Herblock's Law  

Posted by Big Gav

Attention Conservation Notice: No energy news, just a farewell to Billmon.

As Billmon's posts became rarer over time I tended to check up on him less and less - and thus I had thought the error message his blog has been displaying recently was just a temporary server config problem.

Alas it seems he has retired - hopefully heading off to the great white green north.

I always thought Billmon was the most insightful (and entertaining) of the political bloggers who came out of nowhere maybe 4 years ago - and its a great shame if he has hung up his keyboard for good.

Having his site go down may well be the worst case of linkrot the internet has suffered to date - there aren't many blogs from top draw (and other) bloggers who don't have Whiskey Bar embedded somewhere in their pages. The Wayback Machine has a copy of everything up to May 2006.

A few tributes - first from the comments at MOA.

I hope this comment is premature and just a hair trigger response to Billmon's end-of-the-year post. Hopefully I'll have egg on my face in a few days -- the compliment is sincere, however.

No one does it as well as Billmon.

Whiskey Bar is the standard to which we put any media up for comparison. Take a look at everything from a NYT op-ed, a BBC in-depth analysis feature, high & low brow pundits of all stripes bloviating from whatever perch they cling, features from all types of magazines from the Atlantic to the pedestrian military journalism 101 force fed blasto-grams imposed on the lastest occupation de jour.

Billmon is the Gold standard in any medium. When I was a kid growing up, the geezers would speak wistfully about the glory days of baseball and having seen "Babe Ruth play." (for the Yankees, sadly, not the Red Sox). In the not too distant future, when the great media transformation is studied, blogging will be seen as one of the great transition points to whatever it is that will someday both inform and manipulate us in just a generation or two from now.

When our sheepish and pathetic epoch is studied, I will be able to say -- in my best grizzled and slightly demented geezer-esque voice -- "when I was your age, I hit the refresh button when Billmon was blogging in real time. His posts were on my computer before they were even cached."

I gues the only thing worse than someone who does not go out at the top of their game is someone who does. No good deed goes unpunished so: well done and thanks.

The Left Coaster:
I was not surprised to see the image Billmon posted Tuesday, bidding us all farewell (the site is down with an error message now). Easily the most brilliant writer in blogtopia, Billmon was also one of the most offended by degenerative American “democracy,” and I am glad, very glad he no longer feels the burden to write.

I also feel very privileged to have witnessed in real time Billmon’s first post at Kos’s place and the evolution to a gorgeously designed blog. I’ll always be grateful for every post; Billmon did his duty, did it incredibly well, and owes no one anything.

I agree with him that blogs failed in their mission to stop the war and George Bush. I was surprised at myself and blogtopia that after 2004 hardly anyone gave up, and indeed just worked harder. Besides the election victory of 2006, I do believe blogs do a great deal of good by keeping people engaged in the screens and away from filthy television. There are as yet organic developments to web technology and culture we have no clue about that will arrive from that growing engagement, I am positive.

I envy Billmon, in a way, to honorably put down the sword. I have never been sure what I do in the screens is good for me, and I certainly would have been much, much happier detached from it all. It’s no fun to see others note how negative one is, how down one is. Charming.

I actually don’t know why I keep writing in the screens; I long ago gave up any dream to actually effect anything and rationalized that an attempt was better than nothing. It’s pretty tough—many won’t like to hear this, but currently American “democracy” is degenerative, and no, I don’t think 2006 is clear demarcation of recovery. It’s a violent, repressive place in unmistakable regression, ruled with lies, fear and distraction, and perhaps one day our country will come back.

Steve Gilliard says we should keep our voices for the other 40 people we represent in the screens who have no way to get to them or offer input. Sometimes this works, but I don’t want to represent anyone else but me. I often say I’m a Little People liberal, but I don’t think the little people give a shit, frankly. The country still fails them horribly this very second, they're not impressed.

Most people would obviously peg me as an angry person, something I have no trouble with. Only a pervert would not be angry in the age of George Bush, and it’s my nature to fight back when hit. I know who I am, my personal relationships go very well, and it’s not anger that keeps me here.

So I shall carry on in my small, limited way, for what motivations I do not know, other than a base love of writing, but I could easily fulfill that in other ways. I’ll be here for I don’t know how long, and Billmon is already gone. I’m very, very glad to have seen his presence flicker through the ether, and I wish him the very best. Thank you, sir, very much.

FireDogLake:
Looks like somebody made a New Year's resolution that will make us all a little sad. The deservedly legendary Billmon posted the picture above at the Whiskey Bar late last night.

Granted, he's made some cryptic/melodramatic exits before that (thankfully) turned out to be temporary, but this post last week suggests that Billmon has given the matter a lot of consideration:
I've been spending some of my spare time these past few weeks rummaging around in the Whiskey Bar archives, trying to decide what, if any of it, is worth keeping and what could just as well be consigned to the electronic garbage can.

And so he left in that post a "greatest hits" retrospective of some of his most insightful 2003 commentary on Iraq — conveniently located on the front page for future generations of passersby, a string of quotes in classic Billmon fashion, albeit for once not intended to skewer a particular target with deadly accuracy.

In his retrospective, Billmon lamented that blogs like his (and he also graciously mentioned my own) had not "served a useful purpose" by changing the course of the war. But they were useful, even if they didn't achieve that ultimate goal. In a time when, as Billmon says, "mainstream dissent had been cowed almost into silence," the liberal blogiverse served as an oasis of sanity, keeping the spark of opposition to the war alive by reminding us that we weren't really alone in our feelings, no matter what CNN and Faux News told us.

And even if bloggers didn't stop the war, Billmon's instant-classic post quoting Bushites on Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction ("What a Tangled Web We Weave…") played a genuine role in shifting the media narrative, planting the first seeds of skepticism in the press by putting the obvious facts right in their faces. That post blazed a trail for progressive blogs more generally to become the leading edge of instant rebuttals and talking points for Democratic politicians — a development that may or may not be related to Dems regaining a foothold in national politics by winning control of Congress in November.

Given such undeniable (if incomplete) success, it's understandable if Billmon saw this as a fitting time to step away from the keyboard. As Digby memorably wrote a year ago, "There is an element of the Bataan death march to daily blogging when you do it for three years running," and no one can begrudge Billmon, who has fought so long and brilliantly, his desire to rotate away from the front. I doubt he'll really be gone completely, anyway; I wouldn't be surprised to see him pop up where he began, as an eloquent commenter on Daily Kos or elsewhere.

Some people, though, might think it's unfair of Billmon to leave — that as (by acclamation) the most purely talented writer on any blog, we need his gifts more now than ever as we battle to end the war in Iraq and retake the White House in 2008. Although Billmon might consider this comparison to be sacrilegious, I'm reminded of a perhaps-apocryphal story (I can't find any reference to it via Google) I read once about John Lennon. During Lennon's five-year retirement from music in the late 1970s, a top rock critic wrote a melodramatic plea for him to return, claiming that only the brilliant John Lennon could make sense of the times and show his fans the way forward.

Lennon supposedly passed on a riposte via a mutual acquaintance: "Tell him I did my part. It's his turn now." If Billmon has indeed shuttered the Whiskey Bar for good, that's the lesson for us — it's our turn now.

The ITT List:
Billmon of “Whiskey Bar” - has gone offline. He was one of Kos’ first guest-posters at The Beginning. He has been a wonderfully passionate, creative and awesomely inventive blogger. He has received broad acclaim for his gifted perspicacity and communication talents. And he has won a great many hearts. The selfish among us cling to the hope he will return. There are a relatively few bloggers who have gained reputations for routinely exceptional performance, recognized for skills in information-gathering, or appreciated for the high literary quality or distinctive humor of their writing. Billmon’s “Whiskey Bar” posts have uniquely been political blogging as Art (with a capital “A.”)

Billmon had an interview with Dan at the Philadelphia Inquirer quite a while ago which foreshadowed the end, noting that blogging every day takes its toll.
Two springs ago Billmon won a Koufax Award when the place he calls Whiskey Bar was voted the best-written lefty blog in America. He won a second that year when this piece of hunting-and-gathering was judged the single strongest post. It listed the chronology of official misstatements about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Today the place seems pretty dry. The words are coming less often and in shorter bursts for the Philadelphia-based political essayist/blogger.

He’s a little burned out, he says, a little depressed. He’s wondering if this is a natural cycle with blogging -- something that saps so much of your being. He’s threatening to launch something completely different. Maybe a blog on the history of travel.

"When you are doing it, it really is quite addictive," he said the other day. "When I’m not doing it, I don’t want to go back. I feel like Mr. Mole in "The Wind in the Willows." Once he walked out of his hole in the ground and discovered the world, he didn’t go back for months."

This is a shame because for months this has been my favorite blog, anywhere. (For a sense of what he's about, read what he wrote yesterday - a classic, long pour.)

Whiskey Bar is written anonymously, and the 47-year-old blogger who goes by the pen name Billmon gave an interview on the condition that I not write what I know about him, because the publicity could hurt his blogging or his job. Let’s leave it at this: he works in corporate marketing in the Philadelphia area.

He’s also an ex-financial journalist, which he likens to being an ex-cop – "you never lose your instincts, you never lose the world view. I am privileged to take a certain attitude about the world, which is usually one of bemused contempt. It’s a wonderful way to make a living – if you can find the right organization."

The blog has offered him opportunity to write without editors or pressure from advertisers or anyone saying 'you can’t do that.' "It’s a wonderful medium," he says, "as long as you’re willing to accept the fact you won’t get paid for it."

He'd long been a watcher of politics - a lot like he was a fan of baseball – he just didn’t follow the off-season. Then came Bush v Gore and then 9-11 – and "politics became a lot more serious. Dead serious." As the administration took up its war on terror, he began commenting as "Billmon" on the Daily Kos site, and became increasingly known in the blog world. Right after the 2002 congressional elections, he was invited to write a guest spot on that blog. He liked it.

"It became kind of obsessive," he says. By April, a few days after the fall of Baghdad, he’d bought a domain name and called his own space Whiskey Bar after a lyric from a Doors’ song. (Yes, he knows it was originally a Brecht lyric; he acted in a Brecht play in college.)

For the next three and a half years he showed many the way, writing lyrical essays, but with fact-finding skills learned from many years of pouring through murky financial forms. Then in the fall of 2004, he sort of stopped. "Disgust with the political system and the world," he says. "I started writing again in the spring, experimenting with blogging without writing, taking posts and pictures I saw on the web and putting them up in collage fashion. Then I started writing again. I was blogging pretty heavily."

But by last fall, he felt he had "lost my mojo," as he put it. "I haven’t really gotten it back. I’ve been posting half-heartedly over the winter. I find it very difficult to really get back into the swing of it. I have a full-time job, kids, a mortgage, a backyard. All those things have to be taken care of. The first couple of years, I was stealing time. I was consciously avoiding responsibility. My kids let me know it."

At first, he says, it's exhilarating – "not having to kow tow to anybody. Not having to worry about am I going to piss off the advertisers. After a couple years, you start to realize how much work it is."

With the let up came a frightening realization for one who worked in the moment. While he never received the amount of hits of an Atrios, Daily Kos or Instapundit, his name carried weight in blog and political circles. "Now I am coming across more and more people who have never heard of me. The Internet moves 10 or 20 times the speed of regular time. Unless you’re really on top of things, the world forgets about you really fast. It’s hyper-true in the Blogosphere.

"If you’re not independently wealthy, paid for it, or staying at home with mom in the basement and typing away in your slippers, it’s hard to keep up."

He’s had an interesting vantage on the debate between journalists and bloggers, the journalists thinking bloggers are undisciplined and the bloggers thinking journalists are hacks who don’t know their stuff.

"My current opinion is that they are both right," he says. "I see lot of legitimate grievances from each camp. It’s interesting how bloggers are being absorbed – they’re hooking up with the mainstream media, which is kind of ironic. Michele Malkin and Glenn Reynolds fulminate against the MSM while they write for it. And the left is hooking up with the Democratic party and becoming political operatives. There is a blurring of the boundaries. One thing about me I am completely out of touch with that. ...

"I’m just an old-fashioned blogger who really only exists in cyberspace."

The Inquirer also has a report on the closing of Whiskey Bar.
With Saddam hanged and reports of arguments at the end -- American advisers counseling caution, Iraqi officials rushing to the gallows -- there's one spot in the blogosphere that could be counted on to make sense of the confusion.

And now it's gone.

If you stopped by Whiskey Bar over the holidays, you might have found that instead of the usual - an elegant and well-reasoned essay about the folly of our times - the blogger named Billmon had posted a picture of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig and the words "That's All Folks!"

The southpaw stopped pouring Dec. 28th. Now the saloon's closed. You try to call up his site, and an error message bars the door. For many readers, including this one, it was the most satisfying watering hole on the strip.

Billmon didn't explain if this is a pause - he's had a few before - or a full stop. But readers of his site have noted some hints left in recent posts. A week before he closed, he wrote, "I've been spending some of my spare time these past few weeks rummaging around in the Whisky Bar archives, trying to decide what, if any of it, is worth keeping ..."

Firedog Lake observed that Billmon assembled a "greatest hits" collection of his commentary on Iraq. Before he pulled the plug, Firedog Lake noticed how Billmon had lamented that his and other blogs hadn't served a useful purpose, and changed the course of the war.

Russ Wellen, writing in OpEdNews, called Billmon "the man who may have done more to brng respectability to blogging than anybody." But he noted that Billmon had worried in his posts that dedicated blogging came at a high price, robbing time from work and family.

I put in a call to Billmon's home in suburban Philadelphia. A woman there said he wasn't available. And he didn't get back to me. Last spring we talked for about 45 minutes for a profile.

He was slowing down, questioning the worth of what he'd written, complaining about burn-out, wondering if he should just write blog on the history of travel. I published that, and Billmon proceeded to go on a vicious tear, writing with more energy and passion than he'd summoned for months.

I'd happily be made to look foolish again if it meant he returned to form. But I wouldn't count on it.

It's hard to know who to turn to for the real story of Billmon's disappearing act. He writes anonymously - he's a corporate marketer, and revealing himself wouldn't exactly help at work. He didn't frequent the Drinking Liberally gatherings in Philadelphia. He kept to himself, writing with the social detachment of a journalist, which he used to be, and with deep, personal conviction.

One man who I thought might know the story is "Bernhard," proprietor of Moon Of Alabama, a site that mirrors Billmon's Whiskey Bar, with the exception that it invites reader comments. Billmon got rid of comments after they got out of hand.

Bernhard wrote by email:

"I don't know why he stopped or if he will write again."

Turns out the two have never met, and their only e-mail exchanges have been about technical matters, Bernhard wrote. For now, Moon Of Alabama will continue - it's for the community of Whiskey Bar readers, and there's still much to talk about - though Bernhard said that the needs of his other job might require he shut it down or hand it over to someone else later this year.

Its hard to think of Billmon's best post (I hope someone else manages to recreate his genius with twinned quotes and Orwell references) - but the phrase "like the quacking of a duck" is one that comes to mind immediately.
The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program . . . Some senior intelligence officers believe Zarqawi's role may have been overemphasized by the propaganda campaign, which has included leaflets, radio and television broadcasts, Internet postings and at least one leak to an American journalist.

Washington Post
Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi
April 10, 2006


The programmes of the Two Minute Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party's purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teachings.

George Orwell
1984
1948


The military's propaganda program largely has been aimed at Iraqis, but seems to have spilled over into the U.S. media. One briefing slide about U.S. "strategic communications" in Iraq, prepared for Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, describes the "home audience" as one of six major targets of the American side of the war.

Washington Post
Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi
April 10, 2006


Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured — in some hiding-place in Oceania itself.

George Orwell
1984
1948


One slide in the same briefing, for example, noted that a "selective leak" about Zarqawi was made to Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter based in Baghdad. Filkins's resulting article, about a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the Times front page on Feb. 9, 2004.

Washington Post
Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi
April 10, 2006


Goldstein was delivering his usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the Party — an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less level-headed than oneself, might be taken in by it.

George Orwell
1984
1948


It is difficult to determine how much has been spent on the Zarqawi campaign, which began two years ago and is believed to be ongoing. U.S. propaganda efforts in Iraq in 2004 cost $24 million, but that included extensive building of offices and residences for troops involved, as well as radio broadcasts and distribution of thousands of leaflets with Zarqawi's face on them . . .

Washington Post
Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi
April 10, 2006


What was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were, in spite of all this his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him.

George Orwell
1984
1948


I think we just have to accept . . . that the terrorists, Zarqawi and bin Laden and Zawahiri, those people have media committees. They are actively out there trying to manipulate the press in the United States. They are very good at it.

Donald Rumsfeld
Interview with Rush Limbaugh
April 17, 2006


Though you could not actually hear what the man was saying, you could not be in any doubt about its general nature. He might be denouncing Goldstein and demanding sterner measures against thought criminals and saboteurs, he might be fulminating against the atrocities of the Eurasian army, he might be praising Big Brother or the heroes on the Malabar front — it made no difference. Whatever it was, you could be certain that every word of it was pure orthodoxy, pure Ingsoc . . . The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck.

George Orwell
1984
1948

1 comments

G'day,

I trust that this greets you and all well.

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