Andrew Keen's popular (although sometimes savagely reviewed) Cult of the Amateur is uniformly terrible. Much of his moralizing and snobbery – not the Fox News epithet kind, but real, honest-to-god snobbery – would be funny if he were not so deadly serious. For the unfamiliar, the book is a jeremiad about how the internet is killing Our Culture because it allows anyone with a computer to fill the cultural arena with pure bullshit. This is undoubtedly and obviously true. What Keen utterly fails to do, however, is defend the superiority of the "establishment" in comparison to the rank amateurism of the internet. Is Wikipedia inherently inferior to Encyclopedia Brittanica? Is Pitchfork inferior to the chatter at your local record store (pretend for a moment that most towns even still have them, aside from big box chains)? Are bloggers really providing less news than Fox and CNN? Is ginandtacos inherently inferior to Serious, Professional, Credentialed editorials in Offical News Sources? Hell, there are hundreds of people on the crude, lowbrow internet who write better critical essays on a daily basis than David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer have written in their entire lives (to say nothing of vacuous, widely-circulated ass clowns like Laura Ingraham).

Keen's irrational obsession with comparing the proliferation of DIY crap via the internet to Marxism is his Achille's Heel. The internet's power to give anyone a soapbox does not imply equality. Shit is still shit. There simply is more of it. The actual problem, which Keen misses entirely, is not that the internet is Marxism incarnate but that the internet is like the nightmare libertarian version of market forces untamed. Since nearly anyone can use it to spread whatever information he or she desires and content is completely unregulated, the internet is simply more able to respond to demand than the traditional media. A blog about celebrity gossip or fashion becomes popular because people want to read about celebrity gossip and fashion. Said blog becomes important because it becomes popular (note how often TMZ, for instance, is now cited as a source by establishment newspaper and news networks). Popularity drives demand which drives legitimacy, since the market is our sole arbiter of right and wrong.

The complete absence of overhead – starting one's own record label, magazine, or TV network versus starting a blog for $7/month – is the only difference from regular media. The internet simply allows more people to participate in the race to the cultural bottom. The market rewards stupidity and consistently punishes that which Keen would consider "good" or quality. Frontline gets worse ratings than Survivor. Wikipedia gets more readers than Brittanica. Pro Wrestling draws millions more viewers than the Olympics or World Series. The reason for all three of these examples is that the more popular item is judged to be more fun and requires less thought. The market will reward base entertainment over quality every single time.

The problem with the internet is not its cult of amateurish nonsense but the fact that, as the most perfect example of an unregulated market for information with almost no barrier to entry, it encourages amateurish nonsense to proliferate. It is full of baseless conspiracy bullshit and "news" that is flat-out wrong because people seem to enjoy reading baseless conspiracy bullshit and news that is flat-out wrong. The internet, in other words, merely flanks the costs of entry into conventional media and more efficiently gives consumers what they want. Gossip. Pop culture. Porn. Angry white backlash. Shit. Mountains and mountains of shit. Establishment media give readers/viewers mountains of shit too. The internet just does it more efficiently, for which Keen apparently cannot forgive it.

Blogging teaches one about these market forces very quickly. Things that are well thought-out, serious, and even-handed rarely attract attention or interest. Spouting off half-cocked and full of bravado generates the comments, links, and hits. After a few years I have reached the point of being able to tell how much response a post will get before it's even written. Things I consider to be "good" and involving effort = neck-breaking yawns. Things I write in 20 minutes while I'm pissed off, inevitably riddled with ad hominems and arguments unsupported by fact = hits. The internet is not a cult of amateurism as much as it is a medium that allows every shmuck with a modem to experience Mencken's truism about opinion discourse: the most popular are inevitably those who preach what they know to be false to people they know to be idiots.


One of the more interesting (if also more depressing) externalities of teaching is how obvious generational divides become as time passes. Or, as Matthew McConaughey said, “I get older, they stay the same age.” I’m 29 years old, probably one of the last cohorts to be lumped into “Generation X” before our culture became so standardized that we stopped naming generations. For Gen-X’ers and all who have come after us, I often wonder (usually while teaching) if most of us even realize that there are alternatives. I mean that in the grandest sense – that there are alternatives to the market worship that defines not only our economy but our politics and social structure as well.

It’s unsurprising that skepticism and the ability to even conceive of (let alone advocate) alternatives to our economic system died in the 90s – the decade when Bill Clinton and Tony Blair jointly declared that the era of regulation and government was over, signifying the atrophy or death of whatever tatters of liberalism the Democrats or Labour maintained. No more populism, they promised; “We too will be friends of business,” protecting the elite from the annoyances of unions, regulation, or opposition of any kind. But the decision of the political left to lie prostrate at the feet of society’s rightful elite was merely a logical extension of what was happening to America as a whole.

It was the decade of CEO worship, the decade when the stock market was going to make everyone inconceivably rich, the decade during which the equation of Deregulation + Privatization + Globalization = Eternal Happiness and Wealth For All was so often repeated and just so goddamn obviously true that no alternative could be taken seriously. Remember? It was the decade when History Ended and the free market Won. It was a decade when “class” ceased to exist because everyone could buy mutual funds and CEO’s wore jeans and long hair while tossing Frisbees around their Modernist “campuses.” Hacky rags like Wired and Fast Company sprouted to serve no apparent purpose aside from mindless, obsequious hand-jobbing for our new betters and the free-market libertarianism-as-freedom nonsense that dominated to exclusion. Suck-ups like Thomas Friedman actually said things in 1998 like “I don’t think there will be an alternative ideology this time around. There are none.” Read that again.

After a 10 year barrage of that nonsense followed by the Only Ideology’s spectacular 8-year failure, it is not remotely puzzling that so many people, especially younger ( < 40) ones, look at this colossal clusterfuck of an economy and society and can’t muster the brainpower to come up with any solution other than to do what we’ve been doing, only harder. If free market libertarianism is the Only Way, should we be surprised that failures can only be understood as our failure to be true enough to Its Rules? Our economy is a trainwreck; hmm, better cut taxes some more. I mean, that’s what we do when the economy suffers, right? What other alternatives are there? Having not been mentioned for 30-some years, it is unsurprising that we can’t remember any. What I hear from the current presidential candidates are largely differences on “social” issues and Iraq. Yes, you can fill the comments with what you perceive to be the mountain-sized differences between Obama and McCain on economic policy. Unfortunately, I think their differences there can only seem large in the context of how thoroughly the idea of a real liberal economic worldview has been wiped clean from the political landscape. Obama, following Kerry’s footsteps, meekly asserting that he’ll raise taxes on the comically wealthy (of course, if elected even that pittance would fail to materialize from Congress) is our pitiful excuse for “choice” in the New Economy. Market-worship is all about freedom and choice and Ron Paul's wet dreams – yet no one sees the irony in the fact that the market offers us infinite freedom except the freedom to choose not to have the market as the sole arbiter of every aspect of our society and politics. We have choice, says the market – your mall has five shoe stores. What we seem unfree to choose are solutions to our problems that involve government or the meddling, anachronistic common good. We are free to choose as long as we choose the market. Henry Ford, the ultimate caricature of old, stodgy, industrial pre-90s capitalism, famously represented the limitations of that era by saying the customer could have any color he wanted so long as it was black. Today we congratulate ourselves for having modified that equation. We have an infinite array of “choices” – colors, in Ford’s analogy – but within the confines of the universal truth that we have no alternative to buying a proverbial Ford.


1. If you ever wonder what I'm talking about when I bring up depressing, de-industrialized midwestern America, visit Rockford. It looks like it was hit by chemical weapons or the plague; all of the buildings are standing but nary a soul is to be found. The only businesses operating downtown are bars (about 30, of course), churches, and payday loan sharks. Rockford appears to be in a pitched battle with Fresno and Olathe, KS for the most depressing places I've ever seen.

2. You should pay rapt attention to this blog, Apparatchicks. You should do so because it is good, which is the best of all reasons to do anything.


Where does the power lie in organized religion? In the context of the Abrahamic faiths most familiar to westerners (Christo-juda-islamism) there are three basic components to what is broadly called "the church" or the religion as a whole. It boils down to the priest, the book, and the congregation.** That is, there are rules, an organizational hierarchy, and the masses. As scripture is considered divinely inspired or authored, its rules are not subject to debate. Interpretation is possible only in a limited number of vague or unclear areas. When this is the case, religions do not turn the matter into a plebiscite. The ordained hierarchy makes a decision, albeit one that lacks the incontrovertible nature of scripture itself, which is passed down to the congregation.

Our government doesn't work much differently, and I mean our in the American context. American government and law are rooted in the Constitution to an extent matched by no other western democracy. The Constitution functions just as scriptures do in religion. It is the foundation upon which all other laws are built and it establishes all of the basic rights and principles of our system. Like scripture, some parts of it are extremely clear while others require interpretation.

What the Vatican does for Catholicism, the courts do for the Constitution. We vest in jurists the power to interpret when necessary and make judgments by which the rest of us agree to live. We conspicuously avoid delegating the interpretation of the basic tenets of the faith to the congregation; we did not, for instance, resolve the 4th Amendment question of the admissability of illegally obtained evidence via referendum. That, as the Belgians say, would be goddamn retarded.

Amidst all of the far-right trouser soiling in the wake of the California Supreme Court's recent gay marriage ruling, a good sampling of which can be found here, one utterly illogical theme recurs. The Scanners-esque reaction from the religious right includes a lot of statements along the lines of:

"It's outrageous that the court has overturned not only the historic definition of marriage, but the clear will of the people of California, as expressed in Proposition 22." said FRC President Tony Perkins. "The California Supreme Court assumed the powers of a legislative body by imposing same-sex marriage. However, in 2000, the people of California spoke loudly and clearly on the value of marriage when 61 percent of voters approved Proposition 22."

Gay marriage is controversial and everybody has an opinion about it. Here's the rub – being a question of fundamental rights and therefore of the Constitution, our opinions are utterly irrelevant. Tony Perkins and a lot of other people seem to think that this issue should be resolved by the congregation; gay marriage is unpopular, therefore it should not be legal. This says nothing about whether or not the Constitution protects it or whether a reasonable judge might rule so. It merely says that lots of people voted against it on a ballot proposition, therefore it should not be. Do these same fundamentalists run their churches this way, with sin and morality decided by opinion poll?

What I'm getting at here is simple yet the right seem incapable of understanding it: we do not distribute fundamental rights based on a show of hands in this country. That 20 or 60 or 80 or 100 percent of the population opposes gay marriage is irrelevant to whether or not the right is protected by the Constitution. It is not relevant to the law that the public supports or opposes any particular interpretation of our basic rights. If an opinion poll or ballot proposition shows that 97% of Americans don't support the right against self-incrimination, great. Big fuckin' deal. It's enumerated in the Constitution. It exists irrespective of its popularity. Our basic rights exist to protect that which may be politically unpopular.

The democratic process allows far more room for change than my analogy to religion. California voters can put an amendment directly on the ballot or vote for legislators who will amend the law to their liking. The judges' job is to interpret the law as written. Nowhere in our civil religion does it say that the rules should be interpreted through the filter of popular demand, and in fact the Constitution is replete with features that make clear how stridently its authors sought to avoid that at all costs.

**h/t "Mic Check" by Rage Against the Machine for the title.


For the next 10 days I will be van-touring with Tremendous Fucking – possibly coming to a city near you. Regardless of whether or not our music appeals to you, feel free to come out and say hello if we happen to be where you live. Don't worry, this site will continue to be updated daily.

Thursday, 6/12 – Chicago – Cobra Lounge (10 PM, free)
Friday, 6/13 – Manitowoc, WI – The Attic (9 PM, w/ IfIHadaHiFi)
Saturday, 6/14 – Rockford, IL – CJ's Lounge (10 PM)
Tuesday, 6/17 – St. Paul, MN – Big V's (9 PM)
Wednesday, 6/18 – Iowa City, IA (TBD)
Thursday, 6/19 – St. Louis – FUBAR (w/ the Murder Junkies)
Friday, 6/20 – Champaign, IL (still trying to figure this one out)
Saturday, 6/21 – Indianapolis – Melody Inn (9 PM w/ IfIHadaHiFi)


One of the great disillusioning moments of my young Catholic upbringing happened my senior year in high school. While performing some task (I can't remember the specifics, but it didn't involve fingering) in my high school's rectory (giggle) I discovered a binder I can only describe as the Cliff's Notes of Catholic mass homilies. For the non-Papists, homilies are sermons of 5-10 minutes that follow the reading of the Gospel. The presiding priest uses this time to relate the message of the Gospel to current events or contemporary life.

As a young person I always thought it was pretty cool that priests were such good public speakers and could so readily connect the Gospels to current events. Needless to say, it was a little soul-crushing to learn that there is a book of canned sermons the clergy presumably rely on heavily. Of course it makes sense that such a thing exists (although today I assume this has migrated online). Only a child could to have thought that the world's people of the cloth were coming up with this stuff extemporaneously every day. Still, it bothered me quite a bit to realize the extent to which my priests were phoning it in. Essentially the church could have hired a temp, slapped a cassock on him, and had him read off cue cards.

It should come as no suprise that this practice not only continues but has become the province of interest groups. While ideally these "cheat sheets" would be written by jolly, rotund, white-bearded monks in the Carpathians who seek nothing more than to spread the message of Jesus, in practice they are one step away from being written by Karl Rove. Much like interest groups write complete bills because they know Congressmen are lazy and more likely to play along if the work is done for them, Christian extremists assume that clergy will be unable to resist the temptation of a pret-a-porter sermon. They're busy people, right?

Anus-obsessed religious right activists at the Family Research Council and Alliance Defense Fund are getting serious about pre-packaging politically appropriate sermons for their churches. According to the FRC's Kenyn Cureton, they are working with the ADF on "a series of sermons this fall for pastors to preach, so that they educate their people on the issues." OK, great. Sermons are about educating people on "issues" and tenets of religious faith. That's not quite what he means, though:

"We're gonna be talking about the value of life, the value of family and the value of freedom, basically talking about abortion and stem-cell research," he continued, "and then also about the gay agenda and then finally about our Christian heritage and how it's being stripped from every corner of society. And then finally we're gonna be doing a candidate comparison message that is going to ask pastors to cross the line."

First of all, I love the construction of the first part – mentioning larger issues like life, family, and freedom followed by "basically talking about abortion and stem-cell research." So it's not really about freedom, family, or life. It's about abortion. And stem-cell research. More importantly, the "candidate comparison message" appears to be little more than an inducement for clergy to break the law.

It's no secret that much of what non-profit, tax-exempt interest groups do politicially (i.e., their hilariously one-sided, myopic, and biased "voter guides") are little more than thinly-veiled electioneering that happens to tiptoe around FEC and IRS guidelines to the satisfaction of a few attorneys. Clergy can legally talk about "the issues" until they are blue in the face and they have plenty of leeway to drop all kinds of not-so-subtle hints about what parishoners should do on Election Day. What the FRC fails to realize is that clergy also have the right to tell parishoners to vote for a specific candidate – so long as they're willing to kiss their tax exempt status goodbye.

While some groups are going out of the way to remind churches and clergy the risks they run by taking the FRC's negligent advice, some of the less intellectually gifted will no doubt take the bait. It's imperative that we allow houses of worship to act as partisan political organizations whenever they feel like that is worth relinquishing their tax exemptions. If they believe this is an unjust law, follow the example of Emerson (or the Book of Daniel) and break it – but don't forget the part in which Daniel and Emerson emphasize accepting the practical consequences of that decision. Above all, don't lightly disregard the lessons to be learned from pastors who "crossed the line" in 2004.


The final stage in any fad-driven marketing campaign is self-parody. In other words, first you sell bell bottoms to models and fashion tastemakers. Then you sell them to the masses. Then, when everyone tires of the trend and your product has become a punchline, you capitalize on its lameness. Some people like irony and will pay good money for the outdated, the corny, and the mass-consumed. You wait until everyone's laughing at you, encourage them to laugh harder, and make one last killing.

Fox News, with stagnant or declining audiences for the majority of its programming, has reached self-parody. At least that's what I think it is. It has to be. What they are doing is so many light-years away from anything remotely resembling news coverage that I must believe that they are high-minded conceptual artists doing their finest take on Dada and surrealism. Nothing could be this stupid unless it is willfully, purposefully, and intentionally stupid, a calculated effort to fill a market niche by creating the Sistene Chapel of stupidity.

Parodies of Fox are now indistinguishable from the network itself. To wit: could any combination of the world's greatest comedy writers come up with something that mocks the network more than a clip of an anchor asking if Obama's fist-bumping gesture is "a terrorist fist jab?"

Shake & Bake & Terrorism

You could not make that up. It's so stupid that it would be inconceivable ("Oh, they're not that bad!") if it hadn't actually happened.

No organization with even the remotest pretentions of being taken seriously would use baseless speculation about a common greeting (try meeting a black person once in your life, Fox) being a terrorist fist jab in the course of introducing a segment featuring a "body language analyst." Let me check if "body language analyst" is a real job.

It isn't.

Watching Fox News is like watching June of 2002 encased in amber, frozen forever in time. From the constant reminder of the current color-coded Homeland Security Advisory threat level ("Yellow – Elevated") to the stories about the booming economy to the endless editorializing about the granite-like solidity of the pre-Iraq War intelligence, everything about the network suggests that it experienced its peak six years ago and just won't let go of those halcyon days. Removed from the context of America in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the network simply serves no purpose because it was never popular as "news." It was popular because its product – cheerleading, jingoism, and xenophobia to the sound of beating war drums – was in high demand for a moment that has come and gone. Now that its 15 minutes as the hot fad are over, there's nothing left for Fox to do except become the most outlandish possible caricature of itself in the hopes of making a last buck off of our mocking laughter.


Now that the Democratic nomination process is over, let's ask a practical question: who will fill out the tickets?

First of all, as someone who has logged a fair amount of time boning up (*snicker*) on academic treatments of the presidency, I feel compelled to point out that the choice of running mate is stupendously unimportant to electoral outcomes. We and the media treat it like a big deal because it's something to talk about in the dog days of summer, but when November rolls around there are few historical examples of VP nominees altering the outcome. They have some potential to hurt a candidate and almost no potential to help. Dan Quayle or Tom Eagleton, for example, probably cost their candidates a few votes from people who simply couldn't imagine those tools in the Oval Office. But I struggle mightily to think of an example of a VP who substantially boosted a ticket. Nonetheless.

McCain's choices, in my opinion, are two: Charlie Crist or Bobby Jindal. Crist represents an important swing state and fits hand-in-glove with McCain's vision of conservatism. That is, he's not staking out a position to the right of Fred Phelps on "social" issues but is a reliable economic conservative. The downside is that Crist would do nothing but further enrage the far-right elements who are already wary of McCain. Could a ticket of two "moderates" fly with Dobson and company? Jindal seems to be the only logical choice. A 36 year-old Roman Catholic Indian-American from the deep south, Jindal literally represents every characteristic that McCain lacks – youth, diversity, strident social conservatism, and southern roots. While Jindal lacks experience (which I personally consider a non-issue) and holds a few legitimately terrifying positions on abortion (i.e., no rape exclusions because every life has value!) he makes too much sense for 71 year-old pasty white John McCain to ignore. So what happens if the right declares Crist unacceptable and McCain decides that Jindal's social conservatism is too extreme?

Names being thrown around – General Petraeus, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and so on – are lousy options. The only plausible scenario for these folks would be Romney buying his way onto the ticket, agreeing to spend vast sums of his fortune on the campaign, or the Dobsonites insisting on Huckabee at gunpoint. My guess is that McCain would rather go with an unheard of option (the Clinton 92 strategy) rather than a retread. Pawlenty would win out in that scenario. Romney and Huckabee have name recognition, but they already stood for election and the GOP base passed judgment. It wasn't good.

Obama…well, it gets complicated. Since we don't know what goes on behind closed doors, some of this will require pure speculation. So be it.

I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the superdelegates who migrated to Obama in recent weeks may have done so with strings attached. It's unlikely that many of them did so without naming a price. That price, especially for this last handful of superdelegates who brought the contest to an end, may have been picking the VP.

That is a long and conjectural way of saying that the "Dream Ticket" may be forced on Obama. I do not believe, not for one second, that he would choose Clinton of his own free will. Aside from the bridges she's burned and the downright insane, indefensible things she has said since losing her grip on the nomination, there's Bill. Obama does not want to deal with Bill. At all. Can you even imagine being president and having an ex-president – and mind you, this is a camera-hungry, opinionated ex-president who really misses the job – hanging around the White House all the damn time? On top of dealing with Hillary's insane bitterness and lust for the top spot? I find it inconceivable that Obama wants to do that. He may not have a choice.

If this isn't the case, I see Obama with a wider range of choices than McCain. The frontrunner has to be Bill Richardson. He backed Obama early, he's enormously popular in a swing state, he has the best anti-war credentials in the party, and he has experience. Being a fluent-in-Spanish hispanic doesn't hurt. Neither does having a personality. That said, Richardson really stunk up the Democratic debates earlier this year. He may be more useful behind-the-scenes than in front of a camera.

Joe Biden is a possibility, albeit not a strong one. He has more foreign policy cred than any Democrat in Washington. He also fights like hell at the drop of a hat. I'd pay good money to see him lay into McCain's feeble record of Bush-backing and egregious foreign policy misstatements. The downsides are his blandness (unknown Senator from unimportant state plus a case of Old White Guy disease) and his penchant for being out of control when he goes into Kill mode.

If neither Clinton nor Richardson are chosen, his next best options are Jim Webb or Brian Schwietzer. Webb is well-known for being a hardass with a leg to stand on regarding military matters. He could potentially take that wind from McCain's sails. He's also from Virginia, at which the Democrats are about to take a serious run. Schwietzer makes a lot more sense, though. Never heard of him? He's the Governor of going-blue Montana (two Democratic Senators, a Democratic Governor, and a Democratic State Legislature). He has serious anti-lobbyist credentials and could initiate some GOP pant-shitting with his ability to make the plains or mountain west competitive. On the downside, he is a nobody and his ideology is almost too similar to Obama's to be helpful.

Also-rans include Kathleen Sebelius (she blew her chance with the horrible SOTU response earlier this year), John Edwards (doubtful that he'd want it), or the idea of a unity ticket with a disaffected Republican like Chuck Hagel.

It is incumbent upon the candidates to pick someone who won't hurt them; this is a much more pressing concern than picking someone who might help. The potential landmines, in my opinion, are Hillary and Huckabee. Hillary is absolutely loathed on the right (and by an increasing number of Democrats) and both she and Bill are lightning rods. Huckabee has the highest risk factor on the other side. Honestly, it's harder to picture him not saying something idiotic. The less contact he has with the press, the better. Otherwise his words start flowing freely and he becomes a magnet for bad press.

This decision is probably bigger for McCain, who is 71 and has had every kind of skin cancer known to science. Voters will have a much easier time picturing Grandpa Mac dropping dead than Obama. Nevertheless Obama has to put some thought into his choice too. Frankly there are a lot of people who aren't sold on him and choosing an effective advocate could help make his case.


1. If you managed to miss the night of the Indiana/NC primaries on CNN, let me remind you what I mean when I say "dead-ender" and why I concocted the Lanny Davis/Goebbels analogy. This serves as pure comedy fodder for most of us, but for a special few (or maybe just one) it is late-night wanking material.

2. John Miller of the National Review Online brings us "Rockin' the Right: the 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs." My first thought was, how in the hell are they going to wring 50 songs out of this? I mean, we can count on one hand the number of rock musicians who are NRO types. But John got around that pretty easily – by taking songs written by liberals about things that have nothing to do with conservatism and re-interpreting the lyrics! I'm sure that when the Who wrote "Won't Get Fooled Again" or Living Colour wrote "Cult of Personality" they did so with Jonah Goldberg's talking points in mind. The highlights: noted conservative Bob Dylan at #12 and an extraordinarily curious interpretation of the Plant Doing Way Too Much Acid lyrics to "Battle of Evermore" at #25.

This is possibly the most embarassing thing that anyone has ever written. If Miller finished the piece by revealing that he still wears Underoos and that he blew his bunkmate at summer camp in 1971, it still would not be any more humiliating. A crack team of humiliation artists, training and working exclusively in the medium of humiliation since birth, could not devise a way for John Miller to have more thoroughly humiliated himself. Wagonhalt. Pure wagonhalt.

Too bad I can't find a video of Arnold's election night victory party in 2004, as he stood on stage with dozens of his fellow millionaires singing "We're Not Gonna Take It" (……anymooooooooorrrrrre). It would fit here.