Thaddeus Russell’s Dead Horse
Finished Thaddeus Russell’s A Renegade History of the United States. It is an interesting book … not good, but interesting, which is sometimes better. I will comment on it in more detail soon, probably in longer form at this site.
In the meantime, think about this: trace a line from Booker T. Washington up through Martin Luther King all the way to President Obama. Can we see this thread as counterrevolutionary? Add in the current push for gay rights (re: the military and gay marriage) and ask yourself the same thing. Just though these struggles may be (and they are just, so spare me your liberal indignation), they amount to normalization for larger parts of the populace; and as such, Russell shows them to be counterrevolutionary*. Here, at least, I believe he is right on the money.
It could be argued that this is the revolution, after all. Tell me: are you happy with Obama? Has he made any real changes for the better? Did Stonewall happen just to make the world safe for Log Cabin Republicans?
I think not. This point goes to Russell … but there are many more to be discussed at greater length, and trust me, he doesn’t fare as well across the board.
* Not that he would use the term “counterrevolutionary” or even talk about revolution. I can’t think of him using either term even once in the book, though surely he did at least a couple times. He did, after all, have to avoid even the faintest whiff of Marxism, lest he be savaged by his libertarian friends.
Notes From the Reading List
So it took me longer to finish up Infinite Jest than I anticipated, but I did get it wrapped up over vacation. I need to make a pretty serious retraction on some of the things I was intimating about DFW and his writing. I shall do that in longer form at a future date. I can’t rank Infinite Jest in my pantheon of immortal literature, but it is a very narrow miss, and there is every reason to believe that, with age and the (ahem, theoretical) wisdom that comes with it, DFW would have been one of our most important voices. Or, like Hal Incandenza at the point in circular time which begins and ends the novel, he may have been reduced to an autistic mute. Either way, like Hendrix after Band of Gypsys, you seriously wonder “what if?” …
The most important thing about Bill James’s statistical work with baseball is probably not the actual metrics he created; but rather, a rigorous way of seeing baseball that is almost deconstructive in its scope. There has been plenty of blather about how his statistical analyses have revolutionized baseball (Moneyball, anyone?), but it is this devotion to rigor, to following an idea or “fact” to its very core (no matter where that may lead) that reminds me of the first time I read Derrida, when as a young undergrad rube I said to a roomful of PhD candidates “hey, this nothing more than fanatically deep reading, isn’t it?”. It is the whole mindset of the James baseball crowd, most notably represented by the often brilliant FireJoeMorgan.com, that I really latched on to … just the absolute intolerance of bullshit in its many guises.
So it is with a fair amount of tolerance that I gloss over a fairly bullshit move by James himself - namely, trying to create a scoring system for judging guilt beyond a reasonable doubt - to recommend this as an interesting, if ultimately inconsequential read. The thing I appreciate most is a clear eye and voice transparent enough to let his personal biases through (among others, his antipathy toward the liberalism of the Burger and Warren courts, and his idea that the quest for truth supersedes even the rights of individuals) without the usual pseudo-logical curtains that obfuscate so much opinion that gets written these days. There aren’t a lot of shockers here, but there are some raised eyebrows: for example, it is virtually impossible that Lizzie Borden committed the 40 whacks she is historically accused of; Hauptmann most likely was not the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby; Albert DeSalvo was not the Boston Strangler; John and Patricia Ramsey are not involved in the death of their daughter Jon Benet, even if they are to a large degree responsible for throwing the investigation off track; Sam “The Fugitive” Sheppard did not kill his wife, but he hired the man who did, and he was there and awake when it happened; the Birdman of Alcatrazz, far from the lonely, graceful old man portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie, was an evil bastard pedophile who threatened to start killing anybody in his path if he ever were released from jail; and, most disconcertingly, he backs a ballistics expert’s claim that the bullet that killed JFK was most likely fired accidentally by one of his own Secret Service agents.
At the end of the day, clear-eyed analysis like James’s is welcome on almost any topic, and this quick-fire treatment of tabloid crime is loads of fun. Would that more citizens were as rigorously logical in their daily lives …
I’m going to have to report back on Russell: I’m almost done, but I still have a sliver of hope that he will, by the end of the book, understand the implications of his own points. No real evidence he will, but hey, I was wrong about Wallace, so I should probably keep my mouth shut for the time being.
I can report now, however, that this is one messy steaming pile of shit. And I mean that in a good way. Or, at least, Russell himself should take that as a compliment, since his core argument is that the so-called “dregs of society” are responsible for the “liberty” we now enjoy, and it would be counter-intuitive to the monolithic purity of his argument if it were logical in typically hegemonic Western sense … or, to put it another way, logic and reason are tools of THE MAN, so why should he follow the rules?
Essentially, this book is a big “FUCK YOU” to the establishment; and as such, it has a certain amount of charm. It is also interesting as a discussion of the positives of cultural entropy, an idea which I can fully embrace.
But, Mr. Russell, that horse you’re whacking on? It’s fucking dead, man. And you’re missing it almost half the time anyway.
The history compiled here seems to a non-expert to be slanted, incomplete, questionable, and sometimes wishfully-thought in the same way that Zinn can be in his weaker moments. That thought is re-enforced by the odd arguments he makes in areas that I am very familiar with, such as music (for example, Mezz Mezzrow was interesting from a racial/cultural point of view, but he was no Bix Beiderbecke, an early white jazzman who dropped the jaws of even the black pioneers that heard him; and while I agree with the culturally reactionary influence of Frank Sinatra, there is no way that Madonna, cultural revolutionary though she may be [a fact I also strenuously disagree with, though I am actually a Madonna fan], is “blacker”, musically speaking, than Sinatra … I mean, Sinatra was the logical outgrowth of Billy Holiday, and Madonna the musical outgrowth of bleached-out disco, which itself was the bleached-out outgrowth of funk [you make the argument that Madonna is edgy because of her queerness, not blackness, and you have a much stronger case] … and, Italian-Americans still make vital contributions to black music, as evidenced by D.J. Skribble? No disrespect, man, but that’s a big fucking reach …).
I’m hoping he brings it home in an interesting way, but he seems to be almost willfully stupid about the implications of his own work. But again, I’ll report back when I finish the book.
I read it out loud in the middle of a pine grove, where the trees were so thick no branches grew below thirty feet. The luxurious carpet of dead pine needles and the stalk-like trunks of pine soaked up all the sound, and nobody heard.
I drove a boat into the middle of the lake, and yelled it to the sky above. The waves soaked it up, and the jet skis and wave runners drowned it out, so nobody heard.
But it was contributed to the world (again!) on that day.