Monday, 1 September 2008

Ain't That a Kick in the Ass...

Today, I sing of "kicking ass" and the man. I'm not entirely sure I want to, but I do think it is time (indeed far past time) finally to discharge an obligation imposed upon me two weeks ago by that esteemed fellow blogger (and fellow Ottawan), Dr. Dawg. You see, two Tuesdays ago, he conferred upon me (and a select few others) the entirely undeserved honour of "Kick-Ass Blogger" in his contribution to a meme begun by Mammadawg.

The meme goes like this: once nominated, you must continue the chain by nominating five other "Kick-Ass Bloggers" (the main criterion apparently being the attainment of a high standard of truculent rhetorical power), each of whom must nominate five more, and so the chain goes, until all the ass-kickers have been accounted for. I'm in pretty rarefied company: so far, only about 450 ass-kickers have been thought worthy of nomination! Gentlemen and lady officers of the Order of the Garter, eat your hearts out.

I've been vaguely aware of such blogging memes and have often watched them operate from afar. They've always seemed uncomfortably similar to the old-fashioned chain letter to me, and I've been rather unenthusiastic about them, but this one allows me to talk about people I actually respect (something a Canadian political blogger rarely gets to do) and provides a divertingly frivolous way to start a month that, with an election call only days away, will soon be providing us all with ample supplies of ugliness and angst. So, here goes.

This is how the meme's originator outlines the award criteria:

Maybe they've got incredible, original content. Or they're overflowing with creativity. Is it someone that helps you become a better blogger? Or a bloggy friend you know you can count on? Or maybe it's someone who simply inspires you to be a better person... or someone else who sends you to the floor, laughing your ass off.
As I said, I cannot fathom how a blog as desultory and contemptuous of reader expectations as mine could be seen to qualify, but my nominees' certainly do; in fact they arguably over-qualify.

Of my five nominees, two are Canadian and obvious. The other three are, in an atypical gesture of cross-border friendship, American and perhaps more obscure. All of them share that rare thing, a distinctive and arresting style and a capacity to lift the blogging medium to a level higher than it would appear to deserve. Somewhat like meeting a Thomist scholar at a strip joint, an encounter with them almost has the power to make the expenditure of hours on the Internet seem less a guilty pleasure and a little more of that Horatian creature--an improving pleasure.

My two Canadians are Red Tory and Dr. Dawg himself. For detailed, insightful and closely researched presentations of progressive positions on key issues and for devastating excoriations of right-wing persiflage, these two prolific authors have no peer. Of the two, I've known Red Tory longer, having first stumbled upon his site in mid to late 2006, when he was still working with the first iteration of his blog (he's up to Version 3 now).

The current Red Tory V.3 is somewhat more sedate than his former incarnations, and the new Wordpress environment gives his site a certain genteel austerity that Blogger sites like mine lack, but his acumen remains unblunted. In his Blogger prime, hourly (rather than daily) posts and comment threads extending into the hundreds were the rule. He had a way of inspiring extremes: a smitten female commenter offering a proposal of marriage (or something rather more casual and less committed) would be followed by an enraged "conservative" promising to run his body through a wood-chipper.

There was something fascinating about the deep love and incandescent loathing Red aroused in his readership, and watching them collide on comment threads became addictive for me. Like whales to a beach, foredoomed neo-con paladins would rush onto Red's threads hoping to shout him down, only to flop about feebly and pathetically while being slowly overcome by the inertia of their own dullness.

Nothing, not even the driest of dry martinis served by a bikini-clad Key Largo-era Lauren Bacall on a sterling salver, could have offered a more satisfying way to end a day than the confirmation Red Tory's blog consistently provided that people to whom I am unbendingly ideologically opposed are also, unquestionably, utter imbeciles.

Dr. Dawg is less prone to rhetorical fireworks and demands much more decorum from himself and his readers than Red (and I) have ever seen fit to require, but, in the glee and virtuosity with which he punctures right-wing pretensions and in the bile he inspires in neo-con knuckle-walkers, he is easily Red's equal. They both achieve that fundamental requisite of great writing--a personality, so rare in literature and rarer still on the Internet. One can seriously speak of a Red Toryesque style, or of a Dawgian[!] one. No greater compliment can be delivered by someone who believes with Buffon, as I do, that a man is his style.

As for my American selections, the first two came as total surprises to me when I found them. Satire is a dying art. Superficially, that seems a paradox, as irony has become the Western rhetorical norm: everything in North America is stated "as if"; we are encouraged (are often forced) to take nothing seriously. Satire and irony, though, are fundamentally different. Irony facilely negates immediate expectations; satire holds expectations in suspension while performing a protracted critique of them. Saying, "That was elegant" to someone who trips on his shoe laces is ironic, as it depends for its meaning only on the circumstances of the moment. Swift's "A Modest Proposal"depends on much more: satire requires attention, craft and care, and, like so much else that requires attention, craft and care, it seems to our generation to be hardly worth the trouble.

Nevertheless, satire--lacerating, pungent and deftly delivered--is what you will find on The William K Wolfrum Chronicles and Jon Swift. Of the two, I'm more fascinated by the Swift blog. Some of his satire is so finely etched and delicately rendered that it leaves deep and ragged puncture wounds in its victims without seeming to have bitten them at all. Swift could best be described as an Hamiltonian conservative; he certainly reserves the bulk of his contempt for Bush and the neo-conservative movement that sustained him. Swift appears to be that allegedly extinct being, an American Tory, and I was delighted to find him. Alas, he updates infrequently (even less frequently than I do), but he has a rich archive. Those intending to visit his site should also be aware that it is fairly banner- and graphic-heavy and will play havoc with dial-up modems and old computers.

My last American choice is more classically American: The Rude Pundit. The word "rude" is something you need to take very seriously indeed, here: his is not a "family" blog. I doubt it could even make the cut for an "R" rating; it's pretty far into NC-17 territory. The author is a college professor, and I think his obnoxious persona may very well be the de-sublimated volcanic effect of too many years spent in what can be a stiflingly politically-correct atmosphere; as a commiserant, I can empathise. I empathise, too, with his scalding hatred of the entire American political class. All too often, I forget that many Americans know just how mephitic and criminal their leadership has become and have as little tolerance for it as I have, perhaps even less.

People like the Rude Pundit are almost enough to restore my hope in America, profane though he may be--profane though he must be.


Ti-Guy said...

That was a lot of fun, SF.

Like whales to a beach, foredoomed neo-con paladins would rush onto Red's threads hoping to shout him down, only to flop about feebly and pathetically while being slowly overcome by the inertia of their own dullness.

Heh heh.

Did you hear about the RudePundit participating in panel of prominent American bloggers (Eschaton, Digby, Firedogake among the few I recall) to address the issue of profanity and blogging? They called it the "Fuck Panel" and concluded that they didn't much give a rat's ass about civil dialogue or immoderate language, one way or the other.

My kind of people.

Sir Francis said...

Did you hear about the RudePundit participating in panel of prominent American bloggers...?

I had not heard of that event, but I would love to see some footage of it; perhaps YouTube has some clips. I believe he's done some politically motivated stand-up comedy skits and street theatre as well.

I wonder how closely the reality of the guy matches with my visualisation of him--probably not very closely at all...

Ti-Guy said...

I wonder how closely the reality of the guy matches with my visualisation of him--probably not very closely at all...

I'd say disappointing. Better blogger than performer. Here's a clip from Youtube.

Sir Francis said...


Thanks for the clip. I'll watch it when my DSL is up and running again. I'm toiling away on dial-up at the moment.

Dr.Dawg said...

Thank you. I'm at a complete loss for words, for once. Thank you again.

William K Wolfrum said...

Sir Francis,

Wow, thank you so much for the mention and kind words. I'm truly honored and appreciative.

And I suppose I can deal with the fact that you prefer Mr. Swift to myself. Hell, I prefer him to myself.

The best part of it all is that now I can tell people with a straight face that I'm popular in Canada. Not bad for an American writer that lives in Brazil ;)

Seriously, SF, thank you very much.