Friday, August 26, 2005

Kaus the Hack, Part Two: Easterbrook's Revenge

Ok, so I wrote a lot already, but I'm still not done with Mickey Kaus. I said everything I was planning to in the last post (which you should read first, if you haven't already), but my last post proved so popular that I found that I still have more to say. A lot more. Specifically, about the "there's no indication that this "Islamic republic" won't be democratic," part of the post I dissected earlier. And generally, about how this is indicative of his dangerous way of thinking.

But again, I'm the evidence-based type, so I decided to do a wee-bit of research in the Kausfiles, to see what else I could find on his opinions regarding a possible Islamic Republic. And as far as my feeble search skills go, it was nothing; at least for that specific search term. But I did find Kaus's defense of the indefensible Gregg Easterbrook, titled appropriately, "Why ESPN was wrong to fire Gregg Easterbrook" (which doesn't appear to be directly linkable, so you'll have to scroll down if you want to read it). And needless to say, Kaus explains that what Easterbrook did was wrong, but that ESPN shouldn't have fired him for it. And even though that post was a few years old, I dislike Easterbrook so much that I decided to discuss that first, and will have to put off my "Islamic Republic" post for a part three of the trilogy.

A Stupid Man

But before that, let me just say that, to my knowledge, Gregg Easterbrook is a complete nimrod. And I mean complete. He's the package deal. I have rarely read anything as stupid and lamebrained from a professional writer than what I've read from Mr. Easterbrook, and I used to subscribe to TV Guide, so you know what kind of standards I'm talking about.

And it wasn't just one article, it was all of them. I refuse to go back through his archives at TNR, but I am quite categorical about this. Easterbrook is an offensively stupid man, and my biggest concern right now is that my statements might give you the idea that you'll want to re-visit his shitfest, and I really can't discourage that enough. I even refuse to provide a link to my TNR reference above, just so that you'll be less likely to click on it and subject yourself to the horrors of that stupid, stupid man.

And just so nobody gets me wrong, I don't necessarily think that Easterbrook was particularly offensive. But he was offensively stupid. The stuff that made you just feel dumber for having read. Like the stuff that you read at all the worst blogs, but well-written and done in the manner of an intelligent, sensible person; which made it all the more offensive. You can excuse someone's stupidity if they're just so stupid that they can't even function; with more forgiveness as the ability to function plummets. But with Easterbrook, he was clearly educated and whatnot, and really should have known better. So there's just no excuse for the stupidness we were getting out of that guy. Oh, and just to get it out of the way, let me just say again: stupid, stupid, stupid. Thank you.

So you can just imagine my delight/horror in seeing that my newest target, Mickey Kaus, is not only an admirer of Easterbrook's, but also a friend. Of Easterbrook, Kaus writes "He's one of the smartest people I've ever met, and he's produced some of the best journalism I've ever read, and he's extremely funny..." And you've really got to wonder how many of Kaus's friends just wanted to punch him right in the face, with that kind of backhanded insult. Then again, I can't imagine too many intelligent people wanting to be friends with Kaus, so maybe Easterbrook really was at the high end of that hopefully small list of people.


And so I didn't care for Mr. Easterbrook's writing very much. So when he started his blog at TNR, I was aghast. I couldn't believe it. I was a subscriber at the time, and knew that they had writers that I liked, and was absolutely positive that of all their writers, he was the last one I wanted to read every damn day. Not because he was the writer I most disagreed with; because he was far from it (in fact, TNR seems to specialize in liberal writers who I disagree with); but because he's so maddeningly stupid and indefensibly wrong.

I even remember the beginning, when he was writing about what he'd call his new blog. And he finally settled on "Easterblogg", which was just about the lamest thing you could call your blog. Some things are so stupid that they're funny, like exclaiming the word "fart" when you're in the presence of cool people you're trying to impress. And some things are so stupid that they're just even stupider when you use them. And the name "Easterblogg" is one of those things. It was stupid by itself, but when he used it, it became even more stupid.

And I gave his "blogg" a chance at first. I really did. But quickly, I made a point of never ever never clicking on his link again, just so that TNR would quickly realize how unpopular his blog was. One time, when his blog was still new, I meant to click on another blog, perhaps Iraq'd or Etc or Chait's Dean thing or something, but they moved stuff around and I accidentally clicked on that doofus's blog instead. And I got very upset with myself. It was an accident, sure. But I upped his hit counter by one, and was worried that I may have extended the life of that piece of shit blog; if even just for a few days. You just never know, and I'm not one to take chances with this stuff.

And I even wrote a letter. Like an email (as nobody writes "letter" letters anymore), just to complain about the damn blog. Just to complain about how offensively stupid it was. I didn't put it like that, but that was the gist of it. I don't know if anyone read that letter, but it made me feel a little better. And hopefully, more than offset the damage I did with that accidental click I gave him. Or so I wanted to believe.

Killing Bill

But one time, after his blog had been there for awhile, I once again clicked on his link. I can't remember what the teaser line was, but I saw that it was about Quentin Tarantino and the newly released Kill Bill, and I just had to see what that dumbass wrote about it. Yes, I overcame my worries about giving him extra hits, just to see what he had to write. I'm a big Tarantino fan, and put him as one of the best directors of our generation (though his recent output has certainly disappointed me, and has been far surpassed by Paul T. Anderson). And though I hadn't seen Kill Bill, nor have I yet (though it is in my Netflix's queue), I really had to read Easterbrook's garbage. (For the record, I really thought KB looked like a comic-book style killing kind of thing, which looked fun, but that's really not my thing.)

And so I read it. And even now I can't believe what he wrote. Now, I'm a big Tarantino fan, but I understand that he's just not everyone's kind of guy. And his movie's aren't for everyone. I'm not fascist when it comes to personal tastes. Whenever I've heard someone state their problems with him, it's obvious that they don't know what the hell they're talking about. And that they're just looking to rationalize the reason why they don't like him, when it's probably more an emotional response against his popularity, style, or whatever. But people do that all the time, and I've learned to deal with it.

Unfortunately, people do the same thing too often in politics, and vote against somebody because they don't look chummy enough, or they don't like the candidate's wife. Or some other stupid shit reason that has nothing to do with why we should elect our leader. That's just how some people work, and you have to learn to deal with it.

And that happened a lot with Tarantino. And so people always tried to latch on to the whole violence thing, because it was the most obvious target. And really, why the hell was anyone singling that kind of thing out, when you've got Governor Arnold's movies, where he uses innocent bystanders as human shields; allowing them to be pumped full of lead as he dismantles an airport's security forces? And forget that the Governator has killed more people in single scenes than all the people killed in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs combined! I mean, really.

And is it really better to see anonymous people murdered indiscriminately, than to see real characters killed with style? In Commando, Arnold killed tons of people to save his daughter (some IMDB estimates put it as high as 90 killed). But who were these people? None of them were fathers? This isn't going to affect anyone's life? It's an automatic death sentence because they accepted a job working for the bad guy? Were they aware of this when they got hired on? Whatever. Oh and speaking of which, if you're a potential commando, and you'd like to learn some important lessons for the job, I suggest you check out the Commando message board at IMDB. You'll thank me later.

But for Tarantino, say what you will and dislike the movies, that's fine. But it's just plain wrong to say he makes bad movies. They might not be everyone's taste, but they're not poorly made. Just because you don't like something doesn't make it bad. There are lots of perfectly fine, well-made movies that I'll never see. Hell, it's very very rare that I ever watch Oscar nominated movies. They're just not my thing, and I find such movies to be fairly bland, boring, and manipulative. But they're generally well-crafted. And the same must be said for Tarantino's films. They might not be your style, but they're at least well-made and certainly stand out from the crowd (though Jackie Brown was a tad boring).

And despite all the knocks on Tarantino, you can't suggest that there isn't sentimentality to his characters. They may be hitmen, bank robbers, or hillbilly bondage rapists; but there is a definite honor among thieves in all his works. They're not fully immoral, they just have a different system of morality. Which often gets them into trouble which they could have avoided had they been complete immoral psychos. Bruce Willis goes back to save the man who was trying to kill him. Clooney really does care for his psycho brother in Dusk Till Dawn, even wanting to protect him after he goes vampire. And (spoiler alert!) everyone ends up dead in Reservoir Dogs, just because Mr. White became too loyal to the undercover cop who he felt responsible for.

And while people don't have to like Tarantino movies, you just can't say that they're poorly made or have no redeeming value. Unless, of course, you're a schmuck named Easterbrook.

A Schmuck Named Easterbrook

Anyway, sorry for that little movie lesson. But it ties into the whole Easterbrook thing, because Greggg just haaaaates Tarantino. Just hates him. Like this: "All of Tarantino's work is pure junk. How can you be a renowned director without ever having made a film that's even good, to say nothing of great? No film student in 50 years will spend a single second with a Tarantino movie, except to shake his or her head."

And that's just stupid. I mean really. I don't care if you don't like the guy. And I'm not suggesting that film students will flock to his work fifty years from now (then again, I think film school's for pussies, and I don't mean that in the good way). But pure junk? All of it?? Come fucking on! That's just stupid. Offensively stupid. And don't even get me started with his "how can you be renowned" garbage, as it obviously doesn't take a good movie to make you a famous director, or vice versa. But take no heed of that. Greggy was just riffing, and didn't have the intellectual capability to take it beyond the basic levels of bullshit (as opposed to my riffing, which rises quickly into the upper echelons of bullshit, and beyond).

And here's the thing about Gregg. It's not enough that he doesn't like something. That's understandable. Everyone has their right to be wrong. But that's not good enough for Gregg. Oh no. He has to insist that everyone should hate it. And some people are just like that. Because they don't enjoy drinking alcohol, it must only be for braindeads who "don't know how to have fun sober". It's not a personal preference thing, or even a biological difference; they have to insult people who enjoy it. Because alcohol doesn't agree with them, it shouldn't agree with anyone. And if you like Big Macs, you're just like a retard who doesn't know what good eating is (Big Macs will always be on my fave list, btw). And because Easterbrook doesn't enjoy Tarantino films? It's not a difference of opinion. They must all be pure junk.

Ok, I wrote a bunch more about this, but I really didn't think it was good enough to deserve such a long-ass post, so I cut it. I'll just give you the Easterquote that inspired it and move on: "Tarantino does nothing but churn out shabby depictions of slaughter as a form of pleasure...". The title of this missing subsection was "Shabby Slaughter", for those keeping track of such things.

It's Never Opposite Day

And let's just get down to brass tacks. The problem with Easterbrook is that he's a contrarian. And not just any contrarian. But someone who doesn't even realize that he's a contrarian, and thinks that his way is the only way. As if he's the conventional wisdom, if only the conventionals were intelligent enough to realize it.

And there are a lot of these guys out there. Somehow, someway, life needs people to take an opposing position for no other reason than that we need an opposing position. And the more widely accepted the conventional wisdom is, the stronger these guys need to oppose it. I'm not sure if this is some inherited trait or the work of some Supreme Being, but it is undeniable that some people play the role of knee-jerk contrarians who must give an opposing position on almost every position imaginable. And the specific role these people play is like ballast, to counterbalance against mob rule. And to some extent, I think this is a good thing; no matter how annoying and prickish these people may seem.

And what I just realized, all the people I cited in my last post regarding "people we wrongly give props to": Thomas Friedman, Andrew Sullivan, Richard Cohen, Christopher Hitchens, and of course, Mickey Kaus and the dreaded Gregg Easterbrook; the one thing they have in common is that they're all unrepentant contrarians. That they just have to take the opposing viewpoint. Well except for Kaus, who merely uses the trappings of a contrarian, but seems to represent the conventional wisdom.

Even their support for the war wasn't due to an undying patriotism towards America or Bush; but simply because they represented the contrarian view to us. They may have seemed to be lockstep with the Bushies, but that was purely coincidental. They supported the war because they really should have opposed it, but had to represent the opposite of what they should have done. And so the stronger we denounced them for being such foolish warhawks, and the stronger our arguments were; the firmer their contrarian minds had to fight against it. Again, except for Kaus, who I believe supported the war because it was the conventional wisdom from the media pundits.

And a big part of this is that contrariness is used to prove intellectual prowess. Because these people know the conventional arguments...or so they think. For them, it's like child's play to give the straight-forward arguments. And so they automatically take things a step further, and argue for the opposite position from the one that seems obvious. Like people trapped into being the Devil's advocate. But it becomes such a habit that they stop being able to give conventional arguments, and find themselves to always be on the other side. It's all just an intellectual game that takes over and destroys their minds.

If the subject is slavery, they might argue that maybe slaves didn't have it so bad. And if it's about welfare and other government aid, they might argue that these things hurt the recipients and that it's better for poor people to not have them. And if the argument is terrorism, they'll argue that...well, I'm not exactly sure what their contrarian argument is, because it sounds so much like the Bushies' argument. But I guess that's contrarian enough for them, because the Bushie argument was simply atrocious.

And that's a problem that we have when dealing with them, as all the contrarian arguments are also often ones that the truly egregious people use; at least on the surface. Racists will argue in support of slavery. Greedy bastards will argue against welfare and other government aid. And racists, greedy bastards, and morons will argue for the War on Islam. And so it's not so easy to understand which is which. But if you don't understand the underlying motives for why people make these arguments, you will never convince them of anything. You'll just be wasting your time because your arguments against their straight-forward stupidity will bounce off of them, as they already know your argument (or so they think) and believe themselves to be one step beyond it.

And if you suggest to these contrarians that they're racist, greedy, or stupid; they'll laugh you off and know that you don't know anything. Because the truth is that they're just bastards who don't give a shit about anything, and just like to show-off their debate skills and intellectual superiority (or what they imagine to be these things). And if they're drunk enough, they'll agree whole-heartedly with that assessment.

So while it's not impossible to debate them, you need to know why they say what they're saying, and adjust your arguments accordingly. Not that it really matters, as these people have given up discussing realworld issues, and everything is rhetorical to them. Absolutely everything.

Oh, and as an extra note written in an extra-superb drunken stupor, I predict that the recent revival of the social and fiscal conservatives will, in historical hindsight, be seen as nothing but a contrarian backlash against the inevitable liberal and intellectual tidal wave sweeping America. In twenty years, we will laugh at the idea that we feared any possible longterm conservative movement. Instead, we'll realize that it was just your basic breather needed to double-check everything, before we went ahead and finished the work needed to making America and the world a better place. Devil's advocate really is an important, if tedious role, and history will agree that it was probably necessary to take this kind of break from the sweeping changes of the last fifty and next fifty years. Additionally, having presidents like Bush is necessary to make sure that we don't have more like him. And you can quote me on that. Sorry for the interruption, and you can now go back to your regularly scheduled post.

Review As Rebuttal

And Easterbrook's contrariness is seen quickly enough when you realize that his attack on Tarantino wasn't so much a summation of the movies or the director, as it was an attack on all Tarantino fans. Because it wasn't a summation at all. It was someone who has argued with Tarantino fans, or at least heard what they like about the guy; and thrown it all back in their face. And what appears to be revulsion at the movies is actually intended to offend and hurt the people who like Tarantino. Because Easterbrook is revulsed by the movies, but not because of the violence. It's because Easterbrook's role in life is that of the contrarian, so he's not able to enjoy things that become immensely popular overnight. He has to act as ballast to that kind of trend.

Had Tarantino remained an unknown, but brilliant filmmaker, the Easterbrooks would have proudly touted his genius to all their friends. But Tarantino became too famous too fast, so Easterbrook had to find reasons to hate him. And the more popular the movies were, and the less he could find a logical reason to hate them, the more angrily he has to toss off his rebuttal. But his anger isn't at Tarantino, but at all of Tarantino's admirers.

Here are two of his more direct sentences which attack the Tarantino fan:
To laud Tarantino as innovative because events happen out-of-sequence is like lauding The Bridges of Madison County as innovative because it opens with a discovered letter from someone who has died.

And supposedly Tarantino is some kind of counter-genius for getting box-office stars like Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman to debase themselves in his drivel.

I went on to point out that neither of these are sole reasons why anyone would call Tarantino a genius. But rather it was how he used those things, just as Easterbrook claims is necessary for these things. But he was just trying to be a punkass and hurt everyone's feelings because he couldn't join in on their reindeer games. Once again, I wrote a bunch more, but cut it out as this is really getting to be quite long and I'm sure you have a life to get back to.

Easterbrook's Error

And so I read this summation of Tarantino's talents. And then I came to what we now know as the "controversial part" or as Mickey says "Easterbrook's Error". What did he do? He suggested that, because two movie execs responsible for Kill Bill were Jewish, that we need to take them to task for it somehow. And even worse, he stated: "Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence?" And when I first read that, I gave a big "WTF!?!, did he just write that?" And I read it again, because it was so bizarre. And sure enough, he really did write that.

And his error wasn't just the "worship money above all else" line, though that was mind-bogglingly stupid, indeed. His error was also in suggesting that Eisner and Weinstein's jewishness had anything to do with the movie at all. As if their ethnicity should be something which separated them from other film execs, and could be used as a weapon to get them to clean up their act. And that's just stupid. Just because somebody responsible for something bad is a member of a specific group doesn't mean that we should somehow use that group identity as a specific claim against them. That is the nature of stereotyping and discrimination.

And I have no doubts that Easterbrook understands that. He just wants to be a dick all the time, because his contrariness forces him to. Anyway, I wrote a bunch more about this, but cut it too, as I'm sure you get the point as well as I do. So let's just tie this back into Kaus and be done with it.

Mickey's Defense

Ok, dumbass writer writes somewhat tame, but still controversial anti-Jewish stuff. If he's someone already famous for having a problem with Jews, he probably gets ignored for something this tame. If he's a politician, political consultant, or anyone else who the media feels like picking on, he'll be hung out to dry and will have to work extra hard to get his career back on line; and he is likely to have the controversial writing follow him forever more. And if he's a media-type himself, and has friends in the media? Those friends must defend him.

And that's something that's just plain wrong. I've got a post in the works about the problems with professional friendships, but I'll just cover a little here anyway. Because you shouldn't have to be friends with a media-type to get defended in the media. That's just not how this is supposed to work, and completely undermines the whole concept of objectivity. You're supposed to be defended on the merits, and the media-types shouldn't be abusing their status as a way of doing personal favors for friends.

And that's exactly what we're talking about here. Mickey Kaus using his position on Slate to defend a friend. I have no idea if Kaus would have used that space to defend Easterbrook otherwise, but I seriously doubt he would have, were they not friends. I'm not saying that Kaus would have attacked Easterbrook. I just don't think he would have said anything at all. And if he did, he'd probably have sided with Easterbrook's detractors. And that's just not what the media is for.

In fact, that's one of the biggest problems with the media today. The media-types see it as being their property. Something that they get to use however they see fit. And that includes using it to defend a friend. Kaus did it here with Easterbrook. We're seeing this with Queen of Iraq Miller. And we see this all too often. They use the media for their own benefit. And they don't believe that it's supposed to be used against them. They own it.

But do they? Of course not. They don't own jackshit. They own the media as much as I own financial statements. I'm not allowed to use my status as a CPA to benefit my friends and attack my enemies. Hell, I'm not even supposed to audit my friend's or enemy's company at all (strictly speaking, CPA's have no friends). And I'd sure as hell lose my license if I used it for personal gain like this. There are strict rules about that, so if you've got a failing company needing perkier financials, well you'll just have to go elsewhere, friend. (For the record, I don't do audits at all, as they're a big pain in the ass).

And it's sad to read Mickey's defense of Gregg. It's sad. Because there wasn't much to work with. Mickey had to say nice things, but his spin went a long way to helping me write this post. Because it confirmed Easterbrook as the contrarian type who needs to devise complicated rhetorical arguments which sound wrong to conventional ears. And that's the exact problem that contrarians have. They like arguments for argument's sake, and so they can't just say the normal stuff. And this gets them into all kinds of problems; largely because they don't really care about the real world applications of what they write. They just like the contrarian argument.

And even if Easterbrook isn't a discrimination kind of guy, his post certainly was discriminatory; if nothing else because it used ethnicity as an unnecessary issue. And also because it encouraged that way of thinking. And if he's the kind of guy that encourages that way of thinking, even in a rhetorical context, that's a problem. And if Kaus is the kind of guy that excuses the kind of meaningless rhetorical argument that leads to things like discriminatory thinking, then that's a problem. Especially if he does it for no other reason than friendship.

Anyway, I'm just going to wrap things up there. I've snipped a lot, I didn't quite finish every thought I was going for; but it's a damn long post, and I think I've scored enough points here. I may or may not get around to finishing my Kaus trilogy, but it's been fun trying. I really should do these character assassination-type posts more, as they're really a whole lot of fun; and if I'm drinking enough (as I usually am), they just seem to write themselves. My main problem is trying to sort things out the next day and getting enough gumption to actually complete the damn things. Most of this was written in less than an hour, five days ago, and I just never got around to completing it. But now it's done, and I'll have to get started on some other posts I've been putting off.

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