Archive for ‘Conor Friedersdorf’

June 21, 2009

(So Far Away)

by Smitty

Chris Muir’s brilliance on display at Day by Day can’t go unnoticed.
The comic strip’s Sunday title is an allusion to the POTUS reaction on Iran, of course. But what you may not know is that it also functions as an allusion to the college days of Robert Gibbs, when, as the keyboardist of a metrosexual band, he had an encounter with a woman who’d escaped an explosion in a Mary Kay warehouse wearing a trash bag, and he experienced a Friedersdorfian freak-out.

June 20, 2009

Conor: No Turning Left

By Smitty
There has been some back-and-forth with Conor in the comments of another ToM thread. My reply to him was eaten by the browser, and he really merits more complete treatment anyway.

World’s briefest bio: Baptist, sailor, engineering undergraduate, a couple of Master’s. Geekier than most. That’s also about as much as I know of Conor.

Right. Then we have this DoubleThink Online article by Conor. He sets the scene of a blind date with a chick in a coffee shop, having selected someone who is a “whip smart, beautiful woman who loves talking politics” (NTTAWWT).

Escaping this ghetto requires understanding why the media slants left. Contra the least-thoughtful conservative critics, there isn’t any elite liberal conspiracy at work. Bias creeps in largely because the narrative conventions of journalism are poor at capturing basic conservative and libertarian truths.

Conor, I completely disagree with you and what I feel is your naïveté. Spend some time on Stanton Evans. Are we to think that JournoList is either a) unique or b) simply a side-effect of technology? While I won’t go full-on tinfoil hat on you, to ignore indications that our domestic socialist nitwits had at least some agenda overlap with the dudes who would have buried us is simply irresponsible:

As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia.
The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

So, fine: Go on and bemoan the difficulty of describing the negative effects of rent control in sufficiently simple terms to impress a hypothetical date in DC.

The right, in other words, has a problem with narrative. The stubborn facts of this world contradict pieties left, right, and libertarian, occassionally forcing each group to revise its thinking. But the core critiques of liberalism intrinsically resist the narrative form. Who can foresee the unintended consequences of government intervention in advance? Who can pinpoint the particular threats to liberty posed by an ever-growing public sector?

No, Conor: Your problem is with narrative. Can you try parable? I submit that if you can’t break a topic down into buyer/market/seller terms, you may either a) not grasp the topic, or b) simply lack teaching skills. Economics isn’t Biochemistry. The contemporary evidence seems to indicate nobody understands economics. However, if the argument doesn’t relate fairly cleanly back to gazinta==gazouta, I suspect that the speaker is trying to have me on. Do you look at the speaker’s résumé and just naturally assume they know WTF if the proper school is listed?

The difficulty of critiquing flawed liberal positions and asserting alternatives before it’s too late is exacerbated by the conservative intellectual tradition’s lack of penetration into academia. Colleges and journalism schools rarely teach Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, or Milton Friedman. How can journalists unversed in such thinkers recognize when facts validate their ideas?
These asymmetries help explain why the right has sought to discredit the mainstream media while funding its own ideologically conceived outlets. It isn’t just a matter of “playing the refs.” Every political movement has a place for publications where debate among fellow travelers helps refine its most nuanced ideas and where the faithful can be rallied behind them.

Conor: “the conservative intellectual tradition’s lack of penetration into academia”. Wow, those blinders of yours . . . I’ll infer you haven’t seen Indoctrinate-U? You’ve some homework.

Oh, and your tender sensibilities were ruffled by the original title for Goldberg’s book? “even those on the left who regularly engage conservatives would assume bad faith. They did, even after the title changed.” Faith? It’s not a religious question! Of course they will say they assume bad faith. At the same time you glibly assume good faith on their part, in fact. Hint: they are not purusuing truth. Proverbs 12:15 “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” Having begun with bogus premises, how do you expect the title of Jonah’s book, like some magic spell, to open their shuttered eyes?

Then you’re bemoaning the lack of a Buckley or a dozen Wolfes, and applauding the Douthat/Suderman/Poulos/Klein school.

“Unless colleges and journalism schools start assigning Burke, Hayek, Friedman, and quite a few others, the answer depends upon whether the right is willing to invest in talented young people who understand conservatism and libertarianism, but whose foremost loyalty is to investigating their world and conveying whatever they find.”

Two links: Pajamas Media and PTJV. Are they publishing you? Far more credible than the Huffington Post with many people.

Let’s go back to your dating premise for the whole article, Conor. You’ve just dropped precious loot into the relationship. It’s gone on a while. You’ve reached the stage where it “cannot survive on commentary and analysis alone”. Then the girl tells you she feels she needs a change of narrative. Are you the kind that understands that relationships are about participation, and if she’s not holding up her end, and you try to drag the relationship forward like some corpse, then the whole situation is more about your masochism and narcissim? Such is the case with academia. They don’t love you. You’re a convenient toy. A foil. Someone to use to offer depth to their utopian visions.

You seem to think that there is some value in trying to reform academia by injecting conservatives back in. I offer a different path. Metaphorically burn academaia down. Form a new school. Pajamas Media, Ivory Tower Edition. Don’t use the word “narrative”. It makes you sound like, for all the protests of disagreement, you secretly covet membership in the lefty club. Kick that post-modern girl to the curb. She’s already off with another someone, doing whatever. She’s laughing at you. It happens. It’s only shameful if you continue to sniff around sounding like you fell out of a Michael McDonald tune:

Repeat: don’t hang around with dumb chicks and academics. The inevitable result is that you’ll be Turning Left:

Ow. I think that the formerly proud ship U.S.S. Freidersdorf went from sailing the seas, to a brief career as a minesweeper, before settling to a permanent post as a bottomed submarine. Note to self: do not enrage Donald Douglas.

June 20, 2009

Do I have ‘a problem with narrative’?

The video shocked America. In February 2004, grainy footage from a security camera at a Florida car wash showed the image of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia being approached and led away by a man with tattoos on his forearms. It was the last time anyone, except her killer, saw the Sarasota sixth-grader alive. . . .
Donkey Cons, p. 109

I don’t have one of those “Google alerts” that ping me whenever someone somewhere on the Web mentions my name. It’s not like I’m someone important like Professor Glenn Reynolds, who needs that kind of service to protect his professional reputation.

As with Kathy Shaidle, a bad reputation has been quite valuable to me, so bloggers could be talking all kinds of smack about me and, unless it drove traffic to the blog, I wouldn’t know about it. But I digress . . .

With suspicious alacrity, Conor Friedersdorf showed up in the comments field of a post in which I talked about reporting. He left two comments, of which I can only be bothered with the first:

I’ve also worked as a newspaper reporter for four years. And I’d love to be paid to report in depth stories. I applied for — and did not receive — two grants for the reporting project I proposed at The American Scene. I’ve got several reported freelance stories in the works. If RSM would like to pay me to report a story once my Atlantic gig is over, I’ll take the money and turn in something exceptional.But as someone else once said, I write for money. Culture11 paid me a hell of a lot more than any reporting gig I know to be an editor. I’d love nothing more than to write reported pieces for The Atlantic — and I plan to do just that one day. But they’ve got Jim Fallows and Mark Bowden filling up their well. I aspire to be as good as those guys. I’m not there yet.

Aspiring to be as good as Mark Bowden (he of “Black Hawk Down” fame) must be a painful burden. As for seeking foundation grants — did Hunter S. Thompson ever fill out a grant application? I think not. I’ve worked for non-profits on a fee-for-service basis, but never anything that required me to write a grant proposal. That’s demeaning, especially to a top Hayekian public intellectual.

If I wanted to fly out to Sacramento to report on the St. HOPE scandal, I’d either (a) call up an editor and pitch the idea, or (b) just book the flight and rely on my reporting ability to pay for the trip.

That’s the Gonzo way. The fact that I’m publishing this suggestion on my blog indicates that I’m only half-serious about flying to Sacramento. If I really coveted that assignment, I’d already be filing bylines from Sacramento.

Instead, I’m publishing this suggestion in hope that the hotshot young “investigative” punks in D.C. will beat me to it. But who knows? Maybe somebody will lay a thousand bucks on the tip jar, and I’ll be in Sacramento by Monday afternoon.

The clock is ticking, punks. Do you feel lucky?

Real reporters don’t fill out 501(c) grant applications. Why spend two days writing a proposal, when you could spend those two days writing something that somebody might actually want to read?

If you want to know why I haven’t published another book since Donkey Cons, that’s it. Publishers have gotten into the abusive habit of expecting authors to turn in what’s called a “book proposal,” which includes at least two sample chapters plus a marketing plan.

Nothing against writing a short summary and an outline, but . . . “sample chapters,” my ass.

That’s an insult, and one of the basic problems in the publishing industry is that too many authors are willing to be insulted this way. I didn’t mind the sample-chapters routine too much when I was collaborating with Lynn Vincent, because (a) it was our first political book, and (b) Lynn had a well-connected agent who could practically guarantee acceptance of the proposal. But those were the last “sample chapters” I’ll ever write.

You’re asking a published author to prove he can write a book chapter? F— you.

Also, if I come to you with a book idea, don’t ask me to write your book idea. F— you.

As for a “marketing plan,” if I can get a million hits on a Blogspot site in under a year, I think I can sell a few books. In fact, maybe you should be paying me to tell your so-called “marketing department” what they’re doing wrong. So if you want me to write a book for you, call me. But I’m a journalist, not a masochist, so don’t expect me to waste my time putting together a “proposal” just to give you the sadistic pleasure of turning me down.

What part of “F— you” don’t you understand?

Same deal with filling out an application for a grant from some 501(c) outfit. About three months ago, I had a long conversation with a guy from a foundation-supported organization who was intrigued by something I’d written on my blog about how to put together a relatively low-cost online news operation. The guy wanted to “pick my brain,” as they say.

OK, I’m a consultant, so hit the tip jar and the meter’s running while you pick my brain. Take the advice or don’t. It’s fee-for-service. You paid for the advice, and what you do with the advice is your own business. So, the brain-picker and I had a pleasant conversation, and maybe something will come of all that. Maybe not. But it’s up to the other guy to fill out the grant application. I’m a journalist, and real journalists don’t do grant applications.

Now, let me show you a picture:

One of the guys in that photo is head honcho at a major non-profit foundation. When Bill Kristol wants some money from that guy, they have breakfast together. There are basically two kinds of people:

  • People who pitch their ideas by filling out grant applications that get turned down; and
  • People who pitch their ideas at restaurants (on the other guy’s tab), score the deal on a handshake basis, then go through the formalities of the application process. Better yet, let your intern write the grant proposal, since approval is guaranteed.

Capisca, il mio giovane amico? Honestly, I’m trying to help you here. And Dan Riehl is trying to help you, too. Dan only moved to the D.C. area a couple of years ago, so let’s switch to the Q-and-A format:

Q. How did Dan Riehl become the kind of guy who’s got Mark Levin posting at his blog?
A. Dan Riehl is not a punk.

Really, it’s that simple. If you were a 100% assclown, Dan would ignore you altogether, except maybe to point out the fact that you’re a 100% assclown. The fact that Dan would try to teach you something means that he thinks you’re no more than 98% assclown, with the potential for reducing your assclown factor, if only you’d pay attention.

When I came to D.C. in November 1997, I knew a lot about journalism, but almost nothing about D.C. I spent the next decade learning about D.C. the hard way, by accumulating enough knives in my back to fill a deluxe cutlery rack.

Hard-won wisdom: Never trust a punk. Ergo, when you’re trying to figure out who to do business with in Washington, your first consideration should be to answer the question, “Is this guy a punk?”

Having acquired such knowledge at tremendous personal expense, I share it with whom I wish. Some people get it free, and some people pay for it. (Trust me, this knowledge is a bargain, compared to the price you’ll pay if you ever trust a punk in D.C.)

Dan Riehl is an extraordinarily valuable person. Almost from the first day I began my engagement with the blogosphere, I noticed Dan’s skills as a researcher. If it’s online, Dan can find it and, in terms of news judgment, he’s as good as some of the most experienced editors I know.

Dan can’t stand a punk, and he can’t stand to see his friends treated like punks, so he’ll give a guy a warning. There have been more than a few occasions when Dan felt I was rolling like a punk and called me out. As a friend once said to me, regarding a particular example of integrity, “He’ll tell you when your s— stinks.” More words of wisdom:

One of the basic principles of military strategy is to reinforce success. If you see a man who fights and wins, give him reinforcements, and bid others to emulate his success.

And still more words of wisdom:

If you allow yourself to be a doormat, you can’t complain about the footprints on your back, and just because Tucker Carlson doesn’t know what I’m doing, he shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that I don’t know what I’m doing.

Well, Tucker must know what he’s doing, because we had a pleasant phone conversation this past week. What he’s doing or, rather, planning to do, isn’t what is doing and so there is a (remote) possibility of collaboration between Tucker Carlson and Not Tucker Carlson. At least if it’s competition rather than collaboration — vastly more likely — it will be a competition on honorable terms. However, to repeat: It had better not suck.

So kudos to Tucker for his sagacity. Kudos are due also to a certain person who invited me to a book-signing event next month — a classy gesture, all things considered, and perhaps the grounds of rapprochement, or at least a negotiated detente. (Trust, but verify.)

Politics ain’t beanbag, as James Carville observed, and it is inevitable that the continual cut-and-thrust will result in hard feelings on the part of those who have been wounded. Such is my addled memory — more words of wisdom: Never combine psilocybin mushroom tea with Bolivian flake cocaine — that I find it easy to forget ancient wounds.

Considerations of honor, however, require me to recall the wounds suffered by friends, most of whom are less forgetful. Should I accept an invitation from someone who has unjustly wounded my friends? At stake is whether, by accepting this invitation, I dishonor my friends. Yet it is possible that, by attending the event, I may be able to assist my friends, and defend them against egregious insult. But I digress . . .

Don’t roll like a punk. If you’re good at what you do and you know it, then just do it. Don’t proclaim to the world that you’re going to Save The Republican Party From Itself. Just save the party, and then maybe someone will notice you had something to do with it. Or maybe not, to repeat some more timeless wisdom:

“You can accomplish much, if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
Ronald Reagan

Friday, an otherwise intelligent journalist pulled one of those annoying Stupid Pundit Tricks:

How Republicans can crack
the AmeriCorps scandal

The headline alone should tell you what’s wrong here. Personally, my hunch is that Chuck Grassley knows how to run an investigation that gets results. (And if he doesn’t, I’m thinking maybe The Boss will let him know.) Maybe you think 40 Republican senators and their staffs possess collective wisdom insufficient to this challenge, but if you want to offer them strategic political advice, don’t do it on the op-ed pages or in a blog post. Democrats can read, too, y’know. As a general rule, don’t try to acquire a reputation for strategic genius by doing things that are strategically stupid.

Over the past several months, as an inevitable consequence of increased blog traffic, I’ve become a whipping boy for various bloggers who think I don’t know what I’m doing. And one of their frequent criticisms, when I do a long post like this, is to say that I am “rambling” or “incoherent.” Right. Please keep thinking that.

On the other hand, there are people wise enough to recognize that only an idiot would (or could) publish everything he knows. If you want to offer strategic advice to the GOP, or if you have a brilliant plan for A Brave New Conservatism, the last thing you want to do is to publish it on the Internet.

Wise men may observe that sensei Moe Lane has never published a book called Secrets of the Blog-Fu Temple Cult. Nor will he ever, not even posthumously. Hell’s bells, if I had an infallible formula for political success (please note the hypothetical), I’d be afraid even to write it on a cocktail napkin, for fear it might accidentally be published and deprive me of future opportunities for free lunches.

If you want to be regarded as a wise man, you would emulate Jeremiah Denton, who once famously had the presence of mind to blink “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” in Morse code. Until such time as you demonstrate an appreciation of that, don’t lecture me about “narrative.” Allow me to suggest that there are some truths so sublime that they can only be expressed as poetry.

Have you ever been
Down in the ghetto?

Have you ever felt
That cold wind blow?

If you don’t know what I mean,
Brother, stand up and scream,
‘Cause there’s things going on
That you don’t know.

Let all God’s children say, “Rock on.”

UPDATE: Dan Riehl throws another punch:

The point I was making was that, one could take the conservative notion of a free market to an extreme to where one argued there should be no government intervention at all. I also pointed out how foolish it would be, but said it would be hard to say the position wasn’t a “conservative” one in a broad sense, albeit extreme. All much theoretical crap takes is for someone to write the book. It’s lost on Conor that that’s precisely what Dreher has done.

What’s beautiful about that is, Dan’s basically daring Dreher to come to Conor’s defense, so that Dan has a good excuse to smack Dreher around some more. The sheer joy of fighting such people! It’s why everyone envies the luck of Germany to have France as a neighbor.

June 18, 2009

Riehlism vs. Conorism

Since I’m going to be out and about in D.C. today, trying to see if I can’t stir the pot on IG-Gate, you’re going to need something to read. The Camp of the Saints has some good stuff on IG-Gate, but once you’ve read all that, what then?

How about Dan Riehl busting on Conor Friedersdorf? Not enough? How about Dan Riehl busting some more on Conor Friedersdorf? Heck, just go over to Dan’s blog and keep refreshing throughout the day, and he’s liable to bust Conor two or three times again before lunch.

Conservatism? More like masochism.

Frankly, I’m starting to regret blogging about Conor yesterday. Dan and I were talking on the phone yesterday and I said it was like Godfather III: Everytime you try to get out, Conor pulls you back in. If you didn’t more or less force yourself to ignore him, you’d never find time to blog any actual news.

June 17, 2009

Conservatism and Conor-ism

Conor Friedersdorf, after bragging about his “Ideas” blog at The Atlantic Monthly, decides I need more lecturing about True Conservatism:

Efforts to ground a conversation about a political philosophy by referencing philosophers is mocked… and then other philosophers are invoked as better litmus tests. Worldly, nonreligious conservo-libertarians like me are told that we only think religious, Benedict-option-loving folks like Rod Dreher are conservatives because we define the movement according to the strands we like personally. Huh?
This is the kind of incoherence that results when your impetus for branding someone a heretic is that they criticized Mark Levin, or that they think the GOP’s current electoral strategy is incoherent, or that they wrote an item at The Huffington Post, or because they raise chickens in their backyard and assert that maybe there’s something troubling about corporate farms pumping antibiotics into featherless foul stuffed into tiny cages.

OK, let’s start with the chickens. Guess what’s in my backyard, Conor? A chicken coop, belonging to my 16-year-old son, James. Why is James raising chickens? The same reason he breeds pythons: For money. Oh, and guess what I ate for supper last night? A soy burger (Morningstar Farm Zesty Tomato Basil) on whole wheat bread. It was delicious.

If you don’t want to order Chicken McNuggets for lunch, that’s fine with me. But don’t confuse your critique of factory farming with a political philosophy, and don’t tell me that contempt for commerce is “conservative.”

Just before I saw Conor’s blog post this morning, I had a long phone conversation with Dan Riehl, another guy who has better things to do with his life than to climb into an ivory tower and sneer at the lowbrow plebians toiling down there in the grimy streets.

Dan sees this elitism as the essence of Conorism. I would assert that it is also the essence of Dreherism and Brooksianism and all these other boutique “conservatisms” that have cropped up like ideological weeds in recent years.

The ambitious conservative intellectual’s quest for status among those whom he regards as his peers requires that he distinguish himself from (a) mere partisan operatives, whose objective is to elect Republicans; (b) mere journalists, who observe and report; and above all (c) the stupid voters out in the sticks who make up the rank-and-file grassroots of the conservative movement.

It is ambition, not ideology or ability, that distinguishes the elitists from the rest of us. The elitists crave above all else to be acknowledged as worthy of inclusion in the ranks of society’s Platonic archons, to be influential, to be introduced at seminars with a listing of all the prestigious publications they’ve written for, et cetera. “The Distinguished Senior Fellow at . . .”

It’s a scam, a racket, a hustle. And the dirty little secret of this particular game of three-card monte is the pretense that it is actually about ideas, as if his complex abstractions and elaborate verbal constructs — “Worldly, nonreligious conservo-libertarians” — were meaningful things worth fighting over. (Note how Conor modestly appropriates “worldly” to describe himself. Yeah, it’s all that secular street cred, like he’s rollin’ with the Rothbardian Crips.)

To hustle the suckers with his intellectual scam, Conor Friedersdorf must maintain the illusion that he is a distinterested philosopher in pursuit of Truth with a capital T, as opposed to some grubby prole who writes for money.

“Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”

UPDATE: At the Hot Air Green Room:

By making “conservative” arguments for liberal policies, these treacherous elitists convey the message that conservatives are not really committed to opposing liberalism. So Democrats can ram through their agenda, and then the “conservative” intellectuals will join the Consensus Chorus telling us that this is a necessary “reform” which would be political suicide to attempt to repeal.

Read the rest.

June 16, 2009

Conor Friedersdorf vs. Dan Riehl

Dan has a link to an hour-plus online discussion he had with Conor Friedersdorf. You can listen to it and try to figure out WTF Conor’s problem is, besides the fact that he is young and had the bad judgment to (a) attend the Columbia University J-School and (b) hire on at Culture 11.

It’s OK, I made bad judgments when I was young. Back in the day, there was less of a downside risk to being a young fool. There was no Internet then, so it wasn’t like nowadays, where every 20-something who can type his own name gets the idea he’s going to solve the world’s problems with a blog.

To imagine what I would have been blogging about in 1986 . . . shudder.

UPDATE: I’m listening to the debate now and a big part the problem is, Conor wants to define conservatism as “what I like,” or, “a philosophy espoused by writers I like.” He cannot separate his admiration of, inter alia, Andrew Sullivan from his own self-conception as “conservative.” It’s fan-boy politics.

Sully is a student of Oakeshott, therefore Conor name-checks Oakeshott. Dreher constantly invokes Russell Kirk, therefore Conor name-checks Kirk. It’s as if Conor has been studying his pledge book in preparation for initiation into a fraternity.

Why is it that none of these “dissident” conservatives can be bothered to read Hayek or Mises? Why do they never seem to take any interest in the basic questions of political economy and limited government? Why must they seek out this conservatism that, they assert, transcends mere politics — a conservatism of “temperament,” as Conor calls it?

Sigh. OK, let me go smoke a conservative cigarette and then I will return to my conservative laptop to listen to more of the debate.

UPDATE II: I’m back. That cigarette had a suspiciously neo-conservative flavor. (“The Jooooz!”) So I’m going to eat a paleo ice cream sandwich while I listen to the next segment of the debate.

UPDATE III: A-ha, Friedersdorf! I just paused the audio at 19:14, as which point you have just accused unnamed others of having an “ahistorical definition of conservatism.”

Q. How much history of conservatism does Conor Friedersdorf
A. A helluva lot less than I do!

As they say in military tactics, your flank is “in the air,” and I’ll drive a goddamned division into that flank.

UPDATE IV: As the perspicacious Professor Donald Douglas points out in the comments, Friedersdorf has attained his life’s goal, blogging at The Atlantic Monthly, just like his hero. As I have often said, the rule in D.C. is never to attribute to ideology that which can be adequately explained by ambition.

Friedersdorf is rarity at The Atlantic. Last time I checked, Megan McArdle was the only non-Harvardian at that notorious snob shop. Perhaps his stint at Columbia J-School was close enough for horseshoes.

UPDATE V: Over at Dan Riehl’s, I congratulate Conor on his ascent to the ranks of The Republicans Who Really Matter. Well played, old sport!