RIP Joe Bageant / State Of The Blog  

Posted by Big Gav

Idleworm reports that Joe Bageant has passed away - joe bageant. Joe was one of those fringe bloggers I occasionally used to pay attention to, and while he was never entirely my cup of tea, he did have an interesting turn of phrase at times and could be relied upon to pour vitriol on those who deserve it.

Joe Bageant, author of “Deer Hunting with Jesus”, passed away. Damned Cancer strikes again. And there’ll be more of that killer, anon.
Joe described himself as a redneck socialist, and he was. He was profoundly concerned with the fate of the people he wrote about, those who worked hard all their lives and ended up with nothing. Funny: I’ve never met a socialist who didn’t care about others, or a capitalist who did. The truth is that a great many decent people are on the wrong side of the intelligence curve, don’t come from families that send their young to university,and can’t protect themselves from the corporate lawyers and bought legislatures.

It wasn’t a pose. He really and truly, honestly, demonstrably and implausibly, had no interest in money. He lived for some time in Hopkins Village in Belize, a seaside community of black, downscale Garifuna and, when some money began to come in from Deer Hunting, regularly gave it away to help the locals. He didn’t have a sainthood complex. He just didn’t care. He wanted books, a guitar, friends, internet, wine, and occasional substances not approved of by DEA. No pretenses. Drop acid, not names.

A real hero – like Robert Anton Wilson, another working class American boy made good, who never let success or money go to his head, and treated both with the contempt they deserve. An example to everyone.

Dermot goes on to examine where his blog is at nowadays - its a strange thing maintaining a blog that is past peak and is running out of contemporaries (my experience lately and I imagine his as well) :
Obama & the Democrats are just the other half of the War Party. “The Business of America is Business”, a creep from the early 20th century once said. Well, “The Business of America is making weapons, and seeing to it that those weapons find ready uses and markets” might be more accurate.

Some might choose to see idleworm as a paid job – whose task it is to create anti-war cartoons (unpaid, of course) attacking whichever lying war criminal scumbag happens to be in office – regardless of which of the “parties” is in office. In reality, this site has consumed thousands of hours of man-time, money, and energy – which will not be recouped. This isn’t a complaint, just a statement of fact. This, clearly, was not a situation that could continue indefinitely.

And things that can’t go on forever generally don’t go on forever. Like Empires, and Growth-based economies on finite land-bases. Like the Romans of 475/6AD, modern people will learn this lesson, again.

The gulf war game – linked to above – was an education in itself. When it went viral, it was seen by millions of people. More visitors came to the site then in one day than visit it now in a year. The log file alone grew to 2 gigabytes in about 13 days, and choked. The game was shown on TV stations around the world, and seen by many more.

Hundreds, sometimes thousands of emails would arrive in a single day. That can make your head spin. The majority were supportive of the game’s anti-war message, though this majority declined to about parity amongst US emailers. There were only a tiny handful of pro-war boosters from outside the US…maybe a half dozen at most…an amazing thing to note.

Here’s the interesting part: in all of those thousands of emails, pro and con (as well as the vile hate mail and threats of violence), not one emailer said the following, or even came close to it:

Watching your cartoon made me reconsider my opinions.

Now don’t choose to misinterpret: only a fool would expect a cartoon to have any meaningful impact, and generations of cartoonists have said the same: that cartoons only reinforce existing opinions. They don’t change minds.

So, hopefully people will understand the decision that was taken: not to spend the next 10, 20 or 30 years pissing into the wind.

If you’re going to piss into the wind, it’d be nice if someone paid you for it, or at least were offered some sort of support/collaboration from fellow minded souls.

Neither of these happened.

And yes, Obama is no different from Bush. His wars of “Liberation” are no different, and the vile cant about freeing Libya from tyranny is particularly shallow. It’s feeling like a replay of the Yugoslavia playbook (dusted off by the reprehensible Clintons, now that they’ve got their greasy hooks back on the levers).

It should be noted that Libya stands on 2% of world oil reserves – and supplies 10% of the EU’s oil. Not only that, but the oil is exceptionally sweet and pure. It only costs ~$1 to refine a barrel, currently trading at ~$100. So the emailer doesn’t need for history to tell him what this is about. Geology and the markets are more than adequate.

In 2004, after seeing this David Goodstein lecture on Peak Oil (on the night of the Bush/Kerry “debate”), it seemed pretty clear that the future wasn’t going to be an extension of the “Happy Motoring Utopia”. After becoming involved in an L.A. Peak Oil group, and seeing the utter futility of trying to convince people by handing out leaflets on the side of the street, a simple (or simplistic) idea sprang to mind: why not make a short animated film about peak oil? Just take a few graphs, and make a 1 minute long primer on this very complex subject.

Well, that was six years ago. “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life”…

So, now the film is 34 minutes long, and very close to release. Will it change any minds?

Magic 8-ball says: “Unlikely”.

Stuart Staniford also has an update on the state of his blog "Early Warning" which, as a relatively new addition to the blogosphere is still in its growth phase - State of the Blog, Q1 2011.
It's become a tradition around here to reflect once a quarter on how the blog is coming along. It's that time again, as Q1 of 2011 ended yesterday. The above graph shows the monthly visitorship according to the Sitemeter. As you can see, this has been an extremely good quarter, with stats growing by leaps and bounds.

I got some insight into the stagnation/decline in my readership in the second half of last year by looking at the Sitemeter for the Oil Drum (where I was an editor some years ago). Obviously, TOD is a much longer-established site with a larger readership, but what was striking to me is that their readership spiked hugely in summer 2010, when mine was stagnating. And this was almost certainly driven by their intensive coverage of the energy story of the moment: the Macondo spill in the Gulf of Mexico. My judgement was that this incident didn't have lasting global or even national significance: it was a severe regional environmental disaster for the Gulf of Mexico, and that was the main impact. Since half the blogs in my reader were covering it intensively, I felt the issue was totally oversaturated and I decided not to write about it. I still believe my judgement about its ultimate significance was correct and I'm comfortable with my decision. At the same time, it's clear that I paid a short term price in readership: a lot of the people interested in energy/resource issues wanted to read about the spill, and I wasn't doing it for them. So be it.

However, since the end of last year, we've had a lot of dramatic stories with an energy/resource angle that have seemed to me of more lasting significance: food prices and oil prices going up, unrest in the Middle East, nuclear disasters in Japan, etc. We live in interesting times, and this has clearly driven readership here up sharply. Welcome to all the new readers!

One negative has been the need to moderate comments (driven by a single individual). I haven't found the actual act of doing the moderation at all onerous - if anything it's nice to have a single place to see them all. However, it's got to make commenting a less interactive experience, and in particular make it unlikely that good conversations can happen between commenters when I'm away from the computer. I'm not sure what the outlook is here: in general, I'd far rather have quality than quantity in commenting as in readership, so I'll continue moderating as long as it feels necessary.

A few personal updates (since the blog has proven to be a driver of developments in my personal life much more than I realized it would): ...

I was glad to see Stuart had started up his own blog after a long hiatus following his withdrawal from the Oil Drum - it was a welcome reversal of the seemingly remorseless decline in peak oil related blogs since the halcyon days of 2004/2005 when I first started this little experiment.

Most of the fellow travellers I had at the time have either died like Joe, quietly disappeared (often without trace) like The Energy Blog, Past Peak, Green With A Gun, Peak Oil Debunked, WorldChanging, Billmon and Bruce's Viridian Design site - not to mention more fringe efforts like Rigorous Intuition (and its entertaining main commenter, the Iridescent Cuttlefish) and Deconsumption (as well as From The Wilderness and Life After The Oil Crash, though I was never a regular reader of either). Others - like Jeff Vail have completely changed tack and become unrecognisable - or have dropped down to a very low volume of posts like Mobjectivist and Peak Energy (Monkeygrinder's version).

Energy Bulletin seems to be just about the only site left from those early days that is still plugging along (The Oil Drum didn't appear until later and TreeHugger isn't really a peak oil blog) - while Cryptogon has managed to keep grinding away out on the fringes as well.

Unlike Stuart's blog, this one is heading towards late middle age - I'd like to find the time to write some original content, but I never quite seem to get there, and traffic is way down on its heights of 2-3 years ago.

Nevertheless, people keep coming back and as long as there are a couple of thousand visitors each week I'll continue to try and post new material.

On the plus side, traffic seems to have stabilised here this year after going through a period of steep decline last year.


Hope you stick to it, since I get news and developments via your blog that I would otherwise miss! And of course I always appreciate your inbound links. I would guess the key to making it last is finding way to evolve the blog in line with your own passions. It's obviously a lot of work, so there has to be quite a bit of passion to keep driving that...

Thanks Stuart.

You're right that its hard to keep the passion going if you just keep posting about the same thing (its been a long time since I last posted something related to oil depletion for example) - but I find its more time constraints than a lack of passion that has stopped me posting more...

Gav, I mostly read your posts in Google Reader. My understanding is that this doesn't show up in site stats.

So you may have a sizable "shadow" readership.

Keep up the good work!

Thanks Greg - I'd forgotten about the RSS readership - there used to be about 500 people a day coming in that way - I'll have to check and see what the current stats are.

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