All right, that's IT.

The Internet is officially out of money. All you new-media punks and johnny-come-latelies (and by that I mean, “anyone who got on-line sometime after about 1995”) can go home right goddamn now.

I’ve been thinking this for a while. 15+ years into the mass-popularization of the Internet, we continually see the re-emergence of trends in on-line communities that we saw before. The problems and the dynamics are the same; the only thing that changes is the interface. We’ve always had trolls and agents provocateur; now, instead of infesting newsgroups, they infest blog comment sections and Web bboard fora. People are continually trying to solve the same problems we solved back in the Dark Ages, usually with less grace and less skill than we did. I won’t belabor the point, but the problem essentially boils down to a failure to correctly disseminate information, and a tendency to disregard prior art and experience as a guide to developing contemporary solutions. It isn’t uncommon to run into Internet software developers who are wholly ignorant of the history of their chosen medium, so it probably isn’t surprising that we see the same solutions to the same problems re-invented over and over (and frequently less elegantly than in the past).

It’s bad enough that the Web as a whole goes through these phases where we seem to be trying to solve the same problems we solved on Usenet in the 1980s, but we’ve now reached a point where the Web is dealing with the same phenomena we dealt with eight years ago. By which, of course, I mean the goddamn blahgs.

The current meme in the circles of blogs that I read is the New Media Mob: A collection of young writers who’ve managed to parlay their blogs into paying gigs at formerly respectable publications. Roy and Sadly, No — particularly directed at this post by Cool Kid Garance Franke-Ruta — sum it up quite nicely. It comes down to this: A group of people have, for reasons that are not fully explained by their literary or cognitive skills, been elevated to the status of superstars within a particular community, and everyone else wonders why that happened.

We’ve been here before in the blog world. Oh, my, how we’ve been here before.

If you flash back to 1999 or 2000, back when blogging was beginning to take the world by storm, you remember the A-List. You may even remember the prescient article by Joe Clark that described the phenomenon. At the time the blog was primarily personal and anecdotal, driven by technology, and its superstars were technology “pioneers” and developers; now, seven years later, the blog is primarily political, driven by people who seem to complain about the current crop of pundits while at the same time lusting after those gigs themselves.

I mean, Clark basically nails it (to use an old hoary blogging cliche):

The A-List: “Jason Kottke… is widely admired among bloggers as a thoughtful critic of Web culture…. Getting blogged by Kottke, or by Meg Hourihan or one of her colleagues at Pyra, is the blog equivalent of having your book featured on Oprah.”

  • Finally, independent confirmation of an obvious fact that is self-servingly denied by the Weblog aristocracy itself: Despite no appreciable difference in the “thoughtfulness” of their respective Web criticism, some Webloggers are superstars.
  • The myth, of course, holds that all bloggers are equal, because we all can set out our wares on the great egalitarian Internet, where the best ideas bubble to the surface. This free-market theory of information has superficial appeal, but reality is rather different.
  • Jason’s commentary is quite good (Meg’s less so), but so is the commentary written by literally a dozen other bloggers I read, none of whom can create a miniature Slashdot effect by mentioning you. (I’m not citing any other bloggers here, by the way, whatever their fame or acumen. I’m limiting the name-dropping to the bloggers Rebecca Mead introduced into the discourse.)
  • Jason’s fame cannot be attributed solely to his cuteness (mentioned explicitly by Mead). I can think of two other A-list bloggers who are better-looking, not to mention having a bit more meat on the bones, and I am aware that there are a lot of attractive bloggeuses. Moreover, one A-list blogger is spectacularly ugly, but that has not impeded his star status.
  • Web-design skills cannot account for everything, either. Jason’s site, in its various forms, offers a middling level of programming complexity. Yet I can name three other A-list bloggers, and a far greater number digging for coal with their bare hands in the caverns of the net, whose sites are more complex and better-looking.
  • A small number of A-list bloggers run Weblogs that are effectively undesigned, a positioning statement that aims to showcase their ideas more prominently, but their ideas aren’t markedly superior to other bloggers’ in the first place.
  • Any way you cut it, there is no rational or even pseudo-rational explanation for the distribution of fame in the blog biz. Fame is like that.

It’s exactly the same thing, seven years later, and we’re all acting like it’s a brand-new phenomenon. Replace “Jason Kottke” and “Meg Hourihan” with “Matt Yglesias” and “Megan McArdle”, and “web design” with “commentary,” and Joe Clark has managed to preemptively capture the annoyance of a number of bloggers. That no one that I’ve found so far has managed to notice this is, frankly, shocking — and we should all be ashamed at how fast we collectively forget the history of our own medium.

This does not, however, detract from the fundamental irritation that most of us feel when we read this stuff. There isn’t a whole heap of difference between this:

Rio just came out with a new MP3 player shaped like a walnut – and about the same size. They say it’ll sync with my Palm, which is too damn new for me to have synced it with my old Palm, let alone the Cube or the PowerBook. Anyway, something to pick up on Saturday morning.

And this:

Brian is/was Ezra’s roommate. Sommer is Matt’s friend. Ezra is staying with Matt here in NYC while we are all up here for the Clinton Global Initiative. Alex and I are friends, as are Alex and Megan. Matt and Ezra and Megan went shooting together on Yom Kippur (bad Jews!), along with Dave, who is throwing a joint birthday party with Brian later this week. Also, Megan and Matt work together. And I used to work with Matt and still work with Ezra. And I think we are all Facebook friends.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We’ll come back to this idea in a second.

Once again, we see the development of an us/them dichotomy between the blog superstars and the common masses toiling away in relative obscurity, and, once again, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to differentiate the two groups in terms of quality of output — there is no clear reason why, for instance, Matt Yglesias should be given a prominent place at The Atlantic and someone like Amanda Marcotte or Jim Henley or Radley Balko isn’t, at least not on the basis of the quality of their commentary — just as there was no clear reason why Jason Kottke and Meg Hourihan were elevated to the status of blogstars in their day. (I suspect that the real reason has to do with comfort levels: Radley and Jim and Amanda all suffer from fairly advanced cases of Stickittothemaniosis.) The qualifications Brian/Ezra/Sommer/Matt/Alex/Garance/Megan bring to the table — an Ivy League degree, connections, and an Establishment Media gig — seem to be more fungible and even less impressive than the qualifications the Original A-List possessed; at least Hourihan could, by working at Pyra, claim to have played some role in the development of the medium she would ultimately represent in the pages of the New Yorker. I’m not sure you could make the same argument for McArdle and her merry band.

Clark again, with his own emphasis:

I would be less inclined to complain if I were able to share in the Internet bounty in even the most trivial way. None of us Webloggers is particularly wealthy; few of us became dot-com millionaires. It’s just that everyone but me gets to make a living. It bugs me that the A-list kids are not really any smarter, or any better at Web design, or have anything particularly better to say than so many of the plebes. Their fame is inexplicable, but famous they are – and able to keep their heads above water. It’s the combination I resent.

Elizabeth Taylor was at least beautiful and could act, when not knocking back the sauce and buying diamonds by the barrel. What causes an anointed cadre of objectively undifferentiable Webloggers to be viewed as demigods escapes me. And it does in fact chafe against my egalitarian instincts. Many of us are as good as they are.

What’s worse this time around — and the big difference between this A-List and the last A-List — is the degree of incestuousness. It’s truly shocking. These kids all come from the same part of the world, have roughly the same educational background, have the same upbringing, have worked at the same places, and essentially think the same way on every given topic. Again, we’ve seen this before — Jason would link to Meg who would link to Robert who would link to Dave, and round and round we went, and it was rare to find one who disagreed with the others. Which was creepy enough, but ultimately harmless when the topic of discussion was blogging itself, or Web standards, or whatever. Now, however, we’re turning to blogs as an alternative to traditional media, to discuss issues of vital importance, and we’re still seeing mass agreement and bland traditionalism. Because the New Media Mob hang out together and work together — because, as Garance says, it’s a cocktail party with the same 50 people over and over again. This isn’t good. It suppresses minority and radical viewpoints, the same viewpoints that desperately need to be heard — the same ones that, paradoxically, the Internet and the blog revolution was supposed to promote. That bland conformity was bad enough when it was on the editorial pages of the major daily newspapers, but the blogosphere was supposed to be the antidote to that. Instead of competing with Maureen Dowd, we have a group of writers working hard to be the next Maureen Dowd. And they’re not even interesting Maureen Dowds.

How is this helping, again?

Updating the list

I note, in the wake of Monday’s carnage, that there are a number of things the Blogosphere has magically become an expert on:

  • Wound ballistics
  • Weapon performance
  • Urban/close-quarters battle tactics
  • Unarmed self-defense against armed maniacs

Will wonders never cease? I have this image in my head of Dick Cheney having another jammer and the merits of the various treatment options suddenly becoming politicized and everyone having an opinion on whether primary PCI is better than facilitated PCI is better than a thrombolytic strategy alone, with certain blogs who shall remain unidentified talking about the economics of each and..

Oh, screw it. This makes my head hurt.

On related notes:

  1. Anyone who says that a .22 is a nothing gun

    And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren’t bad.

    — is a total idiot and knows absolutely nothing about wound ballistics. I know that the .22 LR is not anything near a sexy round, nor does it possess anything close to the ideal amount of that mythical thing called stopping power, but unless you’ve had to chase one of those projectiles around the body, you don’t get to say that “your chances aren’t bad.” A .22 that gets into the body is in there for the grand tour, unlike a 9mm that’s likely to mushroom and expand, or a rifle round that’s going to go flying through leaving a nice, clean wound track. Projectiles are projectiles — throw it fast enough and it’s dangerous. Guess what, kids? .22 is plenty dangerous. (I should hope that the fact that a .22 needs to find something important to do damage crossed with the fact that the round is in there for the grand tour is not something you would take solace in, but that’s just me.)

    I’m going to totally ignore the rest of that masturbatory post. The crack about the .22 is enough.

  2. The comments from Old Jarhead need to be tattooed on everyone’s eyelids. I like guns. I’ve owned guns. I’ve fired a lot of rounds in my life. I feel very comfortable around firearms. I do not want a concealed carry permit and I do not want a firearm for defensive purposes in my house because of this fundamental truth: I am not 100% convinced I could drop the hammer. That makes me a liability, not an asset, when it comes to dealing with armed maniacs. It’s not manly of me, but it is who I am, and I’m not willing to lie to myself to say otherwise. What’s the point? We all want to be Rambo; almost none of us are. There’s no shame in this.
  3. I think the whole gun issue would be a lot saner and less idiotic if the people who were seriously trying to argue one position or the other had been to the Lethal Force Institute, or at least read about Massad Ayoob. Chris Wright wrote a fantastic article about LFI and Ayoob for the Boston Phoenix a few years back, and some of Ayoob’s ideas about guns and self defense seem far too rational to come from this world:

    The 51-year-old Ayoob is something of a celebrity in the gun community. In 1980, he published In the Gravest Extreme, a book that quickly came to be known as the definitive study on the tactical, legal, and ethical issues surrounding the use of lethal force by civilians. Twenty years after its publication, the book has sold about 300,000 copies.

    In all, Ayoob has written a dozen books — The Truth About Self-Protection, Stressfire, Hit the White Part — plus countless articles for gun periodicals. He has been an expert witness in about 70 criminal trials. He has taught in Switzerland and South America, England and Africa. He has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the National Enquirer. He has appeared on Frontline, 20/20, and the Today show.

    “He’s a celebrity among thinking gun owners,” says Miami criminal-defense lawyer Jeffrey Weiner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Lawyers and an LFI grad. “He’s not a celebrity among macho types.” …

    Following another burst of laughter, Ayoob’s deadly serious again. “There are no first-place winners in a shooting situation,” he warns us. “When it’s over, believe me, you haven’t won. Deterrence is the only victory.”

    In many ways, LFI isn’t a class in killing people. It’s a class in not killing them. Ayoob finds himself in the curious position of believing the best way to prevent gun violence is to teach people how to commit it. His entire lethal-force philosophy hinges on a single principle: the more prepared you are to kill an assailant, the less likely you are to have to.

    This may sound a bit nutty at first, but perhaps the only way to get to the heart of a matter as complex as gun ownership is through paradox. In an issue that many people view in black-and-white terms, Ayoob’s pacifism-through-violence philosophy has made him as many enemies as it has friends.

    “I’ve found myself caught in the middle of a very polarized debate,” he says. “On one side I’ve got the hard-core anti-gunners. To them I’m a crypto-fascist because I tell women that if a rapist attacks you, killing the son of a bitch is absolutely one of your options — legally and morally. On the other side there’s the hard-core right-wing ultra-gunnies, who consider me a crypto-commie because I tell them, ‘No, as a matter of fact, you don’t have a God-given right to carry a loaded gun in shopping malls where there are kids walking around. It’s a privilege, and you need to be able show society that you know how to use it and when to use it. That you’re not going to shoot at a perpetrator and hit a kid by mistake.’ I think that’s a reasonable request.

    “In the history of polarized debates,” he adds, “anybody in the middle find himself in a very lonely place.” …

    “Civilians chasing criminals are like dogs chasing cars: they have no idea what to do with them when they catch them.” That is: if they run, let them go. If it’s a robbery, give them the money. If you’re armed and someone comes up and spits in your face, walk away. If you hear a noise in your house, hide yourself in a safe room and call the police — never go looking for intruders.

    When in doubt, don’t shoot.

    “I can’t believe I spent $600 for that ugly little Ay-rab to tell me I can’t shoot anyone,” says Ayoob.

    It’s weird and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and yet it makes all kinds of sense. Help me out here.


From a comment over at this blagh here:

Seriously, I hear Libertarians talk all the time about how they’re socially liberal (so to speak), but it never seems to matter come vote time. In that way, I see no chance of a large “bloc” of Libertarians doing anything that moves the Republican party towards what they claims it the Libertarian agenda. If Libertarians truly had an intellectually consistent bone in their bodies, they’d have stopped voting Republican years ago.

Here’s the thing about libertarians and this US electoral cycle. I know I promised I was going to stop talking about politics (“stop talking about politics! more sad plane videos!”), but I can’t help myself here.

Libertarians are going to have to make a very painful choice here. Specifically, they’re going to have to decide whether or not they want to be rich, or whether they want to be free. If they want to be rich they can keep voting Republican and shut the fuck up about lost civil liberties. Or they can embrace the idea that maybe, just maybe the documents they claim to venerate, and the principles of limited government they claim to hold dear, are worth something — and that you can actually measure that amount in terms of real dollars. If you assume a Democratic Congress is going to cost you more money, and yet might give you some of those personal and social freedoms you hold so dear, you get to decide whether you’d rather have the extra cash or the extra freedom.

The choice is only painful if you’re an idiot. The idea that everything comes down to economics, or that happiness can be expressed solely in terms of money is as brainless when it comes from a libertarian as it does when it comes from a Marxist. I don’t have a lot of patience for people who stamp their feet and argue that, while the Republicans are bad, the Democrats must surely be worse — who the hell are you kidding with that kind of logic? Why, ’cause they’ll undo the tax cuts? Gimme a break. Freedom-fans who argue that the tax cut was more important than, I dunno, the war on drugs, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, fucking habeas corpus… I’m sorry, you’re big on freedom why, precisely?

Jim Henley (who, along with Glenn Greenwald, should start a blahg called “For Good or For Awesome”), wrote way back when:

You don’t like it, my neo friends, and that’s to your credit, but in your small way you helped to bring it about. You did this by imagining that the likes of Robert Fisk were a bigger danger to you than John Poindexter. You did it by imagining that somehow the part you liked about the Bush administration – war on your target of choice – was separate and distinct from the part you didn’t like – HSD, IAO, the brute-force linkage of the War on Drugs to the War on Terror, USA-PATRIOT. You put more energy into refuting “idiotarian” claims that our liberties had already been taken away than into fighting the people who were, right out in front of god and everybody, working to take them away in earnest. You imagined that war and repression somehow don’t go together, even that war could function to inoculate against repression. You forgot or never saw a very important adage of Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s:

    Just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they’re on your side.

If you imagine yourselves as part of some coalition, ask yourself what you’re getting for your trouble. You lost HSD. You lost USA-PATRIOT. You get IAO. An independent 9/11 commission? Gone. A lot of you favor liberal rules on therapeutic cloning. Think you’ll get that from this Congress? Is there anything whatsoever that neolibertarians favor that the rest of the Republican coalition does not where you have gotten or expect to get your way? Any case where the Administration said “We’ve got to give the libertarians this?” Or where you can imagine them saying it? Remember, the war doesn’t count. The neocons want it and the Christian Coalition wants it. They matter. Ditto for the tax cut. I’m talking about something that neolibertarians hold dear that neocons and/or the Christian Right oppose, where the will of the neolibertarians prevails.

I’m here every day. You can get back to me.

A proposition: Neolibertarians are to the Republican Party what African-Americans are to the Democratic Party – taken for granted because they have nowhere else to go.

We really weren’t kidding, guys. War is the health of the state. It’s time to stop imagining that this government will give you a generation-long war and occupation of however many countries without piling up the internal security measures, time to stop pretending that you have a box over here marked Good! that contains Don and Condi and a box over here marked Bad! that contains Ashcroft and Ridge and Mineta and that you get to pick one and not the other.

That needs to be tattooed on peoples’ necks. I realize it’s a long block of text to tattoo. I’m OK with that. Anybody who doesn’t like they pain they’ll suffer in the experience can complain about the torture they, indirectly, helped to bring about.

I hung my head

If this doesn’t sum up too much of the last five years, I don’t know what else will:

This mindless, authoritarian belief in Presidential Infallibility repeats itself in almost every debate we are having. Those who favor greater protections for accused terrorists for military commissions are labelled by Bush followers as advocating for “terrorist rights” even though the whole point is that we can’t know they are terrorists until we give them a fair trial. But to Bush followers, the Leader’s decision to detain them and accuse them is all we need to know. We can place blind faith in the Leader’s judgment. Thus, to be accused by the Bush administration of terrorism is the same as being a Terrorist. Those detained at Guantanamo, or by the U.S. military, or anyone accused by the President of being an “enemy combatant,” is guilty for that reason alone. And thus anyone who advocates rights for those so accused is, by definition, advocating rights for Terrorists.

The same irrational, zombified mental process dominates the debate over warrantless eavesdropping. According to the administration, it is only eavesdropping on individuals whom it suspects are involved in some way with Terrorists. But to the administration and its followers, to be suspected of terrorism by the administration is to be a Terrorist. Hence, they will say that the Bush administration is only eavesdropping on terrorists because they recognize no distinction between being accused by the administration of terrorism and being a Terrorist. Thus, anyone opposed to warrantless eavesdropping is, to them, opposed to eavesdropping on Terrorists (rather than objecting to the administration’s ability to eavesdrop without first demonstrating that there is reason to believe they are a terrorist).

(On a totally unrelated note, I love Glenn Greenwald and want to have his babies. I think if Glenn Greenwald and Jim Henley started a group blog, they should call it “For Good or For Awesome” because it would either be good, or it would be awesome, or it would be good and awesome, and either way it would kick so much serious ass that it would probably implode upon itself revealing only a pure, dense core of amazing awesome which would probably blast away the outer shell of the blogging universe, which would be ultra-amazing awesome. Ahem.)

Glenn’s right. It is irrational. But can that many people really be crazy? Or is it just that a crazy minority of people have a really loud megaphone? Or is it that a crazy minority of people control all the branches of government in the United States so it doesn’t really mater what the non-crazy majority think? I dunno. But that doesn’t explain why the citizens are so happy to let their government do bad things. So let’s consider the rational reasons:

  1. They genuinely trust the feds. When the government says, “This is a bad person,” they really believe there’s a bad person on the receiving end of the stern look. You have to be very naive to trust the government this completely; you have to not know anyone who has ever been falsely accused of anything, fallen victim to overaggressive cops, or been jacked around by The System. It seems that in order to believe this, your interaction with the government has to be limited to filing a tax return once a year, and it’s imperative that you’re white, middle class, and don’t do anything that attracts undue government attention. Eventually most people grow out of this phase, usually by 25 or so (the first tax audit seems to do it, or the first time you’re asked for ID by a cop for no good reason).
  2. They don’t trust the feds, but they’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this issue. I think most of us inherently suspicious types were in this camp immediately after 9/11, and most of us hopped out once it became painfully apparent (almost as immediately) that the feds were no better at solving this particular problem than they were at solving, say, the drug problem. In order to be in this camp you don’t have to be quite as naive as people in the first camp, but you do need to avoid asking yourself the question, “If the government can’t deliver the fucking mail, what hope in hell do they have of successfully saving my ass from a terrorist attack?”
  3. They’re so scared that they’re willing to pay any price to not be scared. This is the first of the bad camps, exactly the people Franklin warned about in the apocryphal quote everyone’s waving around these days. 9/11 unhinged the yuppies in such a serious way that they lost control of their critical faculties and need to be slapped silly until they settle down. Exhibit A in this instance is James Lileks, who went faaaaar off the deep end after 9/11 even though the odds of his being killed, specifically, are roughly as good as his being crushed by an asteroid. But there are an awful lot of yuppies out there who are shit-scared of this thing, though weirdly they tend to live in places not actually likely to be attacked by terrorists. I note that New Yorkers, as a general rule, are not running to embrace George or his policies, and, lest we forget, they were the ones getting killed on 9/11, not some doofus in Omaha.
  4. They genuinely like dictatorship. This is the scary option. Sara Robinson has written a series of excellent essays about fundamentalist, authoritarian personality types (start here and keep reading; Kung Fu Monkey sums the series up) and though I don’t agree with her completely, there’s a lot to think about in there, and although she’s not speaking specifically to this point I feel it generalizes nicely. There’s always going to be some segment of the population who believe that it’s OK to be brutal and evil to people sufficiently unlike them, and we’re probably not ever going to be able to get away from that. Woe betide those who find themselves on the other side of the fence; it’s exactly like the Christians arguing in favor of the protection of marriage and the establishment of a state religion — what, precisely, makes you think you’re going to be the ones in control for ever?

The problem, unfortunately, is that at the end of the day the delusions — whatever their source — are ultimately self-reinforcing. If there’s no terrorist attack, that proves that whatever Bush is doing works, so we need more of it. If there is another terrorist attack, well, Bush got his hands tied by the Democrats, so we need more of what he was going to do. So either way, we need more. You would think that this bit of logic would tend to nudge people out of one of their delusional camps — two opposite statements lead to the same conclusion? wtf?! — but logic is apparently not most people’s strong suit. If you’re convinced that you’re going to die when Osama sneaks into your bedroom tomorrow night, and that only Bush can save you.. well, there’s a whole host of false premises there and nothing I can do is going to change your mind. We could do ourselves a big favor by lowering the rhetoric over terrorism and stapling James Fallows’ article from the September Atlantic on people’s foreheads, though given the bloodlust in some people with loud megaphones I doubt it would do much good.

Part of me thinks we should just concede defeat on this issue and move on, but then I realize the outcome is going to be so much worse that it probably isn’t worth thinking about. I fear for the United States and I fear for my world. I don’t think George Bush is going to get us all killed (the same way I thought Reagan was going to get us all killed), but I do think he’s doing an excellent job of fucking the shit up and making things about a thousand times worse than they need to be, which is not exactly an original thought but this is my LJ so shut up.

Frink and I have talked about Outer Context Problems, where your frame of reference is so dramatically different that we can’t hope to bridge the gap and have a meaningful conversation. This feels like one of those OCPs — either you believe that we’re all gonna die, or you have your doubts; if you fall into the former camp, nothing someone from the latter camp can do will change your mind. Unfortunately the conditions for leaving the former are very poorly defined indeed, and so I conclude that we’re going to be stuck with this for a long time to come.

And that’s your depressing thought for the morning.

That's good/that's bad: Connecticut Democratic Primary edition

So Joe Lieberman went down in flames last night to Ned Lamont, every progressive blogger’s favorite candidate. I don’t know anything about Ned, except that he’s not Joe, and frankly that’s more than enough for me to hope he wins. Back in 2004 I had sort of promised I wasn’t going to pay a lot of attention to US politics anymore, because it was getting stupid as hell, but Joe Lieberman strikes me as a particularly sanctimonious breed of prick, and anything that causes him professional pain and suffering is thus OK in my books.

What worries me about this is the message it’s going to send. Not, as per Time‘s suggestion, that bloggers sent the Joementum down to defeat. I don’t really care whether the dreaded Emm Ess Emm thinks bloggers and Internet activists were responsible for winning Ned Lamont his chance to run for Senate, and I care even less whether politicians themselves take that lesson home. (Blogs are good for a few things and the Internet is good as a whole for a bunch more, but if you were a smart campaigner, you already knew this (see “Dean, Howard,” for the benefits and limitations of that strategy).) No, what I worry is that bloggers themselves are going to get this idea in their heads that they can influence the outcome of elections, and we cannot have that. The idea that bloggers are going to change the nature of political discourse in western society is one of the most obnoxious memes out there, and the very last thing we need is to have more bloggers with an even bigger sense of importance.

All politics are local. We have no way of knowing why Connecticut Democrats gave Joe the ol’ heave-ho. We don’t care. But one thing’s for sure: It wasn’t because of anyone’s heroic posting.


The latest spin, overheard in a couple of different places, is that this domestic spying stuff is just Echelon in drag. And really, if you’re not bitching about Echelon (and really, who is?), there’s no sense in getting upset about the latest from No Such Agency.


If I wanted to find something funny in all of this — if I were even inclined to try finding something funny in all of this — it’s that the opinions and ideas of people who’ve been paying attention to privacy, security, and cryptographic issues for years pale in comparison to those of the shouting heads. Who are you going to listen to on this topic: Guys like Bellovin or Metzger or Gillmore, or some random dude with a blog who misrepresented what’s actually in FISA? Are you more inclined to believe Schneier, or Powerline?

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about all of this; since the blogosphere became more or less instant experts on typography and font design last year, why can’t they become instant experts on this stuff, too?

ow ow ow ow ow

I followed a couple of links that lead me back into the deep, dark recesses of the blog past, back when words like “fisk,” “idiotarian,” “objectively pro-[whatever],” and “fact-check your ass” were employed widely and indiscriminately, much as words like “shrill” and “unpatriotic” and “assmaster” are used today. Ow, ow, ow. It was a mistake; I had managed to repress all that nonsense in the intervening 2.5+ years. It was an embarrassing time for on-line punditry (not that there have been many non-embarrassing moments for on-line punditry, mind), a time when we all took ourselves a little too seriously and thought we were going to change the world.. again. Meh. You were there, you know how it went.

On a totally unrelated note, the etymology of fisking relates to, of course, Robert Fisk — who is widely revilled within the jingosphere for failing to clap hard enough, and for pointing out unfortunate and inconvenient truths. I confess to never having read a Rober Fisk column, nor ever having been familiar first-hand with his work, but, judging by the reaction from the more prominent members of Outrageoholics Anonymous, he’s a pretty crazy piece of work. So it was a surprise when he showed up on The Current last week, talking to Anna Maria Tremonti about his new book (audio allegedly here in the Devil’s Own Streaming Media format), and sounding like.. well, me and just about everyone who isn’t totally blinded to the realities of Mess O’ Potamia. And, believe it or not, it’s not just about the current iteration of the Gulf War, either..

It’s interesting — I had sort of assumed that Fisk was this weird, deranged bozo with a serious hate on for all things western, and it turns out he’s a very smart, very articulate guy, with some really important historical insights that are at least as valuable to figuring our way out of this nightmare as any random blogger. My own fault, I guess; you really do have to, as they say, read the whole thing.