The Washington Canard
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Monday, December 08, 2008

The word "fisking" -- originating in the blogosphere ca. 2001 -- has fallen somewhat into disuse in recent years, especially as the 'sphere has expanded to include many who weren't around back in its earliest days.

For the uninitiated, it refers to a line-by-line, or paragraph-by-paragraph, refutation of an odious written work, often with an acidic or sardonic tone. The referent is one Robert Fisk, a British columnist whose absurdly self-abegnating columns from Afghanistan made him a pariah, at least until he was forgotten. Forceful responses from bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan gave rise to the term itself.

But this eponym is worth keeping around, and it's up to armchair cultural anthropologists like yours truly to point out earlier examples of the form where they find them.

Which brings us to the once-popular and still-familiar 1936 book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. I picked up a copy from Amazon recently, and have been reading it on the Metro to work. In one early chapter, Carnegie explains how persuasion is best accomplished by appealing to your persuadee's self-interest, and as a counter-example reprints a letter from an officious adman and intersperses it with his own commentary. Carnegie introduces the section thus:
This letter was sent to the managers of local radio stations throughout the country. (I have set down, in brackets, my reactions to each paragraph.)
And here, for your reading interest, is a partial reproduction:
Mr. John Blank,
Dear Mr. Blank:
The ------ company desires to retain its position in advertising agency leadership in the radio field.

[Who cares what your company desires? I am worried about my own problems. The bank is foreclosing on my house, the bugs are destroying the hollyhocks, the stuck market tumbled yesterday. I missed the eight-fifteen this morning, I wasn't invited to the Jones's dance last night, the doctor tells me I have high blood pressure and neuritis and dandruff. And then what happens? I come down to the office this morning worried, open my mail and here is some little whippersnapper off in New York yapping about what his company wants. Bah! If he only realized what sort of impression his letter makes, he would get out of the advertising business and start manufacturing sheep dip.]

This agency's national advertising accounts were the bulwark of the network. Our subsequent clearances of station time have kept us at the top of agencies year after year.

[You are big and rich and right at the top, are you? So what? I don't give two whoops in Hades if you are as big as General Motors and General Electric and the General Staff of the U.S. Army all combined. If you had as much sense as a half-witted hummingbird, you would realize that I am interested in how big I am--not how big you are. All this talk about your enormous success makes me feel small and unimportant.]

We desire to service our accounts with the last word on radio station information.

[You desire! You desire. You unmitigated ass. I'm not interested in what you desire or what the President of the United States desires. Let me tell you once and for all that I am interested in what I desire--and you haven't said a word about that yet in this absurd letter of yours.]
Zing! Dale Carnegie wasn't warblogger, but he certainly could have fit in with those whippersnappers.

Cross-posted from Blog P.I.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Statehood -- and DC's conspicuous lack of it -- is a perennial issue in the District, and last week it came up again when the city encouraged the President-elect to affix those "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION" plates to his presidential limousine. President Clinton used them, President Bush did not, and one expects President Obama will do so as well.

Here is Matt Yglesias's blissfully un-nuanced assessment:
I’d like ... congress to use its power to admit new states to admit the State of Columbia as the fifty-first state. You would, of course, need to carve out a portion of the existing city to continue serving as the “federal district” and capital of the country. But that could easily be made a compact area around the Mall where nobody (except the President and the First Family) lives and thus nobody is denied voting rights. ... It would be totally constitutional.
Of course it would be constitutional. That isn't what's keeping Washington from becoming a state. The bigger issues include the city not much resembling a state in geography nor governance, having a lower population than every state but Wyoming, why DC deserves greater representation than NYC, LA, Chicago etc., and especially the obvious political implications of creating two new Senate seats that would never be seriously contested by the Republicans within the foreseeable future. (Don't worry about the stars on the flag, that one's covered).

So it was a small surprise to see this response from Markos Moulitsas, who is generally considered less of a "thinker" than Yglesias and more of a "strategist":
To me, the more obvious solution is to simply have DC annexed by either Maryland or Virginia. (Preferably Virginia, which would solidify it as a solid Blue state, and most of NOVA is a suburb of DC anyway.) Can someone explain why that option is either ignored or a non-starter?
Now we're getting somewhere. I have always considered retrocession the best option, although Markos fails to note that most of Western Maryland is also a suburb of DC. I'm vaguely aware that Maryland may have its problems with this, though I'd think the newly larger tax base would outweigh having to shoulder the burden of DC's notorious school system. The real reason, though, is because of politics.

In any case, the complaint about lack of representation is a valid one (although I always like to note that nobody is forced to live in the city) and worth doing something about. But it seems to me that city activists who insist upon statehood at the expense of all other options are not being honest about their intentions. If equal represenation was the issue, then retrocession would be on the table.

So come on, Washington. Let's stop electing "shadow senators" and "shadow representatives" who essentially serve to lobby for statehood. This year, my first time voting in the District, I refused to cast a vote. Not only do I think the offices shouldn't exist, I think they're detrimental to the city's interests. But what do I care? I wouldn't be living here if I did.

Image via dbking on Flickr.

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