Saturday, August 11, 2007

Please Don't Feed the Rooster-tailed Smarmy

Reid F. sent a link to an article in the Los Angeles Times in which a columnist penned a piece entitled "I Hate Dogs" in which he basically says that because other sports figures have done worse things, we should look the other way as regards Michael Vick and dog fighting.

This is a "two wrongs make a right" kind of argument. Variations on the theme include such bright discourse as: We should ignore heroin and cocaine because alcohol is worse; we should ignore terrorism because look what we did to the Indians, and we should ignore population growth because look at consumption.

Or at least that's the direction I thought the piece was going to take. Then I read the piece more closely, and realized that in fact this was not writing. This was typing.

A writer generally has something to say. This person has nothing to say about the issue at hand; he is simply spouting nonsense for effect and to achieve a reaction and because he thought he was a laugh-riot.

Or at least his mom told him so.

This is the spoor by which you can track a new animal
that has appeared on the American political scene: the young Rooster-tailed Smarmy. They come in male and female form, and can be found in both political parties and appear in a variety of media. They can best be described as "monkey writers" who have very little to say, but can throw feces at a fan and admire the splat on the wall.

These are the folks like Anne Coulter and Michelle Malkin who simply write or talk for reaction. Anyone can do this. All you have to do is pick a topic likely to piss people off and get them OUTRAGED. Try to make sure the sentences have a subject and a verb. And then say it as smirky and snarky as possible. You do not need to know anything or even make sense. After all, you are not in the serious business of trying to pass on information, make public policy, or do good. You are not a carpenter trying to build a barn door, you are the jackass trying to kick one down.

Here's a list of possible "starter topics":

  1. We should let AIDS patients die and kill off all the old and sick people in nursing homes because giving health care to the young and healthy is a far better use of public resources. People have a "duty to die."

  2. We should sell the dogs killed in U.S. shelters to Asian countries, thereby turning a problem into a profit.

  3. We should send nuclear and chemical waste to Burkina Faso, since those people will probably be dead from dysentery before they are dead from radiation and cancer.

  4. We need to put all the Muslims in the U.S. in barbed wire camps, just like we did the Japanese, and for the very same reason.

  5. Catholicism is a stupid religion because it quietly condones pedophilia and openly condones cannibalism.

  6. There is no difference between eating a chicken and eating a child.

  7. The best way to reduce gun violence on college campuses is to encourage kids and teachers to openly carry semi-automatic pistols on campus.

  8. Drunk driving laws are nothing more than nanny-state stupidity, and should be repealed.

  9. Arresting the head of the ACLU in Virginia for buying and trading videos showing the violent rape of little girls is a violation of this man's First Amendment rights.

  10. Who carries how many American soldiers die overseas? These kids signed up for military service voluntarily, and if they are too stupid to stay out of the military and away from a bullet or bomb, then Darwin says they should stay out of the gene pool as well.

Any of these piss you off? Did one or two make you laugh or shock you? Was there one you almost agreed with?

Well there you go! You see, then, why they are good little topic starters.

And it hardly matters whether you are joking or not, whether you can develop the idea, or whether it makes sense. No research is needed to write these pieces; just start typing and keep your eye on the prize.

Remember, you really don't care about the issue. You really have nothing substantive to say. You are not even a liar. You are a bullshit artist flinging poo against the wall in order to admire the pattern. You are like a troll on the Internet, but instead you are a troll on the op-ed page.

A liar actually cares what the truth is, if for no other reason than to stay away from it.

A bullshit artist -- a feces flinger of the Rooster-tailed Smarmy variety, does not care either way. The goal is not to move a policy position, it is to incite and provoke. It is to say: "Look at me. Treat my typing as an equal or deserving of more time than the intelligent and carefully fenced policy positions put out by people that have actually done the research. "

And then, if the cross-fire is too withering, you say, "Hey, I was just joking" or that wonderful all-purpose catch-basin: "It was not really serious; just a piece designed to make you think."


The Rooster-tailed Smarmy struts like a game cock, but in fact, he or she is mosty closely aligned with another species commonly found in the political forest: the Pander-bear.

While a serious public policy ponderer will be looking to find common ground in order to build a consensus in order to take action to solve a problem, the panderer is looking for cheap laughs and quick applause from one side or the other.

At its heart, the Pander-bear is simply a show-off. They may be a smart person, but they have allowed their smartness to devolve into mere cleverness.

And so they pick a side and play the fool for it, thereby forcing greater division and making public policy consensus more difficult.

It is fashionable to belabor the poor quality of political discourse in this nation and to bemoan the lack of political action. But if you insist on feeding Pander-bears and Rooster-tailed Smarmies, you are likely to get a lot more of them.

Remember that point as we head into the election season.



Gina Spadafori said...

Funny you should write this. On one of the e-mail lists I'm on, someone posted "The L.A. Times is anti-dog!" and put out a call to flood them with letters.

As you did, I pointed out that it wasn't the L.A. Times, but rather a columnist who's paid to behave like a shock-jock.

And I suggested the best thing to do -- the thing that will drive him crazy -- is ignore him.

With regards to Ann Coulter, trivia time: We have the same editor at the newspaper syndicate. Chances are the belief that he's the best editor anyone could be blessed with may be one of the few things she and I would agree on.

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

It's actually "I Hate Dog OWNERS". I read it three times last night and decided that he had failed at his mission. As a shock writer he should have spent a little more time condemning the dogs and less time condemning the people. We all know we're not like THOSE people...but don't talk smack about the dogs!

And then I was going to send it everyone this morning...but you scooped me. :-)

Christopher Landauer said...

AK and MM are like popcorn to me. Empty calories, but they do taste great and are good for mindless consumption and passive entertainment. It's really fun to watch them fling poo at people I think need to be given such an honor.

The fact that they get under lefties skin so much is the very same reason they please those of us vertically or horizontally distant from the targets of their venom.

The problem, Patrick, is that Anne and Michelle are two vs. a hoard of even more stupid, shallow, and vitriolic wahoos on the other side. Vapid celebrities, more OpEd columnists than you can name, hack comedians, and even the most esteemed Senators. Not to mention the legions of high school teachers that do a poor job of being objective.

It's easy to overlook shallow arguments when you agree with them, even more so if you know enough to make the same argument with more facts.

Perhaps people of your persuasion are so irked by MM and AC because the incessant buzzing of the leftist crows is like white noise to you.

And I'd like to add that not everyone who takes an interest in attacking positions online (or elsewhere) is a troll. It's easy to apply that term to anyone who invades the supposedly open online community which is actually a groupthink tank, is civil and convincing and does more than fan the fire, but such application is wrong.

Often it is the first and only response when the groupthink tank elites are overmatched. They ban you simply because they can't form coherent responses.

Even worse is when the groupthink elite are coopting some other forum with their tangential politics. For instance, a frisbee dog club I belong to has one prominent member who is a breed rescue koolaid drinker and she injects that into everything she does and every group decision. Shameless self promotion is an understatement, she actively tries to marginalize and ostracize people who don't fawn over her, her dogs, and her politics. Since she's a successful competitor and married to one of the club founders, she is above the law and even when they try to defang her after she blows up and attacks and censors people on the group e-mail list, ultimately she enjoys and exploits diplomatic immunity.

Is this any different than the general political power structure in this country? No. Those who have power will abuse it. Rules do not apply to the rule makers and the rule enforcers. You can campaign on one platform and govern on another. Pork barrel spending begins at home. The easiest way to win an argument is to silence your opponent.

You wonder why those who sling slop are successful? Well, because it's the most effective way to feed swine. And the vast majority of voters are swine, trying to get the farmer to feed them more and oblivious of the coming slaughter.

Shallow arguments work, Patrick, despite both of our preference for a higher standard of dialog that isn't just rhetoric. You're annoyed by pundits, I'm annoyed when it's our presidential candidates who do the very same thing, and only the same thing, and frankly do it worse.

PBurns said...


I'm not annoyed by pundits. I have made my living doing a little of that, count some as friends, and admire the hell out of those that have gone uo to the big News Room in the Sky and who still read well a decade or more later.

What I am annoyed by are the Feces Flingers.

Gina is right that these folks are nothing more than shock jocks. What she omits is that shock gets old and tiresome very fast, and so these folks have to increase the caliber of their Poo Shells until at last they blow themselves out of the room. Nigger jokes anyone? Jew jokes anyone? Don Imus was always up for those, and everyone laughed and/or looked the other way until it blew up in his face.

You say there are a lot of liberal/Democrats engaged in dumbing down the thought pages, but I'm not sure that is quite true. The "schtick" of the two parties is really quite different.

National Public Radio is desperately trying to convince everyone that it is so SMART and cultured and aware, and so too are its listeners -- a position that can be grating at times, I assure you.

On the other hand, FOX News is so hell-bent on dumbing down the news that I would love to read how their market rearchers describe their listeners and viewers. Can "Beer-bellied reactionary conservatives" really be right?

Meanwhile, taking a page from the Fox News profile pages, a recent Republican Party Presidential debate centered on who rejected Darwin and evolution -- and gave bonus points to the most anti-evolutionary candidates. Wow!

The young Republicans of today are not old enough to remember when their party was the party of fiscal responsibility, the party that rejected unnecessary foreign interventions, and the party that both freed the slaves AND created the National Forest and National Park Service. Today's Republicans have become cheerleaders for partisan hacks who are really nothing more than suitcase carriers for corporate lobbyists. As a consequence, we have massive (and rising) debts left over from Reagan and GW Bush, an unnecessary war in Iraq, a full-scale attack on our public lands by the oil, gas and timber industries, and a party which hopes animus toward a woman candidate and a black candidate will be enough to keep them in power. Wow! What twisted road has taken us here? And does anyone have a GPS and/or a topo map so we can find our way back?

But maybe we have forgotten what the job is. The job is not pissing people off: It's making America a better place. It's not putting more bills on the National Credit card, it's not winking at the importation of more unfree foreign labor in the form of illegal immigration, it's not paying Bechtel, Parsons, and Halliburton to do jobs we never needed done to begin with, and it's not exacerbating the differences between Americans, but finding the common bonds among them. Are the Feces Flinger part of the problem, here, or part of the solution? And if they are part of the problem (as I think), then Gina has it right: The answer is simply to change the channel.


prairie mary said...

I've always loved terriers, so I figured I'd really like a terrier man, but I never expected to like you THIS much! I've been saying and saying this same thing.

Eric Berne called the game "Let's you and him fight." The payoff is getting to sell papers about it.

And they think dog-fighting is bad -- what about people fighting?

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

I agree with Patrick here.

I think people like Landauer, who try to make excuses for Republicans and other quasi-conservatives by saying "the other side is worse" are talking nonsense.

If Landauer had any balls, he'd just admit it: he likes to watch the poop fly, as long as it favors his team. And of course, many people do: that's why Coulter et al. are so popular.

But this is neither a responsible nor thoughtful position. And it leaves one open to partisan manipulation of the worst sort.

Kudos to Patrick for expressing his thoughtful position so clearly. I for one hope that green conservatives look for and find common ground with those on the other side. We can disagree, respectfully, and still cooperate.

Christopher Landauer said...


Anonymous is the worst kind of tool, the boldly meaningless kind, drenched in hypocrisy.

(1) Your name says it all. You have no balls because you won't back your comments with your name. How absurd it is that you should call me out when it is you who is a gelding.

(2) Your comprehension is pathetic.
Let's compare two sentences and see who looks stupid:

"It's really fun to watch them fling poo at people I think need to be given such an honor."


"If Landauer had any balls, he'd just admit it: he likes to watch the poop fly, as long as it favors his team."

Now, why don't you just admit that you'd need a quantum leap in intelligence just to be grossly inadequate. Where do you get off calling me a coward for not admitting that watching the poop fly is fun, when such an admission is clearly the opening volley in my post. Watching the other team take one in the face is fun, and if you claim not to enjoy it, I'll call you a liar in addition to the coward that you are.

I am open and honest with my views and the small pleasures I draw from life, and I've made my biases clear. Are you so stupid as to chastise me for supposedly not doing exactly what I did do.

What a silly fool you are.

(2) No one is impressed with your self anointed superiority, as if you live above the fray and don't take pleasure in flinging shit. Your very post is an act of ill informed shit slinging, so pretending that you're "responsible" and "thoughtful" is clearly a delusion.

I assume your hypocrisy extends to all your activities, so you don't join any cause or have any bumper stickers, you don't wear your alma mater's logo on your sweatshirt or cheer for your team and jeer their team, you don't watch any kind of competitive sports or gain any enjoyment from such lowly and vulgar past times.

You must not even hunt because to take pleasure in the rush of the kill is vulgar and base and you must clearly be above such primitive indulgences.

I assume you believe that you only speak well of all other human beings and never denounce those in your out group as inferior, stupid, ignorant, or ill chosen in their associations.

But your own writing undermines that pleasant notion. You see the need to define my team, as well as your own. You even go so far as to say that you'll tolerate "green conservatives" as long as they're more green than conservative, or at least you can ignore or suppress the later part if the former part helps you meet your needs.

(3) Your supposed tolerance is hypothetical, mine is very real. Patrick and I will likely never vote for the same person or even agree on much outside of a handful of topics, but that hasn't prevented me from taking an objective and rational stance on every point he brings up and decide if I agree or not.

The ability to agree AND disagree is superior to the "agree to disagree and never talk about it again" that you propose. By being an ala carte consumer I am actually LESS likely to be manipulated by partisan propaganda and absolutism because I can take what I want and not be burdened by the baggage I don't want. I don't need to visit some party website to download voting instructions or turn one position I agree with into swallowing an entire platform.

Sorry, ANON, but unlike the sheeple who follow their chosen prophets without question and whom turn over all rational duties to "leadership" I haven't given my name, my balls, or my duty to rationalize over to any organization.

(4) No Kudos to you and no kudos for Patrick. Patrick's otherwise thoughtful position is tainted by his biased selection of examples. The need to inject a partisan element into a non partisan topic was a poor choice. It would be irresponsible and thoughtless of me to congratulate Patrick on his other articles and ignore this blatant flaw. I guess I am above his partisan manipulation and you are not.

Patrick doesn't owe you or me or anyone a non partisan blog, it's his property he can do with it what he wants. But as long as he allows comments, I'll feel fit to point out when his politics are a detriment to his argument.

It is ironic, no, that in bashing Coulter and Malkin, Patrick's rant follows the same style manual they use. You call it manna, I call it poo, and yes, it is simply a matter of what team you're on and the only denialist is you!

PBurns said...


Chris, you see to have missed the entire point of the original post, and you also seem to have missed the fact that the original column about dogs in The Los Angles Times was clearly from a lefty. He got pretty well hosed on this blog.

To go back to the original post: Even the authors of this kind of drivel do no take it seriously. They are writing for effect. And they are laughing all the way to the bank, as humans swarm to "debate" the
"controveries" they have ginned up.

In Washington, we call this "flaming arrow" politics -- put a flaming arrow into the roof and let the folks run around like chickens trying to put it out. It takes almost no effort to launch a flaming arrow, but it takes 100 people half a morning to put it out if they are foolish enough to take it seriously. Great political sport, and an old trick. And while the reactionaries are running around like chickens based on one flaming arrow, "we" will tunnel under the wall . . .

The original post was about not taking it seriously. But apparently you think these flaming-arrow missives are important. They are not important because of the ideas they contain (you do not mention those ideas) but because you LIKE the fact that some liberals get upset with them. You have said this yourself. Since you have said this yourself, why are you upset when others say it as well? There is nothing shameful about liking entertainment, even if it is "flaming arrow" entertainment. Let's just not confuse it with serious policy talk, eh?

You talk about "my persuasion." What persuassion would that be? People who have known me a long time are not that sure how I vote on any issue, and I have stood in the Oval Office for both parties (and have the pictures to prove it). If you are alluding to the fact that I am the last gay african albino midget juggler alive, that is true, but my wife promised to keep it a secret. And how come you don't come to the meetings any more? Ever since you went out for drinks with that John Edwards boy, neither of you seem to come around any more.


Christopher Landauer said...


* you seem to have missed the point of the original post

I didn't miss the point of the original post, you just haven't published my comment (or I botched submitting it) that directly addressed fellow Cardinal Joel Stein. I talked all about his effete stance of cultural superiority and feigned dispassion, I even linked a telling article where he discusses his stereotypical homo-metro-sexual judgmental stance ("I'm not gay, I'm a wuss!") that is a pop cultural meme (the same condescension that is so popular with the cultural elite and their outlets like "What Not to Wear," "Queer Eye...," the legion Celebrity chefs and their reality TV brethren, Martha Stewart, MTV, most Movie and Food critics, and numerous OpEd pages).

I essentially agree with your stance that it isn't persuasive writing, it's typing. I'd say that it's essentially trying to turn (supposedly superior) TASTE into policy. And as they say, 'there's no arguing over taste' ... but there is arguing over policy.

Stein is essentially complaining that he's too important or sensitive to deal with other people's dirty little mutts. It's a familiar argument that is often aimed at children and babies as well, especially regarding air planes and restaurants.

* original column was from lefty

Clearly, but that's not the issue I have with it, Stein isn't making a leftist argument or even bashing the right, he's making a stupid statement and the closest thing I can find in his article that is a cheap leftist jab is the tangential "NRA-crazy" and in a stretch "old rich men" and "rich old ladies in fur coats." Hardly heavy hitting.

I wouldn't mind if he was making a leftist positional argument if he provided facts and reasoned analysis. After all, discussion of facts and analysis is much more productive than arguing underlying philosophy. That's why I enjoy your writing so much, it's solid logic and persuasive. It's more science than religion, so to speak... facts and interpretation vs. rhetoric and dogma.

And if you think my unpublished post or even this one is evoking too much discussion about sexuality driven cultural snobbery and cynicism in reference to Stein, it's not tangential "gay bashing" on my part, it's Stein's M.O. Not only does he evoke the "I'm not gay, but..." style OFTEN, but the very first line of his personal web page is a caption to a photo of him staring coyly over his shoulder at a smiling man: "That guy behind me? Totally gay for me. Hell, I’d be too."

My guess is that you're not an avid Stein reader since you didn't even name him in your original post. You're really not missing anything.

* "persuasion"

Let me be clear, I'm not making any snide sexual innuendos. Persuasion is simply a word I use to replace "party affiliation" given that party affiliation is too restrictive and monolithic to be at all informative to categorize people who aren't party liners.

As I discussed before, simple left-right models are woefully inadequate, so why should I use simplistic labels for people who have complex positions like you and I do. You seem to think that I was broad brushing you when I was doing the exact opposite. Your acceptance into the Oval office of Presidents of both parties is not surprising to me, but your selective examples WAS. That's the point.

* Coulter and Malkin examples

My problem with your post was simply the selection bias in your examples. Doubling up on Coulter and Malkin is, IMO, not balanced at all by the cultural commentator Stein and his unpolitical post.

In fact, going from a hypochondriac complainer talking about dogs, selective bashing of M and C, and ending up with a call to be vigilant come voting time wasn't the most cohesive of leaps for me.

I think you'll agree with me that your treatment of Coulter and Malkin is superficial and non-specific. As in, there's really nothing substantial about it that I can argue with you over, I can simply say that I think differently than you do on the same superficial level that you're treating the subject. It's not as if you're pulling out examples from their work or anything. This is unlike your typical style which is meticulously and insightfully researched and fact based, chock full of quotes and figures and substance.

I didn't miss the point, I noticed that the foundational element of your post (the Stein article) didn't support the leap you made.

Anonymous said...

Patrick -- thanks for your cool-headed reply to Landauer's latest rant. (Talk about flinging poop! Landauer seems to have been taking Coulter lessons.)

I still think you hit the nail on the head with your first post. Well done. Keep up the good work, and the good writing. And I insist: kudos to you for keeping it thoughtful.


PBurns said...


Chris, you need to get your own blog.

Let me hasten to say that this is not a new idea. You said very early on that you intended to do that. But then you didn't.

Then I was over at Prairie Mary's reading a bit last night and found a long insulting missive you left over there. One different from the very long one you left here bashing her. Her response was "you need to get a blog of your own."

Short and sweet.

And she is right.

Your posts on this blog are getting longer and longer, are straying farther and farther from the topic, and are getting less cohesive and more insulting. And, for the record, I have posted ALL of your comments.

The general rule for blogs is pretty simple: If you don't like something, move on. If you have something to say, put it on your blog. If there's an error of fact, correct it in the comments section. But the comments section is not an invite for lengthy rants or extended conversations.

As Prairie Mary pointed out to you, a blog can be started for free at or another blog service. All you have to do is have the discipline to post again and again, consistently have something people might be interested in (preferably within a theme), and say it coherently with some regularity. After a while (maybe 6 months or a year) you will get a small readership with all the problems that entails.

So, start a blog. When you do, I will be very happy to put it in the blog roll to this blog. You will be a good blogger; I think it's your natural forum.

With that, I am ending the comments on this piece -- what was intended to be a small attempt at humor has disolved into something far from that. Time to clear off the dishes.