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Hyperion to a satyr

By Michael J. Smith on Monday February 22, 2010 11:12 AM

Speaking of people I admire:

After the depressing news of Melissa Harris-Lacewell's elevation to columnist at The Nation, now comes the other shoe, dropping with a dismal thud: the indispensable Alex Cockburn's column in the magazine is being cut back to once a month. The outfit really seems bent on suicide.

If you feel like warning the lemmings away from the cliff, write to editrix Katha Pollitt: kat@thenation.com.

Comments (19)

When will they be announcing the merger with The New Republic?


Let them go over the cliff. Cockburn really plays a Kucinich-like role in that execrable rag -- fomenting the illusion that there really is a dialogue going on there between liberals and lefts. It hasn't been that way for years it if ever was.

I dropped my subscription around 9/11, following Richard Falk's deplorable defense of attacking Afghanistan and the unedifying pissing contest between Hitchens and Chomsky they published around the same time. I have no regrets. Cockburn is available abundantly on his own web site and better writers can be found all over the place.

With any luck everyone remaining will soon die of the boredom they inflict on each other. Can you imagine anything duller than Tom Hayden and Vandenheuval chewing the fat?

I fucking hate those people.

Seriously, man. They jumped the shark for me long ago, along with In These Times (Hell, do they even publish that anymore?).

I've been reading his stuff on Counterpunch for years. Screw the goddamn' Nation, man.


Seems to be Thumbs Down from the Roman public here. Well, I can live with it.


The case to be made for actually lobbying on Cockburn's behalf is because the Nation is influential and cutting him out really does make it harder and harder to make people see that there is something to the left of Pollitt, Alterman, Nichols et al.

I mean, we saw it here recently, when various Twitter followers logged onto SMBIVA and thought they saw Teabaggers. Whenever I go on an anti-Obama spiel at social gatherings, by SO always admonishes me to make it explicit that I am attacking from the left since no matter what the substance, in most circles folks hear criticism of the Democratic Party and assume you're a wingnut.

By the way, do we know if this was the choice of the editors or is it Cockburn's choice?

The Nation. serves to keep Democrats as Democrats, eternally hating the Evil Rethuglicans. From where I sit it seems to be the publication aimed at those who don't like the "corporate" influence of the DLC, but who still imagine "fixing the system(/party) from within" is the best path to success.

Tom Hayden and Katrin vandenHeuvel talking might be bested on the boredom front by Katha Pollitt and ______________ (any random male pundit employed by The Nation.) talking.

Michael writes on 02.22.10 @ 03:13pm:
...Whenever I go on an anti-Obama spiel at social gatherings, by SO always admonishes me to make it explicit that I am attacking from the left since no matter what the substance, in most circles folks hear criticism of the Democratic Party and assume you're a wingnut...

I get that from my wife, also. Problem is, when I try to set that crowd straight, and they realize I'm attacking from the Left, they get even more pissed off, start shrieking about how I ruined things by supporting Ralph Nader, and still think I'm a wingnut. They don't seem to have a problem brushing off Teabaggers, but when a real Leftie calls bullshit on them, they damn' near have an aneurysm.

Luckily, I long ago reached the point of not giving a rat's ass what they think anymore; in fact, I've gotten to where I actually enjoy making them crap their drawers by telling them what they need to hear, the way they need to hear it.

It's kind of like that old saying about "comforting the disturbed, and disturbing the comfortable" -- and anyone here who follows my work knows there's nothing I enjoy more than disturbing the comfortable.

Yeah, pretty much what CF said. There's nothing at La Nation worth preserving. Let them finish their transformation into the DNC's house rag.

Michael Hureaux:

Right on, Michael. My feeling anymore is that if I'm wrong, I'll just have to be wrong.


I find it mildly amusing that the comments section for La Nation's web articles gets overwhelmingly spammed with birther/"Obama is a secret Muslim"/"the commies have taken over" verities. Oddly, hardly any of it is contested, from any point of view -- SMBIVAite or otherwise. (Maybe the occasional DP-friendly moralist protests.) The writers compose their middlebrow pabulum; the publishers print it; feel-good "action alerts" are minted and zinged; there's an NGO soiree to attend. No one seems to be minding the store. La Nation has long been mediocre in every regard, but now it's doddering into corporate liberal dementia.

I hope Christian Parenti finds a better outlet at which to peddle product. And I hope Nichols never does -- he and his employer are perfect for each other.

A good friend of mine frequently characterizes the Nation as a "rag". Personally, I like to take it as a litmus test, those who read it and respect it can be quickly written off as faint-hearted, Democrat-voting liberals.

Apart from that, my personal tolerance for Alexander Cockburn (as opposed to his brothers) is limited. On the one hand he was about the only one on the left calling Clinton out for NATO/Kosovo; on the other he gives talks at socialist meetings where he proceeds to throw a fit if not amply compensated monetarily (Cf. The Golden Age is Within Us)*. His defense of climate change "Skeptics", I think, deserves no comment.

*His relationship with Znet broke down after he demanded payment for articles he promised to contribute according to Michael Albert in Remembering the Future.

Flak Attractor:

'assembled with their glasses raised on high
and the magic of their singing casts its spell'

Coming soon: Nuclear Energy Renaissance brought to you in part by Climate Change, Inc. See AC's Friday sermon at CounterPunch.

I like him. He is about 68 y.o. He's been on the job for what? 45 years?
No academy sinecure or retirement program. He looks to get paid for his labor. He writes well enough and is intellectually nimble enough to have had a mainstream cushy career if he had wanted one, but he chose a freelance route and stayed true to his beliefs.


I'm with Flak on this one (obviously). AC has been a hero of mine ever since I started reading his stuff in the Village Voice back in, what, the late 70s? He's sharp in every sense of the word, he writes like a fallen angel who's learned to enjoy Pandemonium, he hates the ponderous moralizing self-important liberals as much as I do and skewers them a lot more effectively.

I'm not bothered a bit by his contrarian attitudes on climate change. Climate change theory has enough friends. Anything that's already been embraced by a substantial Establishment cadre of Big Swinging Dicks doesn't need any me-tooing from he likes of us.

And alarm bells go off in my head any time the word "denier" gets deployed. Danger, Will Robinson -- Thought Police approaching.

I was obliged to subscribe to The Nation for an English composition class I took as an undergraduate. You can imagine the fun: a Nader voter from 2000 was reading a housebroken donkeycratic rag in the election year of 2004. I've never encountered such servile party hackery in my life, and I briefly flirted with listening to Rush Limbaugh. The "dittoheads" have nothing on The Nation's stable of reliable jackasses.

The only two things I found that were readable was Alexander Cockburn's regular column and Frank Lewis' cryptic crosswords. I thought about reviewing those rather than any of the major "news articles" because I learned more from the crosswords.

Null, I subscribed to The Nation. for 2 years, '92 and '93. I used to enjoy Cockburn's "Beat the Devil." And I got some good music reviews too -- notably, Robin Holcomb's first album, which was very well reviewed in the pages of The Nation..


I've had a lifelong aversion to intellectual arrogance. In this Information Overload epoch, I think it is the height of autistic hubris to "believe" without evidence, and without an aversion to autistic cant.
A climate change "denier," which is a fine and righteous term, is a moron.
Leftish libertarians turn rancid, so often, because they are oriented towards self-veneration. Yes, they may do good and brave work, but they can become pro-militia, pro-quackery, easy-on-the-religious right, pro-tough-guyism when the intellectual winds blow them over the edge.
MJS's Whiggery about the great lost glory of "Greek" study and narrow elite education and "the true meaning of conservatism" is in that area, where I left long ago, where the music stops, and the goat keeps butting anyone it can find.
I will go with the monumental Peter Ward, Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock, and other hard voices of catastrophism, and wonder why the gurus of the Left just can't seem to acquire humility - the knowledge of limited knowledge, but necessity to honor those who have put that work in.
Oh, Asmithee, is this too DLC for ya? Am I off the bandwagon?

Lajany Otum:

MJS: I'm not bothered a bit by his contrarian attitudes on climate change. Climate change theory has enough friends. Anything that's already been embraced by a substantial Establishment cadre of Big Swinging Dicks doesn't need any me-tooing from he likes of us.

Quite frankly, Cockburn's Contrarianism (TM) on this issue stinks. Thabo Mbeki and Dr Beetroot Msimang used the same fake anti science populist quackery to justify their decision to deny millions of poor South Africans access to the HIV treatments they desperately needed. Of course, underlying this quackery, was the real need to find a cover for the neoliberal and anti-poor politics of the ANC.

Lajany Otum:

The question posed to former South African Health Minister Dr Manto Msimang: Does the Human Immunodeficiency Virus cause AIDS?

[Q] You have said that the policy of the ministry is well known. Do you accept that HIV causes Aids?

[A] Why do you ask me that question today? I have answered that question umpteen times.

[Q] Yes, and the answer is?

[A] Umpteen times I have answered that question. My whole track
record of having worked at the area of HIV and Aids for the last 20
years is testimony. Why should you ask me that question today?

[Q] You haven't answered the question, Manto.

[A] Why should you ask me that question?

[Q] To avoid confusion.

[A] I have never said anything contrary to what you want me to say

[Q] So, therefore, you accept that HIV causes Aids.

[A] You are not going to put words into my mouth.

[Q] I am not putting words into your mouth. I am asking you a

[A] Yes you are.

[Q] I am asking you a straight - now hold on a second - I am asking
you a straight question, the minister of health of South Africa, I am
asking you a question: does HIV cause Aids?

[A] I have been party to developing a strategic framework and that
strategy testifies what my policy understandings of the HIV epidemic
are. If you haven't read that, please go and read it. And then you will understand where I depart from...

[Q] Manto, Manto. A simple yes or no is the answer I am looking

[A] You will not force me into a corner into saying yes or no.

[Q] I am not forcing you into a corner, I am asking you a straight
question - I find your reaction bizarre.

[A] I would advise you to read the strategic framework. You have
to analyse it. It is important for the media to inform the public
about the positions of government ... It is time that when you interview
people not on yes or no but on the tenets of the framework.

[Q] Manto, we have gone as far as we can go. I find your reaction
to that question absolutely bizarre and that is my final word on it.

[A] I am not Manto to you. Let me tell you I am not Manto to you.

[Q] What are you?

[A] I am the minister of health and I don't even know you.

[Q] So, what must I address you as, Miss Minister or Ms Minister or
Mrs Minister?

[A] I don't know whatever you address me, but I am not a friend.

[Q] How must I address you?

[A] I don't know - but you have to read the strategic framework.

[Q] Bizarre.

[A] And I...

[Q] Oh go away!


Flak Attractor:

A question on climate change:
Could the climate's 'variance' increase while the global average surface temperature remained essentially unchanged? The image I have is of colder winters, hotter summers, and shorter transitions. To this lay observer our droughty, stormy, windy, snowy recent years suggest this sort of process. Still I recognize that the average temp appears to most to be actually rising.

One of the better things about him to me is the effort to buck up the troops. This leads him frequently into contrarianism. Example. After the first gulf war who else was writing that the high tech weaponry was crap, e.g. Patriot missiles causing more damage on the ground when they hit their target than when they missed it? (Or something along those lines. It has been about twenty years since I read the item.)

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