Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Political Change and Reinvigoration

Very nice piece by Stirling Newberry on Daily Kos about internet politics post-Dean.

As someone who has decided to put aside private life to pursue work in the public sector, I will tell you why: because there is nothing that we can do, here and now, that will make our lives better, our children's lives better and our nation better - than politics. For a long time politics was gridlock, say little and do less.

That's ending - with the events of the last 5 years, it is clear that action is better than inaction. What is also clear to the people on the inside - is that the old donor base is, well, old. To get a new one, they are also realizing that they have to change, as institutions, as people, as a party.....

....Right now projects are forming that will change the Democratic party at its core. We are working to draw message, ideas, energy - the high value work that Democrats have proven they are capable of - and bring them to the inside. The corresponding task for those of us who are "outside" is to learn the political system, learn the rules, the language, the restrictions, so we can begin targetting our force on issues and elections of importance. Kos is way out in front doing it - others are doing so as well.

But to make them work, it will require work. What the inside listens to is proof - we've proven we can push issues, get coverage, raise money. We have to learn what an international football player would call "finishing" - putting the ball in the net. To get a chance to do that, we have to build candidates, build coalitions, take seats on Democratic Committees. This will begin openning up the process.

With an open process creates an avenue for new ideas, and new ways of implementing old programs. It brings new faces, and new connections, a fountain of youth to restore to vibrancy the party as a progressive party.
I agree with much of this; I still think the "old school" view of politics has legitimacy, and there ARE lessons about "new politics" to be drawn from the Dean campaign.

The core idea of change and renewal, however, is the key insight here. I've been saying for a while that the Dean campaign is, in many respects, the Democratic equivalent of the Goldwater campaign for the Republicans; what I hadn't anticipated is that it will probably be 2003- not 2004- that is seen as the watershed year, because that was the year that non-traditional networks (whether grassroots or online) made their presence and importance known. One need only look at the ads on Eschaton, Calpundit or Daily Kos to see that politicians are taking these networks seriously.

Yes, Kerry is pretty much guaranteed to be the nominee. There's no doubt about that now. In most respects, though, that's what's so great about this. The Democrats don't have to lose a general election in order to be re-invigorated for a later one, like with the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns. the invigoration has already taken place, and the lessons of the Dean campaign can be applied to Kerry in the general election. Although I'm still not an enormous fan of primaries, if this is the result, then this primary may have been the best thing to happen to the Democrats since FDR.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

"Junk Science"

Nice takedown of Steve Milloy and his tendentious war on "junk" (read: perfectly legitimate but conservatively incorrect) science by Tim Lambert. Lambert's done an incredible amount of excellent work debunking true junk science, particularly the work of John Lott. He's turned his gaze on Milloy, and it's withering.

Most of the critiques don't surprise me- I've looked at Milloy's work before and found it wanting. What surprised me was this revelation about Milloy and real Astroturfing:

Given all of the above, it should come as no surprise that junkscience.com is another astroturf operation. As part of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Philip Morris agreed to release millions of documents about their operations. These detail how TASSC (The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition) was a front secretly created and funded by a PR firm acting for Philip Morris. Here is the key document (with annotations by Stewart Fist). TASSC and junkscience.com shared the same address and were both run by Milloy. Studies that find harmful effects from tobacco smoke seem to attract particularly venomous attacks from junkscience.com. PR Watch has the full story of Milloy’s history.
Ugh. The deeper you delve into the sort of thing, the worse it gets. I always have believed and always will believe that it's not the arguer but the argument that is important. Even if Milloy works for Phillip Morris, he may have a point. Still, this sort of willful misrepresentation bothers me a lot. At least with a pseudonym, you have to build your reputation honestly.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Mmmm... Delicious Astroturf

Looks like the rolling re-election squad has a new member, and he's desperately trying to protect Bush's credibility on the National Guard issue. Unfortunately, he doesn't do a very good job of it, as Hesiod ably points out: at the very least he was misleading and extraodinarily inept, but it's more likely that this letter is an out-and-out lie.

The results are predictable. The right-winger advocates and bloggers will use it to "prove" that there was nothing wrong with what Bush did. Problem is, while that might work against other bloggers, the mainstream media has their teeth in this, and they don't get distracted by something this poor. (They get distracted by Janet Jackson's nipple shield.)

(By the way...What strikes me about Bush's defenders isn't the dishonesty and duplicity. To use a more appropriate "d" word, what strikes me is the desperation. Any astroturfing campaign should at the very least try to remember that Nixon was president in 71, not Johnson. They'll accept anything nowadays.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Harlan's War: Not So Quixotic After All?

Harlan Ellison, for those who aren't familiar with his work, is one of the greatest living science fiction writers, receiving countless awards and distinctions. He's also renowned as one of the most ideosyncratic, contrarian, yet brilliant commentators in the field; his "introductions" in the Dangerous Visions books were arguably as interesting as the material itself, and his commentary work (including the infamous "Glass Teat" column on television) is definitely an excellent read.

The thing is, Harlan is also a staunch backer of copyright law and author's rights, and no great fan of the Internet. Thus, when discovering that his books were being distributed on the newsgroup "alt.binaries.e-book" and over the Gnutella network, he decided to sue RemarQ (a newsgroup provider) and AOL (the owner of the original developers of Gnutella's client software) for "contributory copyright liability". Most commentators on this case had thought it a case of tilting at windmills, with Harlan's lawsuit being fit for little more than entertaining stories at SF conventions. I was one of these.

Apparently, we were all wrong. The Ninth Circuit Court decided to back Harlan and allow the suit to take place, reversing an earlier decision against him. This means that he will indeed be able to sue AOL and RemarQ, despite their very slight connection to the infringement. (The original infringer, one Stephen Robinson, has long settled with Mr. Ellison and his lawyers).

Honestly, I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. I admire Mr. Ellison more than almost any living author, both for his brilliant writing and outspoken (yet usually accurate) commentary. His loathing of the Internet, however, has always bothered me, and I think that partially motivates this. I don't think I like what his suit stands for, because it robs Internet service providers of the same rights granted other common carriers, such as phone companies.

If he succeeds in suing over copyright, he's also opened the door for lawsuits over content. All of a sudden the entire Internet would be subject to the content restrictions of the most repressive and regressive parts of the United States, if not the world. That's not what this place is supposed to be about, and it's one of the big problems with the DMCA; even if the DMCA is not about content, it sets a precedent that can easily be turned to content.

So I have good reason to oppose his suit. I just wish that I didn't have to disagree so deeply with someone I respect so much.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Yet Another Pseudonymity Rant

Christopher Farah is yet another in a long line of conventional journalists pissing and moaning about pseudonymity. He calls it "anonyblogging", but neologisms for ideas that already have names Just Isn't Cool, kiddies, so I'll avoid that myself.

The arguments aren't new, or remotely interesting- it's the same blend of "people don't trust pseudonymous writers" nonsense that we've all read before, usually from other bloggers desperate to try to leverage their name into some sort of credibility. (Instapundit, anyone?)

What IS interesting is that Farah's repeating the "why do they have to be so mad about it" bit. He doesn't appear to hate pseudonyms per se, but that the pseudonymous writers are criticizing mainstream writers, giving the example of Atrios' labelling of Nick Kristof as "human scum" as an example of Atrios going over the line. As commentators on Digby's blog have pointed out, though, that this is a mischaracterization- Atrios was angry with Kristof for misrepresenting liberal advocate groups' positions on prostitution, but Farah implied that it was for the story itself.

This is THE key reason why people like Atrios exist. Being a "legitimate" journalist means that you have vested interests in the field- you have interests in maintaining good relations with sources and fellow journalists, and you have interests in maintaining the good name of the field itself. You can't be as savage a critic as someone like Atrios because there's simply too much at stake- too loud a critic will find himself out in the cold. Yet at the same time, "outsiders" tend to get ignored- their non-journalistic backgrounds are used to discredit them, and their employers (who have no interest in journalistic ethics, but simply good or bad P.R.) may tell them to "lay off or get laid off".

With pseudonymity, though, one can be as critical as necessary. If the criticism is valid, then either it gets out there and the journalist changes his actions or it remains present for others to employ later when evaluating his work. If it isn't valid, it gets quickly rebutted. In neither case is the identity of the critic used as a response, which is the way it should be, because the focus should be on the validity of the original story, not the identity of the critic. It doesn't MATTER who Atrios is, because by definition he cannot employ his real-world credibility on the issue, which is the only reason why one would need to criticize the source.

(Note that none of this applies to right-wing opinion journalism, because they have no need to cultivate mainstream support, an air of objectivity, and a variety of mainstream contacts. They're operatives, not journalists, and as long as they've got their own networks they can function perfectly well within them.)

Farah and the other critics, then, is doing what anybody would do when their livelihood and friends are threatened. He's circling the wagons. He needs to eat, same as anybody else, so more power to him. There's no reason, however, why we need to pay attention to a word of it. Considering Atrios' popularity, it's pretty clear that people aren't.

By the way, as to why I haven't been posting recently... it's some level of burnout on politics, to be honest. While it's somewhat gratifying to see the truth kinda-sorta coming out on Iraqi WMDs, the way in which it's being massaged to protect the Bush Administration is nauseating, and the fact that he's almost certainly going to get away with it even more so. I still think the Democratic primaries are pretty much over and done with, with the only real question being who Kerry picks for his VP nominee and the shape of the debate.

The 9/11-centered shape of the upcoming race that Digby laid out seems perfectly understandable, if endlessly frustrating. It's the one issue on which Bush retains an advantage and all efforts are going to go towards maintaining it. The Republicans will frighten and intimidate the American public just enough (through fearmongering and leveraging of "patriotic correctness") to get a small number of independents in each battleground state to come over to their side, and in an environment of massive polarization, that'll be enough.

And, of course, once Bush no longer has to worry about re-election, the REAL fun will begin. The only thing keeping him from enacting a massively conservative agenda is November. Once he's in his second term, it's all about the "legacy".

And yet we still have Dean supporters who are declaring that they'll switch to Nader if their man doesn't win.

Is it any wonder I'm starting to get sick of the whole damned thing?