This Associated Press article had me saying, “Eh?”

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton accused rival Sen. Barack Obama and his allies of trying to stop people from voting as some of his backers have called on her to drop out of the presidential race.

The Obama campaign rejected the charge, dismissing Clinton’s criticism as “completely laughable.”

Yeah, I don’t know that I have an opinion on this whole Obama/Clinton thing — I’m more disenchanted with Clinton, like most people, for the obvious reasosn, but I’m honestly dubious about the ability of anyone to change Washington, let alone America, with all the pressures and entrenched interests involved. But all that said, this move by Clinton smacks of , “He said I’m stupid!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

(Where it’s impossible to know who actually said what, and the only purpose of “tattling” is to get the other person in trouble because Hillary is herself.)

In a series of television interviews in states holding upcoming contests, Clinton vowed to press on with her campaign and suggested Obama and his supporters wanted to keep those states from playing a role in selecting the party’s presidential nominee.

Hearsay like this shouldn’t even be coming out of a presidential candidate’s mouth, and people in general should be bright enough to catch that immediately. But when I looked around, I saw mostly emotional responses, ranging from, “Yeah, see? That’s what teh Obama’s like! ANYONE BUT OBAMA IN ’08!!” to “Clinton sucks. Obama’s going to win! It’s Time For a Change!” to “Man, you all are missing the big picture. McCain’s gonna will all the Dem Defectors when Clinton’s out!” Plus a few people whinging over their lost chance with Ron Paul.

People are entitled to their preferences. But for heaven’s sake you’d think someone would ask Clinton, “Got any evidence? Any names you can name, of the people who’ve been sending official messages to your camp, from Obama himself? Or from his direct underlings? Because otherwise, what’s the point of whining about this on camera?” It should be damning to start throwing around accusations like this — to the accuser, that is, because, really, if someone is losing, and she’s desperate to stay in the game, she’s going to try to turn the whole underdog thing into a bonus — by, for example, implying that it’s not voters but her opponent who put her in that position. It looks so much like posturing that it’s amazing this wasn’t seen as a bad idea. (Then again, given the reactions I mentioned above, maybe I’m just overestimating the rational capacity of the average voter? Maybe it is all about emotional reactions for many, many people. Certainly, it is like that for the voting habits of many people I know. I suspect, for example, here in Korea it was mostly emotions — annoyance at the economy and frustration at Roh Mu Hyun’s general ineffectiveness — that put Lee Myung Bak in power.)

Obama’s publicly said he thinks she should stay in. Whatever messages came from where to whom — if any really did at all — isn’t that part of the game? And frankly, I’d be nervous about the length of this primary, too, if I were in it. Clinton wants to stay in and “keep fighting on,” even if it means splitting the vote between voters who supported her (and may not transfer their votes to Obama) and the other party. Strategically, it makes pretty good sense with the way things look for Obama to be asking the question, do we really want to prolong this? Even if Clinton’s desire to stay in us understandable, it may not be doing her party much service if it puts them out of the White House… and it would be doing the nation a tremendous disservice if it helps the Republicans to retain the White House another term, after the disaster that that has been most of the current decade. I’m not the only person who thinks so:

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy last week became the first leading Democrat to openly call on Clinton to step aside and cede the nomination to Obama. He said he worried the prolonged nominating battle was strengthening the chances of the Republican nominee in waiting, John McCain.

Since then, Obama and his supporters have said Clinton should stay in the race as long as she chooses while indicating a lengthy primary battle would not help the party’s position in the general election.

This might be the tragedy of the left. They cannot seem to organize. The right is usually quite organized in such matters — presenting a unified front. The left — not just the pro political left, but the left in general — is much more fragmented since they represent so many interests, including interests hostile or irreconcilable to one another. (Like how I’m a leftist but wasn’t all that gung-ho in my support for the TV writers’ strike, since I think TV in general is part of the problem that plagues the screwed-over masses.)

As for this:

Obama has been picking up superdelegates at a rapid clip while Clinton’s success with that group has slowed considerably.

“I don’t even keep track of it, I can’t even tell you that figure,” Clinton said when asked by Pittsburgh CBS affiliate KDKA how many superdelegates had endorsed her in recent weeks.

As she spoke, her husband, former President Clinton, was in Oregon, lobbying uncommitted superdelegates.

Yeah, and there’s this bridge you were talking about selling me? I hardly believe that Clinton doesn’t know exactly how many superdelegates she has committed to her, or at least, how many she had at last count. Or, at least, that she couldn’t know within 5 seconds of asking any member of her staff. That’s an “I’m not going to answer that question,” but how can anyone see that as other than euphemism for “Not so many.”
Then again, this is in the political culture where her own husband had to lie about his experience smoking pot because teenaged rebellion (of a kind rather rampantly common during his youth) is too politically damning for the truth to be said. It’s so… silly.

Meanwhile, I’m kind of waiting for a colorized (groan) version of Birth of a Nation to start making the rounds in cinemas. If Obama is in, that’s one more SF trope out the window — happily, I’ll add: the “couldn’t happen today” image of a black President of the USA. Sadly, I fear, it still is SF for too many Americans. I suspect we’re going to see McCain. But I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

13 thoughts on “Eh?

  1. I’m not sure what the obvious reason for being disenchanted with Hillary Clinton is. P.J. O’Rourke summed it up best when he called her “America’s ex-wife”, but that’s more of a visceral, gut reaction than a rational response.

    Organization is not the problem for the left. A really small tent is the problem. There is nothing innately conservative about Christopher Hitchens or Michael Ignatieff, but since adopting more hawkish positions, they’ve been pushed off the reservation. It’s not what you think, but how you think that makes you liberal or conservative.

    The other problem with “the left” is that nobody knows anything. Worrying about electability is a mugs game. I like Obama because he wears a nice suit, and even though my gut says he’ll be as ineffective as Jimmy Carter, I still like him. And I’m the guy reading Slate and The New Yorker. With so many competing interests, policies etc, picking a candidate based on the color of his tie is as rational as any other criteria.

  2. Mark,

    Ummm. Well, the color of Bush’s tie (or his papa’s friends’ ties) sure got America into a bunch of hot water. I don’t know, I think reasoned analysis might work better.

    I think sensible organization on the Left is a problem, since that’s what controls tent size. (Though I do think there are things that there’s not room for in the tent, and actually, it’s the fact that the Democrats’ tent is so big and servile that’s the problem. I mean, how many Democrats opposed Iraq vocally? How many quietly nodded and said, by their voting behaviour, “Okay, sure, go for it.”

    It’s one thing to say hindsight is 20/20 but the whole world outside America was blatantly aware that Iraq had absolutely no connection to the attack in 2001. However insensitive some were — I’ve been told many Koreans were laughing about it and making jokes that day, and in the days after — nobody I’ve met besides Americans actually believed there was any 9/11-related or terrorism-related reason to invade Iraq.

    (And since I see it thus: as a case of politicians playing along with a GOP that hoodwinked the people — I can’t help but think Hitchens’ “hawkish” position is either a case of being hoodwinked, or of callous justification of ends by means — dependent on ignoring anything in the way of long-term consequences, since so many of the ends promised in his arguments have not materialized, and many results he did not anticipate did materialize. And I actually respect him in many other areas, so it’s not easy for me to say this, but I think it really might come out in the wash that he’s the American equivalent of Sartre or of Paul de Man (or Ezra Pound, or Céline, or any number of smart guys with incredibly ugly political allegiances) supporting grotesque regimes even after they discovered the grotesqueness of them, excusing all kinds of horror for their “convictions.”

    But that said, I still haven’t gone and read all of A Long Short War. I can’t level at Hitchens the criticism I level at every self-described Christian who supported the war, which is that it was unChristian, especially in the face of radical alternatives in terms of possible action.

    (Which, if people really believed in eternal afterlives and in mortal sins and in good and evil as choices, and if they had any imagination at all, such as one might imagine their beloved Holy Spirit would offer them, they would see very clearly. But somehow the radical alternatives — like en masse missionary travel to Nazi Germany, preaching love for the Jews, or en masse unarmed marches into Baghdad and other centers to speak truth to power — never seem to enter anyone’s imagination. Which tells us just how little self-professed Christians actually believe the things they profess. Or at least, tells us that their doctrines have convinced them that letting evil happen far away is okay because evil’s everywhere and can’t be wiped out, so one best not confront it, let alone offer up one’s life in the defense of those beset by it.)

  3. You’ve missed my point completely. Why is “pacifism” – or any position or belief for that matter – considered the only liberal position? Why would anyone associate Liberalism and pacifism? Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bush I (who had a more liberal legislative record than Clinton) and Clinton didn’t turn into reactionary conservatives the minute they sent troops overseas. Hitchens and Ignatieff (following in the footsteps of Orwell) made liberal arguements for going to war. There was nothing inherently “conservative” about the arguments that they made. That’s what I mean by a small tent.

    Again, it’s not so much the color of the tie, so much as the fundamental question of “What we know.” I’m arguing that we don’t really know why people get elected, and hence my quibble with the concept of electability. It might appear obvious in hindsight that “It’s the economy, stupid”, but using that narrative under similar but slightly different conditions could prove to be a disaster.

    Risk is hard to manage, and winning an election, like selling a product can be as much about risk as anything else. You have the policies, the guy that looks good in a suit, but when you throw in variables like his choice of pastor, who knows what the outcome will be?

  4. I think it really might come out in the wash that he’s the American equivalent of Sartre or of Paul de Man (or Ezra Pound, or Céline, or any number of smart guys with incredibly ugly political allegiances) supporting grotesque regimes even after they discovered the grotesqueness of them, excusing all kinds of horror for their “convictions.”

    If you are anti-Bush or anti-war, I’m hip baby. I’m totally cool with it. However, if you can’t tell the difference between Bush, Hitler, and Stalin, than you’ve unwittingly put your finger on the number one reason why the left can’t win elections.

  5. You’ve missed my point completely.

    I don’t think I have. I mean, okay, look, I’ve been the guy saying that bipartisan politics is essentially inane, and counter to the formation of an intelligent governance. I’ve been noting for years how it’s outmoded, how it urges people to think of politics as another kind of football game — we won! we won! Here’s four years of rub-it-in-your-face victory dance! — and so on.

    But if we’re stuck in a world where political discourse is determined by wings, then those wings do need to mean something.

    Nobody’s raised any argument for pacifism, by the way. That’s what I’m going to assume is a Hitchensian kneejerk reaction to any criticism of this war. But I haven’t heard anyone say, “We should not fight wars.” I would not even say that.

    I would say we should not start wars of aggression; that we should not hoodwink the masses with propaganda full of insinuations of falsehoods; that we should not use wars to facilitate enormous transfers of public money into branches of the private sector tied to the White House (Halliburton). When these things are done in the private sector, they’re called fraud and embezzlement.

    So no, pacifism is not the only liberal position? However, due to its cost for the public — most of whom cannot afford it — and due to the costs to all those people in the country being smashed up and then destabilized, which Liberals are more likely to see as human beings because of their willingness to see their own poor and non-majority ethnicity citizens as human —

    Why would anyone associate Liberalism and pacifism?

    Because it’s an easy way for Hitchens (and, ironically, the Right) to dismiss more cogent Liberal arguments against the invasion of Iraq, It’s as simple as that.

    Unless, of course, you’re redefining pacifism as something like “opposition to unnecessary, unjustified, and unjust aggressive invasions of countries barely equipped to fight back, let alone menace anyone.” Or opposition to pretending that such an operation is necessary, justified, and just.

    Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bush I (who had a more liberal legislative record than Clinton) and Clinton didn’t turn into reactionary conservatives the minute they sent troops overseas.

    But then again, they didn’t fabricate a plot against America where there wasn’t one. (And there most certainly was not a working, functional one in Iraq.) At least they had a shred of reason to intervene. I think a lot of Liberals could reasonably back Kennedy, Clinton, and even Bush I in their decision to involve the American military where they did, and do. (Though many might take issue with timing and method of involvement.)

    I think the true is not same for the invasion of Iraq, unfortunately.

    Hitchens and Ignatieff (following in the footsteps of Orwell) made liberal arguements for going to war.

    With the difference that in Orwell’s case, there was a real and present danger. Something did have to be done. But with Hussein, I’m not so convinced. I mean, it wasn’t about the Kurds. (Kurds aren’t even better off now, either!) What was the point? The Liberation of Iraq? From what? Iraq isn’t liberated. It’s a mess. And if messes are sometimes necessary for a people to achieve self-determination, then isn’t it up to them to make the mess and sort it out?

    There was nothing inherently “conservative” about the arguments that they made. That’s what I mean by a small tent.

    I disagree. I think they were illiberal arguments for a host of reasons… most of them, like I say, quite obvious to the bulk of the educated, non-American world during the lead-up to the Iraq war.

    Or, more importantly, they were thoroughly specious, ends-justifies-means arguments. Iraq today is a shining example of how the ends justify means poorly because ends are slippery, elusive things. Often stuff turns out different from how one would hope.

    Again, it’s not so much the color of the tie, so much as the fundamental question of “What we know.” I’m arguing that we don’t really know why people get elected, and hence my quibble with the concept of electability.

    I have to disagree. I think it’s quite knowable. We just need to build better models of it. The mainstream political spectrum in America is so narrow and behavioral patterns so trackable that I believe electoral politics will, in fact, become much more scientifically explicable in the coming years. And the strategists will be running models with probably better predictive abilities than our short-term climate modeling.

    But I do grant that we’re not there yet. We don’t have the models, but that doesn’t mean it’s so far from knowable.

    (Though of course there will always be the element of chance. It just won’t be tenable in the future to regard it as a totally random, unpredictable system.)

  6. Mmmmm…you’re still missing the point. I’m not terribly interested in whether or not the war was right or wrong. “Pacifism” is an admittedly sloppy formulation for “Against the Iraq War”.

    I’m not all that interested in defending Hitchens’s position. I’m just baffled by the continual insistence that being “pro” this or “anti” that is necessarily politically right or left. How someone arrives at their conclusions can be more indicative of a fundmentally “conservative” or “liberal” mindset or what have you.

  7. Mark,

    First, the earlier comment:

    If you are anti-Bush or anti-war, I’m hip baby. I’m totally cool with it. However, if you can’t tell the difference between Bush, Hitler, and Stalin, than you’ve unwittingly put your finger on the number one reason why the left can’t win elections.

    First, who said they can’t? Of course they can, and whomever has convinced you otherwise is lying. They haven’t won lately — but they can. They did just over a decade ago. They can again. That “can’t win elections” is just not true.

    Again, the problem about tent size, again, is that the left has so many different groups to accomodate. Because the politics of the right excludes so many, the left (not necessarily in political parties, but in real, lived leftism) attracts them and, by its own inherent assumptions and values, cannot do the same to them. So everything from racial politics, to sexuality, to feminist groups, end up being accomodated to a much higher degree. Which makes the tent much bigger, much more fractious, much less able to present a united front in competitive fora like those in which partisan politics operates.

    And second, yes of course I can tell the difference between Bush and Hitler and Stalin. Mentioning different monsters isn’t equating them. I was trying to cast Hitchens in terms of other writers whose politics look very ugly, stupid, and unconvincing later on. Maybe he’s closer to Ezra Pound and his fanatical Mussolini-worship — surely a case can be made for that — in having conjured up supporting arguments for what the rest of the world was very clearly a criminal and ill-decided government action. In other words, the parallel is smart intellectual guys (Sartre, de Man, Pound, and Hitchens) supporting outrageously nasty regimes. I can can certainly see Iraqis having trouble distinguishing. (And were I am American taxpayer, I’d be pissed off like nobody’s business.)

    As for the rest: no, Im pretty sure I get it, I just disagree. I think that there are indeed inherent assumptions and value-statements to each side of the binary political spectrum in America, as we know it today, and that this means that there are conclusions that are incompatible with one or the other political leaning. Of course, the Left in America looks very much like the center, or slightly right-of-center for a lot of other developed countries, so maybe there’s a case that the left and right in America differ so little that these fundamental assumptions dovetail or intertwine or something. (This is certainly the case I’d make for Korea.)

    But even all this aside, there’s an obvious reason why Hitchens would have become a political pariah, and it has more to do with the football game model of partisan politics… he’s avowedly atheist, and he supported a war that not only is an international embarrassment and which has been bankrupting America, and the American public has been catching on in increasing numbers. Meanwhile, his “progressive” justifications for it have at once served Bush and his Administration, and also been falsified, one and all, by the actual results of the invasion and occupation; he aided and abetted Bush by presenting himself as a leftist who supported the war, and amplified the false promises made by the right. Part of it has to be that all of this didn’t work as he imagined. If it had, he wouldn’t be a pariah to the left right now. Hindsight always plays into how one looks ten years later, when one is tooting in favor of things like wars.

    (But as I say, I don’t know anyone personally outside the US who actually imagined good could come of the 2nd Gulf War.)

    By the way, surely you did throw “pacifism” in for a reason. Is it because Hitchens uses that term to dismiss any disagreement on the issue, or because it’s the most common caricature of domestic liberal objection to the war? I’m just curious.

  8. Well, you unpacked some of what I said, but you didn’t unpack all of it:

    I think it really might come out in the wash that he’s the American equivalent of Sartre or of Paul de Man (or Ezra Pound, or Céline, or any number of smart guys with incredibly ugly political allegiances) supporting grotesque regimes even after they discovered the grotesqueness of them, excusing all kinds of horror for their “convictions.”

    If you are anti-Bush or anti-war, I’m hip baby. I’m totally cool with it. However, if you can’t tell the difference between Bush, Hitler, and Stalin, than you’ve unwittingly put your finger on the number one reason why the left can’t win elections.

    How can anyone argue with, let alone reasonably discuss anything when it’s stated like that? I mean there are bombthrowers and extremists on every side, but you’ll end up with a pretty small tent when statements like that are common place.

    I like reading Christopher Hitchens and Mark Steyn, and I’d be lieing if I didn’t acknowledge that they’ve had some influence on me. However, if you really want to know what makes me think, or what I aspire to emulate when I write, or what has changed my mind on a subject, try reading Christopher Buckley or P.J. O’Rourke, or listen to some of Penn Jillettes broadcasts if they are still available online.

    I’ve seen Buckley and O’Rourke speak in venues that were not receptive (or downright hostile) to their ideas, and I’ve listened to Jillette speak with callers he disagrees with, and they treat everyone with dignity and respect. Even if they disagree with someone, they can chalk it up to a difference of opinion, and agree to disagree. There are Jeet Heers and Morgan Spurlocks out there, but they are few and far between.

    You are a smart guy, I enjoy our discussions online, but do you ever think about the people you disagree with?

    Go back and look at your comments on this thread:

    My wife is a registered Democrat who voted for Obama in the Virginia primary. Rocky was the campaign manager for the Communist candidate part candidate in Winkler, Manitoba. You are a smart guy – you can do better than that.

  9. Mark,

    Yeah, I’m harsh in my rhetoric online. I’m an extreme person myself, in expression if not in opinions, though this comes out less in person. Most of the time, anyway. (Unless you get a few beers in me.) Partly, this is a function of the fact I’m often figuring out what I think I as write about it. For me, blogging is more of an outlet for this kind of writing… I don’t really consider it “publishing” and what I write here shouldn’t be considered in that way.

    I don’t think I was so extreme in my statement, especially not after I explained that scale wasn’t the point of the comparison. I think Hitchens will be seen as incongruous liberal in that his arguments necessarily overlooked crucial hunks of reality, as well because of hindsight. After making that point, I’d think you would have moved beyond what you see as an egregious problem of scale. (And again, were I an Iraqi, I’d dispute the idea that scale has anything to do with it. A war that screws up a country is a war that screws up a country, and we needn’t necessarily excuse Bush’s warmongering and profiteering on the grounds that at least he wasn’t “a Hitler.”)

    I haven’t read O’Rourke or (much) Buckley, though I have seen Jillette online and heard some of his podcasts. He’s respectful of people, as you say, but makes no bones about what he considers idiotic statements, too. I’ve heard him speak on evolution and he seemed pretty outspoken and unflinching to me.

    (I wish I could say I’ll dig into O’Rourke or Buckley, but to be honest, you should see my pile of books-to-read, man. I might get to it sometime in the next decade.)

    Me, I’m not so good as Jilette at chalking things up to a disagreement in opinion, because I don’t think that respect for all opinions are a fundamental human right. I mean, yes, everyone has opinions, but misguided or outright stupid opinions warrant no respect (unlike their owners). It is the relentless, no-holds-barred wrangling over opinions that has gotten us where we are.

    Some of my own opinions doubtless are stupid, and I rely on others to point them out to me. (I may not admit it right away, but I do consider it. You may well be pointing out something of the sort here. Lime certainly points out my own misguided opinions when they come up.)

    But in any case, no, I don’t too think much about the people I disagree with because I’m not really criticizing them personally — I’m criticizing their opinions, or the fundamental assumptions on which their opinions appear to rest.

    For example, in the comment thread you mentioned, I think my main beef was that I think your wife and Rocky have a mistaken belief in the degree of volition available to people living in long-term borderline poverty. They kept stating that (typically North American middle-class) saw about choice and freedom, and my point really was that choice and freedom are all well and good if they’re real, but if they’re significantly limited by stupid laws and by the incentives of companies, they don’t deserve to be called “freedom” or “choice”… and that governments can and arguably should do something about it.

    Also, I kind of see the idea you and your wife both floated — that Clinton was out to start some kind of socialist vitamin programme, or make laws banning fat people from eating at Taco Bell, as ostentatiously willful misinterpretation. I mean, obviously Clinton wasn’t advocating such things… no American politician could do so and imagine herself having a shot at the White House. I wonder, did you really think Clinton was considering starting a vitamin programme, or was it, again, just an easy shorthand for dismissing the idea that government should intervene in anything related to private life?

    (Because, as I said over there, the shorthand also occludes a lot of other considerations which are worth looking at.)

    I’m not trying to rehash the Clinton/vitamin/weight-problem argument itself, mind; I’m asking whether there’s some significant element of difference in my use of caricature and your own, in those two respective threads? Seriously?

  10. Penn Jillette doesn’t have any qualms about calling people out, and that’s one part of being a good debater. However, that tends to be the more obvious part of the schtick. He will flat out acknowledge that he does have “the nut point of view” (not unlike O’Rourke), and he also isn’t afraid to admit when he doesn’t know something, or when he is just pulling something out of his ass.

    Were you really interested in talking about state intervention? It looked like you were trying to score points, and were more interested in proving Americans were stupid than the need for state intervention. Were you out to win an argument, or were you interested in being persuasive? Thinking back on a lot of our threads, I’d argue the latter is going on a lot more than the former.

    I’d like to think I’m a well read, urbane guy, and occasionally when talking with former prof’s, other writers, or professionals, I’m treated like a peer. While it isn’t as bad as it used to be, I feel like I’m being treated like a college freshman, and that you don’t regard me as an equal. Occasionally what I find more offensive is the fact that you’ll address me as if I were some sort of Rolex wearing, BMW driving corporate fatcat; as a matter of fact I’ve enjoyed very little job security and never earned more than $35,000 a year. For most of my working life I’ve made $20,000 or less. I hold my beliefs out of genuine conviction, not self-interest. It’s one of the reasons why I haven’t been commenting as frequently on your blog.

    The other reason I don’t comment is I don’t always see the point. Talking about “A Long Short War”, Brian Mulroney, Ronald Reagan, or “The Coming Anarchy” would have been interesting…back in the day. Talking about them now or discussing the book that was released x number of years ago, well, it’s pretty easy to win that argument and score more points isn’t it? I’d rather talk about what Hitchens or Nassim Taleb is doing now, or a new release, than looking back at the past.

  11. Note: I’ve edited this a little later. The sixth and seventh paragraphs, specifically, because some things I didn’t say was bugging me. (Though I tidied up the rest too.)

    You’re right about Jillette, though I can’t quite recall a time when I thought he had a nut point of view. That’s probably a function of how little I’ve read/seen/heard of him, though, or of my increasingly bad memory.

    I was interested in talking about state intervention. I brought it up and focused on it for the majority of my first comment. I only discussed education in America after I was (fairly, understandably) called to task on a brief crack.

    As for winning arguments versus being persuasive, I am somewhat cynical about changing people’s minds, because so few people ever seem to change their minds when confronted with hard evidence, let alone rhetoric. Maybe I’m underestimating people, though.

    I am sorry if I make you feel badly, or come off as arrogant. We’re mostly in the same boat in terms of income and job security, and even some of our experiences, and I don’t think of you as a rolex-wearing, Beemer-driving fatcat. I just vehemently disagree with some of the things I think you’re saying, and sometimes some of what you remark baffles me.

    But I value your comments, and they’re always a challenge to me. Maybe I’m just ornery because I’m not used to be challenged this way too much?

    As for me being out of date, there’s not so much I can do about that. Our interests do differ, to be certain — you read books I probably won’t, and I read books you probably won’t. Life is short and my to-read pile is already huge. I talk about old books not because I’m trying to score points, but because those are the ones I’m reading now, and they’re new to me. And really, I’m not as concerned about how dated books are as you seem to be. (And really, I find it ironic since the concepts like Taleb’s Black Swan, or Gladwell’s Tipping are not really new at all… they’re very close to old hat in SF/science/futurist/tech circles like those I hang with, but simplified for the mass market — often in ways that overlook their most important and interesting implications.) I tend not to read those kinds of mass-market bestsellers because they’re usually tertiary texts anyway — better to read the core texts, even if they’re dated. Those kinds of books seem to be interesting and worth discussion even X years later, after all. That’s why I have, for example, Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents on my desk, and not some latter-day refry of it. Or Thomas Disch’s wonderful The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of. But yeah, the only books I’m really up-to-date on are fiction books, specifically SF, and even then, I’m a few years behind and with big blind spots because there’s just SO much to read. I suspect you’re not interested in discussing SF novels, though… and that’s fine. But that out interests don’t necessarily intersect isn’t really grounds for criticism, is it? (Any more than your interest in men’s “style” (you recommended O’Rourke and Smith and Fussell there) is grounds for criticism, despite my own misgivings about how often clothing and the trappings of various classes are manipulated to give unwarranted degrees of respectability to frauds and phonies?)

    Though it’s funny… maybe you would be interested in discussing a book like Charles Stross’ Accelerando as a comparative to Taleb’s book. But there is some intractability to the fact our interests do differ. Though I’ve read (or at least sampled) more books on your recommendation than almost anyone else I know, ironically. Some of the books you’re criticizing me for discussing too late are just books I never got to, and read on your recommendation. That seems a little, I don’t know, unfair. Imagine if I’d told you to go read something and then, when you did, criticized you for being too late for the ball. I don’t know, that rubs me the wrong way.

    Anyway, I’m off to go read some more. Maybe I’ll finish Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End (another book worth reading for an instantiation of Black-Swan type changes, though by someone who made this kind of analysis of the future commonplace in SF, and whose analysis helped falsify the kookier parts of Taleb’s own thesis as I understand it) this weekend.

    Once again, sorry to have come off as insulting or rude. I respect you enough to read books you recommend to me, and I appreciate your comments. And I respect you enough to take the time to read, reread, draft and re-draft comments, and think them over, change my mind, and rethink. I hope that says something.

  12. Sorry for the lateness of my response; I didn’t know that you’d read books or authors because of my recommendation. So if I seemed critical of your approach to the backlist, I wasn’t trying to apply a double standard. Keeping up with new stuff isn’t so much an obsession, as a form of triage. As you noted, with a limited amount of time, and a lot of books to read the easiest way for me to weed through my list is to cut the older non-fiction. I think it’s been a good time for mass market popular non-fiction, and hate to think I was missing out on the next “Understanding Media” or “Guttenberg Galaxy” because I was trying to finish reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

    I think it’s possible to change peoples mind through discussion and argument, but not necessarily in the way most people assume it’s done. Very few people can do it like Hitchens/Chomsky/a rock star on global warming/Iraq/the Patriot Act.

    As a person who thinks it’s okay to own a tank for ones own personal use (it’s useful for hunting elephants and hauling stuff around the farm) I understand that I’m probably not going to make a lot of converts. However, as a guy who gets through a lot of books, magazines, movies, and tv shows, I know I can be persuasive when I talk about those things. It’s why I try to watch how I write and speak as much as what I’m actually writing and speaking about. You haven’t piqued my interest in global warming (at least yet), but I did just take down the name of an author (Charles Stross) which I’ll try to find on the Alexandria and Arlington libraries catalog.

  13. Mark,

    A surprising amount of Stross’ stuff is also available online, including the book I mentioned (also available at in a wider variety of formats, probably including one for your cell phone. (Though unless you have something besides a PC to read on, you might go for the dead-tree version instead. Books on cell phones is a bit cramped for me.)

    Tanks? Well, I’d like one to do a little traffic reduction in Seoul. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *