Free Alaa

Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fatah has been arrested during a pro-democracy demonstration and is being held by Egyptian security services. Egypt is one of the largest recipients of US foreign aid donations of any country in the world. If this is the sort of thing that the Egyptian government will do to citizens engaged in peaceful and democratic program, then the US government should not continue to bankroll such activities.

The address for the Egyptian Embassy is:

The Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Ct. NW
Washington DC 20008
Phone (202) 895 5400
Fax (202) 244 5131
(202) 244 4319

It’s time that Mubarak’s government knows that this sort of activity will result in immediate suspension of all foreign aid. Writing your Senator and/or Representative wouldn’t hurt either.

Just Watch Out For Drinks Containing Hemlock

Socrates“Captain Ed” Morrissey has been named by the CityPages as their “Best Gadfly” for 2005 (the original article is here). Quite a complement for one of Minnesota’s natural treasures and one of the world’s best bloggers. Captain Ed’s coverage of Canada’s Adscam – which ended up vaulting Stephen Harper into office – was top-notch journalism, better than what you find in most “professional” publications these days.

Given that Socrates liked to fashion himself as a gadfly, I’d take that as some high praise. Then again, given what the Athenians did to Socrates…

Crashing The Gate And The Psychology Of Frustration

The ever-astute Josh Trevino has a very interesting review of Crashing The Gate, a how-to manual on “netroots activism” by Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong. I’ve always personally believed that “netroots activism” is ultimately a flash in the pan. Sites like The Daily Kos and RedState quickly degenerate into ideological echo chambers that serve narrow interests rather than expanding the appeal of a political party. At the same time, Kos punches well above his weight in Democratic circles, so it’s valuable to listen to what he has to say.

However, Trevino notes something he calls the “psychology of frustration” inherent in the book’s rhetoric. For example:

Moulitsas and Armstrong are frank proponents of outright mimicry of the mechanisms of GOP ascendacy. Alas that the book’s assessment of Republican successes and governance is risibly simplistic: a catalogue of cartoonish betes noirs and unexamined myths ranging from villainous “theocons” to assigning the blame for the flaws of the Katrina response on the wars in Iraq — and Afghanistan. Mistakes are made that belie even a passing familiarity with American political history: the era of LBJ is lauded as a golden age; and Richard Nixon is described as having “legitimate conservative credentials.”…

We know that they view the media as hostile, for reasons having more to do with the psychology of frustration than an objective reality. Academia, presumably, is a “single-issue group.” And so they buy into the mythos of the VRWC with tendrils extending into every corner of public life, because a malevolent monolith is a powerful motivator — not least to oneself. Paradoxically, a primary source of their information is the organs of the VRWC itself, which of course are going to tout themselves handsomely. The authors aren’t being uniquely naive: we got a left-wing hit piece done on my own organization a few weeks back. It was some of the best PR copy for us I’ve ever read.

Kos has always been a loose cannon – a political and ideological hack with dreams of grandeur. The essential problems with bloggers, or “netroots activists” or whatever today’s term happens to be is that they don’t match the rest of the electorate. Only a miniscule percentage of American voters are political bloggers – maybe a few thousand. Only a small percentage of American read blogs at all, and the real influence of political bloggers is concentrated in media and Beltway circles. For all the blogger triumphalism, the political impact of blogging has probably been wildly overstated – and given that I’ve been on the blogging hype train myself, I’m as much to blame for that as anyone.

What Crashing The Gate does is ask for a Democratic Party that’s narrowly catered to the interests of a few “netroots activists” who are trying to get the party to mock a straw-man view of Republican political power. While Trevino credits Kos and Armstrong for exposing the highly shady world of paid political consultants, the majority of the book is devoted to the same self-indulgence that Kos’ and Armstrong’s sites spew forth each and every day.

Trevino gives the book one of the most devastating rejoinders the authors could ask for:

If you’re a Democrat, facing off against the irate masses of the online left is a losing proposition. They may lack perspicacity, and they may lack equanimity: but they do not lack noise. For all the rhetoric about the power of the netroots, new paradigms, and empowerment, Moulitsas and Armstrong do not — or cannot — acknowledge that this is the fundamental source of their power, and the power of the dispersed tribe they have gathered to seize the Democratic Party, and eventually America itself. Irony of ironies: they have a Noise Machine. If Crashing the Gate is any indication, that’s all they have — and they don’t fully understand it.

That’s why there is one group for whom trying to stop them is not a losing proposition. That group is the Republican Party.

The left-wing blogosphere, with a few notable exceptions, is the same kind of noise machine that the “netroots” accuse everyone else of being. The projection is almost palpable. Kos and Armstrong engage in the kind of comfortable fictions that have led The Daily Kos to batting .000 in officially endorsed political candidates.

That doesn’t mean that the right end of the blogosphere gets off easy either. What’s the difference between a blogger and somebody with a bullhorn and a grudge? For all the talk about how blogging will change the media playing field, create An Army of Davids, and forever change politics, the question has to be asked whether or not we’re all succumbing to our own hype. Blogging can be greatly advantagous to politics in America, and there’s a definite Tocquevillian aspect to it. At the same time, it can also be used as a soapbox for the person with the loudest mouth – like talk radio if the callers rather than the hosts had taken over. Kos’ site is a perfect example of that – what uncommitted swing voter is going to take a look at Kos and think “Gee, those people sure are rational, logical, and open to new ideas.” Not many, I suspect. And sadly, that would be true for a number of right-wing blogs as well these days.

Crashing The Gate is an interesting read, although Trevino’s right in pointing out that having bloggers trumpet the benefits of political blogs is hardly going to produce the most rigorous and dispassionate analysis. However, it also inadvertantly reveals the self-referentialism, the self-aggrandizement, and the general narcissism of the blogosphere these days. Kos is right that the “netroots” are having a significant impact on Democratic politics today – what he doesn’t delve into is whether that level of influence is driving the party towards a more “progressive” future or straight into the wilds of ideological excess.

Wal-Mart’s Blue-Light Special On Astroturf

The New York Times has a piece on Wal-Mart’s efforts to use bloggers to pass on their PR statements:

Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.

But the strategy raises questions about what bloggers, who pride themselves on independence, should disclose to readers. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, has been forthright with bloggers about the origins of its communications, and the company and its public relations firm, Edelman, say they do not compensate the bloggers.

But some bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times word for word, without revealing where it came from.

Glenn Reynolds, the founder of, one of the oldest blogs on the Web, said that even in the blogosphere, which is renowned for its lack of rules, a basic tenet applies: “If I reprint something, I say where it came from. A blog is about your voice, it seems to me, not somebody else’s.”

As a note of full disclosure, this blog was one of the blogs contacted by Wal-Mart.

I didn’t respond, mainly because I already get enough talking points from different people, almost all of which go unread, and also because I’ve no particular interest in Wal-Mart as a company. I will write about labor issues and other matters of public policy that may effect corporations like Wal-Mart, but I’ve no desire to defend a particular corporation unless there’s a matter of public policy at stake. Like most bloggers, I suspect, I don’t care much for astroturfing, and the idea that someone would not only accept a company’s talking points, but post them without proper attribution strikes me a grossly unethical. Wal-Mart can’t be faulted for trying to get their message out, but those bloggers who post their talking points without attribution or full disclosure do so at the risk of tarnishing their reputations.

Bloggers have to use some common sense. Bloggers who post materials without attribution, especially someone else’s canned talking points, can’t expect to be taken seriously and sooner or later astroturfing efforts like this will be discovered. Likewise, corporations can and should build relationships with bloggers, but need to acknowledge that efforts at bribery or astroturfing are not something they want to be caught with later on. It’s one thing to pass along talking points, it’s another thing for a blogger to simply echo them.

We rightly criticize the media for being nothing more than a mouthpiece for various special interest groups that simply rewrites their talking points without original analysis. It’s crucial to the credibility of this medium that we not do the same – and when someone does, that we quickly move to correct the error.

Predictions 2006

Another year is upon us, and with the dawn of a new year comes the typical year-end predictions. So, without further ado, here’s my list of predictions for 2006, in no particular order:

  • Apple will release a widescreen Intel-based iBook at MacWorld this year.
  • Alito will be handily confirmed to the Supreme Court.
  • Rick Santorum will lose to Bob Casey in PA, but by a narrower margin then one would think.
  • Saddam Hussein will be found guilty of genocide and sentenced to death by an Iraqi court.
  • The New York Times will abandon their TimesSelect experiment and realize that people won’t pay to read Maureen Dowd’s bleatings. In an ironic twist, the NYT will start a blog.
  • Video podcasting won’t take off. Video porn podcasting will.
  • Downloadable TV will take off big-time as Apple announces a media center device capable of playing downloadable HD-quality video – shows like Battlestar Galactica will top 1,000,000 downloads before the end of the year.
  • Firefox’s market share will continue to rise.
  • Windows Vista will be released, but will see anemic sales. Meanwhile, Apple’s marketshare will continue to rise with the new Intel-based Macs.
  • The balance of power in Congress will remain roughly where it is, but the GOP will lose a few House seats and at least 2 Senate seats.
  • Every candidate endorsed by Kos will lose.
  • Donald Rumsfeld will resign as Secretary of Defense by Spring. The Democrats, not able to control themselves, will threaten a filibuster of his replacement, causing their polling numbers to plummet.
  • By the end of 2006, women will represent a majority of bloggers.
  • Iran will test a nuclear weapon.
  • Israel will officially announce that they have nuclear weapons, and will state that any attack against Israel will result in nuclear retaliation.
  • Al-Qaeda will shift their focus from Iraq to trying to provoke a war between Israel and the Arab world.
  • Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi will commit suicide after being cornered by Iraqi troops along the Iraq/Syria border.
  • President Emilie Lahoud of Lebanon will be forced to resign as Lebanon continues to fight back against Syria.
  • Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be reelected in Israel, but by a narrow margin, forcing him to work with Binyamin Netanyahu in a tension-filled coalition government.
  • Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad will be assassinated, with Iranian officials blaming Israel for his death. A more reformist leader will take his place, but Iran will remain largely totalitarian.
  • The Palestinian Authority will collapse as Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Hizb’Allah end up fighting each other for control. Mahmoud Abbas will be forced to flee as members of his government are rounded up and killed. Israel will announce that they are sealing all borders with Gaza and the West Bank until the violence subsides.
  • Osama bin Laden will not be captured, nor will Ayman al-Zawahiri.
  • The US GDP will grow at 3+% in 2006. The EU economy will barely grow at all. Western European companies will increasingly rely on outsourcing to Eastern Europe, causing the EU to try and stem the flow, creating an even wide chasm between East and West in the EU.

We’ll see how well I did in late December 2006…

UPDATE: Federal Review weighs on in my predictions. Winston predicts a Kadima-Labour government, and the polls make that seem likely. I could see Sharon conceding on some economic issues in order to keep Labour in and Netanyahu isolated…

UPDATE: How could I forget the most important prediction of all?

  • The biggest hit movie of 2006? Forget Superman – think SNAKES ON A PLANE. That’s right – a movie about a plane with deadly snakes on it. If that isn’t pure cinema genius, what is?

Crystal Ball Watch 2005

Last year I made my annual predictions for the coming year. Let’s just say the old crystal ball must have been a bit cloudy, because I didn’t do all that well. Without further ado, let’s take the Wayback Machine back a year:

The elections in Iraq will have sporadic violence, but will still result in a win for pro-democracy forces. After the elections, the violence in Iraq will steadily taper down although not disappear entirely.

Well, this one was partially right. The Shi’ite list won, there were several months of horsetrading, a constitution was approved, and parliamentary elections were held. The level of violence has decreased in some areas, but increased in others. There’s a lot of good news from Iraq, but the process is ongoing. The new split between the secularist Maram bloc and the United Iraqi List will be the thing to watch over the next few weeks.

After the elections in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld will decide to step down as Secretary of Defense, citing family reasons.

Maybe in 2006.

In the wake of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Vladimir Putin will face increasing calls for his resignation due to the increasing authoritarianism of the Russian government.

Putin, though marginalized internationally, remains popular in Russia despite his increasing authoritarianism.

Fidel Castro will die, causing a brief chaos as his son Raul tries to take control of the government. However, with the help of Cuban exiles in Florida, massive pro-democracy protests will force the Cuban regime to hold free elections in which reformist candidates win decisively. After the elections, the sanctions on Cuba will be lifted and the Cuban economy will skyrocket due to a massive influx of US tourists.

Not yet, although one can hope that the old tyrant will shuffle off his mortal coil sooner or later.

The exodus from Movable Type to WordPress will only increase along with comment spam attacks.

This one was true – quite a number of blogs have switched from Movable Type to WordPress, and as WordPress continues to improve I’d suspect that trend will continue.

The hot gadget of 2005 will be the Motorola/Apple iPhone announced at MacWorld San Francisco in January.

The iPhone wasn’t introduced until late in the year, and it was a rather large disappointment. The iPod remains the gadget of the year, with the new video-capable model being a hot item for the holidays. Get ready for the Intel widescreen iBook in 2006…

Mozilla Firefox will end the year with a marketshare of over 25%. (In some cases, it’s nearly there already.)

On this site, it’s 20-30%. Overall, Firefox usage is probably less than 10%. Still, those of you still using Internet Explorer – what the hell are you thinking?

Iran will become a nuclear power.

Unless Israel or someone else decides to take matters into their own hands, this seems like something that will happen in 2006.

Osama bin Laden will be shot by US forces trying to flee from a raid along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Not yet, although again, one can hope.

Ayman al-Zawahiri will be captured shortly after.

See above.

Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi will be betrayed by Iraqi Sunni clerics seeking an end to the violence in their country. His badly mutilated remains will be found some days later outside Fallujah.

Al-Zarqawi is doing his best to alienate everyone. He’s already been disowned by his own family. One of these days, someone with a beef against him will take him out – unless he goes deep underground. I’m still thinking that this prediction may hold true in 2006.

President Bush will nominate Ted Olson to serve as Chief Justice after Justice Rehnquist succombs to cancer.


Michael Moore will marry Anna Nicole Smith in a secret Vegas ceremony. Those two massive walking trainwrecks were made for each other.

Fortunately that prediction didn’t come to pass either. Scientists now believe that such a pairing would result in the creation of an ultra-dense singularity from which no common sense or tact could escape.

President Bush will get serious about cutting the deficit, making him much more popular among conservatives and much less among everyone else. The projected deficit will go down due to lowered spending and increased economic growth.

Sigh… if only that were true. Counting on fiscal discipline from this Administration seems to be a fools errand…

The MoveOn wackos will break away from the Democrats after Howard Dean is rejected as head of the DNC. The organization will disband due to internal squabbles shortly afterwards.

Instead, we get the opposite – the MoveOn wackos now seem to control the Democratic Party. And we have Chairman Howard Dean of the DNC, which is great for comics and GOP pundits, but certainly not a healthy thing for the DNC.

Kim Jung Il will remain in seclusion, fueling speculation that he had died some time ago. No one will know for sure, and the North Korean government will continue to be the most oppressive on Earth.

Kim Jung Il seems to still be alive (and ronery!), and North Korea still remains a Stalinist hellhole. So at least I got the obvious part right.

We’ll all be a year older.

Other than certain Democratic leaders who appear to have regressed into two-year olds, that one’s a given.

Coming later today – my predictions for 2006…

Real, But Inaccurate

Powerline follows up on the story of the supposed GOP “talking points” memo on Terri Schaivo , finding that it was written (without authorization) by the legal counsel to freshman Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL). The staffer who wrote the memo has been asked by Sen. Martinez to resign.

While the memo itself was genuine, the original story in The Washington Post made it out to be some kind of official Republican strategy document rather than a what it really was. Mike Allen’s original story was still misleading and didn’t reflect the actual nature of the memo.

This isn’t as egregious a journalist offense as the Bush ANG memos (which were outright fakes — and crude ones at that), but it still doesn’t leave the mainstream media off the hook. By describing the memo as if it were some kind of official strategy document written at the highest levels of power rather than a solitary note passed by a staffer in the office of a freshman Senator, the media clearly didn’t do the basic research they should have. The numerous errors in the document should have been a tipoff that the claim that this document was some kind of official memorandum didn’t pass muster. An official memo would at least get the right bill number.

It’s clear that an error was made here, and the Post should issue a retraction and move on. Reporters should realize by now that their work is going to be fact-checked, not by the increasingly lax editors at the country’s newspapers, but by millions of citizens with an unprecedent level of access to information. Trying to pull a fast one on the public just won’t fly anymore, and neither will failures to do basic research.

Revolt Of The Buggy-Whip Manufacturers

The head of the American Library Association (motto: “Sssshhhh!”) is taking bloggers to the woodshed for not being fonts of wisdom like heads of the American Library Association. In a piece titled like a 50’s horror movie (“Quick! We must escape the clutches of THE BLOG PEOPLE!”) Michael Gorman displays both a sense of dripping elitism and a shocking amount of cluelessness:

In the eyes of bloggers, my sin lay in suggesting that Google is OK at giving access to random bits of information but would be terrible at giving access to the recorded knowledge that is the substance of scholarly books. I went further and came up with the unoriginal idea that the thing to do with a scholarly book is to read it, preferably not on a screen. It turns out that the Blog People (or their subclass who are interested in computers and the glorification of information) have a fanatical belief in the transforming power of digitization and a consequent horror of, and contempt for, heretics who do not share that belief.

First of all, Gorman completely misses the point of Google’s initiative for putting the content of the world’s libraries online – the point is to make search results more accurate by having authoritative sources made available. One would think that a librarian would be able to correctly parse a press release, but apparently one would be mistaken.

One would also think that a librarian of all people would believe in widely disseminating information. Last I checked, it’s a hell of a lot easier to delivery packets of information than it is to deliver pressed dead tree material. Last I checked, librarians were supposed to share in the concept of the glorification of information. One can only assume by Gorman’s rhetoric that the ALA stands for ensuring that all the world’s knowledge is kept under the hallowed watch of the librarian where the rabble can’t get access to it without making proper obesiance.

How could I possibly be against access to the world’s knowledge? Of course, like most sane people, I am not against it and, after more than 40 years of working in libraries, am rather for it. I have spent a lot of my long professional life working on aspects of the noble aim of Universal Bibliographic Control—a mechanism by which all the world’s recorded knowledge would be known, and available, to the people of the world. My sin against bloggery is that I do not believe this particular project will give us anything that comes anywhere near access to the world’s knowledge.

Oh, but he’s really for the dissemination of information – just so long as it falls under the control of the ALA…

It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.

That is what we call an ad hominem attack. That’s usually the sign of someone who’s intellectually sloppy and has a weak argument. I would put the intellectual skills of someone like Glenn Reynolds, the bloggers of Power Line, or Eugene Volokh among others as easily being far greater than Mr. Gorman at any time. In fact, I would bet that they actually do read books, and apparently have a level of reading comprehension far greater than Mr. Gorman’s crude smear portrays. I certainly know that they can make an argument without stooping to broad-stroked invective.

For someone who claims to read a lot of books, he certainly hasn’t seemed to learn much about the art of rhetoric and argumentation. Perhaps it’s time to break out the Cicero?

If a fraction of the latter were devoted to buying books and providing librarians for the library-starved children of California, the effort would be of far more use to humanity and society. Perhaps that latter thought will reinforce the opinion of the Blog Person who included “Michael Gorman is an idiot” in his reasoned critique, because no opinion that comes from someone who is “antidigital” (in the words of another Blog Person) could possibly be correct. For the record, though I may have associated with Antidigitalists, I am not and have never been a member of the Antidigitalist party and would be willing to testify to that under oath. I doubt even that would save me from being burned at the virtual stake, or, at best, being placed in a virtual pillory to be pelted with blogs. Ugh!

Add to Mr. Gorman’s reading list a book on elementary logic. I recommend he begin with something called the “fallacy of composition.”

Yes, let’s spend our money on moving heavy and cumbersome bits of dead tree, spending money on keeping a building for those dead trees, and librarians to care for them. Mr. Gorman’s lack of sensible rhetoric is matched only be his ignorance of economics. For the past two decades the world’s information has become more accessible to the masses than ever before. Scholarly works that would normally only be housed in university libraries, law schools, or medical academies are now available online. Despite Mr. Gorman’s protestations to the contrary, he seems to be stuck in the past when librarians were the gatekeepers to information.

What Gorman apparently does not realize is that the old-fashioned librarian is rapidly going the way of the buggy-whip manufacturer. As much as they cried that “horseless carriages” would be the doom of us all, they were quickly steamrolled by the inexorable march of technology. The ALA’s leadership clearly doesn’t have the foggiest clue when it comes to new technologies, and his elitist and logically vacant diatribe only proves why the ALA’s leadership is pushing it further and further towards irrelvance.

Slashing The Slashes

I’ve fixed the bug with Spam Karma that was causing the erroneous slashes in comments. It was as simple as putting a PHP stripslashes() function in the code when the comments are returned.

Sadly, development on Spam Karma is on hold for the moment, and for good reason. As the developer, Dr. Dave notes:

Second and principal reason why developing SK is becoming more of a drag than I am willing to handle: WordPress. WordPress is a wonderful tool, it is probably the best publishing platform available out there at the moment. Essentially thanks to the huge community that revolves around it: developing plug-ins, patching the code and guiding new users. Literally hundreds of people putting their time to the service of the community.

However, I have a serious beef with the way its development has been going lately: chiefly, I am getting sick and tired of discovering massive changes in ostensibly alpha-phase code, every other morning. Changes that are neither discussed nor announced on any of the main community channels. Announcing major alterations to the code architecture is not only simple courtesy toward the people working with it, it is also bloody common-sense, if you hope to keep them interested in contributing.

This goes along with the overal flakiness of the release scheme (there again: absolutely devoid of any communication) and the fact that, rather than fixing fundamental flaws, current development seems to focus essentially on adding trendy features, overlapping existing ones (please just do not ask me one more time why there is a and a or making sweeping, untested and half-efficient last-minute changes to the code.

WordPress is indeed excellent software, and given that this site is powered by what is essentially alpha code, it’s clearly stable and dependable. At the same time the development does seem rather haphazard. That isn’t to say that the WordPress team are bad programmers – far from it. There just seems to be a lack of discipline in the release schedule.

Now, I admit I’m the last person to criticize. As the lead developer of BloGTK I’ve gone for nearly a year between the more-or-less usable 1.0 release and the more stable 1.1 release that I just pushed out last week. Debugging is one of the least gratifying things a programmer can do. It involves digging in your own code, testing it to death, and testing it some more. It’s usually the worst, nastiest, ugliest code that you never want to see again that has the most problems. (See the spellcheck code in BloGTK for an example of this — it’s a massive kludge that works, but not well.) It’s much more fun to add new and interesting features and do something cool.

I still think WordPress has a bright future, and 1.5 is a great piece of software. Still, when one of the best plugin developers on the scene gets frustrated with the constant unannounced changes, the development team needs to take notice. After all, it’s the community that has surrounded WordPress that is one of its greatest assets. Six Apart learned how a lack of communication with users can have a major negative effect on mindshare – one would hate for WordPress to go through the same thing.