F-U journalism from Matt Taibbi

Following on the heels of yesterday’s post on a 1993 long-form, take-down profile of Gregory Clark, readers might be interested in taking a look at Matt Taibbi. He is a true master of what I call fuck-you journalism, something of a subset of gonzo style. If you thought the reporter for The Australian was a little harsh, you haven’t seen anything. Taibbi has got to be the biggest out-and-out dickhead in the entire business, though I am sure he could find far more biting insults for himself. Some choice bits:

On the death of Yeltsin:

Death of a Drunk
At long last, former Russian president and notorious booze-hound Boris Yeltsin dies

Boris Yeltsin probably had more obituaries ready in the world’s editorial cans than any chronically-ill famous person in history. He has been dying for at least twenty consecutive years now — although he only started dying physically about ten years ago, he has been dying in a moral sense since at least the mid-Eighties. Of course, spiritually speaking, he’s been dead practically since birth…I once visited Boris Yeltsin’s birthplace, in a village in the Talitsky region of the Sverdlovsk district in the Urals, in a tiny outhouse of a village called Butka. I knocked on the door of the shack where Yeltsin was born and stepped in the soft ground where his room had once been. Boris Yeltsin was literally born in mud and raised in shit. He was descended from a long line of drunken peasants who in hundreds of years of non-trying had failed to escape the stinky-ass backwater of the Talitsky region, a barren landscape of mud and weeds whose history is so undistinguished that even the most talented Russian historians struggle to find mention of it in imperial documents.

Reviewing Thomas Friedman’s latest book:

When some time ago a friend of mine told me that Thomas Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, was going to be a kind of environmentalist clarion call against American consumerism, I almost died laughing.

Beautiful, I thought. Just when you begin to lose faith in America’s ability to fall for absolutely anything—just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts— along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-stached resident of a positively obscene 114,000 11,400 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.

Where does a man who needs his own offshore drilling platform just to keep the east wing of his house heated get the balls to write a book chiding America for driving energy inefficient automobiles? Where does a guy whose family bulldozed 2.1 million square feet of pristine Hawaiian wilderness to put a Gap, an Old Navy, a Sears, an Abercrombie and even a motherfucking Foot Locker in paradise get off preaching to the rest of us about the need for a “Green Revolution”? Well, he’ll explain it all to you in 438 crisply written pages for just $27.95, $30.95 if you have the misfortune to be Canadian.

I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with Thomas Friedman for more than a decade now. For most of that time, I just thought he was funny. And admittedly, what I thought was funniest about him was the kind of stuff that only another writer would really care about—in particular his tortured use of the English language. Like George W. Bush with his Bushisms, Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying—and when you tried to actually picture the “illustrative” figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.

Remember Friedman’s take on Bush’s Iraq policy? “It’s OK to throw out your steering wheel,” he wrote, “as long as you remember you’re driving without one.” Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May:

The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging.When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”

First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.

And on Tom Daschle (Glenn Greenwald dug this up when the tax problems that cost Daschle his cabinet position surfaced):

I know several reporters who are either officially or unofficially on “Whore Factor” duty, watching the rapidly kaleidoscoping transition picture and keeping track of the number of known whores and ghouls who for some reason have been invited to befoul the atmosphere of the next administration.

Obviously there has been some dire news on that front already. When Obama picked Tom Daschle to be the HHS Secretary, I nearly shit my pants. In Washington there are whores and there are whores, and then there is Tom Daschle. Tom Daschle would suck off a corpse for a cheeseburger. True, he is probably only the second-biggest whore for the health care industry in American politics — the biggest being doctor/cat-torturer Bill Frist, whose visit to South Dakota on behalf of John Thune in 2004 was one of the factors in ending Daschle’s tenure in the Senate.

But in picking Daschle — who as an adviser to the K Street law firm Alston and Bird has spent the last four years burning up the sheets with the nation’s fattest insurance and pharmaceutical interests — Obama is essentially announcing that he has no intention of seriously reforming the health care industry. . . .

Regarding Daschle, remember, we’re talking about a guy who not only was a consultant for one of the top health-care law firms in the country, but a board member of the Mayo Clinic (a major recipient of NIH grants) and the husband of one of America’s biggest defense lobbyists — wife Linda Hall lobbies for Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. Does anyone really think that this person is going to come up with a health care proposal that in any way cuts into the profits of the major health care companies?

That image has been burned into my head over the past week or so…

Of course, in Japan Taibbi would find himself up to his ears in defamation suits. In the US, he appears merely to be ignored as a sensationalist who can only get published in Rolling Stone.

In Japan, Obama inauguration inspires English lessons, off-kilter likenesses

The Adamu household is just ecstatic and relieved to see Obama inaugurated as president. We can’t tell which feels better: not-Bush in the White House or Obama in the White House? 
Though you might not know it to look around you, there are many in Japan who are excited about Obama who don’t live in a certain newly famous town that happens to be named after him. As just one indicator of interest, NHK announced its late-night ratings almost quadrupled for live coverage of the address. A fairly universal attitude by my observation has been, “Why don’t we have dynamic leaders like that in Japan?” So the buzz over Obama may in part be a kind of vicarious thrill.
So even before the inauguration, individuals and businesses in Japan have been finding interesting ways to express their enthusiasm. Let’s take a look:

1. Learn English

  • Listening to one of the great speechifiers of our time can be inspiring. Obama’s message can call you to serve your country, resolve to be a better person, or sacrifice for the greater good (but tragically apparently not to prosecute those responsible for the Bush regime’s crimes). Some aspiring English speakers in Japan have taken this opportunity to brush up on their own speaking skills. Prominent among the “Obama books” that are currently flooding Japanese bookstore displays is CNN’s Obama Speech Collection for students of English as a second language. The book, so far having sold over 400,000 copies, features excerpts from famous Obama speeches with a Japanese translation on the opposite page, which students can use to follow along as they listen to an attached CD. I picked it up the other day and it has proven useful both as a translation reference for US politics and as a handy record of his landmark addresses. I’m not sure how effective it is as a teaching tool, but for a Japanese learner of English inspired by Obama it will no doubt give them easy access to the tools they need (minus the inauguration address, of course).
  • Meanwhile, much like Kenya’s “Obama imitation contest“, some private English classrooms have started offering Obama mimicry lessons to a reportedly favorable response. In one TV news report, groups of 20+ students lined up to wait their turn to recite famous Obama speeches as a White-boy instructor barked orders on how to mimic Obama’s unique oratory style.

2. Create a mildly unsettling Obama likeness

Here we see some examples of creativity from both traditional and modern artists that deserve an “A” for effort but unfortunately didn’t turn out all that appealing:

no resemblance whatsoever?
No resemblance whatsoever?

Zombie Reagan looking gaunt (or is that Carter??)
Zombie Reagan looking gaunt (so Carter really is irrelevant!)

* Thanks to Andrew Leonard for the correction!

Compare to the real thing:

That’s more like it!

American democracy at work

I mentioned earlier I have some issues with the way Japan’s voting system works, but this leave’s me speechless.

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I’m sure the whole thing is legally justified and all that, but still. “I move to allocate this ballot to lizard people.” Wow.

U.S. Finally Gets Around To Closing Last WWII Internment Camp

<embed src=”http://www.theonion.com/content/themes/common/assets/videoplayer/flvplayer.swf” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowScriptAccess=”always” wmode=”transparent” width=”400″ height=”355″ flashvars=”file=http://www.theonion.com/content/xml/81085/video&autostart=false&image=http://www.theonion.com/content/files/images/INTERNMENT_CAMPS_article.jpg&bufferlength=3&embedded=true&title=U.S.%20Finally%20Gets%20Around%20To%20Closing%20Last%20WWII%20Internment%20Camp”></embed><br/><a href=”http://www.theonion.com/content/video/u_s_finally_gets_around_to?utm_source=embedded_video”>U.S. Finally Gets Around To Closing Last WWII Internment Camp</a>

I think this video is actually a few weeks old, but I just saw it.

More on fake Harry Potter

Today’s New York Times has published a moderate sized article on the Chinese phenomenon.

No one can say with any certainty what the full tally is, but there are easily a dozen unauthorized Harry Potter titles on the market here already, and that is counting only bound versions that are sold on street corners and can even be found in school libraries. Still more versions exist online.

These include “Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince,” a creation whose name in Chinese closely resembles the title of the genuine sixth book by Ms. Rowling, as well as pure inventions that include “Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon,” “Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire,” “Harry Potter and the Young Heroes,” “Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon,” and “Harry Potter and the Big Funnel.”

Some borrow little more than the names of Ms. Rowling’s characters, lifting plots from other well-known authors, like J. R. R. Tolkien, or placing the famously British protagonist in plots lifted from well-known kung-fu epics and introducing new characters from Chinese literary classics like “Journey to the West.”

Harry Potter and the Big Funnel? I’ve heard of that one somewhere before… 

In related news, of the 100 or so blogs and other websites that linked to my fake Harry Potter post, this post at the blog of the comic book fansite Newsarama may be the only one to offer a substantial contribution. Now, I had posted a couple of pages from a nice, wholesome Harry Potter Japanese fan comic (dojinshi), but someone at Newsarama had apparently dug into their personal bookmarks collection and dug out links to online archives of-ahem-less than wholesome product. The sort of thing that chronicles the sort of activity that English boarding school was famous for before Hogwarts. Am I going to paste the links here? No, but anyone curious enough to click can take that extra step.

Some United States. Stop one: New Jersey

As Joe mentioned the other day, I am back in New Jersey for the time being. I’ve just noticed how many weeks it has actually been since I’ve updated anything here, between a couple of weeks of travel, a couple of weeks of being extremely ill, a couple of weeks of playing tourguide to my mom and her boyfriend in Japan, and a couple of weeks of reading and getting graduate school related application stuff together-and topping it all off with trans-hemispheric relocation, a birthday, and various other odds and ends I have completely neglected this space here. So, while I have a few things that I want to write about, and a large number of photographs I want to post from my last several weeks in Japan (for this year anyway), in honor of my return to good old New Jersey, below are some choice quotes from a book of travel writing by the late humorist Irvin S. Cobb entitled Some United States (1926) purchased just this afternoon from the $1 shelves outside the famous Strand bookstore in The City. As the title of this post implies, today I bring you excerpts from the chapter on the great state of New Jersey.



Just Behind Those Billboards

After you cross by train through the tube under the North River, which is so-called because it is really the Hudson River and edges Manhattan Island on the west and bears no relation whatsoever to the northern boundaries of anything at all, and, this safely done, emerge from the tunnel mouth on the farther shore, you will see a large number of billboards. Well, New Jersey is just behind those billboards.


In billboards, New Jersey, regardless of comparative areas, leads all the states of the Union. I’m not sure but what she leads all the habitable globe. Next to the commuters, billboards constitute her most conspicuous product. The commuters come and go. In the morning they hurry away to New York of Philadelphia to earn their livings and in the evening they return to bed down for the night. Thus daily they come alternately under the head, first, of exports, and then of imports.

An orthodox New Jersey commuter is easily to be recognized in New York. He wears and imaginary string tied around a mental thumb to make him remember not to forget to call up the employment agency and notify the new cook who is going out to his place to spend two or three days with the family, possibly even staying the full week out, to meet him at the station for the 5:03; and she may recognize him by the worried lines in his face and the fact that he will be carrying parts for the lawnmower.


Whenever I have occasion to traverse the State of New Jersey by rail, I take advantage of the opportunity to reflect upon our outstanding institution of billboards as it presents itself to the purview of the traveler. Regarding billboards and billboarders , I have gone to the trouble of compiling some very interesting figures.

For instance, if all the billboards which desecrate the scenic areas of America were piled one on top of another, allowing twelve inches of horizontal thickness for each billboard, the total number would form a column one hundred and fourteen miles high; and to soak these properly for burning would require ninety thousand barrels of grade-A kerosene; and then when some philanthropist had applied the match, the flames of the bonfire would cast a glow visible as far away as Bermuda, and in every community in this country where people have learned to value the beauties of unblemished nature, there would be public dancing in the streets and a holiday for the school children would be declared.

Again, let us consider for a moment an even more agreeable summarization: If all the billboard art directors who go to and from in the land choosing decorative vista with a view to marring them with their billboards, where laid out side by side with lilies in their hands, it would make a very enjoyable spectacle for the rest of us provided only we were sure that one of them was in a trance.

While I speed athware New Jersey I frequently play a favorite game of mine. I call it Billboards. [Ed: his billboard obsession becomes troubling in its fetishization. Enough on that topic.]

For, when all is said and done and disregarding what figure New Jersey may have cut in the earlier days of this Republic and, before that, in the Colonial time, the question next arises: What now is she? And the answer is that she is become the smudgy and begrimed passageway that separates two great metropolii. [Ed: I know for a fact that Joe would disagree about the characterization of Philadelphia as a great metropolis.] Lying between them and holding them apart, she takes their overflow and they suck out her substances as they long ago sopped up her personality. The semicolon of the Eastern seaboard–that’s modern New Jersey. Never mind what she is commercially. Historically, she’s a cow that went dry about the time the boys got back from the Spanish War. An she has been dry every since. And from present indications will continue to be dry.


All of which, I claim, helps to explain why New Jersey is one of the joke states. It is not well for a state to be, by national estimation, a standing joke. Kansas once was one and it took her long years to live it down. [Ed: Kansas has worked hard in recent years to reclaim that title.] Arkansas was one and has not yet entirely recovered. Connecticut was one and because of traditional memories lingering in the popular mind of wooden nutmegs and shoe-peg oats, will never entirely get over it. [Ed: I have 0% idea what those references mean. I suppose that means Connecticut HAS gotten over it.] Missouri, for a spell, had a close call with being one, but lacking all else, the state which foaled a Mark Twain would have a title to immortal grandeur on that sole account.

New Jersey still is one and a hopeless patient. For half a century references to Jersey justice, Jersey skeeters and Jersey lightning made her the football of the jesters. [Ed: And all the more embarrassing for us, having invented football here.] As a matter of fact, and giving them due credit, her mosquitoes must sharpen their bills yet finer ere they may hope to compete with the Long Island variety. And in these piping Prohibition days her homemade applejack, potent though it may be, stands comparison with the bootleggers’ best. It may give you the blind staggers, but the blindness is a temporary affliction.


With time the symptoms have changed, but the case remains incurable. For to-day New Jersey is still a joke state. Outsiders think of her as the State where they suffer from billboarditis and ride on the Erie and harbor the corporations and broadcast the bedtime tales. They forget her material contributions to the national prosperity. And who can blame them?


But just look at the blame thing now! Coal tipples and garbage dumps and freight tracks and smelters and refineries invade the marshes, and the birds are mostly fled away, and for wild life the mosquitoes are left. The elm-shaded towns where once upon a time future statesmen were born and patriots grew up and writers ripened their art, have become clamorous, cindered, smoky factory places crowded with transcendently ugly workshops, the dirty, homely streets swarming with alien workers quacking a jargon of tongues fit to eclipse Babel’s Tower itself.

It is hard to believe that here, long ago, poets dreamed their dreams and painters plied deft brushes and masters in statecraft dealt masterfully with the politics of their time; that once upon a time great publicists and great orators dwelt in these spots. It is impossible to believe that any such ever again will abide here.


In all of manufacturing  New Jersey the most agreeable sight, I think, is the sign on the road to Pompton which says you are now leaving Paterson. When I get that far I stop and give thanks.