The Blogger at War

James Lileks used to be content with writing about his toddler's toilet training. Then Iraq gave him the chance to become the state's most famous conservative.

This last item consumes Lileks quite a bit, for he and his wife have a beautiful young daughter he calls "Gnat." Lileks can't say enough about her. Her utterances and observations captivate him, and he spreads heart on sleeve when illustrating this. Here Lileks is genuine, caring, and warm, and as a father of two kids myself, I know the area quite well. I also recognize that columnists using children as space filler is a time-honored journalistic practice. Who, save for the cold and cynical, would sneer at such sincerity and innocence? And what editor would quash 700 earnest words about applesauce, naps, and tinkling? Put your kids in print and you not only show your human side, you meet your deadline with plenty of material to spare.

But it's not The Backfence Lileks I'm concerned with here. That's his paying gig. (My exploration of The Backfence will appear in the Spring 2004 edition of Minutiae Quarterly, "The journal that focuses on things you don't even know exist.") It's in The Bleat where one discovers what is truly on his mind.

First, the positive. The Bleat, born in 1997, is a handsome blog, its graphic design updated every week. Lileks has a sharp eye for pop-culture obscurities and, though long-winded, he can delight those like myself who know by heart the theme songs of Wally Gator and Ruff & Reddy. He and I are roughly the same age, and as children we absorbed all those stray items--comic books, cartoons, classic advertising--that turn bright children into adult geeks. Lileks may disagree with this assessment, but I'd be willing to bet my Green Hornet lunchbox that he won't.

Ryan Kelly

Lileks, as mentioned earlier, also devotes a good portion of his Bleats to daughter Gnat, whose every move is recorded for web posterity, and through whom Lileks filters much of this increasingly cruel world. This type of writing has its place, and as a father I would never question Lileks's love for his child. Conversely, I would never go on and on about my kids when writing about imperial war and political corruption. But that's me. Lileks has a different take and agenda, which brings us to the negative part of The Bleat: Lileks's crazed views about the current warscape.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 further darkened the already unattractive side of the American character, namely its jingoism. Like most everyone else, I was sickened by what happened that morning. I lived most of my adult life in New York City and know the terrain intimately. Like many others, I know people who were directly affected by the attacks, either through displacement or loss of loved ones and friends. I supported the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and continue to support, in concert with other countries, the dismantling of the al Qaeda network.

I say all this because, since 9/11, those of us who question the Bush gang's motives and who try to place unfolding events in some kind of political/historical context have been jeered and hounded by those who've claimed 9/11 as their own, who've elected themselves as the True Spokesmen of American Purpose--the enlightened few who pelt dissenters with the debris of the Twin Towers. They are the warbloggers, the creation of whom is yet another al Qaeda-sponsored crime.

So prevalent are the warbloggers that they now have awards, just like the weak-kneed Hollywood liberals most of them despise. This year, the award for Best Warblog went to Glenn Reynolds's Instapundit (, but just below, tied with the insufferable Andrew Sullivan for fourth place, was The Bleat. This did and did not surprise me. Lileks certainly can rant with the worst of them, as he himself will half-jokingly admit. But for all his saber rattling and murderous fantasies, Lileks at least recognizes this less savory side of himself and at times seems conflicted about it. This isn't the case with many of the warbloggers I've read, especially Sullivan, who possesses an unearthly bellow that can cause physical illness in those exposed to it for extended periods.


Still, warblogging has its hazards, and Lileks succumbs to tapping out long, bilious passages filled with "You want a piece of me?" mock toughness. There are times when his anger gets the better of him, and I'm somewhat amazed and slightly impressed that he has no shame in exposing it.

On an inner-Bleat page titled "The Screed," ("a sporadic attempt to disassemble the indefensible,") Lileks opines on how the courtroom antics of "Kathleen Sara Jane Soliah Olsen," the '70s faux-revolutionary on trial for past crimes, might have affected her teen daughter. "She began in tears and ended in sobs," he writes, "and as I listened to her heartrending testimony I felt my own opinion change. Previously I wanted Soliah in jail. Having seen what she put her own child through, I wanted her to be burned at the stake."

This is mild compared to a March 18, 2002 Bleat where Lileks takes aim at a worthy target, Geraldo Rivera, but fires wide right. Geraldo was in Israel interviewing a father who'd just lost a daughter to a suicide/homicide bomber, and according to Lileks

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