A Confederacy of Dunces?

by Kieran Healy on June 24, 2006

Listening to the reports about the Miami “Seas of David” alleged terrorist cell, I couldn’t help returning to the thought: what did these jackasses really think they were doing? The fact that they were seeking to establish contact with Al Qaeda (rather than being part of that organization from the beginning) was one red flag. The rather mixed bag of plans was another. The odd cultish overtones yet another. “Jim Henley’s reading of the indictment”:http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2006/06/24/5234 suggests further grounds for suspecting that these guys were less evil terrorist geniuses and more greedy idiots.

Nicholas and William

by Harry on June 24, 2006

My daughters gave me Nicholas Again (U.K.) for Father’s Day (an institution of which I faintly disapprove for no reason that I can articulate) and promptly, if rather ungracefully, asked me to read it to them. It is fantastic. Short, tautly written stories, translated beautifully (into American, not British, English), every single one of which made us all laugh outloud (the 9 year old and I for slightly different reasons than the 5 year old, I think). Everything is told from Nicholas’s perspective, but of course your child knowlingly sees it in part from an adult perspective, and can just see the problems he can encounter before he encounters them. I suspect my wife gave permission for the gift because the author is Goscinny, who is responsible for the success of my kids’ and my campaign to persuade her that comics can be literature (via Asterix). Yesterday my 9-year-old had a brainwave — she pointed out that if the book was called Nicholas Again that probably means that there is a Nicholas. So we’re onto that next.

Now, Nicholas will only make you laugh out loud. If you want to read the kids a book which will, at least on occasion, make you laugh uncontrollably you might want to try Just William. William is 10, and the stories are, again, beautifully constructed and tersely written, and not infrequently achieve the level of high farce. William’s failure to become popular in America (though successful everywhere else) has always bemused me — I have yet to meet an American who didn’t love the books once they’ve been introduced to them, and I’ve met enough 10-year-old Americans to know that William is not a uniquely English type. (So I find it much easier to understand why Enid Blyton has not been successful here, and I used to find it easier to understand why Jennings has not made it big until the Harry Potter phenomenon made it clear that portraying minor English public school-life was no barrier to success in the American market).


by Henry Farrell on June 24, 2006

According to the _New Republic_, the threat to the Republic isn’t Islamofascism any more, it’s “blogofascism”:http://www.tnr.com/blog/culture?pid=22271. Lee Siegel explains:


At the end of my post yesterday, I wrote, “The blogosphere’s fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.” … All these abusive attempts to autocratically or dictatorially control criticism came about because I said that the blogosphere had the quality of fascism, which my dictionary defines as “any tendency toward or actual exercise of severe autocratic or dictatorial control.” … insults, personal attacks, and even threats. This truly is the stuff of thuggery and fascism. … Two other traits of fascism are its hatred of the processes of politics, and the knockabout origins of its adherents. Communism was hatched by elites. Fascism was born along the drifting paths of rootless men, often ex-soldiers who had fought in the First World War and been demobilized. They turned European politics into a madhouse of deracinated ambition. … In a 2004 article in The San Francisco Chronicle, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga told a reporter …

bq. “I believe in government. I was in El Salvador in the late ’70s during the civil war and I saw government as a life-and-death situation,” he said. “There was no one to root for. The government was a corrupt plutocracy and the rebels were Maoists. The concept of government is important.” …He also remembers watching footage of the Solidarity movement in Poland. He was 9, and he asked his father what that was all about. His father, a furniture salesman, said, “It’s just politics.” The future blogger said, “Tell me all about it.”

So he loves government, but hates politics. There’s something chilling about that.

This was silly enough when it was just a back-and-forth of insults and recriminations. But Siegel actually seems, unless I’m misreading him completely, to be advancing a _serious thesis_ about the linkages between leftwing bloggers and fascism. That the netroots crowd are the equivalent of the deracinated young men of the Weimar Republic (note, by the way, the rather unpleasant snobbery of the “knockabout origins” crack), and that Kos has “chilling” autocratic tendencies. I really don’t know what to say in response to this. It’s almost magnificent in its crackpottery. The _New Republic_ used to be a very good magazine back in the day – one of the “little magazines” that really brought literature and politics together. It hasn’t been that for a very long time now, but I still feel a little sad every time I’m reminded of what it’s become.