I’ve just learned tonight that Billmon, perhaps the most brilliant progressive political blogger anywhere, has ended his blog, Whiskey Bar. I have the strangest sensation, like a close friend or relative died. While many of his readers don’t begrudge him the personal decision to stop writing–after all it’s damn hard to tilt at windmills day in and day out for years running and never feel that your words amount to a hill of beans in this world; but others like me haven’t yet gone through all the stages of mourning. We’re still angry and not fully accepting of his decision.
To understand why, you have to have read Billmon (you still can here). His analysis was not only superb, he wrote with a burning, scathing wit about the issues of the day. A few times reading his blog I practically fell off my chair with laughter. In this blog, I don’t often write about the world of fellow bloggers. But Billmon was the exception. His beautiful mind drew you into its orbit through sympathetic vibration. As I feel with the great writers I studied in college like Faulkner or Joyce, they make you want to sing their praises to the rooftops because they bring such joy into your mind and your life. That’s how I felt about Billmon when I wrote this.
One of the reasons Billmon gave for giving up on the blog was that despite all of the great writing by bloggers like himself and others, it seemed to have little impact on the prosecution of the Iraq war. I know personally how lonely it can be to write about a subject like Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and sometimes wonder whether anyone cares. You sit for hours and rage against the night and in the end do you influence anything or anyone?
But as I wrote in a comment at The Left Coaster:
If you set for yourself a task of changing the world you set yourself up for disappointment. I say write for yourself, your friends, your readers. Write to comfort yourself & those you love (& who love you). Write of course to afflict the comfortable. But mainly if you write with some sense of awareness of the limits of yr influence, you won’t disappoint yourself too much & perhaps you will eventually really change the world in some small way. But only if you carry on.
Personally, I think Billmon has given up on himself and his metier too soon. But to him I’m sure my feeling will be presumptuous. You blog for your own reasons. And if you’ve lost the fire necessary to keep blogging, then you shouldn’t flog a dead horse. There are many other important things one can do with one’s life besides blogging.
As I was reading through the comment thread at Left Coaster about Billmon’s departure, my mind harkened back to a song that strangely expressed some of my heartache and nostalgia for the great days of Billmon:
Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson
Joltin’ Joe has left & gone away
Hey hey hey
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.
Richard Silverstein says
Touche, my friend! You’ve definitely one-upped me. Such a riposte could only come from such a one as Billmon.
Glad to see you’re still blog/web-engaged even if no longer at Whiskey Bar.
Nice tribute to a fellow weblogger, will scoot over and check out Whiskey Bar’s past posts thanks to this great post. Know what you mean about coming to really love and appreciate writers on the blogosphere, especially the ones that manage to be great humorists to boot.
I’m a first time commenter (apparently to be moderated) and I came accross your blog in the hazy aftermath of my discovery that Billmon stopped blogging. Not that it was completely unexpected, but like you I have this strange sensation like some major event has just happened in my life, but I can’t quite convey its magnitude to any of the uninitiated. When I told my wife that my favorite blogger stopped blogging she just looked at me as if I told her the pharmacy stopped carrying my favorite brand of toothpaste.
I read some posts elsewhere in the blogosphere about it, but then I ran into this place and I figured a blog called Tikun Olam with a justice seeking guy that loves Billmon wouldn’t mind my eulogizing. To make things more surreal I’m in Israel now for a couple of weeks, the place where I was born and where I grew up, so this quintessentially American event finds me here belonging to neither place and somewhat untethered.
I always found Billmon’s writing and analysis to be a cut above the rest, and there are a lot of good bloggers out there. It was always the first place and the last place I went to every day with many refreshes in between. Like you said, when you read his stuff it makes you want to sing his praises from rooftops, if only because it enriches your own mind. I’ve been impatiently waiting for MLK day to have an excuse to send my wife his “Dream Time” piece from August 2003. Now it’s not even in the way back machine. Oh well. (Billmon, if you’re somehow reading this, please, please find a way to save those archives).
In Hebrew there’s a phrase “to write with the blood of one’s heart”. At the risk of entering psycho babble territory, Billmon always struck me as such a writer. I’m sure he enjoyed the craftsmanship, as anyone who writes this well would, but it seemed like this whole blogging thing was more a burden than a pleasure. Especially towards the end. I hope he’s enjoying his freedom now, working on some history/travel book or some such thing. I’m sure I’ll find another brilliant pessimistic cynic one of these days.
To quote another (over the top) pop song:
And when they’ve given you their all,
Some stagger and fall. After all it’s not easy,
Banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.
clinton hubbard says
There are several interesting and insightful blogging voices, such as Billmon, who I assume will one day simply get tired of what they are doing or run out of time or energy or financial resources — and move on. How many of these ever cover their web expenses?? I was an avid reader of Billmon but am more surprised that he remained active this long than that he finally left. I value your site similarly and hope you remain active. I just now made a small donation to you prompted by these considerations. — But one question: why DO you keep it up and put in such extraordinary effort?
Richard Silverstein says
Eran: I will have to look up Billmon’s ‘Dream Time’ post. It sounds lovely. MLK’s speech definitely rivals the Gettysburg Address in eloquence.
I love the phrase to “write with the blood of one’s heart.” Sorry to say, as a student of Hebrew Literature (I haven’t been active in it for 20 yrs though) I never read that phrase. You really captured what Billmon means/meant to folks like us who appreciated his magnificent analysis & style.
Clinton: Thanks for your support of my work. It means so much to me.
As for why I do this, an excellent question. Since I attended my first rally for Israel during the 1967 War, I’ve been involved in the cause of promoting Israeli-Arab peace. I come out of that 1960s idealist anti-war tradition. I also come out of a Jewish prophetic tradition which abhors social-political injustice and yearns for peace. Those two traditions are what inform my blogging.
My peace activism over those forty years has often been as lonely a venture as writing this blog. You go to the same meetings, hearing the same speakers saying virtually the same things. You see the same people in the audience time after time. It often feels as if you’ve thrown a rock in the water and instead of creating ripples, it sunk without a trace.
But the Jewish tradition I referred to also has much to say about perseverance in the face of adversity. It talks about the “still small voice” calling out in the wilderness. It tells us too: “The day is short, the work is long, the boss is insistent. It’s not upon you (“alone”) to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Hillel also tells us: “If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now when?”
So blogging can often be an extension of this lonely feeling. Unlike Billmon, I try not to place an undue burden on myself by feeling that somehow I, and my fellow progressive Zionist bloggers, must directly impact for the good the mess that is Israel-Arab relations. I see myself more as a witness of the folly. Someone who exists to keep Israel, and to a lesser extent the Palestinians, honest in the midst of their lunacy. I try to point the way to a saner solution. But as to whether anyone listens, unfortunately I cannot control that. I do everything in my power to ensure that as many people as possible listen. But in the end, over 100 times more people read a shmatte like Little Green Footballs each day than read me. It’s a humbling thought. But I have to try, like St. Francis, to accept that there are limits on how much I can do for peace.
But with loyal readers and thoughtful commenters like those in this thread, I know I have a place in the blogosphere. ‘Be it ever so humble,’ there’s no place like one’s blog.
The comment and your post have given me more of an appreciation than I had for blogging. I’m not very familiar with “Billmon”, altho I had come across his blog and read it. Now I realize that I come to your blog, knowing that often you will have selected some item to comment on, which also interests (or infuriates!) me. Or, it might be an item I missed, or a different take. Kinda like sharing a cuppa with someone at a cafe, discussing news while we peruse the paper. Except that nothing in the newspaper is of consequence to me, except as a reflection of what the ‘powers-that-be’ are thinking.
But hey you let me down this morning, my friend (smile). How ’bout Rehnquist delivering himself of wisdom for the ages while his brain is addled?! http://www.slate.com/id/2125906/
It’ll be interesting to see how much, if any, news coverage this gets. I think every case he ever touched should be re-done.I remember when I applied for a temporary $9/hour job with the US Post Office I had to pee in a cup. I guess they feared I might get high and deliver 4A’s mail to 4B. I demand drug tests for supreme court justices!
Glenn Condell says
I am an Australian billmon fan who was wondering where he’d got to, googled ‘billmon where’ and arrived here (happy I did too, it’s a good blog) Glad my tinhat paranoia (they nobbled him!) proved wide of the mark.
He was one of the few daily pitstops I had; now I’ll have to make do with Antiwar, Tony Karon, Dennis Perrin and Wolcott. Like them, billmon was unafraid to upset liberal comrades with his own hard-won positions (Lebanon being perhaps the last example of how his moral acuity could rise above the herd) and as a result was right early and often, His political juxtapositions were more than just amusing or even instructive; they spoke volumes. He could write too, sharp and snappy thru cool and clinical to dark and despairing.
That last register was where he had found himself lately, and if he’s gone to tend his own flock with a view to becoming happier, then he sure has my blessing, miss him though I will.
I went through this years ago on Usenet. People are very reluctant, indeed I think there are taboos against even begin to utilize the most powerful printing press in the world, handed to us by revolutionaries working through government and corporations.
Notice how rapidly the commercial sectors spread so that they even claim the web replaced the net.
“Open source” coined by a guy who goes way back to Xeroc Parc with connections to Engelbart and the great 1968 show (with Stewart Brand assisting) were tthe world first saw the mouse and real hypertext with fine grain, meta linking which you probaly don’t understand and this is 40 years later, you’re still using a weaker version.
And Engelbart is bitter with some justification.
But it goes on. A lot of hears were broken. Mine even before Usene and the webs first days in populariy, he squandering of the pc revolution,and I’m with Engelbart here and wil quote him the domination of “automation” over “augmentation” and all the dumbing down.
But still it advances, churning up hearts and souls, deeply hurt so little gets done,there are thousand who paid, sub par wages when they could have made fortunes, but then again Emacs plugs on.
So does open source which is how the net was built even if the term was coined only a few years ago and now even Oracle is taking it up, IBM wasn’t unexpected, they’ve always had a liberal core, Watson the Second was one of the first to denounce McCarthy. If they’d gone with this new age thing like Apple they could have shut the industry down because they owned key patients, but they filed only to protect themselves. There were this and cool in their labs and a cult and repressive,it’s odd.
Bill Gates saving millions upon millions with his billions?
It’scrazy, it doesn’t fit scripts.
But in lots of domains Interpedia is the best encyclopedia even while near tabloid in others.
Rheingold is on to “smart mobs”after pushing “open source” and expousing systems of “commons” that have worked.
Blogs have succeeded and become powerful. They are in specialized niches.
And Bilmon was a brilliant writer who didn’t understand the system, who didn’t see the beyond the web hype, not knowing the heartbreak for so little. But then it comes piece by piece. Craig’s place is pure, ebay not so much, but it did succeed in opening markets to players who’d never be in there and even as it becomes byzantine and corrupted, the cost of entry is low.
We are talking revolution, the ridimentary attempts to take over banking, growers in Africa using cell phones to know the price so the middleman don’t cheat them. We are talking the one basis of hope for the third world because as they begin their indistrialization they will be doing it with something that puts Kirk’s communicator to shame, an interface in their pockets to their neighbors, to the net, a thing which commuicates with the environment, they don’t have the heavy cumbersome legacies and the stiff they are doing has historically been from 10 percent in simple industrial economies to 50 or 60% of the cost of infrastructure so it dwarfs foreign aud in potential which doesn’t mean it’s the solution, but in Africa they are actually pioneering some technoligies like cash and banking systems. In Africa!
So Billmon will be back. He just needs to rest and grasp the basis of this revolution which is not traditional politics, but building and work and no it’s not that concerned because remember it’s origin is the SF Big Sur line of the counter culture, make an alternative society not the Berkeley east coast axis.
The doctress wil never die!
Ok, so this is strictly for the Billmon fanatics, but apparently his archives magically reappeared at http://whiskeybar.org/. No search functionality or images, regrettably, but still.
(h/t All Spin Zone )
Anyway, his Dream Time post, which I mentioned before, can be found at: