Sunday, December 30, 2007

Who Is The Best Blogger Ever?


In the spring of 1993 I was working at a not-so super-secret National Laboratory in, as my grandfather the Tugboat Captain always liked to say, "The Excited States of America"*.

The excited state of the People's Republic of Berkeley, California to be more precise.

Which, to say the least, was extremely interesting on a whole lot of levels.

One of which was the fact that I got to feel the excitement of hooking-up daily to the US Federal Government's burgeoning internet backbone just as Mosaic came on-line.

What was Mosaic?

Well, it wasn't the very first graphical interface web browser.

But it was the one that changed everything.

Hard to believe that it wasn't even 15 years ago.

Which is nothing, especially in dog's years.

But it is plenty long enough for literally millions of commentators to stuff a gazillion googolplexes worth digitized data high up in the toobz.

Which begs the question.

Who's the best there ever was?

The best blogger I mean.


There is a scene in the faux astronaut hagiography 'The Right Stuff' when Dennis Quaid's character, Gordon 'Hot Dog' Cooper, is asked, "Who's the best you ever saw?"

The interviewer is asking Cooper about real flying - which is most definitely not the same thing as being the aeronautical equivalent of 'spam-in-can' while you flick switches under Mission Control's ever watchful eye.

Cooper/Quaid goes pensive for a moment, as he thinks of Chuck Yeager.

Then an 'I-Ain't-Spam-In-A-Can', shite-eating grin appears on his face and he answers, "Me".

Now, I'm pretty sure that if you asked the hot shots of Left Blogistan the same question you'd likely get the same answer from quite a few of them.

Even the really good ones like, say, I dunno, Bitch PhD.

But in that moment when they were thinking about who really was really a 5 tool-keybanger (ie. wordsmithing, style, elan, guts and a nose for dealing a deathblow to any and all demonstrable falsehoods) with all the right stuff, a lot of them would be probably find themselves thinking about a guy named Steven Gilliard.


I slid sideways into the work of Mr. Gilliard while chasing down Billmon's back stories at Daily Kos.

But once I found it, and the rock solid POV that infused it, the work of Mr. Gilliard changed the way I think about blogging.

Here's what I said about that way back in early 2005:

Is there anybody south of border right now that can really take it to the greedheads, unyieldingly, and win?....


....At first we thought that person was going to be Billmon before he self-destructed Nov. 3rd after he was struck dumb by the realization that American exceptionalism, at least for the time being, is dead.

But now we've stumbled across somebody else who seems to be up for the job.

His name is Steve Gilliard and this past weekend it became quite clear why.

You see, the Re-thug integrity-challenged screamers (ie. the National Review Online, Instapundit et al.) had a go at Mr. Gilliard after he suggested that Armstrong Williams, the black media shill who took money from the Rovians to boost the 'No White/All Black Children Left Behind' initiative on his talk show, was an Uncle Tom.

As a result, the screamers sent their swarms of locusts (aka 'trolls') over to Mr. Gilliard's place where they started shrieking that he was a spineless, bitter, liberal racist (and worse).

Gilliard and the regular posters on his site stood their ground and the resulting fireworks were most interesting.

Even better, today Steve had this to say:

"What stunned me with the trolls was the idea that they could call me a racist and I would care.... Conservatives make the assumption that liberals care what they think and will react to it.

There's a tendency for liberals to try and be fair, to consider other viewpoints, so we get baited by them in debates on terms that they set. I'm going to act on the following: I don't care what conservatives think. The NRO Corner thinks I'm a racist, I don't care, their opinions on race are meaningless.......

.....I'm not writing to make conservatives happy. I want them to hate my opinions. I'm not interested in debating them.

I want to stop them."

Isn't that something? And you don't have to just take our word for it. Folks with a much better nose for this sort of thing, people like James Wolcott, have this to say about Mr. Gilliard:

"Gilliard is a good guy who sometimes uses bad language, according to the girls in the bridge club. I haven't noticed this myself, but then again I was raised by Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler, two names lost on most of you."

Oh, and just in case you didn't know it, Mr. Gilliard himself is black.


Now, race is a huge part of American life, which is something I, a whiter-than-white-bread whiteboy from the leftcoast of Canuckistanian, learned very quickly when we lived in a patchwork quilt neighborhood in the West Berkeley flats.

And because he was so often writing about life in George Bush's America, sometimes Mr. Gilliard was forced to write about race with an honesty and forthrightness that was literlly breathtaking.

Despite this, Gilliard rarely raised the race issue when it was not warranted. Thus, it was understandable that even some of his more reasonably well-informed casual readers did not know that he was African American.

But that was, as the post referred to above made abundantly clear, was not the case for those bloggers that worked, and still work closely, with him and his memory.

I say 'memory' because, in case you didn't know, Steve Gilliard passed away earlier this year far, far too early at the age of 42.

And this weekend the apparently august New York Times has seen fit to memorialize this particular blogger's passing with a piece from Matt Bai.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bai decided to play up the 'hook' that Mr. Gilliard's true circumstances were essentially unknown, or worse, ignored, by all those limosine liberal bloggers who flocked to his funeral in upper Harlem:

The identities he (Gilliard) kept separate for most of his 42 years collided in the days after he died; the few dozen mostly white bloggers who came to Harlem for the funeral saw for the first time the stark urban setting of Gilliard’s childhood, while his parents and relatives groped to understand what kind of work he had been doing at that computer and why scores of people had come so far to see him off. They must have been confused when Gilly’s online pals, sickened by the way some right-wing bloggers were gloating over his death, advised them not to disclose where he was buried, out of fear that someone might deface the site. The grave, like Gilliard himself, is known only to a few.

Which, of course, is pure unadulterated codswallop, as a whole bunch of the folks that worked with Mr. Gilliard have already pointed out.

But, then again, when you work from a shite eating grin-assisted, spam-in-the-big-media-can recipe like Mr. Bai does, perhaps it is to be expected.

Still, it's too bad that Gilly is not around now to rip Mr. Bai's craptacular copy to shreds and expose it for what it really is - shameless shilling for a sinking 'news' organ that just hired lifelong silver spoon gobbler William 'The Bloody' Kristol to write regularly for its Op-Ed pages.

Luckily, one of the spawns of Steve's original Newsblog, Driftglass, is up to the task:

Gilly got a much-deserved write up in the NYT today.

The GNB has all the links and such here, as well as a lovely wreath of words from Jesse Wendel and some well-delivered corrections to the general tone of the piece (For example, somebody tell Matt Bai that he voided his poetic license when he decided to trowel on the "po' lonely guy" bathos when in real life those that knew him say Steve was not that way at all.)

Still, I can easily believe that someone like Gilly was a man alone in an entirely different sense: a man who could see things with a clarity that others did not see at all; who was every day terribly troubled by events (and their likely consequences) that others were not even aware existed.

And that particular Cassandric watch tower can be a very lonesome dwelling......


.....But then from somewhere I hear Steve admonishing me -- "Yeah, whatever. Now fuck your self-pitying bullshit and get back to work."


He was, without a doubt, the best I've ever seen.


*My Grandad also liked to say rude and crude, and sometimes even downright embarassing, things about folks in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where I was plying my trade as an apprentice science geek at the time and playing with Mosaic as it morphed into Netscape before that damnable Explorer was stillborn. Still, I like to think he (my Grandad) was at least a little proud of what I was up to (and it had absolutely nothing to do with building stuff that could be used to, as they used to say on the old SCTV Farm Report, "blow things up real good"; instead, when I wasn't mucking about playing Wolfenstein with other members of the lab, I was using online databases to huntdown gene sequences). And my point is?.... That, as Jessie Wendel makes clear in his GroupNewsBlog post, the NY Times thing is sure to be a point of pride to Gilly's family. And, just like for science geeks, for bloggers too, regardless their 'circumstances', stuff like that matters in the end.
Having said all that, a real honest-to-goddess memorium from somebody in the MSM who really has the right stuff can can be found here.


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