecting confidence, competence and management skills. And we were all still traumatized by 9/11 and grappling with how to respond to it. But we know now they were as terrified as we were, and their fear drove them to abandon restraint or skepticism or competent military and intelligence advice.

This feels like an academic debate. But it isn’t. I have blood on my hands. However many times I try to wash them, the blood will not come off.

How is he (and others) trying to wash off that blood? By writing blog posts? How courageous of them. How meaningful for that little dead boy in the photo he included in his post.

BG is right, of course. The tenth anniversary of the war brought out the worst in those who'd supported it, and now regret their public words. Sullivan's was the just the most egregious example: as if his personal wrangling matters at all. Sully's post-Iraq angst has all the relative value of the post-sleep crud you flick from your eyes in the morning shower. As Blue Girl stingingly wrote:

You are embarrassing yourself. I am embarrassed for you. Please stop. Stick to writing about product placement in digital media. As far as I know, no one's kids are going to die hawking Coca Cola.

As James Wolcott coldly noted this week, those whooping "war whore" voices of 2003 have quieted, even if some emerged from intellectual hidey holes to squeak, "sorry!"

How the chickenhawks loved to castigate their opponents as chicken-hearted. I'll never forget the sick feeling I had watching the live coverage of the first US "shock and awe" bombing runs on Baghdad, with so much of the media in vainglorious hoopla mode, as if it were Super Bowl halftime entertainment.

It was quite the week for liberals who went along with the obvious lies and frabrications and bullying on Iraq in 2003 to pen boring and overly familiar apologia for - you know - assisting in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people and ruining the national reputation internationally for a generation. Charles Pierce was particularly tough on Ezra Klein (who, it must be noted, was in college at the time), but his critique can stand in for the whole sordid genre:

The members of the liberal political elite in this country were piss-down-their-legs scared of two things in 2002. First, that the next attack would land on their heads, since most of them live and work in or near what were presumed to be the primary target zones, both of which actually had been already. And second, that they would get called fifth-columnists (or worse) by the triumphalism of the incipient American imperial adventure in southwest Asia. Nobody wants to be George McGovern, after all.

This is how it was. Just as Zero Dark Thirty was how it was (as far as feature films can capture truth, that is). We should simply shitcan the apologia, and learn from 2003. Which is to say: eyes open, speak up.
Tags: Blogs Film War

March 22 2013


Google Trust

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 3.40.34 PMI run my business largely on Google's platform: email, files, calendar, my telephone number and easy syncing across multiple devices. I'm also a power user of Google's Android mobile operating system - it's my choice for both phone and tablet. Of course, Google is my default search engine and mapping program. And like many journalists, academics, and information obsessed geeks, I organized the RSS feeds from blogs and news sites that I followed with Google Reader.

Last week in my Forbes column, I joined the general din of outrage among hard-core Reader users when Google announced it was killing the service.

Does Google understand the concept of corporate social responsibility? That seems to be the basic question around the company’s strange decision to shut down a tiny service that serves as a major audience conduit for many thousands of bloggers, citizen journalists, and self publishers.

Google’s announcement today that it is destroying Google Reader, the most popular RSS syndication tool was a massive blow to the blogging community – and to most of those speaking out tonight via social media, an entirely unnecessary attack on an important corner of the public Internet by a company with more than $50 billion in revenue and a newly-won reputation as a tech giant on the move.

Don't forget, Google launched Reader to gain an important niche in the news world - and because of its dominance in search and email, Reader quickly became the largest RSS outlet in the world. But Google seems obsessed with its failed social media platform G+ and is apparently interested in competing with Amazon and Apple on paid magazine and news subscriptions. So Reader became a cost center of limited value....or so the Google chieftains believed.

In fact, the decision to shutter Reader has been a disaster for Google because the company alienated that key user base so completely (and cluelessly, if you ask me). For the couple million it probably saved in not maintaining Reader, it lost many untold millions in social capital and negative publicity, threatening the reception of its upcoming Glass product - and leading most of the tech press to mock this week's release of its new note-taking product, Google Keep.

The headlines told the story - nobody trusts Google to keep a service, even if its successful in winning adoption.

Google Keep? It'll probably be with us until March 2017 - on average

Google Keep Arrives, But For How Long?

Google Keep: The Next New Service to Die

A matter of trust: Will Google Keep stick around?

Om Malik was particularly tough - and on point:

Sorry Google, but you might not realize that you are acting like the company you wanted to replace: Microsoft. The Barons of Redmond used to float products into the market — smart displays and weird stuff — that companies like Samsung and LG would put out in the market, only to yank them later. In the end, I stopped believing in Microsoft and shifted my dollars and attention to other brands.

And so on. It really is a matter of trust, and that's something that co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin don't seem to understand. Sure, they're great at innovation for a large company. But where's the sense of common cause, the recognition that social capital actually matters over the long term.

Maybe Dave Winer is right: maybe Google really is no good at being evil.

Postscript: I'm trying Feedly as my new RSS reader. It's pretty good. A little too "magazine" like compared to Reader's spare stack of links, but I'll keep it for a while and see.

January 07 2011


Rally, Bloggers, Rally!

Roy Edroso is the Ed Norton of liberal bloggers, stoicly patroling the lowest sewers of hard right hatred on a regular basis, yet emerging with the right blend of sunny, blogging delight. A call has gone up to light the signal fires for Roy, who is - I can testify for having shared a libation or three with the man - a treasure of insight into the modern political condition (baseball too).

The guy's fallen ill and lost his Bohemian love pad, and needs a hit of that substance we call money to get over the hump. Here's James Wolcott:

A restored, recovered Roy Edroso is vital to journalism and sanity, especially now that the House has been taken over an even crazier group of Republican crazies, a confederation of Atlas Shruggers and so a PayPal donation site has been samaritanly set up by a fan and frequent commenter at Alicublog named Jay B since Edroso himself, as TBogg explains, "refuses to ask for help...the big fucking martyr."

Dig in folks. I've made a small contribution and urge you to do the same. And here's a taste of Roy's classic blogging.

Tags: Blogs

December 31 2010


Blogging Still Matters

I was going to get around to a similar post in and about the joyous festivities of the semi-pointless holiday of New Year's, but the estimable Robert Stein beat me to it - and I don't think Bob will mind this particular quotation in full:

Generosity, a fading trait these days, comes back in the holiday season, with the revival of a tradition started by the late Al Weisel, who wrote brilliantly under the nom de plume of Jon Swift and was relentless in promoting the work of new bloggers across the political spectrum.

The reviver is Batocchio, who writes the Vagabond Scholar, where you can find what bloggers (including this one) consider their best posts of the year to comprise a fascinating mosaic of commentary on what we have been living through.

In this time of renewal, it also seems fitting to send best wishes for the new year to Joe Gandelman, who allows me to be part of his community of sanity on The Moderate Voice, a tireless band of resisters to online vitriol and viciousness.

To them all, may generosity make a real comeback in American life and give us less to blog about in the coming months.

Thanks to Batocchio for keeping the spirit - the very generous spirit - of Al Weisel alive (and I share the assessment of Joe Gandelman, another generous soul). May the sharing of links bring us all closer to the common understanding of our shared human struggle in the New Year. [Also, what Lance said.]

Tags: Blogs

March 04 2010


The Baseball Quotient

A long hard winter followed a long and difficult year, and - as Lance Mannion so eloquently puts it - stress takes its toll: "When our thinking gets un-well, our bodies feel it.  We get sick."

And so we turn to baseball, that game of inches and carefully measured feet that perfectly branded its rules and rhythms on us as children. The simple and basic plays, the sounds and smells of the game (even in upscale new stadiums), the thinking and strategy between pitches and innings.

And spring. Pitchers and catchers. Intrasquad games. Exhibition tilts. That sure-fire prospect or the comebacking starter who all the writers say "is throwing the heavy ball this spring." Sandy Koufax trying to fix Ollie Perez's delivery and his psyche - the mission impossible. Yet we're back and despite the gathering darkness on the landscape, we're pulled toward the game once again - even the steroids and supplements and salaries can't turn off the baseball habit.

This year, Jason Chervokas and I are adding a new pitch: we've soft-launched A Train Baseball, a new blog dedicated to New York baseball, from the turn the 20th century to the match-ups for tomorrow's game. Here's how the pitch arrives:

A Train Baseball is a new website dedicated to New York baseball, from 1900 to tomorrow’s game. If you like Oscar Gamble, Cleon Jones, Strat-O-matic, real stirrups, stories about John J. McGraw, Reyes triples, Jeter professionalism, Seaver fastballs, Ruthian clouts and pinstripes in two shades – well, pull up a bar stool and join the conversation.

We're not completists, and we're not stat hounds or hard-core fantasy gamers; you can get that elsewhere. In some ways, we're romantics when it comes to baseball - we actually, kinda, sorta believe in the daily redemption available at a distance of sixty feet six inches. So expect a range of posts.

We'd love to see you over there. And that pic? That's our blog mascot: one Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel, circa 1914 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Says it all.

Tags: Baseball Blogs

A Death in the Blogging Family

Al weisel The great Jon Swift has died. That's the "blogging" angle to a personal tragedy. In reality, the voice of Jon Swift - the hilarious faux conservative blogger whose talent and passion were evident in every post - belonged to Al Weisel, a sweet and good-natured journalist who happened to be the college roommate of my once-and-future collaborator Jason Chervokas.

I didn't know him well, but Al graciously agreed to be part of my little newcritics experiment of a couple of years back and his presence at some of our New York gatherings was generous, friendly, and low key - though the humor could sometimes be appropriately biting.

Al was on the way to his father's funeral in Virginia when he suffered a sudden aortic aneurysm and underwent several surgeries in an attempt to save his life. Sadly, they did not succeed.

Heartbreakingly, Al's mother has posted this comment to the Jon Swift blog, unmasking the true identify of her brilliant son - and yes, he was a blogging super-hero to many of us.

I don't know how else to tell you all who love this blog. I am Jon Swift's Mom and I guess I'm going to OUT him. He was Al Weisel, my beloved son. Al was on his way to his father's funeral in VA when he suffered 2 aortic aneurysms, a leaky aortic valve and an aortic artery dissection from his heart to his pelvis. He had 3 major surgeries within 24 hours and sometime during those surgeries also suffered a severe stroke. We, his 2 sisters, his brother, his partner and his best friend since he was 9 years old were with him as he took his last breath. We have all lost a shining start who warmed our hearts, tormented us and made us laugh as he giggled at our pulling something over on us. He passed away on February 27, 2010. My beloved child will live on in so many hearts. I miss him more than I can say. If you are on Facebook, go to organizations and join "Friends of Al Weisel, Unite!" It will give you just a taste of how special he was. Farewell, Jon (Al)

Al Weisel was the political poser's worst enemy as Jon Swift, but he was also a good guy to hang around the pub with and commiserate over New York's shrinking freelance rates. Gone all too soon, he'll be truly missed by many.

UPDATE: There's a Facebook group.

UPDATE II: Fine remembrances online - Jason, who knew him best among our group, because he knew him youngest. Please stop by his place and leave a comment; here's a bit:

In the nearly 30 years that I knew Al I didn't see him much--once or twice a year maybe, during some decades less, during some decades more. My sense of Al was that for him intimacy and emotion were never easy but there was something about our rare occasional conversations that I cherished deeply, and it was precisely the easy intimacy that results from sharing life events during those tender years when the vulnerable parts are all exposed no matter how well we think we're hiding them. I know that is the kind of friendship I'll never have the chance to develop again, so on a purely selfish level I'll miss Al more than probably he would have known.

Speaking of hiding things-- keeping secrets, was definitely one of Al's most treasured inner pastimes. For years, literally years, he would remind me with agitation about something I had written in the early Internet days to the effect that we've basically given up our privacy in the modern age anyway so why concern ourselves with protecting it online. Privacy, even secrecy, remained for Al a deeply cherished notion. I've been reading many of the blog posts eulogizing Al's Jon Swift persona. I know Al was proud of Jon Swift, perhaps a little frustrated by his inability to make it pay off in a kind of Matt Drudgey way. He certainly was gleeful about poking fun at conservative group think (sometimes the line between his parodies and the non-parodic statements of actual conservatives was indecipherable), and his malicious, gleeful, nervous laugh will be sorely missed. But I keep wondering, reading the Swift mourning, how many personae Al really had and who among his family, friends and lovers actually knew all of Al?

And James Wolcott really captured the Al Weisel that some of us came to know from New York gatherings of writers:

I met Al/Jon at the New Critics parties that Tom refers to, and he was a quietly intense guy, not in a bad way, but with a driven quality enabled him to devour all sorts of conservative craziness and alchemize it into comedy set-pieces dense with specifics but never losing their coherent purpose. There was always a "through-line" to his longer posts that had the electric hum of a third rail.

He was also the co-author of a lively book about James Dean and the making of Rebel Without a Cause, Live Fast, Die Young. I didn't have the sense Al/Jon lived too fast, but he definitely died too young.

Watching the spreadin profusion of links and tweets and comments this afternoon, it's amazing how many lives Al Weisel touched in his quietly intense way - mainly through the gift of his writing.

UPDATE III: Other heart-felt posts that should be read and commented on by friends in the blogging community:

Kathleen Maher

Blue Girl

Melissa McEwan

skippy the bush kangaroo

Tags: Blogs New York

December 20 2009


Support the Filthy, Wild-Eyed Bloggers

Sure, they may despise the feckless healthcare deal. Yeah, the villagers hate 'em. Yup, so-called Democrats run the other way. But dammit Jim, they're bloggers! And if you think times are tough for print journalists, the non-gravy train that briefly threw some crumbs the way of independent journalists and commentators a few years ago has dried up considerably - threatening to silence some crucial voices.

Two of those with tin cups rattling around the RSS blizzard this week were my blogging buddy Lance Mannion and everybody's favorite voice of conscience, Digby. I gave a tiny bit of personal stimulus money to each - and I ask you to do the same.

In this season of peace on earth and goodwill to men, don't you want to support those who would scorch the skin off Ben Nelson and Joe Liebercare? I know I do. Every night, a Senator goes to sleep in Georgetown safe and secure - you and I can change that with just a few clicks. Please give.

Digby here.

Sir Lancelot here.

Look for the handy tip jars - you're a big girl now.

Tags: Blogs

November 21 2009


Taking Back My Links: Meet the New Blog

Sometimes, the smallest shifts on Internet platforms can bring about the largest changes in usership. At SixApart, the company that provides the hosted Typepad service that has provided the platform for this blog since 2004, the team saw the massive aggregation of links happening at Facebook (and to a lesser extent, Twitter and other social media havens) and quickly cooked up a little feature to try and capture some of that shareable goodness.

The tiny "Blog It" bookmarklet was born, and I've decided to use it here at My Dirty Life & Times for a while. This will vastly increase the number of posts usually found here. But that's okay; this blog started as a conversational experiment in media, more than a formal collection of essays, and it remains so. Besides, they're my links.

Like a lot of longtime bloggers, I'd shifted a lot of my attention and currency in the so-called "link economy" to Facebook and Twitter, sharing links and media of all sorts on those platforms. That allows Facebook and Twitter to benefit from my consumption, research and sharing - I'm one of millions busily building the corporate fortunes of those start-ups. And that's fine, too. After all, the implicit contract brings software and hosting - and the ability to engage in conversation - back to me, for free.

And I'll go on sharing "my media" - links, articles, photos, songs, podcasts, and videos - through Facebook and Twitter and other platforms, mainly because that's where the people are. But like a lot of my blogging friends, I despaired a bit for this little corner of the digital media universe. The long silences, the crickets and tumbleweed, bothered me. Yet, there I was shifting my idea-sharing and conversation to Facebook and Twitter.

So now, I'm shifting them back here.

In some ways, it's closer to the original notion of blogging, which was simply the sharing of links and content via a personal news feed. There will be more of that here, at least for while while I try this thing on for size and see what happens. Look for many more short posts and links, as well as the occasional essay. Drop a comment or Tweet the links. I have no ideas how it will play out. Stick around for the ride.
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