In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day One | Main | A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Three »

October 17, 2006

A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Two

Michael Blowhard writes:

It's Day Two of Bill Kauffman Week here at 2Blowhards.

I introduced the political writer Bill Kauffman in a recent posting. Part One of our interview with Bill is here. Now on to Part Two.


A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Two


Bill Kauffman, photographed by daughter Gretel

2Blowhards: What kind of a kid were you, and what led you to venture out of Western NY? I'm not a political person, but I can imagine that if you find politics intoxicating you might want to head to the big city.
Bill Kauffman:
l loved baseball and reading and football and astronomy. I grew up a block from Dwyer Stadium, home of the Batavia Trojans (now Muckdogs) of the oldest continuously operating Class A baseball league. 'Twas in my blood. We had lots of kids in the neighborhood and my brother and I and the gang would play ball from dawn to dusk.

My parents were (are) terrific; my relatives all lived nearby.

So I always had an intense attachment to Batavia. My dad used to point out the significance of spots that to outsiders would seem humdrum. That's where the town whore lived. That's where Donny Bosseler (Batavia's greatest athlete, later a Washington Redskin) used to practice. That's where a guy hanged himself. So I grew up with a sense that Batavia was a place of mystery, repository of every story you could hope to tell. It wasn't just a launching pad.

I did leave home, though like Jack Kerouac I have always been homesick. Upon graduating from the University of Rochester I went to work as a research assistant and later legislative assistant for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, about whom I have written with an occasionally admiring ambivalence. Though Moynihan was rude to underlings -- an unforgivable offense; there is no bigger asshole than the sort of personal-parking-space executive who yells at the secretary, is there? -- he was not an oozing sac of liberal cliches in the way that Ted Kennedy was. And his staff was filled with bright, amiable folks.

I enjoyed my two and a half years in the employ of the Senatron, but if I entered a liberal with a rural populist streak I left an anarchist. Still am 23 years later. (Though I'd also confess to being a Jeffersonian, a decentralist, a localist, a cultural regionalist.)

Moynihan, by the way, was the only statewide politician in years to understand Upstate. He claimed to be the Senate's only dairy farmer, though I can't really see him at 4:45 a.m. squat on the stool coaxing milk from Bessie. That his seat is now occupied by the carpetbagging militarist Hillary Clinton is a disgrace. She has blood on her talons.

2B: What was the big-city, glam-job world like to you? Early in my life in NYC I had drinks with a young woman, a NYC native. We were swapping the usual biographical stories. When I revealed where I grew up she said, "Of course you hated it there." I said, "No I didn't. I loved it. Horizons were a little narrow, but I loved it." She looked me deep in the eyes and said, "No. You hated it."
Ah, NYC. The Vampire City. That wart, that chancre, that evil carcinoma befouling the face of the earth, as Edward Abbey once rhapsodized. The domination -- or should I say perversion, or poisoning -- of American culture by the Manhattan-based corporate media has been an absolute catastrophe. God I hate that place. I travel thereto only under duress, and escape with a breathless celerity.

I mean, look: my America is Johnny Appleseed and Sinclair Lewis and Bob Dylan and Mother Jones and H.L. Mencken. NYC is network TV and Rosie O'Donnell and knocking down and paving over anything -- even graves -- just to make a buck. It's Henry Luce's Time-Life empire, which propagandized for war -- any war, every war -- and did its damnedest to substitute its upper-case Life for our lower-case lives. NYC contains people who think Philip Roth is a good novelist. Inexplicable. But you know what: I'm willing to leave NYC alone if it will leave us alone. Alas, it won't.

That girl you spoke to was a fool. Hating one's hometown is a sickness. One need not idealize it: God knows I don't, certainly not in "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette." Batavia is scarred, even mutilated. Often unlovely. But why are we here if not to love the unlovable?

As far as DC goes, it's undeniably an exciting place for 22-year-olds. The music scene was okay back in my salad days: this was during the heyday of the 930 Club. But Buffalo had a far livelier punk/new wave sound -- The Enemies, The Jumpers, New Math from over in Rochester. I always had the sneaking suspicion that the lead guitarist in DC bands was a GS-12 dreaming of an assistant undersecretaryship.

And as for NYC ... I'll take my stand with Rank and File. "Did you ever see a sheep in a porkpie hat / Ever see a lemming dressed all in black / You mighta been there but I'll tell you just in case / Just take a walk down St. Mark's Place."


Wikipedia's entry on Bill Kauffman is a good one. It also includes a useful set of links to online articles by Bill. I'm especially fond of this rousing declaration of love and defiance, and this smaller-is-better rant in favor of localism and devolution.

Bill's books are buyable here, here, here, here, here, and here. I suggest starting with "Dispatches From the Muckdog Gazette" and/or "Look Homeward, America!" But, really, you can't go wrong.

Bill and a bunch of fellow "reactionary radicals" (including Clark Stooksbury, John Zmirak, and Caleb Stegall) blogged for a while here.

Many thanks to Dave Lull for setting up this interview. Please return tomorrow for Part Three of five.

posted by Michael at October 17, 2006


Kauffman is annoying and amusing at the same time, which I guess is a compliment.

Posted by: the patriarch on October 17, 2006 11:32 AM

Daniel Patrick's farm was on the western fringe of the Catskills -- well, maybe "beyond the fringe" -- near Oneonta and near my Ex's family's farm. Nowhere near Batavia. If he only had been a Batavia boy ...

I haven't read much of Kauffman's stuff, but the interview as it stands suggests that Bill belongs in 1938: he seems more in synch with that era's culture and politics.

Actually, I myself have a "false nostalgia" for the Thirties even though I only spent about 60 days there.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 17, 2006 11:41 AM

My neighbor across the street is from Kauffman's country (calls himself "Froggie" and instructed me that French-descent people there are considered automatically to be on the shady side) but my outlook on life is a lot more than his like Kauffman's -- though I grew up in gray Portland, OR, lost some of my heart to timber and valley Roseburg, OR, and finally settled down on the edge of the Blackfeet Rez in Montana which Kauffman probably knows little or nothing about. That's the terrain refrain.

Ethnically, I'm a reasonable and progressive Scot on one side and a contentious and fiery Prot Irish on the other, which strangely brings me out near Kauffman again.

I wonder whether he hasn't gotten a hold on a set of atttitudes that are more prevalent in America than suspected. I wonder how we can fan their embers into flames.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on October 17, 2006 11:54 AM

Kauffman notes certain pernicious things about NYC but fails utterly to understand that many NYC residents are as devoted as he is to the timeless verities, hate most of the things he hates, and strive to protect the better angels of the city's character with as much energy and commitment as he endorses the virtues of Batavia. Sheesh. Wal-Mart is as much anathema to the classic Brooklyn high street as it is to Batavia. Kauffman either doesn't know that or doesn't care, but in either case should check his vitriol against reality. I loathe Rosie O'Donnell as much as Kauffman does, loathe Wal-Mart even more, and see most of the worst of what's happening to America as emanating from the regional hinterlands, e.g. Bentonville, Arkansas, which exerts such anti-regionalist power that it and not NYC now is in possession of Asher Durand's greatest painting. NYC is as much about those who fight tooth and claw over the ruthless land-grabbers as it is about the land-grabbers. In addition, were it not for NYC Kauffman would likely never have encountered Sinclair Lewis, H.L. Mencken, or Bob Dylan. He might even say thank you. You can't have NYC one way only: We are as much about Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan as we are about Henry Luce. That's exactly the kind of thing a real anarchist would understand.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on October 17, 2006 3:04 PM

Not done yet.

"But why are we here if not to love the unlovable?"

My sentiments exactly.

Incidentally, *NYC*, I might point out, is hometown to a great many people.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on October 17, 2006 3:08 PM

Prarie Mary- The only politician on the national stage articulating Kauffman's vision is Pat Buchanan, who got less than 1% of the vote last time he ran. I'm with ricpic on BK: he's a regionalist crank good for a laugh. I might start taking him seriously if Mr & Mrs Blowhard decide to ditch Gotham and start up a weekly newspaper in upstate Dullsburg. As they used to say in that neck of the woods:
"Something to talk about all day and never do."

Posted by: James M on October 17, 2006 3:30 PM

Hmmmm. I feel it is my patriotic duty to cut 'n' paste the following - with your kind permission, of course:

Keep your splendid, silent sun;
Keep your woods, O Nature, and the quiet places by the woods;
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn-fields and orchards;
Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields, where the Ninth-month bees hum;
Give me faces and streets! give me these phantoms incessant and endless along the trottoirs!
Give me interminable eyes! give me women! give me comrades and lovers by the thousand!
Let me see new ones every day! let me hold new ones by the hand every day!
Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhattan!
Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching—give me the sound of the trumpets and drums!
(The soldiers in companies or regiments—some, starting away, flush’d and reckless;
Some, their time up, returning, with thinn’d ranks—young, yet very old, worn, marching, noticing nothing;)
—Give me the shores and the wharves heavy-fringed with the black ships!
O such for me! O an intense life! O full to repletion, and varied!
The life of the theatre, bar-room, huge hotel, for me!
The saloon of the steamer! the crowded excursion for me! the torch-light procession!
The dense brigade, bound for the war, with high piled military wagons following;
People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions, pageants;
Manhattan streets, with their powerful throbs, with the beating drums, as now;
The endless and noisy chorus, the rustle and clank of muskets, (even the sight of the wounded;)
Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus—with varied chorus, and light of the sparkling eyes;
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.

Uncle Walt said that.

Posted by: Brian on October 17, 2006 5:17 PM

Hey, love Bill Kauffman, and I am a huge fan of western NY, but I want to gently echo Francis here. As a fourth-generation Brooklynite (married to a fourth generation Manhattanite), a Kauffman-esque vision leaves me enthralled and persuaded but a little confused at the same time. Where am I supposed to go? I can't leave my hometown (though my mother's people are from niagara falls, so I suppose that's something...) Anyway, I hope Bill keeps up the good work; there's a real American tradition in his writing.

Posted by: Gerald on October 17, 2006 5:41 PM

Bill wrote this in response to a New York City Localist at the web site:

"Glad to meet you, disembodiedly speaking, John. A good man always defends his home and I think you’ve made an excellent defense, a la Jane Jacobs and Norman Mailer, of the human-scale face of NYC.

"As a small-town Upstater who sees the Vampire City as the symbol of modernism, giantism, and skyscraperism, I’ll always be in the Edward Abbey camp re: NYC (”this wart, this chancre, this evil carcinoma,” as I believe one of Abbey’s odes to Manhattan went), but I concede, happily, that parts of your city have retained distinct identities long after much of Middle America has faded into the Great American Nothingness. And hey, three of the book’s guiding spirits (Dorothy Day, Mailer, and Paul Goodman) are New Yorkers, not to mention Al Smith, Kirk Sale, and Daniel Problematic Moynihan. Shortly after 9/11, Karl Zinsmeister and I made a couple of visits to NYC, not only to watch Syracuse lose in the Big East tournament but also to write about what the Conservative Party activist George Marlin calls the city’s Chestertonian 'little green patches.' A version of my piece is at"

Posted by: Dave Lull on October 17, 2006 7:01 PM

There are a lot of French names here in smalltown Minnesota (about 3-5%) and I've always wondered what the story is. They're all local with no memory of a Canadian connection. I know that until very recently there were French-speaking towns in Illinois and Missouri. I asked a LaMier guy about it and he seemed a teentsy bit touchy. One of the many Didiers here was interested, but didn't know anything.

Posted by: John Emerson on October 17, 2006 7:12 PM

Francis, I appreciate the sentiment, but can't agree with your take on Brooklyn and Wallmart.
First, most of Brooklyn is downright ugly. Endless blocks of 1- and 2-family houses built in the 50's a la Tudor make my stomach churn - and that's in so called "decent" neighborhoods. Commercial streets are not less revolting; have you been recently on 86th street, King's H'way or Flatbush/Fulton? Have you taken an elevated "F" to Ditmas? Park Slope is just a tiny, insignificantly tiny part of Brooklyn.
Second. Big-box stores like Walmart fit very well into Brooklyn landscape: look at Costco on 3rd Ave. It's just one in the row of ugly multi-story manufacturing buildings; at least it doesn't have broken windows and peeling paint. All this prime-location land on the waterfront, which in the cities like Miami would display her proudest and most beautiful (and expensive, yes) buildings - here, mile after mile, is polluted by beer warehouses.
I'm fed up with Brooklyn.

Posted by: Tat on October 17, 2006 8:11 PM

Tat, if you weren't born to the place, Brooklyn probably is downright ugly. But if you were born to it, as I was, it's a stab in the heart. There's no way to defend that sentiment, or convert the outlander to it. That's just the way it is. That's "the beauty part."

Posted by: ricpic on October 17, 2006 9:45 PM

Tat, as you know, I know every inch of Brooklyn. And actually vast tracts of it are beautiful, though I grant there's plenty of ugliness too--just like up there in Kauffmanville. We have had a major high-street revival in the last ten years. Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, Flatbush and Church Avenues, and others are positively electric. I'd hate to see the impact of multiple big boxes on these neighborhood streets. But my point wasn't about whether Brooklyn is beautiful or not, or even about the merits of Costco in Sunset Park, or about whether anyone is sick of Brooklyn or not--all interesting questions. It is about Kauffman's disingenuous characterization of New York as being all about Luce and Rosie when in fact it is about so much more, including, for God's sake, Dorothy Day, whom Kauffman *professes* to admire.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on October 17, 2006 9:50 PM

If Kauffman really looks to Norman Mailer as a 'guiding spirit' and shares many ideological similarities with Gore Vidal then I will take my leave of him and his confused politics. Mailer and Vidal were two of the biggest purveyors of nonsense in the 20th Century.

Kauffman has a hard time explaining his own views and continually dropping names of those past and present with whom he agrees and disagrees doesn't help much.

Posted by: grandcosmo on October 17, 2006 10:09 PM

John Emerson, In western Wisconsin the French influence is from the early fur traders. The Mississippi was the main highway then. Likely the same in Minnesota.

Posted by: Bradamante on October 18, 2006 9:45 AM

Rick, didn't intend to stab you in the heart.
Yes, I know, some people love the place of their birth like one's mother - no matter what. Not me. I am never blind to the "yak" factor.

Francis, I understand what you said in original post, but in my opinion, it'd be better if you choose some other argument rather than "Wal-Mart is as much anathema to the classic Brooklyn high street as it is to Batavia".
Because - nobody is puting WalMart on the "high street" - it is ridiculous to call Brooklyn streets "classic" - WalMart is not an anathema to anything anyway - most of Brooklyn is uglier than any WalMart building - half of Brooklyn's population are in WalMart price bracket, why not cater to them? Etc.

And, sorry, but Sunset Park is terrible. Row houses disfigured with layers of peeling paint of screaming South-American colors, crude welded grilles on parlor windows, front flower beds replaced with cracking concrete. I can go on and on.

Funny, browsing thru Kauffman's article Mr.Lull so kindly provided, I came across this bit: he calls Bay Ridge "furthest reach of Brooklyn".
That could be a quote from Sex and the city!

Posted by: Tat on October 18, 2006 9:51 AM

Tat, maybe you can go on and on but the revival of Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park is an amazing phenomenon. You may not like the way that neighborhood looks, but it is working very soundly in many ways. As for the classic high street, excuse me, but there is such a thing. I know. I grew up with them, OK? Wal-Mart is unadulterated evil. And half of Brooklyn is ugly, half is beautiful--like every other place on earth. Look, if you're not finding Brooklyn to your liking, then move out. You don't have to run it down to make a spectacle of those of us who love it and fight every day of our lives to preserve and improve it.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on October 18, 2006 12:48 PM

Francis, are you all right? Brooklyn is very successfully runs itself down without my help. Same with any assistance to those who make spectacle of themselves.

Perphaps, you need some cold water.

Posted by: Tat on October 18, 2006 1:21 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?