I see by way of Billy and a few other sources (Martin McPhillips,for one)  that J. Orlin Grabbe may or may not have passed on.  One could never be sure with him. He may be just playing with us, still.

OK, I know… you have no freakin’ clue what I’m talking about.  Grabbe was a regular on the political Usenet groups back in the day. Frankly, I had the guy labeled as a kook and pretty much ignored him, at least as far as talking to him. But I was reading his stuff, always hoping for signs of something I could latch onto. Trouble was, I never knew when to take him seriously or not, and as such it was hard to engage the man on any topic.  He was either a stone cold kook, or was simply having fun with us all.  Since I’ve never considered that not many people are that kooky and live quite so long, I tend to think the latter. (Yet, couldn’t that kind of gamesmanship be considered an indication of koodom all by itself?) He was certainly part of the scene that McPhillips describes:

Beck liked Grabbe and I did not, but if he is indeed dead it is a sad note of passing of one of the frontiersmen of the Wild West of the Internet, that now oddly eclipsed and seldom remembered (except by those who were there) corner of cyberspace called Usenet (home to a gazillion newsgroups but where the most blazing action centered around alt.current-events.clinton.whitewater throughout the second half of the ’90s in a tragedy of the commons setting often referred to by me as “the Usenet sewers”).

I found Grabbe a tiresome bullshitter and he found me a tiresome conservative, and so it all came out even on that score. His tendency to step over into conspiracy theories about conspiracy theories to feed the conspiracy hobbyists was something I found exceedingly annoying. If I’m remembering correctly he had it that Vince Foster was murdered by Mossad for reasons that I forget and based on no evidence that I can remember. I do recall that this made fertile territory for some to blame all of the variety of Clinton scandals on the plotting of “Israeli agents” inside the Clinton White House. I surmised that this was part of Grabbe’s intent, if he ever had any intent.

Them days is gone. What’s left over there is the sad spectacle of an online insane asylum where a few stoical orderlies seek to quell rantings from the occupants of well-padded cyber cells. But it was a place where, once upon a time, one got high-speed rigorous training in making and countering arguments, if one could either ignore the constant bar fights or merge one’s arguments into them.

And yes, I was there for most of that, and it was all that Martin describes, and more. I had cut my political argument teeth on the BBS’s myself, and am still active in the current incarnations of those groups as I have the time, these days.  That gave me an advantage in the Usenet sewer as Martin correctly calls it.  Billy agrees:

It was an intellectual and rhetorical crucible

Wasn’t it, though? A place where your ability to both wear flame proof underwear, and weild a flamethower of your own, in a political sense, was a requirement.

Now, perhaps you better understand why I’ve always kept the red carpet out for Billy and Martin… that shared experience.  Each of us came through that sewer, being more formidable for it. And for better or worse, Grabbe was a part of that experience.


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