Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish was, in my humble opinion, the most consistently interesting blog while it operated. (Sullivan has now retired from blogging.) I still have yet to see something that rivals it. I think one reason for this is that Sullivan understood the possibilities of blogging in a way that many did not before him. I found the following passage tonight, from Sullivan, that hints at what a blog can be and what differentiates it from other forms of writing:
Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio elenchi. What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews. Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting). I have therefore made mistakes along the way that I may not have made in other, more considered forms of writing; I have hurt the feelings of some people I deeply care about; I have said some things I should never have said, as well as things that gain extra force because they were true in the very moment that they happened. All this is part of life – and blogging comes as close to simply living, with all its errors and joys, misunderstandings and emotions, as writing ever will.
Andrew Sullivan and the Importance of Self Criticism
I was checking out Ta-Nehisi Coates blog tonight, I came across the above piece on Andrew Sullivan. (Coates and Sullivan both used to blog for The Atlantic. Coates still blogs for them.) The piece is not only interesting for its views on Sullivan, but because it is also about how error is an essential part of intellectual pursuit. This is a good read, especially for those of you interested in writing.
The Years of Writing Dangerously
Andrew Sullivan, soon to be retired blogger and creator of The Dish, posted some of his earliest words about blogging itself. I think he is someone that understands the best of what blogging can be. I think that it is a valid form of writing, but it is a new form of writing. It operates with a different set of rules than other forms of writing. It is more about capturing the honesty of the moment, and through a cataloging of moments, capturing the larger arc of the world around us. Here are some words on blogging from Sullivan’s piece:
[T]he speed with which an idea in your head reaches thousands of other people’s eyes has another deflating effect, this time in reverse: It ensures that you will occasionally blurt out things that are offensive, dumb, brilliant, or in tune with the way people actually think and speak in private. That means bloggers put themselves out there in far more ballsy fashion than many officially sanctioned pundits do, and they make fools of themselves more often, too. The only way to correct your mistakes or foolishness is in public, on the blog, in front of your readers. You are far more naked than when clothed in the protective garments of a media entity.
But, somehow, you’re liberated as well as nude: blogging as a media form of streaking. I notice this when I write my blog, as opposed to when I write for the old media. I take less time, worry less about polish, and care less about the consequences on my blog. That makes for more honest writing. It may not be “serious” in the way, say, a 12-page review of 14th-century Bulgarian poetry in the New Republic is serious. But it’s serious inasmuch as it conveys real ideas and feelings in as unvarnished and honest a form as possible. I think journalism could do with more of that kind of seriousness. It’s democratic in the best sense of the word. It helps expose the wizard behind the media curtain.
I am finding out late, as keeping up with my own blog has not allowed me the time to read his like I once did, that Andrew Sullivan is retiring from blogging. I am deeply saddened at this. I think Sullivan’s The Dish is the best blog going, a blog which greatly influenced this one. Sullivan is someone whose interests seem to know no bounds. You can go there any day and find discussions on politics, religion, art, and any number of topics. Although his blog skewed slightly to political issues, I would say only slightly. Some days you will pull up his blog and find a poem at the top of his page. Sullivan is Catholic, gay, and moderately conservative on some issues. (If you use the word conservative in the way that it used to be before the anti-science, corporatist, religious right completely took over.) I am none of those things. However, I knew that anytime I went to his page I would be opened up to new ideas, and most importantly, made to think.
There are several minor stylistic things that I stole from Sullivan, like not allowing the typical internet comments to play a part in the discussion. (As they usually just end up consisting of endless tirades and insults.) If Sullivan had a reader write a thoughtful dissent to what he wrote he would post it. He allowed the best of his critics a voice.
But more importantly was the idea that a blog didn’t have to be something narrowly defined. That in its own way it could be a kind of art form and window into the world. Political ideas, poetry, videos, and all manner of things could exist on a blog in the same way they do in our real lives. His blog created a community that was hungry for ideas and that wanted to think and be challenged. His blog inspired critical thinking and how many things in our media saturated world can you say that about? It was the first blog that I remember that was outward looking and not just a diary of the self. Although you felt like you got to know Sullivan through his writing, he was much more concerned in trying to shed light on the world.
I am hoping that this is a premature retirement, that like many musical acts he will return after a brief interlude of rest. If not, his blog was extremely important to my life and I know to many others. Although there is still talk of The Dish continuing in some form, I advise you to check it out while he is still at the helm:
The Best of the Dish Today
While over at The Dish reading their best of for yesterday, I was quite happy to read about how Benjamin Netanyahu, the GOP, and the Israeli right, have overplayed their hand concerning the political talks going on with Iran. I have long seen the Israeli right as being an immoral force in politics. The only difference between Netanyahu and a thug is that he has some political power behind him. If we are ever going to navigate the murky political waters of the Middle East, we need to isolate him and what he represents.
Francis Vs. the Theocons Round III
Andrew Sullivan has an interesting article about Pope Francis, the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, and the far right’s anger over the Pope’s stance on climate change. It should be mentioned that Sullivan is a Catholic. A sample:
The theocons created an abstract fusion of GOP policy and an unrecognizable form of Christianity that saw money as a virtue, the earth as disposable, and the poor as invisible. It couldn’t last, given the weight of Christian theology and tradition marshaled against it. And it hasn’t. Francis is, moreover, indistinguishable on this issue from Benedict XVI and even John Paul II. As in so many areas, it’s the American far right whose bluff is finally being called.
The NYPD Turns its Back On Civilian Control
I’ve put up some posts recently about the problems going on in NYC between the Police Union and civilian leadership, as I think this issue, in light of many other things in the news concerning our justice system, is part of a larger conversation. Above are some reactions that Andrew Sullivan has gathered at his blog The Dish, one of the best blogs around. A sample from Damon Linker:
It is absolutely essential, in New York City but also in communities around the country, that citizens and public officials make it at all times unambiguously clear that the police work for us. … When police officers engage in acts of insubordination against civilian leadership, they should expect to be punished. Just like insubordinate soldiers. The principle of civilian control of the military and police depends on it.
It also depends on cops who kill unarmed citizens being tried in a court of law. And on cops respecting the right of citizens to protest anything they wish, including the failure of the judicial system to hold police officers accountable for their use of deadly force in ambiguous situations. All of this should be a no-brainer. That it apparently isn’t for many police officers and their apologists in the media is a troubling sign of decay in our civic institutions.
I am getting ready to go on the road today, so time is a little short. However, I have been reading various articles about the torture report that just came out. Here is just a sample of the many articles out there.
10 Truly Terrible Things the CIA Did In Our Names, Because Freedom
The above link is a very brief overview of some of the worst parts of the report. Below is a reposting of Andrew Sullivan’s from 2005 about how Freedom and Torture are at odds:
“Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person’s will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human. As an American commander wrote in an August 2003 e-mail about his instructions to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib, “The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.”
What does it mean to “break” an individual?
As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne once commented, and Shakespeare echoed, even the greatest philosophers have difficulty thinking clearly when they have a toothache. These wise men were describing the inescapable frailty of the human experience, mocking the claims of some seers to be above basic human feelings and bodily needs. If that frailty is exposed by a toothache, it is beyond dispute in the case of torture. The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term “break” is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken–of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South,”
In my mind anyone that condoned or performed torture should be prosecuted, plain and simple. I am aware however, that these crimes will probably go unpunished, or if they do, those at the highest level will probably be exempt. We paid 80 million dollars to psychologists to advise the CIA on torture. Those are the kind of tax dollars that people should be up in arms about, not implementing things that will benefit citizens like public transportation. Hopefully someday that will be the case.
If you are interested at reading a more in-depth portrait of the CIA, I recommend Tim Wiener’s book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. It not only contains a wealth of fascinating information, but is extremely readable.
The above is a link to Andrew Sullivan’s take on the election, which is I think has a lot of merit to it. A sample:
So this is a victory in favor of more governing paralysis. Most voters don’t really want that; but their actions belie it. History twists and turns, of course, and any number of events or surprises could upend our expectations for the better. But yesterday, it seems to me, was the definitive moment when Obama’s promise to forge a pragmatic purple center ceded to the grim, polarized reality of a deeply and evenly divided country. This was the GOP’s strategy from the start; but it leaves them with a strangely ill-defined, if emphatic, victory.
I enjoy Peter Travers movie reviews in Rolling Stone Magazine. However, whenever I see him in person I find him highly annoying. I think Andrew Sullivan is one of the best bloggers there is, that his writing is really thoughtful most of the time, but again in person he can sometimes be grating. There are times when I write some high minded posts, but I’m sure if you hung out with me there are times you would think to yourself that I was one ignorant motherfucker. (And that’s not saying that I don’t occasionally write something that will make you think that as well!)
One of the things that I like about writing is that it slows down the thought process. I think most people are generally more thoughtful in the written word. It is a form of expression that allows at times for the best of ourselves to come out. Often when you are responding to things in the moment there are all kinds of different things at play: There is your body chemistry, which is always a challenge. There is the mind racing about how you are being perceived by the people around you. There is the natural flow of a conversation that often doesn’t allow for deep reflection. Those are just a few of the challenges we face in person to person communication.
Writing, especially longer forms of writing, allow one to slow down and go deep. Someone that may be a neurotic bastard in real life, might be truly thoughtful in writing. They are two different forms of expression and they access different parts of our being. Humans are complicated. The thing that is great about writing or any form of artistic expression is this: Once the neurotic bastard is dead, once the short turbulent complicated lifespan of a human being is over, a good piece of work may live on for a long time, inspiring and doing good, eclipsing all those moments when one wasn’t at their best. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t try to be their best, only that time has a funny way of erasing, or at least sanding down, those human characteristics that we call faults.