Wednesday, April 12

Yes, It's Shooting Fish in a Barrel, but if It's Good Enough for the Vice-President...

So I see that Lileks is being vexed by the guy who's fixing his "water feature":

The Water Feature contractor came today. He’s the new guy. Just signed on to the team. Burly mofo, too. I think that’s his new name for the duration of this episode of contractor clusterfargery. (Boy, I’m not swearing as much as possible, eh? The Water Feature does that to me.) But he’s a genial guy, so I’ll call him G. Burlymofo. He took a look at the project, and since it’s hard to tell what’s wrong by looking at dirt and a pile of rocks, I filled him in on my suspicions: insufficient water in the lower tank, and /or a fatal leak somewhere. Keep in mind that the contractor told me a few weeks ago that his new guy pegged the problem without even examining the site: not enough water! Apparently that was a different new guy than G. Burleymofo, because he was agnostic on the issue of water volume.

He said he’d have it up and running the next day. I smiled and said he didn’t have to say that. Really.

“There’s no reason we can’t,” he said.

Sigh. I wanted to give him a volume I have in the archives downstairs, a book about Strange and Curious Things science can never explain.

First, "water feature" is the worst sort of jargonese. Like "plant material" and "thunderstorm activity" it doesn't even rate as jargon; it's hair-splitting done by professionals (landscape designers and teevee weather forecasters, respectively) who operate on the periphery of science but don't do any themselves. And it gets picked up via the tube, which for my money makes it worse than the incessant misuse of "parameter" we endured half a generation ago, which at least was based on misunderstanding what you read.

Second, aren't "water features" played out yet, even among habitués of Target? Don't get me wrong; I have a couple of friends with gorgeous outdoor fishponds, and we considered putting in one ourselves a decade ago before realizing there's nowhere on the property that gets enough sun. But good Lord, the casual viewer of HGTV has now seen 2,120 of the things installed, and there must be enough artificial waterfalls across American back yards to negatively effect salmon fishing.

I know, I know, kicking at Lileks is often akin to arguing with Andy Rooney, but here's the thing: Rooney, at least, is a genuine curmudgeon. His problem is he's about 50% shy of the needed intelligence to pull it off in public. And yes, I turned curmudgeon sometime before I got my driver's license. But you cannot do it while simultaneously enthusing about battery-operated toilet brushes or a child successfully coloring within the lines for once. The only time Lileks manages a convincing sneer is when he's talking shit about someone who works for a living.

Which is, I think, a metaphor for his other career. He's got new graphics on the site; lo and behold, it's a series of comically anachronistic Fifties era domestic illustrations. Stop, you're killing me.


Anonymous said...

This is the sort of man-crush that can lead to the type of cataclysmic mid-life crisis that completely shakes the foundation of the soul of some tedious, snivelling jackass who has to sleep sitting up* because his fucking forehead is so huge.

* or he'll die, like the Elephant Man.

Anonymous said...

You mean he's thinking about that dreamy "burly mofo" bending over in his backyard? My goodness.

Anonymous said...

And yet no man, be he conservative or liberal, be he Republican or Democrat, Christian or Muslim, oh you know what I'm getting at: No man can resist befriending the contractor and standing around comparing tape measures. I came home from the supermarket the other day to find my husband talking shop with the pest control/termite inspector guys. My husband's a business litigation attorney. What the hell kind of "shop" could he be talking out there with the bug men? But there they were, all standing around out there being guys. Which is why I should be in charge of contracting the house repairs. It's a good thing the bug men don't charge by the hour.

And, yeah, "water features" are so over.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I like "water features", though, uh, I call them, you know, fountains and waterfalls and ponds, because I'm just damned boring.

It all makes me sad, somehow. In better circumstances, Lileks might always have been an asshole, quietly homophobic and xenophobic but aware that his racism was wrong and working on supressing it, a guy who disliked those who disagreed with him politically but never would have considered them traitors or engaged in vicious fantasies of people cutting off their heads. A jackass, but a fairly harmless one, worried about his shampoo going on clearance and mocking the people he pays to fix stuff.

Lileks, and all the guys like him, Bush made them. Bush, because he's a weak personality, a scared little boy under the influence of ruthless political schemers, did exactly the worst possible thing after 9/11. He didn't stand up and say something averagely calm about not being terrorized by terrorism, instead he cowered and lashed out, and encouraged others to do the same.
The tragedy is, it wouldn't have taken much to help guys like Lileks, afterwards. It didn't take much to push them over the edge, either.

And it doesn't really help to know that guys like Lileks brought it on themselves, in some measure, by voting Bush in in the first place. They didn't know how bad he was, like the rest of us didn't know, though you could argue they should have known *enough*, like everybody who voted against him did.

There've always been jackasses like Lileks. In the normal way of things, they are isolated and don't cause world-threatening harm, and don't live steeped in this kind of hatred and fear.

There's nothing normal about where we are now, and nothing very hopeful anymore.
Kicking at Lileks may be easy and shallow. But he's not just some harmless crank. He, and all the guys like him, is actively feeding Bush's delusions.

We're not going to survive Bush's delusions.
So kick away.

Anonymous said...

I guess I never accepted that the people claiming 9/11 changed everything really believe that. Turned their world upside down for awhile, okay. I had no real problem with the easy jingoism that followed, though I found it mistaken. But--unless you were too young in 2001 to have any sense of 20th century history--how could 9/11 "change everything" for you? You imagined the US was beloved around the globe? That Freedom and Jesusism kept us inviolate? Christ, the very same building had been attacked by terrorists ten years earlier.

How is it that 9/11 didn't change many people's opinion of structural engineering? It sure didn't change such people's notion of security being the ability to kick someone else's ass. 9/11 doesn't seem to have changed any Bush supporter's opinion of him for the worse, despite his pathetic response. That is understandable in the immediate aftermath, but even today you don't hear Republicans who've turned against the War on Terra referencing the administration's initial response as anything less than clear-sighted heroism.

And you're absolutely right, there was an actual opportunity for him to act as a real leader and focus national solidarity on justice and security instead of revenge and blood lust. But that's not in him, and there's no way anyone of Lileks' intelligence should have imagined for a moment there was.

Anonymous said...

That's funny, really. It never occured to me that most of the "9/11 Changed Everything" people *don't* sincerely think that. (The obvious exceptions being Cheney and Rumsfeld and the like.)

I don't think it's about youth, really. Not even lack of intelligence. I think people whose lives were changed by 9/11 in the "Everything changed on" fashion are fundamentally shallow people.
Lileks is really the perfect example. He spent, it seems, his entire life locked into his little rut, not thinking about much beyond himself and his friends and family.
All of a sudden, he has to start thinking globally, and he doesn't like it.

It's a form of latent bullying, I suppose I've always assumed. He always had the potential to be a bully; it's just that he never realized there was much need.
In a lot of ways, he seems like a socially awkward fourteen year old who's just attended his first white power rally. He's buying into everything they tell him because otherwise they won't be his friends. Give him enough time, and he'll convince himself that's not why he did it at all, he did it because his new beliefs are The Truth. He'd be doing exactly the same thing if he'd joined the Boy Scouts first, is the sad part.

As for the structural engineering thing, I dunno. It changed mine. I assume it didn't change the mind of guys like Lileks because they got locked into the narrative that the terrorists are almost supernaturally powerful because they are Evil, and therefore nothing could have been done to stop them or what happened.
The US, being cast as the ultimate good here, is suddenly their only salvation.

It's simply a very shallow mindset, I think. They're thinking globally for the first time, and they're not very good at it, and they don't like it, and they want someone else to fix it all so that they can go back to not worrying about it.
Bush has promised, essentially, to get rid of the rest of the world, or just make them into extensions of us, and I think to a certain type of head-in-the-sand mentality that's very appealing. If everybody's just like you, you don't have to worry about what they want or plan to do anymore. You *know*.

But then, I've always been the sort of person who makes excuses for everybody and tries to see everybody's point. The ultimate moral relativist, I imagine. I find it very difficult to condemn people for what seem to be inherent personality defects. In fact, kind of the opposite of Lileks.

It's amazing I could even consider liking the guy. Not that I do, or really think I ever would have. But without the caustic effect Bush has had on his psyche, I think I could have found things to like about him.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in NYC most of my life and still do, and I can tell you that 9/11 didn't even change "everything" right here. I'm not saying that people weren't severely and tragically affected by events—some obviously scarred for life—but it didn't change "everything" by a long shot. While we have our share of idiots for whom 9/11 is a Badge of Suffering Victimhood that entitles suburban schmucks who watched it all happen on teevee to feel uniquely credentialed to "nuke 'em all," the rest of us just go on with our lives. We may know that we're marked because we're such a big target, but no one thinks they're on the front lines being brave unless they're Hugh Hewitt.

I suppose this is my long-winded way of saying that living here makes fear-mongered folks such as Lileks seem even more ridiculous. But then my take on Lileks is that he's a smug narcissist whose self-admiration has no justification beyond being a small mind in a big head, and as such he'd be a clenched-sphincter asshole under any circumstances. He reminds me of the type of guy who reads works by greater minds than his only to see if the authors agree with his own opinions. Listen to one of his podcasts if you can stomach it and it's like Cliff Klaven, Provincial Professor of All Things, enlightening us with the unique Lileks Insights into Kitsch, Malls, and Mahler.

HP said...

And what's the deal with curmudgeons, anyway? They used to voluntarily confine themselves to the back pages of our magazines, or the tiny gap between the last commercial and the closing credits. They were the bitter that follows the sweet; the postprandial cigar of the agora. But now they're everywhere. On the cable news networks. AM and FM radio. Our great daily papers. On "web-blogs" and "pod-casts" on the Internet (and yes, I still capitalize it).

And whither the curmugeon's art? Surely it wasn't all that long ago that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) or Ambrose Bierce used their curmudgeonly pose to hold a mirror up to society, to expose the blowhards and know-it-alls poisoning the well of discourse to spread the pestilence of ignorance, that we might burn them at the stake of enlightenment and rediscover our essential humanism. Now it's just whine, whine, whine, slathered with a thin veneer of phony erudition and what my good friend Dick Cavett might have called "ironic pop-culture references."

What to do? Don't ask me; I just comment on blogs. Perhaps in the great curmudgeonly game, there comes a moment when one must pick up one's ball and go home. Is this that time? Take a look at the man in the mirror, my friend. Indeed, let us all look at him.

punkinsmom said...

First let me say that I have a "water feature" and I love it. (In my defense, I don't have cable TV so I haven't seen 2,120 of them on HGTV.)

As to the "9/11 changed everything" mentality. Well, it did insofar as we are mired in a war that we have no hope of winning and the administration has wittingly or not, reinforced the "if you kick me, I'll kick you harder" mindset of a generation of Americans. Beyond that, 9/11 hasn't changed a damn thing.