March 21, 2005

Oliver Willis: If He's So Smart, Why Can't He Write?

IT'S TIME TO PLAY "FISH. BARREL. BANG!" in our afternoon series, "Inside Blogball."

I admit I haven't spent a lot of time with OLIVER "Like Kryptonite To Stupid" WILLIS LATELY, but then I haven't spent a lot of time with Cecil, the Seasick Sea Serpent lately either. In general, I find that dim children pretending to be smart are a chore. In fact, it is usually boring to spend time with anyone that, having a modicum of intelligence, likes to pretend they are smarter than they are. I fear that Oliver, like his namesake Hardy, falls into this latter category. Oliver Hardy's schtick, you might recall, was one of playing the ever-so-smart top banana to Stan Laurel. He always came a cropper.

Oliver Willis salutes this grand tradition daily on his strangely popular website. Travel there and you will see this bold banner waving over all:


Whenever, and I mean whenever, you encounter someone that cannot wait to let you know how smart he is, you know one thing; you are in the presence of an inferior intellect stapled on a preposterous personality. You know that unless, alas, you are stupid enough to be impressed by a person who tells you, "Damn it all, I am SMART! Inhale MOI!" Perhaps this, after all, accounts for Willis' popularity and the paltry quality of his comments.

Still, you'd think that even the marginally literate would be tipped off to this by Willis' unbroken 1,567 day streak of "I'm writing as bad as I can." You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.

This is probably because, deep down, Willis knows he's shallow and uses the cut-and-paste buffer as heavily as humanly possible. It's a wise move for Willis since, as the examples below illustrate, he's
not really at his best when directly engaging the keyboard. As a result his web page is, to say the least, a target-rich environment.

EXAMPLE A: Crooks and Liars has some video clips of the speeches given last night. What's interesting is that you'll see very little of this in the mainstream media, who's too busy currying favor with the right to actually -- do journalism.

Hint 1 -- "in the mainstream media which is too busy." This is the sort of locution that might easily lead Oliver to think that 'Who's Who' should be retitled "Who's Whom." Hint 2 -- You might want to -- remove the dash -- and think more about the leaden phrase "do journalism." Yes, that you might do -- if you do-do that voodoo that you do so well.

EXAMPLE B: No. No you didn't, you liar. There was tons of information at the time refuting Ahmad Chalabi's portrait of Hussein's nuclear capacity. You chose to ignore it and march with the party line. As a result of your reporting, there are now people dead.

Hint 1: "There was a ton of information..." -- or -- "There were tons of information." Either way, but pick one. I thought this was covered in the 3rd grade, with chances for remedial review in over many years. Hint 2: Oliver, slow down and try to picture the act of someone "marching" along right next to a "party line." If it is hard to visualize, you might not want to write it down. Hint 3. Guns don't kill people, reporting kills people. Well, it might be possible to bore someone to death with reporting, but so far we've got precious little documentation. However, it is just possible that Willis might be able to make a breakthrough here.

EXAMPLE C: This is an assault against our court system being supported by militia elements within our country.

Patriots must now stand up to defend this radical assault.

Hint: I'm just guessing here, but I think what he's stuttering on about is that "Patriots" [i.e. Willis and company] must stand up and resist this radical assault by "militia elements." Then again it could be "elements of the militia," although which militia is anybody's guess.

EXAMPLE E: As George Bush prepares to sign an unconstitutional law that invades the sovreignty of family and marriage, when he was governor of Texas he gave hospitals the right to kill their patients when they can no longer pay for the care.

Sigh. Again, this was covered in the 3rd grade, Oliver. You really needed to pay attention then, but there are many evening adult classes that cover English as a second language everywhere. What you've got here are two bad sentences stuck together with the Krazy Glue of a comma. What they add up to is anyone's guess, but I think he means "Bush. Him bad."

I am sure there is an endless supply of these bloopers and boners as deep as Willis's archives. Alas, there is a limit to the mind's capacity for bogglement. I've reached mine for the day.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 21, 2005 1:23 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

"There was tons of information" this locution would seem to be perfectly correct if the idea is that the information was just a big pile of stuff.
There was tons of coal in the yard - all in one pile of unknown size.
There were tons of coal in the yard - all neatly laid out in one ton piles.

A linguistics education is a terrible thing to use.

Posted by: Oscar at March 21, 2005 2:10 PM

There are the linguistics and then there are the writing gud.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at March 21, 2005 2:36 PM

Scroll down a bit on In the column on the right is a picture of "Your Host" Oliver Willis.

As much as I don't like making judgements of a person's qualities or nature based on his appearance, Mr. Willis choice of pictures demands I make an execption to the rule. A person, who of his own volition, uses a picture of himself looking like a smug brainiac is clearly a dumbass.

Posted by: JubJub at March 21, 2005 2:51 PM

Gerard, the prevailing level of English grammar is so low that Oliver probably ranks no worse than average. Who knows? In the company he keeps, he might well be considered a genius with words. Remember what that Florida Democratic Party mouthpiece said during the post-polling 2000 election agonies? "Democrat voters are stupider."

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at March 21, 2005 3:07 PM

Actually, Oliver ranks below average. I stopped reading him partly because of that. Then there are the asinine remarks he makes regarding any subject he deems too "stupid" to really get into--he makes a blanket statement about said subject's stupidity, and then leaves it up to his commenters to throw in whatever snark they can think of. At the end of the day, he's got himself a bonified bitchfest with zero substance.

And somehow he's getting thousands of hits a day. The world is a screwy place, it is.

Posted by: Jeremiah at March 21, 2005 3:36 PM

Is our children learning?

Posted by: George W. Bush at March 21, 2005 3:54 PM

Thanks, teach! Sheesh.

Posted by: Oliver at March 21, 2005 5:38 PM

Any time, kid.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at March 21, 2005 7:23 PM

Be easy on the kid, Gerard. After all, he told PBS:

"Other than opinion journalism, there isn't much investigation to be found in the blog world. It exists, but is usually done by people who make their living doing journalism (like Josh Marshall of The rest of us act more as interpreters of the news that comes down from the big companies (AP, Reuters, New York TIMES, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY). I don't define this interpretation as 'journalism,' unless we're willing do define 'mouthing off' (what most bloggers really do) as journalism. To compare my mouthing off with people actually doing work is pretty silly."

So there you have it. He mouths off and insists that's all the rest of we bloggers do, too.

My personal recommendation is that he could at least get a picture of himself taken in a collared shirt, or a suit and tie. Yeesh.

Posted by: Perry at March 22, 2005 12:02 AM

Add a bag and you're there.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at March 22, 2005 12:12 AM

O-Dub is, for me, something of a guilty pleasure. When I want to measure the left's incoherence on an issue, he can usually provide Exhibit A near the top of his blog. When I want to read the same incoherence translated into competent English, I read Wolcott. When I want to judge how deep the paranoia runs, I look it up on Democratic Underground. Then there's Yglesias: smart, well-educated, polite, erudite, and consistently wrong.

Posted by: The Colossus at March 22, 2005 3:38 AM

Masterful, Gerard, just masterful.

You is a grate riter. I wishes I could rite like you.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at March 22, 2005 8:53 PM

You want an example of who Oliver Willis is emulating?

Posted by: Henry Scharf at March 23, 2005 1:16 PM

Gerard, did I miss example D?

Posted by: Bravo Romeo Delta at March 25, 2005 8:25 PM

Just curious...if the point of this page is to prove that you're more meticulous in grammar than another person, wouldn't it make sense to spell "Oliver" correctly in the headline instead of "Olvier?" Or is it somehow very subtle humor that I'm missing?

Posted by: phidler at July 29, 2005 8:46 AM

Noted and corrected. Thanks.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at July 29, 2005 8:58 AM