With Saddam hanged and reports of arguments at the end -- American advisers counseling caution, Iraqi officials rushing to the gallows -- there's one spot in the blogosphere that could be counted on to make sense of the confusion.
And now it's gone.
If you stopped by Whiskey Bar over the holidays, you might have found that instead of the usual - an elegant and well-reasoned essay about the folly of our times - the blogger named Billmon had posted a picture of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig and the words "That's All Folks!"
The southpaw stopped pouring Dec. 28th. Now the saloon's closed. You try to call up his site, and an error message bars the door. For many readers, including this one, it was the most satisfying watering hole on the strip.
Billmon didn't explain if this is a pause - he's had a few before - or a full stop. But readers of his site have noted some hints left in recent posts. A week before he closed, he wrote, "I've been spending some of my spare time these past few weeks rummaging around in the Whisky Bar archives, trying to decide what, if any of it, is worth keeping ..."
Firedog Lake observed that Billmon assembled a "greatest hits" collection of his commentary on Iraq. Before he pulled the plug, Firedog Lake noticed how Billmon had lamented that his and other blogs hadn't served a useful purpose, and changed the course of the war.
Russ Wellen, writing in OpEdNews, called Billmon "the man who may have done more to brng respectability to blogging than anybody." But he noted that Billmon had worried in his posts that dedicated blogging came at a high price, robbing time from work and family.
I put in a call to Billmon's home in suburban Philadelphia. A woman there said he wasn't available. And he didn't get back to me. Last spring we talked for about 45 minutes for a profile.
He was slowing down, questioning the worth of what he'd written, complaining about burn-out, wondering if he should just write blog on the history of travel. I published that, and Billmon proceeded to go on a vicious tear, writing with more energy and passion than he'd summoned for months.
I'd happily be made to look foolish again if it meant he returned to form. But I wouldn't count on it.
It's hard to know who to turn to for the real story of Billmon's disappearing act. He writes anonymously - he's a corporate marketer, and revealing himself wouldn't exactly help at work. He didn't frequent the Drinking Liberally gatherings in Philadelphia. He kept to himself, writing with the social detachment of a journalist, which he used to be, and with deep, personal conviction.
One man who I thought might know the story is "Bernhard," proprietor of Moon Of Alabama, a site that mirrors Billmon's Whiskey Bar, with the exception that it invites reader comments. Billmon got rid of comments after they got out of hand.
Bernhard wrote by email:
"I don't know why he stopped or if he will write again."
Turns out the two have never met, and their only e-mail exchanges have been about technical matters, Bernhard wrote. For now, Moon Of Alabama will continue - it's for the community of Whiskey Bar readers, and there's still much to talk about - though Bernhard said that the needs of his other job might require he shut it down or hand it over to someone else later this year.
On that site, Billmon readers have been lamenting Whisky Bar's shuttering. One, Elizabeth Doughty wrote:
I don't know Billmon's name or his face. I wish we could put some of his best posts (any of them are his best) on the back of a milk carton and send them far and wide. And in suburban Philadelphia--put them on milk cartons, yogurt containers, anything you can.
I'll wonder who is is, where he is, wish he could still help me see things clearly, using his understanding and the facts.
Hope he's safe and sound.
Thanks very much, Billmon.