LETTERS, WE GET LETTERS, WE GET STACKS AND STACKS OF LETTERS. Here's the latest mail pile:
Brian K., of Kansas, is understandably riled at the use of non-sports imagery in hailstone description:
"I live in the good ol' Imperialistic-innocent-Taliban-al Quaeda-bombing-corporate-my way or the highway-USA and must admit that I'm a sports-lingo hail describing old-timer.
"So you understand that it made me uneasy when I noticed people describing hail as anatomical sized thingees. It just sets a bad precedent."
That it does, Brian. Journalist Mike W., of Melbourne, Australia, asks:
"I have noticed from feedback I have received for my columns that some people seem to have a great deal of trouble reading what I actually wrote. So I get these criticisms for things I didn't write and didn't imply. Is this your experience?"
Welcome to my world, Mike. It's as though some readers are responding to a column composed by the voices in their heads rather than the text before them. How do you answer criticism of something you never said? I've taken to responding in enigmatic Haikus. Ray writes, in an email sent to me, Layne, and Welch:
"I really only know you from what you've put out there. I've read a lot. I honor what you have."
We aim to please. Randy A., of South Carolina, offered this in an email discussion sparked by my noticing that the anti-Bush comments posted on various websites had suddenly vanished:
"The NSA does have some of the most industrious, most intelligent computer people that exist on the planet. They specifically recruit people who can crack CIA and NSA databases. It would not surprise me in the least if the Secret Service called in a favor and had those messages stripped. They probably have a policy of ‘knock once, kick twice’ if their demands, and I'm sure they make demands, are not met immediately. These guys terrify me with the things they can do."
Doug F., of The South, commiserates over Australia's dull naming conventions and provides this antidote:
"As a Care Package, I'm sending along a bit of our southern U.S. dirt track car-racing hard-drinkin' culture: I hereby rename you Nitro-Burning Funny Blair!
"'Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! See Nitro-Burning Funny Blair rip up the track in a flaming blogger showdown that will blow … you … away! Be therrrre! Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!'
"You may substitute 'Oi!' for 'Sunday!' if you can't restrain yourself."
Watch out, Big Daddy Don Garlits! Chris C., of Australia, has travelled widely in Muslim countries, and suggests the following to any Western burka apologists:
"Any Christian or non-Muslim who confuses this hideous outfit with issues of 'race' or religious 'freedom' is an ignorant dangerous fool. I suggest he/she don a burka for a month and then come back and talk some more!"
From Alan R., in the US, some sound fiscal advice re Australia's government covering Aussie Al Qaeda fighter David Hicks's legal costs:
"Well, I hope they do. That may just free up some of our Yank dollars to find more of the baddies."
He has a point, as does Alan A., who says this about McDonald's and globalisation:
"Many companies (especially - surprise, surprise - in Europe) channel money into the coffers of the anti-globalisation mob in return for an exemption from being targeted. If there was ever a cause for shareholder activism, it is to punish the sources of this corporate danegeld.
"One group of S11 protestors (the weedy pot-smoking variety, not the ones who fly planes into buildings) arranged to meet post-protest to review over dinner that day's trashing of a McDonald's outlet. The venue for their meeting: another McDonald's."
Lachlan C. disputes my qualifications as a "journalist, commentator, oppressor". He writes:
"Why not try 'servant, apologist and egotist'? In particular, save words like 'oppressor' for people who deserve it."
I'll work harder at oppressing, Lachlan. Terry O., of Alabama, sends Australia some deeply appreciated thanks for the kindness shown to his father by Aussie soldiers:
"Thank you for the hospitality your countrymen showed to my father while he was stationed in New Guinea during World War II. My dad was always difficult to impress, but Australian soldiers managed to do a good job of it. My dad and his buddies were always on the lookout for food of any sort, occasionally even resorting to conducting unauthorized clandestine interservice requisitions of Army food. Your countrymen, however, extended to him and his friends the kindness of sharing their own meager rations. My dad figured anyone who could enjoy eating tainted canned mutton as much as those Australians were very near to superhumans. Unfortunately, he was not quite up to superhuman status, so he politely refused.
"The thoughtfulness was still greatly appreciated, however, so on his behalf, thank you."
Thank you, Terry. Greg S., of Illinois, identified a Rallism I neglectfully failed to attack:
"The best part of Rall's quote is this: '...[W]e were the only people who were going to be their advocates and tell the truth for them ...' That's the age old cost of left-liberalism: being hated by the people you want to help because they're not smart enough to tell you from the right wingers who want to crush them. That's just the burden of being the smartest man in the world, one supposes."
Sam B., of antiwar,com, sends this:
"You might want to check out Justin Raimondo's January 16 column on ‘Warbloggers,’ which mentions InstaPundit."
Or I might want to shove urine-soaked punji spikes into my eyes. Depends how I’m feeling on the day. John M., of New South Wales, commends me on "Very funny stuff, Tim!" but asks:
"What does Blog mean?"
I'd tell you, John, but then I'd have to kill you. And Raimondo as well, just for the hell of it. Elizabeth B., of Melbourne, sent this in response to a piece published in Melbourne:
"Just read your column in The Age....... YOU ROCK TIM BLAIR!!! Our entire office agrees."
That they are rocked is welcome news. Alan M., of America's midwest, corrects terminological ignorance I revealed in a slight against Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin:
"I have seen 'on the beach' used as a figure of speech to mean 'unemployed' or the equivalent of the sports term 'benched'".
Now I know. Apologies to Mr. Breslin. While we're on apologies, Ted B. says I've misled readers over sweatshops:
"I read the actual article you were linking to, and I'll be damned if I can find the part where it indicates that anti-globalists, feminists or student protesters have a thing to do with these people losing their jobs. It looks to me like they lost their jobs because of a global trend in imports.
"If you want to make the point that so-called 'sweatshops' are the best option that many Third-World workers have, go for it. But why blame people who had nothing to do with it? While you're at it, why not blame pro-choice activists, gays, and the ACLU? Why not skip the middleman and blame Hillary directly?
"In my opinion, this kind of rhetoric is illogical and misleading at best, deceptive at worst. It makes you look bad."
He's right. I should have made a greater distinction between the aims of the sweatshop activists and the outcomes in Bangladesh, which were largely driven by market forces. Simon S. noted the same:
"I may be misreading the news articles, but it looks like they are referring to a general slowdown, rather than anything related to the anti-sweatshop campaigns; the textile import quotas are good old fashioned regular protectionism, and were in place long before anyone the textile unions felt a need to recruit college kids as fronts."
Carey G. declares that the US President has clearly grown in office:
"Better to faint in private in the White House after eating pretzels than to vomit in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister on the evening news. Who says Dubya hasn't learned anything from his father?"
I should get out more often, says John M., of Tokyo, especially when the cultural elites are gathering:
"I hope you will continue to crash these 'cultural elite' events/parties, wherever they are held. You need to be a little more mindful of your manners though. How boorish of you to inject common sense into the 'courageous,' 'imaginative' dialogue of cultural figures."
Jim G., from the state of Washington, is another fan of elite mockery:
"Lileks put me onto your site. Good stuff ... especially your 'debate' on Thursday. Keep up the insightful, yet funny, postings. I try to check everyday. And we're keeping good thoughts for you on getting those fires put out."
Jim's thoughts are powerful – within days of receiving this, the fires were indeed put out. Greg L., of Sydney, actually witnessed the much-remarked upon debate live on TV:
"The few seconds that I saw made my feel like throwing my TV out the window … I think it just shows how vacuous and dumb our so-called intellectuals are. They have nothing to say, because as far as I could see, nothing was said."
Henry C., of France, is a tough audience:
"Sometimes I chuckle when reading online. Occasionally, I laugh. I howled reading your injections into the ABC novelists' debate."
The mysteriously-named "chorgan" has previous Australian experience:
"Mate, I haven't had so much fun with OZ land since I sat between a lad from Melb and another from Syd. Digger this and Mate that. At least I learned the difference between beer and Australian for beer."
Bill P. struggled to cope with the reality of the debate:
"I love the panel discussion. But wasn't it hard to make up all the other panelists? They sound like a bunch of thin-skulled mouth-breathers from here in the U.S."
Daniel S. has similar concerns:
"I know the anwer, but please tell me that you made the entire conversation up. Or that they were drunk, stoned, and had been hit in the head with tire irons before they came on screen. It was horrifying. I thought that sort of drivel only appeared here in the States on Sunday morning bloviating TV talk shows. And you forced yourself to listen and watch. Brave man."
Alex B., of Detroit, has issues with one panelist, the writer John Birmingham:
"Could you point me to a website or book so I can read about the time that Queensland groaned under the Iron Heel? John Birmingham talks about his travails growing up under no doubt police state conditions in Queensland.
"I'd like to find out more about this because I've labored under the impression that all of Australia has been democratic for quite some time. I'd appreciate your guidance so I can better admire those who resisted the horror."
Floyd M. asks:
"By the way, shouldn't Australian Naming Rules make you a 'bloggie'?"
Everything is up for review, Floyd, under the terms of the Australian Creative Names Project 2002. Bill W., of Canada, sends the Project this warning:
"Here in Canada, and in the States, renaming has led to such dismal titles as the Air Canada Centre, GM Place, the Pepsi Centre, and so on. Personally, I would prefer the less imaginative Really Big Mountain to Mount Microsoft, or the Hockey Rink to the Ford Arena, or even the Watery Lake to Lake Cisco Systems. So be careful."
Will do, Bill. "Aarmstead" puts an early suggestion before the Project's panel of experts:
"Please find room for a Kangaroo Court."
Angie S., of Sydney, wants the Project itself to be given a new title:
"As long as you're renaming things, you can rename your naming project. May I suggest you call it the Creative Renaming of Australia Project? You can't go wrong with a zippy acronym."
Hmmm … Creative Renaming of Australia Project … that would give us C, R, A … oh, my Lord! We’ve descended into vulgarity! Russell L. urges that the Project be abandoned:
"I derive great joy and satisfaction from the great Australian tradition of not just calling a spade a spade but going all the way to calling it a f**king shovel. Please do not persist in your campaign to add layers of obfuscation to the clarity that we currently enjoy.
"I like it that I don't have to pause between words, that my fellow Australians can understand me when I say 'Canihavetwoschoonersofoldndacuplapiespleezluv' or 'Packatwistiesandablueheaventhickshaketogo'. I like it that the length of my sentences is only limited by my depth of breath.
"I like it that I can answer basically any question with 'No worries!' I like it that I can call anyone from the Prime Minister to the man cleaning a septic tank, 'Mate' without causing offence.
"I like it that teaching bushcraft to my sons includes cool warnings such as 'beware the fangs of the deadly leaping spider'.
"And finally, I like it that I can look at a place on a map and have a pretty good idea of what it would look like if I went there. I like it that if I see a sign saying 'Caution - blue ringed octopus', I know that I have to avoid octopuses with blue rings. Home, simplicity, joy!"
Too late, Russell. The Australian Creative Naming Project 2002 has already proposed that the blue-ringed octopus be known hence as the "Saturnian Sea Spider". Either that or "Robert Fisk". We haven't quite decided.