So I come home the other day, and there’s a guy sitting on the small wall at the foot of the steps. He springs up when he sees me, approaches the car, and starts a spiel. He’s very impressive – high energy, big smile, fresh shirt, none of that scruffy save-the-wetlands-wombats vibe you get from most of the canvassers. He has a laminated badge, which is supposed to lend legitimacy somehow. I listen to his speech, and I understand every word, but I have no idea what he wants. Magazines somehow enter into this. I thank him for the offer but I have many magazines, thanks.

How about a donation? He opens up his portfolio, shows me some checks, and tells me that my neighbors have given him donations. For what?

For their company, which exists to send out people like himself on behalf of the company, or something like that. I ask for some info on the company, and he gives me a website address. I tell him I’ll check it out. I know I sound cold and Scroogey, but I have this thing about just writing checks to guys who show up and ask if I’d write a check for no other reason than he showed up at my door.

Well, he came BACK today. That’s dedication. Today the pitch was clear: he wanted to sell magazine subscriptions. And my guarantee that the subscriptions would arrive? The laminated badge? No guarantee, of course, since I would be making out the check to the guy. He asked if I’d looked at the web site, and I said no – and felt bad! He said he could come back tonight around eight after I’d looked at the website, at which point I said no, the evening time is family time. And I really don’t need any magazines.

Now I feel like an utter heel. Then I go to the website. I still cannot figure out what the hell they do, aside from sell "encycolpedias." Don’t miss this page. Check out the transportation and hotel links. Ask yourself: would you write them a check?

Once upon a time – after 9/11 – I had the news on in the evening all the time, just in case. Sometimes it was Fox. Sometimes I watched Bill O’Reilly for a minute or two. I was impressed by his ability to have guests on the show and spend 87% of the interview asking loaded questions to people in distant TV studio who can’t see him, and are staring at the blank bovine eye of the camera struggling to parse the query in their earpiece. So I’m always amused when he pops up from time to time saying this or that. Drudge linked to this story, which is a classic Pox On All Your Houses! Tale that manages to achieve the dreaded Columnist’s Triple-Play: clueless, lame, and unfunny.

Maybe I just listen to the wrong kind of talk radio; I hear serious detailed discussions, with an avowedly partisan slant. But that’s not my point. This piece is just so flat and pro forma it should make serious up-and-coming pundits draw dotted lines on their wrists and reach for the Gillette, because this is what you can publish if you’re A Name. Apparently the paper assumes that people are interested in what O’Reilly thinks about talk radio. But when was the last time you heard someone say “you know, Bill O’Reilly made an excellent argument about that very point.” He’s a red throbbing thumb, and that’s all. And in the other hand: his hammer.

Then there’s the Kos debate. I’ve learned a lot from this. In the Brave New (Often Anonymous) Internet age, the furor ends being about the furor, not the stupid thing you said. Lines are drawn! Camps are formed! People rally to their standard bearers, and drag out the old saw: I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it, particularly if I secretly do agree with what you say. Then comes the delinking, which has two strata: there’s the individual delinking, which is as impressive an act as taking out a Sharpie and crossing out an entry in your personal White Pages, and the institutional delinking, which actually is a big thing. When someone says something stupid – I mean, poisonously, ludicrously stupid – the advertisers on that site have to take a stand. I hate to say it, but that’s what it comes to in Ashcroft’s Amerikkka: if you express callous contempt for four lynched Americans strung up by a raving mob, there’s a chance you might lose advertisers looking to court a moderate audience.

But in the end the kerfuffle always comes down to the Clever Kids who cannot seem to process any emotion other than Bemused Ironic Distance from anyone who feels strongly about anything; when they arrive on the scene to survey the damage, their main contribution is to roll their eyes at how artlessly the dead bodies are arranged, no? You get the sense that it’s not the fact that people have erroneous positions that bothers the Clever Kids, it’s the fact that they have positions at all. The best position is no position, because then everyone’s so amusing, and really, that’s what it’s all about: standing above the fray and laughing at the people who take things so seriously. Because nothing is serious, except for certain things, and if you step out of line on those issues then you’re super-evil and you get the extra snarky scorn-sauce poured on your unflattering AP photos, and we’ll lie about you too, but hey! We lie about everyone, for fun. Eventually. Maybe. Whatever. Who cares. Do you like these shoes? They’re hot. But they pinch. Where’s the waiter?

Cut back down to the bone:
Americans strung up and burned. Big-time blogger says “screw them.” Blogger suffers blowback, just as a mainstream columnist would suffer if he wrote that it was time to nuke Mecca or pave Fallujah. And there are consequences? Welcome to the real world.

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