Thomas Friedman, on the other hand by mattsteinglass
September 30, 2009, 2:45 am
Filed under: Internet, Uncategorized

…is an establishment old-media journalist who has a perfectly solid summary of what the advent of the blogosphere does to political discourse:

a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world.

Was that so hard?

Michael Gerson understands neither anti-semitism, bigotry, nor the internet by mattsteinglass

Michael Gerson wrote a column some days ago saying bigotry on the internet was a bad thing. Ezra Klein responded that this is true, but that it’s kind of pointless to ineffectually bemoan the intolerance of zillions of random anonymous posters in squillions of social media forums while saying nothing about the mainstream broadcast media figures who actually are ramping up bigotry and hatred at the moment, viz., Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, etc. Michael Gerson then sneered back that Ezra Klein is a partisan hack who is ignoring and pooh-poohing the deadly anti-semitic internet threat for political reasons. Spencer Ackerman quite rightly responded that Michael Gerson, who is not Jewish, “needs to shut his fucking mouth before he ever even thinks accusing a Jew of insufficient vigilance against antisemitism.” This is a point that remains insufficiently well understood by non-Jews, particularly those like Gerson on the Christian right. So first, let us get this clear: white people cannot say nigger toss around derogatory words that refer to black people (except, as Chris Rock points out, for rare cases where it’s in the song). Christian people cannot accuse Jewish people of being disloyal to the Tribe.

But the other thing I find interesting is that Gerson’s understanding of the internet is so clumsy and primitive. He writes about it in the way I’d expect a 60-year-old with very limited experience of internet use to write…like, 10 years ago or so. Check this:

In preparing my Friday column, I found an interview with David Goldman by the Southern Poverty Law Center particularly interesting. After monitoring Internet hate sites for many years, Goldman has concluded that the main dangers are now found in chat rooms, comment boxes and email. “In chat rooms,” he says, “which are populated mainly by young people, you can swear and use racial epithets with a certain amount of ease, and that helps to support your own stereotypes and racial bigotry. Unlike hate sites, these chat rooms create a sense of immediacy and community.”

These are the type of sources one encounters while doing extensive research for a column. A blogged response to a column, of course, is free from such archaic, old-media constraints.

Gerson considers this webpage he found a “source”, and the Googling he did to find it “research”. You envision him pushing the glasses up on his nose: “In my rethearch, during which I ekthtenthively monitored numerouth chat roomth over a period of yearth, often during the late-night hourth when anti-themitithm reaches peak levelth…” “Hold on! What are these ‘chat rooms’ exactly?” Which is fine, up to a point; Googling is research and webpages with interviews are sources, of a preliminary secondary-source variety. But is Gerson under the impression that Ezra Klein is unfamiliar with Google, or something?

Gerson’s implied stance on supposedly research-heavy old media vs. unsubstantiated blogging is tired, years out of date, and has for that matter always been wrong. Policy blogs like the one Ezra Klein writes are, as a rule, far better sourced and better researched than op-ed columns like the ones Gerson writes. In the specific cases of Klein and Gerson, there’s obviously no comparison: Klein writes a sophisticated, wonkish, data-heavy blog. Gerson writes fact-free partisan opinion fluff, just as he did when he was a Bush speechwriter.

Moreover, Gerson fails to understand the relationship between broadcast media and blogging. Klein was pointing out that there’s not much point in criticizing “incivility on the internet” because you’re not talking to anyone. There are 500 million anonymous posters out there, half of them Chinese. Who does Gerson think he’s addressing? In contrast, broadcast media personalities are individual points of contact who to a great extent drive the conversation on the internet, feed it with new memes, and legitimate it. And they can be addressed, because there are only a few of them, and they’re backed by substantial media organizations. To a great extent, figures like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage create or legitimize the memes that circulate in the conservative blogosphere. If they were held to some standards of responsible reporting, that would have a substantial influence on the debate. But they’re not, because their constituency, including Michael Gerson, has no interest in substantial reporting.

Anyway, to anybody who’s reasonably internet-literate, all of this is just obvious background knowledge. (Check, for example, this insightful recent post by one of the other mystery bloggers at Democracy in America — not me.) But Gerson seems not to get any of this. And what I’m wondering is whether there is an intrinsic connection between Gerson’s lack of media literacy and his lack of understanding of how anti-semitism works, or whether he just happens to be ignorant about both of these topics separately. Is there a general semiotic obtuseness involved here, an inability to understand the ways that statements mean different things when spoken by different people — that a dumb comment by a random poster is different from a rant by Glenn Beck, just as a Jew talking about anti-semitism is different than a Christian talking about anti-semitism? Then, of course, there’s the other possibility: that Gerson understands perfectly well that he’s talking crap, and is being deliberately misleading and slanderous. I wouldn’t count that out either.

How Many of You Use Macs? | Talking Points Memo by mattsteinglass
September 25, 2009, 6:36 am
Filed under: Technology

How Many of You Use Macs? | Talking Points Memo.

Josh Marshall notes that the number of visitors to his site who use Macs has gone from 20% to 30% over 2 years. Clearly there’s been a huge Mac resurgence.

I write this post from a MacBook, the first Mac I’ve owned in 9 years. I used Macs from when I got a degree in interactive telecommunications at NYU back in 1994-6 until 2000, when I moved to Africa. At that point I thought the maintenance networks for Macs in the third world would be so shabby that I’d better get a Windows machine. And I continued buying Windows when I moved to Vietnam for the same reason. But starting about 2 years ago, the Mac network in Vietnam started to fill out, particularly among imaging and design pros, and by now they’re quite widespread. So I went back to Mac last winter.

And it is awesome.

How I Became A Keynesian by mattsteinglass
September 24, 2009, 10:36 am
Filed under: Economics

How I Became A Keynesian | The New Republic.

My mom never threw out any of her fabulous outfits from the early ’70s, and when the early ’90s rolled around, there they were, ready to wear. Reading Richard Posner’s excellent essay on the General Theory makes me glad I was a Keynesian before it was counterintuitive. Basically because I didn’t know any better (worse), but still.

Hu Jintao's speech on climate change at the UN by mattsteinglass
September 22, 2009, 10:52 am
Filed under: Environment

Live-blogging this is the most tedious live-blogging ever in the history of the blogosphere.

That said: Hu just said developed countries need to subsidize the greening of the energy economies in the developing world. This is a pretty significant point. At the GreenBiz 2009 conference here in Hanoi last week, a questioner asked several senior officials from the Ministry of Planning and Investment why the country was going towards nuclear rather than doing more immediately to build out wind power. The response was quite forceful: where does the money come from? Vietnam sells electricity to consumers cheap, at about 5 cents per kilowatt hour. It can do that because it has huge amounts of installed hydropower. But major new wind farms will produce power for 10 cents a kilowatt hour. At current prices, that means the government would have to be subsidizing a 1000-Megawatt wind farm to the tune of around $100 million a year. Vietnam doesn’t have the cash for something like that. This kind of shift is going to have to require, in the long run, that Vietnamese consumers start paying more for their power. But in the meantime, the people who have the money are going to have to pay for the greening of the global economy.

Further: “We will endeavor to cut carbon emissions by a notable margin by 2020 from their levels in 2007. Endeavor to cut portion of fossil fuel by 15%. Increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares from 2005 levels.” — At least Hu has some numbers. Obama had none. But “endeavor” isn’t “commit”.

UN still wired for white people by mattsteinglass
September 22, 2009, 10:36 am
Filed under: UN

The aquamarine marble behind the podium at the UN General Assembly makes people of color look like pallid video-game addicts when they’re speaking on TV. What’s up with that? You’d think at the UNGA of all places they’d have some warm colors in the BG for the people of the sun, as Hugo Chavez likes to call them.

Could be worse… by mattsteinglass
September 22, 2009, 1:02 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

…to add the Vietnamese experience to Matthew Yglesias’s ruminations on reunification in Germany and the dire prospect of reunifying the Koreas: the lesson is that if you’re planning to reunify your cold-war-divided ethno-linguistically homogenous nation, be the poor Communist half and conquer the rich capitalist half, not the other way around.

Or maybe actually that’s the opposite of the lesson. I mean, for all the annoyance of persistent low socioeconomic indicators in the Eastern sections of Germany, things would presumably be a lot worse if the GDR had been trying to reintegrate the FRG.

Senates are for wimps, real democracies have parliaments by mattsteinglass
September 22, 2009, 12:51 am
Filed under: Politics

This, at least, seems to be the conventional wisdom at the moment. Or at least it’s the wisdom espoused by Matthew Yglesias. And I basically agree. What’s weird, though, is that’s it precisely the inverse of the conventional wisdom when I was in high school back during the Khanate of Tamerlane Reagan presidency. In those days people used to make fun of how parliamentary systems like the Israeli one were paralyzed by dozens of tiny parties who each had a veto over various areas of social policy, or, like the Dutch one, had so many little parties that they ended up with a boring grey coalition of middle-of-the-road blah-blah that left everyone feeling unrepresented, or, like the Italian one, were constantly collapsing and having to call new elections. This was one of the most solid and familiar planks in the “Europe weak, America strong” paradigm we all had subconsciously drummed into our skulls from birth until we were old enough to go see “Red Dawn” by ourselves.

The most hilarious thing about it was that the suggestion was that the divisions in parliamentary democracies left them unable to pass major legislation. Ha, ha, tee hee hee, ho ho. You know what cracks me up even more? Ever since I moved to Vietnam I’ve been hearing that the problem with the Vietnamese National Assembly is that it lacks the capacity, both in terms of professional expertise at the staffer level and in terms of experience in moving through debates to votes, to pass major legislation fast enough for a dynamic and modern economy. Christ almighty, stop it, you’re killing me.

Robert Wright on Jerry Coyne by mattsteinglass
September 20, 2009, 11:39 pm
Filed under: Religion

He makes it pretty clear Coyne misread his book. But I don’t think he and Jim Manzi are talking about any of the same things.

Raising kids by mattsteinglass
September 20, 2009, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Family

Like Andrew Sullivan, I liked Tim Kreider’s piece in the NY Times on “The Referendum” — the sidelong glance we constantly cast at our peers, to determine whose life turned out better and who gets to pat themselves on the back for having made the right choices while ignoring how big a role luck played in it all. But I was also struck at how electrically the lines about the undesirability of children tripped my switches. I have the same reaction to people who make similar points based on “happiness research” (a fundamentally incoherent field that suffers from many of the same difficulties as “funniness research”).

My first, intemperate reaction on reading something like this:

I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life.

…is that it’s cruel to explain to a eunuch why having testicles is actually worthwhile, even though it creates a lot of emotional stress and often gets one into complicated situations. But on reflection, I don’t really care whether or not Tim Kreider wants to have kids. A lot of my friends don’t want kids; that’s where they’re at and that’s who they are and it’s, like, their life and everything, and as Kreider writes, they do us kid-having folks the favor of letting us vicariously experience the thrills (and tedium) of existence unfettered to dependents. Besides, every kid they don’t have fails to emit a titanic amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, leaving the world less ruined for my kids; so, thanks.

The part that bugs me isn’t so much the not having kids part, as the not raising kids part. Whether or not you want to put your own progeny into the mix is neither here nor there; but society is a going concern, and not having any interest or stake in how the next generation gets brought up is, by definition, antisocial. It takes a lot of work, and if you’re not helping out, the least you could do is recognize that others are doing you a favor, and not insult them for their trouble.


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