JOURNAL: Current | Archives

31 January 2002

Matt Green?

Matt Welch was kind enough to link to both of my sites tonight, which reminded me of something I've been wondering about for a while.

We're all familiar with Welch's journalism background, and writing that pops up all over the place. But I'm suspicious of Welch. I don't know if I believe him, for example, when he says he's gone off to Europe for R and R and then doesn't post for a few weeks. I think he may be up to something else....

Because I was poking around on Texas singer-songwriter Pat Green's website recently, and ran across this photo, a photo of Pat Green that is not all that different from this photo on Welch's site.

Now I've seen Welch protesting that the "hat photo" of him is an aberration, but I wonder if that isn't just to throw us off track. Is Matt Welch really Pat Green, pounding away at the keyboard under the name Welch by day, wailing away under the name Green by night? Hmm..... :)

[Posted at 23:31 CST on 01/31/02] [Link]

30 January 2002

Lowry On Dowd's Latest

I laughed out loud earlier when I read this post from Rich Lowry on NRO's (sort of) weblog:

Often, I read the first two paragraphs of a Maureen Dowd column, realize it's going to be unreadably terrible, then just keep going. So it was today. My favorite lazy cheap-shot, this one on Dick Cheney and the energy task force: "No one has ever said there was the right to remain private in the course of trying to influence federal policy." Well, yes, but plenty of people have said that there is a right to remain private while formulating federal policy--it's called executive privilege.

Quality, indeed, tends to go to hell, even in the case of non-academics. :)

I just wish Lowry had not described executive privilege as a "right" (since, presumably, individuals rather than government entities possess "rights"), but that's an ongoing pet peeve. I also cringe at references to "state's rights" even though I often sympathize with the arguments. All together, boys and girls: governmental institutions, entities, and actors exercise POWERS, not rights.

[Posted at 23:06 CST on 01/30/02] [Link]

Decisive Leadership

I'm continually impressed with the decisive leadership of Mayor Pothole.

[Posted at 22:54 CST on 01/30/02] [Link]

2002 Bloggies

A big congratulations to Ben and Mena Trott, who richly deserve their 2002 Bloggie Award in the category Best Web Application For Weblogs.

I recently switched this site over to their Movable Type software, which also powers Reductio Ad Absurdum, and couldn't be more impressed (at least until they finish up version 2.0).

[Posted at 22:41 CST on 01/30/02] [Link]

Quality Tends To Go To Hell

Judge Richard Posner has published a fun little essay in the most recent Atlantic Monthly (not yet available online, but sure to be posted on Reductio Ad Absurdum when it is) entitled "The Professors Profess." Posner's targets are academics who pontificate ad nauseaum on subjects well outside their fields of expertise (although his argument could also be applied to bloggers) and often wind up embarrassing themselves. As Posner puts it,

Academics are smart and fast, and, in nonscientific fields such as law and history, they can be glib. They are able to supply plausible commentary at short notice on pretty much any subject that engages the interest of the public. The greater that interest, the greater the outpouring of instant commentary. But when academics speak off the cuff, especially about matters outside their areas of expertise, quality tends to go to hell.

I just love how Posner puts it so matter-of-factly: quality tends to go to hell.

And it's true. Paul Krugman, who was once a respected economist (and perhaps still is, although with nearly every column lately, his reputation takes a deserved hit), perhaps illustrates this best, and conveniently his latest column contains a whopper similar to those that Posner criticizes in his essay:

I predict that in the years ahead Enron, not Sept. 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society.

More than anything, it's goofy predictions like that, rather than Krugman's own Enron non-scandal that has lately become Andrew Sullivan's obsession, that suggest Krugman should leave the punditry business and retreat to the safety of the academy. But this is what can happen, as Posner suggests, when we expect pundits to wax knowledgeably on a variety of subjects well outside their expertise, and to Krugman's credit, at least he has more training in the social sciences, his area of broad commentary, than journalists like Robert Scheer or Maureen Dowd, or even a couple of mechanics (albeit mechanics who are popular on NPR), whose commentary on social affairs is somewhat more lacking.

One of the positives of Jim Bennett's "technological reformation" -- the explosion of internet publishing -- is that such nonsense no longer goes unanswered and unchallenged. One of the (minor) drawbacks is that the chatter level on the net has grown significantly (bloggers writing about bloggers writing about pundits, slicing and dicing and quoting in staccato bursts). The explosion of chatter probably helps explain the success of sites like Arts and Letters Daily, which filters the chatter and highlights some real gems in the field of letters and culture. That's my own goal with Reductio Ad Absurdum, although the focus is politics and culture. And even that is a reaction to my past one-line slicing and dicing (chatter!) of various articles that had epitomized Reductio when it was still on this site. Some writing on the web deserves to be read and considered and perhaps even read again, with minimal slicing and dicing. In other words, quality has not totally gone to hell.

[Posted at 21:23 CST on 01/30/02] [Link]

29 January 2002

Hilarious Satire

Hilarious satire at the expense of a couple of well-known bloggers here, which I found via Matt Welch.

But underlying the satire, a pretty good discussion of the real costs of bandwidth, blogging, etc. Also a reminder that Ev really isn't making the kind of money he might be off of the service he offers, and is actually probably losing money on some high-traffic sites.

[Posted at 18:39 CST on 01/29/02] [Link]

Mayor Pothole's Latest

Mayor Pothole is warning of budget shortfalls, pledging to cut services without layoffs. In reality, he should be cutting staff in non-essential areas of city government in order to pay for needed fire and other public safety upgrades, but then that would require setting priorities (an Orlando Sanchez theme, if I recall correctly).

In the same speech -- given before the infamous Greater Houston Partnership (who else?) -- Mayor Pothole also put forth the notion of a mayoral residence, with apparently no sense of irony at all that he was proposing improving the mayor's lifestyle while at the same time talking of the most significant city cutbacks in a decade. Apparently, though, certain folks in the Greater Houston Partnership are not so dim as their puppet mayor (though with his other rebuke this week, maybe he's not such a good puppet), and the idea was withdrawn thirty minutes after it was announced. Or, described with the tortured grammar that epitomizes Houston's Leading Information Source,

Thirty minutes later, the idea went, withdrawn by its originator under questioning from reporters.

[Posted at 00:29 CST on 01/29/02] [Link]

28 January 2002

Various Web Observations

A great line from Ben Henick in a post full of interesting observations:

A high school kid with charm, a good eye, and a little bit of Web savvy could probably get some solid recognition building custom templates for well-known Blogspot users.

And the line of the day from Ken Layne:

Since John Ashcroft is more dedicated to the War on Breasts than the War on Terrorism, maybe he should get a job transfer ... to Saudi Arabia.

[Posted at 22:55 CST on 01/28/02] [Link]

Lindh And Tyson

What do John Walker Lindh and Mike Tyson have in common? They're both victims, according to liberal orthodoxy. And if you thought such liberal orthodoxy was dispelled after 11 September, time to rethink.

John Walker Lindh, according to this recent op-ed in the LA Times is a "victim" of brainwashing. And shouldn't we show him some sympathy? After all, "there is no evidence that he attacked any American," according to the author, Paul Morantz, a lawyer who specializes in cult and brainwashing cases. And even so, in his altered state of mind, he might have just been protecting "his new Taliban 'family'."

Well, I'm convinced. No need to punish this guy for his traitorous behavior. Just give him some therapy and "rehabilitate" him. Because heaven forbid, he couldn't be responsible for his actions.

DeWayne Wickham's column on Mike Tyson is a variation of the theme. For those who are not familiar with Tyson, he has proven himself over a number of years to be a barbarous thug with incidents ranging from rape to ear biting to beatings. He's served time in prison, yet never shows any sign of having been "rehabilitated." Wickham argues that Tyson "belongs on a psychiatrist's couch, not inside a boxing ring." That's true enough. But Wickham goes further: "In the past, instead of getting him some badly needed help, the people who manage the fight game treated Tyson like a gladiator." See, Tyson's really a victim too, a victim of evil boxing promoters who simply used him to make money. The implication is that it's really not his fault that he's a barbarous thug, and that he can be rehabilitated, with his boxing license as the carrot.

Actually, that last is the problem. Liberals like Wickham and Morantz seems to disagree that any actions should have lasting consequences. Tyson bites off Holyfield's ear? Six months with a shrink will "rehabilitate" him. Lindh commits treason? He was "brainwashed" and needs therapy, not a treason trial. And so forth.

After 11 September, the whole notion of "root causes" of misbehavior seemed to fall into disrepute. But it was foolish to think that any major reconsideration had taken place. It was just impolitic at the time to speak of such things. But now that sort of talk is starting to resurface, as the two disparate examples from the sports world and even the war on terror itself show. 11 September really didn't change everything.

[Posted at 22:52 CST on 01/28/02] [Link]

Takedown, RIP

I commented several days ago on the overuse of the term "takedown" in blogland. I'm pleased to see that Patrick Ruffini has also noticed the proliferation of the term, and takes it one step further in the form of a resolution, with which I concur wholeheartedly.

[Posted at 22:30 CST on 01/28/02] [Link]

27 January 2002

A Warning For Mayor Pothole?

I wonder where editorials like this were when Mayor Pothole was going to the race card to hold off challenger Orlando Sanchez in the recent mayoral election?

This may actually be a disguised warning to Mayor Pothole from the Greater Houston Partnership. Mayor Pothole surprised everyone (probably even the Chron) by announcing during his inaugural address that he would be working to overturn term limits during this, his final term as mayor, something he did not mention during the bruising campaign. The final paragraph of the Chron op-ed seems like a shot across the inept mayor's bow:

The urgent and massive repairs needed will require Mayor Brown's enduring and focused attention. This is one job that cannot be delegated and forgotten.

It's unclear that Mayor Pothole understands such subtleties, of course. Perhaps one of his high-priced assistants will explain it to him.

[Posted at 22:55 CST on 01/27/02] [Link]

The Strange Case Of Maureen Dowd

This is what Maureen Dowd has become. And regardless of her politics, it's just sad that a once-great newspaper features an effort like that on its editorial page. Its Sunday editorial page to boot!

Maybe I'm just not intellectual enough to "get" it. Or New York cosmopolitan enough. Or open-minded enough. Or something. But I really don't think any of that's the case.

And it's not just Maureen Dowd's politics. I love this piece by Richard Connelly, whose political orientation, I suspect, is far to my left. It's the sort of piece Maureen Dowd might have written, but didn't. Hell, she should have just ripped off Connelly and been done with it (The local Chron rips off the Press all the time, and we have some idea from the Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin experiences that the price of theft isn't all that high these days).

Of course, I still wouldn't want to see it on the NY Times editorial page. Hell, I wouldn't want to see the latest Dowd piece in an alt-weekly like the Houston Press, where two of my favorite writers work.

[Posted at 22:38 CST on 01/27/02] [Link]

Idealism As Autism?

[Heinlein's] casual fans are harmless, like people who think Atlas Shrugged is "just a novel." It's the other group I take issue with -- the libertarian fruitcakes who think they can use quotations from fictional characters as a roadmap for real life.
-- Jaffo

I just received this month's issue of Backpacker magazine, and was a little surprised to see the following featured at the top of the letters page:

I was disgusted after reading that Montana Fish and Wildlife Agents killed the famous "Falls Creak Grizzly" (December 2001). I was willing to accept it if the bear had been killing a cow per week or even on per month. But the article states that the grizzly killed 36 cows over 15 years. That's a measly 2.4 cows per year! I find it hard to believe ranchers can't afford to lose two cows a year. After all, the rancher is living in the grizzly's territory, not vice versa. --Dayne Eyer

It seems that any bear that offends ranchers is not long for this world. If this is "wildlife management," let's hope these folks don't ever turn their attention to hikers or sportsmen. -- Bing Olbum

These letters aren't simply written by two unrepresentative environmental cranks. They represent a certain way of thinking about the environment (and humans) that is prevalent, in the same way that libertarianism or anarchocapitalism are prevalent (more on those cases below). At the root of both of these letters -- whether the authors concede it or not -- is the notion that animals possess rights equal to humans. In the first letter, the notion that the rancher "is living on the grizzly's territory" gives it away, since property rights have traditionally been considered human, not animal rights. And the second letter suggests that animals belong somewhere higher in the "rights" hierarchy than they wind up according to the wildlife conservation bureaucracy (or ranchers). Because of this view of animal rights, the first writer can suggest, with no irony, that ranchers can "afford to lose" a certain number of cows per year to grizzlies -- and what is guiding that assertion is a form of "balancing" between the rights of grizzlies and the rights of humans.

Many of my libertarian and conservative and objectivist friends would be quick to jump all over the political philosophy of animal rights. That's not my intent here. Instead, my point is that hardcore environmentalists like these letter writers are never going to compromise on, or perhaps even fully consider, their core principles. The "compromise" of sacrificing the number of cows that ranchers can "afford to lose" isn't really a compromise, but merely an attempt to balance concern for animal rights and human rights. On the issue of animal rights, environmentalists like these letter writers are a small, but intransigent, group, and there really is no compromise within the current political climate that can accommodate their view. Because they are putting forth their argument in the current context -- rather than proposing a new "meta-context" (if I may use a popular buzzword) -- they come across to many as loony.

Michael Duff has described this phenomenon in a slightly different context with regard to Objectivists and Libertarians in one of his best essays yet. It should be read in its entirety, although this passage is directly relevant to the discussion here:

Rand teaches people to embrace introversion and egocentricity. These people aren't delusional, but they spend an incredible amount of effort building fantasy worlds -- building a rationalistic paradise in their heads. I've spent years watching them, arguing passionately to establish the rules in Galt's Gulch, making elaborate cases for syndicate anarchy.

And the further the discussion gets from reality, the more comfortable they are. Watch the traffic in humanities.philosophy.objectivism, and you'll see the wheels spin -- examples become more and more abstract, until they're reduced to simplistic parables and Eskimo examples.

I spent most of my time trying to flesh out the examples and bring the context back in. These people are fundamentally anti-context. The momentum is always towards reduction. Stripping away the variables until even human behavior becomes a chemical process, at the mercy of evolution and carbohydrates.

I realize it's not accurate to describe all libertarians and anarchocapitalists and objectivists and Heinlein fans this way, but I couldn't help but laugh. I've observed all of the almost autistic behavior Jaffo describes so humorously. And he's right in assessing the nature of the problem: a fundamental disregard for context.

To give an example of my own, when I see really hardcore Libertarians predicting the next electoral realignment that will make their party the majority, I can't help but think they are also missing context (at least some are honest enough to admit they advocate a new context, or "meta-context), that context being the history of the American political system and a serious literature on what constitutes realignment (beginning with the master, Walter Dean Burnham). In the Burnham sense, a realignment isn't forthcoming any time soon (and, as I've noted previously, the sources of the next potential realignment are not broadly ideological, but ethnographic). For a Libertarian realignment to take place, truly the context must be changed, which is something that does not happen overnight (ask Leonard Peikoff, who is said by someone -- one of the Brandens I think -- to have exclaimed he thought Atlas Shrugged would usher in a truly capitalist system shortly after publication; whether or not you trust the source of that statement, it also illustrates a disregard for context).

It's a little tricky writing this, because I don't mean to criticize some of the people I've described. In general, I hope those who advocate a pro-liberty context are successful at moving the prevailing political philosophy in that direction (just as I hope the animal rights crowd is not successful with their efforts), and I'll even be one of those people at times. But there's also a political universe that exists here and now, and even though Libertarians and Objectivists are often correct in suggesting there's little difference between Republicans and Democrats, that observation doesn't provide much guidance in determining whether one should support or work to defeat a certain mayor, for another example.

I probably operate a bit more in the contextual world of politics and political philosophy than the meta-contextual. But there is a need for pro-liberty activism at both levels. Sometimes, as Jaffo and a couple of letter-writers in Backpacker remind me, it's important to keep those distinctions and that need in mind.

[Posted at 15:43 CST on 01/27/02] [Link]

Degrees of Separation

After a brunch trip to Chuy's, I'm on the way to recovering from a fine evening with the PolyHollidaise last night. It was the smoke more than the Shiner that is killing me today. The Cellar is kind of a dive, and the place is not well-ventilated. So when all of the college-age lovelies show up and start polluting their lungs with cancer sticks, the place gets pretty bad. Still, it was a fun time, and a big thank-you to the guys, who actually did present me with four signed lithographs, as promised.

While I was out, it seems Christine discovered my journal via Robyn. Christine is a fellow Houstonian blogger (shall we name ourselves the Creamy Jalapeno Brigade?), and her web-design skills make us amateurs who play around with web stuff look like, well, amateurs who play around with web stuff.

[Posted at 14:25 CST on 01/27/02] [Link]

26 January 2002

Polyhollidaise Tonight

Okay, this one's for those of you running around Houston tonight with nothing to do. Let me recommend an old favorite, the Polyhollidaise, who are playing at The Cellar (on Richmond). Now, I would be taking them in even had they not bribed me, because they're a good cover band. Houston's friendliest! Plus they are playing some new stuff tonight.

But first a trip to the gym is in order, which should work up a nice thirst. We'll return to political commentary tomorrow (but I did just put up some new stuff at Reductio).

[Posted at 18:28 CST on 01/26/02] [Link]

Pawhuska Bloggers

I'm poking around on the Movable Type site yesterday, and notice that the Trotts have posted MT-powered sites nominated for the 2002 Bloggies. At the top of that (alphabetical) list was Ain't Too Proud To Blog, a site I had seen linked elsewhere earlier in the day. So I followed the link.

After admiring the prominent Gwen Stefani graphic (yeah, I've long been a fan of No Doubt. Sue me), I thought the photo of the web author looked familiar. And after a bit of poking around, I discovered Robyn's maiden name, O'Rourke. And an email confirmed that, yes indeed, this is the same Robyn O'Rourke who lived for a short time (maybe a year or so) in my hometown, little ol' Pawhuska, OK, when I was an upperclassmen in high school (probably a junior, though maybe a senior). I didn't really "know" Robyn, and can just barely remember her, since she was several years younger, although I do recall thinking she was cute and smart (I was in high school -- it's what guys think, okay?). So now there are two bloggerland personalities from Pawhuska on the web that I know about, and one of 'em is a Bloggie finalist. Kudos to Robyn!

Even stranger, her husband is a huge OU Sooner fan, loves Shiner Bock, and uses the name Publius for his blog.

I like these people!

[Posted at 13:02 CST on 01/26/02] [Link]

Movable Type

So, the journal is now powered by Movable Type, which I've been using for a while now over on Reductio Ad Absurdum. GreyMatter was a wonderful piece of software, and Noah Grey is a wonderfully talented person, and I have no doubt had he continued to work on GreyMatter, it would still serve my needs. But I think Noah has found his true calling, and I think the Trotts' software fits my needs beautifully now. So there you go.

I did not import all of the old GM entries, although MT has that capability. The main reason is that GM was part of the evolution of this site, and was responsible for my learning a LOT about html (and a little about apache and how the web works), something that I didn't need to do during my Blogger and FrontPage days (ewww). As this journal is my record of my times, it would seem almost heretical to wipe out the old traces of GM. Plus, I've changed the archiving slightly. I'm not saving individual entries any longer, but rolling everything into a monthly archive. MT could have rolled in the old way of doing things and reformatted, but again, I don't want to change the old stuff. Evolution is grand!

For those who care about such things, I did tidy up the code a bit, and it should validate now. If I've broken anything in the process that you notice, please drop me an email.

For purposes of continuity, the last GM entry is available here still, and from there one can access "previous" entries.

[Posted at 10:24 CST on 01/26/02] [Link]

Movable Type

If you can read this, your browser does not fully comply with standards. You can still view the site via the navigation bar below.

Reductio (old) | Journal | Glossary | Search | Bio | Photos | Disclaimer