So much has been written about the sudden and tragically untimely death of Al Weisel aka Jon Swift that this morning I read the blog tributes and thought: how can I DARE try to add to it? What gives me the right to even try? So many moving and relevant things have been said by those who knew him.
I didn’t — yet I did.
And some things need to be said that perhaps haven’t been said.
In these days of the Internet you don’t get to meet many of the people you get to “know” by email or by what they write about you in posts or in comments. It’s interesting how someone you never met and doesn’t know you or who never talked to you even on the phone will immediately go on the personal attack in a post or emails (even insist that they in effect become publishers of your site and determine what is run, what is said and who is allowed to write on it). It is no longer news when bloggers or commenters are outraged: rage, anger and — oops here comes the word people don’t like to hear — hate is what seemingly now fuels a lot of political debate and readership/viewership in officialdom and in the new and old media..
But Al was different. His fixation truly was on ideas and issues. And he did it in his own, inimitable way.
I got some emails from him once in a while (I never knew his real name and until his death mistakenly thought he was yet another blogger writing under a pen name on a different blog), sparingly asking if I’d look at something he did and link to him. In some instances I specifically did an Around the Sphere so I could find a way to get his link on TMV since he sent me such an interesting post and was so earnest about it (I have done that on occasion with links I get from bloggers that don’t otherwise fit into what’s on TMV). Due to my own somewhat fluid political positions, I didn’t always agree with him — but he said what he said so well and his emails were always so earnest, friendly, dignified and polite. I’d look at his post and think: this is so well done, it’s almost a work of art, I just have to find a way to pass this link onto TMV readers.
And his posts? Those who read him know he used wit, sarcasm, but he didn’t pound it with a shovel and was a blog writer who knew that rage, outrage and written anger could soon become old and tiresome (except for those that totally agree with you) and actually obscure the serious issue being raised and discussed. So he did it his way.
He proved that you can write posts and columns without detesting or demonizing another site, writer or your opponents who may see things differently through his/her own life’s prism. Jon Swift used irony, wit and sarcasm plus considerable research in many posts. His use of it was in one way devastating. But it wasn’t brutal.
When I lived in India both as a student interning on The Hindustan Times and later as a freelance, one of my best friends and mentors was the Hindustan Times Evening News editor Gian Singh. He used to tell me: “Here in India we try to respect the sacred self.”
There was a dignity, grace, aura of friendship about the witty blogger known as Jon Swift that came across in his emails. He didn’t seem to really “hate.” He seemed, if anything, perpetually amused and bemused.
Even when you got an email out of the blue from him, you felt that although you never met him you wish you did. And, you realized, your life would be poorer for it if you didn’t.
As mine is right now.
And there was another aspect of Al that is little publicized: he was instrumental in trying to get progressive blogs to link to other smaller progressive blogs.
Here at TMV since I started it I occasionally do the Around the Sphere linkfest specifically to link to blogs of varying viewpoints and sizes. I would often link to a blog out of the blue, a much smaller blog. Al and skipppy the bush kangaroo (who writes in lowercase) had “Blogroll Amnesty Day” which encouraged the idea that blogs should support each other by linking to each other (blogs do not link to each other as much as they used to and the trend is increasingly seems to be that blogs only link to those they agree with or those that they attack for daring to see things differently).
In reality, Al Weisel was an accomplished journalist. But the other reality was that his quality as a human being came across in emails and his posts. He could do a post masterfully skewering a position I agreed with, but how could I be upset? it was always done with class and wit and you’d want to foward it onto friends. It was clear from the writing that it wasn’t done by some angry person at a computer who considered a weblog an Internet attack instrument to batter down those on the left or right who thought differently — but a site where he could communicate his own perspectives on the seriousness and silliness of politics using as his tools irony, sarcasm, and his incredible gift as a topnotch writer. (When you read one of his posts you KNEW he was a professional writer.)
He was someone who we needed to clone for the Internet and our general political life.
But that was not to be.
For the DEFINITIVE MUST READ TRIBUTE to Al/Jon be sure to GO HERE and read skippy. His post with his own thoughts and extensive link listof blogger tributes is the ultimate tribute to someone who cannot be replaced or replicated.
Now you can follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter.