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April 4, 2002

Stupid white man Spinsanity’s magnificent dissection of Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, formerly available only to Salon “Premium” subscribers, is now available on Spinsanity’s own site.
In a discussion of Pentagon spending, he refers to the “$250 billion the Pentagon plans to spend in 2001 to build 2800 new Joint Strike Fighter planes” and states that “the proposed increase in monies for the Pentagon over the next four years is $1.6 trillion.” To back this up, he refers to the Web site of the peace activist group Council for a Livable World. CLW’s own analysis of the 2001 budget, however, shows that $250 billion is the total multiyear cost of the Joint Strike Fighter program, not the amount spent in one year. $1.6 trillion, meanwhile, was the total amount of money requested by the Pentagon at the time for 2001-2005. It covers five years, not four, and is a total budget request, not a “proposed increase” over previously requested budget levels. It shouldn’t even take this much research, however, to determine that out of the total defense budget request of $305.4 billion in 2001, $250 billion was never intended to go toward one type of plane, nor that an increase of $400 billion per year in military spending was never proposed. […]

Just how did Moore get so many of his facts wrong? Lazy cribbing from media outlets and the Internet seems the most likely culprit. […]

For the bestselling nonfiction book in the country, “Stupid White Men” has received remarkably little scrutiny and few serious reviews. Moore is much beloved in Britain, and a review on a BBC show called his book “fantastic” with “loads of research.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have read much of it — though the thousands of people who have bought his book surely don’t know that.

We’ve seen a lot about the echo-chamber nature of discourse on the right, the interlinked network of think-tanks, foundations, magazines, Web sites, and radio shows that endlessly repeat the same dreary stuff, impervious to debunking. Anyone who can’t see that this is happening on the left as well simply doesn’t want to see—and is the natural prey of a predator like Michael Moore. [12:54 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Stupid white man:

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 08:13 AM:

You wrote:aa>We've seen a lot about the echo-chamber nature of discourse a>on the right, the interlinked network of think-tanks, a>foundations, magazines, Web sites, and radio shows that a>endlessly repeat the same dreary stuff, impervious to a>debunking. Anyone who can't see that this is happening on a>the left as well simply doesn't want to see--and is the a>natural prey of a predator like Michael Moore.aaAs one who has decried the echo chamber on the right in this comment space, let me say that I don't doubt for a minute that it happens on the left, too. There's probably a centrist echo chamber somewhere out there, too, where people endlessly repeat dreary but perfectly sensible stuff, and take no notice of the wing-nuts to either side...aaThis isn't even a blogger-specific phenomenon (as Moore ably demonstrates). The "Old Media" are rife with this sort of thing as well. Op-Ed pages across the political spectrum tend more toward praise of those with similar views and denunciations of frothing loons on the opposite side than searching examinations of compromise proposals by people between the extremes. It's easier to do, and it sells papers/magazines/ad time.aaWhat irks me about the echo-chamber phenomenon in blogging is the intellectually dishonest combination of the same old echo-chamber demagoguery with incessant braying about the revolutionary and transformative character of the medium. aaAs far as the original subject goes, Michael Moore's a braying ass, and, worse yet, he's not a particularly funny one (the kiss of death for a satirist). He's the liberal equivalent of what P.J. O'Rourke has become (though O'Rourke at least started out being funny... Starting somewhere around All the Trouble in the World he lost that. I never found Moore amusing enough to be worth watching.).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 08:32 AM:

Chad, I'm on record as cocking a skeptical eye, too, at what you characterize as "incessant braying about the revolutionary and transformative character of the [blogging] medium."aaThat said, I think you've got a real hot button there. The fact is, there is something new about blogging, and we haven't seen all its implications played out yet. aaI don't think Henry Copeland's piece, for instance, was "braying." I don't think I'm "braying" when I observe that the Web in general, and blogging in particular, has the protential to create new kinds of networks and connections between previously-unacquainted people. Does that sound like "braying" to you?aaYou know, a lot of bloggers are simply interesting people who haven't previously had the experience of being part of a big public subcultural conversation. They're excited about it. That happy sense of discovery, of new horizons, of joy in interacting at a high level with different people of differing views: that's a good thing. I frankly prefer it, even in its excesses, to kneejerk seen-it-all-before put-downiness.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 09:38 AM:

Remember college? Remember arguing politics at 4:00 a.m.? Some of your friends were reliably sharp, some of them reliably wooly minded, some of them incredibly erratic. At four in the morning, the one thing they had in common was that none of them could lay hands on their sources and cites, what with the library being closed. aaThe thing I think is different about blogging is the instant connection to the blogger's source. If it is a bizarre, tasty bit of news, you're not relying on a vague memory of an article read by someone else in a slightly obscure magazine a month ago; you've got a link to the actual article. The basis for a blogger's opinion is right there, and you can look at the source and judge for yourself.

Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 09:47 AM:

There's a simple technique for keeping your brain clear of inanities when trying to learn about th issues involved in public policy debates. aaThe trick is to read what academic economists of the opposite political persuasion write. Economists, when doing economics, tend to be careful about the facts and rigorous in their reasoning. This means that you can get the straight dope on what your opponents think in its most sensible possible formulation. Having such a clear statement makes figuring out if and why you disagree much easier; it provides a keen whetstone to sharpen your own thinking against. (One caveat is that this does not apply to economists writing 500-word op-eds. Then they are as biased and sloppy as anyone else. I think this is intrinsic to the form: 500 words isn't enough space to make a clear policy proposition on a complex issue, let along justify it.)aaEg, I'm a libertarian, so I like to read papers by people like Brad de Long and Edward Glaeser. If you are a careful liberal, I recommend reading stuff by Ronald Coase and George Stigler.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 10:49 AM:

I never went to college, as Lydy knows perfectly well, but her point is good nonetheless.aaAdditionally, as Ken Layne famously remarked, if bloggers decide to take a close look at a suspicious assertion, they can "fact-check your ass." Which isn't a recipe for magically waving away bias, prejudice, or simple human inclination--but it's nonetheless notable that this is a medium in which people get significant egoboo for doing serious research.aa"Anonymous"'s suggestion is a good one, although I don't understand why it needed to be posted anonymously. Speaking of UC Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong, though, I was startled and pleased to discover last night that he has a blog and that Electrolite is in his (short) list of permanent links!

Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 01:19 PM:

Hello, my name is Neel Krishnaswami and you can email me at neelk@alum.mit.edu. aaI posted anonymously here due to a personal quirk. In general I like to disclose who I am when posting online, but I very strongly dislike software that mandates such disclosure. So I supply information about myself in inverse proportion to how strongly it is demanded. The software you use wouldn't let me leave the name and email fields blank, so I fed in fake ones. If it had left it completely optional, then I would have supplied the full name and email. If it had double-checked for validity, I wouldn't have posted at all.aaI doubt this is a fully rational reaction, but it's the one I have and I'm happy with it. :)

Josh ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 01:20 PM:

If Chad's got a hot button when it comes to bloggers trumpeting the transformative power of blogdom, then it's one I share. I find some interesting stuff in the various blogs I read; I also find a relatively small group of people all quoting and arguing with and cross-referencing one another. From where I'm sitting, it looks a lot like Usenet with a better rep. aaPatrick, I don't think that you or Copeland are braying, but I *do* think you're both overstating your cases. I haven't seen anything on a blog I'd consider serious research, and I haven't seen any evidence that blogs do a particularly good job of disseminating "micro-opinions", except to that small self-referential population I was talking about. aaBy way of counter-example, look at Baseball Prospectus (www.baseballprospectus.com). It's a book put togther by a bunch of people who met on rec.sport.baseball; they *have* done serious research, they *have* helped disseminate micro-opinions, and they're playing a part in changing the way a multi-billion dollar industry does business.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 01:33 PM:

Neel, fair enough.aaJosh: Gracious, "a relatively small group of people all quoting and arguing with and cross-referencing one another." Clearly, a bad thing.

Josh ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 01:36 PM:

Patrick: Of course it's not a bad thing. But, as I said, it does make me skeptical about its supposed transformative power.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 01:50 PM:

I believe very strongly in the transformative power of people talking to one another. Fanzines, amateur press associations, teach-ins, "consciousness raising," low-power radio, BBSes, web sites, blogs: all of these have been, at times, important forces putting people together while other social forces pull them apart. (Other lists could be compiled for other times and places. Church auxiliaries. Granges. Committees of correspondence. Do you know what the first groups in North America to call themselves "Congresses" were about?)aaI don't believe in utopia and I'm skeptical about proclamations that "This Changes Everything." On the other hand, my reading of history is that sometimes things come along that, well, change everything. aaBut thanks for all the supportive remarks.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 03:09 PM:

I freely admit that blogger triumphalism is a bit of a hot button issue for me. It does irritate me to a level all out of proportion to its actual importance.aaAs far as weblogging goes, I do think there's something to this whole thing-- obviously, or I wouldn't be posting comments here, or running a book log. What I see in it at the moment, though, is pretty much the same thing I see in Usenet-- it's a chance to read the ideas and opinions of interesting people all around the world, and get a look at what they find interesting. And, in the case of weblogs with a comment feature, or weblogs which cross-link extensively, it's a chance to interact with interesting people, and see them interacting with each other.aaI enjoy that stuff, and I'm happy to see people celebrating the coolness of being part of this sort of "public subcultural conversation." When I complain about triumphalism, that's not the stuff I'm complaining about. The Copeland piece you cited was good stuff, and probably the most level-headed of the assessments of the phenomenon I've read.aaThe very specific brand of blogger triumphalism that sets me off is the sort which attempts to cast weblogs as somehow superior to the "old media" channels of distributing information. They're not. They're wonderful channels for discovering the quirky and off-beat corners of the web, and seeing the idosyncratic opinions of people in far different contexts than your own, but they're not as wonderful for disseminating factual information, or even for "fact-checking" the information of others, simply because they are so idiosyncratic.aaIndeed, in the "fact-checking" department, Usenet is actually superior to weblogs in one important respect: On Usenet, the opposite point of view is inescapable, should somebody choose to argue with you. The responses are posted there in the same group, so a third party can compare the two sides directly and immediately. aaIf you're running a weblog, on the other hand, and somebody takes issue with what you say, it might as well never have happened. You don't have to link to somebody else's systematic deconstruction of your sillier arguments, and people who read only your weblog will quite possibly never even see the other side of the argument unless you're honest enough to link to it. aaI agree with the analogy between weblogging and late-night bull sessions suggested by Lydia Nickerson, and I also like the immediate access to the sources on which those arguments are based. Checking the source of the information is a wonderful zeroth-order kook filter, and many things that seem to be obnoxious rants turn out to be just misunderstandings when the original sources are checked.aaThe problem, though, is that too many weblogs read rather like a transcript of a late-night college bull session involving only people who all agree with one another, and while away the hours taking turns mocking caricatures of their opponents' positions. The fact that those same blogs are the ones most likely to proclaim the superiority of weblogs to "old media" is what I find particularly galling.aaThe ultimate conclusion here is probably that I just need to stop reading Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds (Kate's been telling me that for months now... She's much more sensible than I am...), and read more of, well, Electrolite, and Boing Boing, and Lagniappe, and Through the Looking Glass, and Unqualified Offerings (assuming Henley's ISP ever resurfaces) and What She Really Thinks, and a few others I'm forgetting for the moment. Or, I suppose, I could just try to focus on my actual job... Nah...

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 03:24 PM:

"and a few others I'm forgetting for the moment."aaChad: *cough*. *Cough*. aaExcuse me, must be the remnants of last week's flu.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 04:22 PM:

Patrick, college is a lot like an SF convention, except the wooly-headed arguers outnumber the consuite libertarian blowhards, the panels are less interesting, it's a lot more expensive, your hotel room is smaller, and the hucksters room doesn't sell nearly as wide a variety of buttons.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 04:44 PM:

Ok, true confession time: I didn't go to college, either. Well, ok, I did, but I flunked out in two semesters (the fastest time possible at the University of Iowa) by failing to go to classes, write papers, or take exams. My theory was that a late night bull session was a more accessible image than 3 a.m. in the consuite, which is another comparable image.

Mary Kay Kare ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2002, 08:31 PM:

aPatrick said:aSpeaking of UC Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong, though, I was startled and pleased to discover last night that he has a blog and that Electrolite is in his (short) list of permanent links!aaWow, you must be enormously chuffed (as our friends across the water would say). Congratulations on something or other. I'm still very new to this world of blogs (which dammit are drinks! not news sources) mostly reading yours and Teresa's (wish she had more time to spend on it) and taking a look at ones you recommend. It does, as someone else said, remind me fairly strongly of Usenet. But that's not quite right either.aaMKK

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2002, 11:24 PM:

"I'm still very new to this world of blogs (which dammit are drinks! not news sources)"aaMary Kay refers, of course, to the fact that "blog" is a venerable term in science fiction fandom for a particular alcoholic concoction. I mention this for the benefit of Electrolite readers who are not part of the ancient freemasonry of SF fandom.aaI will say that the blog list in my right-hand column is exactly what it says: Some Weblogs I Look At. Not my list of recommendations, just stuff I'm currently reading. What I recommend varies from minute to minute.

Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2002, 10:03 AM:

Mary Kay: when I belatedly discovered sff.net's "people" groups (via TNH's weblog, actually), I thought, "hey, predecessors to individual blogs and book logs!" There are analogies all across the spectrum, I think.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2002, 10:57 PM:

About Brad DeLong's weblog, you wrote:aa> Speaking of UC Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong, though, I was startled and pleased to discover last night that he has a blog and that Electrolite is in his (short) list of permanent links!aaI'm not sure how he picked up on your blog, Patrick, but Brad is an SF fan, among his many other qualifications. He's been a member of the Lois Bujold fan list (www.dendarii.com) for quite a few years, which is where I know him from. He hadn't mentioned his blog on the list though, and I found out about it because Avedon Carol mentioned your mention of it on her blog, which is one of the other ones I read.aaI've been thinking of starting a blog myself, but I can't say when I'll get around to it.

Neil Rest ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2003, 09:01 PM:

I came over here to dish on Michael Moore (I'm glad we have him, w/a/r/t/s/ cellulite and all, but one may be enough. But, jeez! taking all the other nominees up on the stage with him! GREAT!
(& as for "liberal media" -- most of a year on the NYT Bestseller list and effectively NO talk show gigs? hah)

But the thread has drifted over toward "blogging triumphalism." Which, incidentally, I see as much smaller than some of the participants seem to: the net is genuinely revolutionary in potential, and blogging is just the latest way of organizing and using some of it for some purposes. There will be more. Lots and lots more, I hope. Blogging is just one wave of a rising tide.

There is something new here, though, objectively observable and sufficiently quantifiable. A month ago, ten million people went out in the streets saying "NO!" The demonstration in Cairo wasn't as big as the one in Tel Aviv (just making such a comparison almost permanently pegs my bogglemeter), but there was even a token demonstration of five guys at the South Pole. Maybe you saw the picture on the Web.

A weekend or two ago, there were a thousand performances of Lysistrata.

There are no leaders, no offices, no central command, or board, no hierarchy to approve or disapprove. There's only the net.

One of the consequences will be that when the dust settles somewhat, the slow steamroller attacking the net for the Powers will get bigger, heavier, and faster.

(Hey, if you can go off on your tangents, so can I!)

avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2003, 06:10 PM:

im a stupid white man

ABRAHAM LINCOLN ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2003, 11:43 PM:

BUSH AND BLAIR
--BOTH ARE STUPID WHITE MEN!!!!!!!!!!
BESIDE THAT THEY"RE LIARRRRRRRRRRR
THEY"RE RUBBISH ..SHOULD BE SEND TO OUTER SPACE>>>
NO PLACE FOR THE LIARS,KILLER TO MILLION"S OF INNOCENCE CIVILIANS.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 01:23 AM:

No fair! Why should Bush and Blair get to go, and not us?

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 01:41 AM:

Who let the LaRouchite in?

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 01:48 AM:

Shit, that's no LaRouchite, that's clearly the TimeCube guy!

http://www.timecube.com

BUSH AND BLAIR ARE EDUCATED STUPID.
DO NOT UNDERSTAND NATURE'S SIMULTANEOUS HARMONIC 4-DIMENSIONAL UNITED NATIONS RESOLUTION 1441!

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2003, 02:18 AM:

Great discussion. As a relatively new blogger (200 total hits on my little corner of the blogsphere so far, but who is counting) I will come back and re-read your posts. Lots good information here about blogging. Thanks everyone.

Lois, start one! www.blogger.com is a good place to begin. You can use one of their templates and off you go. It does not require a great deal of technical know how. If you have questions, ask any blogger and they will help you I am sure. For someone like me who got C- in most of my writing courses it is a daunting task to write coherently for the world. And that's who you are writing for - the World! Cool stuff.

I have never used usenet. I will have to look up how to access that.

Kris Hasson-Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2003, 03:24 PM:

Look, more comment spam! Is it helpful or redundant when I point these out, Patrick?