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100th Birthday

A Celebration of the Life of I.F. Stone
November 16, 2008
Story Chapel, Mount Auburn Cemetery

Remarks by Kate Gilbert

My name is Kate Gilbert.  I'm Izzy's granddaughter -- or one of them.  My mother asked me to speak today on Izzy as a member of the younger generation, and as a political blogger.  The title of this short piece is something like "Izzy, Now More Than Ever," or "Izzy, the Next 100 Years."

Izzy was my grandfather, a word compounded of hugs, jokes, fast walks, irascible scowls, Don't disturb me, I'm on deadline, mixed with a Greek chorus of Greek choruses.

But I don't want to talk about that Izzy too much, although Jack has reminded me of so much.  I dearly love who that Izzy was, but the Izzy whose work survives but more than survives, thrives in a kind of second life on the Internet.

Like a lot of people my age, the tail end of the baby boomers, I came to a full political awakening rather late in life.

When the space-time continuum was ripped in two and I found myself living in an alternate universe called Bush World, I found myself looking high and low for new sources, pundits, voices, a community that could help me figure out how I had fallen in this wormhole and how I and my country might crawl our way back to sanity.

I found my home on the Internet with new voices, not widely recognized, not authenticated by newspapers or TV talking heads, and on the Internet I found a new and surprising respect for Izzy and his work.  Not me, but the Internet's.

Whenever Judy Miller's name would come up, for example, along with brickbats and complaints about Times' policies on unnamed sources, someone was sure to bring up Izzy on the common thread.

And that was clear that none of these commenters had known him and many were too young even to have subscribed to the Weekly.

They pretty much got his style and his form correct:  No secret sources, no friends in high places, no press conferences, no sucking up to the imperial presidency, read original sources, pay attention to low-level people, keep track of the money and the connections between people and link up people, government, law and their history.  Speak up against power and speak truth to power.

My brother and I, meeting often on the new Internet highways and byways, started talking about Izzy as a blogger and the Weekly as a proto-blog, because we found journalistic bloggers who were knowingly and unknowingly doing what Izzy did every day.

So was the Weekly a proto-politic blog and had modern political bloggers played the same role as Izzy with his Weekly?

To answer this we have only to look briefly -- because I have to be out from behind this lectern in five minutes -- at the differences between newspapers and blogs and between Izzy as a newspaperman and Izzy as a writer of the Weekly, really very different things.

The basic difference between newspapers and journalists and blogs and bloggers are pretty clear:  Newspapers are regional while blogs are not.

A newspaper's readership is imagined to be localized and geographically limited, while blogs are not.  Newspapers must appeal to the largest swath of readership and is less anodyne and objective, while a blog's readership is partisan and chooses the blog because it reflects a subjective, politicized point of view.

Newspapers are pushed to be timely and only address issues when they are pushed to the fore by events.  Blogs can afford to address issues in depth without regard to the pixels.

Newspapers are competitive.  They like a scoop, and seldom credit other writers or organizations for work on the same topic.  They pride their terse, timeless style in which events of days, weeks or years past are considered unnecessary for the explication of today's events.

Blogs have depth in time and can afford to link to longer pieces of writing that explain the current situation in depth.

In addition, as in academia, there's a tradition of linking widely across genres and publications to give the reader a sense of the various facets and issues through time and space.

Newspapers, with the exception of some that include reader response, cannot produce a true community of interactive activated, partisan citizens.  Blogs, as the Obama campaign and even the Prop 8 campaign showed, can do so and thrive while doing so.

So what sense was the Weekly a proto-blog?  Well, to know that, you'd have to know Izzy a bit.  And here there's really a contrast between what Jack was showing you back how Izzy remained sturdily independent because he could simply reject everything his audience was telling him.

So Izzy was -- famously did most of his research alone, but he was the least lonely person that I've ever known.  One of John's and my jobs when we were visiting him was to open the mail when bags would come in, and we would zip through the letters asking for a subscription and take out the checks and stamp them.  That was really a big deal.

But in those bags and bags of requests for the Weekly, there would also come printed on tissue-thin paper in many languages, letters and copies of local newspapers from all around the world.

It didn't matter how small a place it was, whether it was a new country or an old country with a new name.  People would send him their newspapers and they would send him their stories.  And they would keep him apprised of many, many obscure events, and he took it all in.

I wanted to say that not only did he take it in but he used Esther to take it in.  So one of my favorite memories was bringing home, God, the world's stupidest undergraduate for Thanksgiving.  He only ever wrote one paper at Harvard and it was about fisheries, and he wrote that for everything.

And Izzy was completely deaf by that time.  He wore a hearing aid that would vibrate and make a humming noise.  And he really couldn't hear this kid and Esther had to translate.

And so that whole dinner went like this:  He says you wrench off the eyeball so the lobster can't turn right.  And then Izzy would go, Wrench off the eyeball, lobster can't turn right.  I hid in the kitchen for all of this.

But I can assure you that Izzy took that all in because after he died, we were constantly getting letters from people or meeting people who would say that they had run into Izzy on the street or in an airport or at a conference and each one of them had a different story to tell about discussing their nation's history, poetry, art, political issues, numismatic national flower or fishery.

You name it, Izzy was interested, and he frequently already knew what they were going to tell him.

People who read the Weekly had the experience of being spoken to but also of being spoken for, and that came out of those personal meetings.  He kept on top of things and on top of the connections between things because he was what anthropologists call a bricoleur.  He brought things together from many different categories.

As somebody already mentioned, making fun of the way in which one arm of the government convinced you to know what another arm was doing when one general didn't know what the other general just said, and he's also what I think Maxwell Gladwell called a maven.  Okay.

He was a connector of people.  He took in a million events, people, laws, poems, incidents, essays, public documents, press conferences, and he brought them together in the Weekly in a way that enabled the reader to make the connections that other, more generic journalists shied away from.

In that way the Weekly was truly a proto-blog.  When you bought the Weekly, you knew you were getting a point of view, a partisan, well-researched, broad, challenging point of view.

Izzy didn't have to cater to the lowest common denominator of reader.  He didn't have to appeal to the person who doesn't like politics or can't see what all the fuss is all about, or the person who picks up the paper principally to get coupons for the sales.  His readership came to him and he came to his readership with information that meant something to them.

The longevity of that connection meant that Izzy could run little features, what I think Peter Osnos used to called the "Not One Negro" section, in which he kept track of the outrageous racism of government employment.

And I would compare that to Eschaton's tongue-in-cheek attacks on journalistic conservatives known as "Wanker of the Day," which you have to already know the context in which this is appearing to understand how truly funny that is.  But the readership does know that and they understand what's being pilloried.

The only thing that Izzy couldn't do and that was done -- that was sort of due to the limitations of paper technology was link forward and back, link directly to the original sources he was using.

My biggest regret as we come out of the fugue state that has been the United States for the last eight years is that Izzy wasn't here to see it and comment on it, and that we didn't have an online searchable daily I.F. Stone blog to help readers grasp just how far back some of the trips and conflicts of the last eight years stretch.

As we were preparing for this, Mom dug up a 1987 Nation.  Okay, it's not the Dark Ages, but nevertheless, right there on the front cover is a story by Izzy about the financial meltdown.  And as you turn inside, somebody else's story says, large as life and twice as natural, Homophobia plays well to the Republican base.  I mean, nothing has changed.

And to be able to go back and see how Izzy handled these issues would be of immense benefit, I think, to people who are still just coming new to politics.

So my greatest joy at this time, aside from Obama and this party, is to see the many, many fantastic political bloggers who remember Izzy and have taken up the challenge to inform us and build a community of active political citizens using the two-wayness of the blog that Izzy couldn't use and, of course, wouldn't have been interested in because he would have wanted to tell people what he thought.

And I'd like to call out here to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, Dickie at Hullabaloo, Atrios at Eschaton and Media Matters, and a host of others for taking up the challenge.

Izzy's work lives on in the 21st century, and his style -- tough, historical, driven, partisan and honest -- will, I hope, be the defining format for political bloggers going forward.  Thanks.

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