Saturday, 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.


  1. Hot damn, Stacy, that was pure gonzo ranting! I am simply in awe. I wouldn't have been able to go three paragraphs without using the word "poopyhead".

  2. Stacy - you need to quit repressing your inner feelings and squelching your opinions. It is bad for your health.

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  5. Geez, Robert: all us professional writers have to write sample chapters . . .
    -- Anonymous, 7:39 p.m.

    Thank you for the advice, Anonymous. I've deleted the comment in which you called me a "buffoon," you pathetic fucking troll. I hate fucking trolls. And if you have my cell-phone number, how about calling me. Y'know, I hand out business cards like a Shriner clown throwing candy to kids at the Fourth of July parade, and still people think that always I should call them, rather than vice-versa.

  6. Well, nobody likes to fuck a troll.

  7. Also FWIW: If James Carville said "Politics ain't beanbag", then he stole it from the great Chicago columnist from the 20s/30s Findley Peter Dunne, author of the Mr. Dooley columns.

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  9. I love what you say much of the time - but your Ethos gets dinged when you stoop to crass language while professing an acting faith in Jesus the Annointed. I'm just sayin'.