The still nascent blogging world lost something of a minor star yesterday. Steve Gilliard, a prominent liberal blogger and one of the first guest bloggers to contribute regularly to the megablogging site DailyKos died yesterday at age 41.
I never met Steve although I did trade some minor correspondence with him. I am sure if Steve were still alive he would not know me from Adam. My fascination with Steve goes back at least the last seven years, which in Internet time is forever. For I knew Steve before blogging even got started. You might say that Dilbert introduced me to Steve. Dilbert parodies the frantic overworked world of the information technology professional, of which I am one. Netslaves.com was the premier site where disgruntled IT workers came together to bitch. I was not particularly disgruntled. As a civil servant, I could at least count on regular hours and a decent salary. However, I did feel a certain voyeuristic thrill reading Netslaves.com. For a number of years it stood true to its purpose: to give IT people a place to gripe. Over time, it evolved into more of a political site where hotheads, principally men, spent their time bitching at other hotheads from the other side of the political spectrum. In that sense, it was probably unique. The liberal and conservative political camps all have their separate blog sites now and generally, they do not bother to post on each other’s blogs. If they do, they are likely to get troll rated and thrown off the blog.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that kind of sophisticated software was not commercially available. Netslaves was one of many discussion sites that rolled their own discussion software since open source solutions like phpBB were not generally available. The flame wars were thick on Netslaves. Occasionally though a few voices of sanity would come through. Steve Gilliard was one of these voices. If I recall correctly, Steve was also one of the founding members of Netslaves. Alas, Netslaves is no more. The domain exists but has no meaningful content. It exists simply to re-serve ads.
A few times a week Steve would post profound little essays with his opinions on the political issues of the day. Steve wowed me with the quality of his writing, the depth of his analysis and his pugnacious, in your face attitude. When Netslaves folded, I was devastated. I was used to my Steve Gilliard fix and sites like Commondreams.org just were not cutting it. By early 2002, I was Googling his name. I found he had relocated to this site called DailyKos.com, which was something called a blog. Back then, blogs were mere curiosities.
I was one of the early members of DailyKos, finding it within a few months of its startup when it was just another MovableType blog. Steve Gilliard drew me in but I was soon also consumed by the other guest bloggers on the site including Kos (Moulitsas) and Meteor Blades. Finally, here was a site with the up to date political news, analysis and perspective that I wanted plus I could talk back in the comments. I was one of many hungry people on the Internet that turned blogging from a curiosity into a social and political force. Soon, I was hooked. I started this blog in December 2002 and I am still at it. (This is entry 678, BTW.)
DailyKos kept growing and it became harder for people like Steve to get a word in edgewise. Steve eventually figured he needed to move on and he created his own blog, The News Blog. I was one of many who encouraged him to get his own blog.
Steve was an unapologetic liberal blogger. However, do not make the mistake of thinking he was some namby-pamby limp-wristed liberal. He was African American and a New Yorker and proud of it. Few things got his dander up more than right wing African Americans like Clarence Thomas. When he blogged, he was a take no prisoners type of blogger. He had balls. From the wholesale cut and pasting of news stories off Internet sites to his fearlessly raising tough issues that other blogs would not touch, The News Blog was singularly unique. Reading The News Blog you also got some personal insight into Steve. You learned about his partner Jen (although his relationship with her was murky, I did discern that she was white) who posted occasionally. You also learned about his fascination for food. I have to wonder if this fascination contributed to his hospital stays. The first hospitalization took him offline for several weeks, but fans of The News Blog simply used the site to keep up his spirits. Some weeks back he was rushed to the hospital again. He had open-heart surgery and clearly never recovered. To satisfy the morbid curiosity of his fans, I hope the family will eventually get more details of his death. It sounds like heart disease was the culprit.
What astounded me about Steve (and which was true about most bloggers I admire) was how well read he was. On military matters, he had few peers. He was one of the few brave souls who before our debacle in Iraq began was jumping up and down saying, “Don’t go! Don’t go!” It was not because he did not think we could whip Saddam’s ass; he was certain their government would quickly fall. It was because he was fully up on the history of Iraq, including all the ethnic tensions. He knew about the long problem the British Empire acquired when Iraq became one of its spoils of World War I. Democracy had been tried before in Iraq, and the result devolved into an ineffectual king, his eventual overthrow, the rise of the Ba’athist Party and Saddam Hussein. He knew that Iraq was a country in name only and that when push came to shove its ethnic differences would triumph over its weak nationalism. He knew our invading would allow those forces to become unleashed. He did not think the United States military should be kept on the sidelines after 9/11, just used where it could be effective. He kept asking the same question repeatedly, “Why aren’t we going after Osama bin Laden?” Arguably, 9/11 made us a bit crazy as a nation. Steve was one of a small minority of people who had the maturity, knowledge, political perspective and confidence to assert that our invasion of Iraq would be the folly that it is.
In some ways, Steve was not as liberal as he might appear. While he certainly believed in equal rights for all, he was not one of these strident supporters of homosexual rights. I got the feeling homosexuality left him a bit squeamish. Where Steve excelled was in putting events into their proper context and seeing through the tons of political bullshit. I do not know much about his upbringing, but I got the feeling he was streetwise. If you are streetwise, you develop a sixth sense about a person’s true character. Steve had that ability. Hillary Clinton was one of many politicians, including Rudy Giuliani whose façade he easily pierced.
His blog The News Blog was a very active site. Sadly, I felt it devolved into mediocrity. I suspect Steve’s health issues played a big part. He felt he had to put out the goods and so every day he posted of dozens of verbatim news articles that he found interesting. His comments though were often superficial and trite. Sadly, after a while I read The News Blog less and less. Usually at least once a week though I would go through it and look for those nuggets of insightful commentary that Steve was known for.
I think Steve would have done much better had he posted just one tenth of what he did. Bloggers like the lamented Billmon (who is still very much alive, just not blogging) prove that you do not have to post multiple times a day to be an effective blogger. That has been my approach here on Occam’s Razor. I try to post every two to three days, convinced that less can be much more. For those of us trying to add value in a crowded blogging world, I think we are most effective when we give new entries a few days to percolate before they are publicly consumed. Otherwise, blogging can devolve into mediocrity.
Still, I am mourning for Steve. I felt like I knew his soul. I read testimonials that in person he was uniformly a sweet and gentle person. Regardless, he was one of the Internet’s first powerful blogging forces. Some day the history of blogging will be detailed in a book. There had better be a chapter for Steve Gilliard in there. He earned it.
Rest in peace Steve. God, I am going to miss you.