The Blogosphere

Aug 24

A few minutes ago, I got a @ message from somebody on Twitter saying, “Wondering if you’ve already seen this??!?!?” with a link to this blog post on Gawker, titled “Law Grads Ungrateful for Their Priceless Knowledge.” What makes the post noteworthy, from my perspective, is the stock photo they used to illustrate it:


The post has nothing to do with me — and, in fact, I’m neither unemployed nor ungrateful; on the contrary, I am very grateful for my legal education! Love thee, Notre Dame! — but I guess the author, Hamilton Nolan, or whatever member of the Gawker Media Empire was responsible for illustrating Mr. Nolan’s post, felt that a picture of me looking dorky on graduation day wearing my 2007 glasses (which, incidentally, I bought at the Fiesta Bowl Block Party on New Year’s Eve 2006-07 in Tempe) was a good stock photo to accompany the post.

I have no problem with the photo — I blogged it, after all! — but, in that context, under that headline, it’s not exactly the image of myself I’d choose to put out there. And technically, Gawker is violating my copyright by using the photo without permission. I do sometimes post photos on Flickr with Creative Commons attribution, but this wasn’t one of those — it was published directly on my server, and they downloaded it from this old blog post, which they then linked back to. That, at least, was good etiquette, and I seem to be getting a (very) small traffic surge as a result.*

Still, to be all legal and stuff, they should have asked before posting the picture. But, at least at present, I don’t feel inclined to make a ruckus about it (though I reserve the right to do so). Instead, I think I’ll follow Ryan Kessler’s advice, and proceed on the assumption that the Gawker Media Empire and I have an unwritten agreement whereby it’s okay to steal each other’s content at will, without asking. :) Filed away for future reference! Heh.

As an aside, I can’t help but wonder: was that photo pulled at random, in response to a Google search for “law grad 2007 dorky glasses” or some such? Or is there an ND Nation plant, or some other blog-troll from the bad old days — the sort of person who makes malicious edits to my Wikipedia page and the like — on Gawker’s staff, who specifically went looking for a photo of me to go under that rather unflattering headline? I have no idea, though absent evidence to the contrary, I assume it was random.

*UPDATE: Shoot! I’m not actually registering any traffic surge, because there’s no SiteMeter image on that old page! I must have forgotten to put traffic trackers there when I transitioned it over from TypePad to a static HTML page on my server. UPDATE 2: Fixed!

Jul 09

R.I.P. Alan Sullivan, 1948-2010

Friday, July 9, 2010 at 1:11 pm Mountain Time

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[UPDATE, 7/14: Welcome, InstaPundit readers! FYI, a group of Alan’s “rare readers” — myself included — have launched a group blog in an effort to keep alive the wonderful community he built. It’s called “Sullivan’s Travelers.” Please join us!]

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Author, poet and blogger extraordinaire Alan Sullivan has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 61.

Alan’s partner, Tim Murphy, confirmed Alan’s death a few minutes ago, writing in a blog comment at 12:48 PM MDT: “Alan died peacefully.” This was a follow-up to Tim’s 12:09 PM comment, in which he wrote: “I just talked to Dr. D. Alan is sleeping peacefully, smiling, and he will wake in a better place.”

There is to be a final blog post by Alan, written some time ago in anticipation of his death, published on Fresh Bilge shortly. I’ll post the permalink when it appears. [UPDATE: Here it is.]

I first discovered Alan’s blog in 2004, during Hurricane Ivan. Like me, Alan was a “weather nerd” — not a meteorologist, but a layperson with a keen interest in hurricanes and other meteorological phenomena, and a knack for translating that interest into excellent blog coverage. His commentary on the tropics was indispensable to me in 2004, and became even moreso in 2005, when the Atlantic erupted with a record 28 storms, including Hurricane Katrina (my blog coverage of which was, of course, a defining event of my decade).

But before long, I found myself drawn to more than just Alan’s hurricane coverage. Here was a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, a superb writer with a keen intellect and a broad array of interests that he eagerly blogged about — weather and other natural disasters, yes, but also politics and religion and culture, not to mention the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ideologically, we could hardly have been more different. But Alan challenged me and fascinated me. Even when I thought he was absolutely dead wrong — wronger than wrong — his commentary and analysis was always worth reading. And so was the lighter fare: Alan was a person who loved aesthetic beauty for its own sake, whether in the form of scenic vistas or pretty pictures or beautiful prose and poetry. That came through in his blog, too. So did his love of the sea — Alan was an avid sailor, until his declining health turned him involuntarily into a landlubber; his blog nickname was “seablogger” — and of nature and God. He had a unique perspective: a gay man who came of age in the ’60s as a liberal, but became a staunch conservative and, ultimately, a deeply religious Catholic, fully at peace with himself and his beliefs. He did not fit neatly into any “box” or stereotype. He was his own man, always, to the end.

All of which adds up to the broader conclusion that, as I wrote in May, Alan was “a near-perfect blogger, with a remarkable knack for weaving in captivating discussions of his own life, alongside political flames, alongside miscellaneous thought-provoking posts about assorted and sundry topics, all without seeming narcissistic or navel-gazing in the slightest. In short, he accomplishes something I was once accused of: ‘Thousands of bloggers have failed to make themselves interesting enough to cause virtual strangers give a hoot about their lives, but you pull it off effortlessly.'” I can’t speak to whether I ever deserved that praise, but I know Alan absolutely did.

Alan’s talent as a blogger was never more on display than in the final years and months and weeks of his life, as he gave his “rare readers” — as he called us — an intimate window into the nitty-gritty details of his declining health and impending death. He was always brutally honest and straightforward about it all. At the same time, he was philosophical and spiritual: another key point, as his late-in-life conversion to Christianity took place in full view of his blog, giving his readers a rare glimpse of the workings of not just his body and his mind, but also his soul.

Not surprisingly, given his skill as a blogger, Alan attracted a wonderful and devoted community of readers. That has become more apparent than ever in recent weeks, as tributes and well-wishes have come pouring in from regular commenters and “lurkers” alike. His audience, which was sizeable, skewed conservative and religious, but was by no means exclusively so — there are plenty of centrists and liberals, like me, who were regulars, and also plenty of folks with no particular dog in any ideological fight, but who came for the hurricanes, or the volcanoes, or the psalms, or the maritime wisdom, or any of the countless other topics that Alan covered so ably, and then stayed for the rest of Alan’s writing because it was such a joy to read. The end result was one of the more vibrant blog communities I’ve ever encountered, and part of the sadness of Alan’s death is that the community will surely now drift apart. There is no one else who could hope to keep such a diverse group together. In that regard, as in many others, Alan is irreplaceable.

[UPDATE, 7/14: As I mentioned earlier, a group of Alan’s “rare readers” — myself included — are trying to prove that I was wrong about the inevitability of the community drifting apart. We’ve launched a group blog called “Sullivan’s Travelers.” Alan is irreplaceable, obviously, but hopefully we can create a worthwhile blog that will give people a reason to stick around.]

Meanwhile, as exceptional as Fresh Bilge was, Alan wasn’t “just” a blogger. He was also a published novelist and memoirist and poet. Indeed, the great project of the end of his life — which he viewed as divinely inspired — was a complete Hebrew-to-English translation, in poetic form, of the psalms of King David, which will be published posthumously in book form. Like Mozart’s Requiem, it is unfinished; Alan was not quite able to complete the final revisions before he died. But my understanding is that it’s close enough to be publishable. I’m neither a poetry critic nor a religious scholar, but my impression from the commentary on Alan’s psalm posts is that his work is excellent.

Alan was of a completely different generation than me. In fact, he was born on August 14, 1948 — exactly six months after my dad. So here was a staunchly conservative, devoutly Christian, gay man who was old enough to be my father, whereas I am center-left, secular, straight, and young. Superficially, aside from a few common interests like hurricanes and Lord of the Rings, we had little in common. Yet that didn’t matter. It’s hard to put Alan’s greatness as a blogger into words, despite my best efforts here, but greatness is what it was. Alan Sullivan was sui generis, and suffice it to say that, though his blog, I felt like I knew him — an extreme rarity in my experience — and I will really miss him.

Rest in peace, Alan.

UPDATE: In a comment on Alan’s final post, his friend Paul Mussell — to whom he entrusted the publishing of said final post — posted a full obituary:

Alan Thomas Sullivan was born August 14, 1948, in Brooklyn, NY, the only son of Betty and Andrew Sullivan, and died July 9, 2010 in Aventura, FL. A 1970 graduate in English from Trinity College, Hartford, CT, he moved to the Midwest with Timothy Murphy in 1973. He lived in Minneapolis, MN, then Fargo, ND, for 32 years. Diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2005, he relocated permanently to the Fort Lauderdale area of Florida to pursue medical treatment and be near the sea he loved so deeply and missed so dearly during his decades on the prairie.

Alan was a tireless poet, polemicist, raconteur, translator and teacher of poetry. He wrote many books, and much of his writing can be found at, the blog he maintained which drew an eclectic group of readers drawn by his disquisitions on weather, volcanology, foreign and domestic policy, poetry and matters of the spirit. Alan was a spiritual seeker all his life, and toward its end he turned to the Catholic Church from which he drew great strength and solace. In his final year he undertook to translate the poems of King David. With the able assistance of Seree Zohar in Israel, he completed this great, metrical work, which will soon begin appearing in periodicals, and ultimately in book form. All who knew him marveled at the energy he focused on this final task which he completed on June 24, 2010.

Memorials can be sent to Church of the Little Flower, 1805 Pierce St., Hollywood, FL, 33020. Attention Fr. Tom. Please indicate the memorial is for Sullivan. Funds will be used for relief of the parish poor, and they are many. Fathers Thomas O’Dwyer and Patrick O’Shea will say masses for the repose of Alan’s soul.

I had forgotten that Alan graduated from Trinity College in Hartford. For the first 4 1/2 years of my life, I lived almost literally across the street from Trinity. … More importantly, it’s good to hear the psalms described as “completed.” I believe Alan still wanted to do a bit more editing and revision, as I indicated earlier, but the obit confirms my belief that they’re sufficiently complete to be publishable, and will in fact be published.


P.P.S. Googling Alan’s name, I found this lengthy interview about poetry of Alan by Tim. Very high-brow stuff, but also very personal, and interesting, and replete with nuggets of information about Alan that I didn’t know.

The Internet is a strange and wonderful place.

P.P.P.S. To give you an idea of the community I’m talking about, and its depth of feeling for Alan, here are some of the comments that have been posted to Fresh Bilge’s penultimate post in recent days:

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Jul 08

Alan Sullivan’s final hours

Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 10:02 am Mountain Time

After a number of false alarms, unexpected reprieves and surprising comebacks, it appears that blogger Alan Sullivan’s battle with cancer is — for real this time — rapidly nearing its end.

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Jun 18

The soft bias of high expectations?

Friday, June 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm Mountain Time

On Twitter yesterday, Melissa Clouthier and I had another one of our epic back-and-forth tweet-debates, complete with multi-part tweets (mostly by me) and rhetorical fireworks. Melissa is on record as calling me her “blog husband,” so is it any wonder we bicker on Twitter like an old married couple? Heh. Anyway, this time, the topic was “unexpectedly” bad economic news — something there’s seemingly been a lot of lately (see below) — and conservative mockery of the notion that it’s perpetually “unexpected.”


It all started with this tweet by me. Melissa responded. I responded back. Eventually, @PoliticalMath joined in (kinky!). The rest is history… history which I’ve decided to reproduce here. As I did last time, I’ve re-organized the tweets into paragraphs — combining multi-part tweets where appropriate (for instance, at one point I “say” three paragraphs in a row; that’s actually eight consecutive tweets) and moving things around a little bit in temporal order, so that the conversation will make sense to a reader. But again, I haven’t done any substantive retroactive editing. This is a faithful, and for the most part verbatim, representation of the conversation we had:

Me: I can’t decide whether I think this burgeoning conservative meme mocking the “unexpectedness” of “unexpected” economic news is dumb or not.

Melissa: I focused on the “unexpected” deal a couple months ago. The whole orientation is shock. If Republican it would be “expected.”

Me: See, it’s that argument that makes me think the meme is dumb. The “expectations” are coming from experts, not journalists. Or [from] market expectations. Economic news always has to be filtered through market/expert “expectations” because those are already priced into market, so bad news that’s unexpectedly good is “good,” and good news that’s expectedly bad is “bad.”

To claim this has something to do with media bias is, I’m sorry, absolute paranoia. Media bias exists, but this isn’t it. The media-bias analysis doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Media seeking to help Obama would PLAY DOWN expectations.

For the meme to have value, it must ask whether markets & experts (not MSM) are consistently too optimistic, and if so, why. You also need to look at instances when economic indicators have been “unexpectedly” GOOD, which has happened plenty of times during the Obama Administration, though less so in the last few months. It’s partisan tunnel vision to pretend otherwise.

Melissa: Quite simply: you’re wrong. I suggest that you go through the main newspapers’ interpretation of economics. When something bad happens, it’s always a shock, unexpected, downplayed.

Me: This is facially nonsensical. In news terms, “unexpected” is the OPPOSITE of “downplayed.” To downplay something, one must posit that it was “expected.” If bad news was expected, it can be downplayed. If it’s unexpected, it’s a bigger deal.

[Moreover,] I can recall plenty of times in ’09 when we were hearing about “unexpectedly good” economic news, when trend line was going up.

Melissa: Were President Obama a Republican, the headlines would be: “Worst economy ever” and there’d be stories about street people.

Me: That may be true, Melissa, but it’s a separate issue from the nonsensical & factually false claim that all bad economic news is ALWAYS reported (if under a Dem prez) as “unexpected,” and all “unexpected” news is ALWAYS bad news. That’s just false.

Melissa: You’re being logical and assuming the press is the same. They are emotional & surprised at any failure.

Me: No. This is nonsense. “Expectations” come from markets and experts, not the media. Your MSM obsession is blinding you. You are prone to lazy thinking about certain issues when you see a “media bias” angle. Not everything is about the media.

Political Math: I think @brendanloy is right on “expectations”. They come from economists, not the media. But I think @MelissaTweets is right, media is “downplaying” the economic situation, although that is mostly by omission.

Melissa: I disagree. It all depends on the economists questioned and the press chooses whose expectations get attention.

Me: You’re wrong, @politicalmath is right. MSM may well be “downplaying,” but that is a separate issue from “expectations” meme.

Melissa: You get 10 economists in a room, 10 opinions. The press picks a favorable economist & is surprised when wrong.

Me: Again: nonsense borne of lazy, MSM-obsessed thinking. There is an expert/market CW consensus, that’s what’s reported.

Political Math: The “expectations” come from the BLS… pretty well respected & non-partisan

More after the jump.

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May 17

Alan Sullivan “sliding to the end”?

Monday, May 17, 2010 at 3:39 pm Mountain Time

If I met Alan Sullivan, a.k.a. “Seablogger,” on the street — or at a Tea Party or a Sarah Palin rally, perhaps — I’d dismiss him as a right-wing nutjob. And perhaps I’d be right to do so: he does believe some things that I find profoundly wacky, indefensible even. As I wrote in a never-published draft from September 2009, when Alan was contemplating quasi-retirement from his blog: “He thinks Barack Obama is a subversive crypto-socialist whose policies will destroy America. He regards global warming as an enormous and obvious fraud. He thinks there is a vast nationwide Democratic conspiracy to steal elections.”

And yet, what shines through in Alan’s blogging, no matter how difficult I find it to square with all of the above, is that he is also an exceedingly thoughtful and intelligent person. Even when I think what he’s saying is absolutely bats**t crazy, the sharp intellect underlying his thought processes cannot be ignored or denied. Perhaps he has ideological blind spots — or, hell, perhaps I do! — and a hint of congenital zealotry. But he’s also a brilliant guy. In that sense, Alan challenges me in a way that few bloggers do. And I love reading his stuff.

It’s a complicated blog-reading relationship that I have with Alan, whom I discovered for the same reason that many people discovered me — hurricane-blogging — and who I’ve kept reading over the years not just because he’s a natural-disaster nut, a Tolkien fan, and a brilliant writer (although, that too), but because his take on the world is endlessly fascinating, even when I think it’s beyond wrong. Above all, Alan is a near-perfect blogger, with a remarkable knack for weaving in captivating discussions of his own life, alongside political flames, alongside miscellaneous thought-provoking posts about assorted and sundry topics, all without seeming narcissistic or navel-gazing in the slightest. In short, he accomplishes something I was once accused of: “Thousands of bloggers have failed to make themselves interesting enough to cause virtual strangers give a hoot about their lives, but you pull it off effortlessly.”

Alan is also, alas, dying. He’s been dying for quite a while — of leukemia — and has been very open about that fact. (His profound openness about his personal life is another of his great strengths as a blogger.) But, thankfully for all of us, he’s been taking his sweet time about it (dying, that is). At one point, Alan didn’t expect to see the 2008 hurricane season, still less the presidential election, through to its conclusion. But he did, and now here he is, still kickin’ as the 2010 season and the midterm elections approach. His unexpected longevity, a gift of modern medicine, has given his devoted community of “rare readers” a much longer-than-expected window to enjoy his continued musings on what he — and, for the most part, they — regard as a world in increasing turmoil and peril.

But, sadly, that window may finally be closing. In the wake of a new health crisis Friday, which sent him to the E.R. and eventually the I.C.U., Alan is now openly speculating that his time may be very short:

If discharged into hospice, which is quite likely, I will be sliding to the end, and bidding you adieu quite soon.

Let’s hope not. For all our disagreements about politics, I believe Alan is irreplaceable, and when he departs, it will be a great loss for the blogosphere. I wouldn’t say that about very many Palin-loving, Obama-hating, conspiracy-mongering right-wing zealots. But Alan Sullivan is sui generis. He is, for me, an enigma wrapped in a riddle: someone who, on paper, I should find intolerable due to his fringe politics, yet who, in reality, I find fascinating and compelling and captivating and wonderful. This post might sound a bit like a back-handed complement, but it’s really not. Alan is great, and I’ll truly miss him when he goes.

More importantly, perhaps, having converted abruptly from atheist to devout Christian in the course of his tribulations (and having has blogged movingly about the experience), Alan has been working on a comprehensive series of psalm translations, and needs “at least another month of work capability” to finish the project. It would be a damn shame if that work is cut short, as it clearly means a great deal to him, and to many of his readers. For my part, selfishly, I’d hate to lose his insights ahead of the 2010 hurricane season, which shows early signs of being an active one (unlike the last several duds).

In any case, this post is just a long-winded way of providing some sort of context in which to wish Alan the best, both in this world and — when it comes to it — the next. For now, I remain hopeful for a recovery.

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