Monday, October 03, 2005

About that "creative writer"

This is an entry I worked on Saturday and hoped to get to Sunday. No such luck.

So we're dealing with someone that's irritated the community. Pru and Gareth are especially offended since they feel that he's claiming their country (England) while, in their opinion, attempt to "meddle" in domestic politics in America. That feeling results from the fact that he's with an American think tank (that address domestic issues in the United States).

He's not a bad writer. He can report on poverty and he's done some strong work on crime and prisons. But he's in two magazines the community reads currently and in one of them he contributes a "think piece." Pru feels he's "overtasked himself, poor lad." Gareth says that it's not just his friends back home (England) that think he's turned to the right. The "think piece" is being passed around in England (being passed beyond the community members and he's been dubbed, by Pru, "the littlest Thatcher") (Which she credits to Francisco.)

It slams, among others, Robert Fiske. I'm not an expert on Fiske (I enjoy his writing and look forward to his upcoming book) but another person "creative writer" slams is Naomi Klein. I know enough about her work to know he's distorting.

He offers, in a creative paragraph whose word choice and arrangement bother Pru, a statement to the effect of she recently made an argument that . . . She did recently make the point he said about terrorism. But she also made it in her first piece published after September 11th. Pru feels that he's aware of that (or should be) and he's being "creative" with his writing.

My problem, other than the fact that members are outraged with his "think piece," is that he's invaded two magazines in the same month that I subscribe to. The one with the "think piece" is one of my favorites and only publishes once a month. I read the "think piece" after e-mails started coming in. I had to put the magazine away and now it's in the donate pile. I don't intend to read the issue. He's spoiled it for me.

His "think piece" goes against the editorials, commentaries and interviews in the magazine -- as members have noted. Why did they print it? That's the question that keeps coming up. I have no idea. Earlier, they presented one side on Iraq and another (both from the left) in disagreement. That doesn't happen this issue. Not only his the only word, it's also the longest word in the magazine.

I don't think the piece should have been published myself. Not because it's so in disagreement with the magazine's stance (the argument there would be "We try to cover various positions from various voices on the left" -- though last month's cover story with a person who's "not that left" . . .). I don't think it should have been published because it was so damn weak.

It's a "think piece" but there's no thought there. No strong thought.

What we get is slams at Fiske, Klein and others by someone who's words are distorting them. That's poor critique. That alone should have required someone pulling "creative writer" aside and saying, "If you want to make these points, you need to beef them up because, frankly, you're wrong as they stand now."

That's bad enough. Then you add in his "position."

It's not a position. It's an attempt to act like he's the only sane voice and he's figured out something that the writers he slams haven't. He's figured out nothing.

Asking, as he does at one of the dopier moments -- a hard call, I know, he asks how these writers he describes as 'blame the westers' can explain 9/11, the attacks of it. Didn't those happen before Iraq?

Well, he's got us there, doesn't he? 9/11 did happen before the invasion/occupation.

But I don't know anyone that's ever argued 9/11 happened because we invaded Iraq. Do you?

He has no logic. He reminds me of the grad student pushing Ann Ranyd that we ridiculed in a class I took, to the point that he dropped out of the program, because he couldn't make a sound argument either.

Naomi Klein (and I'm focusing on her because I've read her the work the most and because she's a community favorite) never argued that 9/11 happened because we invaded Iraq.

So to ask how tensions from actions on the part of the 'West' could have resulted in 9/11 is beyond idiotic. The tensions from the 'West' were brewing for some time prior to 9/11. That's why bin Laden, according to the public record, was a security concern during the Clinton administration. He felt, according to public record, that we were propping up infindels in the Arab world. Our support of Israel is seen as also leading to tension. (And that's putting it mildly.)

So the "think piece" contains no thought, no logic. Political theory isn't his strong suit (nor what he was trained in).

What "creative writer" seems most interested in doing (besides "avoding bathing and fundamental grooming" -- Pru's comment) is slashing and burning a number of figures with distortions and then setting himself up as the "great thinker."

He's going to need to be a lot more creative for that to happen because he's not a great thinker.
His 'logic' would have led to him to him fleeing a grad class on revolutions, rebellions and riots, let alone one on terrorism.

He's offering the sort of gasbag "logic" one gets from the likes of Cokie Roberts.

Theda Skocpol can write a think piece on this topic. She has the background for it. He doesn't. If he grasps concepts like stratification, he's unable to write about them. I doubt he could provide you with even the general theories for violence, political or otherwise. So why he's allowed to eat up space in a magazine most of us enjoy (and most of us, myself included, pay to read) is beyond me.

Personally, I've read the magazine the "think piece" appears in since the 90s and, of course, I haven't always agree with every article. But I've never been so offended (not even last month with their cover boy) that I had to just put the magazine aside. Now I have.

His article is like a spoiled tomato in the middle of a large salad. The lettuce looks nice, the carrots and other ingredients. But there's that rotten tomato. You ask yourself, "Should I just try to eat around it to be nice?" And you realize you can't. The salad's been tossed and everything, good or bad, has been spoiled by that rotten tomato so you just have to trash the whole salad.

That's how I feel the latest issue. He ruined it for me personally.

I'd just gotten back from DC when the issue arrived in the mail and I'd set it aside because I had a lot of mail piling up while I was gone (as well as magazines and mail I had to get to from the previous week when I was also in DC). Pru was the first to e-mail on it. She's usually a reflection on the community, a strong one, because if she notices something, others will as well.

So I picked up the issue, and I like the writer as a reporter, wondering what he'd written that had so bothered Pru. Then Wally's e-mailing and Gareth and Beth and Erika and KeShawn. At which point, a copy and paste of the article is circulating via e-mail throughout the community and everyone's outraged.

I don't blame you. A "think piece" requires thought.

Not, "Oh, I'll write this," but serious thought. He couldn't even handle the basic research for the piece (which should have got it kicked back to him when he turned it in) so it's not surprising that he couldn't handle actual thought.

"Creative writer" may have a thought piece in him at some point. This isn't it. Maybe another topic, maybe a few years on down the line . . . Any number of variables could come into play but if you read Gareth's annotated rebuttal of the article (which Gina and Krista will be running in this Friday's round-robin so watch for that), you'd find yourself agreeing with Gareth that "creative writer" will probably be placing future "think pieces" in right-wing magazines. (And read Gareth's rebuttal because there are things in the "think piece" that slipped past me -- I didn't grow up in England but there's a bit of code there that Gareth sees.)

He wants to play hawk, "creative writer" does, and he has a need to play gatekeeper. It's easy to present yourself as the "sane" voice when you distort the words of the people you're attacking. He does that with Klein, he does that with Fiske.

We're not naming him. Everyone in the community has seen the copy and paste e-mail by now. But there are two other reasons. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he's a good reporter when he's reporting. To not give him the benefit of the doubt, he's someone who will soon join his "fellow countryman" Christopher Hitchens and we're not going to be a part of building up his name for him if that happens.

"Creative writer" uses a lot of tricks to set himself up as our last brave and sane voice. He uses distortions of public record, he uses distortions of writers' positions. For me, the thing that first stood out about "creative writer" in this "think piece" is that he's flaunting his vocab. And only embarrassing himself.

When he uses "truncated" he may be proud of himself. But the fact that he uses it in a sentence with the bromide "at the end of the day" makes me question even his creative writing abilities.
He's proud of his word and he wants to shove it in there, somewhere. It doesn't matter that it's an bad fit when it comes up against the bromide.

He has no grasp of what he's speaking of. Forget the distortions of Naomi Klein and others (it's more than just Fiske and Klein but I made it through the article once and don't feel the need to punish myself by even speed reading it right now), he doesn't grasp what he's speaking of. If he does grasp it, he's already headed over to the right.

Hopefully, that's it for a "think pieces" from him in the magazine that it appears in.

I'm certainly not paying to hear right-wing rants and I know members aren't.

He wants to play brave hawk, let him do it somewhere else because it goes the editorial position of the magazine and it goes against where the readers stand. Free speech is well and good but for the biggest piece in the magazine and one that's a "think piece" thought is required to back up the free speech.

There's a reason Naomi Klein or Robert Fiske (who is a reporter, a fact that also escapes "creative writer") is "known" and he's not. Maybe he thinks his "Kill Mommy & Daddy" piece will get him attention. It may. Please stop reading it unless it's in the copy and paste e-mail. Let's not give him "hits" at the website.

What he's written is a very emotional tantrum. If a child threw it in front of you, the best thing you could do was not feed into it. He wants attention, we're not giving it to him.

A lenghty op-ed that no one bothers to praise or condemn is an op-ed that exists in a vacuum. That's what should happen with his piece.

I would have posted Gareth's rebuttal (though would have had difficulties figuring out how to do the numbering for the footnotes in Blogger, I'm sure there's a way, but I don't know how). Gareth's a member and he has the right to share if he wants to. But he's as concerned as I am that the tantrum will get attention. It was too good, the rebuttal, to just be between Gareth and myself so I talked him into offering it to Gina and Krista. You will enjoy it so watch for Friday's round-robin.

But here, I'm not going to waste my time composing a thoughtful, point-by-point response to a writer who didn't put much thought or research into his "think piece." That's rewarding bad behavior by giving him the sort of attention his poorly written "think piece" hasn't earned. He wants attention. He's not getting it here by a link or by being named. (I also don't want to add further embarrassment to the magazine, which is a strong magazine, just because they made a mistake by running this nonsense.) And I certainly won't take the time to deal with his "creative" take that robs all reality of facts.

So that's my public comment and hopefully we can dispense with the topic.

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