Saturday, June 23, 2007

This Comment Posted By olvlzl Was Not Submitted For Approval.

Finally got to a computer with a fast enough connection to watch digby’s address , which, if you haven’t heard it yet is, of course, excellent. I understand that one of those bloggers in the background was none other than our own Echidne. Echidne, you fully deserve to be on stage with digby and I can’t imagine a greater blog honor than that one.

Echidne of the Snakes is one of the distinctive voices of the internet. Its serious feminism and leftist political content, actual understanding of statistics and other necessary math, mixed with unusual point of view and style, produces a mix that couldn’t be replaced. The community that Echidne has established is, consistently, on of the most civil and intelligent anywhere. Anything else just wouldn’t be the same. The big problem isn’t that those are in danger of running out there isn’t any evidence of that happening.

The problem of blogging is that it is in almost all cases a volunteer activity undertaken by people who are not financially independent. The best bloggers have to find time in a real life to do the reading, thinking and writing necessary to produce good, original work. In full time blogging, producing three or four original pieces a day, it can become the equivalent of a second, full time job or more. I was reminded of just how hard that can be to sustain in the past month. In a life that is relatively free of overhead costs just producing three posts a day on a continuing basis was too much. I don’t think that it is likely that the best bloggers who produce the best work can continue to do so forever, even the most miraculous of them can’t just keep going forever. Burn out is an occupational hazard.

We, the users of blogs, need to take into account what is provided by the best bloggers who write original work. And we should be willing to financially support those who provide us with some of the best thinking available. A reliable support mechanism for the best bloggers is also the biggest obstacle keeping the blogs from providing us with the most necessary of all activities, original reporting of facts. Digby mentioned a support mechanism in her address, that is certainly worthy of looking into (which I will do as soon as I can get back to listen again and take notes) but there isn’t anything to keep us from giving direct support now. Bloggers need to be supported if they are to continue producing excellent work. It’s as clear as that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Who’d of Thunk It?
A paper reports the news and the people read it.
Spending so much of my time bemoaning the media it was good to read a Buzz Flash piece by Rory O'Connor about a small paper that did some reporting, The Post Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

The people at that paper did something like what the Boston Globe did in breaking and pursuing the clergy sex abuse scandal but it was the Boys Scouts and they went up against the Mormon establishment instead of the Catholics.

Here's what happened: after receiving a tip that a pedophile caught at a local scout camp in 1997 had not two victims (as the paper reported at the time) but actually dozens, Post Register reporters went to the courthouse to look for a civil suit filed by victims, only to be told that there was no such case. They later learned that the national Boy Scouts of America and its local Council had hired two of Idaho's best-connected law firms to seal the files -- thus covering up the entire affair.

Or so they thought... But the Post Register went to court and "dragged the case file into the light of day." What reporters found astonished them; scout leaders had been warned about the pedophile years earlier, but hired him (again!) anyway. Lawyers for the Boy Scouts knew about more victims, but never told those boys' parents. Top local and national leaders of the Mormon Church, which sponsors almost all area scout troops, had also been warned.

The Post Register ran a six-day series about the affair. The first story featured a 14-year-old camper -- "the son of a Mormon seminary teacher and a cinch to become an Eagle Scout" -- who forced adult leaders to call the police about the pedophile.

Then the backlash began. Mormon church members were among the first to complain, characterizing the paper's coverage as an attack on their faith. "The drums banged, and we were flooded with calls and e-mails and letters to the editor from readers who told us that holding the Grand Teton Council accountable was Mormon-bashing," Miller recounted.

The backlash came as well from advertisers, and the economic pressure built everyday the paper ran the series. "It's one thing to lose an account when you're an employee," Miller wrote. "It's quite another when you're also a stockholder; 140 employees hold close to 49 percent of the company's stock. For many families, this is their retirement." Nevertheless, he recalled, "Most of what I heard inside our building were words of support." Publisher Roger Plothow was also staunchly unapologetic throughout, "standing up with a stoic and clear-eyed defense... for the values of journalism."

The attacks weren't just financial, but personal as well -- including the outing of a gay staff reporter, Peter Zuckerman, by a local multimillionaire who bought full-page ads devoting several paragraphs to establishing that Zuckerman is gay. "Strangers started ringing Peter's doorbell at midnight,"

The local paper stood up for the right of their readers to be informed over what would seem likely to be a pretty severe punishment, financially and personally for its staff. Like what Bogart did in “The Front Page”.

But unlike in the movies and beyond what you, and the media itself, might expect, the paper that reported the news doesn’t seem to be suffering.

"One of the sweeter moments of our year occurred when we received figures from our circulation audit. While the sales numbers of other U.S. newspapers were in free fall, we were among the nation's faster growing daily papers."

Now that's a surprise ending. A story of a courageous newspaper staff and ownership that doesn't end in bitter-sweet cynicism. Maybe other papers should stop the presses and do a rewrite of their own story.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cutback In Writing Activity

A sudden change in my situation will apparently force me to cut back on my writing both here and at Echidne of the Snakes blog. I will be drastically cutting back on my comments on other blogs, probably the most positive development in this thing.

I hope to post one or two substantial pieces a week and to share them among the two blogs, maybe better quality will result.

Though the course this change in my situation will take isn't clear, for now it doesn't look as if it will lead to the complete end of my writing.

Thanks to everyone who has read what I've written and responded to it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

What Is This Thing Called Blog?

My partner in blogging has done two quite fine posts off of Joe Klein’s whine about those mean bloggers.

Here is my raw comment on the second of them

Blog comments are revelatory in a lot of ways but, as you note, they aren't a revelation of some aggregated average viewpoint. The way that we’ve become so trained by things like polls and (badly analyzed or conceived) sociological surveys into thinking in terms of some kind of mythical average that we apply that habit in places where it becomes entirely unrealistic. Klein is part of the media system that has replaced the reporting of facts with junk like opinion polling, he has a financial interest in continuing this kind of fraud. Here it suits his purposes, of discounting his most biting and accurate critics. In the old media that isn’t something he has to worry about, they’re all in on the con.

At first blog comment threads were confusing and at times depressing. It took so much sifting of the chaff to find anything worthwhile. But if you look on it as a vital diversity instead of confusion it stops being depressing, though often no less confusing. Freedom, the real thing, not that thing that Bush and his kept media talk about, is good. Freedom both depends on and produces diversity of ideas and opinions, it doesn’t exist without diversity. The old media doesn’t do diversity, the really old media, inexpensive print media, did but electronic media is all about selling their audience to advertisers, not about its content. They latch onto something that has worked somewhere else and try to reproduce it, struggling to keep ahead of the attention wave. And in the largely unregulated cable markets the more violent and sensational the more likely they are to attract the few percentage points available. That crucial market would probably be endangered by real information or thought. The only requirement is that it not endanger profits or the interests of the owners.

Before a sociologist gets peeved at me, there are some good sociologists, just as there are some good cognitive scientists who don't make absurdly broad claims about their research findings. The media can be counted on to do that to their work. The best ones try to correct the distorions. You've heard me on the ones who do their own inflating and distorting so I'm not opening that can of worms today.
olvlzl, no ism, no ist | Homepage | 06.08.07 - 6:28 am

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I’d used part of this article in one of the pieces critical of the behavioral sciences but should have read it through to the end. If I did it would have shown me that even someone who is favorably disposed towards Evolutionary Psychology (EP) doesn’t dismiss the possible political dangers of it out of hand.

Whether or not EP is correct, I hope this Handbook will convince you that it is not scientific window dressing for a political ideology, but rather a compelling scientific approach to human nature. This does not mean that EP is harmless. Critics, fearing EP to be a Trojan horse of the right, have raised countless objections to EP, objections that, as this chapter has shown, would border on the absurd were they raised against one of historys most successful scientific paradigms: the functional, mechanistic approach to organism anatomy. What the surprisingly myopic critics have failed to perceive is that the power of EP will be, not to prevent change, but to cause it.

Fully realized, EP would constitute a functional understanding of the neural circuits underlying our every thought, emotion, and action. With that understanding would come the power to mold our humanity to a disquieting degree. Perhaps it is naïve to believe that EP can keep up with the manipulative expertise of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, but serious critics of EP would do well to re-read their Huxley and Orwell. The dangers of EP lie as close to Brave New World and 1984 as they do to Mein Kampf.

More worrisome, EP challenges the foundations of crucial enlightenment values, values we undermine at our peril. Perhaps the mix of secular and religious values upon which the priceless institutions of democracy rest are like a tablecloth that can be quickly yanked out, leaving everything standing upon some solid, though as yet unknown base. But I wouldnt bet on it. We are at a cross-roads. A vibrant science of human thought and behavior must always be able to question its own premises, and is thus utterly unsuited to be that solid base. Yet if we discard the secular, quasi-scientific notion of the blank slate, or even subject it to genuine scientific scrutiny, we may threaten institutions far more valuable than a science of human nature.

The vital question is not, as most critics seem to think, whether EP is correct, but whether any real science of the brain is prudent.

Having no professional or ideological stake in protecting Evolutionary Psychology but as a student of the history of the past hundred and twenty years I go a lot farther than that.

Evolution happened over a period of 3+ billion years. The studies in behavior and cognition are just beginning to find facts, they haven't escaped their own history of what would charitably be called "speculation". In fact EP indulges in quite a bit of that itself. To believe that the relatively small number of scientists attempting to apply evolutionary knowledge various theories of their own (themselves even more recent) and claiming to have a relatively complete picture of these most unknowable aspects of human experience calls for deep skepticism. To assert that their ideas are applicable to politics or society now is absurd. It is professional wishful thinking of the type that has proven to be dangerous when earlier attempts at “real science of the brain” made outsized claims which damaged and destroyed all too real people. The damaged stemmed from loony theories of sexuality, phony intelligence testing and other methods of labeling people into categories up to and including those put into the line designated as worthy of death.

History has facts that are more tangible than the theories and fables of these sciences. History has run these experiments already and the results are in. Nothing that these infant sciences has produced negates those truths.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Doing The Least I Can Do Because I Didn't Do What I Should Have Done

I'd planned to write about a piece posted at DAS Blog last month but events got out of hand. You can read the original piece here, it's as timely today as it was then.

You might want to also read this piece One for DAS at Adventus.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Classic Example of Why Counter-Bigotry Is A Bad Tactic

Peter Hitchens ruined what could have been a somewhat useful exploration of his brother’s foul personality, bigotry and blood thirsty advocacy of mass violence with a bit of bigotry about third-party atheists he has never met. Other than that it’s a somewhat interesting inside look at a case of imploding ego. In the greater scheme of things Peter Hitchens piece is about as important as anything said about Patricia Heaton’s inner life. If he had stuck to his real subject, his rotten brother, it could have made somewhat larger ripples. Now his own bigotry is the subject.

My rules about peoples' ideologies:

- Look at what they do, not what they say they believe. Their actions are the real belief, words are cheap.

- Forgive minor fudging in memberships, unless it's something like Opus Dei, The Republican Party 2007 or some other bigoted and or murderous bunch of fascists.

- If they accept "I'd rather not hear about that, thank you," they get, maybe, up to two minutes (unless their story is interesting). If they won't accept "I'd rather not hear...” proportional increases in rejection up to and including "Leave this house, now!" come into play.

- If they're rude and dismissive of other people on the basis of their harmless beliefs, religious, ethnic, gender, identities... then all bets are off, they have made themselves fair game for the hammer and tongs.

It's how the individual person acts that determines how they should be treated.

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