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December 4, 2006

Why I blog
Posted by Teresa at 10:03 PM *

I’ve been thinking about his for a long time, but it got moved to the front of the stove after we had all that trouble getting people to understand that when we referred to Bill Maher outing Republican party chair Ken Mehlman on Larry King Live, it was’t “outing” as they understood it. Washington insiders knew that Mehlman’s gay. That wasn’t why Larry King briefly looked poleaxed when Bill Maher mentioned it. He was shocked because Maher was talking about it where hoi polloi like us could hear.

1. In which Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution explains that the news media have sided with the privileged elite, a class to which you almost certainly don’t belong.

Begin by reading A Little Story about the Media. I’m about to quote way too much of it, in part because it’s brilliant and accurate and something everyone ought to know, and in part because if I just link to it, too many of you will think it’s a “see, somebody else agrees with me” link, rather than a “go read this entire article immediately” link.

Some time ago, while witnessing the blathering about Valerie Plame, Karl Rove, Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, etc., Digby asked this:
…is it normal that members of the press know the answer to a major mystery but they withhold it, as a group, from the public?
Based on my own experience, I’d say the answer to Digby’s question is: yes.

I grew up in the Washington area and went to school with lots of children of government and media types. Then I went to Yale, which is also full of such offspring. What I saw was that the corporate media—places like the New York Times, Washington Post, the networks, etc.—and government figures are blatantly, brazenly in bed with each other. And not just metaphorically; it’s often literally true. There’s Andrea Mitchell & Alan Greenspan; James Rubin & Christiane Amanpour; Judith Miller & a cast of thousands; and so on.

In any case, whoever they’re shtupping, they share a mindset: the government and corporate media self-consciously see themselves as a governing elite that runs things hand in hand. That’s why Nicholas Kristof is anxious that if hoi polloi keep calling George Bush a liar, it may make America “increasingly difficult to govern.” And it’s why Katherine Graham famously said this, in a speech at the CIA to new recruits:

“There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets, and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.”
William Greider explained the perspective of people like Graham and Kristof and their political cuddlebunnies in his book Who Will Tell the People:
In many private quarters of Washington, Alexander Hamilton’s derisive dictum—“The People! The People is a great beast!”—has become an operating maxim. Survival in office requires a political strategy for herding “the beast” in harmless directions or deflecting it from serious matters it may not understand. Now and then, to the general dismay of political elites, Hamilton’s “beast” breaks loose and tramples the civility of the regular order, though this usually occurs on inflammatory marginal issues that have little to do with the real substance of governing.
Weirdly, in fact, the media may be more invested in the status quo, and more concerned about “the people” going berserk, than actual politicians. Officeholders come and go, but the Washington Post is eternal.

So anyway, here’s a funny little story illustrating all this:

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen came to talk at Yale in 1988, just after I arrived. Following schmancy Yale tradition, he had tea with a small group of students and then ate dinner with an even smaller group. I weaseled my way into attending.

Gary Hart had recently flamed out in the ‘88 presidential race because of Donna Rice. And at dinner Cohen told all us fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty youths this:

The Washington press corps had specifically tried to push Hart out of the race. It wasn’t because Hart had had extramarital affairs—everyone knew this was the norm rather than the exception among politicians. So Hart wasn’t at all unusual in this respect. Instead, Cohen said, it was because the press corps felt that Hart was “weird” and “flaky” and shouldn’t be president. And when the Donna Rice stuff happened, they saw their opening and went after him.

(I wish I remembered more about what Cohen said about the specific gripe of the press corps with Hart, but I don’t think he revealed many details.)

At the time, I remember thinking this:

1. How interesting that the DC press corps knows grimy details about lots of politicians but only chooses to tell the great unwashed when they decide it’s appropriate.

2. How interesting that the DC press corps feels it’s their place to make decisions for the rest of America; ie, rather than laying out the evidence that Hart was weird, flaky, etc., and letting Americans decide whether they cared, they decided run-of-the-mill citizens couldn’t be trusted to make the correct evaluation.

3. How interesting that Cohen felt it was appropriate to tell all this to a small group of fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty Yale youths, but not to the outside world. And how interesting that we were being socialized into thinking this was normal. …

But the point is the powerhouse media and their politician lovemates truly do feel there are things normal, grubby Americans simply can’t handle. Moreover, it has nothing to do with political parties. Everything I’ve seen in my life confirms that, with few exceptions, they feel this way across the (extremely narrow) political spectrum.

If you’re not part of their little charmed circle, believe me, all your worst suspicions about them are true. They do think you’re stupid. They do lie to you. They do hate and fear you. Most importantly, they think you can’t be trusted with the things they know—because if you did know them, you’d go nuts and break America. …

Go and read the complete version. I also highly recommend the first message in the comment thread.

Addendum: Julia, in the comment thread, pointed to another story like the one Jonathan Schwarz told. As she described it:

[Newsweek Senior Editor] Jonathan Alter explains to a bunch of kids at his alma mater prep school about real-world politics, and specifically the character of one George W. Bush.

Hear a lot of that from Newsweek, did we? Um, not so much.

We did hear rather a lot about Democrats and their character issues, though, didn’t we.

Might coulda had to do with the fact that he really, really wanted a war and if the middlebrows who read his magazine had any idea who was in the White House he might not have gotten it?

It’s The Last Hurrah without the charm.

2. In which, in an unguarded moment, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com explains what was really going on over the last twelve years.

The next item for your inspection is a piece by Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, called Good Riddance To The Gingrichites:

This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the “Contract with America” Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.
“I apologize,” he says, and he figures that’s enough? That we little people will be so grateful to hear this story at last that we’ll accept his tossed-off “I apologize” in lieu of getting to hear the story when it would have done some good? When it was news?
Really, it’s just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history. And for 12 years, the media didn’t call a duck a duck, because that’s not something we’re supposed to do.
Fckng well excuse me? Is there some other reason for the news media to exist? I would have sworn that all of us who were reading or listening to their news thought that calling a duck a duck was pretty much their job.

If saying that didn’t get Dick Meyer fired, I see no reason why I should ever again trust CBS News.

I’m not talking about the policies of the Contract for America crowd, but the character. I’m confident that 99 percent of the population—if they could see these politicians up close, if they watched their speeches and looked at their biographies—would agree, no matter what their politics or predilections.

I’m confident that if historians ever spend the time on it, they’ll confirm my thesis. Same with forensic psychiatrists. I have discussed this with scores of politicians, staffers, consultants and reporters since 1994 and have found few dissenters.

Politicians in this country get a bad rap. For the most part, they are like any high-achieving group in America, with roughly the same distribution of pathologies and virtues. But the leaders of the GOP House didn’t fit the personality profile of American politicians, and they didn’t deviate in a good way. It was the Chess Club on steroids.

It was nothing of the sort. I’d trust your average Chess Club. Meyer is making a statement about his own social class: members of the Chess Club are social misfits who have nothing but their intelligence to recommend them. The generation of congresscritters who came in with Gingrich had no more overlap with Chess Club types than they did with Candystripers or FFA Aggies.

Remember the story about Washington journalists deciding Hart was “weird and flaky”? Meyer’s doing the same thing, and his personal referent for “weird and flaky” is “member of the Chess Club.” His actual case against the Gingrich generation, which is substantial, really should have different adjectives attached to it.

The iconic figures of this era were Newt Gingrich, Richard Armey and Tom Delay. They were zealous advocates of free markets, low taxes and the pursuit of wealth; they were hawks and often bellicose; they were brutal critics of big government.

Yet none of these guys had success in capitalism. None made any real money before coming to Congress. None of them spent a day in uniform. And they all spent the bulk of their adult careers getting paychecks from the big government they claimed to despise. Two resigned in disgrace.

Having these guys in charge of a radical conservative agenda was like, well, putting Mark Foley in charge of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus. Indeed, Foley was elected in the Class of ‘94 and is not an inappropriate symbol of their regime.

Do you remember the Washington press corps reporting these stories? I don’t. I vividly remember them baying after Clinton during the Lewinsky thing, knowing perfectly well that Clinton’s personal life wasn’t particularly lurid by Washington standards, and that almost all of the Republicans who were pursuing the issue had personal lives that were as bad or worse than Clinton’s.

Calling a duck a duck isn’t the press corps’ job? Then what were they doing with Clinton? Had they decided, as they did with Gary Hart, that he ought not be President? On what grounds had they decided that? And where the hell do they get off thinking they have the right to decide that for us? For that matter, where the hell do they get off deciding that Gingrich’s tribe of baboons should be left unmolested by the unkind words of the national press?

Notice that Meyer takes no responsibility for the fact that Gingrich’s mob got elected and re-elected. He doesn’t admit to any connection between his personal, moral, and professional failure to report that set of real and important stories, and the fact that they stayed in power for twelve years. He’s now trying to distance himself from the politicians who stayed in office with his help.

He goes on to discuss the various personal misdeeds of prominent members of that club. I remember when and where those stories came out—the interesting details about Livingston, for instance, appeared in one Irish newspaper—and I remember the single individual who did most to see that they got made public: Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler. He put his own money on the line, offering to pay a substantial sum to any woman who’d come forward and testify that she’d had an affair with one of Clinton’s accusers. Not long after that, Gingrich and Hyde and Livingston went down like a row of dominos.

Needless to say, Larry Flynt was not a Washington insider. But in that instance, he did more to preserve the Republic than the entire Washington press corps.

Meyer ends his piece:

History reveals that great leaders and intellectuals often appear in clusters, inspiring and motivating each other to extraordinary achievement. American historians have focused on this in recent books looking at the “founding brothers,” Lincoln’s “team of rivals,” the 19th-century pragmatist philosophers called “the metaphysical club,” Roosevelt’s New Dealers and Kennedy’s “best and the brightest.”

The opposite is also true.

What’s next for the House is of course uncertain, but an undistinguished chapter has come to a close. Good riddance.

How very uncharitable of Mr. Meyer, considering that he was in bed with the Gingrichites (figuratively, one hopes) the entire time. He was a participant, not a detached observer. Let it be writ in stone that he was a man to match his age.

3. In which CNN demonstrates its loyalty to the dark side of the force.

Today Eric Alterman pointed out that CNN is being disingenous when they claim that they “did not set out to have anyone from any particular view” when they hired Glenn Beck to front Headline Prime. In case you haven’t been watching, Headline Prime is the new name for CNN Headline News during prime time. They’re describing it as “views not news,” presumably because CNN feels Americans suffer from an oversupply of reliable news reportage.

Glenn Beck is the loathsome and completely unprofessional idiot who, when he was interviewing Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, said,

I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”
Ellison took this with far more aplomb than Beck deserved. Glenn Beck has also been on the warpath about Happy Feet, a recently released movie about dancing, singing penguins, because he feels that it promotes a radical environmental agenda. Beck called it “an animated version of An Inconvenient Truth,” thereby demonstrating that he hasn’t seen either movie. (Among other things, Happy Feet makes no reference to global warming.) One of these days we’re going to think up a new word for these guys, so that we won’t have to use the “conservative” label on people who think there’s something inherently objectionable, and probably illegal, about speech acts that espouse views they don’t agree with.

Alterman points out some other interesting things Glenn Beck has said. For instance:

On the September 5 edition of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck again warned that if “Muslims and Arabs” don’t “act now” by “step[ping] to the plate” to condemn terrorism, they “will be looking through a razor wire fence at the West.” Although he described as “grotesque” the possibility that Muslims could be interned like Japanese-Americans during World War II, Beck repeatedly warned that it is the responsibility of the “Muslim community” to avert such an outcome by “find[ing] a spokesman who isn’t a ‘yes, but’ Muslim” who tacitly endorses terrorism.
Beck’s bete noir is what he calls the “‘yes, but’ Muslim.” In the Glenn Beck universe, a “‘yes, but’ Muslim” is someone who thinks things are perhaps more complicated than Glenn Beck imagines; which viewpoint, he feels, amounts to a tacit endorsement of terrorism.

Alterman points to another Glenn Beck quote:

On the August 10 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Glenn Beck warned that “[t]he world is on the brink of World War III” and that “Muslims who have sat on your frickin’ hands the whole time and have not been marching in the streets” will face dire consequences. Beck made his comments toward Muslims who he claimed “have not been saying, ‘Hey, you know what? There are good Muslims and bad Muslims. We need to be the first ones in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head.’ ” He predicted that the result will be that “[h]uman beings are not strong enough, unfortunately, to restrain themselves from putting up razor wire and putting you on one side of it,” adding that “when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up.” He concluded: “Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”
Alterman’s take on this:
The network’s head calls this “passion and point of view.” I call it not merely racism, but a particularly brutal and dangerous form of racism—to say nothing of deeply stupid and ignorant. I mean, my God, it comes pretty close to Coulter/”Kill their children” territory. Beck, at least, is honest about himself.
Alterman then quotes Beck speaking about himself today in a story in the New York Times:
“I never thought I would be on CNN, Fox, MSNBC. I am not a journalist. I am a recovering alcoholic with A.D.D.,” he said. “I am closer to an average schmoe.”
(NYT went on to say that though he’s bombastic on screen, Beck is more subdued in person, though he will take credit for “saying what others are feeling but are afraid to say.” They inexplicably fail to cite The Lurkers Support Me in E-Mail in connection with his statement.)

Alterman again:

CNN is simply saying, “We are exploiting racism and hatred with this guy, but don’t hold us responsible because he says he’s not a journalist.”
I used to be a CNN junkie, especially during periods of fast-breaking news. I stopped watching it years ago—avoid it, in fact. I feel like they’ve betrayed me, my country, the rest of the world, the profession of journalism, and the truth (insofar as it’s given us to know it). What they’re doing with Glenn Beck, and what they’ve done in so many other cases, is no better than the crap on Fox News.

If Glenn Beck is in play, it’s because CNN put him on the board. They knew what he was when they hired him. They know he’s a thoughtless, impulsive hatemonger. Sometimes I look at howling lunatics like Beck and Coulter and think that the national news media took the wrong lesson from Adolph Hitler: these out-of-control mediumistic hatemongers can generate emotionally compelling rhetoric, which can be immensely useful if you’re trying to get and keep power; but you mustn’t give any of the real power to them.

Here’s to you, Paddy Chayevsky.

4. In which we discover yet again that deceiving us has become an industrial process.

I’ve written about astroturfing before, most notably here and here, but also here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Found on Slashdot:

Mofomojo writers:
“Democracy Now! reports that a new study by the Center for Media and Democracy says Americans are still being shown corporate public relations videos disguised as news reports on newscasts across the country. In April, the Center identified 77 stations using Video News Releases in their newscasts; the findings led to an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission. A followup study has found that 10 of those stations are still airing VNRs today, for a new total of 46 stations in 22 states.”
From the article:
“Most of the VNRs have aired on stations owned by large media conglomerates such as News Corp., Tribune, and Disney. They’ve also been sponsored by some of the country’s biggest corporations including General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, and Allstate Insurance.”
The original article referenced is well worth reading.

5. In which I bid farewell to some of the related issues I left out of this post, and explain why I write about politics and current events.

Omitted: Social stratification. The increasing gap between rich and poor. The bizarre belief, held by most Americans, that they are in the top income bracket or will be by the end of their lives. The tendency of members of privileged classes to have far more in common with each other than they have with the commoners over whom they are set. How little there is that an individual can achieve that will bring more benefits than belonging to the ruling class. David Kuo’s Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. The relationship between the increasing power and price tags of printing presses in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the size of the audience they could serve, and the size of the audience needed to absorb their costs. The unexpected emergence of the multi-author project. The average age this year of people who subscribe to at least one major daily paper.

I’m a slow, ruminative writer, and I do it in my spare time. I can’t fill in for the deficiencies of the New York Times or the Washington Post or CBS and CNN. I can’t singlehandedly beat back the tide of corporate astroturf and all the constantly proliferating varieties of spam. Fortunately, I’m not alone. If the vast field of political weblogging has sprung up seemingly out of nowhere during the last few years, it’s because the underperforming professional journalists are leaving us with so much material to work with.

Comments on Why I blog:
#1 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:17 PM:

That what all that tiered-Internet BS is really about. Not about money, or ownership, or capitalism, but about getting inconvenient people to shut up.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:23 PM:

Tell me about this tiered-Internet BS.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:34 PM:

Ah. Patrick tells me it's the set of issues otherwise known as Net Neutrality. Yes. Much too good for the common people.

#4 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:38 PM:

Teresa: The issue is commonly called "Net neutrality"; it's been heavily covered in both the media (which is against it) and blogs such as BoingBoing and its ilk, which are for it.

I recommend looking for references on the topic is Wetmachine, an excellent blog on telecom and related subjects. I especially recommend the articles written by Harold Feld, under the title Tales of the Sausage Factory.

#5 ::: Pat Kight ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:41 PM:

Theresa writes: "Based on my own experience, I’d say the answer to Digby’s question is: yes."

Based on my own experience - 20 years as a working newspaper reporter - I'd say the answer is most definitely yes.

Why? Because for a certain number of journalists, knowing stuff they can't tell the public is fun.

When they're nobodies just getting started in the hinterlands, it makes them feel like insiders, even if the only insider scoop they have is about which city council members are screwing around on their spouses or which high school football coach has an alcohol problem.

Naive reporters stumble onto this kind of thing and want to write stories about it; their editors slap them down because they don't have sufficient evidence, and nobody wants to risk a libel suit. So instead of writing about it, they tell each other (newsrooms are awash in the dirty little secrets of the small-town power elite).

It makes them feel important, in the know, and that's a feeling that's easy to get hooked on. By the time they've moved up the food chain to become nationally prominent journalists, they can't live without it.

Reason No. 1,243 why I left the news business ...

#6 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:41 PM:

Oops. That should be "in" Wetmachine, of course.

And, tangentially, I blogged about three instances of truth in media myself recently, all of which give me hope that we're not totally snowed under with bovine excrement. But oh, the massive weight to clear away!

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:45 PM:

Why is Plato's Republic a work much liked by the elite in the media? Plato lays out the ideal elitist world-view. Most of us obey, a few enlightened minds do our thinking for us, and the police keep the masses in line. It's much easier if the debate is framed by a few 'wise' heads, with perhaps some comic relief in the form of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to disguise the fact that most of the media has a gamut of opinions from A to B.

Real journalism in this country gets done by people at the margins. In magazines like Mother Jones and The Nation, on the web in blogs like this one, but certainly not in the MSM.

#8 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:56 PM:

One thing that I don't understand about the Valerie Plame scandal is why Robert Novak, the man who actually committed the crime of outing her as a CIA agent, isn't in jail. Certainly, everyone in the chain of leaks should be in jail too, but it seems like Novak got a teflon shield or something.

#9 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:02 PM:

Here is the entry in Glenn Beck's file at MediaMatters.Org that I tipped to them before CNN hired him. I've yet to see him top that one for sheer viciousness.

After devoting a portion of the October 6 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show to discussing pending legislation that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of detainees held by the U.S. government, Glenn Beck interviewed a caller who claimed to have worked as an "intelligence officer" and to have "extracted intelligence" from U.S.-held prisoners by torturing them. The caller said his preferred methods of torture included burning the retinas of prisoners' eyes with high-powered halogen lamps and blowing out prisoners' eardrums with high-pressure water and air. He also claimed to have known "a contractor that did drilling on live teeth." After hearing the caller describe these torture techniques, Beck responded, "I've got to tell you, I appreciate your service." During the interview, Beck asked the caller if he ever had trouble sleeping at night. When the caller answered, "No," Beck responded, "Good for you." He later added, "[W]hen all is said and done, I'm glad people like you are on our side."

#10 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:12 PM:

I would love to hear you talk about each and every one of the topics listed in the penultimate paragraph, separately or together. I hope you take that as a list of posts to work on.

By the way, terrific post.

#11 ::: Jude ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:19 PM:

I know a number of people in various levels of the government, particularly in Florida and I was told that everyone within the political arena had a pretty good idea of what Mark Foley had been up to for a very long time. When the scandal broke, it certainly wasn't news to them.

#12 ::: Melanie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:20 PM:

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with news media having a bit of the "inside scoop" us proles don't get to have. Some of it is gossip, not the kind of thing that needs to be or should be spread around. The problem is when, as Pat said above, journalists get hooked on the idea of having those secrets or on the idea of believing they're somehow better for knowing them. Because then, I think, they stop being able to distinguish the personal (the football coach gets drunk every weekend and hangs out, depressed, in his house--not an ideal situation, but not the business of the whole town, necessarily) and the dangerous (the football coach gets drunk and rapes cheerleaders). (And of course, the rules are a little different for politicians--I still don't think that character in every respect is a necessary thing for politics, but it has become so in this country, and politicians know that going in.)

#13 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:23 PM:

You know, up 'til last year when I linked to it, this was on the internets. Now it's on the Wayback.

Jonathan Alter explains to a bunch of kids at his alma mater prep school about real-world politics, and specifically the character of one George W. Bush.

Hear a lot of that from Newsweek, did we? Um, not so much.

We did hear rather a lot about Democrats and their character issues, though, didn't we.

Might coulda had to do with the fact that he really, really wanted a war and if the middlebrows who read his magazine had any idea who was in the White House he might not have gotten it?

It's The Last Hurrah without the charm.

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:26 PM:

Julia, mind if I incorporate that into the main post? It's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.

#15 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:30 PM:

not at all.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:45 PM:

Okay, you and your link are now in the main post.

#17 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:47 PM:

I noticed a funny thing happening over the first few years of this century that I wish I'd kept track of. During Dubya's 2000 campaign, I frequently saw journalistic coverage talking about how he'd been a fuck-up in his youth (not using that phrase, of course), but now he was all grown-up and serious.

Then, after he took office, stories about how he'd been a lightweight in the campaign, but now that he was actually in the White House, now he was all grown-up and serious.

Then, after 9-11, it was about how the first months of his administration were sloppy and dumb, but now that his country needed him, he was all grown-up and serious.

Either it was just bullshit and they were covering up his incompetence, or (as I thought at the time) the press corps desperately needed to believe that we couldn't have an incompetent president, especially in a time of crisis.

At least I haven't seen any stories like that recently.

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:53 PM:

Huh, you're right. Those tapered off, never to be seen again. I wonder whether that happened as people realized that he was hardly going to be using any of his father's consiglieri in his administration. Everbody had been assuming he would.

I don't think they believed for long that we couldn't have an incompetent chief executive. I think they got depressed at the realization that that was exactly what we had.

#19 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:57 PM:

Personally, my favorite part of the story was this

Mr. Alter said he and other reporters enjoyed riding with Sen. McCain on his swung through New Hampshire during the primary, because Sen. McCain was so accessible, chatting for hours with reporters.

"He earned his good press honestly, not cynically."

because, you know, a candidate running for president couldn't possibly have had an ulterior motive for doing anything as intrinsically pleasurable as spending hours chatting with reporters.

#20 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:05 AM:

I remember two occasions on which NPR folks asked GOP stalwarts attending events on the campaign trail whether they were worried by persistent reports that Bush wasn't the brightest bulb in the light fixture, and didn't have much experience with much of anything.

The answer, on both occasions: "Well . . . he'll have good people around him."

This suggests that a lot of folks knew that Bush weren't no learned up much.

Knew, but blew it off, because, gosh, the guy was sincere and straight shooting.

God, I'm so fucking depressed.

#21 ::: Rasselas ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:08 AM:

After 2000, 2002 and 2004, you want journalists, or anybody, to have greater faith in the electorate?

#22 ::: the talking dog ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:12 AM:

Bravissima.

The good news is that the press remains a mixed bag-- but for the Grey Lady, WaPo and a few others (generally newspapers; t.v. and radio are just about worthless), we wouldn't know what has gone on in Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, the ghost prisons, the "extraordinary renditions", the warrantless surveillance, or all of the other wonderful treats Dear Leader and our beloved government have for us... As compromised as it is, the Congress, and much of the courts, have rolled over and died in protecting us from tyranny in the name of "fighting terrorism".

The bad news, alas, is legion... pretty much what you have said... on steroids.

#23 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:17 AM:

#21 - Yes, dammit, YES. If, in 2000, 2002, and 2004, the bloody journalists had decided to help people find out the *facts* about politics, instead of saying "ooh, Republicans are the Defenders of Our Country, and ha ha, look at those funny-looking/wooden/stupid/insane Democrats", we wouldn't have HAD the last six years of lunatics running things.

#24 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:25 AM:

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Thank you for summing this all up, Teresa.

#25 ::: Rebecca Borgstrom ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:24 AM:

#21 -

Yes.

We make our own beds and we make our own graves. In the end, trusting or not trusting the people isn't about whether the people will handle some issue better or worse---they won't. It's about whether we in our government enshrine and make sacred, or dismiss and vilify, the concepts of trust and openness and the worthiness thereof.

Put another way, a government that does not trust attracts to its service those for whom honor is a term of little practical value; they then seek to employ their talent for subterfuge and doublethink even when it is not the best policy.

Rebecca

#26 ::: Rasselas ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:44 AM:

Maybe people don't need journalists to help them see through the lying promises of people like George W. Bush.

Maybe people know the "facts" and vote for Republicans because they like the violence that Republicans reliably deliver.

#27 ::: Kirby ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:00 AM:

Yes, and for these reasons, thank you for blogging.

It's not a coincidence that printing newspapers became relatively cheap and easy right around the times of the American and French revolutions. I'm not a history geek, but I think it's safe to say that the ability of an elite class to control public opinion took a big blow, and the ruling class widened considerably.

Of course, the people breaking in are generally all too happy to leave behind the populism that got them power, and form a new, slightly less elite but still pretty elite ruling class, and that's what we've had since.

But that's cracking at the seams. It may be 'just a bunch of Internet bloggers', but I can count a lot of stories that the media chose to ignore, and the bloggers didn't, that turned into real stories. Like Abu Ghraib, Rather's memo, Valerie Plame, electronic voting irregularities... the list keeps growing. They have already lost their monopoly on the filter, and can never get it back.

I think we're in for some interesting times, very soon, as a result.

And this revolution requires a lot less than it takes to own a printing press and get circulation. The circle widens again.

And it is good.

#28 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:00 AM:

The most important part of your post is at the beginning:


the news media have sided with the privileged elite, a class to which you almost certainly don’t belong.

It's worse: the people in the news media are the priviledged elite and we have multimillionaires like Tom Friedman shaping public opinion...

Now of course most journalists are not rich, but most journalists do depend for their livelyhood on staying in favour with people who are rich. If it isn't their editor or publisher, its their advertisers or government contacts...

Chomsky and Herman, in Manufacturing Consent described the pressures news media are under eighteen years ago; since then it has only gotten worse as the trends they wrote about have continued....

#29 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:25 AM:

The problem with blogging is that it sets up its own elite. Yes, it may be a more egalitarian elite because it is made up of people not "in the know" and therefore more likely to broadcast information that has been withheld from the public, but it is still an elite. To blog implies that one has a computer, and internet connection, and the time to read and engage in online discussion.

There are other considerations, too. The list of political blogs is in the hundreds. How does one tell which blogs are worthy of interest, and which blogs focus on areas you're interested in? Does anyone have enough time to do all that reading?

Then there is the question of who knows about political weblogs and cares enough to find them. Someone who uses the web primarily to check e-mail, read the Yahoo! headlines, and search for chicken soup recipes isn't going to be reading Kos.

Bloggers aren't the media elite that likes to keep its secrets, but that doesn't stop them from being a self-selected group. A fractured self-selecting group. The success of the New York Times is only partially predicated on its reporting. The rest is on the fact that everyone reads it. Until there is some form of blog consolidation, bloggers will have less power than the MSM. We don't have the reach, and we don't have the convenience. Once these problems are overcome, blogs will rule the world, and politicians will run for cover.

#30 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:46 AM:

#1 and #4, Jonathan and Bruce - The Net Neutrality debate was what first came to my mind, as well. When major news stories are breaking on YouTube, and raw footage airs without that carefully contextualized spin to tell us how to interpret the highly produced snippet--then suddenly the idea of an informed populace has some juice again.

When that informed populace has a voice--a voice growing in strength, at that--and they can find each other and establish a public conversation, without the corporate media in charge of decisions about who gets to join the debate...little wonder there are entrenched and institutionalized media outlets that perceive a very real threat. Little wonder the internet is under attack from the older, better-established communications institutions, and not just in America. Power isn't easily relinquished.

Blogging makes a real and meaningful exchange of ideas possible, again.

...And I get some of the coolest recipes that way, too.

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 06:21 AM:

This is why I get my news on the internet. Hell, I live in Albuquerque and the daily's favorite columnists are Low-Cal Thomas and Charles SourKrauthammer.

#32 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 07:46 AM:

#31, Serge, I get my news from the internet, too--and I try remind myself to add a pinch of salt, when the occasion seems to call for it.

The problem, of course, is that the last six years have been such a study in lunacy that it's hard to actually assimilate that these weird and horrible things are real.

Luthe, #29 - It's awfully easy for me to be all, "gee whiz, the internet is so cool!" and forget that there are some drawbacks built into the rampant disorganization. I just don't know as consolidation and organization are really the answer. I'm not thrilled that Google bought YouTube--every time something like that happens, it reduces the marvelous diversity available. Also, I worry that it ultimately reduces our choices as end-users, both in terms of what's available, and in terms of what technology will be explored first/fastest/at all.

And I'm not all that sure something like BloggerNews is any answer, either.

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:31 AM:

the last six years have been such a study in lunacy

As someone pointed out, Mac, it's hard to do satire when reality is as bizarre as a spoof from the Onion.

#34 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:34 AM:

Excellent post. There are times I keep thinking, is it me, am I the only one that thinks there is something wrong? Of course, as Douglas Adams had Slarty B. say, "no, that's just common, everyday paranoia."

Who ever thought that we would all have to be Kremlinologists with our own country. Fortunately I was well schooled in that skill, although sometimes I have to remind myself that my tin-foil hat is only figurative and not put on a real one.

#26 Rasselas, reminds me of the quote from Mr. World in Serenity, "You only bring me the best violence."

#35 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:49 AM:

Teresa: Thank you.

#36 ::: Sus ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:18 AM:

Wasn't that Mr Universe?

/nit-pickery

#37 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:41 AM:

#36, Sus, it most certainly was, may bad. My tin-foil hat wasn't picking up a clean signal. You can't stop the signal.

#38 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:58 AM:

It's interesting that many conservatives feel almost exactly the same way about the media and about the political elite. I know, I know - how can they, when that's who they really are, etc.

But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone on the right who trusts much that comes from CBS, the New York Times, Reuters, etc., for many of the exact reasons that this post details. These people are similarly estranged from what are seen as "the only opinions worth having by decent people", decent people being defined as (e.g.) reporters at the above outlets, presidents of Ivy universities, commentators at NPR and other upstanding types.

This persists even with Bush in office, Scalia on the Supreme Court, and all the other examples of overwhelming-conservative-control that I'm sure folks here can adduce. Whether this is nuts is a topic for discussion, but it does exist. And it does so to the degree that Teresa's post would (without the specific examples of, say, Glenn Beck) be perfectly acceptable to readers of "The Corner" at National Review Online.

I should know - I'm conservative myself, and I feel like throwing things when an article in the Times, a piece on NPR, or a remark by Hillary Clinton or any of a long list of elected or appointed officials goes the mode of: "We know what's best for you - don't trouble your little head, and if you were as good as we are you'd think the way we do, anyway."

#39 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:00 AM:

Superb. Thank you Teresa, again.

Reading this, I dug through some links to find that great document of Washington press independence: Sally Quinn's In Washington, That Letdown Feeling in the WaPo. This was her attempt to show why Washington was shocked, shocked by Bill Clinton, while most of the rest of the country desperately wanted to move on. It lists one politician or reporter after another pledging fealty to the DC establishment, including David Broder, the Dean of Washington Journalism (Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.).

"He came in here and he trashed the place," says Washington Post columnist David Broder, "and it's not his place."
Anyone suprised by Joe Lieberman's behavior after reading this was simply not paying attention.

Much earlier in my life, I committed journalism for a few years, for money. In that time I got to know some great reporters working away in big jobs and small, and tried to learn from them. But I also discovered that too many of my colleagues became reporters for the same reasons that others went into politics or show business. (I changed that from "and" to "or" but I wonder if I should change it back. Hmm.) It was not just that you got to be friends with some of the people you cover -- you do. But these folks had this big sucking need to be recognized as important that distorted the rest of their lives. If we can say that anyone who wants to be president should not be, what about someone who desperately wants to be a network anchor or newspaper columnist?

#40 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:07 AM:

I really don't want to start a flamewar, but some of the right has been saying this for some time. They've been calling it "the new medievalism" based on this article.

#41 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:18 AM:

I am really grateful for this blog. In the internet world of screaming craziness, you and Patrick make persuasive and compelling arguments in a way that allows folks to change their minds without feeling like losers in some kind of zero-sum political pissing match.

I consider myself well read with regard to current events, but it was on Making Light that I was persuaded to abandon the Green Party before it was such an obvious choice, and it was here that I've learned about astroturf and other forms of information manipulation. Thanks for elucidating this in a way that makes sense, and not just blaring the usual "Mainstream Media is a conspiracy blah blah!"

#42 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:21 AM:

Derek Lowe, #38: nobody -- be they right wing or left wing -- likes being taken for a fool by a smug, patronizing self-appointed elite.

I'd argue that the SPSAE (or whatever else you want to call it) isn't left-wing or right-wing in the traditional sense: rather, they're at one pole of a political axis of discourse that most of us aren't aware of. The key issue that separates us from them is control. They're the natural heirs to the pre-1914 elites, and they're trying to occupy the power vacuum left by the dissolution of the monarchical system. Meet the new boss: same as the old boss.

(And you wonder why history is so haphazardly taught in schools around the world?)

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:22 AM:

Damn: replace "They're the natural heirs" with "They see themselves as the natural heirs".

#44 ::: MoXmas ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:56 AM:

Of all the unmentioned topics you mentioned, I am most curious about this one:

"The unexpected emergence of the multi-author project."

(That's if you're taking requests.)

#45 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:12 AM:

I recently had a rather rude awakening -- I was in England, and had occasion to watch both the BBC and SKY News channels every day for 10 days. I was in London when Alexander Litvinenko died, and comparing the coverage between the two outlets was a real eye-opener.

SKY seemed to be covering it in more of a reasoned fashion, whereas the BBC was all screaming headlines and nuclear hysteria. And then a few days later, a custody case involving families in Pakistan and Scotland was settled and the BBC dropped the Litvinenko story like a hot potato and it was All Custody, All The Time, whereas one could barely find a mention of that case outside the crawl on SKY. The Beeb was obviously going for the cheap attention-grabbing headline, at the expense of reporting anything that might actually matter in the grand scheme of things. I could only assume that this is their MO in general.

I would have expected SKY to be the FOX of the UK and the BBC the more obviously credible news source, not the other way around.

I guess what I'm saying is, now I know for sure that America is not alone in its over-reliance upon a suspect media. I've been religiously watching the BBC World News on Channel 13 every weeknight (that and "The Daily Show" have been my TV news sources for years). Knowing that I'm not necessarily improving my lot by doing so saddens me.

#46 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:13 AM:

Charlie@43 --- actually, if you meant to discuss the elites in this country, you were right the first time; the United States has quite a few families that have accrued and maintained influence for several generations, sometimes in the public eye, sometimes not. (As there's no formal aristocracy, the name for this class, on the surprisingly rare occasions that people choose to name it, is simply "Old Money").

Examples right now: in the public eye there's a Rockefeller in the Senate, while farther away, there's the influence of Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the Mellon fortune, who funds lots and lots of right-wing "think tanks" and other sorts of activism. Both fortunes predate 1914, as do those of the DuPonts (financiers of General Motors, and the viciously anti-Roosevelt "liberty league"), Roosevelts (a big deal in New York when it was still called New Amsterdam), and many others.

#47 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:14 AM:

A year or so before the 1992 primaries, my wife, who was then working as a special assistant to one of America's most powerful labor leaders, heard two of the politicals in the office discussing the prospects of the potential candidates. Clinton's name came up, and the reply was "Yeah, he's good; too bad he has an adultery problem."

And all through the campaign we held our collective breaths, waiting for the "Clinton's black baby" story to surface, and wondered why it never did. Our insiderhood was limited enough that the obvious answer (a retaliatory counterstory that would annihilate Bush Senior if the first story was launched) never went beyond guesswork. But I'm sure that there are thousands who do know.

#48 ::: lasko ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:17 AM:

This is a wonderful post. I'd thought of mentioning Broder's "trashed the place" quote, but Claude Muncey already included it.

A nit to pick, however. It was the Miami Herald who broke the Gary Hart story, even though other outlets were sniffing around. Cohen and his cohorts weren't actually the author of Hart's exposure, despite the credit he claimed at Yale. (I suppose MH's DC-beat reporters may be considered DC insiders, but I don't know and if somebody can clarify that point, I'd be happy to be corrected.)

#49 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:19 AM:

Seems to me Dick Meyer's piece is just an attempt to curry favor with the new Democratic powers in Washington.

Or, perhaps, he's outright prostrating himself before them.

#50 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:24 AM:

perhaps, he's outright prostrating himself before them

Which brings to my mind the scene in Animal House where Kevin Bacon is about to be initiated into the campus's posh fraternity. He is ordered to assume "the position" then gets paddled on the posterior. He then asks: "May I have another one, sir?"

#51 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:29 AM:

I bet if you go back to late 2000/early 2001, after the Bush 'win' had been settled, you'd find a similar story by Dick Meyer casting aspersions on the Clinton/Gore administrations.

#52 ::: Ronit ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:48 AM:

It's not too early to nominate this post for a Koufax, is it?

I am reminded of the time the Washington Post's Federal Page reported on Poppy Bush's mistress' new, six-figure government job. It was pre-internets, so none but the insiders got the joke when the Post said something along the lines of 'she served under Bush in a variety of positions'.

#53 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:49 AM:

It seems everyone in the press corps had the poop about Bush Sr.'s extramarital goings-on yet it never made the papers. Must be the fringe benefits of having been head of the CIA.

I was on the road when the invasion of Iraq began, and where I found myself we had television news from the BBC. As I recall the troops were having a tougher go of it on the BBC than on home-grown news outlets.

Disclaimer: I was a television reporter for five years. Whee!

#54 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:20 PM:

Possibly tangental, but this conflict's everywhere here's a quote from the nerdsphere version:

Many in positions of power really do not like the web, for a variety of social, technical, and economic reasons. They may use web technologies used for cost avoidance & productivity, but want their systems to be as fat-client-like as possible.

Here, they aren't talking about blogs, but down a level to how you architect software. Just search and replace 'big media' with 'Oracle' or 'Microsoft'.

I'll have to go back and read The Diamond Age.

#55 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:51 PM:

Larry Flynt and what he achieved with Hustler reminds me of the end of the Stephen King novel Firestarter: Without spoiling much, someone who figured out that major "serious" publications would be watched and silenced instead went to the Rolling Stone to spill something.

If we had the money maybe we could take out ads that boiled down to "They are lying to you," but naturally no amount of money would get those ads aired on the very outlets of the liars. For all the popularity gains, I am still not sure that blogs have gone beyond "talking amongst ourselves." I remember a few heartening times when a particularly ugly item finally made it on to "real" newspaper pages after the blogs had been shouting about it for three days or more, but the very fact that we can itemize that list shows that they are exceptions that prove the rule. What options are then left to us?

#56 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:02 PM:

You know, as annoying as it is, the presumption of superiority doesn't piss me off nearly as viscerally as the rhetorical alliance with The Common Man. The Times decided a bit ago to be more sensitive to religious conservatives and people in the flyovers (I think Brooks was part of that wave), and since then they've been periodically writing articles about snake-handler level know nothings with all sorts of neat ideas about changing the culture who earnestly swear they're representative.

And hey, why check if anyone actually takes these people seriously? They're lumpen. Proles dig that.

At least the Wall Street Journal comes out and says that vulgar herd don't matter.

#57 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:06 PM:

Zeynep@55: Larry Flynt and what he achieved with Hustler reminds me of the end of the Stephen King novel Firestarter: Without spoiling much, someone who figured out that major "serious" publications would be watched and silenced instead went to the Rolling Stone to spill something.

The movie of Firestarter completely screwed this up by trotting Drew Barrymore straight through the front doors of The New York Times.

#58 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:32 PM:

Rasselas @ #26: If violence is what the public wants, surely the GOP and Mr. Bush would be more popular than ever?

When we consider the recent elections, let's not forget that the New York Times withheld the story and evidence they had of Bush's massive spying on US citizens until after the 2004 election, because they "didn't want to influence" the vote.

#59 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:41 PM:

I wonder what Edward VII and the abdication crisis would have looked like if there had been blogs following the story?

Would they have:
- leaked news of Mrs Simpson? The British public weren't aware of her until the abdication speech.
- repeated the slanders about Mrs Simpson in Singapore? She was (falsely) rumoured to have been a prostitute.
- dug into Edward & Mrs Simpson's Nazi sympathies?
- found things we don't even know yet?
- made up things more scurrilous yet?

(All of the above, of course.)

#60 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:41 PM:

Luthe (29) gets a separate comment all to herself:

"The problem with blogging is that it sets up its own elite. Yes, it may be a more egalitarian elite because it is made up of people not "in the know" and therefore more likely to broadcast information that has been withheld from the public, but it is still an elite. To blog implies that one has a computer, and internet connection, and the time to read and engage in online discussion."
I know; but I've tried telepathy, and it just doesn't work. No delivery system touches everyone. The system I'm using is pretty darn democratic. It's also effective.

Which alternate system did you have in mind?

"There are other considerations, too. The list of political blogs is in the hundreds. How does one tell which blogs are worthy of interest, and which blogs focus on areas you're interested in? Does anyone have enough time to do all that reading?"
Well, you found your way here.

Are you proposing that someone pre-sort the political blogs, identifying which ones are worthy of interest? How would you distinguish that from setting up a blogger elite?

I assume people find blogs that are of interest to them the same way they find any other material of interest to them on the web.

"Then there is the question of who knows about political weblogs and cares enough to find them. Someone who uses the web primarily to check e-mail, read the Yahoo! headlines, and search for chicken soup recipes isn't going to be reading Kos."
This is a democracy. If a person doesn't want to read political weblogs, neither I nor Kos can force them to do so. Even Max Sawicki can't do it.

I'm going to take a leap here and assume that these are by and large the same people who aren't interested in reading about politics in the newspaper, or listening to serious political analysis on the TV or radio. Why are bloggers uniquely in the wrong for not getting their attention?

"Bloggers aren't the media elite that likes to keep its secrets, but that doesn't stop them from being a self-selected group."
Same deal. If you can't force people to read about politics, you for sure can't force them to write about it. Bloggers are inherently a self-selected bunch. Yay for Democracy.
"A fractured self-selecting group."
Writers are like that.
"The success of the New York Times is only partially predicated on its reporting. The rest is on the fact that everyone reads it."
Here I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. Ubiquity multiplies the impact of fiction and other forms of entertainment, because it means people can talk to each other about it. But while two people can't easily talk about two different albums they haven't both heard, or two different novels they haven't both read, they can certainly talk about two different news stories covering the same events or issues.

I can tell you one way that size of readership matters. All successful publishing operations are the Siamese twins of their production and distribution systems. In the case of the New York Times, one way you can look at it is that because they have a huge readership that expects to have the paper in their hands first thing each morning, they have to have warehouses, printing plants running high-speed presses, fleets of trucks, and all the other components of their complex delivery system. Alternately, you could say that because they have an expensive news-gathering, printing, and distribution system to maintain, they have to attract a big enough mass audience and enough advertisers to pay for their operation.

It would be easy to say both views are true; but to the best of my knowledge, the rise of mass-circulation newspapers has followed the development of expensive high-speed printing (and to some extent typesetting and imaging) equipment.

"Until there is some form of blog consolidation, --
1. What was that about elites?

2. If we consolidate, we stop being weblogs. What are you suggesting we become?

3. Why should we turn ourselves into newspapers? Have you looked at the stats on Boing Boing and Daily Kos? They get more readers. More to the point, have you looked at the recent stats on newspaper readership? Of the top 25 papers, all but three have lost readership over the last six months. Some of the losses: USA Today 1.3, WSJ 1.9, NYT 3.5, LATimes 8.0, WAPO 3.3, Newsday 4.9, Globe 6.7, MN Star-Trib 4.1, Atlanta J-C 3.4, Phil. Inq. 7.5, Detroit Freep 3.6, Oregonian 6.8, OC Register 3.7, Sacramento Bee 5.4.

What those number don't tell you is that the average age of people who subscribe to a major daily paper just keeps going up.

I don't know what's happening with televised news.

-- bloggers will have less power than the MSM."
It's hard to measure power, though overall I'd say we have less of it. What we do have is different kinds of power.
"We don't have the reach, and we don't have the convenience."
We have as much reach as our readership wants, and there's not a lot of limit on our expansion. I deny that newspapers are more convenient than reading news online, with two exceptions: you can't read a computer while standing up on the subway, and you don't get the daily strips on a single page.
"Once these problems are overcome, --"
I don't see how they can be. As you said at the start, not everyone owns a computer, and not everyone wants to read about politics.
" --blogs will rule the world, --"
No one rules where everyone can rule. As of this moment, blogging is by definition something anyone can do who has regular access to a computer. Unless the powers that be can figure out some way to break that, the only way blogs can come anywhere near ruling the world is as participants in a functioning democracy.
"-- and politicians will run for cover."
But I don't want them to run for cover. They're public servants. In fact, they're my public servants. I want them on the job, doing the work they were elected to do.

#61 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:52 PM:

Trackback: Blog Traffic Volatility.

I don't so much respond to Teresa's mediations on blogger as public intellectual as explore (tangentially) the impact of that blog methodology on blog traffic patterns.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:53 PM:

I know; but I've tried telepathy, and it just doesn't work.

Ah hah! That's why I keep hearing Teresa's voice. That crown in my lower jaw must be made of an alloy sensitive to telepathic waves.

#63 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:56 PM:

Part of what's happened to the LA Times is the changes resulting from its long-distance management by the Chicago Tribune. Part of it is that it's been cutting back on coverage for years (accelerated by the Trib folks, but they didn't start it).
Example: There was a multi-alarm fire last Tuesday night, about a mile from where I live, and about a block from the railroad (carpet and flooring warehouse), starting shortly before 5pm. It ended up being an all-night affair, with fifty or so engines on hand, and multiple news copters overhead. The LA Times didn't cover it at any level I could find. It was front page at the Daily News (which is generally not worth the price, being just above bird-cage liner).

If I want local news any more, I can't get it except from the smaller papers. Why should I subscribe (or buy at a stand) a paper that isn't going to tell me what's happening in my area, especially when its big stories are the same stuff I can get on TV or online?

#64 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:58 PM:

Abi #59: Back then there was The Week put together by Claud Cockburn.

#65 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:08 PM:

It does surprise people how good SKY News is in the UK, compared to FOX in the USA.

And the BBC isn't at it's best. They're negotiating with the government over the renewal of the charter and the licence fee, and there was the whole mess of the Kelly Case. That's the BBC account of the incident--you should assume the BBC is picking its words very carefully.

If you want an American example of how government can try to nobble the news media, I'd rather not point at any case. You know your media better than I do.

#66 ::: murgatroyd ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:19 PM:

Four things:

1. Meyer: ... they were brutal critics of big government.

Um, no, they weren't. They want "big government" to funnel tax money to the upper levels of society, not the middle and lower levels. I recommend The Conservative Nanny State by Dean Baker, which is available free on line.

2. One of these days we’re going to think up a new word for these guys, so that we won’t have to use the “conservative” label on people who think there’s something inherently objectionable, and probably illegal, about speech acts that espouse views they don’t agree with.

Fascist? Truly an overused pejorative, but in its defined sense, "A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism," fascism is happening now through the collaboration of media and government.

3. I sat in the audience at the "Hardball" taping at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government when Matthews interviewed Howard Dean in February 2004. When Dean said big media had too much power and needed to be reined in, I knew that was it for him, and sure enough, not too much later he was out of the race thanks in no little part to the "Dean Scream." It wasn't that his politics are too radical (they aren't) -- I sincerely believe that statement was his undoing.

4. Matt Taibbi. Seymour Hersh. Howard Zinn. I don't even trust the local newscasts any more. It's so easy to see how, when some things are emphasized and others not mentioned, the news takes on a slant that reinforces the status quo.

#67 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:37 PM:

Edward VIII. Not VII.

Ever notice how VIII is not a good number for British monarchs? Henry. Edward.

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:43 PM:

(abi... Did you know that there is a mistake in the URL associated with your name?)

#69 ::: Pat Kight ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:45 PM:

Theresa (60): I'm going to take a leap here and assume that these are by and large the same people who aren't interested in reading about politics in the newspaper, or listening to serious political analysis on the TV or radio.

While there's some truth to this, I think a fairly significant number of smart, well-educated and politically concerned Americans remain in the dark about the entire blogging phenomenon. There are still many, many people who haven't stuck their toes in these waters.

Anecdotally, I offer my own workplace: A small research institute on one of the most wired university campuses in the United States. When I mention reading something in a blog, I still get blank stares from most of my colleagues, some of whom still don't quite know what a blog is. Many of them see their computers as mere tools for doing their jobs; some still don't own computers or have 'Net access at home. Of those who do, several do so only for the sake of their kids. The same is true for my close friends; a few are as geeky as I am, but many others - bright, engaging, politically active - are not interested in computers or the Internet. I may think that's a mistake, but who am I to tell them how to spend their time?

Me, I think blogs are a potentially powerful and democratizing tool for sharing information and building community. But I think it's a mistake to overestimate how many people are touched by them, and to dismiss those who are not as apathetic know-nothings.

#70 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:46 PM:

(Fixed.

You cyberstalking me? Unlike Teresa's, my blog's stale, as are my two bookbinding sites. I spend too much time writing sonnets, not enough blogging.)

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:49 PM:

Cyberstalking, abi? Nah. Just curious about where that'd take me.

#72 ::: Patrick Connors Sees Something Odd ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:54 PM:

This page might have been vandalized. There's an excerpt from "Tempting Faith" badly embedded into the end of your original message.

#73 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:25 PM:

Rasselas (26), that's grim, but I don't altogether disagree. I have a theory that's slightly tangential to it, which I may write about soon because I've finally found a dab of supporting evidence.

Steve Buchheit (34): "Whoever thought that we would all have to be Kremlinologists within our own country?"

Ken MacLeod. It's called The Execution Channel, and it should be out next summer.

Derek Lowe (38):

"It's interesting that many conservatives feel almost exactly the same way about the media and about the political elite. I know, I know - how can they, when that's who they really are, etc.

But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone on the right who trusts much that comes from CBS, the New York Times, Reuters, etc., for many of the exact reasons that this post details. These people are similarly estranged from what are seen as "the only opinions worth having by decent people", decent people being defined as (e.g.) reporters at the above outlets, presidents of Ivy universities, commentators at NPR and other upstanding types.

This persists even with Bush in office, Scalia on the Supreme Court, and all the other examples of overwhelming-conservative-control that I'm sure folks here can adduce. Whether this is nuts is a topic for discussion, but it does exist. And it does so to the degree that Teresa's post would (without the specific examples of, say, Glenn Beck) be perfectly acceptable to readers of "The Corner" at National Review Online.

I should know - I'm conservative myself, and I feel like throwing things when an article in the Times, a piece on NPR, or a remark by Hillary Clinton or any of a long list of elected or appointed officials goes the mode of: "We know what's best for you - don't trouble your little head, and if you were as good as we are you'd think the way we do, anyway."

Derek, this interests me extremely.

But first: I know very well that this phenomenon isn't limited to the center and left. One of the things I pulled out of the main post at the last minute was an extensive excerpt from David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. Kuo was the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He's now Beliefnet's Washington Editor. I pulled the excerpt because it was about exploitive and condescending political insiders, not the mass media; but the patterns are much the same.

Kuo talks about how the Compassion Capital Fund got far less capital than was originally announced, and how in many cases announced expenditures simply didn't happen. It gradually became apparent to him that the process of assessing applicant charities was a farce. Most of the money went to organizations that had been politically friendly to the administration.

That was a grave disappointment to Mr. Kuo. Just as upsetting in its way was the attitude of the White House staff:

[E]vangelical leaders were people to be tolerated, not people who were truly welcomed. No group was more eye-rolling about Christians than the political affairs shop. They knew "the nuts" were politically invaluable, but that was the extent of their usefulness. Sadly, the political affairs folks complained most often and most loudly about how boorish many politically involved Christians were. They didn't see much of the love of Jesus in their lives.

Political Affairs was hardly alone. There wasn't a week that went by that I didn't hear someone in middle-to-senior levels making some comment or another about how annoying the Christians were or how tiresome they were, or how "handling" them took so much time.

Evangelicals may have been a protected species during the Bush administration; but as David Kuo eventually figured out, they were never insiders.

I started out conservative. I've watched the kind of people I grew up with get screwed over, lied to, and condescended to, over and over again, by the kind of people who clustered around Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. The first time I typed the words, "Just because you're on their side, doesn't mean they're on your side," I was in a discussion with a bunch of conservative Republicans. I also said, "Look, these guys belong to a club. You're not members and you never will be." I won't either.

But back to this perception of yours that the tone you hear from the mainstream media is that the things they tell you are "the only opinions worth having by decent people," and that the oppressor class includes "NPR types" and college professors.

I absolutely believe that that's what you hear. I've heard similar things plenty of times from other conservatives. This has got to be something real.

Here's one thing about it that puzzles me: most "NPR types" and college professors are no closer to the centers of power than you and I are. If I had to characterize their tone when they're talking about public affair, it would be something more like "These are the best solutions we know of to a set of fairly intractable problems," or "It's my opinion that this is right." I don't hear the "We know what's best for you poor fallible ignorant little people" thing. Whether or not the hearer is a decent person isn't there at all.

Is this tone something you hear in my writing? Can you hear it in anyone else here, or in some identifiable public figures? If someone has it, do they have it all the time, or is it situational? Does it have anything to do with regional accent? Do you have a regional accent, and if so, which one?

Work with me. We're on to something here.

Just casting about while I wait to hear back --

I know that when I was a kid trying to make sense of the world, the major newspapers and the news magazines were extraordinarily irritating. I could tell that they were being written in encoded language, but I couldn't break the code. It didn't make me trust them. I'm better at breaking the code now, but I still don't entirely trust people who write like that.

There's also the primal fact that one of the things the mass media are worst at is giving people the impression that they're listening.

When we listen to a message, one of the preliminary questions we ask is whether we belong in the assumed set of persons it's talking about. If we don't come up with a "yes" early on, we give it a lot less credence. We doubt its applicability. But genuinely mass media can't talk about us. All it can talk about is "most people".

If politicians and newscasters were as good as advertising agencies at projecting the sense that you (whoever you are) are part of the natural audience for whatever they're going to say, this would be a different country.

Time to take another break.

#74 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:49 PM:

Wow. I'm thoroughly depressed, angry, overwhelmed, pissed off, enraged, and apatheticized.

I'll let everyone know which one wins as
soon as the coup is over.

#75 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:51 PM:

Teresa: But back to this perception of yours that the tone you hear from the mainstream media is that the things they tell you are "the only opinions worth having by decent people," and that the oppressor class includes "NPR types" and college professors.

Teresa, I cannot speak for Derek, and I don't pretend to know why he thinks as he does or hears what he hears, but I've spent some time in a culturally conservative area in the South, and there is a very, very deep suspicion of and hostility toward higher education. Public service announcements run on the radio about how getting an undergraduate degree in college can help you run the family farm. Where I lived, something like 60% of adults had a high-school degree. Anyone who went to college, much less had an advanced degree, was presumed to be an arrogant, faithless alien, most certainly Not One of Us. The scorn leveled at "book learning," and the lengths people there will go to to avoid being accused of it, can't be overstated.

Contributing to this is the idea that "college types" don't really work for a living. I heard this from my own family.

#76 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:00 PM:

Anyone who went to college, much less had an advanced degree, was presumed to be an arrogant, faithless alien, most certainly Not One of Us. The scorn leveled at "book learning," and the lengths people there will go to to avoid being accused of it, can't be overstated. Contributing to this is the idea that "college types" don't really work for a living. I heard this from my own family.

There are attitudes that people have that disempower their own members. There isn't much you can do about that other than point it out to them in a way that they can hear it and get them to change.

But this is different than the attitudes and other memes that people have that disempower some other set of the population, especially if the people propagating the attitudes are not being forthright with the people they are disempowering.

It's one thing to think college folk don't really "work" and decide not to put yourself into college.

It's another thing to have a college degree and tell folks that people with degrees don't work and that they shouldn't bother getting one.

#77 ::: Dick Durata ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:01 PM:

"f the vast field of political weblogging has sprung up seemingly out of nowhere during the last few years, it’s because the underperforming professional journalists are leaving us with so much material to work with."
There certainly is a lot to work with, but I think that calling journalists 'underperforming' or 'dysfunctional' misses the mark. They do what they are paid to do.

#78 ::: Mark Reed ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:03 PM:

Slightly off-topic, but as a relative newcomer to this blog, I hadn't seen the "Common Fraud" post until you linked it here. As I posted there (before realizing belatedly that I was posting on an old thread and hence would likely go unheard), I found the stuff on "tort reform" fascinating and informative, and was wondering if you know of any similarly useful references on "immigration reform"? Most of the websites I've found seem to shout "PROTECT US FROM THE MARAUDING HORDES!", while a relative few acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the problem is a little more complex, but don't seem to offer any insight into that complexity.

#79 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:37 PM:

Mark, I wrote a response in the Common Fraud thread.

#80 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:42 PM:

Axiom - when anyone says you can't know the truth for your own good, they are lying. If 'They' are doing something they just can't tell you about, they shouldn't be doing it.

Looks like the Land of the Free has itself a class system, just like Old Europe. Take a lesson from us. We groundlings may talk class war. The ruling class doesn't talk it, it just fights it, tooth and claw, day in, day out, year in, year out.

Apropos of where this takes you, I'll point in the direction of the latest EFF newsletter (if you haven't already been there and aren't already incandescent). I mean, the authorities can't do that over here because of the Data Protection Act (they may do it covertly, of course, with the fine disregard for the law of spooks everywhere) How come you're letting them get away with Security Profiling you?

#81 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:50 PM:

And a corollary, Martyn:

Anytime the lower classes even so much as talk about changing the system a little for their benefit, the rich call, "Class warfare!"

#82 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:58 PM:

I don't want to speak for anybody, but regarding Teresa's post @ #73:

1) Saying "trust me I'm a professor at Elitist College" (typical NPR commentator) is the same type of argument as saying "trust me I'm a reporter at Elitist Newspaper." It's an argument from authority.

2) The media may be members of the "elite" club, but they are "B" or "C" members. Much like the Medieval clergy (see my post @ #40) part of the price of being invited to the club is not pissing off the "A" members. (More then a few medieval bishops learned that it was Bad Form to piss off a guy with his very own army.)

3) Blogging has the same decentralizing effect as did Gutenberg's printing press. Considering that the effect of Mass Media over the past century has been to centralize "things," this makes it even harder for the elites to accept blogging. Not that Gutenberg's invention was well-accepted (Thirty Year's War, anybody?)

#83 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 06:12 PM:

It's an argument from authority.

And democracy is argument ad populum,
but it's the best we've got.

#84 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Teresa@#73: I'm fairly certain that there is a substantial regional component to the phenomenon you describe, and that it's tied to vocabulary and presentation more than content, because NPR commentators and their ilk often have the effect-as-described on me, even when I agree with what they're actually saying. And lord knows I didn't come from a Southern family that was easily put off by big words, or that was lacking in respect for education. A Southern family, yes. But the other, no.

#85 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 07:53 PM:

If you want another right-wing fulmination against the press, try Michael Novak's anti-press screed at the Weekly Standard. This one takes the form of a letter from a jihadist propaganda minister explaining what he's learned from the US prosecution of the GWOT.

#86 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 07:53 PM:

Aconite #75: I saw that when I worked in Kentucky back in the 90s, in a college town.

#87 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:04 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote:

But back to this perception of yours that the tone you hear from the mainstream media is that the things they tell you are "the only opinions worth having by decent people," and that the oppressor class includes "NPR types" and college professors.

I absolutely believe that that's what you hear. I've heard similar things plenty of times from other conservatives. This has got to be something real.

Here's one thing about it that puzzles me: most "NPR types" and college professors are no closer to the centers of power than you and I are. If I had to characterize their tone when they're talking about public affair, it would be something more like "These are the best solutions we know of to a set of fairly intractable problems," or "It's my opinion that this is right." I don't hear the "We know what's best for you poor fallible ignorant little people" thing. Whether or not the hearer is a decent person isn't there at all.


I'm a college professor and an 'NPR type', and I certainly have not been saying 'I know what's best for you....' That's because, very simply, I don't. I do know what a lot of people have thought about some fairly basic problems because that's some of what I teach and if people want I can explain it to them, but I've no claim to be god or anything like it. I have come across people who believe that what I do isn't 'real work' and I have students who have difficulty understanding that the capacity to think critically is a valuable skill.

What bothers me about much of the US today is the increasing anti-intellectualism coming from people who do not realise that the US's technological and scientific edge over the rest of the world is a large part of what is keeping them prosperous.

#88 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:24 PM:

#84: *lightbulb* My father is a college professor, raised in the South, who refuses to listen to NPR because he feels like they're talking down to him. I'm a college professor, raised in the South-ish parts of Texas by a pair of Southerners, and I don't listen to NPR either. I thought it was because I'd rather read my news than hear it, but now I'm wondering. I'll listen to Morning Edition tomorrow and tell you what I think.

#89 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:29 PM:

It's not a big surprise that anti-intellectualism is on the rise. Intelligence is vastly overrated as a survival trait: it is more effective by far to be either a jock or born into a rich family (or win the lottery).

#90 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:52 PM:

My blog is just boring. But Shankar Vedantam's WashPost column "Department of Human Behavior" yesterday talks about psychological entrapment as the reason so many people think we shouldn't leave Iraq.

#91 ::: Ed Darrell ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:08 PM:

I'm getting more nervous about listening to NPR because they have taken a foolish turn to the right (they weren't left -- never were), and that has included added unreason, non-reason, and just plain nuttiness to the news mix, at the expense of in-depth reporting.

Oh, Nina Totenberg is still good. Teri Gross at FreshAir is fantastic. But they are outlyers these days.

I think a lot of people mistake information for "leaning left." Reporters are more liberal than most Americans because reporters read a lot more, and they know a lot more, on average. Don't confuse accuracy with a liberal bias. They aren't the same thing at all.

#92 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:46 PM:

Teresa, thanks very much for your reply (#73). I don't think that it's exclusively a regional thing, although I am originally from the South. My accent is nothing like it was when I was a teenager, but people here in the Northeast can still tell that I'm not from here.

But at the same time, I have a PhD, and make my living as a scientist. I'm writing this from a room nearly walled in by books of all sorts (and in several languages). So, anti-intellectualism doesn't seem to be the problem, either. I'm uncomfortable with the way your reply lumps "college professors" together. I mentioned the president of Ivy universities, actually, which was a reference to what happened to Larry Summers at Harvard.

I think the feeling I get is more from the unspoken assumptions. As far as I can see, in the NY Times/NPR worldview, Any Decent/Intelligent Person is in favor of certain things. Of course, I think that any decent or intelligent person is indeed in favor of certain things (like the things found in, say, the Bill of Rights), but the bien pensant list is much longer.

For example, and I'm not for a moment proposing to debate these topics here, I am deeply opposed to making ownership of guns illegal, but would very much support having them licensed to the degree that cars are (including a periodic competency check). I am extremely pro-free-trade, and think that agricultural subsidies (for example) are abominable. At the same time, I am in favor of stem cell research, having no religious objections to it since I have no religion. I think the idea of a constitutional amendment to make flag-burning illegal is ridiculous. I think that Terri Schiavo was irreversibly brain dead. And I supported the invasion of Iraq, and regard proposals to negotiate with Syria and Iran over its current situation as dangerously naive.

OK, then. By the standards of the New York Times, I do not seem to exist. If I oppose gun control and am suspicious of Iran, I must oppose stem cell research, right? Yahoos who hold the first two positions always do. This cuts both ways, of course. By the standards of, say, Rush Limbaugh, I probably don't exist, either, but he's an entertainer, not a Newspaper Of Record.

As for specific examples of the irritation I feel with some media outlets, just about any NPR commentary by Daniel Schorr would be a good starting point. Maureen Dowd's columns would be another. Both, to my sensibilities, seem almost unable to believe that anyone without severe cognitive disabilities would find anything to disagree with in their views. I don't hear the "These are the best solutions we know of to a set of fairly intractable problems" tone from people like this.

The right has plenty of this as well. I don't watch Fox News, for example (but I don't watch any cable news channel). I can see how someone on the left would want to take any radio playing Rush Limbaugh and throw it out the window. Hey, I don't watch Fox News, either - but I don't watch any cable news channel, for that matter.

#93 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:47 PM:

#81 - Nancy

The patron saint of the ruling class is Malthus, by whose doctrine if you or I get a crumb more, they get less. Thus ignoring 200 years of economic expansion.

What were y'all saying about anti-intellectualism?

#94 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:49 PM:

Unfortunately, I'd have to adduce Ed Darrell's comment right before mine as well. "Reporters are more liberal than most Americans because reporters read a lot more, and they know a lot more, on average." There's the problem - I read a lot more than the average, myself, and I like to think that I know a few things. But I have somehow managed not to be politically liberal, at least by Ed D.'s standards, I'm sure. How's it possible?

#95 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:56 PM:

Derek, do you still support the war in Iraq, or do you think it's time to get out?

#96 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:16 PM:

Derek, by your list of topics, I don't exist either (pretty much straight down the line).

I suspect part of the problem is that authoritarian types are extremely uncomfortable with education, since it tends to result in people who ask uncomfortable questions (like 'why are we in --?') and do other anti-establishment things. It's so much easier, after all, if people just do what they're told and keep quiet the rest of the time.

#97 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:28 PM:

#94: Derek But I have somehow managed not to be politically liberal, at least by Ed D.'s standards, I'm sure. How's it possible?

Isn't this sort of like the bad joke about the statistician who drowned in a lake whose average depth is 3 feet?

Even if we stipulate that reporters, on average, are more liberal than Americans are, on average, how does it follow that the most conservative reporter is still more liberal than the most liberal non-reporter American? That's the assumption I have to make in order for your question to make any sense. However, I just can't see it.

Are you really saying that George Will is more liberal than most Americans?

#98 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:00 PM:

JC, I'm referring to Ed Darrell's belief (comment 91) that reporters are indeed more liberal, because they read a lot more and know more. Now, whether reporters are more liberal or not is a point worth arguing (I think that they tend to be, at the national level), as is whether they read and/or know more. I'm going to let those go by, though, as side issues.

It's the assumption that reading more and knowing more just naturally moves your opinions more to the left that struck me.

#99 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:01 PM:

#21: After 2000, 2002 and 2004, you want journalists, or anybody, to have greater faith in the electorate?

You're criticizing the electorate's ability to make an informed decision based on the facts when you lie about the facts they make their decisions on?

Or are you merely saying that if they can't tell when people are lying to them, then they deserve what they get?

It does explain why more educated populations tend to vote for more liberal and egalitarian causes and generally saner policies.

#100 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:07 PM:

Re: NPR, the show I've seen the biggest rightward shift in is Marketplace which used to be pretty straightforward and actually dared to discuss labor issues - until David Brancaccio left. Now they've got wackos from the American Enterprise Institute and Cato on just about every episode. I really used to enjoy it - now I avoid it.

You can find the old NPR alive and well in shows like Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, where it's humor and therefore safe and unthreatening.

I've never felt like NPR was talking down to me, which is why I still listen. I tried out Air America, but I feel like it's yelling at me, and I don't like being yelled at. And it has ads. For shady investments and patent-hemorrhoid cream.

For me, blogs are a news filter. I only look at newspaper sites for local coverage.

Oh, and Teresa - I sincerely hope that, besides blogging for our collective well being (thank you!) I hope that you blog because you enjoy it.

#101 ::: Karen ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:16 PM:

@ # 94

Derek, I've never heard of you and know nothing about you, but it seems obvious to me that you arrive at your political positions not just through being well-read, but also through the cumulative experiences of your entire life.

#102 ::: Dan Goodman ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:36 PM:

I have not relied on the New York Times to get things right since they had a story about how New York City's dialect was dying out. Every expert they quoted said, quite plainly, that the New York Metropolitan Dialect was changing rather than dying. Before that, I had noticed little mistakes in most stories about things I knew something about; but this was a big one. And if they could get something this wrong when they didn't have any real stake in believing something other than the truth...

More recently, I stopped paying much attention to the Times best seller lists when they split children's/YA books off into a separate list. Now, it might have been completely coincidental that this kept Harry Potter novels from displacing more respectable fiction. Or it might not.

The newspaper I trust most is USA Today. Oddly enough, it's not among the most prestigious American newspapers.

#103 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:49 PM:

Martyn Taylor (#80): Looks like the Land of the Free has itself a class system, just like Old Europe.

IIRC, the level of single-generation upward mobility in terms of income percentile is significantly lower in the USA than it is in "hidebound, stratified" Europe these days.

This is according to that crazy Commie rag The Economist...which, since they have a very nice web archive of their articles, make it easy to find the original source: The rich, the poor and the growing gap between them from the June 15, 2006 issue.

Oh, and why do we see so much "math is hard" lauding of innumeracy? Probably so people don't notice things like this:

Average after-tax income per person, Mr Bush often points out, has risen by more than 8% on his watch, once inflation is taken into account. He is right, but his claim is misleading, since the median worker—the one in the middle of the income range—has done less well than the average, whose gains are pulled up by the big increases of those at the top.
Keep 'em confused about what "average" means by misusing the mean when the median's a better measure, and you'll have an easier time convincing them that you're "on their side", protecting them from those evil death-taxing folks across the aisle.

Read this Autor/Katz/Kearney paper on the increasing polarization of the US wage structure, or these two papers from IZA-Bonn. ("Our study [...] uncovers evidence that, while middle-class mobility may be quite similar across countries, the United States has more low-income persistence and less upward mobility than the other countries we study.")

Seen any mention of any of this in the US press? I haven't. Well, there was one John Allen Paulos commentary, which as far as I know never went anywhere but the ABC News website.

#104 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:51 PM:

The decision by the press corps to get rid of Hart captures my attention. I wonder if they made the same decision about Howard Dean. I remember a segment on Hardball that ran a few weeks after The Scream. Chris Matthews ran the tape that the news outlets showed, of Dean apparently yelling his fool head off. Then he ran the tape again, only this time it contained the cheers of Dean's supporters, which had been filtered from the version that was released for public consumption. On that tape, Dean can barely be heard above the crowd. He had no choice but to yell.

Matthews wondered aloud whether the press had played a role in scuttling Dean's candidacy. I don't recall any of his guests agreeing, or hearing the matter discussed after that. But when in the last six years has the press engaged in any true self-examination?

#105 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:59 PM:

I'm frustrated. Here's this fascinating conversation, and I'm up to my ears in a must-do-it-now editing job. Until I come back, here's my basic statement on guns: words, pictures.

#106 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:10 AM:

Derek: I'm not following your observation wrt Ivy presidents, especially connected to "what happened to Summers". From a few miles away, it looks like Summers was a long-term jackass, utterly unsuited for the job, who believed that he'd been put In Control.

#107 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:14 AM:

Teresa @105 - I must say that the hat really goes with those other accessories.

#108 ::: Charles ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:14 AM:

An excellent post.

Your comment to the effect that they're all in bed together brought back an amusing anecdote from all too many years ago. A friend was doing some consulting work for Pillsbury. He was asked to come to a board meeting at a suite in a posh hotel to discuss his work with them. They greeted him buck naked from the bed they were occupying.

Write the jingle yourself.

Anyway, yes, as Jonathan Schwarz indicates, we run in packs, packs which are far too self-referential. We very much need to get to know one another and start thinking of ourselves as equal members of a great nation.

Thanks for this post.

#109 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 07:37 AM:

Kristine @ 104:

Is that a trick question? By the way, how much of a role did Chris Matthew, who is part of that group even though here he was putting himself outside of it, play in the collapse of Dean's candidacy? (Yes, I worked for his campaign and was so despondent after those events that I paid little attention to the news for some time.)

#110 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 09:00 AM:

Serge@109:

I'm not pro-Chris Matthews by any stretch, in case I gave that impression. I think he's a self-serving suck-up. I can't stand to listen to him, so I don't know to what extent he participated in the Dean pile-on. I doubt he stood on the sidelines, though.

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 09:45 AM:

You didn't give that impression at all, Kristine. The first thing I noticed when I saw Matthews on TV is that he'd ask a question then never let the person finish answering. The last time someone tried to pull that one on me, it was my boss, and I didn't let its being during a staff meeting stop me from pointing out that I was going to finish answering her damned question. (Yes, I'm still her employee.)

#112 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 10:04 AM:

#98: Derek It's the assumption that reading more and knowing more just naturally moves your opinions more to the left that struck me.

The snarky response to this is the same as the rebuttal to CANDIDE. i.e., Just imagine how much more conservative you'd be if you weren't well read and highly educated.

Note: My point is not to give any credence to the notion that being well-read and well informed necessarily makes one more liberal. My point is to say that your existance does not actually disprove the notion. (Well, unless your claim is that it is ispossible for anyone to be more conservative than you are.)

It's worth noting that I self-identify as liberal, but we have identical positions on gun control, I'm wary of Iran and, of course, I support stem-cell research. (Just so you don't get worried, we disagreed about Iraq.)

However, while you red flag Daniel Schorr on NPR, I red flag the likes of David Frum on NPR. (In the late '90s, it literally was David Frum.) I think both of them express their opinions very strongly. I don't interpret either of them as disallowing the possibility of disagreement. I think all opinion pieces are written thus. (If anything, I see more "but we have to be balanced and consider the other side" in pieces from liberals than I do from conservatives. e.g., For a while, every NPR commentary which was, in general, supportive of equal rights for homosexuals included several sentences of vile homophobic ranting to consider the other side of the issue.)

#113 ::: Jonquil ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 10:10 AM:

None of my liberal friends consider that Maureen Dowd represents their viewpoint in any way; she's off on the Planet of Dowd. If you want a liberal Times columnist, try Bob Herbert.

#114 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 10:29 AM:

JC, there's always the possibility that "several sentences of vile homophobic ranting" would not completely represent the other side of the issue. Perhaps it does, but it also could be a way of saying something like "And by contrast, here's some ignorant craziness from the unenlightened".

#115 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 10:56 AM:

Amid the pile-on, I feel compelled to note that the Times does have some reporters who are generally decently respected by the people they cover, because they usually at least get the basic facts right --- John Markoff comes to mind. Of course, the paper would be a whole lot easier to read if their stuff were printed in, say, a different typeface from the flat-out damn-the-facts propaganda produced by, say, Judith Miller...

#116 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 10:59 AM:

Derek: I'm thinking perhaps you have not heard the commentaries of which I speak. The specific one I'm thinking of was by Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday in, I think, 1996. The "vile homophobic rantings" was conciliatory, along the lines of "I know there are people who think that homosexuals are a danger to children and an abomination on God and they may have a point. However..." (Ok, this is not a direct quote. The actual quote would have been longer.) They have always struck me as earnest attempts to portray the other viewpoint.

I don't recall ever thinking that any NPR commentary was supposed to completely represent any side of any issue though. I don't think any issue worth discussing can be completely represented in a 4 minute commentary.

I do think it's interesting though that you immediately went to a position of "Oh, if NPR mentioned these positions, it must obviously be to denigrate them." It's an interesting example of how people can hear the same words and get quite contrary meanings out of them. This perhaps, ultimately, is the point.

Note I am not saying that one of us is right and the other one of us is wrong in our interpretations of those words. (I've read enough critiques of my fiction not to fall into that trap.)

#117 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 11:52 AM:

#92: I think the feeling I get is more from the unspoken assumptions. As far as I can see, in the NY Times/NPR worldview, Any Decent/Intelligent Person is in favor of certain things. Of course, I think that any decent or intelligent person is indeed in favor of certain things (like the things found in, say, the Bill of Rights), but the bien pensant list is much longer.

I have met a disturbingly large number of self-identified liberals who I feel don't really get the basic premise of liberalism. They have all the right opinions on abortion, gay marriage, the Iraq war, and what have you, but they hold all these opinions with a sort of bright-eyed, unquestioning fanaticism that is far too reminiscent of nothing so much as Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. All their issues are so utterly sacred that to even question them is to transgress beyond the bounds of reasonable debate.

They don't seem to understand that being a liberal doesn't just consist of marking off Ye Olde Liberal Checkliste. It means having to actually think about things, and acknowledge that really, we don't know for sure and we could be wrong, and that everything is constantly open to doubt and revision. They seem to be liberals more because that's what all the cool kids are doing, or because they were raised that way, and less because they've actually thought about any of these positions with any seriousness.

These are the same people who, post-2000, were saying with all apparent seriousness, "I think that anyone who voted for Bush should be drug out into the street and shot." They are the people who say things like, "After 2000, 2002 and 2004, you want journalists, or anybody, to have greater faith in the electorate?" If you don't think that we should have faith in the people, then which elite are you endorsing again? And elitism ought to be anathema for any liberal worth their salt.

Which is a roundabout way of explaining what it might be that bugs you so much about the NPR crowd. You seem to be a fellow firmly in favor of rigorous intellectual debate, and when a liberal sacred cow breezes by without even token justification, I can see why that would drive someone bonkers. Especially if it happens to be a sacred cow that you have an especially compelling argument against.

I would suggest, however, that it's possible they are omitting debate not because they are unwilling or unable to do so but because they might not have the time to reinvent the wheel every hour.

#118 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:08 PM:

I've spent some time in a culturally conservative area in the South, and there is a very, very deep suspicion of and hostility toward higher education ... Anyone who went to college, much less had an advanced degree, was presumed to be an arrogant, faithless alien, most certainly Not One of Us. The scorn leveled at "book learning," and the lengths people there will go to to avoid being accused of it, can't be overstated.

Gee. I grew up in Ithaca, home of Cornell University, and this is exactly the attitude that much of the town and most of the public school teachers had.

#119 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:30 PM:

Isn't distrust of smart/schooled (yes, I know--not mutually inclusive) people pretty much an across-the-board feeling here in the States? Are liberals despised more for their beliefs or for what they are perceived to be, over-educated mealymouths with no conception of what it means to work for a living?

#120 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 01:49 PM:

#117: Heresiarch It means having to actually think about things, and acknowledge that really, we don't know for sure and we could be wrong,

You know, I hope this is true for conservatism too, or else we're just screwed.

#121 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 02:40 PM:

Incidentally, by my count, I agree with Derek Lowe about guns, agricultural subsidies, stem cell research, flag-burning laws, and Terri Schiavo. I disagree about "free trade" in general and about Iraq. I'm sure we could find lots more to disagree about, but right now "agree" is ahead of "disagree" by about five to two.

#122 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 02:45 PM:

Heresiarch in #117 does a good job of summing up some of what I was trying to say. My job in drug research, if I'm doing it right, consists of looking at data and saying "Hmm. I wonder what that means?" and at other people's conclusions and saying "Hmm. I wonder if that's true?"

It's not a lot of fun to do that to your own beliefs, but there are a lot of necessary things that aren't much fun. Still, I'm sure there are large tracts in my own opinions that haven't felt the plow in a while.

That's science for you, and I'm pretty sure that it was my personality that led me into it, rather than science making me the way that I am. The political beliefs (and the political writers) that I can respect are the ones that are willing to do it the hard way. For instance on the right, I don't agree with John Derbyshire about a number of things, but I respect him for his account of how he lost his religious faith (and for getting it published in National Review Online).

Which reminds me, tangentially, of Teresa's comment #77, the part where she talked about the lip service paid to right-wing evangelicals. That doesn't surprise me a bit - the same goes for anti-abortion activists on the right as well (Reagan was particularly good at this). Any influence these groups have is proportional to their ability to go somewhere else.

Given the alignment of the Republican and Democratic parties, the main threat evangelicals can make is to stay home. As long as they don't do that, they can be taken more or less for granted by the Republican establishment and bought off with meaningless pieties. A similar situation obtains with the Democrats and the black vote.

Of course, the two halves of this comment demonstrate the gap between Political Theory and Opinion and Politics As It Is Practiced. Growing up in Arkansas gave me a reasonable education in the latter - nothing Bill Clinton could do could surprise me all that much.

#123 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 06:08 PM:

#117: Heresiarch It means having to actually think about things, and acknowledge that really, we don't know for sure and we could be wrong,

#120: JC You know, I hope this is true for conservatism too, or else we're just screwed.

Well, that depends on how you define conservatism, I guess. According to John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience, "real" conservatives *do* believe in this sort of honest inquiry, discourse, and what we might call intellectual humility - admitting their own fallibility and being willing to at least consider alternative points of view.

But the authoritarianism that defines the Republican Party in this generation is another beast entirely. They don't believe in any of that. At most they might pretend to believe it to manipulate people who do believe it. But when it comes down to it, the decisions made by the Right People are automatically the Right Decisions and the definition of loyalty is to accept them without question. The scary thing is that I'm not even exaggerating their position.

#124 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 06:49 PM:

Derek, there's plenty of "liberals" who'd agree with you down the line (unless you believe in the "one last push" strategy for Iraq). Of those liberals who don't agree, I think free trade would probably be the issue where the largest number disagreed with you , with farm aid probably the second. And, for instance, Paul Krugman, one of the Times's most liberal commentators and a trade economist, agrees with you on free trade. So I am wondering why you consider yourself conservative.

For myself, matters are a bit different. I don't identify my politics by my stance on the Iraq war, or the legality of firearms ownership, though I have opinions on both; I am more concerned with the global biosphere and the global political order than any single issue, no matter how important. People like me don't even exist in the political consciousness of most US citizens, really, though one could reasonably call me liberal.

I don't know what to make of your comments about Maureen Dowd and Daniel Schorr--these people are commentators, not representatives of their respective organizations. I am especially puzzled by your use of Dowd as an example; the publishers of the Times are conservatives, probably more conservative than you, and they had the very conservative William Safire on the same op-ed page as Dowd until he resigned last year. It's probably fair to say that the NPR editorial staff and management are liberal, but even so Cokie Roberts has cut the W. Bush administration a suprising amount of slack, much more than any seriously committed liberal would.

The more I write, the more puzzled I become about your position. I'll be interested in seeing what else you have to say.

#125 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 06:57 PM:

Patrick: (#121) I agree with him about that much, so something about this is an issue of self-identification.

Derek Lowe (#122) The reason Dems can depend, with relative surety on the black vote is that the Republican party (of the last 40 years) has systematically abused them, as a class. It's not in their interests to support people who, de facto, are hell-bent on oppressing them.

The odd thing about the Fundie Christianists (knowing a lot of liberals who are also evangelical Christians I can't so describe the group you are discussing) is that the things they say they want (esp. re the hot-button issue of abortion) are things which flourish under Dems, and languish under Republicans.

When Dems are in power, abortions drop, families are stronger (because a better economy means more stability), and the like.

But they vote for Republicans, who can (as you say) take them for granted.

So given that, I don't see a whole lot of reason for either group (nor for a lot of, "conservatives") to vote for the Repiblicans.

But that's me, a gun-toting, amendment loving, liberal who enlisted in the Army 15 years ago, and used to be in the center.

#126 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 07:50 PM:

Re: NPR, I suspect that part of the reason it gets tagged as liberal is the format. The stories are long, full of detail, demand close listening and tend to try to present lots of different viewpoints.

There is no inherent reason for such a format to be considered liberal, but the fact is that in this culture, at this time, there is a decided minority who enjoy or can even tolerate such stories, and, for whatever reason, that minority tend to be liberals. Even if the content of an individual story seems to support the conservative viewpoint, the way it is presented feels liberal.

#127 ::: Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 10:39 PM:

Juli: that's the best explanation I've heard for the phenomenon. I've been quite puzzled why, when NPR often strikes me as being more conservative than the newspapers I read, it's commonly depicted as liberal; you've finally given me a plausible explanation.

#128 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 11:00 PM:

I suspect that there's a couple of other sources for people to view NPR as very liberal. First, or at least oldest is the fact that when All Things Considered first came on the air, or at least when I started listening in about 1976, there was considerable ad lib chat of the more liberal sort between Bob and Susan. Second- at least on the stations I listen to, KUOW and KPLU, the local news coverage and commentary does, indeed, tend left.

But then, I'm willing to admit that Dan Schorr, who is, after all, a man who's gone places and seen things, may actually know stuff I don't, and have a right to assume some level of expertise in political matters.

Maureen Dowd, on the other hand, is unspeakable.

#129 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 11:21 PM:

Maureen Dowd, on the other hand, is unspeakable.

IIRC... Maureen Dowd is also the person who, during the Clinton Presidency, said of a photo of Bill and Hillary dancing on a beach that a woman over forty shouldn't be seen in public wearing a bathing suit. Or words to the effect.

#130 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 11:30 PM:

#123 Chris: Well, that depends on how you define conservatism, I guess. According to John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience, "real" conservatives *do* believe in this sort of honest inquiry, discourse, and what we might call intellectual humility - admitting their own fallibility and being willing to at least consider alternative points of view.

But the authoritarianism that defines the Republican Party in this generation is another beast entirely. They don't believe in any of that. At most they might pretend to believe it to manipulate people who do believe it. But when it comes down to it, the decisions made by the Right People are automatically the Right Decisions and the definition of loyalty is to accept them without question. The scary thing is that I'm not even exaggerating their position.

Right. Actually, I would go so far as to say that if you arrived at your point of view through an honest examination of all the available evidence, that by itself is enough to make you a liberal, no matter what your opinion on the subject ends up being.* Take gun control, for example: I think that it's a issue upon which reasonable people can disagree, depending on which factors they prioritize. But whatever conclusion you arrive at, I guarantee it isn't the NRA's position, which is guns guns guns, just for the sake of having guns, with no debate possible.

By the same token, if your opinion is thoughtless it is not liberal, no matter what it might be. Environmentalists who won't even admit that there might be a balance between preservation and use are especially irritating in this regard (though thankfully their influence is waning). In my experience, the gap between those whose beliefs rely on appeals to authority and those whose beliefs rely on thinking critically is a far more profound gap than the gap between any two opposing opinions.

I think that is one problem with the debate in our country. Issues are widely understood to be battles between poles of authority, with Science on one hand and Religion, or Profit, on the other. There's no understanding that science isn't a set of set-in-stone truths as much as it is a method for determining truths.

*Of course, people using similar methods to examine the same problem do generally come up with similar results.

#131 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 02:20 AM:

#40 Chris Gerrib: That article you link to is half brilliant and half insane. He paints a picture of a media that has become the unelected, unaccountable dispensers of moral authority. Absolutely right. Then he argues that this pack of moralistic crusaders is making it impossible for reasonable people to govern, attacking any and all authority out of nothing more than mindless hatred and distrust. Um, no. Which world is it that he is living in, where the media didn't aid and abet the Bush administration in every lie they shoved down the American people's throats? They are highly selective about which authorities they attack, and which they remain silent about.

#82: 1) Saying "trust me I'm a professor at Elitist College" (typical NPR commentator) is the same type of argument as saying "trust me I'm a reporter at Elitist Newspaper." It's an argument from authority.

Expertise is different than authority. Expertise is theoretically available to anyone. Authority, by its very nature, is only accessible by the few. Saying "Trust me on this subject, I've spent the better part of my life studying it and I am very respected among other people who have also spent their lives studying it" is categorically different that saying "Trust me on every subject, I am a member of a privileged class whose views are inherently more worthy." I can see how the two could easily be confused, but they really aren't the same at all.

#132 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 02:51 AM:

1) Saying "trust me I'm a professor at Elitist College" (typical NPR commentator) is the same type of argument as saying "trust me I'm a reporter at Elitist Newspaper." It's an argument from authority.

Minor nitpick here: there's a significant difference between "argument from authority" and "argument from credentials". If a biology professor is talking about biology, or an economics professor is talking about economics, that's arguing from credentials -- there's some reason to think that they may know whereof they speak. It becomes "argument from authority" when the economics professor is talking about biology or vice versa... or when "Dr. Ruth", whose degree IIRC is in podiatry, sets herself up as an expert on psychology and sexuality.

There's an opposing meme to your "Trust me, I'm a professor at X University" one; it runs something along the lines of, "My gut-feeling opinion about [topic] is just as valid as that of Professor Y who's been working in the area of [topic] for 20 years." NOT -- and given the choice between believing a specialist in his area of expertise and J. Random Guy on the street, I'll take the specialist every damn time.

Derek, I humbly suggest that in fact your reading and knowledge have in fact moved you toward the left... because in something like 5 out of 7 listed points, the opinions you express are very far leftward indeed of what passes for current conservative thought. (Please note, the phrasing of that is intended to indicate that I don't believe most current right-wing positions are genuinely conservative, not that I don't think conservatives can think.) Anyone on the right-wing blogs would label you a liberal without a moment's hesitation.

#133 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 03:14 AM:

when "Dr. Ruth", whose degree IIRC is in podiatry, sets herself up as an expert on psychology and sexuality.

I know a woman who has appeared on several dating reality TV-shows -- The Bachelor and a couple of others. She said she was surprised when one of the panel of "relationship experts" who provided commentary on one show was the same person who was the make-up lady on another show.

#134 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 07:48 AM:

If a thoughtful, well-considered opinion is "liberal," and a thoughtless one is not, doesn't that make liberals simply the category of people with thoughtful, well-considered opinions?

If we really believe that thoughtful people can come to different conclusions, then what's so bad about labeling some of those conclusions 'liberal' and some 'conservative'?

'Liberals are people who actually think about what they believe' just seems a lot more self-congratulatory than acknowledging that environmentalism, reproductive rights, poverty, etc. are by and large liberal issues--even if not every liberal is going to check off all the liberal boxes.

#135 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 10:23 AM:

Some of the things that make me self-identify as conservative would be:

1. I have a wary view of human nature. But I have a corresponding horror of schemes that promise to change or improve it, which I think are doomed.

2. People are different, and they only have a certain capacity for change. Different people are good at different things and to different degrees, and 'twas ever thus. For the most part, attempts to equalize outcomes are doomed.

3. The best course is to try to use human nature for something constructive - for example, capitalism's harnessing of self-interest.

4. In that spirit, people should be allowed, as much as possible, to keep and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Property isn't theft, and wealth can be created, by hard work and inventiveness. Someone else's assets do not necessarily impoverish me.

5. As much as possible, people should be free to choose their own courses of action, with as much information as possible about what those choices could entail. Safety nets are a wonderful luxury which have existed only in the last tiny sliver of human history, not the timeless norm.

There are more, naturally, but that should give you the idea. As you can probably tell, I was sorry to see Milton Friedman go. I suppose I'm more of a libertarian than anything, but I'd then have to account for my feelings toward the political party of that name, which are not positive.

#136 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 10:26 AM:

Yes, but no *true* liberal puts sugar in his porrige.

Ideas serve two different purposes: they make statements about the world that have consequences, and they identify members of certain groups to one another. The problem is that these two uses get mixed together--Alice believes in gun control because it's how she identifies herself as a member of her group, Bob because his years of researching crime statistics has convinced him that widespread gun ownership is a disaster. It's easy to fail to distinguish between these two.

This has interesting and creepy implications. It's often very hard for someone to change his public position on issues, even when evidence has arisen that makes his position obviously wrong, because it also requires exiling himself from his group. Think of most neocons' refusal to even recognize the disaster brewing in Iraq until very recently, or the inability of many intellectuals in the west to acknowledge that the USSR wasn't a great new step in human freedom and well-being. This sometimes leads to a genuine disaster, as with WW2, which was partly caused by the inability to prepare for war in the US, UK, and France.

To tie this back to Teresa's starting point, one function of media is to define the ideas that are part of acceptable discussion. Watch the political talk shows, read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, listen to NPR, and certain ideas and policy proposals will simply never be mentioned. They're not part of the acceptable discourse. Sometimes, this will suddenly change, and instead of smoking bans in public places or tobacco companies actively suppressing research being some silly fringe issue that nobody talks about, it becomes part of the mainstream discussion. Similar things have happened with welfare reform and social security privatization. In some sense, that power is creepier than all the bias or withheld information about sex scandals.


#137 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 10:39 AM:

#134 Emily H.: If we really believe that thoughtful people can come to different conclusions, then what's so bad about labeling some of those conclusions 'liberal' and some 'conservative'?

Because there is the variation of opinion that thoughtful people can have and then there is "In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic." And that's from a so-called liberal. Need I quote Limbaugh at you?

Part of the confusion here is that there are two different axes along which the word liberal can be used: the axis of liberal versus authoritarian, and the axis between liberal and conservative. The first axis is epistemological: what sources do you use to determine truth? Do you examine the world itself, or do you rely on some authority? The second measures how wary you are of changes: do you generally expect that changes will bring progress or decline?

It is entirely possible to be liberal in one sense and not the other. I am primarily concerned that there are too few liberals of the first type; I see the second axis as the one upon which reasonable people can disagree. Personally, I tend to be quite optimistic about how we can improve our world, but progress isn't an unmixed bag, and I am glad for those keeping a wary eye out.

#138 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 11:26 AM:

#137 Heresiarch: Part of the confusion here is that there are two different axes along which the word liberal can be used: the axis of liberal versus authoritarian, and the axis between liberal and conservative. The first axis is epistemological: what sources do you use to determine truth? Do you examine the world itself, or do you rely on some authority? The second measures how wary you are of changes: do you generally expect that changes will bring progress or decline?

But the two views are connected. If we apply scientific scrutiny to new ideas, we can determine which ones are going to be beneficial *before* applying them at a society-wide level. If we worship the past simply because it is past, we throw out the baby with the bathwater. The ability to distinguish the baby from the bathwater is required in order to even attempt to keep one and discard the other.

Goldwater once said that conservatives "rely on the wisdom of the past, not the worst of it". I see this as a fundamentally liberal viewpoint - because it assumes that you are both willing and able to distinguish the wisdom of the past from the worst of it, and even more fundamentally, because you implicitly assume that the past *has* a downside, that it wasn't the best of all possible worlds.

Of course, I am from a different generation than Goldwater, and most of the "conservatives" I have known have been authoritarian ones, so this may be mainly a semantic disagreement. If Goldwater were alive and active in politics today, I would welcome him as an ally against the Cheneys and Dobsons and Limbaughs who infest the modern political landscape; whatever differences he and I have could be resolved by debate and democracy, which are values he and I share (and the modern Republican Party doesn't).

Carl Sagan wrote in The Demon-Haunted World, "There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths. That openness to new ideas, combined with the most rigorous, skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, sifts the wheat from the chaff." Like Sagan, I think this principle also applies to democracy; and believing so is (IMO) liberalism in a nutshell.

#139 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 02:43 PM:

Teresa, a wonderful post and so timely -- since it has everything to do with how the ISG Report is playing out, in the nation and in the media in particular.

After all, they just launched a new definition of lying into the English language -- a lie is just a falsehood presented in a way that "minimizes its discrepancy" with the truth. Ostensibly offered as a criticism of the Bush administration, it's actually a pretty useful concept in analyzing the report itself. ISG Report "minimizes its discrepancy" with reality. And that discrepancy they are papering over is the one between what the right kinds of people know inside the Beltway and what the hoi polloi are allowed to know. Too bad so many people have to die on account of it.

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 02:53 PM:

a lie is just a falsehood presented in a way that "minimizes its discrepancy" with the truth.

Did you come up with that, Madison Guy? If so, do you mind if I put this up on my blog, and how would you want to be identified?

#141 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 03:18 PM:

Derek Lowe (135) - I agree with every one of your points but the first one, and I self-identify strongly as a liberal.

1. I have a wary view of human nature. But I have a corresponding horror of schemes that promise to change or improve it, which I think are doomed.

I look at the evidence of history and it tells me that's wrong. The average human being is much better off today than he was 1,000 years ago. That's especially true of the West, which accounts for a large fraction of the human race. China and India (do they account for half of the human race between them) are developing rapidly.

I suspect we both share a horror at plans to re-make the human race quickly, over the course of years or decades. To steal a phrase from Charlie Stross: Those sorts of plans tend to quickly devolve into pyramids of skulls. And that's the source of my deep-seated revulsion for George W. Bush and neoconservatism.

As to your point #5:

5. As much as possible, people should be free to choose their own courses of action, with as much information as possible about what those choices could entail. Safety nets are a wonderful luxury which have existed only in the last tiny sliver of human history, not the timeless norm.

Just because safety nets are recent doesn't mean we shouldn't have them.

One of the reasons I identify as a liberal is that I think that conservatives are afraid of government. I'm equally afraid of government and big business, while also respecting the great good that both institutions can do, and I think that using government to check the excesses of big business is a great idea.

Historically, there are other forms of power other than government and big business, but here in America in the 21st Century, it all seems to boil down to one or the other.

OK, that's a stretch: Big Media and Big Religion, for instance, are separate entities from either government or big business. But the point still stands: Unlike a conservative, I don't see government as inherently evil. It's an institution, which makes it a tool, capable of being used for good or evil.

In what I consider classical liberalism, government becomes a tool used to beat down evil performed by other powerful institutions. Classic examples: Busting up segregation in the South. However, I am suspicious of government because it's very easily bought. Or labor laws used to minimize exploitation of workers.

I am mistrustful of labels like "liberal" or "conservative." I think they're too often used for grand, sweeping statements that don't give me much information. Somebody on TV says: Hilary Rodham Clinton has moved to the center since Bill left office -- what does that mean? Conservatives say it with grudging approval, liberals use it as a stick to beat her with -- but what specific opinions has she espoused, and actions has she taken?

The labels "liberal" and "conservative" have become increasingly meaningless during the Bush Administration -- a president considered conservative by most of America, who's the biggest-government president ever, making FDR look like a piker, and he wants to use Big Government change, not just Americans, but the whole world.

The particular moment when the labels jumped the shark was the Kelo decision.

#142 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 03:32 PM:

Serge (140) -- Yes, 'tis a humble thing, but mine. Although I certainly was inspired by the ISG's locution. The link in my comment goes to the post in my blog where I coined it, so you could use that. Thanks -- MG

#143 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 03:45 PM:

Done, MG. Thanks.

#144 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 04:17 PM:

Derek Lowe: Your list is much the same as that which I use to identify as "liberal".

Some of it is interpretational. I see levelling the playing field, you see an attempt to "equalise outcomes."

I suspect the greatest difference is our reactions to "property". How do you feel about estate taxes? Money is power. Aggregating money, and then corralling it is aggregating power.

When the Wal-Mart heir was found out as having been buying all her papers for her classes at USC, what harm did she suffer? None, really (what did she need the degree for?). The student who was writing them was 1: driven to it by need, and 2: not ever getting back into USC afterwards.

That's an inequality, and it's driven not by merit (the girl who was writing the papers had to work a lot harder to get into USC, and didn't get to stop working that hard once she got in, it was, in fact, that need to keep working which forced her out, she couldn't pay all the bills, and USC was less important than food), it's driven by vast differences in usuable "property."

That inequality lies at the heart of the Wal-Mart relationship to the world (and that of the employer against the union). Concentration allows one to apply the power of money against weaker (i.e. less propertied) individuals.

The gov't exists to provide things to the body politic, it has to be paid for (those roads which make it possible for Wal-Mart to offer cheap veggies from Calif. to shoppers in Michigan aren't paid for by Wal-Mart, not alone, and not; under the present tax-scheme, in fair shares).

Those who have more get no less benefit from the roads, why ought they to pay proportionally, to their means, at least as much? Right now they don't.

If thinking those who have vastly more than they need, can afford to supply some of that to those who don't, by means of the redistrubutive means of taxes makes me, "liberal" than it does. But I see these "conservatives" who are living on the public teat; paid out of my tax dollars, telling me that taking from the "rich" to help the "poor" is wrong, when they are advocating taking from the poor (and the middle) to help the wealthy, is better (and not a form of class-warfare; thought it's the term they use to decry the opposite) and telling me it's good for the poor, well color me skeptical.

I've read Adam Smith (and some other economists as well) capitalism is fine, but unrestrained it's exploitative, and leads to huge abuses (Packingtown, anyone). We tried it, raw and undadulterated, and we decided we didn't like it. Looking around the world today, where I see it running around unfettered, I see, as you say, that human nature hasn't changed much, and the needs for restraint on human desire to get more property, are no less than they ever were.

#145 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 04:29 PM:

Terry, that is one of the most eloquent statements I've ever seen of some of my economic beliefs!

#146 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 12:42 AM:

Heresiarch, #137: The second measures how wary you are of changes: do you generally expect that changes will bring progress or decline?

That's an interesting statement, and my immediate reaction to it is twofold:
(1) The only reasonable answer is "both, by amounts that will differ in each person's measure";
(2) In the long run, it doesn't matter whether I think change brings progress or decline, because change will happen whether I want it to or not. Which means that my choices, realistically, are to try to turn back time (an impossible and dyspepsia-producing task), or to accept that change happens and adapt to it. MZB said it well in one of her Darkovan proverbs: "The world will go as it will, and not as you or I would have it."

Terry, #144: *thunderous applause*
It does occur to me that liberals are frequently accused of wanting "equality of outcome" when I believe it would be more accurate to say that we want "equality of opportunity". The poor will always be with us, but when the minority kids from the inner-city schools have the same relative odds of ending up poor or well-off as my white middle-class schoolmates did, we will have achieved the liberal ideal. It should also be noted here that equality of opportunity, not of outcome, is the heart of the American dream.

#147 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 01:51 AM:

#138 Chris "But the two views are connected."

Certainly. Since authoritarianism exercised complete hegemony in the not too distant past and to some extent still does, wariness of change goes hand in hand with authoritarianism. In fact, authoritarianism often masquerades as conservatism, because conservative-sounding appeals to tradition can work as dog whistles to closet authoritarians without scaring away actual conservatives.

I agree with you about Goldwater, too: he strikes me, especially in that quote, as a liberal on the liberal/authoritarian scale. As you say, his ability to judge the past as good and bad shows that he has some criteria for goodness other than tradition itself. (Perhaps from here on out we can call the two axes liberal v. authoritarian and progressive v. conservative, for clarity's sake?)

I think that there are conservatives of Goldwater's stripe in politics today; I also think that they are all Democrats. Harry Reid springs to mind, as does Jim Webb. It's getting harder and harder for liberal-minded conservatives to survive in the party that opposes stem-cell research and advocates costly foreign wars.

#135 Derek Lowe: "2. People are different, and they only have a certain capacity for change. Different people are good at different things and to different degrees, and 'twas ever thus. For the most part, attempts to equalize outcomes are doomed."

Speaking as an economically radical liberal, I have to say I have no desire to equalize outcomes. Rather, I would like to eliminate the lowest fraction of outcomes, those that do not provide the basic neccessities of life. Providing those basic neccessities--like medical care, food, housing, and education--at a society-wide level seems like the most efficient and reasonable solution. You can't make lazy people work hard, and you can't make stupid people smart, but you can make sure that they don't starve.

#148 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 02:15 AM:

I think it was Edmund Burke (but I can't find it now) who pointed out that at any given moment the total benefits provided by any society to its members are finite and fully subscribed, and that therefore any change must necessarily advantage some only by disadvantaging others. Any human society also exhibits fractal complexity, which is to say that there is no theory by which all of the effects of any change may be predicted.

This is not to say that change should not take place, of course. (In fact, change will happen no matter what, and we must do the best we can to manage it.) It is simply to say that theory and good intentions are unreliable guides to the real effects of change, and the more radical the change, the more unpredictable the effects. Change should therefore be parsimonious, managed and gradual. Its effects should be assessed objectively, and with as little reference to ideology as possible. (There will be some ideology, of course, even if it consists only of the ideal of providing the greatest good to the greatest number.) This appears to me to be the essence of conservatism.

Equality of opportunity: If this is to be brought about, it will be necessary to prevent parents (and extended families) from advantaging or disadvantaging their own offspring over other children. I don't know how that might be done. The implications for education policy alone are stupendous. No private education. All schools to be made as uniform as possible. And so on. I don't know how that might be done, either.

#149 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 09:46 AM:

This discussion illustrates the huge problems with the left/right or liberal/conservative way of talking about politics. The Pournelle Chart and the Nolan Chart offer alternatives; I think Pournelle's is more descriptive, and there's a decent Wikipedia entry on it. '

Again, I think a lot of this links back to the use of ideas as labels for belonging to a group, and to the related phenomenon in media of defining a balanced story as one in which both the Republican and the Democratic point of view are represented. (Is this because reporters all think there are only two points of view out there? Or do we need to be protected from the other oddball points of view that might otherwise confuse us?)

#150 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 09:59 AM:

#146 Lee:

It's worth distinguishing between goals and methods, here. Many conservatives look to parts of the past for goals to be recaptured. Many conservatives also are deeply skeptical of our ability to direct social change over time, discard well-worn bits of our culture, etc., and especially our ability to do that from the top, by fiat or court order or national law.

This is a distinction that splits neocons from more traditional conservatives. Neocons seem to want to draw from some of those goals, but are absolutely willing to impose big changes from above to reach those goals.

For example, at one point, many liberals wanted to get sex education in schools, and conservatives wanted to keep it out, arguing that this was better handled by the family. Later, neocons decided to take it over and run it as abstinence education. They bought the premise that the state ought to be teaching kids about sex, including in some sense about sexual morality, but just differed with liberals about whose morality should be taught.

Ironically, it's mostly the left that is conservative in economic decisions. Is replacing every mom-and-pop hardware store with a Wal-Mart good or bad. Is outsourcing huge amounts of manufacturing to China good or bad? How about a plan to radically restructure Social Security, in order to accomplish both some budgetary goals and a social-engineering goal of shifting us to an "ownership society?" The conservative political party opposes that, right?

#151 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 09:59 AM:

#146 Lee:

It's worth distinguishing between goals and methods, here. Many conservatives look to parts of the past for goals to be recaptured. Many conservatives also are deeply skeptical of our ability to direct social change over time, discard well-worn bits of our culture, etc., and especially our ability to do that from the top, by fiat or court order or national law.

This is a distinction that splits neocons from more traditional conservatives. Neocons seem to want to draw from some of those goals, but are absolutely willing to impose big changes from above to reach those goals.

For example, at one point, many liberals wanted to get sex education in schools, and conservatives wanted to keep it out, arguing that this was better handled by the family. Later, neocons decided to take it over and run it as abstinence education. They bought the premise that the state ought to be teaching kids about sex, including in some sense about sexual morality, but just differed with liberals about whose morality should be taught.

Ironically, it's mostly the left that is conservative in economic decisions. Is replacing every mom-and-pop hardware store with a Wal-Mart good or bad. Is outsourcing huge amounts of manufacturing to China good or bad? How about a plan to radically restructure Social Security, in order to accomplish both some budgetary goals and a social-engineering goal of shifting us to an "ownership society?" The conservative political party opposes that, right?

#152 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 10:07 AM:

Teresa,

If you want another interesting example of the media/ruling class complex, look at the coverage of the S&L scandal several years back. If you ask the Democrats and the Republicans for comments to be balanced in a political story, then scandals that involve both Democrats and Republicans don't necessarily get reported on very well.

To link across threads, how does this relate to the occasional decision by a publisher to pull a book deal, and even sometimes to destroy the books? I'm thinking of the book that was supposed to talk about Bush's drug problems, which was spiked right before the election, but also OJ's book (which is more recent). Since you work in this industry, I wonder if you've seen this happen, and what drives it. Is this about avoiding lawsuits? Or avoiding boycotts or bad press? Or something else?

#153 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 10:41 AM:

(And, I would like to add, you can't make unlucky people lucky.)

Lee, #146: "The only reasonable answer is "both, by amounts that will differ in each person's measure""

Yes. In other words, whether change is seen as good or bad is highly dependent on an individual's general point of view. Is that not what I am saying?

"It does occur to me that liberals are frequently accused of wanting "equality of outcome" when I believe it would be more accurate to say that we want "equality of opportunity". The poor will always be with us, but"

--they needn't die from easily preventable diseases. That's what you meant to say, right? Or maybe: they needn't live on the streets. They needn't be driven to crime by fear of starvation.
I'm sorry to be snarky, but equality of opportunity really doesn't cover it. It's also that the punishments for doing poorly, be it because of poor luck, laziness, lack of opportunity, or simply inability are too damn harsh.

I think about it like designing a game. The goal is to make "society" a game that everyone wants to play. Because anyone who isn't having fun is going to start team-killing, and tks suck. So first of all, you have to make it worth risking losing. No one would want to play your game if somebody punched you in the jaw every time your character died. You also have to make it fair enough everyone feels like they have a equal chance of doing well. No one will want to play, if out of every ten characters, one starts with a Battle-Axe o' Maiming and five start with a single measley hitpoint.

So you can't put equality of opportunity above (if not equality of outcome, then maybe) quality of outcomes. Both are necessary.

#154 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 03:39 PM:

Right. I think almost everyone wants to see some kind of floor--no matter how bad your luck, no matter how bad your decisions, we still don't sell you and your kids into slavery to pay the debts, we still don't let you starve on the streets, we still don't leave you dying of appendicitis in front of the hospital because you don't have money or insurance.

A lot more disagreement occurs when you start trying to determine where that floor should be, and how it should be established. For example, we have addressed some of our uninsured problem by mandating care by emergency rooms, at the cost of turning emergency rooms all over the country into insanely expensive free clinics of last resort. It's hard not to think that this could be handled better.

#155 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 05:35 PM:

Brief note here. Derek on why he is not a liberal, "I have a wary view of human nature. But I have a corresponding horror of schemes that promise to change or improve it, which I think are doomed."

I don't know any liberals who even think in terms of "changing human nature", whatever that is. Most liberals think in terms of particular policies, and perhaps making modest changes in government and society. Liberalism, for better or worse, is not radical, and because of this has taken a great deal of heat from radicals over the years.

For myself, I'd have to say that liberalism's basic "gradualist" stance is both blessing and curse. As a blessing, this stance prevents liberalism from endorsing violence--a huge virtue. As a curse, it is fundamentally unrealistic to behave as though radical changes in both individual and societal behavior, as well as the physical world do not occur, and that, therefore, liberalism need not concern itself with radical change. This curse, perhaps more than any other single factor, made it difficult for liberals to respond to the rise of the radical right. (And Paul Krugman gets this, bless him.)

More to Teresa's original point, I hope, later.

#156 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 11:51 PM:

DaveL: Change should therefore be parsimonious, managed and gradual.

Interestingly, this has been the "liberal" position with regard to the world economy, while the "conservative" businessmen have argued that they must be free to move as they please in order to maximize the total public good (perhaps countering the quote you attribute to Burke, or perhaps claiming that it's true only for each individual moment, and not from moment to moment, and \certainly/ not true for their plans...).

I do find this more convincing than Chris's idea (at 138) that we can apply scientific principles sufficiently to determine general outcomes before action. To me, scientific method includes parallel double-blind observation of control and experimental populations; I don't think it's possible to do a real double-blind experiment on groups of people, because people (not being frogs, which is what I've just been reading about) can talk about what's happening. (Choosing parallel samples is also chancy, but not I think as hard as setting up a double-blind experiment.) Sometimes it's possible to look at existing numbers and say (e.g.) "majority-black schools are getting less capital and/or continuing support than majority-white schools"; beyond that, you have to think and guess and try (cautiously), and maybe even pray if that comforts you.

#157 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 09:09 AM:

The road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, and there is this law of unintended consequences, but not all good intentions wind up as pavement for that road nor are all unintended consequences bad. Look at the world around you and compare it to what it was 1000 years ago.

#158 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 10:07 AM:

#155 Randolph:

This is one of those places where the Pournelle chart is helpful. A belief that you can change either human nature or culture from above in some directed way is effectively the "rationality" axis. (He doesn't mean rationality in an unambiguously positive sense here--more like whether you think you can redesign social institutions from above.) The notion that you can eliminate all gender differences by raising kids in a gender-neutral way is a good example of this.

And this exposes both the strengths and weaknesses of this approach to the world. You pretty clearly can't eliminate all gender differences by raising kids in a gender-neutral way. But you do eliminate some of the differences, and it probably wasn't possible to predict which ones ahead of time. Someone in 1940 might have made the argument that large-scale team sports would just never be much of a draw for women, because their instincts just didn't run that way. He might also have predicted that women didn't have the focus needed to be doctors or lawyers, or the inherent mathematical talent needed to be mathematicians or physicists. The first two predictions are clearly wrong, the last may be right or may not, but isn't contradicted by the existing data we have. (Lots of women are involved in team sports, there seem to be about as many women as men in medicine and law, but not nearly so many women in math or physics.)

I think traditional conservatives were deeply skeptical of the ability of observable human nature to change--which includes both social and physical/biological nature, because they're really hard to separate when you're only looking at your own culture. Traditionally, liberals were more willing to impose change from above, and to assume that much of what appeared to be human nature was learned (and could be unlearned) rather than inherent. Neocons break this pattern, as do libertarians (who basically provide the right its economic theory) who are not the least bit conservative.

#159 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 10:42 AM:

#157 Serge:

The critical insight is that there can and will be unintended consequences, for good and ill. Nobody is smart enough to predict how some change in law or custom or technology will change the world. This makes a strong case for gradualism, for making sure you have feedback from the outcome of your changes back to the decisionmakers, and for being skeptical of someone's plan to fix the root causes of crime, or to democratize the Arabs. It doesn't mean it's evil or stupid to want to do these things, it means you should approach them with a lot of caution.

I think this also makes a case for federalism, though neither party really cares much about that today. If individual states try different reforms and changes, they can tune them to local conditions, and damage from unintended bad consequences is limited. We've seen a shift toward big policy decisions being made at the federal level, largely because that's where you can win a single victory instead of 50 to carry your goals off. Note that the Republicans are quite happy to do this, too--No Child Left Behind and the Defense of Marriage Act are examples. Perhaps a more painful one is the way the feds have reacted to states' medical marijuana laws.

#160 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 11:01 AM:

Oh, I agree, Albatross. But sometimes gradualism takes too damned long and is just an excuse for people who really don't want things to change. I'm not saying that's what you intend. Maybe my perspective on rapid societal changes comes from my growing up in Quebec, which finally entered the 20th Century by the late Fifties, just in time for me to get into a system that'd give me access to a good education. At least on the francophone side, the public-school system had been a shame. My dad, who was a smart man, never went beyond the 7th grade. To go beyond that, you had to be well-to-do, which was't an option for farmers. Did the rapid change have unintended consequences? Yes, but we survived. Like Indiana Jones, people make it as they go.

#161 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 11:50 AM:

#158 albatross: "A belief that you can change either human nature or culture from above in some directed way is effectively the "rationality" axis. (He doesn't mean rationality in an unambiguously positive sense here--more like whether you think you can redesign social institutions from above.)"

I went and looked at the Pournelle chart on Wiki. Very interesting. I especially like the rational versus irrational axis. That corresponds pretty well with the liberal v. authoritarian axis I was discussing before, I think: if rationality isn't the answer, authoritarianism of one sort (Nazi) or another (Biblical literalism) is the only solution left.

State Worship v. State-As-Evil made a little bit less sense to me. First of all, how can state worship ever be rational? Isn't that an inherently irrational position? I see the state as a tool to accomplish goals: whether you want a powerful state or a weak state has more to do with the goals you wish to accomplish than with any innate feelings about government. Those obsessed with government are generally obsessed with governmental authority; they are merely authoritarians with a beareaucratic kink.

I do think that perhaps the conservative v. liberal axis I presented earlier might be presented better as "do you think that change is good, period?" This better demonstrates the conservative tendencies of elites to oppose any change that may threaten their dominance.

#162 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 10:07 PM:

Dave Luckett@148: "Equal" does not mean "same." I see no reason whatsoever that equality of opportunity should not mean that different students are taught in the different manners that best suit them, in the environments that best support their learning, for example. I do not want to take away anyone's advantages; I want to find ways to give everyone those kinds of advantages, so that one person is not being advantaged by another's oppression, because zero-sum is pointless.

This does not mean homogenizing anything, IMO. Monocultures are unhealthy and unsustainable. Diversity is natural, desirable, and self-sustaining.

#163 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 11:27 PM:

#161 Heresiarch:

I take the rationality/irrationality axis to be the a bit more subtle. Like "how do we know how our society should be run in the future?" The top of the rationality axis is for people who think substantial redesigns of society are possible and desireable, that people can reason out the likely consequences of some massive change and plan for them. The bottom of the rationality axis is for people who think that most such attempted redesigns will fail, because the complexity of society is too much for a small number of people to reason out in much detail.

The state power axis has to do with your belief in the proper level of power of the state. On the left, you think the state should be nonexistent or almost so. On the right, you think the state should be all-powerful.

Suppose Alice and Bob agree that a powerful state is scary and live on the left side of the Pournelle Chart. You can imagine asking them a question about, say, polyamory. They'd presumably both agree it shouldn't be illegal. If Alice is on the rationality end of the scale, she's likely to say that this is a fine idea, build families any way you like. If Bob is on the irrationality end of the scale, he's likely to tell you that while it shouldn't be illegal, he expects most of these poly-families to come to a bad end, because family structure is something that's evolved in biology and society over many, many generations to work in certain ways, and it's just hard to change.

Suppose Carol and Dave are both on the anti-rationality end of the chart--both think polyamory is a bad idea, likely to end poorly for everyone. Carol is on the low-state-power end of the spectrum, Dave on the high. Carol will write articles and books warning people of the dangers of forming polyamorous families, of the likely consequences, etc. Dave will try to pass laws banning such families, and will want to see strong measures to enforce those laws.

#164 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 12:25 AM:

Alternate political axis and graphing schemes are most useful for deducing the pet concerns and obsessions of their creators.

#165 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 02:27 AM:

Aconite, I regret I cannot agree.

Your theories and ideology sound fine, but what you would do? How would you "give everyone those kinds of advantages"? What measures do you propose? How would you implement them? By what right, and using what powers, obtained how? How would you enforce them? How would you deal with the inevitable unexpected outcomes? What objections would you allow as valid? How would you deal with opposition? How would you compensate the people you disadvantage? And what contrary outcomes, of what degree of seriousness, would you recognise as unacceptable?

For my part, I am certain that any real attempt to ensure a true equality of opportunity would in the first place fail dismally, and in the second have unintended consequences far worse than the situation it is intended to correct. Some redress may be possible, with care, but to expect any more than that is hubris.

"Monocultures are unhealthy and unsustainable. Diversity is natural, desirable, and self-sustaining."

To the contrary, monoculturalism is not only sustainable, but all human societies trend towards it over time, unless disturbed. Disturbance, if minor, is healthy - but diversity is like salt. A little is necessary, and adds flavour. A lot will kill you. But since nobody really knows how much diversity is "a lot" in the context of my culture, or yours, or anyone's, if we have an interest in maintaining a stable society, diversity must be measured conservatively and dealt with parsimoniously.

#166 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 09:31 AM:

#164:

I guess it's obvious that I disagree with this. The problem is that the existing left/right axis gives obviously wrong answers. For example, it puts communists and nazis on opposite ends of the spectrum, despite the fact that they look frighteningly similar in practice, and it clumps together Milton Friedman and Pat Buchannan on the far right, despite the fact that the two held/held few positions in common. It says that an elitist "we know what's best for you" liberal and a populist liberal are at the same point on the spectrum.

Now, one problem here is that describing a person's whole set of political beliefs in one variable is hard, if the person does much independent thinking. Some people will be mostly left in economics, but still support free trade (like Galbraith). Some people who are substantially left in economics will be right in social issues (like most black voters).

Another problem, though, is that we tend, over time, to describe political ideas with respect to the two big parties. That makes some views invisible (which party do I vote for to get rid of the drug war?) and others assumed (which party do I vote for to support an interventionist foreign policy?). It also ignores combinations that are widespread. For example, the Catholic Church's social teachings have a very left-leaning economic policy side, but a very right-leaning social policy side. Generous social welfare programs, but no gay marriage. This is a pretty large and influential organization, but it doesn't fit on the left/right axis.

Maybe there's no way to map politics to a manageable number of dimensions. Or maybe the herd mentality makes it impossible to do much better than to describe which clump of voters you're closest to. But these measures, especially the left/right or liberal/conservative ones, lose a huge amount of information.

#167 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 09:56 AM:

#163 albatross: "The top of the rationality axis is for people who think substantial redesigns of society are possible and desireable, that people can reason out the likely consequences of some massive change and plan for them."

I feel that this leaves out the substantial number of people who might rationally come to the conclusion that the present state of society is perfectly desirable (the present elite, in other words), and therefore have no desire to change it. Where do they fall on the scale? They are quite rational, and yet are without any desire for change. I don't think that you can represent both rationality and desire for change on a single axis. There isn't enough correlation.

(Interestingly, your irrational Bob gives a perfectly rational explanation as for why poly-amory will fail. Whether it is correct, well, I haven't the scientific knowledge to judge one way or the other. A truly irrational answer would be more along the lines of "because God wills it so" or "because that's just gross.")

It isn't that I don't understand the state power axis. It's just that I don't think it is particularly indicative of anything. People are generally in favor of and opposed to government in direct proportion to whether the government happens to be doing what they want it to. Just watch the Republican and their small government and state's rights fetish--right up until they get into power and suddenly it's the Federal Marriage Protection Act this and the PATRIOT Act that. Everyone is in favor of government when it is doing what they want. Groups like the ACLU, who consistently oppose governmental power strictly on principle, are fantastically rare.

#164 Stefan Jones: "Alternate political axis and graphing schemes are most useful for deducing the pet concerns and obsessions of their creators."

And reading novels is mostly useful for deducing the pet concerns and obsessions of their writers. Which is to say: yeah, that's the point. What makes it interesting is discovering whether and how their concerns echo and illuminate your own.

#165 Dave Luckett: Are you really demanding an entire policy proposal in order to have the opinion that the education system can be substantially improved? I'm not sure that strikes me as entirely fair. I would note that you don't provide any evidence to suggest that your claims that "any real attempt to ensure a true equality of opportunity would in the first place fail dismally, and in the second have unintended consequences far worse than the situation it is intended to correct" is any less of a random stab in the dark than our beliefs.

Especially that second part--really, what logic suggests that an attempt to reduce disadvantages will lead to increased disadvantages? That it will simply fail, well, fine. But that it will be wildly counterproductive? You can tell this, knowing nothing about our methods, our process, our implementation? Can you name a single historical case of an attempt to redress inequality that ended with such a profound backfire? Or really: can you name the numerous examples, sprinkled generously throughout history, that would be necessary to make such a blanket assertion?

For my own more optimistic view, that changes that enhance equality generally work out for the better, I give you as evidence: the 40-hour work-week, child-labor laws, universal suffrage, the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, the Magna Carta, Social Security, Welfare, Medicaid, the U.S. Constitution, anti-trust law, the end of aparthied, and the anti-colonial revolutions in India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

"To the contrary, monoculturalism is not only sustainable, but all human societies trend towards it over time, unless disturbed."

Would you care to present any evidence for this assertion? I can assure you that linguistically it is utterly absurd. Languages constantly change, divide and subdivide. It is only since the invention of the printing press, and later radio and TV, that that trend has been appreciably slowed.

#168 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 09:56 AM:

Dave Luckett@165, I think the difference between your view and mine is that I do not expect the changes I hope to see to come about during one lifetime. I expect to plant seeds, not transplant mature dawn redwoods and see them flourish. I'm not arrogant enough to think I have all the answers, or even most of them. But I am a gardener, with a gardener's perspective; I do the best I can with a vision of what I want, and then let nature take its course, making adjustments as necessary, towards that goal. And I know that my garden will outlive me, and pass on to others with different visions or different ways of achieving that vision.

Monocultures--and I use the word in the ecological sense--are unnatural and unhealthy. They lead to great loss of biodiversity in the time they're ascendent. Nature herself tends towards diversity, and, after the monocultures die out, as they inevitably do because they are not self-sustaining, diversity returns. This tells me diversity is the healthy default. Fighting nature is always a bad idea; she's older, bigger, and has more experience.

Diversity, being flexible, finds its own balance, absorbs change, and changes accordingly. It takes time. Sometimes things are rough during the transition period. I don't minimize that. But it's just as difficult to try to keep things from changing; it's just that the effort is so familiar and often ubiquitous that it doesn't all get tagged as "effort to maintain the status quo," and so the effort, dangers, and difficulties of change seem exaggerated by comparison.

#169 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 06:38 PM:

Efforts to redress inequality of opportunity that ended in disaster? Well, the French Revolution produced the Terror and a police state. The Napoleonic private soldier might have had a marshal's baton in his backpack, and a career in France might have become open to the talents, but the price was twenty years of war and the sack of Europe. The Russian revolution produced Stalin, the Chinese one produced Mao, either of them a candidate to carry off the palm as the worst murderer in history. The anticolonial revolutions produced, among others, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe, none of them slouches in the murder business. India threw off the colonial yoke, and instantly millions of people who had lived together in close proximity for centuries turned murderously on each other. Half a million died.

Caribbean, Pakistani/Indian and North African immigration into Europe was permitted on a large scale, for good and liberal reasons based on an assumption of equality - or simply through absence of mind. These immigrants were actually encouraged (though often inadvertently) to form large agglomerated communities, enclaves that became ghettoes. Those who objected were dismissed as racists and bigots, which they mostly were. But however racist and bigoted they were, when they predicted blood in the streets they were right. Nobody can say that the worst is over yet, and all the countries of Europe are now scrambling to cut down on immigration from the Third World.

Commodore Perry famously opened Japan to the outside world - for trade reasons, no doubt, but also for quite respectable political ones involving the necessity to engage and modernise what was undoubtedly an intensely stratified, inward-looking feudal society, whose presence was seen as inscrutable, and its very archaism dangerous to itself, for sooner or later it would attract Russian interest. Japan was forced to rejoin the society of nations, and to modernise, and to reform the worst rigidities of its social structure. The samurai were forcibly disbanded. The Shogun was replaced with a Diet. Some democratic forms were instituted. The result was to replace a inwardly-obsessed and militarily-negligible feudalism with an aggressive military State that spent most of the first half of the twentieth century at war on its neighbours.

I regret that I cannot regard the above, and many other examples, as things that are "rough during the transition period". They amount to extremes of mayhem, massacre and genocide. I must say that I find so cavilier a dismissal of them somewhat callous, and I would observe that by using such language of them, Aconite does in fact "minimise" them. But on a lower scale, the results of social policies intended to increase equality of opportunity often backfire, too.

The stratification of British education - by streaming children into different schools by examination at age 11 - was abolished, and schools became comprehensive, this on the excellent grounds of fighting elitism. The flight to private education began immediately, and continues to this day. In this country the insistance, for doctrinal reasons, on unstreamed classes and automatic promotions has produced the same result. Over a third of all school students here now attend private schools. Parents who care about their children's education (and who can possibly afford it) have voted with their feet. As the trend accelerated, teachers fled, and continue to flee, to an environment where they can teach, rather than exercise their crowd-control skills. The result is that the State education system is visibly failing to provide a decent education even to the able students who are left. The actual result of policies intended to implement the doctrinaire position that all students must be given the same opportunities has been to the contrary.

This is why I ask what you would do, Heresiarch. I want to know your policy, not your ideals. And yes, I do demand the details, because that's where the devil is. That is not inherently a more unreasonable request than that I use many historical examples to establish my point, and argue them in some detail. Hence the extreme length of this post, for which I apologise.

Aconite: You may use the term "monoculture" in its ecological sense, if you like. It is dangerous to apply it to human society, where "culture" has quite a different meaning.

#170 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 07:02 PM:

Dave Luckett: I regret that I cannot regard the above, and many other examples, as things that are "rough during the transition period". They amount to extremes of mayhem, massacre and genocide. I must say that I find so cavilier a dismissal of them somewhat callous, and I would observe that by using such language of them, Aconite does in fact "minimise" them.

Note that you had not given these examples when I made my statement. Had I had such examples before me, instead of my own metaphor of gardening, I might have used a different description than "rough transition." I resent your oh-so-regretful retroactive assignment to me of attitudes I do not, in fact, hold.

As for it being dangerous to apply "monocultures" to human society, you may wish to explore the uses of metaphor. I find metaphor useful, personally, and see no need to deny myself its use just because you define "culture" differently. I see no reason why your definition should take precedence over mine.

#171 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 07:59 PM:

Dave Luckett #169 wrote: Caribbean, Pakistani/Indian and North African immigration into Europe was permitted on a large scale, for good and liberal reasons based on an assumption of equality - or simply through absence of mind. These immigrants were actually encouraged (though often inadvertently) to form large agglomerated communities, enclaves that became ghettoes. Those who objected were dismissed as racists and bigots, which they mostly were. But however racist and bigoted they were, when they predicted blood in the streets they were right. Nobody can say that the worst is over yet, and all the countries of Europe are now scrambling to cut down on immigration from the Third World.

Such immigrants were under British law, British subjects. Under French law, they were French citizens. That is to say, in both cases, before 1962. Many of them found themselves in enclaves due to the unwillingness of white landlords/landladies to rent to (fill in pejorative of your choice. I would add that many of them did not end up in ghettoes, and many successfully integrated into British society. I must also say that this is not the first time that I've seen racism miscalled 'inadvertence'.

I'll add, also, that I am the son of one such immigrant. Perhaps you could explain how I've caused the river Tiber to foam with much blood (what Enoch Powell actually said, quoting Juvenal), or how my father did so? I really would like to know.

#172 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 08:42 PM:

I was almost a Yalie. I was on the wait list, but decided to go to another school.

What does Yale do to kids from small wilderness towns who have never been inside the Beltway before?

#173 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 08:57 PM:

Dave --

The rise of private education has almost nothing to do with parents seeking quality of education, and almost everything with parents seeking class affirmation/promotion.

Really. In general, private schools aren't very good as schools. Spiffy class laundries, though, which is what they're supposed to be.

#174 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 09:23 PM:

Aconite, I was answering what seems to me to be an overly casual approach to the dangers inherent in diversity. You said: "Diversity, being flexible, finds its own balance, absorbs change, and changes accordingly. It takes time. Sometimes things are rough during the transition period. I don't minimize that."

But you do minimise it, by downplaying or ignoring contrary data that you should be aware of. There have been many societies that experienced dreadful outcomes when their component parts became so diverse that they ceased to be integrated, thus producing a fundamental us-vs-them division. If your claim is that more diversity would improve this society, you should be aware of the history and take it into account. It does your cause no good to protest that you were only talking about gardening. You weren't. You were talking about human societies.

You imply that diversity is an unalloyed good in and of itself. I differ. It is a good thing in limited quantities, but produces very bad outcomes in excess. But nobody knows at what point excess will be reached. We will only know when it happens, but at that point it might be too late to avert disaster.

Metaphor is a powerful literary device, practically hard-wired into us, and all-pervasive. But it is no guide to public policy. You are treating human societies as if they were not human societies, but gardens. Surely the potential to mislead is obvious?

I used a polite form to signal my disagreement with you. Please do not throw it in my face as a weapon.

#175 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 09:44 PM:

Dave --

You're talking nonsense.

Diversity must include common access to social advancement, ok? Otherwise it's some form of institutionalized exploitation or other. Treating it as "we have a whole bunch of different kinds of people" is a tautology, because that's always true.

You're using examples of actual class war as an indication that diversity is dangerous; there wasn't any institutionalized public acceptance of diversity at all, or there wouldn't have been the class war in the first place.

You're also asserting that Canada doesn't exist, or, more specifically, that Toronto and Montreal don't exist.

Measures, as public policy, are really fundamentally very simple -- as a matter of policy, no one is special. Everyone stands in the same lines. No matter who they are, or what they do, because nobody is special.

This gets right completely up the noses of a class of people who define themselves by membership in a particular, valorized class of people; if that class (group of classes, really) of people are in the majority, or have a monopoly on some important aspect of political power, you can't have a diverse culture.

People are in general very stupid about preferring relative social standing to absolute access to wealth. It's presumably a hangover from our plains-ape past, but that doesn't make it sensible.

#176 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 10:12 PM:

Graydon: The rise of private education has almost nothing to do with parents seeking quality of education, and almost everything with parents seeking class affirmation/promotion.

This assertion does not accord with my experience, nor that of my family, nor of the families, in general, that I observed in the (private) school my son attended. I do not see any particular class advantage (other than the quality of the education he received, which was good) to private schools, particularly the smaller and religious ones, which tend to be declasse.

There is no doubt some component of "class affirmation/promotion" in sending the kids to the most prestigious private schools, which are a small minority of the whole. But what evidence have you for its overriding importance for the whole sector?

Fragano: Graydon makes a blanket pronouncement which does not accord with my observations, so I called him on it. But I did not make any such pronouncements. I did not say that all members of the immigrant groups did not integrate. I said that the groups themselves formed agglomerated communities, enclaves and eventually ghettoes, which is a fact, not that every individual immigrant lived in them. I said that there was blood on the streets, which there undeniably has been. I did not accuse you, or your father, of putting it there.

I did not mean to imply that racism was inadvertent. I withdraw any such imputation, and agree that it was a cause for encystment of communities, though I would deny that it was the only cause. I don't think such communities are a good idea, and apparently neither do you, and your own history shows that they are not inevitable. You regard "successful integration" as a good. So do I. I can only add that if it doesn't happen, the results are often very severe, and ignoring them is unwise.

#177 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 10:57 PM:

Graydon: I would be happy to debate you, but I haven't the faintest notion of what you are saying, or how it follows.

I can only pick up fragments.

"Diversity must include common access to social advancement, ok?" Fair enough. "Otherwise it's some form of institutionalized exploitation or other." All right. "Treating it as "we have a whole bunch of different kinds of people" is a tautology, because that's always true." Yes, very well. And this means... what?

"You're using examples of actual class war as an indication that diversity is dangerous;..." Yes, I am, if you would allow the substitution of "culture" for "class".

"...there wasn't any institutionalized public acceptance of diversity at all, or there wouldn't have been the class war in the first place." Not only does this not follow, but if it did follow, it would be an argument for apartheid, which means in its very essence an institutionalised acceptance of diversity, with diverse institutions for diverse people.

"You're also asserting that Canada doesn't exist, or, more specifically, that Toronto and Montreal don't exist." I can't be certain, but I think that you're trying to say that these are wonderful examples of well-managed diversity. So they may be - though, I don't know, is that the same Canada that's about to split with Quebec because the Quebecois don't get on well with the rest of the country? Nevertheless, why do you think that because these are successful, (if they truly are) there is no possibility of failure, and that the consequences of failure can therefore be dismissed?

"Measures, as public policy, are really fundamentally very simple -- as a matter of policy, no one is special. Everyone stands in the same lines. No matter who they are, or what they do, because nobody is special." Oh, agreed. And this is apropos of what?

"This gets right completely up the noses of a class of people who define themselves by membership in a particular, valorized class of people" Everybody so defines themselves. Humans are social animals. They partly define themselves as members of groups, and they "valorize" whatever group that is. "I'm just a working stiff" is just as much such a statement. I've even heard "I'm a jailbird" or "I'm a street person" valorised in that way. Your "class" is the class of everyone, and there your theory breaks down. Only - and here's the problem - what was that theory supposed to explain? You never did say.

In short, Graydon, one of us certainly is writing nonsense.

#178 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2006, 11:26 PM:

Graydon: The rise of private education has almost nothing to do with parents seeking quality of education, and almost everything with parents seeking class affirmation/promotion.

Dave Luckett: This assertion does not accord with my experience, nor that of my family, nor of the families, in general, that I observed in the (private) school my son attended. I do not see any particular class advantage (other than the quality of the education he received, which was good) to private schools, particularly the smaller and religious ones, which tend to be declasse.

There is no doubt some component of "class affirmation/promotion" in sending the kids to the most prestigious private schools, which are a small minority of the whole. But what evidence have you for its overriding importance for the whole sector?

The two position don't need be exclusive.
My youngest sister went to private school. Was the education better ? Probably, though I don't think the discrepancy to be so big as to justify the cost and general social expense. Was her sending there a matter of class promotion ? Well of course. Sending her there was ensuring that she would speak "proper" (i.e normative upper-middle class)french, and not the automatically (good)job-disqualifying french of the suburbs. It also meant that she would meet with kids of upper classes, or at least other kids on their way there.

My problem with private schools, at least in the way I've experienced them, is that they tend to suck out a lot of the good teachers, and more importantly most of the middle class students from public schools located in the poorest parts, which in turns magnify (whether they're language-wise, fashion-wise or custom-wise) the social stigmatas of the kids who had to attend them.

#179 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 08:35 AM:

Dave Luckett #176: Integration,I would stress, is not the same thing as assimilation (Or: How vindaloo became the English national dish). It is a complex process which involves change both for the larger community and the minorities being incorporated into it. I don't think of it as a simple process. The changes required involved, inter alia, eliminating racism.

I do think of the post-war immigration into Britain as being encouraged for the good and sufficient reason that Britain needed workers fast. Enoch Powell himself established a recruitment centre in Barbados in order to get young Barbadians to drive buses in London.

#180 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 10:47 AM:

Dave Luckett:
Your examples of change that produced immediate and severe negative consequences ignore that unintended and long-term consequences can be and have been positive as well as negative (and that they are often mixed), and that in terms of human suffering, the status quo may not be producing it as spectacularly in as short a time, but it certainly is not free from vast amounts of it, or there would be no drive to change it.

To use my gardening metaphor--and yes, I will continue to do so, because despite your assertions, it is applicable--the situations you described are the equivalent of forming a garden by razing the site and planting Kentucky fescue in Arizona. In other words, you're talking about change badly done. All change has intended and unintended consequences, but one can increase the chances of positive outcomes and minimize the chances of serious negative consequences by making small but significant and thoughtful changes over time, evaluating their success or lack thereof, and adjusting plans accordingly.

Of course, sometimes the changes needed are such that waiting and making small changes is not a feasible option. Sometimes the suffering involved in the status quo is not acceptable or tolerable. Since you've asked me to explain myself and my reasoning, why don't you explain what, in your opinion, is the best course of action in such situations?

#181 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 04:34 PM:

Fragano, I would stress that too, and that is why I have avoided the word "assimilation" like the plague. It doesn't mean what I mean. I understand that the dominant society has to change. It is just that I want that change to be entirely for the better, and that means that the change has to be cautious, managed and gradual, having reference not to grand theory or good intentions but to actual empirical observation in the actual situation. Tentative. That's what I mean. If it works, fine. If it produces contrary results, and these contrary results outweigh the good effects, then stop doing it and think again. What other course can be called rational?

I regret (there's that polite construction again) that I regard race riots, bombings, ghettoes and refusal (or inability) to integrate by immigrant communities as change for the worse, and possible harbingers of worse still to come. I regard these as contrary results of serious weight. I am not yet convinced that they outweigh the good effects of the changes made - I wouldn't want to go back to a 'fifties Australia, not for anything. But nevertheless the contrary results exist, and a reality-based community must take them into account.

Fulminating against the evil of people who harbour distrust and prejudice is useless. People are people, and treating them as though they were perfectable, rational beings is the hole into which radical liberalism always falls. They might not know what is good for them, and you might. That doesn't mean you are entitled to force your ideals on them.

You can persuade, or try to. Persuasion is a slow process. Conservatives recognise that. But we hold that it is the only practical method of achieving change for the better, and further, that the pace of the change itself has to be held down so that most everyone can keep up. The alternative is a fractured society, and the faster and more radical the change, the worse the fracture and the worse the results.

#182 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 05:00 PM:

Dave Luckett #181: Change is never entirely for the better. The ending of colonialism meant that the old white settler class found itself stripped of power and privilege, and complaining bitterly about it. The alteration of any tradition is going to ensure that some people feel suddenly deracinated and without a clear compass. Nonetheless, the alternative to change is not simply stagnation is is failure, and extinction.

The race riots, ghettoes and so on are not simply the result of the choices of the (immigrant/historically-excluded) minority, they are the result of decisions made by members of the majority/dominant group as to who will live with whom, who will get what job, and who will be tolerated where.

Human beings are, if not fully rational, capable of rationality, and, I believe, perfectible. It may take a long time, but we are, slowly, getting better. (Unless, however, you're reading this after an afternoon watching a bear-baiting, which was your relaxation after a long morning's blackbirding.) Actions that would have been tolerable a generation ago, or laudable a century ago, are now viewed with suspicion. I find this, in general, a good thing.

Two generations ago, conservatives would have said of me that I would make a decent country schoolmaster but could go no further. (I am, by the way, a member of only the second generation of my family to have had a formal education.) A generation before that, it would have been 'he's too ambitious' had I declared an interest in acquiring literacy. My great-great grandfather could have been killed had he sought to become literate (he was a slave). In each generation, conservatives would have insisted that changing the conditions of life of my ancestors would have dangerous, deleterious effects.

#183 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 05:12 PM:

Aconite, I am not talking about gardens, Kentucky fescue, or Arizona. I am talking about human societies, formed of human beings, which I persist in regarding as more complex (and more contrary) than grass. I am sorry that you cannot concede this point.

I was asked to provide historical examples of where change - specifically, change intended to create more equality, freedom and equality of opportunity - had dire or contrary effects. I did so. I am glad to see that it has had the effect of forcing your concession that change "should consist of small but significant and thoughtful changes over time, evaluating their success or lack thereof, and adjusting plans accordingly". I would add that this adjustment of plans must include the possibility of backing off altogether if it all goes pear-shaped.

I cannot answer your question about what to do in cases of extreme suffering. It depends on far too many variables, to the extent that no general principle is applicable, except that as a general rule, sometimes broken, I'd make the least changes that would be effective in redressing genuine grivance. How I'd go about it would be different in each case, because circumstances alter cases. I would be aware that I would never be able to do more than produce some improvement over time. This is because I'm not pulling weeds or eliminating garden pests, I'm dealing with human beings. This is, I say again, the reason why I'm not prepared to allow your garden metaphor, and deny that it is applicable.

#184 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 05:18 PM:

Fragano @ 182:

Add to that that my grandmother (a college graduate!) had to stop teaching after she married; that was the custom then, that female teachers were either elderly (probably widowed) or unmarried.

My mother worked as a lab technician during WW2, and understood that when the war was over, she'd lose her job to a man, because women didn't work in jobs like that during peacetime. (In the event, she worked for some years after the war was over, and even with six months notice, they couldn't find a man to fill the job.)

We've made progress, but it's slow.

#186 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 05:48 PM:

Fragano, I am happy to agree completely with only very minor quibbles. For example, I would regard a person who refused to change altogether as a reactionary, not a conservative. Or possibly as a troglodyte.

I can only say that your own history demonstrates the success of slow change. Your great-great-grandfather was an illiterate slave. You are yourself, and able to swap sophisticated argument (and very good verse) with people who live on the other side of the world.

For what it's worth, I agree, for the treatment he received, your great-great-grandfather would have been fully justified in leading a great revolt, tearing down the hateful system, trampling the slave-owners underfoot, and establishing a free state. Toussaint L'Ouverture did just that, and the result is Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I believe what you have now is better. That is, I cannot deny the justice. I can only point to the result.

#187 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 06:48 PM:

Dave Luckett: Slavery was abolished as a result, inter alia, of demands by the slaves themselves for immediate change (in the case of my great-great grandfather, that would have been in 1832 -- slavery was abolished two years later) that involved killing slaveowners and burning plantations. My father's own education at public expense was the result, inter alia, of a revolt that led to the abolition of the Old Representative System (granted, 54 years before he was born). I went to a school which was built as an indirect result of mass protests a generation earlier, and to a university founded ten years after those protests by a colonial administration. Gradual change sounds very nice, generally to those who are already comfortably off. In reality, what happens is more like punctuated equilibrium.

BTW, the histories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic are very different. Haiti faced the hostility of slave-owners in all neighbouring countries; that is by no means an explanation for its stagnation and poverty, but it is a contributing cause. The Dominican Republic is a country where people of obviously African ancestry have ID cards proclaiming that they're 'Indians' ('Indios', American Indians, as opposed to 'Hindúes', East Indians).

As for myself. I'm multiracial, the product of a marriage (in England) that would have been illegal in the state I now live in (as would all of mine if I'd been in a position to get married before 1967). The changes that permit me to be married to a white person were not gradual. Not from the point of view of the 'fergit hell' crowd.


the generations look down and say naught
all ancestors at a distance blend into each other
when alive nonetheless they would have fought
and found no reason to use the word brother
explorers victims lords and serfs and slaves
black white and other all united here
in my live body while theirs lie in graves
their voices cannot now reach to my ear
i cannot choose among them without grief
so make no choice but think of the long years
when victim felt the lash of the proud thief
but could not comprehend the master's fears
what of them in my life i ask myself survives
that would have lit a fire in their own lives

#188 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 06:52 PM:

#173 Graydon:

I'm also curious where you got the idea that private education is more about class than about quality of education. We're sending our children to private schools for the higher quality of education and environment and values. (Those are closer to our values than what the public schools would teach.)

As another bit of evidence along these lines, note the rise in homeschooling. This isn't about class, it's about not wanting what the public schools are giving away. (Though this seems a bit too much like churning your own butter for my taste.)

#189 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 06:54 PM:

I'm multiracial, the product of a marriage (in England) that would have been illegal in the state I now live in

Fragano... A few years ago, I read a Locus interview of Leo and Ann Dillon. I don't remember the details, but I think they said something about often being stopped by New York City cops (in the early Sixties?) while walking around because here was this blonde woman with a black man. I'd have loved to see the cops's expressions upon finding they were married.

#190 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 07:11 PM:

Serge #189: I've seen that expression. Pure hate and anger. These days it's pretty rare, but it can still be seen on the faces of some older people (including a Catholic priest in Madrid who did a double take at my wife and I walking hand in hand).

#191 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 07:12 PM:

P.J. Evans #184: That's so true.

#192 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 07:42 PM:

Dave Luckett @ #169: Commodore Perry famously opened Japan to the outside world - for trade reasons, no doubt, but also for quite respectable political ones involving the necessity to engage and modernise what was undoubtedly an intensely stratified, inward-looking feudal society, whose presence was seen as inscrutable, and its very archaism dangerous to itself, for sooner or later it would attract Russian interest.

As a preliminary overture, President Fillmore stated in this letter to Japan, among other things:

"Commodore Perry is also directed by me to represent to your imperial majesty that we understand there is a great abundance of coal and provisions in the Empire of Japan. Our steamships, in crossing the great ocean, burn a great deal of coal, and it is not convenient to bring it all the way from America. We wish that our steamships and other vessels should be allowed to stop in Japan and supply themselves with coal, provisions, and water. They will pay for them in money, or anything else your imperial majesty's subjects may prefer; and we request your imperial majesty to appoint a convenient port, in the southern part of the Empire, where our vessels may stop for this purpose. We are very desirous of this."

Some things never seem to change.

#193 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 08:37 PM:

But of course Fillmore was wrong. There is no coal worth mining in Japan. And there is no doubt that the USA was in 1869 as in 1945 desirous of securing some sort of makeweight in the western Pacific against Russia.

But conscious motivation, as I have been saying, is no useful predictor of results, when dealing with truly complex systems like human societies. No doubt liberal thought generally would have agreed that it was A Good Thing to bring Japan into the modern world, to break the shackles of its ancient feudalism, to open careers to the talents, to abolish warlordry and the samurai with their repressive grip on a servile peasantry. Just so; and this meant, inter alia, establishing armed services on the western model and centralised, more efficient government. All very laudable, but look at the results.

#194 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 09:19 PM:

DaveL: in addition to Fragano's points, I have read that Haiti had to \buy/ its freedom from France in addition to the blood it had spent; this was a large-enough sum of money to put it permanently in bad shape.

#195 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 09:37 PM:

CHip #194: Possibly this is so. Didn't the USA have to pay a very large sum (for the times) for another land purchase from Napoleonic France? (Not that France actually owned that land, by any reasonable measure.) But the point is that the revolt that brought about the independence of Haiti, though amply justified, did not have the desired effect, while the far slower process of gradual reform and evolutionary change did the job at far lower cost elsewhere. Again, I point to results, not to theory.

Oh, and the DaveL who sometimes posts here is a different Dave L. If you see what I mean.

#196 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 10:07 PM:

Dave Luckett: I am glad to see that it has had the effect of forcing your concession that change "should consist of small but significant and thoughtful changes over time, evaluating their success or lack thereof, and adjusting plans accordingly"

Oh, for gods' sakes. My first post to you included this: "I think the difference between your view and mine is that I do not expect the changes I hope to see to come about during one lifetime. I expect to plant seeds, not transplant mature dawn redwoods and see them flourish."

I give up. You're not interested in having a conversation to find common understanding; you're interested in picking nits.

#197 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 11:03 PM:

Aconite, there is an important difference. Your original metaphor was that you would plant seeds and wait for them to grow, however slowly. But if you plant redwoods, you expect redwoods, not ragweed. My point is not only that the results will be long in coming - fair enough - but also that they might very well be totally different from what you want. You then said you would have to watch the results carefully and adjust - this is the concession I referred to - but even this, on reflection, is still insufficient. With human societies, unlike gardens, you may not be able to see problems until the results appear and are well-established. What then?

For there is a further difficulty with your metaphor: if the plants don't grow properly in your garden, you can always rip them out and start over. If this were possible with human societies, it would involve actions revolting to both of us. And another: if you plant redwoods - or anything - they might not grow properly, but at least you can't get carnivorous Audreys that devour you and anyone who walks into the garden; but human societies can become the equivalent. Human societies are more complex and more open-ended than gardens. This is not a nit. It is a fatal flaw.

So please don't make insulting personal reflections on my motivations for debating you. You are wrong about them, but that isn't the point. The point is that it makes it look as though all you can do is bluster, which does you an injustice. You are better than that.

#198 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2006, 11:03 PM:

But the point is that the revolt that brought about the independence of Haiti, though amply justified, did not have the desired effect, while the far slower process of gradual reform and evolutionary change did the job at far lower cost elsewhere. Again, I point to results, not to theory.

The way you say it, it almost sounds as if:

a) The Haitians had a choice in the matter (I mean, had Toussaint not been betrayed by French authorities, things might have worked... I highly doubt it, given the hell-hole of a 9th circle of hell the place was... every faction hated the gut of the others, and had all the reasons to do so).

b) The express purpose of the revolt was freedom and independence. Of course, no unrational desire of revenge in all this. Using a baby as a flag was a calculated propaganda move and not the expression of a deep seated hatred nurtured by years of abuse.


One sure thing: nothing good was happening for slaves there until they rebelled.
Waiting might have been the best solution for the community of people on the island as a whole on the long run, but go tell "Don't pull on your leash and things will eventually get better for everybody" to a slave with a body maimed for working in atrocious conditions 14 hours a day for years.

I'm reminded of some move I used to play on some simulation games: sacrifice, say, 5000 troops in a useless, sure to be lost battle, in order to prevent the loss of more troops because I can't keep up with upkeep cost.
Not a problem to use that process in a game, but go tell that coldly to people you'd use it on in real life. "Look, we can vaccine your son but we'll let him die anyway because if he and the estimated 5000 people we might save live, more than 10.000 will die of hunger. It's for the better in the long run".

"Look, your life's going to be shit because that's the less costy we can manage community wise."

[Note, I'm not saying you're in any way implying any of that, it's just that reading your post sent me on that tangential trail of thouhgts which I pass on in hope it might prove useful noise in the conversation]

I'm still... troubled by your choice of exemples in post 169, but I haven't found a conclusive way to address this. Let's just say for now that given that you recognised the fractal complexity of societies, I don't really understand how you can present events as having one cause and as following one logical chain (especially in the case of Japan, given the length of the period considered).
Not taking any position here in the debate, I'm still so jammed up by details I can't deal with the picture (I'd like to say I'm slow, but more probably I'm broken).

#199 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 07:02 AM:

#169 Dave: Funny you should mention the French Revolution, given how it provides so many examples of revolutionary excess driven by reactionary conservative policies. The king locks the Third Estate out the Assembly hall; they decide France needs a constitution. Louis banishes the reformist minister; the Bastille is stormed. The king flees to Varennes in preparation for a coup; the king is deposed. Other European monarchs issue the declaration of Pilnitz; the French Revolutionary Wars began. So on and so on. The horrors of the revolution were acted out by revolutionaries, but the stage was set for them by the conservatives.

A similar argument can be made about China's rough entry into the modern world: it was as rough as it was because it happened so late, under so much resistance. Contrast that with Thailand's relatively gentle transition into modernity: the fact that the change was embraced early greatly reduced the amount of stress the society underwent.

Compare your list with mine. What's the big difference? You list cases where changes were powerfully resisted by those in power, where revolutionaries were forced to resort to violence to accomplish the reforms they demanded. I list ones where they were able to work through the system--where things never got desperate enough to demand violence. The element in common is the desire for change, what is different is the level of resistance the change encountered. It seems to me that it isn’t change that leads to massacres and violence, but the resistance to change.

Your own examples of bombings, race riots and ghettoes suggest the same truth. Do you think minorities live in ghettos because they choose to, or because they were forced to by those who were terrified by the idea of neighbors with a frightening new skin color? Do you think they bomb and riot because they have been made to feel welcome, or because they feel like second-class citizens in the land of their birth? The cause of these problems is not the presence of new and foreign people, but of the unwillingness of the dominant class to accept them. Change does not lead to violence. Reactionary conservatism leads to violence.

(Rather than one giant omnibus post, I broke things up by topic. My apologies; I am sometimes a very slow writer.)

#200 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 07:43 AM:

Monoculture: Monoculture has certain ramifications in any situation where competition and therefore evolution are factors, be it biologically, ideologically, or socially. In all of these cases monoculture is unhealthy. The ability of an ecosphere, an ideosphere, or a culture to deal with unexpected changes is directly proportional to its diversity. Unexpected challenges require unanticipated solutions, and so it is a good idea to have a variety of responses available, even if they seem useless at the moment. As the number of potential responses goes down, as monoculture sets in, the likelihood of encountering a problem that the culture is unable to cope with goes up. Eventually, any monoculture will encounter an intractable problem and fail. A more diverse culture, in the same situation, would have a much better chance of survival. In cases of conflict, a diverse culture (the US) will have a higher likelihood of coming up with a dominating strategy (cryptography, bombing) than their monocultural opponent (Japan). Thus, diversity (and with it the capacity for change) is in and of itself a survival trait. (See also: Human brain, Learning capacity of)

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any dangers to diversity. Specialization also offers advantages over the short term that are arguably more beneficial than hedged bets of diversity. Excessive diversity certainly is a potential problem. But the dangers of excessive monoculturalism are just as dangerous. Clearly a balance between the two is necessary. However, by calling monoculture the natural state of human society, and diversity as an errant impulse you are demonstrating a dangerous ignorance.

Your insistence on misusing Aconite’s metaphor is confusing. You are utterly focused on weeding, an aspect of gardening that plays no role in the point Aconite was attempting to make. Your objections could hardly be less relevant to Aconite’s point if you were obsessing that you don’t use trowels or fertilizer when reshaping human society. Of course there are aspects of gardening, like weeding, or fertilizing, that don’t make any sense in the context of human culture. But Aconite wasn’t talking about those and to pretend that s/he was is just strange. If someone calls themself stoic like a rock, do you accuse them of lying because they weren’t formed thousands of years ago via geologic processes?

#201 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 08:09 AM:

Japan: #193 Dave Luckett: Despite your generous reading, Perry and the United States had no intention of liberalizing or modernizing Japan. To the contrary: Japan’s rapid modernization threw quite a wrench in their plans, as the one-sided trade deals they forced on the militarily-weak shogun were quickly renegotiated by the resurgent, powerful Meiji Emperor. Their primary goal in opening Japan was to strengthen their position in Asia, after having missed out on the divvying up of China. Imputation of noble motives provide an exceptionally poor explanatory model.

Nor were the reforms you credit to Western liberal intervention anything of the sort. The rapid build-up and modernization of the Japanese military weren’t unpleasant but necessary steps taken in order to liberalize Japan. It was the other way around: the abolition of the samurai, the rapid industrialization, the creation of a modern educational system were all steps taken to assist the creation of a modern military. The Diet was established largely as a ploy to present a modern face to the West, to fend off further imperialist encroachments. It was never intended to function as an independent body, and rarely did.

The expansionistic tendencies that Japan later exhibited are better understood as the same desire for obsessive control that led to the closing of Japan in the first place than as a new development. Once the world refused to leave them alone, Japan’s rulers decided they needed to control it as well. Japan’s wars were understood internally as ultimately defensive in nature: they had to control Korea to protect Japan, then they needed Manchuria to protect Korea, and then they needed China to protect Manchuria. The aggressive, militaristic Japan of WWII wasn’t some accident of liberal naivety, it was the result of Japan actively choosing to, and working quite successfully towards, becoming one.

#202 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 08:22 AM:

Heresiarch: Yes, all that. And because justified change was unreasonably resisted, violence ensued. Quite so. But the radical changes imposed by this process did not secure the liberties of the French, or the Russians, or the Chinese. All they did was to create a chaos out of which emerged an efficient, rather than an inefficient, dictatorship, and repression far worse than the old regime, attended by massacre. Your theories about the causes of the violence are defensible, and I won't dispute them. I still point to the result. The result was Napoleon, and Stalin, and Mao, and an entirely contrary outcome to what was wanted.

By your account, the reason ethnic enclaves form is the racism of previously-existing communities. You are saying that the consensus of the dominant society in Britain, or Australia, or France, or wherever we observe these enclaves, is that people with differently-cloured skins should be kept out of their communities. Very well. If that were so, how is it of assistance to the immigrants to allow them to enter in large numbers, so that they encounter this attitude, (which will be hardened by their numbers) are alienated and embittered by it, and eventually riot and throw bombs?

Now, as a matter of fact, I think you're wrong. I think there are many reasons for the formation of enclaves that can become ghettoes. But even if you are right, and even if my compatriots and people across the entire western world are in general nothing but a repulsive shower of rednecked bigots, I still don't see how this is an argument for trying to force radical change, no matter what noble reasons you may have. The most likely effect is that it will rebound savagely - as it has.

#203 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 09:04 AM:

Heresiarch, on monoculture I said this: "monoculturalism is not only sustainable, but all human societies trend towards it over time, unless disturbed. Disturbance, if minor, is healthy.."

Would you now care to withdraw your misrepresentation that I called "monoculture the natural state of human society, and diversity as an errant impulse"? Plainly, I said no such thing. That it is sustainable, you yourself admit. That disturbance is healthy, I conceded. Can we not meet in the middle?

On Japan: Whatever might have been the motives for forcing the modernisation of Japan, do you seriously doubt that it had the effect of increasing equality of opportunity for the Japanese? I was asked to provide examples of where measures that had that salutary effect had dire outcomes, and did so. Of course Japan chose the course it did. One important cause for this was that after Perry, it could. That's my point. You are making my argument for me.

I dispute Aconite's metaphor - it is actually an analogy - because like all analogies it is an unreliable guide at best and seriously misleading at worst. I demonstrated two separate specific reasons why it is misleading. But the fundamental reason is the one that Aconite - and you, apparently - will not accept, though it seems to me unimpeachable: human societies are vastly more complex, vastly less predictable, and vastly more open-ended than gardens. It is therefore manifestly unsafe to apply to human society principles that work in gardens. I would have thought this was so obvious as to be hardly worth stating, and I am astonished that I have seriously to argue it.

#204 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 10:21 AM:

I still point to the result. The result was Napoleon, and Stalin, and Mao, and an entirely contrary outcome to what was wanted.

Do you really believe the Terror happenned without the people wanting it, or at least part of it ? Do you think all the people living as victims under a dictatorship do not want the dictatorship ?
Do you believe North Korea can pull a trick like delation of people with unfiting appearence without a portion of the population actively supporting it and another not caring ?
On such a complex fractal level, things rarely happen because somebody wanted them to happen. Things happen because all the conflicting desire flux could only be mustered by going in the direction taken.

The French Revolution wasn't only the product of elevated minds wanting to build a better society. It was also the product of people wanting the murders and pain. It was also the product of arrivists not caring one way or the other political wise but seeing a great opportunity to build a fortune. It was the product of people wanting to build another type of better society and others seeing the system they had been living in not that broken that it needed a complete change. It was the result of people not caring about anything but a personal grudge against the local lord or religious figure. It was the product of people seeing in the events the potential for a more interesting life, one were they'd go elsewhere and do and control things instead of just wating for orders and a slow purposeless death. It was the result of some people wanting a gory unending carnaval. It was the result of people being angry. It was the result of people being bored. It was the result of people feelling for years insulted that the king would no more come to the celebrations that had for centuries been given in his honor. It was the result of the king wanting to change society for what he thought was the better (« M. de Malesherbes, vous vous êtes déjà fait protestant. Maintenant, je veux que vous vous fassiez juif. Je vous demande de vous occuper d'eux. »), and of people not wanting those changes. And others wanting them still, but without the king and others...

The thing that troubles me is, you're presenting those events as if they were the product of rational, well thought of decisions, and not the product of so conflicting as not exist on the same plane directions. Those events did not happen because someone wanted to impose changes or to prevent them. Those events happened because all of the above needs and wants, those and so much more my feeble knowledge and imagination cannot even fathom.


Now about racism and ghettoes. I just can't remember the references, but there was that really interesting experiment in which they used a checkerboard and various colored tokens. Each token had a simple rule for occupying space (green = one of the 8 adjacent tokens must be green, blue = at least three of the adjacent tokens must be of the same color [not necessarily blue], red = 2 of the 8 adjacent tokens must be red). There was an optimum solution for having an homogenized population. But you just had to take a couple tokens out from said optimum solution and, if you started to move tokens around to fit the rules, agregates were forming. Ghettoes aren't forming because of "rednecked bigots", but because of people having generally very combrehensible, tame needs in terms of the way the space around them can be occupied by others. (I'm reminded of one of my uncles on the mother's side: when we went to Mauritania, he started feeling oppressed, to the point of leaving after less than a week. He couldn't stand being the only white man around; think Ionesco's Rhinocéros. You'd be hard-pressed to find any form of racism or bigotry in my uncle, but he couldn't stand being branded that way).

#205 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 10:26 AM:

Posted while I was typing/away:

On Japan: Whatever might have been the motives for forcing the modernisation of Japan, do you seriously doubt that it had the effect of increasing equality of opportunity for the Japanese? I was asked to provide examples of where measures that had that salutary effect had dire outcomes, and did so. Of course Japan chose the course it did. One important cause for this was that after Perry, it could. That's my point. You are making my argument for me.

All right. Let's forget my previous post. Part of it may still hold, but I guess it doesn't matter with your position presented in that light.

#206 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 12:18 PM:

Just to return to the original subject, here, it appears that the media are anointing Barrack Obama as Democratic candidate. I wonder why.

#207 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 01:33 PM:

Randolph, I wish they wouldn't anoint anyone.

They'll puff him up and build him up, then when they've convinced themselves/us/their projection of themselves onto us that we/they love him and he will be the next president, they will turn on him and tear his throat out. The story of his rise will sell media, the story of his fall will sell media. It's a win-win!

Also, the media is setting him up as a foil for Clinton.

I don't understand why this is a topic of consideration now; we have a new Congress coming in and big messes to clean up and(hopefully) a lot of changes coming. Oh. Yeah. That would be why they're talking about the 2008 election. Much more fun than the complicated, real problems this country is facing. On with the panem et circenses!

#208 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 01:49 PM:

Nancy C @ 207:

The righter-wing press is trying to tear him down because of his name (Obama/Osama, Barack/Iraq, and his middle name is Hussein! Oh the Horror!) and the way he dresses (decently if a bit more formally than most politicians). Focus on the surface, so we never have to find out what he's really like (as if they actually were interested).

#209 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2006, 04:34 PM:

A late comment on the Pournelle political diagram:
It's worth taking a look at Pournelle's original article as well as the Wikipedia summary.

Something that's sort of lost in the Wikipedia summary (and perhaps not always clear in Pournelle's essay) is the idea of the vertical axis as marking out a tension between fetishizing Reason at one end (Pournelle labels the top of the axis "Reason Enthroned") and fetishizing irrational goals and values at the other end. In his diagram, for example, Fascists are near the opposite end of that axis from Communists. The contrast between the two is not just that Communists believe that "all social problems have findable solutions" and Fascists are "skeptical" of this idea (the latter would better describe Conservatives). It's also that the Communists appealed to Reason and rationality as their justification (Communism claimed to be "scientific" socialism, after all), while Fascists appealed to "irrational" justifications and goals: hyperpatriotism, xenophobia, the traditional culture of the Volk, Leader-worship, traditional religion, revenge on enemies, the glorious destiny of the nation, etc. Since some of the intellectual roots of Fascism are in the so-called Counter-Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th Centuries, while Communism is in some senses a reductio ad absurdam of the Enlightenment, this opposition isn't too surprising.

There is a weaker version of this in the (weaker) opposition between liberals (or "Welfare Liberals," as Pournelle characterizes them) and Conservatives, since the latter are more prone to value "irrational" things like traditional religion, customs, family structure, symbolic displays of patriotism, etc. -- in addition to being, as Pournelle notes, skeptical of "rational" solutions to social problems.

#210 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:40 AM:

”Whatever might have been the motives for forcing the modernisation of Japan, do you seriously doubt that it had the effect of increasing equality of opportunity for the Japanese?”

Well, yes, actually. It is immaterial however, because we are not arguing about whether equality of opportunity increases when societies change no matter what the intent. We are arguing specifically about whether equality increases when societies change with the intent to increase equality. You treat motive as immaterial, when in fact it is quite relevant. I never have argued that change always increases equality, only that it increases when the change is meant to do so.

Nor am I arguing that attempting change in order to increase equality never leads to terrible results. I fully acknowledge that it can. The question is whether those potentially terrible results are sufficient arguments against attempting such changes at all. Why is the burden of proof upon the nay-sayers? Because if you accept the proposition that equality of opportunity is good, then it follows naturally that equality of opportunity ought to be increased. If you want to argue that equality of opportunity is good, but that we shouldn’t pursue that goal, you must demonstrate why, because your logic is far from intuitive.

To make that argument, it seems to me it must be proven that counter-productive results are probable enough and/or severe enough that change simply isn’t worth the risk. It must also be argued that these risks are impossible to mitigate—that even intelligent, responsive guidance cannot appreciably affect their severity or probability. (You must also be willing to rule out the possibility that the terrible results were products of other factors, not of the attempted increase in equality. Would Stalin have risen to power on the tide of a different violent revolution, had the communists been absent?)

I do not think that you have made this case. You have pointed out several examples of change that have backfired and failed miserably, and these ought to stand as cautionary tales for us all. But you have not proven that “any real attempt to ensure a true equality of opportunity would in the first place fail dismally, and in the second have unintended consequences far worse than the situation it is intended to correct.”

I think that risks of terrible consequences are an unavoidable part of change. On the other hand, the status quo is a pretty terrible outcome for large parts of the human race. I am unconvinced that these risks are terrible enough to fear change, especially with the status quo as the alternative. Nor am I convinced that these risks are impossible to minimize through careful and prudent planning. I recognize the risks of changing too fast. I also recognize the risks of changing too slowly, and find them even more morally unpalatable. When people are suffering everyday, hesitation is not a virtue. I am not fighting for change because I want people to enjoy it two hundred years from now. I’m fighting for it because I want for now. I’d want it for yesterday, if I could.

#211 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:46 AM:

#202 Dave Luckett: ”If that were so, how is it of assistance to the immigrants to allow them to enter in large numbers, so that they encounter this attitude, (which will be hardened by their numbers) are alienated and embittered by it, and eventually riot and throw bombs?”

You’re right. Better to let them stay in their own countries, fight each other (instead of white people), and live their entire lives without access to modern education, medicine or technology. As long as they don’t know what they’re missing, everything will be just fine!

Snarkless version: Alienation and embitterment aren’t products of disparities in wealth and opportunity—they are products of the perception of disparities in wealth and opportunity. The economic divide between rich and poor countries is such that immigrants are often materially better off in a rich country, even in a ghetto, than they would be in their home country. This is especially true in terms of access to education, medicine, and other free social services, and none of those things is negligible. However, in a ghetto, the perceived disparities in wealth are much greater than before, even though the actual disparities have lessened. When there is no movie theatre you don’t feel poor because you can’t go. When there is a theatre, and you can’t afford it, then you feel poor.

You seem to be arguing that the problem is that poor people are suddenly becoming violent when they are exposed to the truth of how profoundly mistreated they are. I would argue that the problem is that people are being profoundly mistreated. If people were simply segregated geographically based on their wealth, there is no doubt that there would be less crime. However, I think there are other measures for desirability more important than not having crime. Equality of opportunity happens to be one of them.

” I think there are many reasons for the formation of enclaves that can become ghettoes.”

There are many reasons why enclaves form, including but not limited to religion, language, and ethnicity. But we are not talking about enclaves, we are talking about ghettoes. “Ghetto” implies a neighborhood that is not only ethnically uniform but also uniformly poor. There is a term for when ethnicity becomes inextricably intertwined with lower economic status, and that term is “racism.” While they do likely organize themselves by ethnicity, I doubt they all uniformly choose to be poor. I’d imagine other people probably made that choice for them.

#212 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:57 AM:

# 209 Peter Erwin: Where does that leave people who don't fetishize anything?

#213 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 03:23 AM:

Heresiarch: as I remarked before, intent is no guide to outcome. And that is one of the things we have been arguing about.

I'll sum up, and this is my last word:

You have only very limited knowledge of what ramifications will attend any change you deliberately introduce, no matter what your intent and planning. Human societies are too complex for that. The unintended consequences can be, and frequently are, disastrous.

The best we can hope to do is to redress clear grievance and genuine injustice in retrospect. I'm all for that, but would point out that public policy frequently does not attain even that standard, as we are all aware. I have no idea what makes you think that you can anticipate, but I don't believe you can, or any human agency can.

#214 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 09:24 AM:

"The best we can hope to do is to redress clear grievance and genuine injustice in retrospect."

Forgive me for aiming a little higher than "justice in retrospect."

#215 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 11:40 AM:

#206 Randolph:

I'm also curious why this is. It seems obvious that some kind of decision has been reached that the serious candidates right now are Obama, Clinton, and McCain. Now, we all saw this with Dean, who the media both annointed as the man to beat before anyone had gone through the formality of counting any votes, and who happily crucified him for (as far as I could tell) a funny-sounding scream he used trying to rally his people. I'd really like to understand how the Dean thing happened, because it just looks creepy to me.

Even though I contributed to the sideline about left/right distinctions, I really wish this thread had continued along the line of understanding how the in-group of jounalists and the structure of the big media affects politics and society. I think there's probably a lot of really important stuff there.

#216 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 04:57 PM:

Heresiarch: My forgiveness would be irrelevant. If you get it wrong - and you have no means of knowing whether you will or not - history and others wouldn't forgive you.

Aiming high means you're rather likely to miss, and hit something else. Or someone.

#217 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2006, 01:14 AM:

Dave Luckett: We are sitting here with the tools necessary to prevent an incalculable amount of future suffering. Aren't you worried about what history will think of us if we don't?

If I fail, then so be it. Someone else will try again, having learned from my mistakes, and get a little closer. If they fail, someone else will try again, knowing even more. Eventually someone will get it right. Then people will start working on something else. This is how evolution works. This is how things get better. This is the only way things get better.

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