Friday, June 04, 2010

Late to the Dance. Again. (But We Make Up For It, With Longwindedness.)

Before we get started, a Shalizi of sorts: What follows is an exceedingly long diatribe responding to a post that is ancient in blogospheric time, and in any case, will almost certainly be of no interest to non-denizens.

[Update] Or a Sterling, as the case may be.


Someone is wrong on the InternetA while back, over at Balloon Juice, the almost-always insightful DougJ showed a rare moment of cluelessness. Even more sadly, a number of regular commenters quickly piled on to his "questions," each attempting to outdo the last with expressions of disdain, nearly all of which were cringingly uninformed. The topic was, and the consensus was, it is Teh Suxxx. Somehow, just about everyone there was able to come to this agreement without, to all appearances, ever having watched a diavlog, or participated in the forums. I exaggerate only very slightly.

I was away from the blogosphere at the time, so I could not chime in with the one or two brave and lonely voices of protest in that thread. And though it does not really matter, since no one at Balloon Juice is compelled to like a site that I very much do, or even to give it a fair shot before opining on it (this being the blogosphere, and we being humans), I am going to try to make late better than never and rebut a few specifics. And then make a pitch in favor of reconsideration.

Althouse meltdownTo begin with, a concession. Does give entirely too much air time to utterly useless gasbags, like Jonah Goldberg, Megan McArdle, Jim Pinkerton, Byron York, and Ann Althouse? Yes. No argument there. It's a complaint I myself have made many times, and if you haven't seen any of them posted lately, it is due only to my recent grudging acknowledgment that this battle is lost, that people such as these, for reasons passing my understanding, draw a lot of traffic to the site. So be it. It's easy enough to skip those diavlogs.

Another of the most frequent justifications given by the Juicers for hating on the site, if memory serves, is The Mickey Connection. At least one commenter even went to the trouble of visiting the site's About page, to "prove" that exists, evidently, as little more than an additional outlet for the blatherings one might politely call Kausfiles. [Added: more accurately, as is pointed out in comments responding to this post over at Balloon Juice, the commenter who referred to the About page was not solely or even primarily responsible for the claim, in the original thread, that exists primarily as an outlet for Kaus's views.]

Mickey Kaus and friend In fact, Kaus has almost nothing to do with the site anymore, though it's true that he was a co-founder. He used to appear weekly, then went to biweekly, then irregularly and even less frequently. (I apologize if this sounds like I'm talking about his bowel movements.) He now shows up only every few months or so, and maybe only once since he started his lookit-me-I'm-gonna-be-a-Senator! thing.

As I understand it, Kaus cut formal ties with the site quite some time ago, due partly to worries about conflicts of interest, when he was still blogging at Slate, and partly, it would seem, to some combination of time constraints, laziness, and dwindling interest. If I had to guess, I would say the About page retains mention of him as a founder because Bob Wright, the current sole HMFIC, once thought that featuring his name would add appeal (balance?) to potential investors (many of whom seem to thrive on the same sort of Third Way, Broderish, faux-Democratic attitude Mickey likes to promulgate). Maybe Bob still thinks this, or thinks that the recognized name is still worth something for other reasons. Or more likely, I suspect, it has most to do with Bob having a few thousand other things higher on his priority list than updating the site's About page.

Anyway, you'll get little argument from me if you want to harsh on Mickey, except that he genuinely seems like the kind of guy I'd like to have a beer with, but don't think he has anything to do with anymore. He doesn't.


Woman wearing headphonesOne last bit to rebut: If I recall correctly, another of the complaints in the Balloon Juice thread was along the lines of "Who wants to sit in front of a computer for an hour, watching low-res video, that in any case is just two heads, talking?" If that complaint wasn't raised there, it certainly has been elsewhere, so let me just say that if that is your main objection to giving a shot, set it aside. Every diavlog is available for download, as audio (MP3) or video (WMV and MP4). There are also various podcast-y-type options, again both audio or video, including through the iTunes store, for free. Point is, you don't have to be chained to your computer.

I'd add that I rarely actually watch the diavlogs. I usually stream them, with the video box off to the corner of my computer screen, while I'm doing other things. Then, as the audio provokes me, I'll glance over, or stop what I'm doing, and really watch for a few minutes.



Cat swats dogTo the content of the site: As the two commenters noted above suggested in the Balloon Juice comment thread, and as I have said several other places elsewhere online, is a rare bird indeed on these Internets. It is a place where a real and ongoing effort is made to present a wide range of views, and not just in that annoying MSM check-the-"both sides"-box kind of way. Further, the selection of guests has sustained a comments forum that also displays continued diversity. And rarer still for this Web of ours, sometimes the participants -- in the diavlogs and forums both -- can even have meaningful and civil disagreements. These perspective-ranges, I'd add, refer not only to political matters, although that's most often the genre of the site, but also to hardcore wonkery, philosophy, science, and cultural affairs.

Cat and dog: awwwAnd contra DougJ's misapprehension, it is quite unlike the Crossfire-style shoutfests of cable teevee. While there are of course diavlogs that are nothing more than a hurling back and forth of the usual talking points, and a few of the guests (beyond the Furious Five listed above) are too ideologically hidebound ever to admit their partners may have a point, it is much more often the case that the format -- hour-long discussions -- permits real detail and nuance to be presented. Complex ideas aren't given short shrift. If common ground is not always achieved, and Kumbaya is almost never the closing number, at least arguments are given the room they need to be hashed out. And again, to say this is largely to ignore the non-political discussions, many of which are not calcified into Left Versus Right, and so are even more likely to be instructive, not to mention entertaining.

By the way, not every last diavlog is structured as a debate. A decent amount of them are more along the lines of an in-depth interview, a la Fresh Air or BookTV.


Is perfect? Of course not. There are execrable regulars, as noted above. There are a few too many Villagers-in-Training. There have been one-off moments of sheer disgrace; e.g., Jerome Corsi, Rick Arndt, Paul A. Nelson, and Michael Behe. There is too much squishy tolerance given to religion and worse, to faitheists. There aren't enough real lefties -- it is fair to say, I think, that the spectrum of political views all too often ranges from moderate left to infinitely far right, and that of the lefties who do appear, virtually every one of them is allergic to making a full-throated defense of Obama, his policies, or liberalism writ large without littering his or her words with a whole mess of "to be sure"s and "of course, some will see this as"es. However, impatient-making though this can be, this characteristic of pretty much every lefty of any prominence is really more a feature than a bug, when all is said and done.

In any case, to acknowledge that the site is not perfect does not support a claim that that it's worthless. I challenge anybody to name a site that's even close to as good as at what it does.


Furious babyNow, some of the Juicers, some of whom may have even given the site a bit of a look, will howl about the likes of David Frum making regular appearances. Or Eli Lake. Or Peter Beinart. Or Ramesh Ponnuru. Or whomever one might identify as Exactly The Sort Of Person Who Is Ruining This Country And Why Is He On My Teevee AGAIN???, but whom I would classify as worth my time, at least once in a while, and at least on some topics. (Frum on Israel, for example, is the epitome of been-there-heard-that-got-the-T-shirt, readily conceded.)

As to objections to specific individuals, I will say only, if you don't like someone, fine. Skip that diavlog. But to base a dislike for on the once-a-month appearance of some individual is like refusing to watch ESPN, ever, because once in a while, they show the Steelers. (ducks)

As a general matter, though, it is to my mind worth listening to smart people with whom you do not agree, with whom you might even violently disagree. You could say that it's good to stretch your brain, and challenge your own beliefs. You could say that it's good exercise to see how strong a rebuttal you can post to a skilled proponent from the proverbial other side. Worse comes to worst, you could say it's worth it in the spirit of Know Thine Enemy.

I mentioned above that the diversity of views in the diavlogs helps sustain a forum with the same characteristic. I like this, a lot. I don't spend a lot of time reading the comments at a place like Balloon Juice, or any other lefty blog that gets more than, say, ten per post, even though I read virtually every one of the blog posts, because for every funny line, I have to wade through twenty me-toos. Granted, that's an over-simplification, and not universally true, and I know I'm missing some good stuff. (Also granted: How would YOU know if you don't read them? I'm just sketching out my impression from past experience, and regular toe-dipping to this day.)

YummyAnd to be clear: no diss intended to the regulars, at Balloon Juice or anywhere else -- if that is where you like to hang out, go for it. It's just that it happens that my ears grow weary in echo chambers. Or, in some cases (more common on other liberal blogs), with battles over another's insufficient purity. I like to discuss and debate (and admittedly, flat-out argue with, and sometimes even try purely to zing, for lulz) people who are more like diametrically opposed to my point of view. Sure, it's fun and even restorative, every now and again, to get together with a bunch of like-minded people and group-bash the wingnuts, but just as I love chocolate chip cookies, I can't live on nothing but them. Gotta have some meat and potatoes and broccoli, too, and not just because it's good for me, but because I actually like the taste.

So, is for everyone? No, of course not. No reason to feel bad if listening to long discussions, much less continuing them, is not to your taste. It's completely legitimate to want to go online only to catch up on the news, have a few quick laughs, and say hello to friends, for example. However, it really does burn me up to see a bunch of otherwise intelligent people mouthing off in a thoroughly uninformed way. I think a lot of DougJ, and the rest of the co-bloggers, including John Cole, of course, and the whole Juicer community, and that is precisely why that post and its comments really put me off. (If this had taken place on RedState, for example, I would have forgotten about it the next day.) is a lot more than the superficial views presented in that thread would suggest. One day on that site is very often not at all like the next. It's got a whole lot to offer.

End vent.

Exhausted marathon runner

No, one last admission. Truth is, my lobbying on behalf of the site is driven not only by embarrassment at my side sounding as dumb as a bunch of wingnut parrots squawking about Teh Liberal Media. It is also driven by self-interest: I would always like some fresh blood in the forums. There are a lot of smart and funny people who hang out at Balloon Juice, and I wouldn't mind seeing some of them posting at, too.

End bleg.

Finally, a disclaimer, just in case: I have absolutely no monetary interest, or any other material interest, in I'm just a fanboy.

(I'm on Soros's and Sunstein's payrolls, of course, and a fully brainwashed O-bot, to boot, but who among us isn't, in our new totalitarian paradise?)

Thanks for reading.


(pic. sources: wrong, althouse, kaus and friend, listening, dog and cat, cat and dog, Balloon Juice commenter furious baby, yummy, exhausted marathoner)


E R E said...

Great post. You said what needed to be said. Sometimes the balloon juice attitude of "we hate EVERYTHING!!1!" gets tiresome. And sometimes Cole and DougJ are way off the mark, as you've eloquently demonstrated here.


Ocean said...

Yes, nice post. Comprehensive and fair.

Does aspirin work for "Someone is wrong on the internet"?

Just asking...


Brendan said...

Thanks, E and O.

No, I don't think aspirin works. As far as I can tell, the only known cure is obsessive typing.

Anonymous said...

Very well put. You expressed eloquently why I'm a regular lurker at Bloggingheads.


Anonymous said...

Regarding BH in general, and the criticism (which you discuss here) that it is another "Crossfire", in particular, Conor Friedersdorf had some nice things to say. This is from a month ago, thought you might enjoy:

Is there any other forum in America where David Frum and Glenn Greenwald could have a conversation as good as this one, wherein Glenn Greenwald makes a persuasive case that there is epistemic closure on the left, and David Frum acknowledges that George W. Bush probably did illegal stuff, moments after rethinking the wisdom of the Bush Administration’s treatment of American citizen War on Terrorism detainees? Cable news has taught us to expect that any conversation between folks as ideologically different as these two can only devolve into a shouting match of talking points, whereas actually what happened was an interesting, productive conversation that afforded the audience the respect of treating them like intelligent people. Or maybe you’re more interested in race in America — and in that case, you won’t find a more interesting ongoing conversation than the one between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter.

Anonymous said...

I think the Greenwald / Frum discussion was one of the best I have heard since the year or so I have been following the site. They were more interesting even than McWhorter and Loury who never quite live up to the my expectations.


Cosma Shalizi said...

I lifted "attention conservation notices" from Bruce Sterling; he used them on his Viridian mailing list.

E R E said...

Anon --

FYI, Friedersdorf, unlike Brendan, does have some material interest in bhtv. He used to work for them. He also, inexplicably, appears as an unfailingly boring
head from time to time...

Brendan said...

@Cosma: Sorry, I did not know. I have placed a note in the post to reflect your attribution. Thanks.

I must say, though, that Steve Jobs did not invent the raincoat, but we still call them Apples, amirite?

But okay, I will not attempt to promulgate my neoeponym. (I don't usually apologize for being long-winded, in any case -- it would take too much time.) ;)

@Ellie: Thanks. I encourage you to post someday, too, but it's nice to know you're there, in any case.

@(the truly) Anonymous: Thanks for the link and blockquote. I had not scene that one. ;)

Thanks to E R E for the background info. As to the opinion that followed, I will state that in my own view, Conor does sometimes fail to be boring.