Friday, January 27, 2012

Ron Paul (Never) Made Money from and Used Hate

Today, thanks to an article in the Washington Post entitled "Ron Paul signed off on racist newsletters in the 1990s, associates say," people can finally affirm, with confidence, the exact same things most people have been claiming for months:
[People] close to Paul’s operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the [racist] newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day.

“It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it,’’ said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul’s company and a supporter of the Texas congressman.
The Paulite rationalization has always been that he didn't mean these things published under his own name. And, more importantly, he didn't know.
Yet a review of his enterprises reveals a sharp-eyed businessman who for nearly two decades oversaw the company and a nonprofit foundation, intertwining them with his political career. The newsletters, which were launched in the mid-1980s and bore such names as the Ron Paul Survival Report, were produced by a company Paul dissolved in 2001.

The company shared offices with his campaigns and foundation at various points, according to those familiar with the operation. Public records show Paul’s wife and daughter were officers of the newsletter company and foundation; his daughter also served as his campaign treasurer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tampa GOP Debate: Deleted Scenes, Despicable Whores

Yesterday, GQ ran an article I wrote on NBC's Republican Presidential Debate, which was conducted at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If you haven't read it, please go check it out. Otherwise most of this won't make sense.

I tried to rationalize not going. I deeply dislike these people, and their fans sometimes seem even worse. After all, they could choose leaders from among the great teeming possibilities of humanity in this country, and they instead chose Newt, Mittens, the Butt-Lube Guy and the Paranoid Race Goblin with a publishing problem. It's like the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, only the thing that crumbles is America, and choosing poorly doesn't have any direct punishment for them.

I broke down and went. After all, if I was willing to drive to see Rays games back when their starters were so bad that they posted 14.00 ERAs, I am already accustomed to commuting for failure. Besides, maybe something fun would come of it. When GQ said they were interested in some local color, that sealed the deal.

It went a bit long, and their blog format accommodates only one graphic per article. What that means, of course, is deleted scenes—and many pictures! My friend and local director Jonathan Wolding was nice enough to come with me at the last minute and take pictures of the spectacle. (You may remember him from the photos for the "Awake the State" anti-Rick Scott rally.) As always, click to embiggen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

GQ: Obama Dumb!

As part of their DEATHRACE 2012 coverage, the good people at GQ.com asked me to talk about the frequent Republican refrain — and sometimes dog-whistle racist appeal — that Barack Obama is essentially stupid.

Even when they don't have the stones to make the case directly, GOP candidates run to old lines about "the teleprompter" (a device every politician uses), or echo the sighing smug-fuck paternalism of someone like Mitt Romney, who says that Obama is a "nice man" who's just "in over his head." Barack Obama's being dumb is an empty claim that explains everything and requires no actual intellect or analysis.


Click the aw-geez Obama to be taken to GQ.

Friday, January 20, 2012

World War Newt

Years ago Newt Gingrich stumbled on a pretty good idea: garnish any policy proposal with multiple historical analogies or references to significant events and hope that one resonates with the audience.

History moves us; it bestows on us the sense that the mundane moments we endure are part of an as-yet unperceived grand narrative. Newt's schtick is that he alone perceives this narrative, and it works for two reasons.

One, as I said in a piece at Vice:
We Americans don't read as much as we ought, and our self-consciousness about this tends to make us reflexively credit anyone who claims he does. Gingrich tendentiously delivers policy banalities while citing books he's read or written, and it's easy to think, "Ah, a learned observation." It's the political equivalent of going to someone's house, seeing his 2,000-book library, and feeling uncomfortable about correcting him, even if everything he says makes him sound like Cliff Clavin.
Two, critics and historians are busy people. They don't have time to correct Gingrich on every point, because corrections require examining his statement, then having to explain where he and history parted ways.

Gingrich himself games this process by invoking history constantly, as if in a kind of endless filibuster against an authentic record of America that he dearly hopes to eliminate through repetition. Not only does he throw facts at the American people to see which ones stick, he also throws so many at intellectuals that eventually their exhaustion, disgust or crowded schedules will permit him to get away with one. He did this again last night, at CNN's South Carolina Republican Debate.

VICE: The GOP's Seemingly Never-Ending Debates

My editor at Vice asked me to say something about the interminable Republican debate schedule. He's a nice person, and worth following on Twitter, so I can't bring myself to hold this request against him.

If one thing leaps out at anyone watching more than a few of them, it's the homogeneity of the ideas and approaches presented. Click the Bachmann to read more:


Due to space constraints, one thing that I wished I could have talked about more was this: if you confine people to a tiny ideological sphere and then demand they differ from one another, all you can expect are marginal conflicts born more out of personal testiness than significant engagement with concepts.

Thus you have those moments when Romney and Gingrich — or any pair (last night it was Santorum and Gingrich) — turn to face each other, conflate minor quibbles into massive ideological breaches and bitchily try to undermine each other via forgettable clauses. When you see this, you're seeing the political equivalent of two clone-stamped 1980s valley girls arguing over whether Corey Feldman or Corey Haim is the hottest person on the planet. It only matters because the people involved are this fucking emptyheaded, and they only came to blows on this issue because they insanely both accept the underlying thesis that, "The most beautiful person on the planet is named Corey." This is The Lost Boys as politics, only substitute interpretations of "Reagan" for "Corey," make a drinking game out of it, and you will die soon.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

'The General's Fiction': A Military Internment of Literature — No. 1

Note: For discussion of Muslim figures in literature, we turn for insight to General Rehavam "Gandhi" Ze'evi, former Israeli Minister of Tourism. His multi-part series on Libya, Slouching from Benghazi, resumes later this year.


Amazing Gaze: The Western Eyes of Soulful Scribbler Caleb Powell
by GENERAL REHAVAM "GANDHI" ZE'EVI

"'Algonquian women in New England,' wrote William Wood in 1634, were 'more loving, pitiful, and modest, mild, provident, and laborious than their lazy husbands.' Wood imagined that oppressed Indian women would gladly embrace European gender roles with their presumably lighter burdens of female domesticity."
Kirsten Fischer

The holidays are long over. Liquor sales have stabilized; few of the year-end suicides remain undiscovered, and, if you are like me, you have a major haul of gifted books. Stacked on my bedside table, towering over my bloated, holly-jolly frame, the books are a leering accusation: "You're like all the others," sniffs The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. "Just direct me to the bookshelf best situated to intimidate your landlord."

As I limply cast aside the hose of my opium huqqa, ash sprinkling the datemaki sash of my authentic silken Nipponese kimono, I despair: literature is dead. Then suddenly, there is a change. There is a Powellful discovery. Who is Caleb Powell? A question I pondered not two weeks ago — now I have some sense of the answer, of an author who asserted himself in my mind's eye. Thus far, his vision has been inscribed only within a few brave avant garde presses, like Prick of the Spindle, Yankee Pot Roast, and Zyzzyva. I aim to change this.

In this special inaugural issue of "The General's Fiction," I invite you to imbibe deeply of the rose-colored drippings of Caleb Powell — author, stay-at-home father, poet. Let us, in the words of the late, great Christopher Hitchens, "let in daylight upon the magic."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

VICE: Settle Down About Mitt Romney

I meant to post this last week, but illness got in the way.

The head of steam Mittens generated from New Hampshire and his early polling data in South Carolina inspired a lot of easy predictions and overreach from the punditocracy. The word "inevitable" creeped in overnight, despite the conditions that attended his New Hampshire victory and the possible responses that other candidates might have.

Click Mitt to read the rest on Vice:


This Saturday's vote looks like it will go to him as well, but thankfully the results are not in yet, which makes the above-linked column still somewhat relevant. Read it now, before it withers on the vine!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DEADSPIN: Boozy B-Roll at the Dais

A couple of weeks back, the incoming Editor-in-Chief of Deadspin, Tommy Craggs, asked me to add a few lines to a roast for outgoing editor AJ Daulerio, who has taken over the top job at Gawker. You may know Gawker as the internet's premier news resource for things people from SomethingAwful.com did the night before on Twitter.

You can imagine my reaction, which was to send my laptop table flying, throw my highball glass over my shoulder and drive from bar to bar in my town, ordering drinks and responding to requests for payment with, "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" It was a mistake not to wait a bit for the piece to go viral.

Click the nightmare vision of AJ to check it out:


As far as gigs go, unpaid heckler for people with actual careers isn't all that bad, especially when it comes with the psychic compensation of this much fame. If I can keep this meteoric rise going, I'll be gunning for Ruth Buzzi's roastmaster job in just years' time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Shantytown on the Fourth Estate

I think we were very deferential because in the East Room press conference it's live. It's very intense. It's frightening to stand up there. Think about it. You're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.
— Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times writer, March 20, 2003
Yesterday, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane solicited reader input with an opening sentence so viscerally and efficiently dumb that it's almost sublime: "I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about." Essentially, the ombudsman of the most important newspaper in America crowdsourced the idea that reporters might do their jobs.

The response was electric, and a majority of it featured the word "stupid," all of it deserving. Brisbane managed to pull off a stupid trifecta even before moving on from the lede:
1. He asked a question whose reply — YES — was almost guaranteed, making the asking a waste of everyone's time.
2. He asked a question whose obvious reply the Times might not embrace, trolling its readership with the illusion of valuing its voice in the discourse.
3. He showed the world that he was a person who had thoughts this simple and that the New York Times is willing to pay a person like this to head up its public accountability department.
Then, after provoking a giant readership on a topic this compelling and distressing, either Brisbane or someone else closed the comments section on his piece. Instantly, it evinced to critics that reader input — which was almost uniformly critical — would not be needed if it continued to fall on the undesirable side of the issue.

Still, as easy as it is to dismiss this as the unsupervised elementary thought experiment of a hack shunted to the reader complaint bureau, it's hard to shake the notion that the experiment was cannily structured. It's worth taking a look at how much work all its stupidity manages to accomplish in its favor.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo Openers: 'When Clu Created the Tronsgendered'

It's already 2012, and we have yet to address 2011's NaNoWriMo, or, "National Novel Writing Month." We have failed.

As explained last time, NaNoWriMo is something of an online tradition, when people who may not do much reading and certainly even less writing agree to put inexperience behind them and create an entire novel in 30 days. Like looking at a schematic an eight-year-old has drawn up for a treehouse, most NaNoWriMo works focus on wish-fulfillment at odds with basic rules, helpful guidelines, good taste or reality.

NaNoWriMo also doesn't seem to impart many lessons — or at least heeded lessons. An unstructured exercise only works as a learning tool if you have willing readers with a critical eye or the kind of self-awareness that allows you to discover the errors in style and structure you missed while writing. Mostly, it relies on the familiar non-writer's fallacy that writing is like talking, and anyone can do it. You already tell funny stories out loud, so the essential difference between that and a novel is time: novels are longer, and writing is slower because there's typing involved. NaNoWriMo is a game of endurance, and nothing makes that more obvious than reading its output.

Which is why, thankfully, nobody here has written one. Like last year, a group of Twitter wags have instead written only the opening lines to masterpieces that the universe, in its wisdom, will one day complete via random chance. Unfortunately, because Twitter archives all tweets beyond a certain "live" number, many contributions were lost to dumb website policy. A lot of wonderfully funny people couldn't be included. Here are the few that could be tracked down.

Bullet points link back to the original tweet; please click and follow people you enjoy, and please make sure that you give credit to the person who deserves it. (Formatting tweets in this way makes things easier in terms of presentation but should not be mistaken for authorship.)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

CNN Sucks Really Bad

This article is part two in our Sucks Really Bad series. For part one, please see, "Newsweek Sucks Really Bad."

Unless you've spent a lot of time lately sitting in airports or being over 60 and scared to death of Mexicans, you probably haven't been watching CNN at all. Good.

The Daily Show and our national weariness with 24-hour news has made mocking CNN fashionable, but that doesn't mean that it isn't also reasonable. As tired and easy as it is to pause at a cocktail party to inveigh against the spackled shallowness of Snooki, it doesn't change the fact that Snooki is cultural garbage.

If you watched CNN's coverage of Tuesday night's Iowa Caucus results, you saw something of almost zero informational value being wasted at great expense. To achieve the same effect in your own home, take 20 singles, station a dog in front of your toilet, then make it watch you flush them one by one. It doesn't understand what you're doing, and what you're doing is essentially meaningless, but, hey: MONEY TOILET.

CNN doesn't settle for merely one MONEY TOILET. On Tuesday, it had both the MAGIC SCREEN, the SOCIAL MEDIA SCREEN, and, of course, Wolf Blitzer.