Agam's Gecko
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I Am Joe

few years ago, before this blog was born, a now former friend (to whom I'll refer as Former Friend) in Canada told me I should be writing a book about my experiences here on the Other Side of the World. I had been an avid emailer of some of these tales at the time, a practice which continued even after some of my political views began to evolve, and I found myself wandering off the Politically Correct Reservation.

Some other acquaintances simply refused to communicate after that point, which non-coincidentally occurred some time shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. But Former Friend had always been sceptical of PC-ness, and continued to humour me in my unpopular (we're talking about Canada, remember) views.

Shortly thereafter I began this little blog, which FF followed across the great distance between us -- and even sometimes sent me tips. For two or three months. It became increasingly difficult to get any response from that end. At the end of that year came the Great Tsunami, and with my deep connections with Aceh (and no word from that "home" for over two weeks), I was very worried and blogged quite a lot on the Indonesian news reports (which I can watch here via satellite).

One day comes an email from Former Friend: "Are you OK?" Full text there, by the way. In a few months, FF had gone from recommending me to become a book author, to being unwilling to even glance anymore at this little bloggy thing of mine.

Evidently something I'd written was too offensive to FF, and I would spend about the next three years trying to discover what it was -- unsuccessfully, I might add. As the Burma uprising began in September of '07, I decided I wanted to spend more time writing about that, rather than to waste it trying to extract a mysterious opinion from an unwilling correspondent. And I said so. What came back to me at that point was one of the creepiest, deranged, sarcasm-dripping rants I've ever had the displeasure of reading. There were a few more exchanges, but it was clear that this wasn't the FF I thought I knew. I have no idea where he is now.

To anyone who is reading -- disagree with any (or all) of my views, it's up to you -- but be assured that there are principles which underlie them. Disagree with the principles too, if you wish, but there they are.

I don't plan on writing any books, but I believe that anyone has the right to try to publish one, if they have enough to say that enough others want to know, and who might buy it. Non-professional writers (including me!) are included in this principle.

Book publishing is not a zero-sum activity, and the publishing of one book does not necessarily result in a different book not getting published.

Somebody needs to clue in a certain Guest Columnist ("Maureen Dowd is off today.") named Timothy Egan to this simple truism. Last weekend, Timothy penned (or perhaps, typed without a clue?) a missive addressed to one S. Joe Wurzelbacher, whose co-authored book (with a real author, even!) is published this month.
And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.
The elitism is simply breathtaking in this one, as near to self-parody as it's possible to get without actually being a self-parody. Egan lists the ways in which Joe the Plumber is just a plain all-round no-goodnik who imagines he could stand alongside Twain and Orwell. The man who deigned to ask The Great One a question in his own front yard, was then thrust into the campaign limelight due to the astounding soundbite his question elicited, and then had his private records illegally accessed and released to the press in a concerted campaign for his personal destruction, just might just have something to say about it all. And there just might be a number of people who are interested in knowing his side of that story.

But such a prospect makes Timothy Egan, on behalf of the entire Wordsmithing Guild, feel like "the world is unfair." I think he missed the breaking news item on that one, quite some time ago.

This NYT "Guest Column" really needs to be read to be believed, as it proves the existence of at least one "writer" who has plumbed beyond the call of duty to depths yet unseen of thin-skinned insecurity. Timothy also thinks it a Real Bad Idea if Governor Sarah Palin were to write a book about her Amazing Autumn Adventure this year. Of course it would be popular, likely a very big seller, but that's not the point for Tim. He just doesn't like her. But he does know how to remember old, unfunny skits from "Saturday Night Live," so at least there's that.

I was considering to Fisk this journalistic atrocity until I saw that the terrific Australian pundit Tim Blair had already done it so well. A small tantalizing teaser:
Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was "a blank sheet of paper."
Hemingway never saw a sheet of paper with Egan’s words all over it.
Curious to see what the highly educated Times readers would have to say about Timothy's snivelling, I looked for the usual comments page. There isn't one, but some comments have been left on his NYTimes.com Blog. Mostly, they sound like the same readers who gushed over William Ayers' recent Op-Ed whitewashing his past terrorism career.

In a late development, the great Iowahawk ("he is from deep space") has once again located another first draft of inadvertently famous literature, from behind the NYT dumpster. Timothy evidently had to cut things down quite a bit. Some dynamite passages were left on the editing room floor.
Let me ask you this, Joe: can you think of similar references to various classic "Saturday Night Live" skits like me, who has also won a Pulitzer Prize, by the way? Of course you can't. Which is exactly why I am a hiree of the New York Times, an experience of which you are not also going to have the pleasure of having.
Wordsmithery like that, you just can't buy.

Mr. Egan, you probably won't care much that some guy called Agam in Thailand won't be writing a book anytime soon, imaginarily depriving one of your poverty-stricken and long-suffering Journalism Smithery Guild members from getting his masterpiece of the century published. But I won't give up my right to do it, whomever decides to throw the insults my way. If there is justice, both Joe and Sarah will be published, and will be on the NYT Best Sellers' List at the very same time, for your tormented perusal.

Frankly, this "Typing Without a Clue" column from a guest Maureen Dowd replacement should be the height of embarrassment for the Times, and could even be considered as a supportive advertisement for this book. I somehow doubt that Mr. Egan would understand the connection.


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