Monday, November 06, 2006

Oh, The Humanity

Canada does sometimes churn out right-wing loons who somehow make a dent in international commentary. Mark Steyn is one, a columnist for Canada's Maclean's magazine and for a variety of other publications in the US and in Britain.

Steyn has a new book out, which Maclean's was willing to give a cover over to. The description for America Alone on Amazon says, "In this, his first major book, Mark Steyn--probably the most widely read, and wittiest, columnist in the English-speaking world--takes on the great poison of the twenty-first century: the anti-Americanism that fuels both Old Europe and radical Islam. America, Steyn argues, will have to stand alone. The world will be divided between America and the rest; and for our sake America had better win."

I'm not going to read the book; therefore, I'm not going to comment on the book. Yeah, I sometimes read Steyn's column in Maclean's (a magazine which has lately descended into a dismal mix of right-wing nagging and over-excited star gawking), but only because it's that or People on a 15 minute break at work. And the People articles are too in-depth for 15 minutes.

One column of Steyn's I did happen to read was this one, where he goes on about the apparent tragedy of Heather Reisman deciding not to carry his book. For those of you not familiar with the Canadian book biz, Reisman is the owner of the Chapter's/Indigo chain, Canada's equivalent to Borders or B&N.

Now, I say Reisman made this decision only because Steyn says it. Steyn's evidence for this is that Reisman "is famous for ostentatiously announcing the simultaneous banning from all her chains of Mein Kampf." Not that she actually, you know, announced that her stores wouldn't stock Steyn's book. But because one happened, it is apparent to Steyn that the other must follow.

I find it interesting here to see that Steyn has somehow compared his book to Mein Kampf. He surely didn't intend this, and even tosses off what he thinks is a clever little joke about the Arabic edition of that book being a best-seller in the Middle East. But the joke doesn't do much of anything to cover this rather funnier comparison. Indeed, what could have been a way to capture our sympathy (Look! My book has been banned!) is instead an eyeroll-inducing moment of surprising ineptitude (Look! Hitler's been treated poorly, and so have I!).

But did he really not intend this? Brown people are a bit of an issue with Steyn, almost as nasty as liberals. Brown people who are Islamic are, of course, the most suspect.

Let's stretch the connection a little more: Steyn's book is published by that hotbed of progressive thinking, Regnery Publishing. Not familiar with Regnery? They made a name for themselves a couple of years ago by publishing the book that so famously "swift boated" John Kerry during the '04 Presidential race in the US. William Regnery II is also well-known for supporting racist causes.

Regnery is also not a large publisher - if they'd not had the swift boat book get a boost from all the right wing cranks in the US media, I doubt they'd even know what a bestseller looks like today - and they don't have an extensive distribution system. Checking their site, I don't see any sign of Canadian distribution, which means that any orders Canadian stores wish to place likely have to go through either Regnery or else through an American distributor like Baker and Taylor, both of which are a pain in the ass.

Steyn is proud that this is his first major book, although he has had previous collections out. I guess moving from Stockade Books to Regnery is a bit of a jump in his eyes, although it surprises me that someone who's been catching so much attention lately would go with Regnery rather than a bigger publisher, say one owned by Fox's Rupert Murdoch, like HarperCollins, since they have a solid distribution system.

I have no access to the sales numbers for Steyn's previous books, but a part of me wonders if perhaps they were a little bit - let me cast about for an appropriate word here - crappy. Sure, they're high now; Amazon shows that there's spillover from his new book. But it's always possible that he wasn't that big a seller in his previous incarnation. In which case, it makes sense that a real publisher wouldn't take a flyer on him, or that a book chain wouldn't be interested in carrying his book. I take a moment here to note that something similar has just happened to my
friend Peter Watts (scroll down to "The Scoop on Distribution").

All of this can be seen as almost encouraging for writers. Hey, I can get back on that horse and sell books again! But then, perhaps, the writer will view things and wonder just how bad he has to prostitute himself, how ugly and nasty he has to be to get people to buy his books. And suddenly it all deflates.

In the end, Steyn's column reads as little more than whining combined with nyah-nyah in-your -face BS. They won't carry my book! Waah! But I still sell lots of copies of my book! So there! It's frustrating to see a national news magazine that used to (and yeah, sometimes still) do serious reporting carry such a self-serving puff piece. It's designed to do nothing but get a few digs in at a business person Steyn has an apparent dislike for (Reisman and her husband only recently switched from supporting the Liberals for the Conservatives, based strictly on PM Harper's support for Israel), to sell books, and to puff up his self-importance.

This last is most evident at the end of the column, starting with his brag that he's already a Canadian best seller, and followed by his comment that he "could be the first Canadian author to win the Governor General's Award without ever selling a copy in a Canadian bookstore."

Or, more likely, he won't be considered for the G-G. Or for the Giller, or for any other Canadian lit prize of any importance. Maybe he'll get lucky and find a certificate of praise in his next package of Crackerjacks.

Steyn is genuinely very funny and surgically finds the core of an issue, better than most. He's widely read and adored for his thinking but more for his wordsmanship. You might try reading Steyn's book first but no you already know all you need to. Get off of your left and right cloud. That's getting so old. So far your moral superiority has garnered your blog 784 visits since 2004. Wonder how many ...never came back to read you again. So a little extracted tidbit of Steyn from the MSM today.

"Right now the Democratic Party needs the Senator to move. Preferably to the South Sandwich Islands, until Tuesday evening, or better still early 2009.

He won't, of course. A vain thin-skinned condescending blueblood with no sense of his own ridiculousness, Senator Nuancy Boy is secure in little else except his belief in his indispensability. We've all heard the famous "joke" now: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." (Rimshot!) Yet, tempting as it is to enjoy his we-support-our-dumb-troops moment as merely the umpteenth confirmation of the Senator's unerring ability to SwiftBoat himself, it belongs in a slightly different category of Kerry gaffe than, say, the time they went into Wendy's and Teresa didn't know what chili was.

Whatever he may or may not have intended (and "I was making a joke about how stupid Bush is but I'm the only condescending liberal in America too stupid to tell a Bush-is-stupid joke without blowing it" must rank as one of the all-time lame excuses) what he said fits what too many upscale Dems believe: that America's soldiers are only there because they're too poor and too ill-educated to know any better. That's what they mean when they say "we support our troops" β€” they support them as victims, as children, as potential welfare recipients, but they don't support them as warriors and they don't support the mission.

So their "support" is objectively worthless. The indignant protest that "of course" "we support our troops" isn't support, it's a straddle, and one that emphasizes the Democrats' frivolousness in the post-9/11 world. A serious party would have seen the jihad as a profound foreign-policy challenge they needed to address credibly. They could have found a Tony Blair β€” a big mushy-leftie pantywaist on health and education and all the other sissy stuff, but a man at ease with the projection of military force in the national interest. But we saw in Connecticut what happens to Democrats who run as Blairites: you get bounced from the ticket. In the 2004 election, instead of coming to terms with it as a national security question, the Democrats looked at the War on Terror merely as a Bush wedge issue they needed to neutralize. And so they signed up with the weirdly incoherent narrative of John Kerry β€” a celebrated anti-war activist suddenly "reporting for duty" as a war hero and claiming that, even though the war was a mistake and his comrades were murderers and rapists, his four months in the Mekong rank as the most epic chapter in the annals of the Republic.

It's worth contrasting the fawning media admiration for Kerry's truncated tour of duty with their total lack of interest in Bob Dole's years of service two Presidential campaigns earlier. That convention night in Boston was one of the freakiest presentations in contemporary politics: a man being greeted as a combination of Alexander the Great and the Duke of Wellington for a few weeks' service in a war America lost. But Kerry is the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the Democratic straddle, of the we-oppose-the-war-but-support-our-troops line. That's why anti-war Dems, outspinning themselves, decided they could support a soldier who opposed a war. And as Kerry demonstrates effortlessly every time he opens his mouth, if you detach the heroism of a war from the morality of it, what's left but braggadocio? Or, as the Senator intoned to me back in New Hampshire when I tried to ask what he would actually do about Iraq, Iran or anything else, "Sometimes truly courageous leadership means having the courage not to show any leadership." (I quote from memory.)"
Cosmic Energy help us! Yikes
William Regnery II was apparently never affiliated with the publishing company, and was a cousin/nephew of the founders. He is not listed at the website of having anything to do with the company. Pat Sajak, the Wheel of Fortune host, is on the board of Regnery Publishing. Regnery put out many bestsellers during the Clinton years.
Save me from folk who misread the entire thing, to say nothing of the urge to whip it out and compare its length. Here's news: I don't care how many visitors I've gotten, and its not really the issue here.

I'll agree that Steyn can indeed sometimes be funny, but that also wasn't the issue here, and I certainly didn't need to see reposted a lengthy "tidbit" from Steyn. A pointer works just as well, for those of you who somehow have lost your reasoning abilities.

As far as best-sellers goes, OK, if Anonymous #2 (oh, the crazy individuality of these Republicans) says Regnery had some during the Clinton years. Fine. But the whole, real, concept here is one that Steyn tried to deal with, which is Sales In Canada.

All that said, Pat Sajak sits on Regnery's Board. With that bit of news, how could I ever have thought ill of them?
Why does everyone always claim Steyn is funny/witty/"surgically" discerning? I find him unfailingly juvenile. "Sneering" is not wit.
This MARK STEYN guy is a long-winded, bitter, vague moron. He’s so full of himself!!! And really, not a great writer. YIKES!!! him. You write 100 times better than this idiot.
Didn't mean to slam the guy's writing as "anonymous"...let me sign my name....
Thomas Trofimuk
Steyn's writing is self-important, pretentious, self-pitying, whinning, puling crap....But hey, I haven't read everything from him. Maybe he actually stops whining and writes....
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