Thursday, February 27, 2003

Just Shut Up, Nobody gives a shit what anti-war or pro-war writers think. Really. So shut up. That goes double for poets. Shut the hell up, poets. Everybody just shut up., by (02/20/03)Andrew Sullivan, who was once the editor of the New Republic, and later a controversial freelance writer specializing in gays, Catholicism, and gay Catholicism, also lays claim to the Orwell legacy. This is absurd. At least Hitchens has been to North Korea. On the other hand, Sullivan's political writing is perhaps the worst of its kind. It usually appears on his widely read website,, though occasionally he takes the time to write a column for Salon to denounce dangerous characters such as Harry Belafonte and Sheryl Crow. Day after day, post after post, Sullivan jousts with his enemies, both real and imagined, sneering and smearing in the most obnoxious manner possible. It's a combat to the death that occurs only in the hellbroth of his mind. Go to his site and see what I mean. Here's a sample post from February 11:

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

"Desperate, Gawping Need to be Loved"

This, really, is James's problem. Not his bad writing, not his confused politics, not his ridiculous carping on and on and on about every minimum-wage worker he runs into, not even his inexplicable distaste for the kind of average, short, homely, rapidly-aging human type most of us are (and James certainly is).

Backstory: I started reading because of a tip from another journalist in a newsgroup: Check out The Institute of Official Cheer!

I did. It was hilarious, in parts; never less than mildly amusing.

Oh goody, I thought. This is a funny guy! His online journal must be funny too. Lessee...

No. Wrong. Big mistake.

And worse, after reading several pages of the Bleat, I had to go back and reconsider the other stuff. Just as we were all forced to reevaluate "The Sixth Sense" after seeing the abysmal "Unbreakable", I wondered if laughing at The Art of Art Frahm and The Dorcus Collection still made sense.

Good news: The Institute's material is still funny. But now I see the mean-spirited, self-absorbed, unoriginal, imitative qualities there too.

Not to mention the familiar obsessions. James is like the fabled hedgehog: if not just one, he knows only a few things, and he's determined to use them on every occasion. The same topics appear again and again; in fact, apart from the political bits, what else is there to the Bleat than...

(1) People Who Annoy Me (Almost Everyone);

(2) Things That Annoy Me (Almost Everything I Don't Currently Have and Don't Want Yet);

(3) Things That Are Perfect (Everything I Have Or Might Have One Day);

(4) People Who Love Me...and here we come to the problem.

I wrote this to my husband back in April 2002:

'OK, I see it now. Lileks is one of the most unabashedly self-absorbed navel gazers I've come across lately. Today's Bleat starts with musings about being childless vs. childfree, not such bad stuff if you discount his usual paranoia and need to insult anyone who disagrees with him. It ends with this:

But. Those of you who think that kids will come along some day, and wonder what that might mean, how it will change things - I can only note a moment today in the Mall of America with my Gnat. We always end our trips to the Mall with a cookie. A rare treat, since we don't have cookies at home. (Jell-o Fat Free Pudding for Daddy, yes, but that's another story.) We sat on a bridge over a stream as we snacked, alone in a leafy glade in the biggest mall in America. Gnat beamed as she chewed her ration.
"Num," she said, grinning. "Nice. Cookie nice." Pause, chew, swallow, smile. "Daddy nice."
I have never been happier in my life, or loved anyone more.

'Hmmm. Sure, all parents have that time of being the unconditionally loved, adored, and admired center of their child's life. I remember it well. I also understood, even at the time, that it was a passing thing, and that Andrew could not help feeling that way about me. I enjoyed it and I certainly loved him to bits right back, but "never been happier in my life"? Nonsense. Darby [my dog] unconditionally loves and adores me now, as far as that goes, and it's pleasurable and a little disconcerting too, but it's not "never been happier" material either.

'As for "never loved anyone more"? I wonder what Mrs. Lileks thinks when she reads that. Maybe she's also in the same infatuated state so it doesn't bother her.'

Mike Finley, who knew and thought he was friends with Lileks, nailed it when he called this sort of retchmaking stuff the "I Love My Poms" bumpersticker syndrome:

Meaning Pomeranians, little dogs. Like a person deserves credit for loving his dog. Like there is something about dogs that renders them emotionally distant and inexpressive, and that someone who could bridge that gap is advanced in the ways of love.

James, in caricature, is like the guy who loves his Poms and wants the world to know. But I guess we're all a bit of that. But James is exceptional.

Like it's such a challenge to love your little girl, you must be one heck of a human being to manage it. Like it's so rare for a toddler to beam at her daddy, her doing so to James means he can't possibly be your average ordinary father.

Now, when Gnat is 15 years old, and she's screaming "I hate you! You never let me do anything! You don't trust me! You've ruined my life, you motherfucker!"...well, then I'll be the first with kudos if James describes that in his 2013 Bleat and still says "I have never been happier or loved anyone more."

Am I making my point here? My point is that it's fuckin' easy to adore a little being who adores you right back, and whose small rebellions (dog growling when you take his ball away, kid fussing when you tell her "No" in the store) don't do anything to your self-esteem.

The hard part is loving her and being happy about her when that kid isn't so little or so cute or so unthreatening any more. When her resistance and her dislike - which is going to come, James - make you wonder how right she is and if you really are a motherfucker after all.

Of course this doesn't ever happen with dogs, who are permanently arrested in puppyhood. That's why people who decide to have dogs instead of children aren't missing out on the best part of alpha-adulthood.

Did having a child change my life? Yeah, you bet. Not least because it allowed me to know a nice, funny, intelligent, good and in many ways delightful person. I take very little credit for any of that. I only take a small amount of credit for still having him in my life as a friend and ally as well as a son.

But having a child didn't make me "happy", "happier than ever before". I think that's too much to ask a child to do for you. Too big a burden to lay on anyone's shoulders.

And I don't rank the times I've felt love, for him or anyone else. Isn't every moment of intense love, like every orgasm, the best, the most, yet unique? I often feel visceral, powerful, almost physical love for my husband, but it doesn't enter my head to label it "I've never loved anyone more."

Why would you do that anyway? And in public? For the same reason you put an "I Love My Poms" bumpersticker on your car, of course.

Like the man said:

I don't hate James Lileks. I do however like making fun of his pretensions, and of the warblogger-tailored neocon agenda in his writing, which is roughly as transparent as his desperate, gawping need to be loved.
Other than that, I'm sure he's a standup fellow.

One Nice Thing and One Bad Thing About James

Nice Thing: He used the Bleat's profits to buy a Cebu from the Heifer Project for an impoverished village.

Bad Thing: He got upset because it took 27 minutes to get through the express line at the only grocery store open in the Twin Cities...

...on New Year's Day.

In the afternoon.

Oh, and they were out of the right kind of chicken.

Speak For Yourself, James

We always make the mistake of conflating the art with the artist - if we like the product, we want to like the person who made it. We may not agree with them, but we want some sort of simpatico bond.

Not me. Nope. Nuh-uh. Let me think of an example. Why, here's one right under my nose: you yourself, James! I love your celebrations of ephemera; I love The Art of Art Frahm and The Dorcus Collection. (Some of the other stuff, I can take it or leave it.)

But while I don't hate you, James, please do not for one moment believe that I want to bond, simpaticowise or other. Yuck, in fact.

And they always disappoint us. Always.

This at least is true.

Not because they’re human - we can accept it when they fail or stumble...Scorsese has flaws by the steamer trunk, but none of them bothered me. I’m not bothered to learn that he might have behaved poorly now and again. What disappoints me to learn that like so many of his profession, he has a big fat blind spot that betrays both intellectual complacency and his disinclination to study the very thing he thinks he understands.

My goodness. That scores you ten on the irony meter, James!

James's Bad Writing

Here in Happyland, a subdued weekend; my wife wrenched her back on Thursday. It’s as if someone had stabbed her with an invisible trident, and the thing’s still there. If she turns around, she hits the trident handle against the fridge: pain. If she sits down, it jams the trident deeper: pain. No, honey, Mommy can’t pick you up now. She has the symbol of Neptune’s reign imbedded in her soft tissue.

What? I had to read this a couple of times. The specificity of the images suggests you should pay attention: "If she turns around, she hits the trident handle against the fridge."

Why not the bathroom door, or the stepladder down in the basement?

I was reading along quickly, as you have to do with someone whose output is in the megabytes per day, and my first assumption was that there was a problem with the refrigerator. Heavy door, maybe. (We have a SubZero, like James does, so I know how pulling that big-piece-of-glass door open could hurt a bad back.) But no; it's just James pointlessly developing his simile.

Has James become a tad envious, a mite imitative, from reading The Corrections?

And why a trident, "symbol of Neptune's reign" at that? Why not a claw, symbol of Freddy Krueger's reign? Makes as much sense; more given James's suburban musings.

I suppose it would be uncharitable of me to mention that Neptune's symbol is actually a hand holding a fish, while a trident is the symbol of Britain's reign over the sea...

Oh. How do I know James has a(n expensive, trendy) SubZero refrigerator? Because he has a l'il bulletin board in his kitchen just like we do. You can't use magnets on the glass door of a Sub.

Hey James! I've heard from some people who knew you when, since I've started this weblog.

Is it true that you used to drive an AMC Pacer, back in the late 70s or early 80s?

Is it true that when laughing friends derided your vehicle, you defended it by calling it a safer ride?

Is it true that your dad bought you the Pacer?

...because it was the only car that let you see out of the windows without sitting on a cushion?

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

I'm not ashamed to say it: I don't hate James Lileks. Join me if you don't hate James Lileks too!

But I do think James needs a friend, because so far January has been a cruel month for him.

It started with one essentially compassionate and heck, probably accurate remark in a long (long - you have to admit the man can and does write) post to his Daily Bleat:

I don’t hate Michael Moore, I pity him - he’s going to die in 15 years of a massive coronary on a cold tiled bathroom floor, awash in the blasts of his emptied bowels, his autopsy photos posted to The Smoking Gun's new 3D holographic photo section.

Well. All hell broke loose in the blogosphere. And then there was the "hateful nostalgia monkey" comment by "some anonymous shitheel" in CityPages.

2003 isn't getting off to a good start for the Twin Cities' favorite stay-at-home dad.

Here are some of the bleeding-heart softie-leftie comments, a lot of them probably from people who really do hate Michael Moore for his role in getting George Bush to the White House, so why are they in such an uproar, and others from just-jealous bloggers and "writers" who wish they had James's money and popularity...

From Tom Tomorrow:

Wow, is that ever a coldblooded piece of prose.

I understand that a lot of right-leaning bloggers have a particular fixation on Michael Moore--but this is really disturbing, even within that context.

From Amy, commenting at Atrios:

Y'know, I can no longer read James Lileks journal and have removed it from my links page. For over a year I was able to overlook his pompous posturing right-wing provincialism and chickenhawk warmongering because when he writes about taking care of his daughter or going to Target, it's delightful reading. But the over concentration juvenile bile in his Chuck Barris post, not to mention his disrespecting Elvis, is over even my limit.

Other than that he's a rage repressed teenage ninny trapped in the body of a 45 or so year old man, the only explanation for this that I can think of is that Lileks just has too much time on his hands. So, it's been a long time coming, but this really was the last straw.

From Stan at Atrios:

Lileks can be very funny when he's talking about the quirks of domestic life or benign aspects of popular culture. In some ways he's like a modern day Thurber.

But as soon as he starts interjecting his political views into the mix, it becomes apparent how naive he really is. Embarassingly naive.

Imagine being at a cocktail party listening to a delightful storyteller who has a fine command of the English language pass along anecdotes of his daily life, peppered with sparkling wit and good humor. In the middle of all this, the speaker slowly begins crapping his pants as if it were the most normal thing in the world, all the while continuing on with his tales.

The look that would appear on your face in that situation is similar to the one I get whenever Lileks strays away from pleasant trivialities like quaint postcards and old matchbook covers that he's collected. It's painfully obvious that he's sorely out of his element.

Therefore, the pity belongs with him.

From Julia, also at Atrios:

His descriptions of his role as stay-at-home parent are pretty creepy too. He likes to have dinner on the table and a nice clean house and a clean happy baby waiting for his wife when she gets home from killing dragons all day so she'll have nothing to do but relax and pay attention to the baby. Two professional incomes and book sales, but he doesn't get help (that he talks about), he does it all himself and takes the time for approved child development activities and the little nipper's quirks, bless her, and writing books and keeping up with two or three long blog entries and the six or seven different sections of his website and the newspaper gig, and sometimes he gets darn sleepy, but then he looks at his little imp frolicking in the yard while he types frantically into his powerbook and stirs dinner with a spoon held between his toes and (between vagrant thoughts about how he wants people whose thoughts he disagrees with to die) is filled with a feeling of warmth and satisfaction because This, This is clearly what he was put here for.

Has anyone seen Marabel Morgan lately?

From Toni, at Atrios too:

The hatred isn't irrational. It's maybe overdone for this one offense, but I think Julia's comments nailed it. He's just insufferable.

Many of us tune in daily out of morbid fascination of what we might find. Will it be his daughter's adorable baby talk, reproduced in italics ("dad-dee")? Will it be a zany encounter with a service person who fails James in every way (usually followed by an anecdote of James' term in such jobs, when he did everything right)? Or will we hear a hymn to his house, his dog or his computer setup?

On other sites (MetaFilter), I've seen Lileks deliver stern lectures on all that we must give up to be parents, and I've wondered if he has any self-awareness at all. As far as I can tell, the only thing the man has deprived himself of since the li'l angel was delivered was his annual Mexican vacation. And let me just say, if it spares us another sub-site on detailing every moment spent in Cozumel, well, she really is a bundle of joy.

I'd be sorry to see him close up shop. The best days are when he passes on some insult delivered unto him (as when he reported being called a "hateful nostalgia monkey" earlier this week). His tone is priceless: Can you believe what they're saying about me? Me? And all I do for you?

Keep James around, I say. He's so much fun to hate.

(I love you, Toni! I don't hate James Lileks, but I do love you!)

The Rittenhouse Journal
chimed in:

Lileks once was cool and interesting. Now, he’s just insufferable.

And directed us to Bertram Online:

I don’t hate Lileks. I pity him — in a few (or many, whatever) years from now he will no longer be remembered as an affectionate collector of scannable Americana; he will no longer be remembered as a slick, professional columnist who — occasionally — would churn out pieces that actually resembled literature. No, he will be remembered as a cold and mean dirtbag who spilled his bowels all over his keyboard, day in, day out.

Jesse Taylor of Pandagon too:

Can someone tell me why James Lileks is funny? I don't get it - it's Dennis Miller, but neither particularly relevant nor particularly heady, and entirely too self-obsessed. It's not jealousy, because if not for the exhortations of many a rightist, I wouldn't know him from a hole in the ground, and nobody's ever heard of him anyway - but this is supposed to be funny?

Comments were made there as well. From quiche:

Lileks used to have a radio program here in Minneapolis on the local right wing station. It was three hours of constant talk about nothing. A typical topic was to spend an hour talking about how great cinnamon flavored toothpicks are. Dull, boring, self referential and vapid. Not funny or interesting. Kinda pathetic really.

From spacewaitress:

I'm from Minneapolis, and I think James Lileks has the ability to be uproariously funny. When he stays far, far away from politics, that is. Just browse through his book, "Gallery of Regrettable Food." Funny stuff.

Unfortunately, he is also a font of smugness and condescension. Reading his daily missives, I get the impression that he thinks he's better than most people. It fairly oozes out of his writing.

It's too bad that he's capable of spouting such horrible vitriol, because at times he really is funny, and really is a good writer. But the way he expresses himself, sometimes, is absolutely repugnant.

From Margaret:

Well, I'm from St. Paul, and I agree that Lileks can be funny when he's not writing about politics. Or about himself. Or about the unfortunate "Gnat". This is one angry, bitter, self-absorbed man. Mike Finley may have zeroed in on the reason why: he never got the recognition or made the money he thought he would. At least it's nice to see a dad turning into the same kind of obsessed child-bore so many stay-at-home moms do. We're soon to get "Gnat" video, it seems. That'll be a red-letter day for sure.

Ooh, here's some months-old Lileks bashing from Uppity-Negro:

Fucking Lileks. Sorry, the smug bastard just pisses me off is all.

He never writes about his plans in advance, does he? Suicide-bomb myself at Mall of America when I know he's going to be there. . . yeah, that works.

I won't ask that he have Gnat with him. Can't have everything, after all.

And how about Dean Allen, who commented on Lilek's "unsurprisingly scanty" knowledge of computer text (?), meanwhile referring to him as "Minneapolis’s favourite daddy-wuv-booboo chickenhawk-manqué"? Well, he agrees with me - doesn't he?

I don't hate James Lileks. I do however like making fun of his pretensions, and of the warblogger-tailored neocon agenda in his writing, which is roughly as transparent as his desperate, gawping need to be loved.

Other than that, I'm sure he's a standup fellow.