Updates and Sundry Things

Like most blogs from the heady days of the Blogosphere, this site has been basically dead for a number of years. Like most everyone else, I moved to Twitter. However, since Elon Musk purchased the site and has begun ruling it like Anthony Fremont I have moved most of my social posting to Mastodon, where I can be found at @jayreding@mastodon.world. Mastodon seems like a much better alternative to Twitter – it’s 100% open source, it’s completely federated so that no one company or person can own it, and it seems to work fairly well.

It is interesting to watch the life cycle of yet another social media platform run its course. I remember the days when MySpace was all the rage on the nascent Internet. Then MySpace fell to Facebook, which was cool until it became everyone’s least favorite way to find out that their uncle as a racist asshole. Then Facebook gave way to Twitter, which was always a hellsite, and is even more so now. Whatever replaces Twitter—whether it be Mastodon, Counter Social, or something else, will likely have its rise and fall.

That does give me a certain nostalgia for the good old days of the blogosphere, tempered only by the fact that so many of my blogging associates have succumbed to mindless Trumpism. There was a time when InstaPundit was my first and most often-visited site. Today, it’s just another cesspool of mindless partisanship. While I don’t mind partisanship, as readers of this site in its heyday will attest, I like a much more mindful partisanship than just “other side bad.” And most of the remainder of the blogosphere is basically partisan dreck.

While I would love to return to long-form writing (which is why this site remains up, although the archives are currently not available), it may be a while before that happens, if ever. Between a full-time job as an attorney, being a parent to two very active kids, and the rest of life, time is a precious commodity. However, at some point I may decide to return to active blogging, if nothing else but for the nostalgia.

To everyone who supported this site all those years ago, you have not been forgotten. Please feel free to follow me on Mastodon and maybe, just maybe, this site might have some actual content again for the first time in years.

Stifling Free Speech Is Not The Answer

John Bambenek is filing a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against The Daily Kos, arguing that they are acting as a political committee and should be subject to FEC rules as such.

While I’m loathe to defend The Daily Kos and their hoards of raving, ravenous partisans, using the FEC as a hammer against political groups is a very bad idea. Bambenek explains his rationale in this way:

I first thought of this complaint during the Cindy Sheehan debacle over at Daily Kos, where Cindy pledged to run as an independent against Nancy Pelosi, and the Daily Kos basically turned on her. While some conservatives took great delight in this, I really didn’t care because it’s politics as usual. The right has thrown their fair share of people under the bus for not drinking the Kool-aid too.

However, the statement that the DailyKos was about electing Democrats stuck with me. I always assumed it was a standard left-wing group blog spouting the latest and greatest in left-wing diatribe. However, the statement that the blog exists to get Democrats elected is repeated in various places around the site, including statements by Kos himself.

Federal Election Commission rules apply for organizations that spend or contribute an equivalent of $1,000 per year in trying to influence elections for federal office. DailyKos is owned by Kos Media, a company, which makes it fit the definition of an organization. It surely spends at least $1,000 per year in hosting and based on what they charge (and get) for advertising, their support of candidates is certainly worth over $1,000 per year. Lastly, their self-identified purpose is to influence elections in the Democrats favor. They fit the criteria.

Some will argue that this is a slippery slope that will snare all bloggers. First, most bloggers aren’t organizations. Second, most bloggers are read by like 3 people and their posts are certainly not worth $1,000. Third, most bloggers don’t exist for the primary purpose of electing certain people to federal office.

Neither of those three are necessarily true — for example, Power Line is an organization of three writers located in different places. Power Line is one of the most influential blogs out there, worth well more than $1000, and they’re certainly a generally pro-Republican site (even if their goal isn’t specifically to get Republicans elected). Should Power Line be subject to the FEC?

Now granted, there’s some evidence that Kos’ recent warning to his fellow bloggers to “tone it down” might be a sign of collusion between Kos Media and Democratic operatives — that’s a much closer case. In cases where a blog is acting as nothing more than an agent of a political party, it’s a lot harder to argue that they shouldn’t be subject to FEC regulations. However, there’s still a question of just how much collusion there must be — simply getting one’s information from a party press release shouldn’t be enough. Talking with candidates or party officials shouldn’t be enough. Even if Kos Media has been pressured by Democratic Party leaders to keep the crazy to a minimum, is that enough to make The Daily Kos liable to FEC regulation?

I don’t think it’s categorically out of the question to subject a blog to FEC rules — at least not under the current state of the law — but to do so raises all sorts of problems in terms of how much protection political speech on the internet should have. I can’t stand The Daily Kos — I think that it’s a left-wing hate site that magnifies political vitriol and poisons our democracy. At the same time, I don’t want to have government further infringing upon the crucial democratic right to political speech. The Founders realized that political speech was absolutely essential and should be strongly protected — and even though the Kossacks are little better than the most vilest pamphleteers of the Founder’s day, they still deserve the same level of protection.

The answer to political speech that one doesn’t like isn’t to try to censor it, it is to speak back, and to do so more logically and respectfully than the other side. Fighting speech — even hate speech — with government censorship or regulation chafes against the First Amendment and should be done only in the most extreme of circumstances. Bambenek’s attempt to stifle The Daily Kos is understandable on some levels, but ultimately wrong. The government should not be in the business of regulating political speech on the internet so long as that speech is not threatening or in clear violation of the law — The Daily Kos may be disgusting, juvenile, and paranoid, but that hardly warrants the heavy hand of government placing a gag over it.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh has more on the legal aspects on why bloggers are currently exempt from FEC regulation.

Movable Type Goes Open-Source

Movable Type, one of the original software packages that started the blogging revolution is going open source. This site used Movable Type for about two years before switching over to WordPress. It seems that SixApart’s decision to open-source MT has much to do with the competition from the open-source WordPress system.

In any market, healthy competition is always a good thing, and while I’ve found WordPress to be an excellent platform for blogging that keeps getting more and more flexible, Movable Type was and is a great blogging package as well. Hopefully the quest to make blogging more effective will improve the quality of both products. Going open-source may allow both packages to enhance each other by sharing common ideas and systems. One of the problems for writing software that works with blogging systems is that everybody has their own “standard.” WordPress uses the old Movable Type API, Blogger now uses GData, and Movable Type and Typepad use either the MovableType API or the new “standard” Atom Publishing Protocol — but not always in compatible ways. Hopefully everyone can be on the same page, which would make software developer’s lives much easier and allow for better integration between packages.

More On The Company You Keep

It looks like John Edwards will not fire the left-wing bloggers whose incendiary comments caused a minor media storm.

I’m not all that surprised — Edwards knows that the radical “netroots” have a disproportionate influence on the Democratic Party, and he needs to kowtow to them as much as possible in the early days.

However, what Marcotte wrote was bigoted, incendiary, and childish. It was tantamount to hate speech, and is certainly not anything resembling decent and thoughtful political discourse. Like it or not, by retaining Marcotte and McEwen, Edwards has given a tacit endorsement to their comments. That is certainly his choice, but it also the choice for the electorate to make inferences based upon it.

The Company You Keep

ABC’s Terry Moran notes that John Edwards is taking heat for hiring leftyblogger Amanda Marcotte whose expletive-filled rantings are hardly the sort of thing that a reputable political candidate would want to endorse. Moran asks the right questions:

At issue are Marcotte’s comments on her own blog, Pandagon (http://www.pandagon.net/), which has staked out a prominent place in the left-wing blogosphere. It’s pretty strong stuff; her comments about other people’s faiths could well be construed as hate speech.

Questions: What, if anything, does it tell us about Edwards that he’s joined up with this blogger? Is Edwards’ association with a person who has written these things a legitimate issue for voters, as they wonder–among other things–whom he might appoint to high office if he’s elected? If a Republican candidate teamed up with a right-wing blogger who spewed this kind of venom, how would people react? Is the mere raising of this issue a kind of underhanded censorship, a way of ruling out of bounds some kinds of opinion? Are we all just going to have to get used to a more rough-and-tumble, profane, and even hate-filled public arena in the age of the blogosphere?

I think we’ll see a lot more of that as blogging goes mainstream. Predictably, the left-wing blogosphere has gone nuts over the piece.

Like it or not, Ms. Marcotte may have the right to free speech, and no one is arguing that she should be censored. However, what she says is incindiary, derogatory, and bigoted. Had she treated Islam the way she treats Catholicism, she’d be widely ostracized. Marcotte represents everything that is wrong with the lefty blogosphere — the constant profanity, the invective, the elevation of childish snark above analysis. There are only a few left-wing bloggers who do anything resembling analysis, and while some of them are good (Joshua Micah Marshall comes to mind as an example) most of them seem to carry the attitudes of high school kids who think they’re “sticking it to the Man” by dropping cluster F-bombs. For anyone who doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid already, it’s not only unpersuasive, it’s horrendously off-putting.

I think Dean Barnett is right — the Edwards team seems not to be familiar with the blogger they hired — which is their mistake. Marcotte has every right to spew her invective and play the part of a left-wing Ann Coulter all she wishes — but for a campaign to not do their due diligence and figure out what they were getting into is a rather significant error of judgment.

Like it or not, Presidential campaigns are known by the company they keep, and when they end up hiring a blogger whose singular talent is trying to be as offensive and vitriolic as possible, that sends the message that they haven’t been paying much attention. I doubt this will make much of a ripple outside the media and the blogosphere, but sooner or later this sort of thing will lead to a much wider political scandal. The question is when, and what will the repercussions be?

UPDATE: Left-wing group blog MyDD demonstrates the siege mentality of the left:

The Edwards camp faces a series simple choices right now:

  • Are you with the people who work their asses for you, or are you with right-wing extremists who hate you?
  • Are you willing to point out the double standards and hypocrisy behind this story, or will you cave to even the mildest pressure from the Republican Noise Machine?
  • Do you have any loyalty to the netroots, or was it all just sweet talk, where loyalty actually only flows uphill and shit actually only flows downhill?

Of course, to the left, everything is manipulated by sinister right-wing forces. Never mind that what Ms. Marcotte wrote would likely offend nearly everyone, including the Catholic liberal voters that any Democrat needs to win in key states. It’s all about the “Republican Noise Machine” (which apparently now includes ABC’s Terry Moran) and how they must be stopped at any costs. Everyone who doesn’t agree with them is a “right wing extremist” and compromise is impossible.

This is why, ultimately, the left-wing blogosphere is more of a liability to the Democrats than an asset. The second they start getting more mainstream attention, the more their radicalism comes to light. Ms. Marcotte’s comments are not the sort of thing that persuades anyone, and they reflect poorly on John Edwards and his campaign. And it doesn’t take a “right wing extremist” to see that.

Revolutionary Conversations

The Columbia Journalism Review has a fascinating article on the way in which blogging is creating a new spirit of openness in the closed societies of the Middle East. From Saudi Arabia to Egypt, bloggers are having conversations on topics that have normally been taboo and exploring opinions that would normally be stifled by government censors. As the article explains:

In the American blogosphere, opinions and life tales blossom a millionfold every day. But against the background of a largely party-line mainstream local Arab media, and the absence of avenues for national conversation, these Arab bloggers, most of whom are anonymous for their own safety, commit small acts of bravery simply by speaking their minds. It should be said that most of the people maintaining blogs do come out of the highest strata of society, economically and educationally, so their opinions can seem at times to represent no wider a circle than the upper crust of any given country. But, as Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian blogger who was forced into exile in September 2005 for his democracy activism, which included blogging about his eight-month interrogation by Syrian security services, put it: “There is nothing wrong with admitting that we represent a certain elite. It’s not exclusively an economic elite, though economics surely plays a large factor. These are people who are comfortable, who have more time to blog. But in itself this is not the problem. The importance of this technology at this stage is to connect the elites better, to network the elites, to make them able to share more ideas and organize.” The power of the medium, Abdulhamid says, will come when those bloggers find a way to “cross the bridge between the elite and the grass roots” — a process that is already beginning, through a few organized demonstrations coordinated by bloggers, online campaigns, and the posting of information about police brutality or sexual harassment.

The Arab blogosphere is small, but as Internet access becomes pervasive, the censors are going to have a harder time cracking down. The Internet has always been a disruptive technology, and as access to it grows across the Middle East, its effects will magnify. The state-run media only presents one side of the story — bloggers present more. Just as the samizdat movement in the former Soviet Union gave new power to the pro-democracy activists there, blogs are beginning to allow dissidents across the region to communicate and coordinate.

The rise of blogging gives Arab and Middle Eastern bloggers a sense of individuality in a culture in which “leaders” such as Hassan Nasrallah presume to speak for all. The leaders of the Middle East struggle to preserve a sense of unity, actively trying to make it look like the “Arab street” speaks with only one voice. Yet like any culture, there are thousands of diverse viewpoints, but in the Arab world many of these dissenting viewpoints have been suppressed. Blogging allows those suppressed viewpoints to challenge the hegemonic status quo in the region — which is why authorities in the region are scrambling to try to put the lid on bloggers.

It’s a quest that will likely fail — technology moves too fast, and the cultural and political snowball effect has already begun. Just as Charter 77, Solidarity, and samizdat eroded the control of Marxism across the Iron Curtain, bloggers can do the same across the Muslim world. The article’s conclusion is quite right — revolutions are started when young activists have a chance to examine the culture in which they live and wonder why things can’t be better. As that happens in the Middle East, what was once an intractable morass of sectarianism could some day become the vanguard of the next wave of democratic change.

Andrew Sullivan, The Were-O’Reilly

James Lileks has a deft takedown of Andrew Sullivan’s latest arrogant effort in inanity. Like Lileks, I was a fan of Sullivan’s work back when he spent more time excoriating the people who were real fanatics before he decided to invent some of his own to attack. The use of the deeply silly term “Christianist” for everyone to the right of a Unitarian demonstrates both Mr. Sullivan’s abandonment of logic for the rhetoric of the permanently indignant. Andrew Sullivan has become a gay Bill O’Reilly, an arrogant hack trying to present himself as the paragon of rationality and moderation while casually dismissing any rational arguments that might contradict his worldview – all he needs to do is start talking about “the folks” and his transformation would be complete.

Sullivan’s MO is the same as O’Reilly’s schtick – find some issue in which he’s already come to his a priori conclusion, then bash everyone who tries to make a counterargument. His curt dismissals of Ramesh Ponnuru’s serious arguments on abortion, followed by repeated distortions of Ponnuru’s positions are further demonstration of his constant attempts to beat down the army of strawmen he’s created.

Like O’Reilly, Sullivan’s constant preening sanctimony wears thin. For all his talk about people who have Manichean worldview, the fact that he dismisses conservative Christians as “Christianists” (despite the fact that in doing so he rejects much of his own Catholic faith), his hysterical attacks on those who do not think that terrorists deserve Geneva Convention protections, and his constant use of cheap shots rather than intelligent arguments all paint a picture of someone more interested in throwing flames than casting light.

The fact is that Andrew Sullivan isn’t a dumb guy. He isn’t a bad writer. When he wants to give the other side the benefit of the doubt, he can be incredibly astute. After the events of September 11 he displayed a wonderful sense of moral clarity. His arguments (from the conservative side) in defense of gay marriage are some of the strongest arguments out there. In short, he’s better than cheap rhetoric he now uses.

Cheap partisan shots may get the traffic, and dismissing all contrary arguments on a prima facie basis may make one feel good, but ultimately the quality of a commentator is in how they grapple with the issues, not in how much they can beat up on a collection of straw men. Sullivan’s too gifted a thinker to descend into the world of cheap rhetoric and self-indulgent faux-populist schtick. Besides, Bill O’Reilly does it better than Sullivan.

UPDATE: The fact that Sullivan is hawking inane conspiracy theories from a group of 9/11-deniers doesn’t lend him any more credence.

Into A Mirror, Darkly

Glenn Reynolds has a large roundup of links on former University of Arizona professor Deb Frisch – who made threats on the life of the two-year-old son of popular blogger Jeff Goldstein. Goldstein’s site was also attacked with a DDOS attack shortly afterwards.

I recall conservative bloggers being smeared as “digital brownshirts” – yet the last I checked, I’ve never seen this kind of behavior from the right side of the aisle. No doubt there are plenty of right-wing nutjobs out there, but threatening the life of a two-year-old? Launching illegal and destructive attacks on other people’s sites? That sort of thing would lead to instant condemnation from the right if a right-wing blogger were to do the same. Yet that kind of insanity seems part and parcel from the left.

All the abject hatred and steaming invective that comes from the left is eventually going to bubble up like it did with the lamentable former Professor’s vile threats. You can’t systematically accuse people of being traitors, slime, and evil without someone taking it to the next level sooner or later. The Right was inflicted with this sort of insanity during the Clinton years, but there wasn’t a blogosphere to channel and magnify that hatred – and cooler heads prevail.

If cooler heads don’t prevail this time, sooner or later someone will make good on those threats, and we’ll all bear the consequences. That’s why it’s so important for the major leftybloggers to speak out on these issues – I trust most of them don’t support such actions and have enough of a sense of ethics to take a stand here. If someone on the right did the same, it would be incumbent upon right-wing bloggers to do the same.

If we want to be treated as something better than a mob, we’d better damn sure we don’t act like one. Calling someone names may be crass and unproductive, but when someone makes threats on the life of another, that’s not only unethical, it’s illegal. I would hope that Mr. Goldstein would pursue every legal option at his disposal to ensure that a person capable of those threats is not allowed to ever be in a position to carry them out.

UPDATE: TalkLeft’s Jeralyn Merritt strikes just the right note.

UPDATE: Captain Ed argues that the left blogosphere needn’t single out the actions of a lone nut:

Let’s not get wild on this idea of requiring a response from everyone in the blogosphere on this story. Deb Frisch is responsible for her actions — not Mahablog, nor any other left-wing blogger who never linked or blogrolled Frisch in the first place. The “crickets chirping” on the Left just means that they probably don’t read Jeff or Deb Frisch. If we make it a requirement to comment on every blogger who crosses the line on either side of the political divide, none of us will have time for anything else.

I respectfully disagree here. Like it or not, the world just doesn’t work that way. All conservatives are smeared when someone like Ann Coulter (who I find shrill and offensive) does something wrong. And we indeed go out of our way to distance ourselves from those who do wrong. Granted, I don’t expect Markos Moulitsas to don sackcloth and ashes and beg for forgiveness for the actions of one disturbed individual, but as members of a community, one has an obligation to stand up and defend the standards of that community, especially when the violation of civilized discourse was this blatant. Stupid people say stupid things, but we all can agree that making threats against a two-year-old child is something worthy of special approbation.