You never realize how quiet a Target store is until someone starts screaming. Even in the TV / radio section, there’s a kind of hush; the TV volume is set to 2, the console games are barely audible. The kiosks that play samples of songs can’t throw a note more than five feet. Unlike the hellish din of a Best Buy, where everyone is testing out the wicked boomboxes by cranking up the tunes to eleven, it’s as quiet as a college library on a summer evening.

DON’T YOU TOUCH ME! DON’T YOU TOUCH ME! DON’T YOU TOUCH ME! DON’T YOU TOUCH ME! Every head in the front of the store swiveled around, trying to find the source. It was coming from the front of the store. DON’T YOU TOUCH ME! DON’T YOU TOUCH ME! The voice was mad in the Bedlam sense, full of depthless rage, desperate, panicked, murderous, and it was pouring out of a middle-aged woman in a check-out lane. Two security guards were trying to restrain her - one tall guy and one wee blonde sylph one-eighth the size of the offender. Between them they averaged into a 5’8” security guard, working against 160 pounds of schizophrenic fury.

“You’re under arrest,” said the tall guard, “for disturbing a retail operation.”


All shopping had ceased. People had placed themselves behind shelves and displays, as if seeking defensive positions. I got a good look at the woman, and her face was engraved with permanent anger; you could tell she was one of those strange muttering people who give off waves of blackness, who are always staring sightlessly at the sidewalk, multiplying grudges, adding up injustices, churning, churning. Mentally ill, but functional - the landlord might be tapping her phone, but she pays the rent on time. One of those women who chain-smoke too quickly to inhale. A Madwoman. She fought the guards with her shoulders, squirming free - two more guards appeared, restraints were applied, and she deflated. Not a word. They led her away, and like some Christmas window display of an animated village, everyone in the store started to move again, and went their separate ways.

Highlight of the day, really.

Listened to much radio commentary today on the Arnie candidacy, and as usual there was much lamenting and rending of garments on the ironclad right; he’s not this, he’s not that, he said this, he sleeps with a Shriver, etc. I am always mystified by people who would rather die pure than live with imperfections. Every candidate will always disappoint, somehow. Any candidate with whom you agree 100% is probably unelectable. If your bumpersticker says DON’T BLAME ME, I VOTED FOR AYN RAND I'm not particularly impressed
. ‘Cause she’s dead and none of that stuff is going to happen. Doesn’t mean we can’t keep the ideas in play, but if you don’t vote because no candidate vows to privatize the sewage systems and disband the Food and Drug Administration, don’t come crying to me when your marginal tax rate hits 71 percent.

I hadn’t watched the Tonight Show appearance when I posted last night. Rather amusing, really - they cut to a test pattern as Arnie supposedly announced his decision. PLEASE STAND BY. Probably the Tonight Show staff's idea, but it says something about the Plowman’s attitude that he approved and played along. First of all, it was a perfect setup for the real thing. Second, it acknowledged the curious nature of the announcement’s venue - a comedy show. Third, it was disarming. Arnie can’t be too self-important. His political persona requires determination and humility. The former is necessary to show he is willing to do what’s required, and the latter is vital to prove that he’s not completely stupid. I mean, he has - no - qualifications. He has to be humble about this.

Instapundit linked to this piece, which is one of the more drivilicious things I’ve read this month. (I haven’t read the follow-up links, which probably say everything I’m going to say, in less space.) It’s not just the message - Rush rules, blogs drool - it’s the plodding 12th grade writing style in which the message is delivered. It’s the polar opposite of Hendrik Hertzberger’s useless disquisition on talk radio in the recent New Yorker - it appears that Double-H thinks that all talk radio is Bob Grant and Michael Savage. Whatever. The Hill author says:

Although it is never safe to predict with any confidence what will happen over the next 15 years, I doubt that blogging or any specific bloggers will match Limbaugh’s record-setting pace for gathering influence in the political process.

One blogger? Maybe not. But many bloggers? Yes. Look, Limbaugh is good at what he does; the audience is the furnace, he’s the stoker, and the show is three hours of shoveled coal. But his scope is narrow. Jarvis’ collection of Iranian blogger links gave you more information in a day than Limbaugh would provide in a year, because that’s just not the sort of thing he does. The audience does not expect three hours about domestic Iranian politics. But the blog audience has no expectations other than There Will Be Information. What it’s going to be about, you never know, which is why the blogosphere is always more interesting on a daily basis than Limbaugh’s show.

Limbaugh is a master of production technique. Rush started in the radio business as a record-spinning disc jockey and understands the value of using punchy “bumper music” to open his segments, for example. Though Rush cares most about the message, he understands that the packaging is essential to the communication process.

(sigh) I knew he was a disc jockey, but a record-spinning one? Clatter to the ground, O Scales. There’s nothing masterful about using a dozen rotating bumps to get into a segment, for heaven’s sake; this is like praising TV for using “colorful moving images” to draw the viewer into the show. But here comes gaffe #1:

By comparison, most bloggers seem oblivious to the production details that might polish their communication efforts.Few seem to care about the principles of effective Web design. Some even seem to consider the primitive style of their blogs a badge of honor.

Oh really? You don’t say. I’ll take the crispness of this over this, which is one butt-ugly website.

Fourth, Limbaugh builds bonds with his audience. He provides enough details about his personal life that loyal listeners know something about his parents, brother, wife, their cats, his golf game, his diet, his hearing problems, etc. Those revelations allow listeners to have a “friendship” relationship with Rush that solidifies their place in his daily audience. Though some nonpolitical bloggers write much about their personal lives, he most influential political bloggers reveal few intimate details about their personal lives, making it more difficult for their readers to bond with them.

Three words, pal: Andrew Sullivan’s toilet. Oh, it drove some people nuts when he briefly detailed his battle with an overflowing commode. To intersperse such things with punditry! (sniff) Simply not done, I’m afraid.

We all know what Instawife is a filmmaker, what the Prof looks like when scuba diving; Michele drops more stuff in a week than Rush lets out in a year; we know Mitch’s employment status is proof that the universe is not yet a just place. We know lots of stuff about lots of people, and even if they don’t give you any details you pick up the flavor of their life and personality eventually. The adamantine nuggets of erudition Dr. Weevil provides tells me much more about him than, say, his golf game would.

Longtime readers know I have a bit of a history with talk radio, and I also have this odd pattern of ending up on the shows I listen to. It all started with the Geoff Charles show on KSTP - I was a listener, then a caller, then a guest, then an occasional co-host, then a sub, then I got the slot when he moved away. I mean, damn. (The brilliant Tommy Mischke followed the same path, with greater success) (Thanks to greater talent.) I’ve met Rush several times; had him on my show for an hour back in ‘87, had lunch in his office in ‘88. I’m not here to slam him to score points with blogdom, only to say that it’s a preposterous comparison. Rush is the next Paul Harvey. Rush will be the guy who comes on at noon for fifteen minutes in 2017. He’s not going away; no new medium will dislodge him. He will be the last man standing.

The rest of the people in the business face a different challenge, simply because they're not Rush. AM radio talk has to adapt to this nimble network of information that’s threading its way through every house, and the shows that don’t get it will find their audience consisting mostly of old people with the posture of a comma, listening in their underwear, eating dinner from a TV tray in a house with fourteen cats. Information is everywhere now, and if you don’t embrace that fact you reduce yourself down to the people who think that the daily paper and the network news are the alpha-and-omega of the information matrix.

Limbaugh’s audience may be plugged in to the blogs, but for a variety of reasons he cannot operate on that assumption. One of the many reasons I enjoy Hugh Hewitt’s show is because - to put it in eye-rollingly pretentious terms - he has grasped the redefinition of the information stream. Opinions need not come out every fortnight on glossy stock to be taken seriously; sometimes one clear-liquor aficionado in Colorado makes a point the nation might find amusing or instructive.

Which brings me to my point, and I’m as relieved as you to find this is going somewhere. You know who best could replicate the blogosphere on radio? NPR. Commercial radio has its limitations. You have to get in hot and go out smoking four, five times an hour; you have to spots for the local guys, stroke the affiliates, keep the base happy while extending the audience. NPR has no such problems. NPR could put on a show whose host mixed the topical with the personal in long languorous chunks - I mean, what is this bleat entry if not a 22 minute self-indulgent NPR monologue? I can’t imagine a Jean Shepherd thriving in AM today. I can easily see some leftie taleteller wandering all over the map in the twilight hours on an NPR station. AM radio always has one eye on the clock; that’s why it pops and sizzles. Blogs talk until they’re done, and that’s an FM thing.

This concludes our broadcast day. Now, “High Flight,” sung by the Crazy Old Man Chorus from the Simpsons:

The surly old bonds they HAIN’T what they used to be
HAIN’T what they used to be
HAIN’T what they used to be

(Test pattern)



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