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March 18, 2016

read jeb lund

Recommendation: if you are looking for deft political reporting/writing that carries on the deft tradition of deft political reporting/writing, then you would enjoy reading the work of Jeb Lund in Rolling Stone.

Lund snagged the assignment of following the GOP candidates during this land-war-in-China presidential primary, which has offered him the opportunity to write the political obituaries of an all-star line-up of Republican hopefuls. The Jeb Bush one is very good, as is the one for Ben Carson , which nicely eulogizes Carson's Potemkin candidacy. But most pertinent to this last week is this fork stuck in the candidacy of Marco Rubio, which holds a special place in my heart, as Rubio was everything that the Party ever wanted in a candidate (and had wanted for a long time), and accordingly not only did he never caught on, he never ever caught on like never catching on was a point of pride.

Yes Rubio was maligned for being young and yes Rubio was maligned for being a lightweight (and for being small), but Lund captures exactly the extent to which this shallowness was a feature and not a bug. Rubio was almost vat-grown from the laboratories of the right-wing thinktank apparatus created by the billionaire donor class (popularly referred to as "the Kochs"), first by memorizing focus-tested dogmatic pablum, and second by being fed and watered by the safety-net of sinecure PAC administration and endowed university positions created by the same billionaire donor class. This is Lund discussing why Rubio could not spout the firebrand nativist rhetoric of Donald Trump:

Marco Rubio couldn't do that, because nobody at the American Enterprise Institute had written that script dozens of times in synonymous policy papers over several decades. Ironically, the one idea the prophet of a New American Century could neither understand nor express was one that sounded new to anyone under 40. The only lines he had left were ones everyone in the audience at home could already guess. He could scare the shit out of you about ISIS, or he could scare the shit out of you about the American Dream.

Rubio didn't just stand a chance against Trump; he didn't stand a chance. The billionaire donor class may give the impression that they are the function of popular will, but they don't care for the popular will any more than they care for wage protections of their employees. They just want the presidency; they don't want the vote that is required to install a president. And in the meantime they will employ every empty suit that will tow the line. Rubio was their man all along.

Sorry! Tangent. Read Jeb Lund, read all of him.

And of course you might not be in the market for deft political reporting/writing. Different strokes, different folks, etc. I empathize, as I sometimes feel the same way about the entire process, and the process coverage that passes as news, as Lund felt about Rubio's stirring-only-to-thinktanks farewell speech:

It was a valediction of bullshit, as inexorable and damned as the rising Florida tide.

In little over seven months, everything's gonna all be exorable again, just like it was before. Keep calm and follow your meme.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:46 PM

March 15, 2016

paradoxically

The appeal of non-fiction to me is that it is really hard. You think that relating actual events that actually happened is as easy as explaining how your vacation was around the water cooler, but it is not so. In any event there is a vast spectrum of elements — your who/what/where/when/why, basically — and choosing which of those to describe is an awful lot of rope with which to hang oneself. And God when you start talking about people, and the things the say and the motives that no one can ever ever know, in most cases not even the actor, and then you realize that every word you choose is its own little dastardly Observer Effect, it's all a but daunting. Which is also why I love reading it, because sometimes that choice of one word just crystallizes this big messy fistfull of things you know vaguely but can't express succinctly into a concise, coherent realization.

The example in question is in the context section of this story on Saturday's day of conferences at South By Southwest devoted to discussing harassment in the gaming community. Two paragraphs, to explain to the audience what this is all about:

Much of it has centered on the games industry and is associated with a grass-roots movement called "#GamerGate," a term used by a group of people who are fighting against what they say are unfair portrayals of video game enthusiasts as anti-feminists and misogynists.

But, paradoxically, people associated with the movement have systematically targeted and attacked women online, including women like Ms. Wu and Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist cultural critic who focuses often on video games and game culture.

GamerGate is a topic that I'd assume that most Media Twitter Users are at least passing familiar with, while the average NYT Business section reader is probably less so, hence the need for context. And we that are aware of GamerGate are also aware that they are a troublesome bunch, and could express so given two or three sentences, if lucky, or at least a paragraph describing the background, with the last sentence or two detailing the trolling, and the sham moral outrage pretended in the course thereof, etc. (This at least would be the case for me, evidently.)

But then, up there in the second paragraph, I stubbed my toe on the word paradoxically, and damn if that doesn't pretty much nail the central aspect of the objectionability of the men to comprise GamerGate, that their stated goals are in direct contradiction with their on-the-record actions. I know, it's silly to get all hepped up at one word, but when non-fiction works in those incremental ways it just makes me glad that I'm not Burgess Meredith in that episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Further: now that I think about it, explaining how your vacation was around the water cooler is not as easy as it seems, at least for some of us. Your vacation is comprised of what happened and funny incidents and hopefully an epiphany or two and sadly some stuck-in-traffic or yelling-at-the-kids and on top of that how it made you feel, which is a big messy stack of data to translate into three sentences, with maybe an anecdote pending favorable response. No, what is easy to yammer about over the water cooler is what you thought of "Hamilton" after you scored some tickets. Opinions are easy; facts are hard. See: most of the internet.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:29 AM