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June 10, 2005

More astroturf
Posted by Teresa at 12:17 PM *

In Deceiving Us Has Become an Industrial Process, the weblog Rational Grounds has far exceeded the old post of mine he quotes, Common Fraud, in examining how pervasive corporate-sponsored fake grassroots organizations have become:

Josh Marshall is currently beating the drum against Koch Industries and their various outfits, who are staging some protests around the Rock the Vote awards ceremony tonight. And reading his comments I was bowled over by the number of astroturf groups involved in this little network. You’ve got Social Security for All, who are actually Americans for Prosperity, who are actually the Independent Women’s Forum (Do the math yourself, really)

Then there’s Citizens for a Sound Economy (now merged with Empower America to become Freedom Works, flaming sword sold separately). They share a good deal with all the above groups. Interestingly, they also had a hand in my last post’s topic, lobbying for the tobacco companies going back to 1994.

And that’s just the groups involved with this Social Security protest shindig today. The bizarre advocacy network the government has worked up for No Child Left Behind is probably more famous, if only for it’s eventual involvement with Armstrong Williams and the illegal fake-news blocks the Bush administration put out promoting its Medicare, drug control and NCLB initiatives. (The administration shows every sign of continuing these practices.)

The Medicare and Armstrong parts of this saga are run through a PR and marketing firm named Ketchum, Inc.. An internet campaign was also mounted through Democracy, Data & Communications, a company with a breathtaking record in the astroturf world. A quick WHOIS/nslookup investigation turned up oodles of DDC fronts. [detailed list to follow] Their client list is also pretty impressive.

Harking back to Common Good for a moment, it seems tort reform, as a movement, is entirely concocted from corporate lobbying fronts. All those stories about wacky lawsuits and outrageous settlements? Lies. (Really, read the whole Making Light article.)

Social Security, tort reform, the drug war… looking through all this, I have to wonder - how many of my opinions about my world are bought and paid for?

Answer: a lot of them, unless you’ve gone through and cleaned out every compartment.

I don’t want to give myself undue credit for precocity, but I started noticing there was something funny going on when I was a kid reading my grandparents’ copies of Readers Digest. That was where I first heard about juries making ridiculous awards in personal-injury cases. It made interesting reading, but after a while it occurred to me that I never saw articles about reasonable and justifiable personal injury awards. Surely there had to be some? Likewise articles in which the IRS wasn’t a monster, and labor unions had some good reason to exist, and politicians weren’t all windbags, layabouts, and snake oil salesmen.

I doubt we’ll ever know the whole history of astroturf. I suspect it goes back further and spreads wider than most sane people have ever imagined.

Comments on More astroturf:
#1 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 01:39 PM:

Teresa wrote:

I doubt we’ll ever know the whole history of astroturf. I suspect it goes back further and spreads wider than most sane people have ever imagined.

I may be reaching here, I admit:

9. But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

10. For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.

11. But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.

(That’s less than two millennia, anyway; I’m sure Making Light’s readers can do better . . .)

#2 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 01:57 PM:

Teresa wrote:
I don’t want to give myself undue credit for precocity, but I started noticing there was something funny going on when I was a kid reading my grandparents’ copies of Readers Digest. That was where I first heard about juries making ridiculous awards in personal-injury cases. It made interesting reading, but after a while it occurred to me that I never saw articles about reasonable and justifiable personal injury awards. Surely there had to be some? Likewise articles in which the IRS wasn’t a monster, and labor unions had some good reason to exist, and politicians weren’t all windbags, layabouts, and snake oil salesmen.

So... Corporate astroturfing is responsible for the "bad news sells papers" truism of human nature?

#3 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 01:58 PM:

As a graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, I know a little bit about Reader's Digest, because the founder, DeWitt Wallace, had a father who had served as Macalester's president.

Wallace gave a great deal of money to the college and abruptly w/drew his financial support in 1970 when he discovered that the school was too radical for his tastes. [back story, I was told by Melvin Laird at a break during a deposition in 1980 (Laird at the time was a potentate for Reader's Digest)that Wallace had become incensed that money he gave the school was used to construct a co-ed dorm]

At any rate, my meanderings do have a point. DeWitt was kicked out of Macalester during his youth for bringing a cow up the stairs to the top of Old Main. At which point, given the way a cow's legs are constructed, it could not be brought down the stairs under its own steam. So the animal had to be slaughtered. Right there in the hall. Therefore it was with some shame but some inside chuckling when we students would contemplate the role of Reader's Digest at the college. And the public face of its founder.

However, Wallace was lured back into the fold in the late '70's after a Mac grad was named Miss America. Somehow that just softened him up.

So Reader's Digest. A little patchwork of the US.

#4 ::: Chopper ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 02:06 PM:

I'm also a Mac grad--he left the college an immense amount of Reader's Digest stock when he died. At one point the endowment was valued at over a half billion. Then the stock tanked...

#5 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 02:39 PM:

Amazing connection. And the college is required by the terms of the trust to hang on to the stock, cannot sell it to diversify. It must be a horrible sensation to watch the value decrease and be unable to do anything about it....

#6 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 02:48 PM:

I too read the Readers Digest as a small child--intially for the joke collections, and then later because it was deemed somewhat safe by the adults in my family but it was the first place I get could find out about all the really scary stuff in the world. I blame the Readers Digest for my paranoia about Scientologists (perhaps a well-founded paranoia, but that doesn't explain why I thought my parents were being recruited when they went to some empowerment training; I started making escape plans, you know, just in case.) And then there was the infamous family incident where I was presumed to have no knowledge of sex or rape or child abuse by certain extended family members, who were all disabused of this notion in the midst of a family reunion--this too can be chalked up to the Reader's Digest, which would relate harrowing stories of children being forced into closets for weeks on end and made to lick up their own urine. I was already a big fan of the Joe's spleen sort of article BEFORE Fight Club came out.

Still, I never quite made the same connect that Teresa made with the RD, although maybe a little bit more with my school newspaper experiences. (Try taking journalism courses in Utah about the first amendment and journalistic ethics, and then find out that the school has STOLEN your paper from its boxes because they disagree with an article that happens to be factually correct. True story. Happened to my class at least twice. Once in junior high and once in college.)

#7 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 02:49 PM:

So... if they can't sell it, what good does it do them? Does it pay dividends? And if they can't sell it, does it matter what the price is?

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 02:50 PM:

Why you're arguing about this when there's a white lady missing in Aruba is beyond me.

For cripes sake people, the Michael Jackson verdict could come through any minute now and here you are arguing about artificial grass!

Why, it makes me want to find a form letter to send to my Congressmen.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 03:01 PM:

David, Steve: Spin we have with us always. Bad news does sell papers. Yes. But this is something different.

If it were just a matter of bad news selling papers, the bad news in question would be pointed in all directions, like a heap of jackstraws. RD's stories, consistently and over a period of many years, pointed in the same direction.

Rational Grounds thought it through further than I ever did, and suggested that tort reform was not only being driven by corporate interests, but was entirely their creation: " it seems tort reform, as a movement, is entirely concocted from corporate lobbying fronts." Could RG be right? Was tort reform ever an issue on its own?

I'm thinking maybe it wasn't. I haven't run across any recognizable remains of its original issues. It seems to have no history beyond the disinformation campaigns. Besides, if it had started out as a real issue, I can't think the people involved would have given it such an inscrutable name. So, now I'm trying on the idea that it's never been anything but the "we don't want to have to pay our legitimate legal judgements" movement.

Social Security's even creepier. I can't remember how old I was when I first heard that Social Security might run out of money. It's been a constant low-level worry in my life. Now evidence is turning up that that idea has been pushed via a decades-long coordinated secret campaign.

I'm shocked and offended to discover that there are sinister, shadowy organizations and cardboardy villains who've been plotting against me all this time. Bad art! Bad art! But it's bad art I can't sneer at in a review, or reject in the slushpile. This is real.

Simply appalling.

Okay, there are villains. There really are. There are villains who plot the downfall of the republic. They're out to get me. You, too.

Takes some getting used to.

#10 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 03:19 PM:

Y'know the actual point of this mad profusion of astroturf orgs, don't you? It's to flood people with so much information that their capacity for handling complexity is overwhelmed.

When that happens (1) they lose the ability to make rational decisions on the matter at hand, and instead decide based on whatever they're told by somebody with an authoritative tone who reinforces their existing prejudices, and (2) they start to crave simple solutions, even (perhaps especially) brutal ones.

It's a technique well-suited to the current media environment. Lazy journalists can just quote a variety of sources on the issue and witholding judgement, allowing them to flatter themslves for presenting all sides of a complex issue, leaving the reader/viewer with a vague general impression that the issue is too complicated to actually understand. Lazy bloggers (Does Glenn Reynolds bother to actually read all of anything he links to?) can just skim over long MSM articles and pluck out the quotes that support their view, safe in the knowledge that the typical reader won't bother to actually follow the link.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 03:25 PM:

Seriously:

When I'm in a dark mood, I wonder if this is it.

From here on out, any chance of progress and justice will be drowned out by massive bleats and howls, variations on the same time-tested crap that keeps people stupid, outraged, but paradoxically tame.

They've figured out our psychoneurological hot buttons, and how best to press them, and the future won't be a boot stomping on a face forever, but people being led around by a metaphorical ring through their nose, convinced that the way the rope is tugging them is the way they wanted to go anyway.

How else could you explain how a schlock novelist who writes about resurrected dinosaurs can suddenly become a quotable authority on the Greenhouse Effect?

Stefan

#12 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 03:47 PM:

I remember my father telling me, when I was about ten or eleven, not that I shouldn't read Reader's Digest, but that I should pay attention to the way the stories repeated, in a regular and predictable cycle. Details changed to preserve an illusion of freshness, but not the basic stories, or the political viewpoint being advanced. And, yes, Piscusfiche, it's a pretty scary worldview, in a lot of ways.

Having my father point out that they had an agenda was tremendously helpful--although it did detract somewhat from the entertainment value of RD.

#13 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 03:49 PM:

In complement with the information overflooding, there's also that very sly use of one type of codification of discourse set with a content that doesn't usually match in people's minds/habits.
Too much of this, and suddenly nothing makes sense anymore.

How else could you explain how a schlock novelist who writes about resurrected dinosaurs can suddenly become a quotable authority on the Greenhouse Effect?

"The specialist" effect of old. Anyone given the right title can be given that indecent power to tell anything without need to prove himself or his worth in the field he's supposed to be part of.

Now mix that with info overflowing and code displacement to brew one ugly potion.

#14 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 03:54 PM:

Teresa: Thank you for the elaboration. I see your point. My cynical vertebra wants me to carry this on, to try to establish that it isn't just one ideological faction that does this, everybody buys opinions on the commodities market; but it's way too late on a Friday afternoon right now to construct a truly solid argument.

However...

Stefan Jones:
They've figured out our psychoneurological hot buttons, and how best to press them, and the future won't be a boot stomping on a face forever, but people being led around by a metaphorical ring through their nose, convinced that the way the rope is tugging them is the way they wanted to go anyway.

I see your point too. What I'm trying to understand is how you think this is any different from the past. Sounds like all of human history to me.

#15 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 04:13 PM:

Lis Carey: I think that's probably why my extended family considered the Reader's Digest "safe" -- not because of the topics covered, but the way in which those topics were covered.

#16 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 04:14 PM:

DeWitt was kicked out of Macalester during his youth for bringing a cow up the stairs to the top of Old Main. At which point, given the way a cow's legs are constructed, it could not be brought down the stairs under its own steam.

Waitaminnit--Cornell has a story about some students doing this same thing, with the same stair problem, that I was told way back when when I toured the school as a potential freshman.

Which makes me wonder if both stories aren't urban legends.

#17 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 05:05 PM:

Stefan, you must have missed the news that scientists have found a way of making aerosol Trust.

#18 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 05:09 PM:

What he doesn't mention, and it's surely germane, is that Koch Industries has the contract to keep the Strategic Petroleum Reserve filled, on commission and at obscenely inflated prices, despite the fact that the President has been asked to stop topping it off so folks can afford to gas their cars.

So he happened to have a little extra tucked away for just this sort of emergency.

#19 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 05:14 PM:

Janni: I don't know. I do know that cows can't descend stairs.

TK

#20 ::: Ben ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 05:35 PM:

Rational Grounds thought it through further than I ever did, and suggested that tort reform was not only being driven by corporate interests, but was entirely their creation

Teresa, you do yourself a disservice. In fact, in your original article on Common Good, you did put forward the idea that tort reform could be a wholly artificial movement:

"In the case of Common Good, the agenda being pursued can be loosely grouped under tort reform, which isn’t a reform movement at all. It’s a massive lobbying and PR campaign surreptitiously financed by business interests."

Credit where credit is due, and all. Perhaps I'm interpreting a little too strongly, but reading through the CorpReform.com site certainly leads one to that conclusion.

#21 ::: Lenore Jean Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 05:47 PM:

The tort reform movement isn't only run by corporate interests, though a lot of it is. I read an e-newsletter called the True Stella Awards by internet humorist Randy Cassingham, who always provides links to citations on the cases he writes about. Randy is pretty even-handed, I think.

#22 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 06:00 PM:

Janni, there was a contemporaneous (meaning very old) news article about the incident in Q that was actually framed and posted on a wall in the Macalester alumni house when I stayed there back in the late '80's. If it was an urban legend, it was created at the time and not later, and a news source (horrors) bought the story. It may have been the St. Paul Pioneer Press, but it's been a few years.

#23 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 06:08 PM:

I have a distinct recollection of reading an account of the Cuban Revolution, generally supportive of Castro and the rebels, in an old copy of Readers Digest.

It must have been published in that tiny gap between the crooks and the communists.

I suppose that now Battista is the Good Guy, since he too was running government-sponsored torture in Cuba.

#24 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 06:45 PM:

Janni: the cow story is also told of MIT, although further back (and possibly involving a crane instead of a butcher knife -- I read it a long time ago). This doesn't make it untrue, it just means that college students had something in common even before the September Effect.

#25 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 07:47 PM:

Teresa, I'm sure you know who Edward L. Bernays is. Read about some of his accomplishments in his bio The Father of Spin and none of this will surprise you...

After a while you get so you can smell these fake groups a mile away. But the subtler stuff...? Who knows? I can remember you, years ago, giving me the whole "books are all going to turn into cornflakes" lecture, which, if you read Nicholson Baker's Double Fold, turns out to stem from a misleading film put out by the microfilm companies...Just goes to show we all have to examine out opinions carefully, and constantly ask ourselves how we know what we know...

#26 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 08:05 PM:

The Deep Cow Interview: Excerpts

He was not, as I had expected (and indeed been assured more than once), a Holstein. I was asked not to be more descriptive. "Do people really see any other breed?" he said with amusement. "You aren't going to hear the phrase, "There was a spotted cow on the grassy knoll."
"Why colleges?"
"College students are easy to fool. Most professors are only slightly less so, and I do not necessarily mean professors of animal husbandry. Ah, you're grinning. That always makes people laugh. Ditez-moi, la vache qui rit. But it's one of the primary purposes of humor: to deflate pomposity. Groucho as a college president -- magic. Groucho at the circus -- hello, I must be going."
"How many times have you done this?"
"Not half as many as reported. There's a sort of cachet to it in the United States; every town a Chelm. You don't find Swiss cows doing such things; they're too busy with finishing off Bretton Woods and defense planning. Italian cows are interested mainly in more Italian cows, stereotypical as it may be. French cows are great jokers, however. During the Occupation, many careless Germans found themselves upstairs in much the same predicament as American students. With a terminal case of l'esprit d'escalier, shall we say."
"I'm afraid I'm missing the connection."
"Because you aren't asking the question," Deep Cow said, with a rumble in his voice heavy and smooth as double Devon cream. "You always ask, 'what about the stairs?' You never ask, 'Where does the blood come from?'"

#27 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 10:28 PM:

PiscusFiche, I'm afraid I understand the business about making plans, just in case. Glad you're here.

Avram: Overwhelmed, yes; and damn the false parity of observing that "both sides do it" when one side is occasional and anecdotal, and the other side pursues it as an industrial process. I believe another associated mechanism is the constant belittling of people who work in government and/or follow the issues closely. Automatically not trusting them deprives all those overwhelmed people of sources of information and interpretation that could do them a lot of good.

Lis Carey, I'll swap your upbringing for mine. It would have been a vast relief to me to talk to an adult who could confirm that what I was seeing was real.

Julia: Teapot Dome again?

Ben, it was clear to me that the tort reform "movement" was a wholly sponsored subsidiary of the corporate world. The jump I didn't make was to imagine that it had never been anything else; that it wasn't a set of existing sentiments that had been co-opted and hugely inflated, but rather had been a fraud all along. I suppose the difference for me was, on the one hand, imagining people starting out doing normal stuff, then gradually moving toward corruption because they were lying to themselves about their own motivations and methods; and on the other hand, imagining people consciously deciding on a wicked plan, then carrying it out.

I'd put a lot of years into believing that there are no conscious villains.

Dave Bell: Occasionally I'd get hold of older copies of RD, and would notice the odd shifts in universal reality. I recall some stories about nice people living in Eastern Europe whose lives didn't revolve around escape to the West.

Robert, my "books are all going to turn into cornflakes" rant didn't derive from anybody's microfilm. It came of all the hours I spent researching 19th C. material at Bobst and Butler. That old woodpulp paper got shattery. I remember having to stop looking at a piece of litcrit because the book had gotten too brittle. Every time I turned a page, I could hear it snap off along the binding. I once tried to gently erase some stupid pencil markings on a page and had the paper shatter into little pieces like safety glass. And do you remember Tony the researcher? I could always tell when S.T. had him going after old material, because the copiers near Butler's main reading room would all be full of cornflakes.

Actually, I think the worst moment was when I was about to take some old books back to Bobst for S.T., and one of them slipped out of my hand and landed on the front steps of the Christopher Street offices. It came down squarely on the bottom edge (both corners) of the spine. The book exploded -- more than a third of the pages broke away from the spine on impact, and they flew in all directions. I was horrified. S.T. just gathered up the pages, tucked them back in and tamped them straight, and told me to be careful putting it into the returns bin.

#28 ::: Dissent ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2005, 11:59 PM:

I have discovered, to my shock, that the lion-reform movement has been entirely engineered by a sinister cabal of gazelles and zebras, to protect their own selfish interests. Spread the word!

#29 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2005, 12:07 AM:

About conscious villainy ....

The following may be a moot distinction. (I know I've raised it with you, before.) I don't think you have to assume Astroturfers (and some of our other politico-economic predators) consciously wish to destroy you -- to explain the motivation for what they do.

That they *don't care* whether you're destroyed, as a byproduct of their drive for wealth, power, and emotional security, seems more likely, to me.

This distinction suggests the possibility that individual "conspirators" may be operating with an infantile sense of affect -- combined with some adult reasoning power. Work on the sense of affect; and some of them may decide "I really don't have to destroy decent, innocent people to get what I need."

Superior economic, political and legal force may be required to stop people whose actions are effectively destroying you. But I'd argue not to abandon attempts at simultaneous moral suasion.

#30 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2005, 09:40 AM:

Lenny --

The conscious will to destroy is there, in the eliminationist rhetoric, at the horror of living in the future, and in the active effort to remove all checks on the exercise of power. (Which is one of the core reasons the US eductation system is so bad.)

The objective is to not get to the future. They don't like the future; they can't avoid knowing that their axioms are wrong there.

They because it's a whole bunch of people with many different motivations and interests, and that one common cause of living in the world as they imagined it to have been when they were five and the world was good.

If this can be avoided, it will be avoided by overturning the Deicide of Progress undertaken by pursuing the Great War.

#31 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2005, 10:35 AM:

Years ago, I read a novel for children called Midnight is a Place, by Joan Aiken. The villain in the novel is a creepy wheelchair-user who runs the local mill's union, or "Friendly Association". It's set in the late 18th-century, but the mill is surprisingly strongly-unionised: you have to join the union when you get a job there, no exceptions permitted, whether you are a 10-year-old girl or a young man.

The union, in the novel, is presented as an evil association for exploiting the workers: their real hope is for the mill's owner to die and a nice, enlightened young man to inherit and run the mill along enlightened-employer lines.

I think I was reading the novel for the second or third time when it occurred to me that this "Friendly Association" described in such damning terms was a union, and this confused me: unions, according to all my dad's stories about his father and his grandfather, were good. They didn't exist to exploit workers, but to enable workers to bargain collectively and get a better deal than if they'd tried to negotiate singly. I understood the theory and practice of union working quite well, and I was bewildered why Joan Aiken had constructed a union as a villainous association.

I asked my dad, who said that it sounded like she adopted the idea from the pamphlets that mill owners and other employers used to publish warning workers about the dangers of the union, at about that time: apparently there was a regular publication of warnings to workers that the union existed only to exploit them and take their money, and they ought to trust in the mill owners, who would take care of them.

So, yeah. Astroturf.

#32 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2005, 07:36 PM:

TNH: Now that I am (again) living in Eastern ^H^H^H^H^H CENTRAL Europe (my wife being Hungarian and our having executed our periodic "wait a minnit, maybe Hungary is better after all" move again this year) I am continually being struck by the discord of growing up in a Reader's Digest America and moving to a newly-enlightened Hungary. Don't get me wrong -- in the 50's and 60's, this was *not* a nice place to be a dissident, and in ways which make my fears for America feel a little foolish. (Things will have to get a lot worse before the Administration can send the police around to disappear someone at 4 AM with impunity -- and indeed, much MUCH worse before they could conceivably do it to any significant portion of the population.) But Hungary is just plain a nice place to live, and has been right through the worst of the Cult of Personality. Oh, granted, the system sucked and lots of people were killed in the middle of the night, but lifestyle-wise, well: the food here is great, the folk culture rich, the people have a basic sense of freedom that is unaffected by any fleeting thing like governments or centuries, and their sense of humor, while black, is solid. And a nation of 10 million is sort of like the national-level version of a small town; there's a sense of "we're all in this together" that you don't get in America these days.

The weird thing is this: while Reader's Digest has made my family certain that all Europeans want to emigrate to America given the faintest chance, and while I know, having lived here, that this isn't the case because Europe is actually a better place to live than America in most respects, here in Hungary there is this weird inversion: Hungarians really *do* all want to emigrate to the States (in the same way that Americans dream of cashing in and moving to the Bahamas). They want this for the most basic of reasons: the fences are made of sausage and the houses are made of ... oh, drat, my wife is asleep and I forget what the houses are made of, but it's the Hungarian version of the streets being paved with gold. And indeed most people know at least one young cousin who went to the States, got a construction job (probably paid in cash and not taxed), and got relatively rich. Therefore, the reasoning goes, all Americans are wealthy. Then they meet me.

So it's odd: Hungarians actually bought all that American propaganda through the 70's and 80's, and still believe it even though it's patently obsolete. Weird. Especially since any of them can now "escape" to the West, since there are no real borders any more. Well, nobody can get a visa for the US, of course -- all those Hungarian terrorists just begging to storm the battlements, I guess.

Lenny: it's always been my opinion that the villains actually rationalize their villainy by telling themselves that those hurt are simply not the right kind of people in the first place, or that the good people will avoid being hurt. And then not thinking too hard about it. OTOH, I remember learning about Shell Oil's campaign to actually kill villagers who had the misfortune to live on top of oil fields -- and realizing that sometimes, the villains really are just rapacious bastards, the kind we all thought had died out in the 19th century. They're just subtler now. Or actually, lately, not.

#33 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2005, 09:38 PM:

Teresa: OK, I'm sure this is all true. I have a memory of your telling me you'd seen some presentation about acid paper. Obviously, old books do sometimes get brittle. But the extent of the problem, and its solution, have been greatly exaggerated and distorted by the microfilm industry.

Or at least that's what Nicholson Baker says. He makes a convincing case.

#34 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2005, 09:55 PM:

I read Nicholson Baker's book, but personal experience makes me side with Teresa. It's a good thing that the works of Euclid, Socrates, Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Newton weren't published only on acidic pulp paper. Imagine if the Odyssey had been printed that way only. All we'd have would be some statues of the stars of the reprise of the stage version, and urban myth that it had been one hell of a story. Wish we had even the just the graphic novels version of the Library of Alexandria. The burning of which has been mentioned in some Science Fiction, right?

#35 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 01:21 AM:

I've also seen, with my own eyes, the kind of brittleness TNH talks about. I own books I can't read because the pages will start falling out if I try to turn them. It's not all copies of the same edition, it's not all editions of the same book, but for a lot of popular ephemeral fiction (like much SF) the books and especially the pulp magazines are in real danger.

#36 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 03:49 AM:

From my viewpoint, the focus on astroturf avoids a central basic fact: much "common wisdom" is invalid; and much of the contents of our heads is not particularly reliable. We are all very vulnerable to belief without question, especially when we are younger, and the astroturfers take advantage of this. Of course, Teresa, you know this from painful personal experience with neurological problems and family and church deceptions. But it's true of most of us; we swallow too much, swallow it whole, and don't ask enough questions. I decided a few years back that it was simpler to believe less, and hold most belief in abeyance, waiting on validation. The interesting thing I find about this is that it seems to leave more room for truth; when one tosses random chatter, there is sometimes more room for music and silence.

#37 ::: Lois Aleta Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 04:52 AM:

Not all books get brittle because not all are made with acidic paper. But a lot of books, and not just paperbacks, are made from acidic wood-pulp based paper. The conditions under which the book is stored have something to do with how badly brittle the book becomes, too -- too much light, too little humidity, etc. But the pH of the paper is the most important factor. The acid oxidizes when exposed to air, creating a burning effect in the paper, which seems to be not only why it turns brown, but why the edges and especially corners get brown and brittle first. Sometimes a page will become so brittle it comes away from the book, when you try to turn it, in pieces, leaving crumbs of paper everywhere. It's true, it's happened many times, and they do even look a bit like cornflakes. It's not a myth. Libraries have even been known to spend lots of money trying to "deacidify" paper so that books will remain intact and usable.

Digital, electronic-based storage media -- CDs, floppies, tape -- don't last much beyond an average of seven years, according to a study I recently read. Microfilm, like vinyl records, is more of an analog medium and will last longer with proper care. Certainly microfilmed newspapers last much longer than actual paper ones, given not only the acid in the paper, but the wear and tear of folding, handling, etc. ("Tear" is sometimes literal, too. Many of our local newspapers on microfilm are missing parts of pages from where articles were cut from the paper before it was ever filmed.)

Microfilming also allows many libraries that never even existed in the 1850s, when the New York Times first began publication, to have a complete run of the Times, which is a great resource for history. Without microfilm, only a finite number of issues of the paper would exist, but microfilms can be copied and multiply. Now there's online access to the Times backfiles, which in theory makes it even more available, though the database is expensive so many libraries such as ours can't afford it.

The major negative of microfilmed papers, in my experience, is that sometimes the quality of the copying is poor -- too light, usually, or blurry. That's not true of the Times so much as for smaller, local papers, though.

My nephew is currently reading _Double Fold_ for one of his library school classes. (Same school I was attending when he was born. It must run in the family.) He asked me in an e-mail tonight if I'd ever read it. IIRC I read it in The New Yorker when it first came out. I was not impressed with Baker's arguments then and still am not. If you're running a research library with deep archives, that's one thing, and yes, in an ideal world keeping paper copies of everything would be nice.

But ordinary small-town or neighborhood public library, such as the one where I work, with security and space (not to mention budget and staffing) constraints is a much different situation, though, and keeping the back issues of newspapers in actual paper is not the way we'd want to do it. Raganathan's first law, "A book is for use," comes into play. Librarians can't preserve things to the extent that people can't use them, otherwise we're not libraries, just archives. Microfilm, online access, etc., makes things available without actually touching the originals, and so have their uses. What you lose in the "feel" of things,you make up for in access to the content.

Baker seems to put the actual physical sensation of The Book or The Newspaper or even The Card Catalog ahead of content, which is a much different attitude toward them than libraries usually have. We care more about The Content; what the book says is more important than how it feels or smells. After all, library books can get used over and over, dozens and even hundreds of times, and may eventually need to be mended or rebound. They lose that new car, er, book, smell very soon.

The weirdest thing of all to me, though, when I read Baker, was his catalog-card fetish. That's the only way I can describe his romantic arguments for keeping such an outdated and inefficient technology. Who the (expletive deleted) cares if Some Famous Author ever touched that card? Has Baker ever filed catalog cards? Or refiled them after realizing a whole run of them were in the wrong order, or because someone dropped the drawer? Or needed to make changes to the cataloging of a book, requiring erasing and/or retyping information on an entire set of cards (which can be as few as two or as many as you want to deal with)? Or had library users who thought it was easier to remove the card from the drawer -- or, even more aggravating, just tear off the corner with the call number! -- than write the information down on scratch paper when looking for a book? Yes, that latter was a real problem for us.

This is where computers excel above all else, and why I never want to use a card catalog on a regular basis ever again.

#38 ::: Danny Yee ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 09:53 AM:

If you want long-lasting media, I think clay tablets are probably hard to beat. But I'm having troubling imagining a clay table catalog card stack...

#39 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 09:55 AM:

Lois: I went off to order a copy of Double Fold, as least it sounds interesting, and found reference to a 2002 book which seems to be a detailed critique of it. ("Vandals in the Stacks? : A Response to Nicholas Baker's Assault on Libraries"). Any idea if this is worth reading as a follow-through?

#40 ::: Kevin ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 10:52 AM:

Hmm, with all these right-wing corporate fake grassroots organizations, I wouldn't be surprised if you started seeing Republican groupies walking down every street in America soon.

#41 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 12:07 PM:

There's an inverse correlation between density of information and survivability; there has to be, because density is surrendering redundancy to an increasing number of scales of physical damage. (A dust mote is as nothing to your vellum manuscript; it can be a real problem for a modern hard drive.)

The computer solution is to keep many copies in many locations and to roll everything forward as technology changes; it's going to be a real pain if the computers ever all stop, of course. There's already too much stuff to print.

(Just imagine printing full resolution prints of all the images Casini has sent back from Saturn.)

#42 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 12:40 PM:

Graydon:

"Just imagine printing full resolution prints of all the images Cas[s]ini has sent back from Saturn."

NASA has covered up the fact that budget slashing has allowed destruction of some priceless parts of archives of spacecraft planetary images. My confidential source, whom in this context I'll dub "Deep Impact," who has given me correct scoops for over 20 years, quotes an administrator who says "big deal; we'll send another probe to that planet in a few years." By the way, as googling reveals, I invented "Artificial Meteorite Strike Spectroscopy" as is used in the 4th of July comet/spacecraft collision, and published first (1983, refereed).

I have often found a single indexed document, or group of documents, missing from allegedly complete archives while being a paid "private eye" on research. For instance, Poindexter's PhD dissertation in nuclear Physics from Caltech's stacks vanished during Contragate. Records absent when I researched a Howard Hughes "autobiography" [published as by "J.P."]. Police records of my arrest at a Town Meeting (where I was both an elected official and a card-carrying reporter) for questioning narcotics sting bills amid the $250,000 cash dug up from the lawn of the Chairman of the Altadena Town Council, said police report dated the day BEFORE the arrest.

It's almost as if sinister Powers want some records to decay, and so encourage all to decay, a slow-mo Library of Alexandria.

But I digress.

#43 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 12:44 PM:

Whoops, date correction, 1993:

Jonathan V. Post, "Human and Robotic Precursor Missions to the Polar Icecaps of Mercury", Proceedings of The High Frontier Conference XI: Bringing the Vision of Space into Reality, 11th in a series formally known as the Space Manufacturing Conference, Space Studies Institute, Princeton, NJ, June 1993 [and see also the reference to this in "The Ball-bearing Bowling Alternative: Wild Strikes for Polar Ice", Mercury Messenger, Issue 6, July 1994, p.4 of 4]

#44 ::: Sajia ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 03:59 PM:

I actually enjoyed reading Reader's Digest in my early teens, because of the jokes, and the stories of the horrors of Communism were just an adventure epic. What started to creep me out was its attitudes towards race: every now and then it would come out with articles about black youth who had been punished by their peers for 'acting white'. This would not have bothered me if they had included at least one article on a person for whom black pride had been a motivation for self-improvement.

#45 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 07:51 PM:

I used to skim my aunt's Readers Digest, looking for the jokes and the quizzes and little vocabulary tests.

It seemed that in every issue there'd be a story about a man in an isolated spot who lost a limb to a threshing machine/cougar attack/car crash, who then had to pick up the severed limb and walk (or sometimes hop, depending on the limb) back to civilization. I'm not a born surgeon, and those stories used to make me go pale and feel ill as a child, yet those were the ones I always read through to the grisly end.

I'm not sure what the message of those stories was. Perhaps they were just about the image of the rugged individualist who doesn't need any stinking welfare handouts, convenient ambulance services or an even number of limbs.

#46 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 08:00 PM:

" . . . every now and then it would come out with articles about black youth who had been punished by their peers for 'acting white'."

Ah, yes. The famous "I Am Joe's Excuse to Stay a Bigot" series.

#47 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 09:21 PM:

I can't help it.

Why, with all these cows at the tops of buildings (and I'm not even going to think about how they persuaded the cows to do that) didn't anyone think of building a ramp down the stairs for the cows to go down?

It could be argued that the stairs were too narrow/steep, but in that case, I think they'd be too narrow/steep to persuade the cow to go up.

Cows must be pretty good at going down slopes - otherwise there'd be a lot of cows stuck at the tops of hills.

Off to do some research...

#48 ::: Lois Aleta Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2005, 11:56 PM:

Andrew, I haven't myself read "Vandals in the Stacks? : A Response to Nicholas Baker's Assault on Libraries" but if you're really interested in librarians' response to Baker's assertions, you might want to read it. Cox teaches at the school my nephew is attending but I'm not sure if he's the prof for the course Darryl (said nephew) is taking. I am going to refer Darryl to this entire thread when I write back to him.

#49 ::: Lois Aleta Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 12:21 AM:

I started reading Reader's Digest for the jokes, when I was about 8 or 9 I think -- and still read it sometimes, mostly for the jokes. I also read a lot of the condensed books, both the ones at the end of the magazine and, starting the summer I was 9, the Condensed Books set (my Mom subscribed to it). Since I wanted, at that age, to be a doctor when I grew up, the "I Am Joe's Body Part" articles were another favorite of mine, although I wished they'd do more "I Am Jane's..."

(Nine going on ten, that was, the summer of 1960, a seminal year for me. Became a baseball fan and a follower of politics that summer too. Mom worried about me reading adult books and then decided the really adult stuff probably went over my head. And this was the Condensed ones, which already had the more risqué -- for the 50s and early 60s! -- bits cut out.)

Of course, at our house the trouble was keeping me from reading stuff!

Anyway, I was already becoming a little suspicious of RD's political viewpoint by sometime shortly thereafter, though I don't know that I could have described it well, or would have dared to try to anyone I knew at the time, except that it seemed too insistent, like trying to convince ... who? their readers? themselves? It was sort of like when our minister -- I was brought up Methodist -- was going on about something that surely the congregation already knew and presumably believed. "Preaching to the converted" might have rung a bell if I knew the term at the time.

By the later 60s, I used to get into some loud political arguments with My Mom the Republican, but I still read RD for some of the less political stuff. (Things worked out though, and Mom eventually surprised me by voting for Mondale in 1984, which turned out to be her last election.)

#50 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 09:13 AM:

Of course, in the UK, we not only have RD, but the Daily Mail & Daily Express, neither of which I can read without throwing them across the room... I have a complusion to deconstruct every story in them, every single one has a subtext promoting fear.

Every
single
day

Don't get me started on their coverage of the proposed religious hate law...

#51 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 11:48 AM:

There's also the "Center For Consumer Freedom" which is run, staffed and directed, not by consumers, but by amalgamated corporate interests

You know it's time to pull the plug on media when you find yourself unable to tell if they're stealing ideas from cyberpunk, or the other way around.

#52 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 03:15 PM:

NASA has covered up the fact that budget slashing has allowed destruction of some priceless parts of archives of spacecraft planetary images. My confidential source, whom in this context I'll dub "Deep Impact," who has given me correct scoops for over 20 years, quotes an administrator who says "big deal; we'll send another probe to that planet in a few years."

And of course the appearance of a planet never, ever changes from year to year...

#53 ::: Northland ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 03:31 PM:

What Lois Said re: acid-free paper, newspapers, and libraries.

And Pete, you may have seen it already, but one of my favourite random generators is the Daily Mail-o-matic. "WILL THE E.U. GIVE THE ELDERLY CANCER?" and other vital questions of our time!

#54 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 03:37 PM:

Lois--
I don't have the time or the ability to make Baker's arguments as well as he can himself. Double Fold is a polemic, but it makes a great deal of sense, and is very entertaining reading.

Baker's quarrel isn't with microfilm and computers per se, but with the wholesale destruction of older materials (yes, including card catalogs) in favor of the newer, and in many respects inferior, ones. I have certainly used some of the specific online materials he talks about (Cornell's online version of its run of Scribner's Magazine, for example. I have also had a job reading and researching microfilm materials in the US Department of Labor's library for many weeks. As far as I'm concerned, microfilm has really little to recommend it beyond its smaller volume. It can decay just as paper can, it's cumbersome and tiring to use, it is not a random-access medium, and the original images are more often than not poorly captured.

I can only restate one of Baker's basic arguments: for a small fraction of the millions and millions that are spent on destructive microfilming, one could rent a huge warehouse out in the sticks and store everything that's destroyed there, to be supplied on request.

#55 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 05:44 PM:

Robert, I have a small difference of opinion with that last sentence:

for a small fraction of the millions and millions that are spent on destructive microfilming, one could rent a huge warehouse out in the sticks and store everything that's destroyed there, to be supplied on request.

No, one really can't. Libraries have struggled with this for years. One of my first management jobs was to plan a remote storage facility for a library. The storage facility was to be located in the basement of a building less than five city blocks from the main library.

Here are the large issues that I encountered (the small issues were like the nine billion names of God, and just as annoying):

1. Most buildings are not equipped for preservation purposes. The air-conditioning system was hugely expensive to install and had ongoing maintenance expenses.

2. We had endless complaints from faculty and grad students who claimed they found most of their stuff by "just looking around". But when you are trying to maximize use of space, you use compact shelving. And compact shelving is massive and hard to move even when motorized, and only a couple of aisles can be open at any one time. So, no browsing. Materials had to be transferred to the main library upon request or in certain cases they could be used in the Rare books room three floors up. BTW, compact shelving is also very expensive, especially if you want to install the one that STOPS when it encounters a body (highly recommended, really!).

3. Staff. To fully operate a storage facility for retrieval you need at least one person per floor (if your floors are regular sized) at least for every hour the main library is open. If you are a large academic library you are open at least 10 hours a day seven days a week. Minimum staff: two to retrieve plus someone to make regular runs to deliver materials. And you can't hire minimum wage drones. BTW, student assistants are unreliable: they disappear at the worst possible time, i.e. when they need to do their own research and pass exams, which is likely to be one of your busiest times. So, three salaries plus benefits, including night and weekend differentials. We never came close, and even though we could, and did, never take more than 72 hours to deliver something, we got endless complaints about that too.

4. Insurance. Oh boy, the insurance. Because the items would be transferred by van, everything and everyone had to be insured six ways from Sunday. Ultimately, that got so expensive that the staff person had to use the University student buses to transfer materials (storage facility near dorms).

When you add up the amount of money invested by my library and take it into account as an ONGOING expense...well, I could have microfilmed the whole nine floors of the library and made it available to all the students as a one shot deal.

The case Lois is making--and go, go, go, woman!--is that although it is wonderful to preserve books (and my library did, we had a wonderful rare books room with some fantastic specimens), libraries are usually engaged in the business of providing information. We try to preserve what we can, but it's impossible to preserve all AND make it available at the same time.

Microfilm has a shelf life of AT LEAST 75 years. It can be read easily most of the time, and if your library has a computer with some basic digital equipment, it can be as clear as the day the original was printed. It makes ideas accessible to large numbers. And that's what libraries are about.

Sorry about the length of the post, everyone.

#56 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 06:47 PM:

Margaret: cows can handle \gentle/ slopes; in mountainous areas you raise sheep or goats instead, mostly. (That's mostly. Unlike the people who've only read Heidi I've actually seen cows in summer pasture near the top of an Alp -- but that was in an area that a sturdy 2-wheel-drive vehicle could reach by the convenient road. And I don't know that they raise the same breed of cattle, or whether the calves get more experience in scrambling and traversing.) The standard pitch for stairs is 7" rise for 11" run, which would make a pretty steep slope for even a human being to walk down without steps. I also figure that building and applying ramps that could take the hoof loading of a cow would be a lot of work and a lot of effort -- not just putting the lumber together, but making the surface rough enough that a hoof wouldn't skid on it (or the cow refuse to go down it). I won't claim it's impossible because I've never tried, but I suspect it's more trouble and money than simple butchery.

#57 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2005, 08:04 PM:

CHip: cows can handle \gentle/ slopes; in mountainous areas you raise sheep or goats instead, mostly.

This whole thread makes me think of what happens when cows coincide with steep slopes. Glad I wasn't on that highway.

#58 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 09:18 AM:

Far from the earliest example, I'm sure, but I'm reading Macaulay's History of England at the moment(*), and I've just come across a classic astroturf ploy:

There was scarcely a market town in England without at least a knot of separatists. No exertion was spared to induce them to express their gratitude for the Indulgence. Circular letters, imploring them to sign, were sent to every corner of the kingdom in such numbers that the mail bags, it was sportively said, were too heavy for the posthorses.

That's James I trying to enlist the support of Nonconformists against the Church of England, for anyone who's curious about context. (There's also a great claim-and-counterclaim PR fight between the Court and the Church - but that's just dirty politics, not astroturf.)

(*) Why, yes, I have been reading Ken MacLeod's Blog. Why do you ask?

#59 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 11:50 AM:

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association did quite a bit to support victim's rights associations and three strikes laws, both with the intent of getting more people imprisoned for longer.

Link

Link found at Marginal Revolution.

#60 ::: liz ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 12:06 PM:

Cows and steepness: Consult the Montana Rancher for the real scoop:

http://www.nowherethoughts.net/sarpysam/

(I've emailed to ask the question).

Charles Koch & libertarian history

In the middle 1970s, Koch began investing heavily in getting the libertarian message out.

He founded and funded The Cato Institute

http://www.mediatransparency.org/funderprofile.php?funderID=9

"Following in the footsteps of their father, a member of the John Birch Society, the Kochs clearly have a conservative bent. Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute, and David Koch co-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) [now FreedomWorks], where he serves as chairman of the board of directors. David also serves on the board of the Cato Institute. The Koch foundations make substantial annual contributions to these organizations (more than $12 million to each between 1985 and 2002) as well as to other influential conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, media organizations, academic institutes and legal organizations, thus participating in every level of the policy process. Their total conservative policy giving exceeded $20 million between 1999 and 2001"

More at People for the American Way

Also at that time, Koch brought Reason Magazine to San Francisco.

Sourcewatch on Reason Foundation.

Also a good historical review in The Think Tank as Flack The Washington Monthly 2001
David Callahan, to be found at a Cheating Culture page.

#61 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 02:38 PM:

There's a certain irony that the original post was addressed to counter-protests around a "Rock the Vote" event. But "Rock the Vote" itself was founded by "members of the recording industry" who were upset about "censorship." In other words, they were engaged in corporate lobbying against any restrictions on their business dealings. And all along, that organization has mostly been about old and powerful people chiding young people into voting for liberal causes. Nothing wrong with that, except for the pretense that it is a movement originating from young people themselves.

Teresa derided the notion that both sides do it (i.e., sponsor "grassroots" organizations that actually represent the interests of rich/powerful people). Well, I could list any number of left-wing organizations that are (or were) examples of astroturf on that definition. Most significantly, all of the groups that agitated for "campaign finance reform" (even less of a grassroots issue than tort reform). (See also here). The Million Mom March. Rock the Vote (see above). Catholics for a Free Choice. I could go on and on and on.

I mean, think about it: How often does the Kansas guy working night shift at the 7-11 get together with his hunting buddies and start up a nationwide grassroots organization? Never. So-called "grassroots" organizations are almost always founded and financed by the rich and powerful, who then attempt to draw on popular support (or at least pretend to do so). And what do you know, they even use "PR and marketing firms" to get their message out. I don't know why any of this should be shocking.

#62 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 03:09 PM:

Jack, I think there's a fundamental difference you're glossing over. For example, moveon.org was started by a couple of high-tech entrepeneurs with no political experience. They simply wanted to cause a change in politics. They seem to qualify as a true grassroots efforts. The fundamental difference is that groups like moveon is lobbying for something that doesn't directly help their bottom line. Corporate lobbyists for the tobacco industry is a different breed than "rock the vote".

#63 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 03:50 PM:

Jack V: So-called "grassroots" organizations are almost always founded and financed by the rich and powerful

Yeah, that League of Women Voters sure sounds like it was started by the rich and powerful. And those high-falutin' Amnesty International and Medcins sans Frontieres richie-riches too.

Not to mention the billionaires who bankrolled Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos.

There are lots of real grassroots orgs out there, and lots of big ones got started that way. Not everything gets bankrolled by the likes of Charles Koch, Altria or ExxonMobil.

From where I sit (a not unbiased place) it looks as if most centrist/liberal grassroots are real and most conservative/neocon ones (excepting some of the fundamentalist groups) are astroturf.

#64 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 03:52 PM:

Well, as I already said, "Rock the Vote" was indeed founded by well-heeled artists who wanted to help their own bottom line.

Anyway, I didn't refer to Moveon.org. But since you bring them up, I never said that grassroots organization is impossible. But even with Moveon, one could write an equally conspiratorial piece about how billionaire currency speculators are trying to manipulate the issues, blah, blah, blah. In other words, on the rare occasion that an actual grassroots organization has any success, it draws the interest (and support) of the rich and powerful who see a way to further their own interests.

#65 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 04:10 PM:

I define a grassroots movement as one being done by a lot of people because they (individually) want to. If it's funded and organized from "above" then it's astroturf, whether the goal is increased corporate profits or an "improvement" (from the viewpoint of the funder) in a political process.

#66 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 04:18 PM:

Larry --

Same response: I never said that grassroot organization was literally impossible. Just that it most definitely happens on both sides (as was most prominently the case with campaign finance reform). Your counterexamples do nothing to disprove my point.

And a few quibbles: 1) Markos Moulitsas? How is he a grassroots organization?

2) "Not everything gets bankrolled by the likes of Charles Koch." True, but not necessarily as to your particular examples. The League of Women Voters gets huge amounts of money from the Ford Foundation, the Pew Foundation, and all the typical liberal equivalents of Charles Koch.

#67 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 04:24 PM:

I think you're missing the most important aspect of astroturf: it's fake. That's the whole point of the metaphor, you know. Astroturf is fake grass.

An astroturf organization is, among other things, one that pretends to be something it's not. It's a lie. Lies are common in politics, but they're not universal. The easy cynicism of "they're all liars" is both false and destructive, and people who believe it are making themselves stupider. No, politicians and political activists aren't all liars. It's important to be able to tell the difference between organizations that are more or less what they claim to be and ones whose very names are lies.

#68 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 05:49 PM:

An astroturf organization is, among other things, one that pretends to be something it's not. It's a lie. Lies are common in politics, but they're not universal. The easy cynicism of "they're all liars" is both false and destructive, and people who believe it are making themselves stupider.


I shouldn't have to repeat myself. Nonetheless, here again is an article about the false "grassroots" movement that was created to favor campaign finance reform. Let me quote the article:

The news media's treatment of foundation involvement in public policy may have changed forever on March 17. That was the day the New York Post published "Buying 'Reform': Media Missed Millionaires' Scam," an account by one of its columnists, Ryan Sager, of the massive spending by several mainstream foundations to secure passage of the 2002 overhaul of campaign-finance laws and to keep the issue alive.

Mr. Sager told his readers he had discovered "an immense scam perpetrated on the American people by a cadre of left-wing foundations and disguised as a 'mass movement.'" Foundations like Ford, Open Society, Carnegie, Joyce, and MacArthur, he noted, had spent some $123-million from 1994 to 2004 to secure passage of the campaign law.

More than $40-million of that money, Mr. Sager said, had come from the Pew Charitable Trusts, where the program officer in charge had been Sean Treglia. Mr. Sager quoted from a videotape of a lecture Mr. Treglia had given at the University of Southern California in which he explained just how Pew had built support for passage of the campaign law.

Mr. Treglia said the foundation had made grants to "create an impression that a mass movement was afoot -- that everywhere they [members of Congress] looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform."

To maintain the illusion of a spontaneous upwelling of support for changes in campaign financing, Mr. Treglia said he "always encouraged the grantees never to mention Pew."


From the horse's mouth, as they say.

Can you explain -- referring to actual facts and evidence -- why it is stupid to believe that the campaign finance crowd did exactly what Mr. Treglia admitted?

#69 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 05:54 PM:

Jack, who do you think Catholics for a Free Choice is funded by? It's not the Vatican, that's for sure! And just because the League of Women Voters gets funding from foundations, that doesn't mean those foundations began or run the organization. You might want to read a bit about the League's history and that it has active state and local groups all over the place. (Even, um, Hong Kong?!) Also note that the LWV was founded in 1924, and the Ford Foundation in 1936. Who came before whom?

As for Rock the Vote, whatever its origins, it's popular on a grassroots level because the fight against censorship is important, freedom of speech being in the Constitution and all. Are you pro-censorship, Jack?

A lot of "astroturf" groups, on the other hand, are brand spanking new and seem to have little or no real membership outside of their parent organizations.

Astroturf has its uses. It makes nice carpeting on your front porch. But it doesn't belong in politics (or in baseball, but that's another rant). At the very least, let's not let the people who make it fool us into believing it's real grass.

#70 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 05:59 PM:

Jack V - My point was that the League of Women Voters started out when women's suffrage was a new and scary idea - hardly the sort of cause that would get secretly funded by robber-barons. And I have a hard time thinking of the Ford Foundation as being particularly liberal. Also, their grant process is transparent, unlike the fake right-wing organizations that are funded through multiple layers of shell organizations.

Mr. Moulitsos founded dailykos.com, an increaslingly influential grassroots community of liberal Democrats. When members of that community agree on something, you can count on phones all over Congress to ring. It's a true grassroots organization, and it isn't paid for by shadowy people with hidden agendas.

Astroturf does happen, but it happens far more on the right than among liberal and centrist organizations.

Oh, and the idea behind Rock The Vote may very well have had an agenda (all interest groups do), but their goal was to get real young people to register and cast real votes. Not to make stuff up and send identical letters to newspapers all over the country with local names attached. There's a fundamental difference in honesty between the two approaches.

#71 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 06:25 PM:

Lois -- your comments are mostly irrelevant. Whether "Catholics for a Free Choice" is funded by the Vatican has nothing whatsoever to do with whether it is a true grassroots organization. And whatever gave you the idea that I'm pro-censorship? Even if I was, that would also have nothing to do with the origins of "Rock the Vote."

Larry -- fair points, but you're missing a bigger point. People keep insinuating that astroturf doesn't happen on the left, at least not worth paying any attention to. I keep pointing out that there is indeed astroturf on the left, most prominently with regard to campaign finance reform. Neither you nor anyone else, apparently, are able to disprove this point. So instead, you mention a few liberal organizations that are (or once were) "grassroots." For the third time, so what? None of that undermines the fact that (for example) rich liberal activists spent $123 million on manufacturing the impression of grassroots support for campaign finance reform.

#72 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 06:40 PM:

Jack V - You're playing the false equivalence game. Nobody's arguing that astroturf doesn't happen on the left. No one needs to disprove anything.

It's a question of who's doing more astroturf, more consistently, with dollars that are harder to trace and behind more Orwellian organization names. Clearly, the right wing has embraced this tactic more strongly than the left.

Just because everybody lies doesn't make all lies morally equivalent.

#73 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 06:43 PM:

> People keep insinuating that astroturf
> doesn't happen on the left

Ah, well, when you make a nice strawman like that, it's pretty easy to knock down. And since you leave yourself a huge backdoor exit with the highly subjective term of "insinuating", I'll not try and press reality upon you and simply have you retreat and say "I told you so". Suffice it to say that whether anyone is insinuating anything here, you picked the most pointless cause to rally behind.

#74 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 06:45 PM:

hm, Larry beat me to it already...

#75 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 07:43 PM:

There's a big difference between founding or starting an organization, and joining it. Astroturf organizations like Citizens for a Sound Economy (or countless other examples) often have no membership at all. They have a mailing address, which is an office that is shared with a dozen other organizations. They may have one or two employees, or a few high-profile spokespeople to treat with the media. They probably have a board of directors larger than their staff. They don't have members, they don't collect any revenue from any source other than their single funder. Yet they maintain that they are a broad-based organization with wide public support. That's a lie.

MoveOn was founded by rich entrepreneurs, yeah. But it really is exactly what it says it is: an organization with millions of members, which has a large staff. There's really an organization there, not just a Potemkin village. The League of Women Voters has 130,000 members in the national, state, and local chapters. That's a real organization, no matter where the funding comes from (and most of the funding is from membership dues or true non-profit foundations).

The difference between LWV and CSE is day and night, and any false equivalence between them because there might be rich people involved is complete and utter horseshit.

#76 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 07:51 PM:

Besides, what's wrong with rich people? The Republicans and their apologists really need to stop relying on the politics of envy.

#77 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 08:53 PM:

It's a question of who's doing more astroturf, more consistently, with dollars that are harder to trace and behind more Orwellian organization names. Clearly, the right wing has embraced this tactic more strongly than the left.

How do you know? Evidence, please.

A bit of elementary logic, for comparison's sake: If you claim that Kansas has an abundance of lakes compared to Nebraska, it does not prove your claim if you (1) merely point out a couple of lakes in Kansas (while neglecting to say anything about Nebraska), or (2) merely point out a couple of towns in Nebraska that don't have lakes (while ignoring the fact that some towns in Kansas might not have lakes either).

In other words, if you're claiming (as is everyone here, apparently) that the so-called problem of "astroturf" is so much more prevalent on the right, it does not prove your claim to (1) point out 1 or 2 examples of right-wing astroturf, or (2) point out that a couple of left-wing organizations are not astroturf. What you need to do -- and what no one has even tried to do yet -- is COMPARE the two. I.e., tally up all right-wing organizations, all left-wing organizations, analyze to see which ones are astro-turf (and this must be done honestly, without ignoring proven examples from the left), and then compare to see which column is greater. You might weight the columns by dollars.

#78 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 08:57 PM:

Jack V - Yet another bit of sophistry. Demand data, data and more data, but provide only one data point yourself. Guaranteed to put your opposite number in the debate on the defensive. Sorry, not going there.

#79 ::: Jack Vinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 08:59 PM:

Alex: There's a big difference between founding or starting an organization, and joining it. Astroturf organizations like Citizens for a Sound Economy (or countless other examples) often have no membership at all. They have a mailing address, which is an office that is shared with a dozen other organizations. They may have one or two employees, or a few high-profile spokespeople to treat with the media. They probably have a board of directors larger than their staff. They don't have members, they don't collect any revenue from any source other than their single funder. Yet they maintain that they are a broad-based organization with wide public support. That's a lie.

In regards to lying, you have some explaining to do. Specifically, why have you made these charges against "Citizens for a Sound Economy"? I have never heard of the group, but judging from their website, they have 24 staffers, several state chapters, and 700,000 members. Do you have any evidence to suggest that they are lying, or otherwise overstating their organization's scope?

#80 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 09:29 PM:

Jack V - Yet another bit of sophistry. Demand data, data and more data, but provide only one data point yourself. Guaranteed to put your opposite number in the debate on the defensive. Sorry, not going there.

Fine, then. You concede that you have no factual basis for your argument. Fair enough.

Look, say that someone shows up and says, "Democratic politicians are usually more corrupt than Republicans." If he's going to defend that claim, he has to be able to prove something about the relative numbers. It would be pathetically inadequate just to point to one or two corrupt Democratic politicians, as if there were no honest Democrats and no corrupt Republicans.

#81 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 09:38 PM:

The burden of proof is on the person making a claim.

It is impossible to prove a negative.

#82 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 09:48 PM:

Do you have any evidence to suggest that they are lying, or otherwise overstating their organization's scope?

Yes I do.

Also, you point to the site for FreedomWorks, yet another such group, which recently merged with CSE. So the numbers aren't really relevant.

But that's all beside the point. They could have five hundred staffers -- lord knows they can afford them. The basic point is whether they claim to be a grassroots group -- which CSE does -- yet receive a vast majority of support from corporations -- which CSE does (85%, according to documents obtained by WaPo). That's astroturf.

Now I'm not saying they don't have a right to exist. But it's clear that their approach is based on deception: maintaining the appearance of a grass-roots-driven organization, when in fact it is both a creation of and maintained by the existing corporate power structure.

This really isn't that difficult a logical argument.

#83 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 10:02 PM:

The basic point is whether they claim to be a grassroots group -- which CSE does -- yet receive a vast majority of support from corporations -- which CSE does (85%, according to documents obtained by WaPo). That's astroturf.

Well, it's confusing when you keep radically changing the definition. Just a while ago, you characterized "astroturf" as a group that in fact has no members, no staffers to speak of. Now you characterize it as a group that has thousands of members and potentially hundreds of staffers, but that happens to get a lot of funding from large non-member donors.

Use that definition if you want, but be aware that (as I pointed out above) a LOT of left-wing groups likewise get their funding from equivalent sources.

#84 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 10:21 PM:

Jack - No such concession made. You've basically swept in, and decided to make a series of Alice in Wonderland arguments. This stuff may work over on Powerline, but it doesn't here.

Or, in short, why don't you do the heavy lifting and let folks here pick at your data? After all, it only takes one omission or slight error to invalidate the entire data set. Well, at least for the NRO crowd it does.

#85 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 10:29 PM:

Well, it's confusing when you keep radically changing the definition.

Maybe you ought to lie down for a while.

#86 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 10:42 PM:

Jack, please, the entire basis for your argument consists of nothing but logical fallacies:

"People keep insinuating that astroturf doesn't happen on the left,"
Nobody actually made that claim. You invented it as a weak argument to easily knock down: strawman

"I keep pointing out that there is indeed astroturf on the left, most prominently with regard to campaign finance reform."
This is a version of Tu quoque

"How do you know? Evidence, please."
This is an argument from ignorance

And in the end, you seem to be disagreeing for no apparent reason, other than to say "yeah, well, democrats do astroturf too" and playing games with definitions so that CSE fits your definition for a grassroots group. You conveniently glaze over the difference between moveon.org, which has large donors but also has massive numbers of people doing petitions, making calls, donating time and money, and CSE which has large donors and massive numbers of phantom members that don't do anything. If you want to argue they are equivalent, just know that the folks here a bit too savvy to fall for those sorts of games.

#87 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 10:42 PM:

This argument is easily settled.

The right creates more astroturf organizations than the left does because the right has more money.

QED.

#88 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 12:46 AM:

Greg -- your post would be more convincing if you had managed to identify and correctly define even one logical fallacy.

I said above: People keep insinuating that astroturf doesn't happen on the left, at least not worth paying any attention to..

This is true, starting with Teresa's original post, one of her follow-up comments, a post by Matt Austern, and a post from Larry Brennan. If you read their posts, you'd think that astroturf was solely a phenomenon of the right-wing. They are insinuating -- not "stating," but "insinuating" -- that it's not worth "paying any attention to" any left-wing astroturf. This is not a straw man; it is what they were insinuating.

"I keep pointing out that there is indeed astroturf on the left, most prominently with regard to campaign finance reform."
This is a version of Tu quoque

Nope. Just flat-out wrong. You don't even remotely understand what I've been saying. Here's what a genuine "tu quoque" fallacy would look like:

"Astroturf is a bad thing; here's an example of right-wing astroturf."

Response: "But left-wing organizations do it too."

That response is a fallacy, because the mere fact that left-wing organizations do it too doesn't disprove the original proposition that astroturf is a bad thing.

But here's how the actual argument has gone:

"Right-wingers do astroturf all the time, way more often than the left."

Response: "Oh really? Who says that your judgment of the proportions here is correct? Here's a specific example of left-wing groups spending $123 million on astroturf, and not just on penny-ante groups either, but on a successful project to get Congress to pass a law."

That is NOT a "tu quoque" fallacy. Instead, it is directly responsive to the original proposition that left-wing groups hardly ever engage in astroturf.


"How do you know? Evidence, please."
This is an argument from ignorance

Nonsense. People demand evidence all the time. As they should, when faced with dubious arguments and a refusal to even acknowledge counter-evidence.

#89 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 06:48 AM:

Jack V: you infer from their posts that they didn't think left-wing astroturf is worth noting. This is not the same as them insinuating that left-wing astroturf is not worth noting. There's a difference.

I read them as saying there's a lot less of it on the left; and subsequent posts indicate that yes, they know there's some.

I'd love to see a serious statistical study determining how much astroturf there is on each side, and would gladly engage in doing such a study if you're willing to pay an appropriate salary for the next three months of full-time professional statistical work. Until then, I'm going with what feels right to my gut -- I see a hell of a lot more of this on the right than on the left. If the right has successfully captured the "patriotism" and "anyone can become a success" memes, the left has captured "astroturf".

#90 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 09:13 AM:

Jack V: Tom W suggests a research project for you. You can do the heavy lifting and we can critique your data and your analysis. Sounds like more fun than listening to you either misunderstand or willfully misinterpret me.

Bring it on!

#91 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 09:28 AM:

I'm still waiting for some examples of left-wing astroturf groups from Jack. Remember, the most important criterion is deception. For example, yes, George Soros gave a ton of money to Americans Coming Together, but it was front page news.

Your one claim so far is Rock the Vote. Here's a helpful starting point:

"Rock the Vote is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, founded in 1990 in response to a wave of attacks on freedom of speech and artistic expression. Rock the Vote engages youth in the political process by incorporating the entertainment community and youth culture into its activities."
Exercise for the reader: do they claim to be grassroots? Is anything about their self-description deceptive?

Who else?

#92 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 10:03 AM:

Alex: I'm still waiting for some examples of left-wing astroturf groups from Jack.

Scroll up and kindly read any of three previous posts from me. Catholics for a Free Choice is a prime example that I already mentioned. It even fits the first definition you announced (and then promptly abandoned). I.e., a group with no meaningful membership that nonetheless successfully gets quoted in the media as if it represented large numbers of people. See here and here.

For another example that I've mentioned repeatedly, look for the words "campaign finance reform." Note that one of the ringleaders of the "campaign finance reform" movement -- who personally handed out some $40 million -- directly admitted that he was trying to create "an impression that a mass movement was afoot." If that's not astroturf, nothing is.


That's the last time I'm going to repeat myself on that issue, Alex. Anyone else who has been paying attention must be tired of seeing me have to make the same point 4 times now.

#93 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 10:26 AM:

Jack V: There's no faster way to lose credibility than citing Fox News or the NRO's The Corner. These are unreliable, higly biased, right-wing sources.

#94 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 10:49 AM:

Jack V: There's no faster way to lose credibility than citing Fox News or the NRO's The Corner. These are unreliable, higly biased, right-wing sources.

So? Facts are facts, wherever they are mentioned. Do you have any facts to suggest that Catholics for a Free Choice is a genuine grassroots organization, including its funding sources?

Come to think of it, left-wing astroturf isn't likely to be mentioned or uncovered by the Nation or the American Prospect or their equivalents. If it's uncovered at all, it will likely be by right-wing magazines or news sources. So if you are prejudiced against believing anything simply because it happens to be mentioned in those sources, it's no wonder that you believe that astroturf is so much more prevalent on the right-wing.

#95 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 10:56 AM:

Jack, you're disagreeing for no visible reason other than to engage in a debate. Your actions fit the definition of a troll. You are throwing out crap simply to get a reaction rather than to further any discussion. The thrust of this thread was pointing out some astroturf organizations for conservative interests. You rode in and stirred up a ruckus that basically boils down to "liberal groups have astroturf too" and/or "I dare you to define what astroturf means".

You redefined the discussion so that you could force yourself into the middle of your self-invented debate. Nobody here cares about your rigged defintion of astroturf so that you can claim some liberal group is astroturf or so that you can claim some conservative group isn't.

No one hear cares about your redefinitions. And yet you insist on arguing them. I can only assume that your behaviour is simply trolling for a debate, looking for someone, ANYONE, who will engage in a discussion with you, even if it is against you.

There are much more meaningful ways to spend your time. I suggest you find one.

#96 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 11:03 AM:

> So? Do you have any facts ...?

wow, we've regressed to thirteen year old discussions. "Are not!" "Are too!" Questions don't prove anything, they only taunt the other person to continue the debate. i.e. more trolling.

This is getting really old, really fast.

#97 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 11:29 AM:

Nobody here cares about your rigged defintion of astroturf so that you can claim some liberal group is astroturf or so that you can claim some conservative group isn't.

If you've taken the time to read this far, you must be aware that it was another person (not me) (someone named Alex) who kept redefining "astroturf." First he wanted to define it as a group that basically has no membership. Then I pointed out that under that definition, many of the right-wing groups aren't astroturf, because they do evidently have members. So he switched definitions, saying that no matter how many members they have, they are "astroturf" if the majority of their funding comes from big corporations. So again, I pointed out the obvious fact that under that definition, lots of left-wing groups are astroturf as well. Either way, you can't play with the definitions so that all right-wing groups are astroturf and no left-wing groups are. Any definition should be used neutrally and objectively.

"So? Do you have any facts ...?" wow, we've regressed to thirteen year old discussions. "Are not!" "Are too!" Questions don't prove anything, they only taunt the other person to continue the debate. i.e. more trolling. This is getting really old, really fast.

Look, this may be tedious, but it might be necessary, if you have the bizarre view that only thirteen-year-olds prefer to rely on facts (rather than forming their beliefs based on prejudice). I was asked for a specific example of left-wing astroturf. I pointed out -- for the second time -- that Catholics for a Free Choice was astroturf under any meaningful definition -- no real membership, plus funding that comes mostly from large foundations and corporations. Mr. Brennan's only response was the purely ad hominem remark that I'm not credible if I link to National Review or Fox News. So the only rational response was, "So what? Can you address the facts, or not?"

That's not how a thirteen-year-old debates; it's how rational adults respond to ad hominem and prejudiced remarks. ("Prejudiced" in the literal sense, i.e., pre-judging what one wishes to believe.)

#98 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 11:38 AM:

Tom Whitmore said: "Until then, I'm going with what feels right to my gut -- I see a hell of a lot more of this on the right than on the left."


That is probably how the debate ends. No one has any real evidence about the relative prevalence of astroturf. So we all go with our gut feelings.

My own personal gut feeling is: I have no clue whether "astroturf" is more common on the right or the left. My other gut feeling is that if people -- left or right -- want to congratulate themselves because most of the astroturf is supposedly on the other side, it is irrational to (1) ignore proven instances of astroturf on their own side (as everyone has done with campaign finance reform; I've discussed it 4 times now, and not a single person will even acknowledge it); and (2) ignore all facts/evidence presented by the other side simply because of a prejudiced view that the other side can't ever be right about anything.

#99 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 11:47 AM:

who kept redefining "astroturf."

I do apologize, Jack. If I had realized that you weren't particularly intelligent, I would have tried harder to be clear.

All of my descriptions of astroturf are consistent. I said "often have no membership at all." That's a description of a common pattern, not a definition. And it's true. But that pattern of behavior is not definitional - there are lots of organizations that don't have "membership" (e.g. the Brookings Institution) which are not astroturf.

There is only one definition of astroturf, and that's the deceptive appearance of grass-roots organization.

Why is that so hard to understand?

#100 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 12:35 PM:

The real evidence is clearly available, Jack -- and neither you nor I is willing to do the work to determine what it says, without appropriate funding. Evidence is not analysis.

So yes, that's about where it ends.

#101 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 12:51 PM:

Online discussion often devolves into arguments about proper definitions. And that, I'm afraid, even more than Nazis, is a sign that the discussion is getting less useful.

There are two important things to realize about definitions. First, it's almost impossible to come up with a precise definition of anything. (Read Wittgenstein.) I don't believe that I'm able to define "chair", or "game", or "human", or any number of simple and ordinary words. Outside of formal mathematics, definitions are a very strong concept, rarely achievable. Most people don't relize how inadequate most of their definitions are, because they don't examine most of their definitions carefully.

And second, just because you can't define a word doesn't mean you don't know what it means. This is Samuel Delany's point about science fiction: attempts to define SF tend to be useless, but characterizations of SF can be useful and interesting.

Finally, spiralling back around to something approaching what's on-topic... We are never going to come up with an ironclad definition of "astroturf" that includes everything we mean by it and excludes everything we don't mean. That's a hopeless goal. But I don't think there's any uncertainty, among people who are honest about the state of American politics today, that it's a real phenomenon. It's also a nasty one: astroturf isn't just a form of lying, it's lying on an industrial scale.

#102 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 01:32 PM:

> if you have the bizarre view that only
> thirteen-year-olds prefer to rely on facts

OK, it is official. You are a troll.

#103 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 01:42 PM:

Matt's comments on online discussion made something click for me. The typical online strategem "The lurkers support me" is a form of astroturf. Or, to turn it around, astroturf organizations are just a very well-funded way of saying "The lurkers support us!"

#104 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 01:55 PM:

Troll = "someone who makes an argument to which I have no meaningful answer."

#105 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 02:02 PM:

Just to add to the discussion. Someone on DailyKos pointed out recently that most right-wing blogs were just a record of one or a few people's thoughts and writings, where most left-wing blogs allowed postings, sometimes very long arguements and even flame-wars. The left is more democratic than the right, in the sense of allowing, nay, ecouraging participation of all who wish to. Therefore, you can "see the roots" so the speak.

Disclosure - I'm one of those "moneybags" who supports DailyKos.

#106 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 02:18 PM:

> Troll = "someone who makes an argument
> to which I have no meaningful answer."

(chuckle)

Desparate trolling like this is far more obvious than your earlier and more subtle trolling.

It's also a lot funnier.

#107 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 02:29 PM:

Know what is true trolling? Calling someone else a "troll" when you have nothing intelligent to say.

Bottom line: I was asked to repeat myself by listing left-wing astroturf. Among various examples, I listed Catholics for a Free Choice, which no one disputes is astroturf. Larry Brennan's only response was to sneer at the credibility of someone who has linked to National Review and Fox News. My response, quite rightly, was to say that his ad hominem argument is beside the point, and to query whether he had any actual facts on the question at hand.

You jump in to say that I am a troll for daring to ask for evidence that was relevant to the actual issue (the nature of Catholics for a Free Choice). You have made no substantive point about (1) the prevalence of astroturf, (2) the nature of Catholics for a Free Choice, or even (3) the rationality of refusing to believe facts simply because you don't like the person who mentioned them.

All you are doing is name-calling. Hence, the indisputable truth that you are the real troll here.

#108 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 02:33 PM:

Am not.
Am so.
Are not.
Are so.
You are.
No, YOU are.

please repeat the above conversation in your head until satisfied that this is really going nowhere.

#109 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 02:45 PM:

Jack, I'm not sure what your weird -- and, may I say, unhealthy -- obsession is with Catholics for a Free Choice. Here's an interview with the one of the leaders (so admittedly might be self-serving):

Q: Let's start at the very beginning. How did Catholics for a Free Choice begin? What was the impetus for this kind of organization?
Kissling: Three New York women -- Joan Harriman, Patricia Fogarty McQuillan, and Meta Mulcahy, who had been colleagues in the National Organization for Women -- chartered CFFC in 1973, the year of the US Supreme Court's Roe decision.
At the time, little if any active dissent movement existed in the church. The impression was widespread that Catholics followed the bishops unquestioningly. Catholics were still generally perceived as working class, from large families, and as not practicing contraception. This impression was strengthened when the bishops suddenly emerged as the principal opposition to legal abortion in the wake of Roe.These three women--CFFC's founders--recognized the importance of organized opposition to the hierarchy's campaign. They were motivated by the simple conviction that the bishops did not represent the Catholic people on reproductive rights issues, including abortion. They knew that Catholic women had abortions and that Catholic women and men supported legal access to abortion. Their task was to get that message out to the public.
Q: How did CFFC operate in the early years?
Kissling: In the beginning, CFFC was almost entirely a voluntary, grassroots effort. For years, there was no staff, no office, no budget, and no ongoing program. CFFC activists worked out of their homes; occasionally a friendly prochoice organization would lend a desk or a phone or a photocopier. CFFC's early years were marked by sporadic, dramatic public events, often in reaction to egregious actions by bishops.

The links you provided seemed mostly obsessed with whether or not they could really call themselves "Catholics," since the Catholic hierachy doesn't consider that they have a right to dissent. (That very statement itself is a good sign that it, in fact, is not astroturf.) The other argument against them is that they receive grant money from -- gasp! -- the Ford Foundation. I don't know much more about the group than what I just read today. Maybe I'm just more sanguine about the Ford Foundation than ExxonMobile.

But there's no sign that I've seen that CFC is being at all deceptive. They say what they are -- which is not particularly a membership-supported organization, so I'm not sure I'd consider them grassroots anymore -- and their grants are a matter of public record.

What exactly is your argument here?

#110 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 02:52 PM:

I think it's true that "the lurkers support me in email" is closely related to astroturf. In both cases, it's an attempt to falsely claim broad-based support. (Although in the case of Usenet cranks I suspect it's more often self-deception than a calculated political disinformation campaign.)

More generally, I'd say that trolling and astroturf usually have a similar goal: attempting to drown out a substantive discussion by replacing it with white noise.

In both cases, the key is that the "arguments" aren't always intended to be believed. Often they just have the effect of cluttering up the discourse: creating the illusion of a genuine debate to take advantage of reporters' practice of getting quotes from "both sides", or, by introducing ten phony organizations for every real one, making it hard for observers to know which arguments, and which people, to take seriously.

That's the sense in which I mean that free-floating cynicism is a serious threat to democracy. If the general assume that everyone speaking on a political subject is lying, that every advocacy organization is just a shell, that there's no point in paying attention to political discussion, then we no longer have a culture in which it's possible for the public to participate in political decision-making. It takes more than elections to have a democracy.

#111 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 03:27 PM:

Jack, I'm not sure what your weird -- and, may I say, unhealthy -- obsession is with Catholics for a Free Choice.

Well, that's rich. You're the one who refused to read my previous posts, and who asked for examples of left-wing astroturf, thus forcing me to repeat myself. Then when I do repeat myself, you accuse me of being obsessed. Nice trick.

Anyway, I am glad that you, unlike anyone else, are actually addressing the example I gave (well, except for campaign finance reform, as to which the head-in-the-sand approach still seems to be universal).

You ask, what's my point? Well, as you point out, the links I provided are mainly concerned with the fact that "Catholics for a Free Choice" is not a Catholic organization in any sense (i.e., it is not affiliated with the Catholic church, the few people who run it show no sign of being Catholic, etc.). Why is this relevant? Well, as you yourself suggested, the main definition of astroturf is that it is DECEPTIVE.

Second, it is widely portrayed in the media that CFFC speaks on behalf of a coalition of real "grassroots" individuals. I.e., this website. Yet it by all appearances has no members, receives no grassroots funding, and instead is funded solely by wealthy liberal foundations. Again, this is DECEPTIVE insofar as the organization is presented as the "grassroots" voice of real Catholics.

#112 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 03:40 PM:

Is someone arguing that astroturf is a good thing? That it belongs on our political landscape?

#113 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 03:55 PM:

Jim,

Jack is arguing, end of story. It doesn't matter what he's arguing, as long as he gets to argue something, ANYTHING. it started out with his insistence that Rock the Vote was a corporate shell, and that everyone on this thread keeps INSINUATING that there are no liberal astroturf organizations. Jack then morphed that into "I'm right unless you prove to me I'm wrong". FOllowed by some begging the question that facts are facts even if they come from NRO and attempts to blame Alex for a shifting defintion of astroturf. He said "I've discussed it 4 times now, and not a single person will even acknowledge it." which to me indicates that people aren't falling for his trolling, but he is trying to twist that into a victory (I'm right because you haven't proven me wrong). And though his "point" started as "everyone keeps INSINUATING" that there are no liberal astroturf organizations, somehow his point is now that "Catholics for a Free Choice" is not a Catholic organization. WEll, the people may be catholic, but since they're not sanctioned by the Pope, they are not a true catholic organization. I guess that means that they're a grassroots organization, since they're catholic poeple but not in the catholic organization. But then they're "deceptive" by saying they're catholic, when they're not part of the organization, which I guess is basically saying that the Pope is catholic and the rest of us are a bunch of hangers on. I'm sure he will find something new to argue about as his mood sees fit and as this gets old.

#114 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 03:57 PM:

I think Jack suffers from an excess of vowels.

#115 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 04:19 PM:

Greg -- what's your point? You've just now realized that in a 114-post thread, people aren't confined to discussing the same detail over and over?

As for your analysis of Catholics for a Free Choice, I already said that "the few people who run it show no sign of being Catholic." That is, they are apparently not actual Catholic individuals. It would be as if I had quit being a Muslim 20 years ago, but nonetheless created a two-person group called "Muslims for Torture," or whatever, all with the aim of pretending that I represented genuine Muslims. Deception.

James McDonald: Is someone arguing that astroturf is a good thing? That it belongs on our political landscape?

Certainly not me. But perhaps you should be more specific: Ask the other debaters here whether they support the $123 million "campaign finance reform" astroturf operation.

#116 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 04:19 PM:

is not a Catholic organization in any sense

It's composed of Catholics. That's a sense. It's not a sense that the Vatican wants to consider real. But then, if they agreed with the Vatican, they wouldn't have to start such an organization.

I think you're being too Manichean, Jack. There's grassroots, there's astroturf, and then there's a vast array of other things. CFFC doesn't really seem like a grassroots effort to me anymore, although it clearly was in the early 1970s, but that doesn't mean it's astroturf. It's an interest organization, which is an important part of modern American political life.

Campaign finance reform, eh? The thing about campaign finance reform is that it's utterly inside baseball, so groups agitating for specific reforms are likely to be part of the existing power structure. It's hard to imagine a Grange-like agrarian revolt calling for caps on 527 expenditures.

Are we agreeing, Jack, that astroturf does a disservice to political discourse? That the media ought to do a better job digging into the credentials of organizations?

Good, we agree.

#117 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 04:24 PM:

As for your analysis of Catholics for a Free Choice, I already said that "the few people who run it show no sign of being Catholic."

I now understand why we've been disagreeing. I did not appreciate that you have the power to see into people's hearts.

It's all clear now.

#118 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 04:33 PM:

James McDonald: Is someone arguing that astroturf is a good thing? That it belongs on our political landscape?

Certainly not me. But perhaps you should be more specific: Ask the other debaters here whether they support the $123 million "campaign finance reform" astroturf operation.

1) I spell my name correctly every single time. Please try spelling my name correctly too.

2) Why should I ask "debaters" anything about Campaign Finance Reform or any other specific topic?

3) Who said I was addressing you to start with?

#119 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 04:38 PM:

> what's your point?

uhm, that you have no point. I thought I made myself fairly clear on my point being that you are arguing for no particular end except for argument's sake, that you're a troll, and that you're acting like a fourteen year old with too much time on his hands. If you've been reading my posts thus far, you'll find that its a fairly consistent point of mine. Did you not get the memo?

My experience on the internet is that once a troll has been identified, the only valid response is to not feed him. you continue to troll for a reaction with loaded questions and baited words, but I refuse to engage. My sole reaction has been to call a troll a troll. And at some point, you'll get that you're not getting the reaction that you want, and you'll whizzle up and die of troll starvation.

That is my point.

#120 ::: Jack Vinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 05:05 PM:

My apologies, Mr. MACDONALD. And given your 2nd and 3rd questions, let me try again:

Is someone arguing that astroturf is a good thing? That it belongs on our political landscape?

No.


Alex: I now understand why we've been disagreeing. I did not appreciate that you have the power to see into people's hearts.

Being a Catholic is not a matter of "people's hearts." The founder of CFFC -- Frances Kissling -- has said publicly that she doesn't attend mass and that she doesn't pray. (See pages 27-28 here.) Moreover, she has founded abortion clinics, an act that causes automatic excommunication under the Catholic church's canon law. You might agree with her aims and tactics, but that's not the point. The point is that it is deceptive for her to be labeled as "Catholic." It would be as if Trent Lott founded a group (consisting solely of himself) called "Democrats for Tax Cuts for the Rich," claiming that he was still really a Democrat due to his registration 30 years ago.

#121 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 05:31 PM:

Jack wrote:


As for your analysis of Catholics for a Free Choice, I already said that "the few people who run it show no sign of being Catholic." That is, they are apparently not actual Catholic individuals.

If a person has been confirmed (usually via baptism) into the church, the person is a Catholic. A person is a Catholic even if he or she is excommunicated; this is easily confirmed by both history and canon law.

#122 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 05:49 PM:

Lisa is quite right. I am considered a Catholic because I was baptized by one of those what-the-Vatican-doesn't-know-can't-hurt-it priests even through my father was a Freemason and I was therefore automatically excommunicated in utero (this was in the fifties, I don't know if the rules have been eased since then). It seems that once one is baptized, one is a Catholic come hell or high water.

#123 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 05:50 PM:

In the most technical sense, that's right. But I don't think anyone would be defending Trent Lott if he claimed that he had never formally and technically revoked a 30-year-old registration as a Democrat, and this therefore gave him the right to found a "group" called "Democrats Against Socialized Medicine" or some such thing.

#124 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 05:53 PM:

in other words, a Catholic is whatever Jack says it is.

#125 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 06:01 PM:

Some people must think vowels grow on trees.

#126 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 06:21 PM:

I don't think he's crossed the line yet. He's annoying, but I'd let him keep his vowels.

#127 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 07:01 PM:

Jack wrote:

In the most technical sense, that's right.
By "most technical," I assume you mean both law and custom, as well as roughly two thousand years of church tradition and history.
But I don't think anyone would be defending Trent Lott if he claimed that he had never formally and technically revoked a 30-year-old registration as a Democrat, and this therefore gave him the right to found a "group" called "Democrats Against Socialized Medicine" or some such thing.

Although it pains me to defend Mr. Lott, yes, I would defend his right to form a group and call it any damn thing he wants. If he applies for funding or support from a Democratic agency, or claims that he represents the Democratic party, those are legal issues and can be judged via the law.

But at least right now, he has the same freedom of speech as any other citizen. How long any of us have that freedom, and how much it may already have been impinged upon, is another kettle of squid.

#128 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 08:21 PM:

An excommunicated Catholic is still a Catholic. But this is getting well away from the topic. The topic, in case anyone was wondering, is astroturf.

#129 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 10:53 PM:

Emma--

I'm in kind of a rush, and I see there's been a whole lot of other stuff going on here, but you deserve a reply.

First of all, as I said before, I can't make Baker's arguments as well as he can. If you haven't read the book, I urge you to. I am not really aware how much or little his name may be anathema to professional librarians. I do know that a few years back when I was on a sort-of date with one, she angrily exploded, "I don't want to hear about Nicholson Baker!" when I dared to mention his name, but how representative she was of anyone or anything I couldn't say. I"m sure she'd join in the pile-on if she were reading this.

Baker is not a kook. He strikes me as very reasonable indeed. I read some excerpts in The New Yorker, but there is much more in the book.

And as I said before, his quarrel isn't with microfilm so much as with throwing away the originals. Though he has plenty to say about microfilm.

You are talking about a place a few blocks from your library, which I assume is in a city. Baker is talking about someplace out in the sticks where land is cheap. And where buildings are built with air conditioning. OK, there are energy costs. But there would be in any building where people are working.

Sure, minimum wage people often don't do a good job. And who is doing the microfilming for the private, for-profit comanies who do microfilming? I would suspect those very same people who skip pages, make foggy, dirt-ridden exposures, etc.

I could have microfilmed the whole nine floors of the library and made it available to all the students as a one shot deal.

I don't have any hard figures in front of me, but I do know that microfilm companies charge a lot. Look at the hard numbers, and I have a feeling this wouldn't be so. If you can give me some actual figures one vs. the other, I'd be interested to see them.

Microfilm has a shelf life of AT LEAST 75 years. It can be read easily most of the time, and if your library has a computer with some basic digital equipment, it can be as clear as the day the original was printed.

Here I would humbly beg to differ. Though microfilm was invented in the 19th century, its use didn't become widespread till the 1930s and '40s, and really mostly later. So the jury is still out on that one. Baker cites a number of instances of microfilm deteriorating. Certainly I have watched numerous prints of movies from the '60s and '70s that have seriously deteriorated. I don't think microfilm is necessarily any better. There are numerous problems with reading microfilm, and again, I speak as someone who has spent many weeks full-time doing research on microfilm archives. In this day and age, it's a dinosaur. It's cumbersome and costly to print. And the quality of the image depends entirely on the original capture, which often leaves something to be desired.

I'm tempted to engage in a bit of sarcasm, and say how troublesome it is that all those pesky books get in the way of "information," but I am sure that you are really a dedicated professional trying to provide a service to your patrons. The world is changing fast and we are all trying to keep up with technological change. If reading Double Fold doesn't (or didn't) make you think about some of the things you say, nothing I can say will.

#130 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 12:47 AM:

I would be pained and disappointed if Jack V were deprived of vowels. The line is, of course, wherever our hosts decide to place it, but I understand it to consist of personal vituperation and insulting address, not of trenchant but reasoned argument, however unwelcome that argument may be to others.

Therefore, I respectfully disagree with Greg London. To my mind, Jack V is not a troll, and the argument he presents is not trolling. Nor, plainly, is he unintelligent. Straightforward assertions that he is so are, I submit, closer to the line than anything he has said.

This has been an archetypical dialogue of the deaf.

I agree that deception is deplorable. Therefore, I deplore astroturf, which I take to mean organisations that attempt to mimic real broad-based movements while in reality remaining small, tightly controlled and financed by parties with an interest, usually pecuniary, in specific political objectives.

But while I agree that such tactics are deplorable, I would also regard them as typical of politics. I am not able to say where they are more prevalent. Nor is anyone else. They are deplorable wherever they appear, or whoever employs them, and should be unmasked.

As I understand it, this is Jack's point. For the life of me, I don't understand why it should be objectionable to anyone.

#131 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 04:55 AM:

Jack V. I think you might want to consider just why some of the reactions you are getting seem knee-jerk.

There has been an ongoing problem in U.S. Political dialogue, and it is this:

The Current Right will do some Untoward Activity (Hereafter UA) that politicians shouldn't. They will do so to a degree that it can be considered consistent, even habitual.

The Left* will do the same UA occasionally, but not habitually. Or they will do a lesser version of the same UA.

Yet, every time the Left attempts to point out how consistent and habitual the Right are in these UAs, someone will IMMEDIATELY enter the dialogue demanding that the Left justify their right to point out this problem, since they, having done the same UA, are equally culpable.

Usually, the Left will let itself get distracted into defending its own record, or shouting that The Right is Worse like a school-child instead of continuing to attack the UA that is the REAL problem.

This kind of incident has happened on this very weblog over and over and over.

So now, as someone already described it, Teresa put up a comment saying "Astroturf is bad. Here are several examples of right-wing astroturf."

And you pop up shouting about left-wing astroturf.

I don't know which side does more. That's Not the point. The point is, it's bad. And we know it's being done.

Now, can we discuss means by which it should be brought to yet greater attention, or stopped, regardless of who started it, or do you prefer to debate Lefts and Rights some more?

(Sorry if this is too irritable, it is 4AM...)


*By Left, it seems I mean everyone from conservative centrists on to the extreme left, which should theoretically be at least 2/3 of the political spectrum.

#132 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 07:06 AM:

It seems that once one is baptized, one is a Catholic come hell or high water.

Well, there's always good old formal apostasy. Then followed by excomunication, for good measure. :)

Strange how much sites you find typing "apostasy" (or "apostasie") which will belong to a new sect (rael is first of the french pages) or insist that it is punishable by death in islam (three of them for seven sites I checked).

#133 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 07:10 AM:

It's supposed to be "excommunication". (And, next , someone will spot another mistake I made, I know, rules of the net).

#134 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 09:20 AM:

Robert L.:
First of all, as I said before, I can't make Baker's arguments as well as he can. If you haven't read the book, I urge you to. I am not really aware how much or little his name may be anathema to professional librarians. I do know that a few years back when I was on a sort-of date with one, she angrily exploded, "I don't want to hear about Nicholson Baker!" when I dared to mention his name, but how representative she was of anyone or anything I couldn't say. I"m sure she'd join in the pile-on if she were reading this.

Baker is not a kook. He strikes me as very reasonable indeed. I read some excerpts in The New Yorker, but there is much more in the book.

Robert, Nicholson Baker seems very reasonable to many people who are not librarians and/or have not worked with 19th-century books and papers. He seems considerably less reasonable, and indeed less in contact with reality, to people who have actually worked on and struggled with these problems on a professional basis.

You might want to consider the possibility that a) there may be a reason for that, and b) the reason may not be the Mr. Baker is either more knowledgable or more concerned about these things that the librarians and archivists for whom this is our chosen profession.

I'm tempted to engage in a bit of sarcasm, and say how troublesome it is that all those pesky books get in the way of "information," but I am sure that you are really a dedicated professional trying to provide a service to your patrons. The world is changing fast and we are all trying to keep up with technological change. If reading Double Fold doesn't (or didn't) make you think about some of the things you say, nothing I can say will.

I see you've studied Mr. Baker well, and have very nearly mastered the marvelous condescension with which he pats us on the head, tells us how much he admires our professional dedication, and then explains that we just haven't really thought about these issues yet.

#135 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 11:01 AM:

Robert,
let me start by saying that OF COURSE I have read Baker. Such titles are considered professional reading. It also would be stupid of me to have an opinion on something I haven't read or researched, and my mama did not raise a stupid child.

First, let me point out that the price of microfilm is not that bad. See here. And that is, of course, if you want to have it done. You can buy complete sets of journals dating back to the 1840s for less because ONCE THE MASTER IS MADE, the copies are less expensive. Also, please notice that only ONE COPY is destroyed making the microfilm.

But most importantly, sometimes microfilm is the only way that a mid-size, mid-budget community college can afford to provide access to old journals. Do you have any idea what a complete set of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London would cost in print?

Secondly, the life span of microfilm is pretty much established. See here. Some of the older microfilm is being remastered and reprinted on more stable film, much as old movies are being worked on. But a simple microfilm scanner hooked up to a computer can create a completely clear version of any newspaper you want to read.

You see, we librarians think about issues like this all the time. We started back in the thirties, when we realized that the wood pulp titles printed in the late 1800's were frying on the shelves. And yes, I guess you could say we came to the conclusion that "information" was just as important as "book". Maybe it's our silly belief that democracy requires an educated citizenry. Or that a student in a small college in Wisconsin should have the right to see and use the same materials that a student in Harvard or Oxford.

Silly us.

#136 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 11:23 AM:

And who is doing the microfilming for the private, for-profit comanies who do microfilming?

My father-in-law runs a for-profit microfilming company (Archival Microfilming) that specializes in old and rare books, so I've heard a little about how these things work. Entry-level camera operators do earn minimum wage (iirc), but as they gain experience and reliabilty with various materials, they soon earn more. Materials are assigned to operators based on their skills, and for certain projects, my father-in-law does the filming himself. Once a reel is filmed, another person (generally my mother-in-law) checks each frame. If the reel doesn't meet quality standards, they refilm the material. Sometimes that calls for splicing the new film into the old, but sometimes that requires refilming the entire reel, depending on the contract requirements.

The range of the material they handle is amazing -- diaries from the fourteenth century, painted bamboo scrolls, the Bridgeport Times from 1941, student newspapers from Czechoslovakia (which stopped suddenly in 1939), and so on.

But I fear I'm rambling again. My apologies.

#137 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 11:30 AM:

Thanks, Dave Luckett.

Lenora: Fair points. But it's a bit odd to say, "I don't know which side does more. That's Not the point."

Really? It might not be the point that you're interested in, but it was most assuredly the point that numerous commenters made above. Right-wing astroturf is "industrial," while left-wing astroturf is merely "anecdotal." And so on and so forth.

And all I've tried to say is: Who says? Your personal gut feeling? That doesn't count for much of anything if (like some commenters) you refuse to admit that any left-wing astroturf might exist. (To head off objections, sure, various people have admitted solely in generic terms that left-wing astroturf might theoretically exist, but every time they are faced with a real-life example, they either completely ignore it (campaign-finance reform), or else find some niggling detail over which to squabble (CFFC)).

#138 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 12:01 PM:

And of course the major issue is, as it always is, and which always seems to be ignored by non-librarians:

money

How much will it cost to house the materials? Not just for a year, or a decade, but in perpetuity. It won't be cheap. If you're doing an archives, and want to do it right, you have to plan on it being forever, or what's the use? To buy and/or build a building* and maintain it, keep the HVAC* and lights running, fix the roof when it leaks*, etc., as well as hiring and paying adequate staff (with concomitant salary increases as cost-of-living requires)... this is an expensive proposition. You'd have to be careful of how you invest your capital for the future, too, lest the interest or dividends you're counting on for those future costs fail to materialize.

And all this in a culture where libraries are constantly underfunded, and librarians underpaid, by governments and other sponsoring agencies on all levels.

When Baker et al. solve that problem, *then* we can talk.

*One possible solution for some of these problems: put the archives in a cave, perhaps an old limestone mine. In Pennsylvania these are used as storage facilities. In fact the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the World Bank store documents there, and private companies are now doing likewise. Constant low temperature and humidity, with low light levels and an alkaline environment (the limestone) all are plusses in archival work. And (deity or deities of your choice) know we have enough abandoned mines in this region!

#139 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 02:03 PM:

> I respectfully disagree with Greg London.

Whatever argument Jack has, he is well adept at not revealing it while attacking whatever he disagrees with. His tactics involve asking loaded questions, baiting people to engage him, and other behaviours that are trollish, whether that was his intent or not.

lemme just point out one of Jack's little gems: "if you have the bizarre view that only thirteen-year-olds prefer to rely on facts"

This is trollish posting, regardless of whatever virtuish intents he may have had. He took something I said, twisted it around to something completely different from what I said, and then prefixes it with the word "if". If you don't know trollbait when it's dangling before you, here is how it works: He completely distorts my words, which I then have to either defend or suck it up and ignore, and he prefixes his distortion with the word "if", so if anyone pushes him on it, he can just say "well, if you didn't say it, you didn't say it. I just said 'if you said it'. Calm down." So, the troll gets a reaction which is exactly what a troll wants, and has a perfect defense against being accused of distorting someone elses words behind the "if".

whether his intentions were troll-like or not, his posts were the epitome of troll bait.

#141 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 02:47 PM:

Greg -- this should be pretty clear. I asked another poster whether he had any evidence as to the astroturf or non-astroturf nature of CFFC, as opposed to his ad hominem attack on my credibility. I was trying to steer the discussion away from personal attacks on me, and instead to focus on the facts. But you chimed in with the bizarre notion that merely because I asked the previous poster to stick to the facts, I was arguing "like a thirteen year old."

I was not troll-baiting in my response to you. I was simply making the obvious point that it is bizarre to claim that asking for facts (rather than prejudice) is characteristic of "thirteen-year-olds." By contrast, YOU were the one who jumped in with the name-calling and further personal attacks. That is far more "troll-like" than anything I have done. I haven't questioned anyone's age or intelligence, but that is the only thing that you seem to be interested in doing.

#142 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 06:12 PM:

Jack,

First you invent a strawman that people 'keep insinuating' there are not liberal astroturf, and then you attack it, demanding proof. The only person who made that claim a "problem" was YOU.

Then you go off on some no true scotsman tangent about what is and is not a "true catholic". And when people push you on that, you fall back to demanding THEY prove YOU wrong.

All of which reflects the behaviour of a 14 year old troll. Or at the very least, someone who likes a debate more than a resolution, likes questions more than answers, and likes arguing definitions more than dealing with reality. Whether you're intentions were trollish or not, I don't really care. You're behaving like a troll.

When you stop inserting yourself in the middle of invented arguments, when you tell people where the hell it is you're trying to take them of and work WITH them to get them there, then I'll withdraw the label. Until then, I call it like I see it.

#143 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 06:54 PM:

Look, if you so highly resent my saying that "people keep insinuating that it's not worth paying attention to left-wing astroturf," I'll retract that statement. Instead, I'll agree with what you must be implying: Everyone here admits that left-wing astroturf is a problem. Good; nice to know that everyone agrees on that.


Then you go off on some no true scotsman tangent about what is and is not a "true catholic". And when people push you on that, you fall back to demanding THEY prove YOU wrong.

Um, no. You're misinterpreting logical fallacies again. I maintain, and still do, that if someone's only claim to being a "Catholic" is that she was baptized 30 or 40 years ago, and if she no longer believes in the Catholic Church, and no longer attends mass or prays, it is fundamentally deceptive for her to found a group called "Catholics For [Anything]," particularly when the aim of that group is to undermine the Catholic church in every conceivable way (not just abortion, but in lobbying to deny the Vatican a seat at the U.N., etc.).

Are you incapable of seeing that such activity is inherently deceptive, given that the average member of the public would think that this person was an active and believing Catholic who merely dissented on one issue? It would be as if someone who had joined NOW 30 years ago, and whose name was still on a list of members somewhere, but who had nothing to do with NOW in the meantime, founded a group called "NOW Members Against Abortion," and presented herself to the public as representing other NOW members as well, all while being funded solely by right-wing foundations whose only interest is in undermining NOW.

Well, enough on that subject. If you don't get it by now, it's because you simply don't want to admit that anything could left-wing astroturf. I shouldn't keep repeating myself, or else people will say that I'm the one who is obsessed.

#144 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 08:00 PM:

Jack: the words used to attack your credibility might not have satisfied the Marquis of Queensberry -- but you based your claims on blatantly non-credible sources (Fox, NRO), which does not lead us to believe your arguments.

wrt CFFC: since it was founded decades ago, how sure are you of the ]status[ of the founders at that time? I also find your analogy faulty at best; there is a large gap between a voluntary organization and a church. And you still haven't addressed the fundamental hole in your claim that CFFC is astroturf: they started with \nothing/ but the knowledge that there were people on the ground who shared their opinions. The difference between them and astroturf may not be as stark as the difference between Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith and his opponents, but it's close.

#145 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 08:01 PM:

> Instead, I'll agree with what
> you must be implying:

That's twice you've taken something I said, twisted it into something completely assinine, and then attempted to shove those words into my mouth. And hiding behind words like "if you mean", "what you're implying", and "what you're insinuating", is simply more red flags that you are a troll.

You're not replying to anything anyone is SAYING here, you're responding to what YOU think people MEAN/INSINUATE/IMPLY, which so far have been strawman attacks.

It's double-mint official. You're a troll-troll.

#146 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 09:47 PM:

Whatever, Greg. Apparently, despite all the post above, no one has been saying or implying anything. They haven't been implying that left-wing astroturf is negligible. Nor have they been admitting that it is a problem. No one has addressed the subject at all.


Chip: Jack: the words used to attack your credibility might not have satisfied the Marquis of Queensberry -- but you based your claims on blatantly non-credible sources (Fox, NRO), which does not lead us to believe your arguments.

To repeat, that is sheer prejudice. Literally. You have "pre-judged" the status of certain facts merely because the facts were mentioned in sources that you have decided not to believe.

With regard to CFFC: Who cares what they were 30 years ago? What they are now is the purest form of astroturf. Their title (and how they are presented in the media) implies some sort of mass movement among "Catholics," whereas the so-called group is really a tool of wealthy left-wing foundations, most of which never fund any genuinely Catholic groups/charities.

#147 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 10:27 PM:

By the way, Greg:

I've got a great idea. I'm sure you'll love it. Since you suffer so much when people allegedly misinterpret your words, infer what you meant, and so forth, here's a great way to prevent any confusion.

Select one of the following:

Left-wing astroturf is:

A) Non-existent by definition.

B) Theoretically existent, but I'll dispute any real-life examples no matter what.

C) Barely existent.

D) Existent to some extent, but not my main concern because right-wing astroturf is so much more common.

E) Fairly widespread, but still not as common as right-wing astroturf.

F) Just as common as right-wing astroturf.

G) More common than right-wing astroturf.

H) I don't care, because I'm a left-winger and anything that furthers my side is a good thing.

I) I'd prefer not to think about it.

There. That should pretty much cover all the logical possibilities. So if you will just kindly select any of A through I -- and you can feel free to elaborate on your position -- you will not be misinterpreted on that point again.

#148 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2005, 11:22 PM:

I admit to being curious.

Jack, do you find that this style of argument often gets you what you want? That is, do people in general respond to rigid formalism wrapped in evident hostility? If so, what sort of community is that, and what made you think that this was one of them? If not, if (as I suspect) it does not in general lead to persuasion or changed hearts and minds, why persist in it?

Admittedly I'm assuming here that you would like to have others agree with you, as opposed to simply trying to shut them up.

I have a genuine interest in this, beginning with self-criticism - I spent a bunch of years inw hat I gradually realized was self-defeating behavior to the extent that I was serious about spreading my ideas. I found that partly I was looking for reasons to justify being ineffectual, and partly that I was simply not thinking well about the consequences of my chosen behaviors. When I see others making the same mistakes, I do therefore ask the same questions I had to ask myself.

#149 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 12:25 AM:

"Trying to shut them up"?!? Quite the opposite: I'm one of the few people here who is genuinely interested in discussing the issue. I'm not the one who is constantly attacking other people's intelligence, their age, their sources of information, their use of vowels (whatever that means), along with accusing them of misinterpreting my every word (but without ever clarifying what I really meant), not to mention forcing them to repeat themselves and then promptly accusing them of being obsessed. But yes, indeed, I have dared to disagree with certain people about various substantive issue. And that's equivalent to "trying to shut them up"? How?

I suppose you're right that some debates are not productive. But suppose that you agree with me on one particular point -- that the campaign finance reform debate was mostly ginned up by $123 million in left-wing astroturf spending. Suppose you agree with me that this $123 million project -- which was successful in getting Congress to pass a law -- is at least as worthy of discussion as some penny-ante group ("Social Security for All") that no one has ever heard of and that has had zero influence. What would you say that I haven't, to get people interested in that particular topic? Or at least to get them to acknowledge that just maybe the subject of astroturf isn't quite as simplistic as they thought? What would you say?

#150 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 01:49 AM:

I won't agree with you if you can't supply any evidence.

You've made a claim, Jack. Now support it.

#151 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 02:28 AM:

Jack -- we've both agreed we don't have analysis. We've agreed there's lots of evidence out there, and neither of us is willing to actually analyze it.

Why are you still arguing? I've dropped it. Seriously -- why haven't you? I just don't understand.

#152 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 03:15 AM:

Jack, you're arguing in a tone-deaf manner. The switching from specifics in isolation to universal principles to this and that and the other is characteristic of argument made without an understanding of the audience, or indeed of human nature (or at least modern Western nature) in general. If you can say with a straight face that this style would persuade you, at the very least you'd have to add that it's unusual of you. I will hazard the guess that in fact you have seldom been persuaded of anything presented in this manner. Why are you doing it? What would you like to accomplish, and how do you see what you're doing helping get you there?

I'm reluctant to reward your belligerence with actual answers, but....

There are several distinctions to be drawn.

One is between astroturf groups which exploit, use, coopt, whatever, an existing sentiment, and groups which manufacture a movement out of whole cloth. This is the distinction our hostess points at with regard to tort reform efforts - there wasn't anything there until a very select group of prospective beneficiaries made it up.

(There is also the category of movements which begin in popular sentiment and drift into isolation and top-down management. This is of course a fate available to all human institutions of every kind, from churches to quilting circles. It's sad, and when the issue is important worthy of note, but basically unremarkable or surprising.)

Another is between groups working basically on their own and those that are part of a tightly interwoven web of direction and support. This is one of the points our hostess wished to call attention to about the behind-the-scenes linkages between groups whose causes are not necessarily or inevitably linked. The fact of recurring sponsors and funders makes them that much more removed from anything that can plausibly be called the will of the people. The classic version of this on the left would be Communist front organizations. The Communist movement is of course effectively dead and gone, with a few very specific and tenacious exceptions - and of course a lot of the leading lights on the part of the right now in power started off in that sort of environment, and are drawing on skills learned in their youths and early adulthood.

A third is the degree to which the astroturf group is trying to claim credit for something that would have happened anyway. This is separate from how representative it is - lots of causes can be popular and yet doomed not to get anywhere. (Pro-abortion Catholics, for instance. It's a very popular stance in American Catholicism, but seems unlikely to get near dogma anytime soon.) Campaign finance reform of the sort we got was (IMHO) a really dumb bad idea that was nonetheless so popular among key factions with power in our society that it would have happened much as it did whether or not some specific group were there for it. By contrast, a lot of the stuff that's linked to in the post at the top of this very thread deals with things that do not enjoy anything like widespread support but are getting somewhere because of their dishonest manipulation of discourse.

Now we do all tend to notice motes in our enemies' eyes before beams in our own, and I'm not exempting myself from this. But it does seem to me that the right is, at the moment, making more use of this, caring less about it when it's exposed, and more thoroughly warping the matrix of probable and possible outcomes available through politics than the left. By contrast, the effective voices on the left just at the moment are the genuinely populist ones, tapping into unexpected broad bases of support. When Atrios can get $50,000 of donations in a day and a half by asking for support of Dean, that's a meaningful indicator of sentiment in a way that the latest pro-privatization scam about Social Security really isn't.

But I'm not really expecting a useful response to any of this. I just wanted to write it out, since I was thinking about it.

#153 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 03:40 AM:

I'm not trying to be exhaustive, by the way.

A fourth factor is the degree of temperance and honesty in the group's claims, and in the openness of its operations. The Reason Foundation, for instance, is straight up about this - you can find out who's paying it and what it's doing with very little hassle. It's also true of at least some of the groups you've been going on about. The sort of thing our hostess is pointing at, by contrast, has as one of its hallmarks a deep secrecy about money and membership.

#154 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 08:06 AM:

Jack, in re the vowels comments: Teresa has found a middle path between tolerating unduly hostile posts and refusing to let them appear. It's called disemvowelment, and it consists of taking the vowels out. In at least one case, only the nastier parts of some posts were disemvoweled while the more straightforward parts were left intact.

While part of the intent seems to be to make such passages harder to read, I suspect that some of the posters here have gotten pretty good at reading disemvoweled text.

Afaik (I'm not rereading the whole thread), some posters who aren't Teresa have made comments about you risking disemvowelment, but Teresa hasn't.

#155 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 10:20 AM:

Bruce, let me start by saying thanks for avoiding the name-calling and similar behavior that has characterized certain other posters. I appreciate it.

You make a lot of good points. Let me put out some thoughts:

One is between astroturf groups which exploit, use, coopt, whatever, an existing sentiment, and groups which manufacture a movement out of whole cloth. This is the distinction our hostess points at with regard to tort reform efforts - there wasn't anything there until a very select group of prospective beneficiaries made it up.


That's a useful distinction, I suppose, although a fine one. But in any event, there wasn't (AFAIK) "anything there" with regard to campaign finance reform until a "very select group" began spending $123 million in a fake grassroots effort. I mean, if you asked the average Joe to list the most important political issues, you might get a list that included education, defense, healthcare, the environment, and so on. I seriously doubt that campaign finance reform would be on the list at all. That strikes me as the quintessential "inside the Beltway" issue.

(There is also the category of movements which begin in popular sentiment and drift into isolation and top-down management. This is of course a fate available to all human institutions of every kind, from churches to quilting circles. It's sad, and when the issue is important worthy of note, but basically unremarkable or surprising.)

Yes. All true.

Another is between groups working basically on their own and those that are part of a tightly interwoven web of direction and support. This is one of the points our hostess wished to call attention to about the behind-the-scenes linkages between groups whose causes are not necessarily or inevitably linked. The fact of recurring sponsors and funders makes them that much more removed from anything that can plausibly be called the will of the people.

This too seems a useful point, but I wonder how far you would take it. I mean, you could find oodles of left-wing groups that are all basically funded from the same few entities (Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute, etc.). Those foundations have every right to spend money however they please. I'm not questioning that. I'm saying, however, that when one perceives some sort of sinister pattern in the fact that a few wealthy people on the right fund a lot of different groups, one should be objective enough to criticize the same phenomenon on the left.

A third is the degree to which the astroturf group is trying to claim credit for something that would have happened anyway. . . . Campaign finance reform of the sort we got was (IMHO) a really dumb bad idea that was nonetheless so popular among key factions with power in our society that it would have happened much as it did whether or not some specific group were there for it. By contrast, a lot of the stuff that's linked to in the post at the top of this very thread deals with things that do not enjoy anything like widespread support but are getting somewhere because of their dishonest manipulation of discourse.

Fair point, although I'm not as sure that campaign finance reform would have happened anyway.


Mr. MacDonald: I won't agree with you if you can't supply any evidence. You've made a claim, Jack. Now support it.


I'm not sure what you're looking for. Which claim? That CFFC is astroturf? Or that campaign finance reform was basically a giant astroturf operation? For evidence on those points, scroll up. Or are you talking about the broader claim that this stuff goes on in different places and that I'm not sure about the proportions? Well, what evidence would I bring forth to show that I'm not sure? That's my personal gut feeling, as I said above.

Tom Whitmore said: Jack -- we've both agreed we don't have analysis. We've agreed there's lots of evidence out there, and neither of us is willing to actually analyze it. Why are you still arguing? I've dropped it. Seriously -- why haven't you? I just don't understand.


Well, I'm not arguing with you. Certain other folks haven't even been willing to say that there's "lots of evidence out there." I find this somewhat mind-boggling.

#156 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 10:39 AM:

Second time, Jack: Spell my name right when you're addressing me.


#157 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 11:02 AM:

Mr. Macdonald,

Something tells me that you have suffered through a lifetime of people misspelling your name in one subtle way or another.

I do apologize and will try not to do it again. Perhaps, however, it would ease your mind if you adopted the attitude of a few hundred years ago, before spelling was standarized. ("Shakspere," etc.)

#158 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 11:30 AM:

> They haven't been implying that left-wing
> astroturf is negligible.
> No one has addressed the subject at all.

DING! DING! DING! Give the man a prize!

I think you may have finally figured it out, Jack. No one has addressed the subject at all, EXCEPT YOU. Do you get the difference between what people SAY and what you make it IMPLY or INSINUATE?

Did I ever SAY that only 14 year olds demand facts? Did I ever SAY "Everyone here admits that left-wing astroturf is a problem"?

NO. You took some words from me, jumbled them around like a game of scrabble, came up with something that was NOT what I said, and the attempted to ATTRIBUTE THEM TO ME.

"I'll agree with what you're implying: insert scrabble"

So, no one has addressed left-wing astroturf. And yet you insist on making that the topic of discussion/debate. No one has SAID anything about that topic until you came along and attempted to force the conversation into what YOU wanted it to be about.

You're last great post says
"Select one of the following:
Left-wing astroturf is:"

Do you get that you're trying to force the conversation again here? The opening post to this thread was about right-wing astroturf organizations, and you INSIST on making it about left-wing organizations.

And it isn't that we're all SAYING that left-wing orgs aren't astroturf, or that we're all saying that left-wing orgs aren't as common, or that we're all saying that left-wing orgs are (pick option A through I), we aren't SAYING anything about it at all. You are.

"No one has addressed the subject at all."

And you've taken that lack of speech to mean that we're in conspiracy, or we'd rather not talk about it, or that we don't care because any left-wing cause is good regardless of how they operate. or whatever. but the point is that YOU are the one making all of that up, and then you ATTRIBUTE IT TO US. At least twice you've twisted my words and attempted to shove them into my mouth.

You walked into a room that was having a conversation about politics and demanded that we instead talk about religion. And when we don't change to your topic, you find INSINUATION or IMPLICATION that we're against religion or some other assinine comment that practically demands we engage with you ("I'll agree with what you're implying:" insert scrabble mess). And when I label your behaviour what it is (trollish, childlike) you feign injury thank others for not resorting to "name calling".

Well, sorry. You're acting like a child that walked into a group of adults talking about politics and you want everyone to play your game. When we don't want to play your game, you throw a tantrum.

NO ONE ADDRESSED THE SUBJECT AT ALL.

If you want to sit down and talk about what people are actually saying, pull up a seat. Otherwise, I'd say someone needs a nap.


#159 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 11:31 AM:

I regard the big foundations as neither populist nor astroturf - they're in the category of narrow sources of a lot of money. Which is an honorable and legitimate place to be as long as those getting their money are honest about it, and on the whole they same to be, at least with the old-time examplars. I don't assume that everything populist is good and everything not is bad.

#160 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 12:09 PM:

Greg -- calm down just a minute. When you (or anyone else) has a pattern of challenging or ignoring any facts that are indicative of left-wing astroturf, it's fair game to INFER that the person either doesn't (a) believe in, or (b) care that left-wing astroturf might exist. But if you don't want people making INFERENCEs, then by all means feel free to clarify your position. You don't have to pick one of my options; you could even write out a position for yourself. Something substantive on the actual issues at hand.

#161 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 12:29 PM:

To Mr. Jack V.:

I know it's probably not my place to tell you this, after all I'm just background noise around those parts, but if someone you're discussing with is asking you not to misponounce/mispell his name, what does it cost you to show some respect by paying attention to details ?
Doing so just confirms, if needed be, that you do have interest in the person you're talking with, that he's not just used as replacement for a wall to talk to.
Sometimes, (often ?) totaly stupid and random rules do make sense.


As my very old, very distinguished english teacher used to say: "courtesy is the lubricant of a good conversation" (yes, I also sometimes wonder if he really had thought out all the implications of the sentence...). I can tell I've been hearing some cringes right now. Though, to be fair, they have somehow proved productive.
Even if it's in byproducts.

Re-reading this, I just want to add this isn't supposed to sound like an attack. My english is pretty shoddy, be warned. I'm tonal deaf, to quote from someone.

#162 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 12:37 PM:

Golly, gee, Jack, I really appreciate the way you've kept us from dwelling on the issue at hand. It's too depressing to think about-- I'd rather watch Crossfire, but this has been the next best thing. Or maybe second-best. Whatever.

In related news, did anyone here know that Lenny Bruce used to play a club called Fack's?

#163 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 12:53 PM:

Jack V. --

You're demanding moral equivalence.

It doesn't hold.

The American Right Wing is openly in favour of abolishing due process of law, the rule of law, and fair elections; the arbitrary dentention and torture of random persons; preemptive war waged without respect -- active contempt! -- for the decent opinions of mankind; systematic looting of the public treasury; hereditary aristocracy; enforcing religious discrimination with the full power of the state; and forced market access policies designed to maintain and deepen existing conditions of poverty the world over.

These are not opinions and policies which a person of countenance can support. Their moral equivalents are persons untroubled by casual rapine and brigandage.

Drawing false equivalences between a set of plutocratic political processes -- since the US political system is openly designed to benefit wealth, necessarily plutocratic processes -- to enact those contemptible and indefensible actions and a set undertaken to, however insufficiently, oppose them, is the rhetorical tactic of the willfully blind or the actively evil.

And, of course, one minor element in the arsenal of those forces which seek to manufacture consent through buying the continuous, saturation repetition of views agreeable to their causes.

Which is what our hostesses originally posted about.

Funny how when someone points out that you can stifle whole categories of dissent by asking do you want the red sweater or the blue sweater?, rather than do you want a sweater? would a windbreaker be better? what's the weather like, anyway?, you pop up and start hammering away on red or blue! you have to talk about red or blue!.

#164 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 01:06 PM:

Jack:

Your arguments seem more and more to be based on a misconception about foundations. So I will spell it out.

How foundations work is this:

-- Organization decides it needs money for a special project.
-- Organization researches foundations that seem amenable to projects like theirs.
-- Organization applies to foundation for grant. (Sometimes they apply to more than one, increasing their odds of acceptance, but for the sake of our argument, we'll say they just apply to one.)
-- Foundation considers grant.
-- If foundation approves grant, organization gets the money.
-- Organization then keeps records and reports back to foundation on how their money was spent.
-- Foundation reports on how their grant was used, and this information appears in various places: in their annual reports and publications, in reports they file with the Federal government, in various publications about grants and foundations, such as the Foundation Directory which is found in many libraries. (Probably a library near you, for example.)
-- Other organizations who need money look at these books to figure out what foundations they might not be wasting their time by applying to.
-- Some of these other organizations apply to the same foundation for similar grants.

The foundation does not go out and create or even solicit the organization. ("Hey, we have all this money -- can we give you some? Here's a blank check!"*) The organization approaches the foundation, not the other way around. And, most importantly, there is nothing hidden, secretive, or misleading about this process. Therefore, it is not astroturf.

*As The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would say, "This never happens." Many organizations, including probably the abovementioned library near you -- certainly the library near me (at the moment surrounding me, in fact) -- often wish it would, but it's not that simple.

#165 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 01:18 PM:

> But if you don't want people making INFERENCEs,

great farking dongles, it isnt INFERENCES that bother me, it's jerkoffs like you putting words in my mouth and then saying "Gee golly, Wally, we're just TALKING. Why you so upset?"

Do you have any CLUE that you've twisted words and attempted to shove them in my mouth? "Gee, Wally, you're implying that we should wipe out the human race. I can't agree with that."

You are not INFERING. You're twisting words around and then trying to argue from the point of view that I SAID THEM WHEN I DID NOT.

How clueless are you?

#166 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 01:39 PM:

Graydon --

I don't want to get into a dispute over the opening of your post, which strikes me as caricatured and tendentious. But on the main subject: Not that I want to infer anything from what anyone else has said, but are you in the camp that believes that any amount of astroturf used by the left-wing is morally permissible when used to combat the evil right-wingers in power? I.e., if the left-wing does use astroturf, that is not "morally equivalent" to right-wing astroturf, because it is used to serve different ends?

#167 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 01:53 PM:

First good question that Jack V's asked. The Far Right, IMHO, has clearly decided that The Ends Justify the Means. It is strategically significant to ponder if Progressives need to play Tit for Tat.

#168 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 02:13 PM:

Red or blue, Graydon? Red or blue? In fact, I don't think you even exist. Are you Reddon or Bluedon?

#169 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 02:26 PM:

I've been silent on this thread for a while, and I've got to agree with Greg L, Jack V. has been putting words in people's mouths (mine included) and dragging the conversation around by using hackneyed rhetorical tricks. Way, way upthread Lenora Rose nailed the dynamic that's going on here. He's also been deliberately disrespectful, which I take to be an attempt to get responses built in anger, not reason.

Maybe we should stop taking Mr. V quite so seriously. He's starting to sound like a cheap knock-off of the Medium Lobster. Only not funny.

#170 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 02:43 PM:

Jack V, let's pop back to your first post in this thread, in which you said (and I'm bolding the key bit): But "Rock the Vote" itself was founded by "members of the recording industry" who were upset about "censorship." In other words, they were engaged in corporate lobbying against any restrictions on their business dealings. And all along, that organization has mostly been about old and powerful people chiding young people into voting for liberal causes. Nothing wrong with that, except for the pretense that it is a movement originating from young people themselves.

Someone should have stopped you right there. Here's a timeline from Rock The Vote's own website. Very first item: "1990: Rock the Vote is founded by members of the recording industry in response to a wave of attacks on freedom of speech and artistic expression."

They're forthright about who founded them, they're open about their goals. Nothing astroturf-like there, and you're lying about their methods.

#171 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 03:15 PM:

Avram: Indeed.

Has Jack even produced one of his fabled "left-wing astroturf" organizations? By that, I mean one that really is "astroturf"? All the ones I've seen him mention seem legit to me.

How can we decide if we like them better than right-wing "astroturf" -- as he keeps claiming we do -- if we don't know who they are?

If we don't know who they are, how do we know if they are? And if they aren't, then why get all fussed up about it?

I'm not saying there aren't any, it's just that Jack hasn't produced any convincing evidence. It's like the question of Life in Outer Space. There may be aliens on some planet orbiting some star dozens of light years from Earth, but claiming a UFO landed in your county* and supporting that claim with the fact that the mother of a drinking buddy of someone whose brother is friends with a cousin of the former high-school sweetheart of your neighbor's uncle was on cable TV saying she saw it does not constitute proof of Life in Outer Space.

Life in outer space may exist. TV shows claiming that UFOs landed in my county* strike me as a similar phenomenon to astroturf: it's made up for no reason other than to get people excited.

*Anyone ever hear of Kecksburg? That's the county I grew up in, 25 miles away. Do I believe it? No.

#172 ::: Anton P. Nym (aka Steve) ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 03:39 PM:

It is strategically significant to ponder if Progressives need to play Tit for Tat.

I certainly hope not, not unless the Progressives want to discredit themselves too when the truth inevitably comes out.

(IMO, the best thing that could happen to American politics right now is that the moderates write off the extremist-dominated remnants of their old parties and form a new party that builds on the common ground they have together. That'd create a real and credible alternative to the cloud-kookoo-land stances available to voters right now. Of course, the bizzaroland nature of party finance legislation makes this rather difficult to pull off...)

#173 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 03:52 PM:

Lois -- if you've just entered the discussion, scroll up or search for the name "Treglia." He's a program officer who ADMITTED that the campaign finance reform movement was basically astroturf. No one can seriously dispute that.

"Avram" -- you're quite right that "Rock the Vote" describes its history on its own website. You don't mention, however, that I myself linked to that very webpage in my original post. So I wasn't hiding anything there.

I suppose that what I'm remembering is the way that Rock the Vote was announced. I'm old enough to remember the ad campaigns when that organization was started. Ad after ad on MTV, all with the aim of convincing young people that here was a way to be part of a group of really cool young people. You loser sitting at home on the couch on Friday night, you want to be one of them, don't you?

As I recall, it was never presented as what it was: "A bunch of us wealthy interests who like to call ourselves 'artists' (e.g., Madonna) don't want warning labels on our albums because it would reduce sales, so to increase our own earning power we're forming an organization designed to convince young people that the other cool young people out there are banding together."

Anyway, that was my impression. Very manipulative.

#174 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 05:21 PM:

Okay. I can google "Treglia". I can also scroll to the bottom of the article you saw fit to quote as your source, and see who wrote it.

"William A. Schambra is director of the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, in Washington."

Isn't that interesting? Wondering what Hudson Institute is? Wonder no more:

"The Hudson Institute is a hard-right activist think tank that advocates the abolition of government-backed Social Security and an end to corporate income taxes. It also campaigns heavily on environmental issues (pro-GM, anti-organic)."

There's some differing opinions about what Treglia said, in context, and if what he said was true, that is, true in the sense of describing how Pew operates. But the Hudson Institute is hardly likely to spin that tale objectively. And at least one grantee (CPI) is on record as saying that no, that's not how Pew does things when they're passing out the grants.

#175 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 07:00 PM:

Jack, I can't believe you figured it out! "Avram" is indeed an alien from the planet Marva!

#176 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 07:36 PM:

"Pericat" --

So you dug up a biased source, which claims that the Hudson Institute is biased on various issues that have nothing to do with campaign finance reform. Based on that, you want to ignore something written by someone who happens to work for the Hudson Institute. Hey, that really convinces me that Mr. Treglia of the Pew Foundation never really said the things he said.

Except that there's a video of Treglia's speech.

Moral: Ad hominem arguments are fallacious.

#177 ::: michelle db ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 07:51 PM:

Jack V. re Rock the Vote: Ad after ad on MTV, all with the aim of convincing young people that here was a way to be part of a group of really cool young people. You loser sitting at home on the couch on Friday night, you want to be one of them, don't you?

That ad is manipulative, as, surely, all advertising is. Astroturf organizations certainly use manipulative, even deceptive, ads to promote their causes, but advertising is only one part of what makes an astroturf org, and not even the largest part.

I take an example from the pharma industry, who spreads money to both Right and Left as they see fit, From Patient Activism to Astroturf Marketing by Bob Burton and Andy Rowell:

When a PR crisis emerges, such as withdrawal of drug approval, companies seek to turn third-party "partners" into corporate shields. A key task in a crisis is to "deploy third parties to advance your cause," explained Maxine Taylor, the director of corporate affairs at Lilly UK. Third parties should be called on, she suggested, "to share the spotlight if possible, or indeed to divert the spotlight of media attention from you."

One possible example of this strategy occurred in July 2002 when the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it was abandoning its study of the effects of Prempro, Wyeth's market-leading hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drug. NIH had originally planned an eight-year trial of the drug, but it only took five years to accumulate conclusive evidence of increased health damage to women who use the drug over time. The announcement was reported with shock in media outlets around the world, which had long been accustomed to glowing reports of HRT.

Women's health and consumer groups welcomed the decision, but the announcement precipitated a crisis for Wyeth, which had a 70% share of the HRT market and earned $900 million annually from sales of the drug. Its share price plummeted, and plaintiff lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit.

Support, however, came from the Washington, DC-based Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR), which condemned the NIH decision and distributed op-eds and letters to newspapers around the country. Reporting in Washington Monthly, Alicia Mundy noted that Wyeth and other drug companies are represented on the group's corporate advisory board, but details of the group's funding remain obscure. "Our attorney says it is confidential information that we don't distribute," Mundy was told when she inquired.

The SWHR website notes, however, that Wyeth has been a corporate sponsor of its annual fundraising ball at the Washington Ritz-Carlton. In fact, Wyeth underwrote the entire glitzy affair, which promoted Prempro so enthusiastically that one attendee complained it was "like they were doing an ad for Wyeth."

Wyeth either created or co-opted SWHR and made it a tool of its corporate self: a tool that it designed to appear as an independent agency. The SWHR, the tool, uses cunning advertising to make consumers believe that it's working to help them, when in fact it's working to support the cause of its sponser. Imagine a pyramid balanced on its point; the point is advertising, the whole pyramid is the astroturf.

#178 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 08:38 PM:

> Mr. Treglia said the foundation had made grants
> to "create an impression that a mass movement
> was afoot -- that everywhere they [members of
> Congress] looked, in academic institutions, in
> the business community, in religious groups, in
> ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking
> about reform."

So, an organization donated money to start a movement, get the word out, get people focused on an issue. The real thing is whether the movement it created was grassroots (and I think a lot of people really want campaign finance reform) or astroturf (and I think few people really lobby for tobacco companies).

If you think the only people who want campaign finance reform are members of the Pew foundation (or whoever is on your short list), then I stand corrected because you're not a troll, you're a blockhead.

The thing is that a lot of people know campaign finance is broken and needs to be fixed. If someone with a lot of money brought that to a focus, great. Grassroots doesn't mean "no money", it means people are at the base of it. Lots of people want campaign finance reform. So its grassroots.

Lots of people aren't writing their representatives to help tobacco companies.

#179 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 09:04 PM:

The Hudson Institute has clearly drifted since Herman Kahn invited me there (Summer 1968). We agreed on many matters of Physics and Futurology, I found his political stance to be relatively nonpartisan, somewhere in the libertarian-technocrat-globalism area. In fact, it was fairly close to Robert Heinlein's position, as I suggested and Herman Kahn agreed.

"The Institute was founded in 1961 by the late Herman Kahn and his colleagues Max Singer and Oscar Ruebhausen from the RAND Corporation. Initially its policy focus, while right-wing, was dictated by Kahn's own interests (such as domestic and military uses of nuclear power, the future of the US workplace, and the science of 'futurology'). Following his death in 1983, the Institute expanded its staff and took on a more overtly political, libertarian stance."

[above quote from the previously supplied hotlink]

#180 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 09:24 PM:

Jack, even if I grant that everything you just said about the origins of Rock The Vote is true, that still doesn't make it an astroturfing effort. Not all advertising -- even by rich people -- is astroturf.

Astroturfing is the deliberate attempt to create the illusion of spontaneous, widespread public reaction on some political issue. (The term may well spread to non-political matters soon.) The classic astroturfing techniques include using a bunch of small front organizations (ultimately funded and organized by the PR firm) and mass coordinated writing of letters-to-editors (sometimes by a small group writing multiple letters under fake or stolen names). Television advertising is generally not used, because it can't be passed off as a spontaneous act by diverse individuals.

BTW, why the quote marks around my name?

#181 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 10:17 PM:

Did Jack really tell Uncle Jim that it's Uncle Jim's problem that he doesn't like people misspelling his name?

Here he insults a whole lot of other people in this thread:

Bruce, let me start by saying thanks for avoiding the name-calling and similar behavior that has characterized certain other posters. I appreciate it.

He's also inciting Greg London and then telling him to calm down. Classic troll behavior.

This is a great thread with some wonderful information from Teresa. I sent it to several of my friends because I learned so much from it. I think Jack is here simply to keep people from taking the discussion part of the thread seriously. I also don't think it's going to work. We're not exactly clueless here.

#182 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2005, 10:33 PM:

Point is, Jack V., your source is not a sterling pillar of objectivity when it comes to right/left issues. They are, like you, totally all over "Treglia said that Pew created astroturf orgs so as to further their private agenda, and isn't that terrible," which kinda skips right over the question of whether or not it's true.

I listened to that speech this afternoon, and that's an hour and a half I'll never see again, but I heard Treglia say that Pew okayed him to actively seek out organizations that would, with Pew's money, back campaign finance reform. Which may or may not be a good thing, but it's hardly astroturf.

And, to give your spelling skills a workout, no quotes, and a small initial p.

#183 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 12:00 AM:

Jack: To repeat, that is sheer prejudice. Literally. You have "pre-judged" the status of certain facts merely because the facts were mentioned in sources that you have decided not to believe.

Is it prejudice to "believe" that a raw egg will smash if you let go of it several feet above a hard surface?

I will grant you that NRO and Fox may be slightly less unbelievable than the Washington Times; after all, they're not owned by a religious fruitcake. (Go ahead, tell me you can read Sun Myung Moon with a straight face.) But observing the fact that they are the only references you offer to attack a moderately liberal organization is not prejudice on my part; instead, it prejudices your case. You have no trouble making assumptions about people on this blog that you don't know; I see the behavior of the organizations you cite and know what to expect. Knowing one's sources is not prejudice; it's a necessary part of making sense of the world. (And not just the present world; consider trying to assess, say, Richelieu going only by Dumas, or only by Hillaire Belloc (sp?), just to give an example I can still remember blowing.)

#184 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 03:06 AM:

Me, I'm wondering how campaign finance reform got defined as a "left-wing" cause, what with the McCain half of McCain-Feingold being a Republican. Likewise the Shays half of Shays-Meehan. And two-thirds of McCain-Feingold-Cochran.

And if it's a "left-wing" issue, then why was the California State Democratic Party one of the groups challenging McCain-Feingold as unconstitutional?

#185 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 03:31 AM:

I don't think it's that (right/left) so much as ensuring as many organizations as possible are seen as turfers. The groups who use astroturf orgs as an essential part of their stock in trade would see an advantage in making it seem as though "everyone does it", especially if everyone doesn't.

#186 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 09:46 AM:

pericat touches on something really vulgarly postmodern about the current crop of theocons: They really do believe "perception is reality" and really do practice that belief, with a great deal of success.

#187 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 10:44 AM:

Perception is reality, for an individual human being. We all live in models of the universe constructed by our brains.

The great trick is recognizing that this model of the universe -- where magic works and story is a force of nature -- is wrong, so far as the rocks and the waters and the winds of the Earth are concerned.

The neocon disdain for that, the invocation of the supremacy of will, is one of the two standard ways for people to do bad insecurity management. (The other is to confuse helpless -- an irreducible, inevitable condition of being alive as a finite creature in a much, much larger world -- and hapless, which is the conviction that you cannot affect your lot by striving.)

It has certainly against it the size of the mess is creates for others, compared to the helpless/hapless confusion.

#188 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 12:21 PM:

I will grant you that NRO and Fox may be slightly less unbelievable than the Washington Times; after all, they're not owned by a religious fruitcake. (Go ahead, tell me you can read Sun Myung Moon with a straight face.) But observing the fact that they are the only references you offer to attack a moderately liberal organization is not prejudice on my part; instead, it prejudices your case.

That last sentence is incoherent. It "prejudices" my case only because of "prejudice" on your part, because you have "pre-judged" whether you will believe information solely based on where that information is found.

I just clicked on Fox News, and here are some first paragraphs from the stories I found:

CAIRO, Egypt — Al Qaeda's (search) No. 2 leader released a new video, broadcast on Al-Jazeera television Friday, in which he disparaged the U.S. concept of reform in the Middle East and said armed jihad is the only way to bring change in the Arab world.
WASHINGTON -- Culminating years of frustration with the performance and behavior of the United Nations (search), the House voted Friday to slash U.S. contributions to the world body if it does not substantially change the way it operates. The 221-184 vote, which came despite a Bush administration warning that such a move could actually sabotage reform efforts, was a strong signal from Congress that a policy of persuasion wasn't enough to straighten out the U.N.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Taliban (search) rebels have ambushed a police convoy in southern Afghanistan (search), taking at least 10 officers and a district police chief captive, a senior official said Saturday.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Dick Durbin (search) on Friday defended his criticism of the Guantanamo detainee camp, after GOP leaders called on key Democrats to denounce his remarks. "More than 1,700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and our country's standing in the world community has been badly damaged by the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," Durbin said. "I will continue to speak out when I disagree with this administration."


So all of that is untrue because Fox News printed it? Al Jazeera didn't really broadcast that video? The House didn't vote to cut UN funds? There aren't really any Taliban rebels? Senator Durbin didn't make the remarks attributed to him?

Sure, you could perhaps come up with some reasons to complain about bias -- maybe Fox is choosing stories in a biased way. A really unbiased news service wouldn't even print stories about cutting UN funding; all of its UN-related stories would be about how UN members resent the United States, or something like that. Or maybe Fox prints too many quotes from conservatives, etc., etc. But it is a bit mind-boggling to maintain that factual information should be ignored or disbelieved just because Fox printed it.

So go back to the original article that I cited from Fox News. Here's a quote:

"I spent 20 years looking for a government to overthrow without being thrown in jail, " she said. "I finally found one in the Catholic Church."

Unlike grassroots groups, funded by thousands of membership dues, records show the organization receives most of its money from liberal foundations. Its big-money donations include $375,000 from billionaire Warren Buffett; $600,000 from the Hewlett Foundation; $1.6 million from the MacArthur Foundation; $3.8 million from the Packard Foundation; and $4.4 million from the Ford Foundation.

Other notables include Ted Turner, who is known for mocking Catholics as "Jesus freaks" for marking Ash Wednesday. The Playboy Foundation and the Sunnen Foundation, a manufacturer of contraceptive foam, are also notable contributors.

Recently Kissling launched a worldwide billboard campaign blaming the church for Africa's AIDS epidemic because it opposes contraception.

So we're supposed to believe that all of this is untrue? Why? Did Kissling not make the first statement that is quoted from her? (It's been widely reported in other sources as well.) Is there any reason whatsoever to think that Fox lied about the financial reports that CFFC itself filed that show where its funding comes from? (That information would be quite easy to check, both with CFFC and with the foundations themselves). Did Kissling not launch the campaign regarding African AIDS? Again, that's purely factual information that would be quite easy to check.

In other words, there isn't any reason whatsoever to automatically distrust the verifiable and checkable facts that are found throughout the story.

#189 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 12:25 PM:

Is there a useful distinction between members who vote organizations and members who merely contribute organizations? [NPR as astroturf?] There is currently a fuss about Iowans Against Gun Violence which David Hardy at http://armsandthelaw.com/archives/2005/06/joyce_foundatio_2.php is calling a surrogate: "it would appear that the "grassroots" group's entire contribution income and budget consists of the Joyce money. It is indeed a surrogate for the Foundation." Emphasis added and analysis omitted.

So far as I can tell in this case public money is accepted - though not much - but input is not?

Personally I'm a life member of the NRA and the United States Chess Federation each of which solicits member input through more or less convoluted procedures (especially the Chess Federation but by the nature of the beast there is more opportunity for active players (I'm not) to meet Delegates.) Easy enough in most any coalition to be a letterhack but would an insistance on a membership form of organization for a 501(c)(3) be better? Comments from SMOFs and conrunners especially solicited.

#190 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 12:28 PM:

Jack V. has fallen short of asking a 2nd good question, but has finally put some facts and figures on the table for analysis. Earlier threads in Making Light somewhat agreed that the Vatican contributed to the AIDS problem, and pondered whether Pope Benedict XVI would take us further down that slippery slope.

OTOH, it's a logical fallacy to give a valid news story from Fox, and say that they can thus be trusted. Even a stopped clock is precisely correct twice every 24 hours.

#191 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 01:27 PM:

Jack V. : you seem to be brighter than you're demonstrating by the examples you're bringing to the table.

To take the last story you cite:
Fox News is now framing the entire Gitmo story in terms of whether Durbin is at fault. Yes, you are correct, and Fox News is factually correct, " Senator Durbin {did} make the remarks attributed to him", but that's not the actually point: the stories of what's actually happening at Gitmo have been pushed down the stack into invisibility.

If you don't recognize that as bias, but see that as simple objective reporting, then you are not as perceptive as you seem to believe.

I could build a similar case for the other "top stories" you cite, but it would be redundant. Objectively true, but their very selection as the 'top stories' demonstrating deeper bias.

The point is not whether the stories themselves are objectively true, but whether or not they reflect the reality.

It may be possible that one can find examples of astroturf on the left; it might even true that the examples you cite so passionately ARE examples of astroturf;
but, as Graydon and others have pointed out, that does not seem to reflect the larger reality of the situation.

'Astroturf' does not appear to be a symmetric situation.
Finding left-wing examples does not change that.

#192 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 01:51 PM:

Fox News is now framing the entire Gitmo story in terms of whether Durbin is at fault. Yes, you are correct, and Fox News is factually correct, " Senator Durbin {did} make the remarks attributed to him", but that's not the actually point: the stories of what's actually happening at Gitmo have been pushed down the stack into invisibility.


Bob -- I anticipated that very point, and already answered it. Your point is that Fox is biased in how it frames certain stories, or in which stories it selects to put on its front page. It is. (And so is every other news organization; pure objectivity here is impossible.)

But that's not the point. If you will kindly read above, people were not objecting to the framing or the selection of stories on Fox. They were sticking their fingers in their ears, digging their heads in the sand, and just flat-out refusing to believe basic and checkable facts for no other reason than that the facts appeared on Fox. That is irrational behavior.

Jonathan: OTOH, it's a logical fallacy to give a valid news story from Fox, and say that they can thus be trusted. Even a stopped clock is precisely correct twice every 24 hours.

1) I didn't say that Fox can automatically "be trusted." I was refuting the opposite extreme, i.e., that Fox is always to be mistrusted.

2) FYI: Fox is right much more often than twice every 24 hours, so to speak, IN ITS REPORTING. (I'm not talking about Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly, who run opinionated talk shows. Rag on them all you want.)

#193 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 02:24 PM:

Jack V - Irrespective of whether Fox (or NRO) is right or wrong or too biased or anything else that it might be, know your audience. If a Fox citation isn't credible to the people you're speaking with, you won't change any minds.

I certainly wouldn't cite Harper's or The Atlantic (and certianly not Mother Jones!) if I was trying to convince a conservative that the sky is blue.

I am assuming that you're trying to change some minds, not just "win" an argument. Or highjack a conversation.

#194 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 03:47 PM:

Jack V., there is no comparison between the astroturf I'm talking about on the right, and anything even vaguely left of center. In fact, arguing that "both sides do it" is the single commonest argument used to derail legitimate discussion of the problem.

So yes, you got that one thing right: I absolutely do deride the idea that there's any kind of parity. Have you actually looked at the numbers? It's like comparing my pistol crossbow to an Apache helicopter.

Here's the real point: what's happening on the right is a long-term, coordinated, extremely well-funded system of institutional black ops, involving scores of false-front organizations. These organizations are staffed by paid employees.
Their purpose is wholly deceitful.

We're not talking here about groups that put out slanted information, or that have an agenda that goes 20% beyond their publicly stated aims. The intent behind these astroturf organizations is wholly deceptive from the get-go.

I wasn't woofing when I referred to this as an industrial process.

What amazes me about you is that you're in the target group for their lies, you personally. Does scoffing at the idea that there's something extraordinary happening there make you feel like you're smarter than everyone else? Got news for you.

Ever seen a major MLM or Ponzi scheme get busted? In the period just before the organizers either flee the country or are handcuffed for a trip downtown, the newsies generally score a few interviews with guys who've gotten sucked into the scam and are about to lose every penny.

Watching those interviews, you feel for the guys, sort of, because nobody deserves to be ripped off; but you don't feel quite as sympathetic as you might. There's the interviewer, saying something sensible like "You know, it's not actually possible for an investment scheme to work the way this scheme is supposed to work." All the while, you can see that the investor he's talking to, who's probably saying something fairly neutral like "I've checked it out on my own, and I'm satisfied that they've got a viable business plan", is actually thinking about how smart he is, because he's in on something the interviewer isn't, and it's going to make him a heap of money.

That guy? He's you, Jack. You're the sucker in the game.

#195 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 03:57 PM:

Faux News: We distort, you deride.


=============

Alexander the Great, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon were sitting around the Elysian Fields watching the war in Iraq.

"Just look at those armored divisions!" Alexander said. "If I'd had them I would have taken all of India."

"Just look at those air wings!" Frederick said. "If I'd had them the Seven Years War would have lasted seven days."

"Just look at Fox News!" Napoleon said. "If I'd had them no one would have known I'd lost in Russia."

#196 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 04:39 PM:

So yes, you got that one thing right: I absolutely do deride the idea that there's any kind of parity.

Greg London, are you paying attention to this?

Have you actually looked at the numbers? It's like comparing my pistol crossbow to an Apache helicopter.

I'd LOVE to "look at the numbers." That would be the one thing that would make a genuine contribution to this debate. If the numbers showed that I'm wrong, well, so be it. But if the numbers show a significant amount of left-wing astroturf, then some other commenters would have to modify their views (or else take the route of "ends justify the means").

Just one thing, though: Where are the numbers? Has someone compiled a complete and accurate list of both sides' activities somewhere? If it's not online, is it in a book or magazine?

#197 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 06:42 PM:

Avram, he put your name in quotes because he thinks it's a usename, not your real name. Maybe he only believes in Christian names.

(I watched _The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra_ the other day and it was awful, but I did immediately invert the alien planet Marva into Avram.)

#198 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 08:04 PM:

Jack, you're saying you have no prior acquaintance with the subject?

#199 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2005, 11:52 PM:

Jack: Come to think of it, left-wing astroturf isn't likely to be mentioned or uncovered by the Nation or the American Prospect or their equivalents.

So our observations on NRO and Fox are prejudice, but yours aren't?

Note that you are again distorting what other people have said. Nobody here has claimed that everything in NRO and Fox are lies; what has been said repeatedly is that citing only them does not dispose us to belief. And if you consider that to be prejudice, please feel free to demonstrate that you are free of prejudice concerning the outcome of dropping an egg.

#200 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2005, 04:38 AM:

Jack V., regarding that FOX article you quote, dunno if you noticed this, but the Frances Kissling quote doesn't make sense in that context.

What she actually did write, in an opinion piece for New Republic on the 14th of April (cached google copy here) was:

"Let's face it: Anyone I would want to be pope is not going to get elected. I'm not even sure I want a pope. I spent my first 20 adult years looking for an unjust government I could overthrow without getting thrown in jail and finally found it in the Vatican. I've spent the last 25 challenging the structure of the Church while trying to save my own faith—and I have no doubt that the modern papacy is part of the structure, not the faith."

You asked, "Did Kissling not make the first statement that is quoted from her? (It's been widely reported in other sources as well.)"

The answer is no, she didn't. And it doesn't count as "widely reported" when the other sites doing the "reporting" are merely quoting the original lie wholesale.

"In other words, there isn't any reason whatsoever to automatically distrust the verifiable and checkable facts that are found throughout the story."

So what's with all the automatic trusting, then? As you say, verifiable. Checkable. Do some.

#201 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2005, 10:36 AM:

CHIP: Jack: Come to think of it, left-wing astroturf isn't likely to be mentioned or uncovered by the Nation or the American Prospect or their equivalents.

So our observations on NRO and Fox are prejudice, but yours aren't?


Huh? I wasn't saying, and I would never say, that I refuse to believe any fact reported in the Nation or the American Prospect or whatever. I'd take whatever the Nation (in particular) had to say with a grain of salt, but I still wouldn't automatically dismiss it if they reported as a fact that some group ("Social Security for All") was funded by some corporation. I might disagree with their bias in any number of ways, but it would still be silly to refuse even to believe in the basic facts. They may be biased, but they can't be making everything up.

So you're completely missing the point. The point was that 1) various folks were refusing to believe in any examples of left-wing astroturf, but at the same time, 2) refusing to believe anything from the very type of sources that would report on left-wing astroturf in the first place. Let me put it this way: Imagine a right-winger who refused to believe in any example of right-wing astroturf, and who dismissed all evidence with a snort: "I don't believe information from Josh Marshall, the American Prospect, CBS News (memo forgers), the New York Times (Jayson Blair), etc., etc." What would you say? "Well, gee, it's no wonder that you don't believe there is any right-wing astroturf, when you don't believe in the sources that print that kind of information in the first place."

#202 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2005, 10:40 AM:

Jack, you're saying you have no prior acquaintance with the subject?

Well, I must be unacquainted with the subject, if there are some numbers printed somewhere that everyone knows about but me. So help me here: Where are the numbers?

#203 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2005, 11:49 AM:

Tell you what, Jack, go get the numbers. I'll wait. And when you come back with them explain to me why you think astroturf, by anyone, is a good thing.

#204 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2005, 03:52 PM:

Mr. MacDonald:

Um, there's nothing to explain. I'm a bit bewildered that you could say something like that, particularly after you specifically asked if anyone was in favor of astroturf, and I specifically responded TWICE to say that I wasn't in favor of it.

#205 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2005, 03:55 PM:

I meant to type "Macdonald."

#206 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2005, 06:51 PM:

Just for the record, I know more than a few Catholics who think abortion should be legal, think the Vatican has no business occupying a seat at the UN, and indeed disagree on a whole range of social issues with the corrupt mafiosi-in-red-beanies who make up the Curia.

Yeah, sure, Pope Ratso I and his apparatchiks think these people are very bad no-good rotten false Catholics. Also, this just in, the "Reverend" James Dobson of Focus On The Family thinks I'm a bad American.

James Dobson can kiss my ass. And if Jack V. wants to take the side of the Vatican functionaries against my Catholic friends, he can likewise kiss my cradle-Catholic ass as well.

We will not be tolerating further discussion of this. You want to promulgate your nasty views of somebody else's religious practice, get your own blog and do it there.

#207 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2005, 12:22 PM:

Third time.

I meant to type "Macdonald."

Sure, Jack. Anything you say. I believe you.

Now where are those numbers I asked for? If you don't have them you don't have an argument.

#208 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2005, 02:47 PM:

Geez, it was a typo. What's more, I corrected it.

If you are so aware of spelling, you should be aware that my name is not spelled "Teresa Nielsen Hayden." SHE is the person who said that I should "look at the numbers." So why are you asking ME where the numbers are? I have said twice that I have no idea what the overall numbers would be.

#209 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2005, 05:58 PM:

Okay. The post pointed to which started this thread was an example of somebody digging out the numbers on right-wing astroturf. There are a lot of them, and more pointed to than fully explicated.

In the time since, nobody has dredged out more than a few putative (sorry, Jack V., your examples do not feel to me as if they're in the same class as the ones TNH listed; but I do believe that you point to a real phenomenon) examples of left-wing astroturf.

While in general "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", in today's blogging culture with the number of folks out there wanting to research such questions, I think that the weight begins to shift to the other side -- that, in this case, absence of evidence is (weak) evidence of absence.

Definitely weak evidence, mind you.

#210 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2005, 10:40 PM:

Tom -- Thanks for at least that. We'll have to agree to disagree. The campaign finance reform movement, detailed above, spent $123 million on an ADMITTED astroturf operation that was SUCCESSFUL. It got Congress to pass a law. (Lots of liberal bloggers are seeing the light, by the way, now that the FEC is making noises about regulating the Internet. It's nice that at least they believe in free speech for themselves.)

As for the original post:

1. The first paragraph: Lots of fishy organizations here, but none seem very large or consequential, certainly not approaching the scale of $123 million spent on getting Congress to pass a law. Keep your eye on them, but no big deal (so far).

2. Citizens for a Sound Economy -- they seem to have a lot of corporate interest, but a lot of real members as well. Probably the equivalent of a People for the American Way on that front.

3. Armstrong Williams -- bad stuff, but it's not even possible for one guy to be "astroturf" under any conceivable definition.

4. Administration pushing for positive media coverage. OK, some fishy stuff here too. But all the same, I remember the Clinton administration doing the exact same sort of thing. As SALON** reported in 2000, the Clinton White House was even reviewing and editing scripts for TV shows on ALL of the major networks. Something tells me CBS would never let the Bush administration get away with that.

(**It was SALON, OK? I think everyone is allowed to believe in a fact if it was printed in Salon.)

5. Fourth paragraph: Someone used a PR firm. Umm, hmm. Bet that's never happened in politics before.

6. The organization "Common Good." The first sentence in the last paragraph is misleading. It starts out mentioning "Common Good," and ends with a link to "corporate lobbying fronts." But the link in question says NOTHING whatsoever about Common Good. Anyway, its says that "ALL" stories about wacky lawsuits are "LIES." Really? ALL the stories are lies? There has never been a wacky lawsuit? Gee, I know that some stories are exaggerated, but to say that "ALL" such stories are lies is just as much of a lie as anything else. Ironic.

Finally, it links to a post on this very blog about Common Good. In that post (if you follow the link), Teresa had quoted a story from "ConsumerWatchDog," to the effect that it "was founded by corporate defense lawyer Philip K. Howard, the Vice Chairman of Covington & Burling. This leading corporate defense firm represents many of America’s largest corporations, all of whom have a large stake in limiting consumer’s legal rights."

From that, Teresa concluded that "Common Good is a corporate-funded organization whose entire purpose is deception and the spread of disinformation."


Well, now. As I myself pointed out in that thread, that is a complete non sequitur. Covington & Burling represents major corporations; Philip Howard works for Covington; Philip Howard founded Common Good. That's the logic, but it is COMPLETELY missing the step that says, "Common Good is funded by . . . "

The fact that Covington (not even Philip Howard himself, but some of the other many hundreds of lawyers at Covington) represented Corporation A does not mean that Corporation A is funding Common Good. That is so plainly a non sequitur as to be frivolous.

I also pointed out in that thread that Common Good's board includes some well-established left-wingers, including George McGovern, Griffin Bell (Carter's choice for attorney general), and Clinton DOJ official Eric Holder. So even if you are assuming that anything right-wing is bad, shouldn't you take a moment's pause to reflect on the fact that George McGovern is involved here? What makes you think that you know so much more about Common Good than he does?

No one in that other thread even tried to answer that point.

#211 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2005, 11:03 PM:

Jack:

We've already agreed to disagree, he says with a smile, so we're not much further along!

I'll say that personally I'm glad to see you still here, still trying to argue in a rational manner -- I learn far more from folks who intelligently disagree with me than from those I'm completely agreeing with. Personal statement of just another poster here, not intended to represent the Will of the Masses.

If you have time, weigh in on some of the other threads here, okay? That might help me and others know you a bit better, and discover the places we agree about.

#212 ::: Mr.X ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 10:40 AM:

"Astroturf" organizations, along with much of the rest of contemporary America that most of you are not happy about, are the price of admission to the Consumer Wonderland.

"The Devil", "Satan", whatever you call it, (some) people have understood for a long time that temptation is the true destroyer. You can't take the bait and not get trapped.

A simple life, based on honesty and other spiritual values, with people taking responsibility for their actions and being held accountable, is entirely achievable. But not if you want too much.

Opting-out is possible; the world is a big place. But if you really do, you won't be able to blog about it.

#213 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 11:06 AM:

Mr. X --

Well, no. Much more like a side effect of giving corporations the civil rights of individuals but not their obligations.

Poverty and virtue aren't equivalent, despite early Christian views, and forcibly collapsing choice space isn't a sensible response to complexity in any case.

This is not to say that profit maximization is a sensible response to anything at all; it isn't. Building social machinery to increase the size of the choice space available to most people and solve previously unsolvable problems, though, that is a sensible response to complexity.

It's not available to people who withdraw from the world.

#214 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 11:43 AM:

You're right, Jack! Your name isn't spelled "Teresa Nielsen Hayden."

Speaking of which, who are you, really, and who do you represent? I give my full name. Teresa gives hers. You're ... just another anonymous rightwing flack.

Now spell my name right, just once, for practice, and we'll talk.

#215 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 11:47 AM:

Well, no, X, that's not actually true. The consumer culture existed before the astroturf proliferation. It exists now in countries that don't have anything like our astroturf problem. The two things aren't linked.

Also, if opting out is so virtuous, what are you doing here?

#216 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 11:49 AM:

Jim, you should have access to his full headers. Drop me a note if you don't know how to find them.

#217 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 12:12 PM:

Full headers, complete with a freebie throw-away email address, don't answer my questions, Teresa.

Who is this guy? Is he in fact a paid flunky for a right-wing astroturf campaign trying to do some damage control, or is it just an accident that he sounds like one?

#218 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 12:29 PM:

He does indeed sound like one.

#219 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 12:32 PM:

Jack, leaving aside the question of whether there was an astroturfing effort associated with the campaign finance reform movement (which I am not granting), you still haven't answered my question above: How does campaign finance qualify as a left-wing issue? Is John McCain suddenly a leftist?

#220 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 01:00 PM:

I'm not a "flunky." I don't "represent" anyone else. That said, if you're determined to be suspicious, there's nothing that I can say that proves that I'm not a "flunky," right? I guess I could photocopy my social security card, drivers license, W-2s, and tax returns, and mail them to you. But for some reason, I would consider that to be a waste of time (not to mention an invasion of privacy).

Gee, I can only wish that I would get paid for spending so much time making comments on a website that is read by maybe .0001% of the American people, and where nothing I've said has had any noticeable effect on anyone except for two individuals (Dave Luckett and Tom Whitmore). Someone's handing out money for this sort of thing? They'd have to be crazy, but by all means, let me know! :)


Avram: Thanks for addressing an actual issue.

Why do I view campaign finance reform as a "left-wing" cause? No, John McCain is not a "leftist." But he is widely called a "maverick," precisely because he goes against the majority of Republicans on a few issues. This is one of the issues.

Campaign finance reform was being pushed by left-wing organizations (i.e., the Brennan Center, Common Cause, the Pew Foundation, and others). To their credit, a few left-wing groups like the ACLU opposed it. Still, if you look at the overall picture, the people lobbying for campaign finance reform (at least as adopted by Congress) were overwhelmingly liberals, while the opponents were largely conservative. I'm not saying anything new or controversial here.

#221 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 01:04 PM:

Spalding Grey once wrote about a young guy he met in Nicaragua whom he called a "contentiousness major." An argumentative weenie.

Why pay for someone to argue your point for you when there are folks who will do it for free, out of sheer pissiness?

#222 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 01:16 PM:

cheese and firetrucking rice.
This conversation is still going?

Never try to teach a pig to sing.
It'll frustrate you and annoy the pig.

Or in this case, make the pig feel
even more self righteous...

#223 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 01:17 PM:

Stefan -- I'd frankly use a word other than "pissiness," but you're right on. Sometimes without even intending to, I get caught up in an online debate, particularly when people keep making arguments in response to me that seem specious (this drives me crazy, thus forcing me to respond yet again).

But of course, that has never happened before in the history of the Internet. Wherever you see people getting caught up in an online debate, one or both sides is getting paid by someone. :rolleyes:

#224 ::: Mr.X ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 01:20 PM:

You folks missed it entirely. I never once mentioned either poverty or virtue. And throwing-in the old "so why don't you..." isn't addressing the point either.

You are kidding yourselves if you think you can have all this stuff and not pay the price.

Both Consumerism and Capitalism have paths of development. Consumerism means that you never have enough stuff. Capitalism means that the rich control, and use, every resource, including astroturf, to get richer. Life in a capitalist consumerist society will lead to certain inevitable results.

#225 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 02:04 PM:

Mr. X, or whoever you are:

You're asserting a false dichotomy: either consumerist late capitalism, or low-tech freedom. Teresa has already pointed out that it is possible to have capitalism and technology without astroturf, that much of the planet does, and that the United States used to.

Unlike you and Karl Marx, I do not believe that any complex human institution or activity--and a modern industrial and information economy is complex indeed--has a single inevitable path of development. Assertion is not proof, especially when counterexamples are visible right here on planet Earth.

#226 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 02:13 PM:

Jack, as he's been doing right the way along, pretends to miss the point. I find his arguments practiced, polished, and disingenous at best.

(Short version, just for you, Jack: I think you're a liar. I also think you're a pro.)

#227 ::: Mr.X ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 02:20 PM:

>>Teresa has already pointed out...Assertion is not proof...

#228 ::: Mr.X ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 02:23 PM:

"Teresa has already pointed out...Assertion is not proof..."

A nice combination there. ;-)


"Astroturf" is representitive of part of the cost of the American way of life. You should also bear in mind that the U.S. is ahead of the rest of the world in following this path.

It's not a question of a few tweaks to the system. This lifestyle is not sustainable.

I don't believe you get something for nothing.


#229 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 02:27 PM:

Jack V.'s previous history with Electrolite, via his hotmail account.

He's kind of a one-note pony.

#230 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 02:55 PM:

Mr. Macdonald: I seem like a "pro"? Thanks, but I'm not. You should realize that people of good faith disagree about lots of issues, certainly about something as vague as the definition and extent of "astroturf." Why are you so certain that you alone possess the truth -- that good faith disagreement is impossible -- that you are willing to engage in the base speculation that anyone who disagrees with you is being paid off?

Pericat: You don't seem to know the meaning of the term "one-note pony," given that you reference other posts of mine that were on completely different subjects. The only thing those posts have in common is that I prefer to see actual evidence instead of fervent extrapolation based mainly on a gut feeling. So yeah, call me a one-note pony on that score.

#231 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 03:19 PM:

The scene: Republican Party Headquarters. The participants: Ken and Karl.

Ken: I've got this great new plan that will help a Republican be elected 4 years from now.

Karl: What?

Ken: OK. There are lots of liberal bloggers out there. They have a readership that is almost completely opposed to what we stand for. They would never vote for a Republican. Especially their commenters, who are the most fervent of the lot.

Karl: So what's the plan?

Ken: Let's put some money into paying people to go and leave comments on liberal blogs.

Karl: Give me the specifics.

Ken: Well, I figure that if we hire 200 blog commenters, and pay them minimum wage, we would be spending about $4 million a year. They would go and leave comments on the top liberal blogs. Why, if this is successful, it could cause as many as 4 or 5 people to change their minds on who to vote for in the next election!

Karl: OK, $4 million a year to win over 4 or 5 voters in a few years. Hey, that sounds like a great investment to me! Why are we wasting our time with all these radio and TV ads aimed at swing voters? We should be targetting our efforts on a handful of hard-core liberals on the Internet.

#232 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 06:27 PM:

The most commonly mentioned Jack Vinson (via Google) is a "knowledge manager."

#233 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 07:05 PM:

"Jack," I have no faith whatever in your "good faith."

I know beyond a reasonable doubt that you are a liar. I'm not going to point out your errors; I have no desire to help you refine your art.

Part of the rightwing astroturf effort must be something that acts like white blood cells to defend their body of lies against the truth. Even the smallest scratch has to get a reaction.

I think we're seeing one of those white cells in action. From the reasonable inference that such defenses are set up, and are in action, we know that rightwing astroturf exists, is widespread, and is part of the radicals' plan to subvert America.

There is no reason to assume this individual's name is "Jack Vinson."

What other names do you use on other blogs, "Jack"?

Don't bother to answer: I won't believe you.

#234 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 08:10 PM:

There's a commercial on TV where a brother and sister are sitting next to each other. (both around 6 years old or so). The boy is holding his finger an inch away from his sister, waiting for the inevitable explosion. "Mom! He's touching me!" and the boy replies smugly, "No, I'm not."

This is your life, Jack. You are arguing technicalities about astroturf. And because you hide behind the technicalities of your words and the logic games that you play, you can convince yourself that there is a grain of truth behind waht you say. There are endless games to play using the words "always", "never", "some", and "none".

Like the brother with his finger an inch from his sister's face, technically, there's a grain of truth to the claim "I'm not touching her", but they're really just word games. Despite all the technicalities you may play, the end result is you're acting like a 6 year old brat.

You are a troll in that sense. You posting technicalities, holding your finger an inch from someone's face, waiting for the reaction you know you'll get.

You are as transparent now as you were when you first came on this board. And I find you immensely boring, the way a parent might get bored with their son torturing his sister in the back seat of the car, and then sigh and wistfully think of the day, someday, when their brat might finally grow up.


#235 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 09:16 PM:

I will chime in to say I don't believe Jack is paid to be here, or that his name is other than he says it is.

The reason I don't believe the former is because I don't believe anyone would pay money for what people will do willingly, on their own spare time, for free.

Jack: Everyone here has a pretty good idea who James D. Macdonald is (To be fair, I'm sure I've capitalized that D more than once...), and likewise who Teresa Nielsen Hayden is. I know that if Teresa posts a blog entry on a topic, and with a pile of hyperlinks leading off it to inform the reader, that she has probably done yet more research than shows here, and that when she makes a flat assertion, I can assume she's speaking from knowledge not only already posted, but filling out that which has been posted.

You are trying to claim the same right based off a handful of visits. Moreover, when your research to date is punched full of holes, rather than produce more supporting information for your point of view, you demand your opponents do the rest of your research for you (Above and beyond what they have done to satisfy themselves) and produce the proof for your assertions, and when they refuse, you claim they are doing so because they aren't interested in facts.

I also repeat part of my initial post;


"There has been an ongoing problem in U.S. Political dialogue, and it is this:

The Current Right will do some Untoward Activity (Hereafter UA) that politicians shouldn't. They will do so to a degree that it can be considered consistent, even habitual.

The Left* will do the same UA occasionally, but not habitually. Or they will do a lesser version of the same UA.

Yet, every time the Left attempts to point out how consistent and habitual the Right are in these UAs, someone will IMMEDIATELY enter the dialogue demanding that the Left justify their right to point out this problem, since they, having done the same UA, are equally culpable.

Usually, the Left will let itself get distracted into defending its own record, or shouting that The Right is Worse like a school-child instead of continuing to attack the UA that is the REAL problem.

This kind of incident has happened on this very weblog over and over and over."


This is the part that was the most significant, and the part that you took pains to ignore in your eagerness to leap on a single later and admittedly bombastic phrase.

I never saw you answer why it is that, with this particular thing repeating over and over and over, we shouldn't take your comments as part of the same deliberate attempt to distract from the real issues.

#236 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 09:25 PM:

Greg -- you keep trying to troll-bait me into a flamewar of some sort. Why?

James -- it would be pointless to respond, as you obviously have your mind made up as to what you want to believe.

#237 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 09:50 PM:

(wistful sigh)

I thought I was fairly clear.
I don't want to bait you into anything, Jack.
I want you to go away so the adults can have a conversation.

#238 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2005, 11:05 PM:

Lenora - I agree, and I expect that Jack will ignore you.

#239 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 12:58 AM:

Whether "Jack" is a dupe or a conspirator doesn't make a lot of difference. Now that he's been unmasked his effectiveness is limited.

#240 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 09:04 AM:

Lenora:

You make a very fair point about trusting people that you know. You're quite right.


On your second main point, though, I have to say that I'm not sure what you're talking about:

Moreover, when your research to date is punched full of holes, rather than produce more supporting information for your point of view, you demand your opponents do the rest of your research for you (Above and beyond what they have done to satisfy themselves) and produce the proof for your assertions,

"Punched full of holes"? Heck, the guy from the campaign finance movement was caught on videotape saying that he was spending millions trying to "create an impression that a mass movement was afoot." If that isn't astroturf, nothing is. And no one has refuted that (one person tried somewhat feebly). If it had been a right-winger caught on video saying something like that, people would be crowing for years that this proved conclusively that the radical right is deceptively trying to control the world, etc., etc.

What do you mean by saying that I "demand your opponents do the rest of your research for you . . . and produce the proof for your assertions"? Huh??? I've never asked somebody to prove MY assertions, have I? I've asked them to prove THEIR assertions, particularly if they are suggesting that their belief relies on an objective set of hard "numbers" rather than their own gut feelings.

#241 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 11:18 AM:

Has Jack, Jack, the right-wing hack shut up yet? He's succeeded in discouraging my interest in following the thread, but not my interest in the subject, so he's a loser. This Josh Marshall thread ties it all back together, and it's dedicated to Jack V.:

http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/6/20/132439/527

#242 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 11:29 AM:

Lenora --
That said, I do see your point about addressing an "Untoward Activity" directly (how?) rather than getting caught up in debates about who is worse. It can be interesting to debate back and forth, but in reality, none of us are all that interested in cleaning up the dirt on our own side.* Left-wingers are most interested in pointing out every little misdeed on the right, and right-wingers are most interested in pointing out every little misdeed on the left. (At which point, partisans from both sides earnestly say, "But you don't understand, our side REALLY IS of the angels.")

Maybe if both sides try to keep the other side honest, in the end it all averages out.


* I admit, by the way, that some of the advocates for tort reform are lying/exaggerating. I'm against tort reform myself, at least some of the suggested versions. For instance, capping punitive damages at $250,000 (that was one idea) seems incredibly stupid. It wouldn't do much to stop nuisance suits (BTW: don't kid yourself that these never happen), but it would prevent people who were legitimately injured from collecting the damages that they deserve.

#243 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 11:33 AM:

Lenora, I don't know why you assume Jack isn't being paid to be here. He's facile, almost slick -- a better description might be that his tropes sound practiced -- and there's very little real engagement, which is an odd thing in someone who's come back so many times and written so many words.

#244 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 11:42 AM:

Adamsj -- thanks for that link. Goodness, I wonder what they'd say if Bush and a future Supreme Court Justice had rounded up a million or so Muslims after 9/11 and put them all in concentration camps. (Compare how Japanese-Americans were treated by the Democratic Party's model President (FDR) and model Supreme Court Justice (Earl Warren)).

#245 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 12:00 PM:

Lenora, I don't know why you assume Jack isn't being paid to be here.


I mean no offense, but . . . don't flatter yourself. Why would anyone think that this website has enough potential Republican voters that it would be worth paying someone to leave comments?

He's facile, almost slick -- a better description might be that his tropes sound practiced -- and there's very little real engagement, which is an odd thing in someone who's come back so many times and written so many words.


What do you mean by "engagement"? If you mean "addressing other people's points," um, well, I'm the only person in this entire thread who addressed each and every one of the points in your original post. (June 20, 10:40 pm). And whenever someone asks me a question, I do try to answer it. (Example: James M. asked me three times whether astroturf was a good thing, and each time I gave him a perfectly clear (albeit redundant) answer. Avram asked me why campaign finance reform was a "left-wing" cause if McCain supported it, and I fully answered that question. And so on, and so forth.)

#246 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 12:37 PM:

adamsj: Good link. The radical right's use of all possible tools, in all areas from great to small, to further its ends is one of the scariest parts of this whole mess.

One thing that comforts me is that truth always wins in the end. Reality trumps everything.

The unfortunate thing is that in the short run marketing tricks can make people ignore reality, so when the crash comes it's harder. When the crash comes it's unlikely to put us back where we were, say in autumn 2000, no harm done, everyone shakes hands all around.

The radical right may expect to be lifted into the air in the Rapture (a false doctrine with no basis in scripture or tradition) and so avoid the consequences of their actions, but that isn't going to happen. The right's attention to detail is near-overwhelming but that detail is one they overlooked.

#247 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 01:31 PM:

You've responded to each and every point, Jack? Only in that freepi cannon fodder way that considers it sufficient that an argument has been made at all, regardless of how specious, erroneous, or irrelevant the argument might be.

On the other hand, responding to every point (and keeping track of same) does alter my estimate of the likelihood that you really are a disinterested anonymous commenter.

#248 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 01:48 PM:

I've disagreed with Jack V. here on many points, but I don't think that he's been "facile, almost slick". I expect I'll keep disagreeing with him. My personal opinion is that he's trying to state his own views, which vary from those held by most folks here. And that, contrary to many who hold those views, he's willing to engage in discussion about the issues. He responds, he stops talking about things which our hosts ask him to stop talking about, and he admits when someone has, to his satisfaction, shown him wrong. He's the opposite of a "drive-by".

He's exactly the type of conservative I want to engage. He reads what's said here, and responds. I don't believe he's paid to do so. He's not easy to convince; neither am I, when I've got a strong belief set.

There are more people in the US who think like Jack than there are those who think like me, on many political issues. I'm not going to change that balance unless I try to understand his views. Talking to someone in a language that is not his/her own generally doesn't work very well.

I'll say this one more time -- Jack, please weigh in on some of the other threads here. Flesh yourself out. Give us a bit more sense of who you are, and why you think it's worth hanging out talking with us. The fact that you only post here, on this issue, inflames the thought that you're paid to do so.

I'll probably disagree with you on those other threads, too, but I'll learn more about you by doing so than I am on this thread.

#249 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 01:53 PM:

What she means, Jack, is that you fail the Turing Test.

I would be unsurprised to find that unscrupulous swine have developed ways of simulating astroturf armies on-line.

As a thought exercise:

I can see ways of augmenting an individual at the keyboard and allowing one person to devote what seems like a lot of time in a pseudo-conversation, one designed to waste the time of those who engage in it sincerely for the benefit of those who do not.

You stink of replicant, Jack--why believe you are not one?

#250 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 02:32 PM:

Heck, the guy from the campaign finance movement was caught on videotape saying that he was spending millions trying to "create an impression that a mass movement was afoot."

Jack V., your treasured interpretation of Treglia's initial remarks notwithstanding, the man himself has since clarified his intention:

Recently I watched the full tape of the speech I made that has been skillfully edited and taken out of context by some bloggers. It is fair to say that reasonable minds could interpret my remarks in any number of ways. I sincerely apologize that my remarks led anyone to believe that Pew (or any other foundation) undertook a campaign to hide, deceive, or mislead.

For the record let me state as plainly and as clearly as possible: Pew did not attempt to hide its involvement in campaign finance, did not fund phony groups, and did not try to skirt the law as the bloggers contend.

Those who interpret my remarks as such are incorrect. The confusion came about because I was trying to explain two key funding practices (commonly referred to in the nonprofit sector as strategic philanthropy and capacity building) to a large group of reporters unfamiliar with the language and practices of philanthropy. Obviously, during the taped journalism training seminar that anyone can access for free online, my attempts to translate foundation norms into laymen's terms fell short.

Unless you can come up with a documented instance of that foundation "funding a phony group", you haven't a leg to stand on in asserting that they have ever done so. If you want to assert that this is their modus operandi, you will need to point to a sizable percentage of instances of their doing so. If you want to assert that "left-wing" foundations routinely operate in this manner, you'll need to come up with more than one foundation, preferably self-identified as "left-wing", with documented histories of astroturfing.

Repeating a falsehood over and over will not make it true. It does screw with search engines, though.

#251 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 02:32 PM:

Many thanks, Tom. I truly appreciate it.

As for other threads, well, nothing comes to mind on the subjects of Snapple, roses, or fonts. Interesting subjects, but I've got nothing to say.

There are a few threads on Guantanamo/torture/etc. I have three gut reactions:

1) It's as depressing as hell to learn of some of the stuff that's gone on.

2) On the other hand, do people know how much it seems like "crying wolf" when they give front-page treatment to negligible offenses (someone might have kicked a Koran 2 years ago, etc.)? Do they realize how it looks when they never seem to mention the issues of police brutality, prison rape, etc., except when it can be blamed on the Bush administration? Police brutality is found everywhere, and it is seems disingenuous to imply that Gitmo is some sort of unique exception.

But then as soon as I notice point number 2, I think: 3) Geez, am I an asshole? Torture is bad, period.

I don't know whether that would fit in with any of the other discussions at present, Tom, but there you have it.

#252 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 03:43 PM:

Pericat -- Note how clever Treglia was in phrasing his apology. Pew didn't "fund phony groups," and he didn't break the law. Well, ok, but that was never the contention in the first place. The contention -- what he now obviously wishes he hadn't admitted -- was that he was spreading around money (albeit to legitimate groups) with the aim of creating a misleading impression that there was a "mass movement" in favor of campaign finance reform.

Question: Why can't otherwise-legitimate groups participate in an astroturf operation, i.e., making it falsely appear as if they are representing a groundswell of popular interest on a particular issue?

And his last paragraph is funny:

The confusion came about because I was trying to explain two key funding practices (commonly referred to in the nonprofit sector as strategic philanthropy and capacity building) to a large group of reporters unfamiliar with the language and practices of philanthropy. Obviously, during the taped journalism training seminar that anyone can access for free online, my attempts to translate foundation norms into laymen's terms fell short.
In other words: "I made the mistake of using ordinary English instead of bland euphemisms." Yeah, from his point of view, that was a mistake. But it doesn't mean that the ordinary English version was incorrect.

#253 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 05:39 PM:

I'm still unsure, but if we think we've caught a feral astroturfer, shouldn't we, like, brand him, earmark him, and surgically implant an RFID tag, in hopes that we can track his migrations, and find out where the pod congregates? Or is that too Western-Gitmoesque? If he's not, I can say that my earmark and transmitter only itch during earthquake weather.

#254 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 05:45 PM:

Is there a spay / neuter program for feral astroturfers?

#255 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 07:56 PM:

Anyone have a Voight-Kampff empathy test?

#256 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 07:58 PM:

just lemme put on my body armor before we start asking the questions. don't want to make the same mistake that Holden did...

#257 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 08:18 PM:

Jack, if you don't feel you can contribute to the other current threads, why not join the most recent Open Thread? You could link to the goofiest thing you've seen on the Web this week. Or tell us what your favorite book is. We're big on books around here, and the odds are good that somebody will be able to talk about it with you.

#258 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2005, 08:59 PM:

I don't think Jack is being quite honest. There is a lot more on the main page than Snapple, roses and fonts.

There are 28 subjects below this one. Yes, some of them are housekeeping, but there are plenty above this one also. Surely one of them would make Jack 's brain say oh yes, I have something to add.

I don't understand why this thread would be of interest but not the engines of the world thread about PR's shaping of the news. They were similar enough to me that I had a hard time deciding which one would get my post about the cigarette ads aimed at my kids.

I'm just sayin', Jack continues to look fishy to me.

#259 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2005, 12:21 AM:

My inner bullshit detecter responds the same way that Tom's does, as far as Jack V is concerned. I'm disheartened when I see a group pile-on beginning, that deals with annoying rhetoric by assuming that the source *must* be a fraud-for-hire.

One of the things that Teresa explicitly does here is to expose frauds-for-hire. Inarguably, they turn up; and she's good at spotting them. I don't see that Teresa has explicitly charged Jack V with this, yet. But Jim has. To me, the charge is premature. Jim may have some good evidence to justify his opinion, but he hasn't presented it, yet. Mileage varies on the "sounds like one, so must be one" telltale.

My take (which may very well turn out to be the inferior perception of reality) is that Jack V is a contrarian, who hasn't figured out the "moderate Republicanism" he'd like to embrace has been eaten by monsters. He appears to be susceptible to the camouflage strategy these animals use: throwing out a smokescreen of false equivalences to imply a midpoint that sounds like it must be reasonable. Arguably, Jack V has imitated the professionals by throwing a sampling of false dichotomies back at Making Light readers. But my instinct is that he's just an individual Republican sympathizer -- one who becomes disturbed when conversations here turn to discussions of what scoundrels the current Republican leadership (and their corporate backers) really are.

"Hey. In my book some Democrats are scoundrels, too! If you don't acknowledge this, you're hypocrites pretending to be objective observers." It's not like some of us have never seen this line of rhetoric from a non-pro, before.

(I'm also fairly receptive to Jack V's pragmatic rebuttal: who in the world would pay him to post in the comments section of "Making Light?" At the least, if some Astroturf gila monster wanted to pay a propagandist, you'd think they'd set one up with their own blog, and rebut Teresa's editorial, _there_.

Most of us have really sensitive nerves about that "false dichotomy" smokescreen technique. We see it working in mainstream media to prevent scoundrels from being run out of office. My subjective impression is that professional Republican spinmeisters are a bit more brazen about it than Jack V has been.

#260 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2005, 02:46 PM:

The contention -- what he now obviously wishes he hadn't admitted --

What he "thinks" or "feels" or "wishes" (in your estimation, or mine, or anyone else's) is neither here nor there. Treglia isn't here to say what he wishes and no one else is likely to know.

was that he was spreading around money (albeit to legitimate groups) with the aim of creating a misleading impression that there was a "mass movement" in favor of campaign finance reform.

As Mitch Wagner said in another thread, my goodness, that does sound sinister when you put it like that, especially when you add in that "misleading". Let's say I want to create an impression that I am a professional photographer, and so I put a slew of my pics up on a website, plus a rate sheet. Knowing I've never been paid for a single photograph, would you consider this "misleading"?

Treglia said his plan was to "create an impression that a mass movement was afoot, that everywhere they looked, in the academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform."

And he carried it out by... doing his level best to spearhead a mass movement through funding academic, business, religious, ethnic, whatever, organizations that agreed with him about campaign reform. How else do people spread ideas, except by talking about them and getting others to do so?

I'm not seeing a deliberate attempt to "mislead" here, in the astroturf sense of smoke and mirrors. I'm also not seeing "left-wing", if it comes to that. Nor any indication that this effort is typical of Pew's normal approach to allocating grants.

I'll grant you Treglia's an awful conference speaker.

#261 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2005, 03:03 PM:

But Jim has. To me, the charge is premature. Jim may have some good evidence to justify his opinion, but he hasn't presented it, yet. Mileage varies on the "sounds like one, so must be one" telltale.

Nor am I going to present my evidence, lest it help someone correct his errors. It's sufficient for me that this person has discredited himself so that his words -- and he -- are infinitely ignorable. I'm not saying that anyone else should ignore him, only that he's proved himself to my satisfaction to be a non-person to be treated as such.

I take it from other remarks here that "Jack" has raised the question of why anyone would pay to throw up smokescreens in minor venues. I reply: Why does the body send leukocytes to even the smallest scratch? We know that even the smallest, most obscure, and mildest groups of dissidents have had their undercover police informers and agents provacateurs assigned.

Whether "Jack" is being paid to distort and lie here, or whether he's a professional liar who's here on a busman's holiday doesn't make any difference. The ultimate result is the same.

And here I am, still talking about this shadow rather than the issue. Whoever "Jack" is, it probably amuses him.


#262 ::: Julia Jones sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2009, 01:25 PM:

Evelyn @262 is probably more interested in googlejuice for the website spamvertised in zir name-link than in the actual content of the thread.

#263 ::: Lee sees more spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 08:09 PM:

@ 264 -- repeated from a different thread yet.

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