September 12, 2006

Jerry, Jerry, Jerry...

As I mentioned earlier, my friend Tristin was commissioned by to write a follow-up to her widely-linked, -forwarded, and -discussed essay about her experience of losing a close friend in the 9/11 attacks. As so often on these internets of ours, the resulting barrage of hostile letters from mostly anonymous commenters resembles nothing so much as a pixel-text manifestation of the Jerry Springer audience's catcalls. (The only thing that would complete the picture, I suppose, is if Tris herself were to contribute a letter reading "do you know me? do you know me? do you know me?") Sad.

Posted by Dr. Frank at September 12, 2006 06:29 PM | TrackBack

Amerikkka, land of the free and home of the trashy.

Posted by: Zaphod at September 12, 2006 07:09 PM

Tristin seems like a thoughtful, serious person.

Unfortunately she's casting pearls before swine.

Posted by: JB at September 12, 2006 11:31 PM

It's good to see that the freedom to talk trash from behind a terminal is still upheld.

Posted by: cjk at September 13, 2006 02:37 AM

I won't address Tristan's letter since she doesn't have the opportunity to respond back, but do you feel, Frank, that people directly affected by September 11, 2001 are entitled to some kind of blanket of immunity from criticism or negative response? I won't get into a debate here about the rightness or wrongness of her politics or her letter, but I have a feeling that even Tristan would admit that her letter(s) was politically charged. Can't people respond to political views that are larded with historical innaccuracies (what's up with "history discredited Communism?" I am not a fan of communism, but as someone with a history degree I can tell you unequivocally that this is view that is, well, off quite a bit).

There are a lot of people with political opinions, and I seem to remember you, Frank, having that "blogs of war" thing with what can only be described as unhelpful commentary (and I am putting that nicely) directed almost exclusively at far left elements whose entire world following wouldn't fill up the cafeteria at MIT. And with what? Sarcasm, guilt-by-association, what have you. And I am not even including the pieces you wrote for "FOX NEWS" online.

I respect you as a performer and a writer, but it seems that you are accusing Salon readers of the same kind of anonymous "Jerry Springer" type attacks that you yourself have engaged in in the past (It's all there in the archive).



Posted by: David at September 13, 2006 02:59 AM

David I know what you're trying to get at, and I'm glad to provide you with a place to express your distaste for stuff I have written in general, but your comparison isn't very apt in this case. In fact, most of the letters in response to Tristin's essay didn't even touch on the "political" but were attacks on her character and personal integrity, and pretty mean ones too considering that she was writing about her grief on the anniversary of the death of a close friend. As you well know, people will say and write things anonymously or pseudonymously that they might think better of if they had to sign their names. And in fact, that is one thing that, whatever my other flaws, I have never done here. Tris neither.

Congratulations, by the way, on your history degree and thanks for setting us straight on communism.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at September 13, 2006 04:13 AM

As someone with a degree in economics I'd have to say, history has discredited communism.

I also know somebody with a biology degree that assures me that history has discredited lamarkianism.

Posted by: josh at September 13, 2006 07:36 PM

Well, I read a couple of letters on *other* topics along with those, and from what I can tell:

1) Salon publishes a lot of "confessional", "intimate", "personal", "self-absorbed", or "whiny" (choose adjective to your taste) articles.

2) Salon readers *hate* this.

3) Yet continue to be Salon readers.

One of the minor mysteries of our day.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at September 13, 2006 11:13 PM


It could be argued - and most observors worth their salt and who are truly serious do - that Bolshevism did far more to undermine Marxist ideology than did history, or even the U.S. But, hey, I won't get into a discussion here about the fundamental (and deep) differences between Bolshevism and Marxism. Nor about the 1917 Revolution, in which fundamental Marxists were among the first earmarked for slaughter in Russia under Leninist revolutionaries. There's more I could say, and even the most "conservative" historians could provide additional information, but it's not even worth getting into a discussion about, since it is veering a bit off topic here. I agree with everything you say above Frank (save for the little sarcastic jab at me at the end). I retract the "anonymous" remark, since I never meant that it applied to you or Tristan.

Posted by: David at September 14, 2006 12:04 AM

Tristin with an "i." Sorry.

Posted by: David at September 14, 2006 12:16 AM

Although we seem to disagree on a number of fronts, I have to admit, David, that your comments about history fascinate me. I have an old friend from college named Joel Schalit, who has published a few books as part of his ongoing political science studies. Anyway, I was drunk at a party and I asked him, Joel, you're smart. You are from Israel. You're political. How is it possible that you seriously believe in Marxism? I mean, how can you possibly defend a system which has been a totalitarian disaster every time it has ever been implemented? And unlike you, with the more frequently heard, "well, the implementation deviated from the theory, which remains valid" defence, he just said, "I have to. It's who I am. It's what I grew up on." And that was a very telling moment for me, because it was so true. So much of contemporary liberalism finds the basic critique of capitalism and the basic ideal of collectivity to be its home, its core, that it becomes impossible for people to address what actually happened when Marxism was used as the basis of social organziation. I find it really interesting.

As far as my stupid Salon essay goes, Do you know me? Do you know me? But really, what happened, if anyone cares, was this: The News editor of Salon asked me to write the piece. I did. It was 3000 words long. It was about politics with the personal stuff thrown in and an attempt to compare the two. I thought it was a news op ed piece. Then, on the day I turned it in, I found out it was going in the Life section. The unimpressive "editor" who "edited" it simply removed every single line that wasn't personal. I asked if I could have one paragraph that was political, and she said yes, but what ran on the site is a chaotic and pale imitation of what I wrote. So, why did I do it? Well, I did ask them to take it down as soon as I saw it, but by then, it was their property, and they now own it. They paid me 12 cents a word for what they ran, (ask any writer - that is an insane, pathetic rate) and I am now obligated to participate in a "table talk" if they want one about the piece. I don't even know what that is.

Anyway, I got something personally from writing it, and it was a learning experience. I wish that I could post what I wrote in full on my blog, (which, admittedly, only Frank reads) but I don't own it anymore.

Posted by: Tristin Aaron at September 14, 2006 05:44 PM

Marxist economics puts forth many testable hypotheses. All available data indicate that Marx' and Engels' hypotheses do not reflect the real world. It has nothing to do with Bolshevism, it has a lot more to do with Labor Theory of Value as opposed to Marginalism.

Posted by: josh at September 14, 2006 06:40 PM

Marxism is a de-divinized, materialist adaptation of Christian eschatology. It fails as a basis for social organization because mankind is not perfectible on earth. Attempts to use state power to disprove, change, or efface this truth by force produce predictable atrocities. Whether the perpetrators are true believers in political religions or merely opportunists seeking theoretical cover for the pursuit and exercise of power does not appear to make much difference with regard to these outcomes. (Nor can I discern a useful distinction, in that regard, between "history" on the one hand, and the activities of those whose actions have constituted history on the other, if that's what you were getting at, David. So it wasn't history, but rather mere historical events that have belied Marxism? Or are you saying that, as some future "truer" version of the revolution will inevitably produce the desired transformation of the human soul and the consequent earthly paradise, we must withhold judgment on the matter till after it has finally happened? I doubt that's what you mean, but if so, well, then you are a true Marxist!)

Few who call themselves Marxists these days truly believe in historical necessity or messianic History, but, as Tris says, many still like the label for sentimental reasons.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at September 14, 2006 09:54 PM

"...ask any writer - that is an insane, pathetic rate..."

Er, but don't ask a science fiction/fantasy writer, because that's twice what they get.

"Nor can I discern a useful distinction, in that regard, between "history" on the one hand, and the activities of those whose actions have constituted history on the other, if that's what you were getting at, David."

I think David is confused about the difference between history, and the judgment of historians. History has discredited Marxism. Historians may have a different opinion. By definition, they are compelled to linger behind their subject.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at September 15, 2006 01:59 AM

I take your point, Angie. I didn't express myself well. Let me put it this way: had they run my piece in the news section, I would have made a dollar or a dollar fifty a word. But because it ended up in the personal sob story "Life" section, it received a fraction of that. I took offense mainly because it seemed part of the whole onslaught of disrespect. But yes, people write for less, including me. Though not, I might add, for publications or sites that maintain offices in NYC and SF and have ads for HBO all over the place.

Posted by: Tristin Laughter at September 15, 2006 03:06 AM

I'd like to add to the level of discourse, if I may. Empirically speaking, since antediluvian times, egalitarianism, Foucault and xenophobia dictates poststructuralist transubstantiation results in deindividuation and/or antidisestablishmentairianism. Every time.

Posted by: A Different Dave at September 15, 2006 07:13 PM


Posted by: Dr. Frank at September 15, 2006 08:28 PM


Your comments lead me to believe that you consider history to be an objective science. I consider History to be a form of journalism, written about and pontificated endlessly by differing historians. "Events" are perhaps more objective.
Observers (primary sources, important in any scientific discussion of events and their underlying causes and consequences) tend to be less subjective than both esteemed and/or armchair intellectuals, the latter of which often pad their arguments with the help of a dictionary (no jab intended).
Historians - particularly mainstream - tend to arrive at a consensus, and this is often a result of the dictates of the "free market." Case in point: As a public school teacher, I was fascinated at the beginning of my first year to find that out of the ten suggested American History books that I have at my disposal to choose from, nearly all arrived at the same overall (nsrrow) conclusions for events: "The Civil War was not fought at all over slavery, but over state rights," for example.

Never mind that actual events dating back to the American Revolution disprove this (or that "state rights" never became a major position embraced by the south until after the results of the 1960 election). Free market dictates ensure, though, a one-size-fits-all approach. Millions of readers in the south don't want to be told that their heritage was less than chivalrous (sp.?). Publishers recognize this. Zinn's A People's History - told in large part through actual observation by the people most affected, is much more informative (Zinn's own commentary notwithstanding). "Lies My Teacher Told Me" is also more informative of the South's actual heritage.

It is difficult for humans to accomodate for new information, especially information that challenges that person's long term values and belief systems. I would argue that this is not necessarily always a bad thing. If a person has cherished (if innaccurate) beliefs, it just might make them a better person that they would otherwise be (I'm thinking now of an old Screeching Weasel song, Science of Wrong beliefs can serve a purpose. Who among even peace activists would be heartless enough to tell a wounded Vietnam veteran that their service was for naught? If you like hamburgers (like me), are you eager to visit one of the many slaughterhouses here where I live? People believe what they want to be believe - we all do.

Events of the last two hundred years suggest that communism has never manifested in the way Marx and Engels intended. Certainly, Chile in 1972 (?) became the only country in history to democratically elect a Marxist (Dr. Salvadore Allende) who announced a program forthcoming of complete privatization of companies doing business in Chile. Allende - perhaps inevitably - was assassinated a short time after his election, and the Church hearings in the U.S. Senate conceded that Allende was rubbed out through the CIA (the World History textbooks I have seen talk about how Allende's successer killed many people in the aftermath, but I haven't seen any that discuss the actual circumstances of Allende's demise).

I won't go on any further, other than to say that I won't get into an intellectual or philosophical argument about Marxism, other than to say that (1) If it existed here in the U.S., and there was not a free market here, I know that as a person on a lot of advanced medicines, I'd probably be dead man, and (2) It is fallacy to state that "history discredited communism," because while there have been a number of armed revolutions throughout time, there have never been any successful social revolutions predicted by Marx to the present time.

I didn't use very big words here, I know. Like I said, despite teaching history, I really am not much of a historian.

Posted by: David at September 16, 2006 03:06 AM

Smile..."Other than to say,....other than to say." Grammar errors, sloppy, but I'm tired. Sleep. Need.

Posted by: David at September 16, 2006 03:11 AM