Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mitch Berg Hammers Nick Coleman - And How!

Hubbah.

When I first spotted the Nick Coleman column a couple of days ago, the very first thought that occured to me was that the Fraters finally snapped him (and for the record, I still think they did).

The outcome of that, however, has lead to interesting discussion far and wide, with commentators from humble bloggers to fellow journalists smashing Coleman's sad diatribe to pieces.

But today Mitch Berg delivered a rebuttal I consider to be a blogger anthem, rising above mere response to Coleman's stereotypical rant.

It's angry, it's personal, but most importantly it's representative. It rebuts Coleman's assertion that "Bloggers don't know about anything that happened before they sat down to share their every thought with the moon," in the sense that the atomic bomb rebutted Hiroshima's resistance to surrender.

Others speculated that Nick Coleman should tremble about a rebuttal from Powerline. He should be so lucky. Mitch Berg takes Coleman apart far more intimately. And my God does he do it well.

READ THE WHOLE THING. No fooling.

The First Debate

Watched it start to finish. And while I had a couple glasses of wine during the debate, I can't count myself among the "drunk-bloggers," unlike my new personal hero Steven Green.

But I do want to blurt out my own impressions before I surf around and find out what everyone else is saying about it.

For the record, my prediction was wrong. Kerry didn't try anything unconventional - and in fact after tonight I get the sense that he doesn't have that sort of thing in him. I suppose the only reason I assumed he would was because Al Gore, who also didn't seem to have that sort of thing in him, pulled it in 2000. Another lesson in why one time anecdotes make bad predictors.

While watching the debate I kept waiting for either side to break the mood and go after ... something. Either the other candidate, or a theme, or Jim Lehrer's hair-style. But it never happened. Both sides seemed to share the belief that staying focused and high-toned was to their benefit. And the candidates seemed relentlessly focused on that above all else.

Kerry definitely impressed me. I've never seen him debate before, but I had heard from others that he was a skilled debator in the real sense, unlike the over-billed Al Gore (and yes I know this wasn't a REAL debate, but a lot of those skills still apply). The only failing grades I'd give him are for some of the actual positions he chose. His presentation was excellent. Now we get to see how well the Bush camp can spin the ground he chose to stand on.

Bush wasn't as polished, but that's pretty well established about him by now, so unlikely to hurt him. He had no great gaffes. But also offered little more than reassurance that he was not going to change. There were opportunities for him to reach into some of the effective rhetoric of the convention, but I don't think he did in any effective way.

In any case, both candidates have clearly decided where they think the other guy is weak. Kerry thinks Bush is weak for invading Iraq. Bush thinks Kerry is weak on being inconsistent. If either of these comes as a shock to you, welcome back awake from however long your obviously extended coma was.

I think overall, I'd have to score this as a modest victory for Kerry. He had the most to lose tonight. A truly bad showing would have knocked him out of the race. The president knew this and didn't seem to even try to go for that knockout, so he loses on my scorecard.

In any case, I saw the brief scramble of the Fox News pundits to try to draw themes out of the race afterward. The right-leaning ones like the potential of going after Kerry's "global test" comment. The lefty thought Kerry's comment about attacking Saddam, when bin Laden was the one responsible for 9-11 was his big shot. Grasping at straws, if you ask me. Little change material one way or the other. But these guys get paid to find something, so they have to try.

And now.... off to read the live-bloggers. Starting with the drunk-blogging Vodkapundit.

Update:

My wife (I need to come up with some cute bloggy name for her here, but "Bogus wife" would get me in trouble) just came in to tell me why she left the room early in the debate. She was very tired, and found herself starting to laugh every time the president said the word "duty." She was having a Beavis & Butthead moment - "He said doodee. Heh! Heh-heh! Heh!" Vodkapundit uses martinis; she uses sleep deprivation.

Update 2: David Strom offers the best play-by-play of the debate I've seen so far.

Update 3: Varifrank offers the best paen to general civic acceptance of election results tonight. Would that this were unnecessary,but it is.

Normal Life Observations

The office I’ve been working in for the past few weeks has a coffee… let's call it a "situation." Normally, anytime the coffee is free in an office instead of purchased by the cup from a cafeteria or (gasp) vending machine, I count it as a blessing and don’t mention any problems so as not to jinx it. But this is some serious weirdness.

First of all, there are three pots in the little Bunn-o-matic unit: Decaf, Breakfast Blend, and Mocha Java. Breakfast Blend and Mocha Java look and taste exactly the same, but both the pots and the coffee grounds are clearly labeled to avoid mixing them up. Other than me, I've never seen anyone mix the two in the same cup when a pot is finished off before the cup is full.

The coffee setup in general is really nice. You can dump the old grounds, grab a filter, scoop out the proper amount of coffee from the properly labeled Tupperware container, and start the next pot in about 30 seconds. No serious work disruption required.

Which is why I find it odd that no one here seems to ever make coffee. I’ve had three cups of coffee this morning, and for each one I had to make a new pot. Every one of the pots was down to that not-quite-enough-to-fill-a-cup level. And no one had started a new one of any kind.

Today is only the most extreme example. I find this situation quite regularly. And it’s not like no one here drinks coffee. Those new pots I make are drained in minutes.

Look, I’m a temp here. I’m consulting on a project that will maybe keep me here another month. What are these people going to do when I leave? I have visions of them shaking from caffeine withdrawal and sucking dry coffee grounds. God knows they won’t make a new pot. Perhaps that’s the whole reason they do projects around here – to bring in outsiders to make the coffee.

More weirdness awaited me outside the office today. I was driving to pick up lunch down Silverlake Avenue., in New Brighton. I noticed a sign saying "traffic lights timed for 35 m.p.h." Helpful, though a little strange since the speed limit was 40. But I'd rather go 35 non-stop, than 40 and have to stop at a light, so I slowed to 35. And promptly hit a red light. And again. And again.

By this point I had figured out that the lights were definitely not timed for 35 m.p.h. (or any other m.p.h. as far as I could tell). So why the sign? Going back the other direction there was another one saying the same thing. And it was equally incorrect heading the opposite way.

Perhaps its some cheap alternative to speed traps, intended to entice traffic to slow down. A single lie printed on a couple of signs certainly sounds less expensive than paying a salaried cop with expensive equipment to sit there aiming his radar-gun menacingly at traffic. But I still hate being lied to.

I'll be staying home to watch the debate tonight. My wife had a babysitter lined up at one point, but that was before she realized it was debate night. She's not into politics as much as me, but had been looking for some night she could come down to Keegan's and see what all that bloggy-fun on trivia night was about. If only we were all poetry or dog-breeding enthusiasts instead of political bloggers, it would have worked out. Oh well. She'll be joining me down there some other time.

My pre-debate prediction: No fireworks or meaningful stumbles from Bush. Kerry tries a couple of unconventional things to shake things up, but they'll be so transparent they'll mildly backfire. Overall Kerry will not change anyone's impression of himself or the president. Pundits will consider the debate a draw , while each side claims victory. No significant change in the polls in either direction.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Draft Rumor

For the record, I don’t believe for a moment that either candidate intends to reinstate the draft. Nor do I believe that either one as president could get the measure through Congress even if he did want one (and this includes Kerry’s compulsory national service proposal scrubbed from his website earlier this year).

That being said, I’m not really angry about the Kerry campaign (with another CBS assist) trying to float the rumor. I’m actually mildly amused. I think it’s yet another example of Kerry’s Vietnam era nostalgia blinding him to how that topic might play to young people not from his own era.

A little personal background. Back around the time of the first Gulf War (late 1990 / early 1991) I was finishing up my undergrad degree in college. My roommates and I (two of them graduating the same year, another, the year following) all devotedly followed the buildup to what was even at the time described as history’s first “television” war on CNN. I vividly remember the dire predictions of casualties in imminent outbreak of the ground war. It was argued by some that the U. S. would likely lose upward of 100,000 troops in the first month of hostilities. This lead to inevitable speculation on the part of some media analysts that such an event would result in the prospect of a drawn out war, and the necessity of a new draft.

I could simply draw a lesson here that since the analysts were wrong then in their assumptions, they’re likely wrong now, and leave it at that. But there’s more.

At the time, I personally bought into the pessimistic analysis. I assumed that after the ground war broke out a new draft would shortly ensue. I discussed this with my roommates, who essentially shrugged it off as not something they worried about. But I wasn’t so blasé.

I discussed it with my fiancé at the time (who is now my wife). I told her that I thought a draft might be coming, and why. And I also told her that should there be a need for a draft, I wasn’t going to wait. I was going to volunteer.

Big deal. I’m a big frothing-at-the-mouth right winger, right? Probably couldn’t wait to blow up third-world children.

But actually, I wasn’t a conservative at this stage of my life. I was still a liberal (closer to the Roger L. Simon mold, than the Michael Moore one). I had opposed President Bush in the previous election, and would do so again in 1992 (I’ve long since apologized). So why didn’t the rumor of a draft send me to one of the campus protests (which never became more than half-hearted events, despite the best attempts of the radical campus groups)? Why did it darn near send me to a military recruiter?

For the same reason I think a lot of current college students wouldn’t respond like extras in a Woodstock revival, the way the Kerry campaign seems to assume.

That moment was more than a “wake-up” call to me, prompting opposition to the war. It was also a “grow-up” call.

I had a grandfather whom I loved and admired a lot. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, he had a new daughter on the way (my mother). He was already in his 30’s, a dentist, and not at great risk of being sent overseas even if he was drafted. But when he heard the news, he immediately joined the Navy and volunteered for combat duty. When I asked him about it (for a school project in high-school – the first time he talked seriously about the topic to me) he simply said it wasn’t a hard decision. He didn’t try to make himself a hero over it. Without him using the word, the sense he conveyed was one of civic duty. A sense that the sooner they all pitched in to get it done, the sooner regular life could resume.

I thought a lot about my grandfather the moment I had to consider a new draft on a personal level. Sure, I knew about the Vietnam era, and the draft-card burnings, and all the rest. But standing on the doorstep of adulthood, that stuff seemed like just more college goofing off to me. Not the way a man ought to handle himself when faced with that kind of need from his country. I certainly wasn’t eager to leave the comforts of home for a rigid military life, and the prospect of real danger. But if the need came, I wasn’t going to duck it either.

It never came to that, obviously (though looking back at the aimless wandering of my early 20’s, I suspect it would have done me good). But the lesson I draw from it now is not to assume the children of today will act like the children of the 60’s when faced with the prospect of a draft. Many of them might have the opposite reaction. It could even force some of them to start thinking like adults for the first time. It could make some of them wake up to the fact that they’re not so fond of a party that at times seems to be, if not actively supporting, at least not terribly concerned about U. S. failure in Iraq. Remember, these kids saw 9-11 as clearly as you or me.

So, other than being supportive of those exposing the draft rumor as a scare-tactic and a lie in the interest of simple honesty, I’m really not bothered by the draft rumor overall. I think the draft-card burning faction is already in Kerry’s camp, and the tactic may bump a few more over to Bush even should the rumor be widely believed.

Local Columnist has Hissy Fit - Fraters Libertas Influence Suspected

Woah! Here I thought all the Fraters sniping at local columnist Nick Coleman was drifting beneath his radar. I know they've claimed that Coleman was an obsessive Fraters reader, but I always assumed that was a joke. Turns out I was wrong. Because Nick Coleman snapped today in the very direction they've been smacking him around. And I am not remotely exagerrating - check this out:

"This just in: I am a very wealthy man, born into privilege and power, and a stooge of the Democratic Party.

Oh. That reminds me, Smithers: Bring me the heads of some Republicans, would you? Also, set out the good silver. Fritz is coming over to give me my marching orders.

Dad-ums would be so proud, wouldn't he, Muffy?

Nothing in the opening paragraph is true, but bloggers and talk-show barracudas have said so, tossing stuff against the wall to see what sticks"


Now I suppose the "Democratic stooge" charge might have come up on local talk radio from time to time (though honestly Nick isn't relevant enough to get mentioned all that often, so perhaps a certain Fraters affiliated radio show is the one he has in mind). But that "wealthy man of privilege" stuff definitely comes from the Fraters. No question about it. Take this exerpt from last February for example, from a brief Fraters fisking of Mr. Coleman:

"For example, Nick Coleman, who’s an extremely wealthy newspaper writer in town. A guy born to privilege, which he’s enjoyed his whole life. "

And how do we know it was the Fraters who really got under his skin? Because he doesn't rationally and amusedly respond to the recent Rathergate blogs-making-news events. He makes a feeble attempt in that direction, but quickly loses it, spilling his guts all over the printed page, in a sloppy car-wreck of a diatribe. Check it out:

"But a lot of the attack against the mainstream media is coming from bloggers, which is like astronomers being assaulted by people who swear that aliens force them to have sex with Martians." ....

"I say: If you think Dan Rather is kooky, read some blogs and you, too, will be found in a daze, muttering, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" ...

"Do bloggers have the credentials of real journalists? No. Bloggers are hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.

Bloggers don't know about anything that happened before they sat down to share their every thought with the moon. Like graffiti artists, they tag the public square -- without editors, correction policies or community standards. And so their tripe is often as vicious as it is vacuous."

Does this sound like the local version of David Broder, calmly and cooly defending the journalism profession from what he perceives to be an amateur threat from the blogosphere? Or does this sound like someone who was teased just one time too many about his recent marriage to an underwear obsessed fellow liberal columnist

So why snap now? I dunno. Maybe after a full month he finally felt the courage to do so after reading about Saint Paul's Coleman fatigue. Maybe he thought news coverage of the coming debate would let his messy rant slip beneath the radar. Maybe someone pointed and whispered as he was picking up a fresh tin of caviar at Byerly's last evening.

In any case, score another victory for the Fraters.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Calm Before the Storm

No, this isn't a post about another hurricane. We don't get those up here in Minnesota (though those who perished on the Edmund Fitzgerald may beg to differ).

The coming storm soon to arrive is in the blogosphere, kicked off by the first presidential debate Thursday night. I have noticed a distinctly subdued tone in many of my usual blog-haunts yesterday and today. I'm betting it's the blogosphere taking little rest to prepare for the flurry of commentary that will spill forth once the debates are underway (not even waiting for them to finish - Vodkapundit is blogging in a way I'm envious of during the first debate).

I feel much the same. Not a lot of energy devoted to blogging tonight. So instead I'll direct you to a very good pre-debate analysis from Tutukai. Tutukai is a self-described "militant moderate," and he means it. Expect no favoritism toward Democrats or Republicans from him. That's why I find his analysis insightful. I hear all the preaching to the choir, and cheap-shots at the other side I want.

Other than his take on the candidates, which I find fair and accurate, I particularly like the fact that he includes coaching advice for the media representatives - from the debate questioners to post-debate pundits. He notes that:

"After the first Gore-Bush debate, most media commentators instantly declared Gore the winner, oblivious to the prickish behavior by Gore that had alienated vast swaths of the electorate. The media bias that existed before the debate had determined the post-debate assessment before the debate itself ever happened. Pundits need to assess the debate, not just their own preferences about who should be elected."


That's a good message for bloggers as well. Everyone with a favored candidate in this is going to have a tendency to slant things in favor of their guy. I hope we have the ability to temper our enthusiasm to the extent it doesn't cloud our perception of reality.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Memo to People Writing Memos to Bloggers

Long day. Productive day. Good day. But long day. Too tired to dive into one of the complex topics burbling in the back of my mind. So I'm going after an easy target. To wit: Steven Levy's article on MSNBC "Memo to Bloggers: Heal Thyselves."

A little late-night fisking just to soothe the nerves before bed. So let's start pulling out the juicy bits.

"While bloggers have been true to their promise to "fact-check Big Media's a--," their motives are often fiercely partisan."
Three problems with this single statement.

1. There is no "promise" made by "bloggers." There are currently over three million blogs, with as many different personalities behind them. Blogging is not an industry, it is a medium. More like a book than a publishing company. Some bloggers do pride themselves in fact-checking big media. Others are devoted to sharing recipes.

2. The motives of a blog are irrelevant. The medium isn't at risk from partisanship the way the mainstream press is. Call it partisanship - bias - sloppy journalism - whatever. The blogosphere is not built upon trust the way the mainstream media is, so those motives aren't a problem.
There is nothing standing behind a blog akin to the reputation of a traditional publisher, or media enterprise. If something becomes shrill and partisan, or just plain wrong, it will lose all readers who don't like that sort of thing in the blink of an eye. And guess what? Plenty of blogs are out there ready to satisfy them. It's a big world, this blogosphere.

3. The motives of the big media are also often fiercely partisan. This is one of the major drivers to rising popularity of opposing partisanship in the blogosphere.


"Name-calling and intolerance of opposing points of view have reached epidemic levels on Web logs. And when it comes to hammering away on a noisy subject that ultimately distracts from more important issues, the Blogosphere can make cable television look like a 1950s debating society. "

It's not like partisanship is new on the Internet. Any veteran of Usenet flamewars will find Mr. Levy's use of superlatives here amusing. Sure... Internet publishing was all professionalism and/or sweetness and light before blogs. And no one ever said curse words either.

Part of Levy's problem here is that he assumes blogs came as natural extensions of professional journalism. Um... no. They've just started entering that realm. But that's not where they came from. They're natural extensions of the Usenet, electronic bulletin boards, e-mail discussion groups, and Web Forums. And judged on that basis, they're definitely a step toward greater civility because they provide more individual accountability.

"Judging by its dominance in the blog world (I'm talking about the civic sector here, not the countless blogs on other topics or people's personal lives), you'd think that Rathergate was bigger than Watergate, Iraq and Britney's putative wedding combined."
Well let's take those three topics one at a time, shall we?

Iraq is a pretty big topic in the blogosphere, and has been for quite a bit longer than Rathergate. Stating that Rathergate is bigger might very well be true - judging by volume on the topic for a specific two week period. Judging overall? Such a statement is either hyperbole - the sort of thing blogs routinely expose the "responsible" media for engaging in while the other side of their mouth poo-poos bloggers for such irresponsible commentary - or it's humorous exagerration. You make the call.

Britney's wedding? I'm going to go with humor tinged with sneering condescension here.

Watergate? Well let's think about Watergate. In that story low level political operatives were caught in a robbery intended to influence the outcome of an election. Due to diligent members of the media (especially Woodward and Bernstein), the questions never stopped hammering at the issue until the president was forced to resign in associated guilt. Big story, for sure.

What do we know of Rathergate? We know someone tried to use forgeries to tamper with an election. We know at least one producer within one of the major commercial news networks was coordinating the release of the forgeries with the political campaign assumed to benefit from it. We don't know who within either the media organization or the political campaign were in the loop on this. And we don't know who created the forgeries. But unlike Watergate, the media seems bored. Not interested enough to keep asking the questions. The heirs of Woodward and Bernstein want to change the topic to healthcare, the economy, Iraq - anything else! As if the media is only big enough to cover one story at a time.

And this is why people like Levy are proving themselves insufficient to the challenge of the blogosphere. He sees Rathergate and concludes "embarrassment for Rather - move on." If he saw Watergate in the same light, he'd conclude "low level burglary - move on." Thus missing the story entirely. The Levy mindset is that of the fat & happy media publisher who fears no competition. And that mindset is simply not a good channel to get the hard stories (to say nothing of how trustworthy it is to those who don't share its social and political preferrences).

"True, there are indeed constructive, thoughtful Web-log commentators online. But they don't draw crowds like Glenn Reynolds, whose Instapundit site recently peaked at about 445,000 daily page views."
A little begging the question tossed in with an ad hominem. And remember this is the ambassador of the "non-partisan" media who condemned name-calling above. I suppose implying that Professor Reynolds is neither constructive nor thoughtful is supposed to slip past us without us noticing the insult.

Also, note the cowardly cop-out here. He doesn't actually name one of these "constructive, thoughtful Web-log commentators." If he did, the reader would be in a position to see exactly whom Mr. Levy considered to be purveyors of this sort of commentary. And we might even find fault with his choices, which would damage the weight we gave his word. Much like the way the opinion of a blogger making such a comment is turned under the miscroscope by a thousand other bloggers. I call it out to note how much lower the standard for Levy making such a contention is than that of the average decently trafficked blog.
"During the run-up to Iraq, Reynolds was one of the best-known "war-bloggers." Agree with him or not, he used his digital pulpit to address a critical topic. "
His point is about how Glenn Reynolds used his blog to address a "critical" topic. This seems to be what Levy assumes to be the "proper" role of blogs. Yet the inherent problems about who determines which topics to be critical don't cross his mind. They wouldn't. He has editors, and journalism schools, and a poltical media which march in pretty tight lock-step on this stuff, and have done so increasingly over time.


"In this mean season, however, he has relentlessly flogged the question of whether John Kerry's boat was actually in Cambodian waters on Christmas Eve, 1968, as the candidate claimed."


A man running for president is caught repeatedly lying about his military record while simultaneously citing that record as his major qualification for office in a time of war. The Levys of the world not only don't think this is important enough for the front page (let alone the pages of a blog) - they had no intention of reporting on it at all, even when the lie was proven repeatedly. They didn't think this topic was "critical."

When the mainstream media ignores a story considered important - even to a minor degree, that has proven to be a reason for bloggers to increase attention paid to it. The Mainstream types can sneer about it all they want. The reason is quite simple. We now know we can force attention to such things if we don't let the story get spiked by mainstream media editors. It's a popular veto of your editing decision.

Mind you, simultaneously to the media spurning mention of Kerry's embarrassment, the majority of mainstream media organs decided Bush's service in the National Guard - something the candidate didn't even bring up as a qualification for office - deserved coverage on the front page of the New York Times, Washington Post, the nightly news on every major network, etc. We in the blogosphere see this as a perfect refutation of Levy's preferred model for assigning the job of choosing which stories are "critical" to him and his buddies in the mainstream media.

"In an ideal world, he admits, "we should all be blogging about Kerry's health-care policy," but he says that in the current mistrustful atmosphere, it's futile to try: "The basic system where we talk about facts and policies is broken."
Did he admit that? Because he blogs, you know. So it's not hard to get his version of your version of his statement:

From Instapundit this evening....

"But [Levy] also misrepresents the quote of mine that he uses. The quote is: "The basic system where we talk about facts and policies is broken."

I said that, but as part of explaining why the media-criticism aspect of blogging is so important, and not just raucous hackery as he suggests. I didn't -- as he makes it appear -- suggest that bloggers' partisanship makes serious discussion of issues on blogs futile. Rather, I was arguing that you can't have a serious discussion of issues in the society at large, when so much of Big Media is partisan and dishonest, and that this is why it's so important to point out the dishonesty and try to make things better, which is what I see bloggers doing."


Were Mr. Levy's note going out to the Mainstream Media as well as bloggers, he'd be citing Glenn accurately. But he's not. This is presented as a comment about a broken blogosphere - though Glenn is pointing the finger just as pointedly at Levy and his kind. I'm not sure whether this is an example of the partisanship or the dishonesty Glenn mentioned in the mainstream media, but when scoring the MSM versus Blogosphere honesty contest, in that exchange Instapundit 1, Steven Levy 0.

"This attitude disappoints those who had hoped that bloggers would improve that system, not amplify its faults. In his book "We the Media," San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor claimed that blogs could enable "the rise of the citizen journalist." Bloggers, he said, had the power to mitigate the tyranny of media giants who no longer serve the needs of the people. But when I called Gillmor last week to ask what he thought of the invectives, partisanship and fixation on ultimately trivial issues in the face of a crucial election, there was a long silence before he said, "I'm not going to disagree."
Object lesson in the way the blogosphere works for Mr. Levy here. Since you were caught misrepesenting the last person you quoted to bolster your case, we're not going to take your word on this one. Maybe he said that. Maybe not. Maybe you're taking what he said out of context, and maybe you're not. But your word is no longer sufficient to admit this into evidence.

"What went wrong? In part, it's the same reason that traditional media sometimes fall short on their civic duty: the low road is a well-trodden path to big readership. "In the blog world, people gravitate toward subjects that generate traffic," says Gillmor. "The more raucous you are, the more page views you get."
See Begging the Question for the refutation here. Glenn Reynolds is a paradigm of "raucousness"? Please.

"Also, while Big Media must answer for any missteps or favoritisms, bloggers seldom do."


This would be laughable, if not for the fact that he almost certainly believes this sincerely. The Big Media has been paying for missteps or favortism... but certainly not by any internal checks and balances. Heck, Rather's forgeries passed through CBS with nary a glance, until the blogosphere blew the story back in their faces. No, they're "answering" by means of an ever dwindling audience. Which is exactly the same check present in the blogosphere. But Levy, who apparently thinks audience is attracted to fact free trash-talking blogs over any of substance, is simply too willfully blind to notice this.

"I celebrate the liberating tools that let people post their thoughts unfiltered. But as with many other utopian predictions about how the open nature of the Net will create arenas that transcend foibles of the physical world, our faults have followed us to cyberspace. We were promised a society of philosophers. But the Blogosphere is looking more and more like a nation of ankle-biters."
Anyone out there know of a single blogger who thought blogging was going to "transcend foibles of the physical world?" No? Me neither. And who on earth promised Steven Levy's crowd a society of philosopers. And why was he such a dupe he believed it?

The only place I've read nonsense like that is in major media publications. Usually along with flashy covers and splash quotes. If bloggers have a fault it's in the opposite direction - skepticism can sometimes border on cynicism. It seems to be a far more down to earth world than Steven Levy is familiar with. And one in which his relevancy is looking especially suspect after this piece of name-calling nonsense.

Look, Levy's overall problem is that he is truly ignorant of the blogosphere. He takes on the portion that happened to cross into territory he considers the province of his profession, and judges it the way one would judge a new printed news magazine on a news-rack. This is flawed for reasons deeper than basic economics or business model. It's flawed because it assumes blogs should go about things the way the old media do, not stopping to think that the old media's methods were developed specifically in alignment with the limitations of their medium.

Blogs are not just about new people doing journalism - they're about a whole new medium, perhaps as significant as the printing press. We're not going to play by all the rules Levy understands, because many of them don't apply.

Levy seems to only be able to think of blogs as either utopian fantasy, or just another traditional-media journalism outlet. Confined to these terms, he's spectacularly unsuited to understand what's going on in front of his eyes. Perhaps if he took more time listening to Glenn Reynolds as someone trying to understand, rather than looking for ammunition for his sophomoric diatribe, he would start to grasp the topic more concretely.


Busy Morning

.... means light blogging. I might get a chance around lunch. But if not, probably nothing until this evening.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

I Get It Now

Well it seems Steve was making some sense after all in his post about the proper role of small to medium blogs. This is why God created the caveat, for which I am very thankful tonight, because otherwise I’d be backpedaling pretty strongly about now. But I covered myself in my previous post in response to him with: “It's entirely possible that I will agree with his eventual thesis when I can put that statement into proper context.” Well I now have the context, and I find that I do agree.

Steve was speaking about a specific kind of political blogging, and not attempting to shoehorn the entire blogosphere into his pre-defined mold. And within the area of blogging he’s talking about, I not only agree, I picked up some important new ideas.

Essentially, Steve’s point is about the way the blogosphere is able to find and disseminate information broadly – even beyond normal blog readers. Not everyone is a blog-junkie. But they’ll probably read the blog of a friend, relative, or co-worker, and through that can be plugged into stories the legacy media tries to blackout – like the Swiftboat Veterans, or Rathergate. He sees his “role” as getting the important messages out to those people.

“If I've fulfilled my role properly, my brother will visit my site, read my news roundup or a quick analysis of a subject, forward my post to another friend, or make better informed points of his own while standing around the water cooler discussing current events with co-workers.”

But reading this, I got a new idea. Or more properly, a synthesis of two ideas.

Glenn Reynolds, a. k. a. the Instapundit, has been blogging on the difference between high-trust, and low-trust media environments for some time. Here’s a pretty good example in a recent post from him.

In summary, a high-trust environment is one in which a message is believed to be true without further verification on the basis of your “trust” in the sender. In a low-trust environment, you more vigorously attempt to verify the truthfulness of received information before believing it.

Glenn’s point has long been that the traditional media evolved into a “high-trust” paradigm - we report, you believe - on the basis of their in-house fact-checking, track record of truthfulness, and (in previous days) the large amount of effort required to independently fact check them. The blogosphere has developed as a “low-trust” environment; one in which facts may be (and usually are) checked almost the instant you publish them (via Google, e-mail, etc.), combined with the self-interest of political partisans of opposite perspectives to do that very thing.

Overlay that idea with the idea from Steve above. Steve is talking about disseminating information, true. But he’s also talking about disseminating it within a high-trust environment – family, friends and coworkers. In that way a message disseminated via the low-trust environment of the blogosphere can reach an end-point in which it is suddenly endowed with the attributes of a high-trust environment. People believe the message because of who they heard it from. Even though fact checking remains cheap and easy, they don’t bother. They trust the sender of the message.

I hadn’t thought of how those two things fit together quite that way before. Hugh Hewitt did, incidentally. It’s right in the Instapundit post I linked to above:

Hugh Hewitt makes an interesting point, which is that the smaller blogs -- because they're mostly read by friends and acquaintances of the bloggers -- may actually operate in a high-trust environment: "Sure, a few hundred blogs seem to own a large share of the traffic, as N.Z.Bear's rankings by traffic shows. But there are tens of thousands of blogs each racking up unique visitors. If those blogs in the tail pick up a meme --say, "Dan Rather is a doddering fool and CBS is covering up for him"-- its spread across the universe of people using the web for information gathering is huge and almost instantaneous. And irreversible because a friend or colleague of Rick is much more likely to believe his analysis because he knows and trusts Rick than . . . some knucklehead from CBS who is attempting to dismiss Rick as a pajama-wearing loon."”

Since I wasn’t really in tune with Steve’s message above, this point from Hugh never really resonated with me. Once you grasp Steve’s point above, the importance of the link to Glenn’s point is self-evident. A kind of “Eureka!” moment, which very well may be happening all over the blogosphere soon, if it’s not happening already.

In fact, it becomes the kind of paradigm changing thing in politics that we very well may be experiencing in this election. Big stuff. Makes me glad I finally pulled the trigger and bought Hugh’s book this week (via Amazon, hasn’t arrived yet). That guy is tuned into political blogging like no one else. Makes me thankful he’s on my side.

Incidentally, this also brings to mind some new kinds of high-trust environments which seem to be developing within the blogosphere which have nothing to do with pre-existing friends, family, or co-workers. But I’ll leave that thought for another post on another day.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Minnesota Voter Registration Invites Fraud

I’ve seen some disturbing pieces regarding potential voter fraud lately. John Fund has obviously been calling the issue to attention by recently writing a book about it.

But one of the most abuse-inviting voter registration systems is right here in Minnesota. In fact, for all the bad examples offered in the media lately, I have yet to see one anywhere else quite as vulnerable.

You don’t have to take my word for it (and most people don’t – when I’ve brought this up in the past I have not been believed). Take the word of the Minnesota Secretary of State.

A couple of excerpts for you:

Q. Who is eligible to vote?

A. You may vote if you are:

  • at least 18 years of age
  • a US citizen
  • a Minnesota resident for at least 20 days before the election
  • not a convicted felon without your civil rights
  • not under guardianship of the person where you have not retained the right to vote
  • not legally incompetent

Emphasis mine. You don’t have to live in Minnesota for three whole weeks to be eligible to vote here. People take vacations longer than 20 days. But as far as Minnesota law is concerned, 20 days is long enough to establish residency and voter eligibility.

Another:

Q. Can I register to vote on election day?

A. You can register at your polling place on election day. You will need one of the following to verify your residence.

  • Minnesota driver’s license, learner’s permit, identification card, or receipt for one, with your current address,
  • Tribal ID where authorized, with your current address
  • If the Minnesota license or ID has a former address, you may bring a recent utility bill* to use with your license
  • “Notice of Late Registration” postcard
  • U.S. passport with utility bill*
  • U.S. military photo ID card with utility bill*

· If you are a student, you can use...

o Student ID, registration, or fee statement with your current address

o Student photo ID with utility bill*

o Student ID if you are on a student housing list on file at the polling place

  • Someone who is registered in the precinct where you live who will vouch for your residence
Again, emphasis mine. This is the one most people don’t believe when I tell them. You don’t need identification of any kind to register to vote in Minnesota. Just someone to vouch for you. Because we all know a registered voter would never lie, right?

According to Minnesota law you can show up at the polling place, a registered voter can vouch that you’ve been crashing on his couch for the past 20 days, and voila! You’re a legally registered voter. Next election this newly registered voter can be the one to vouch for someone else.

There have been rumors for years that certain unsavory political operators shuttle voters to multiple precincts to abuse the system just this way. I have no idea whether or not that’s true. But under these laws, it wouldn’t be terribly hard to pull off.

For all the attention paid to registration problems in other states, does anyone know of a registration system more vulnerable than the one right here?

Cheese and Fall

God there are a lot of those amusing little quiz thingies out there lately. I’ve recently discovered which Sci-Fi character I am, where I live on the mythical island of Politopia, what English literary style I am, and whether or not I’m a metrosexual (Spock, northwest, Victorian, and not, if you were wondering).

Some of the quizzes are mildly insightful or amusing. Some seem almost random in picking your “type.”

I like the ones best where the thing you're assigned has some bearing on reality, whether you like it or not. I was thinking of making up my own quiz to capture that. Something like, “What sort of Blue Cheese are you?”

The possible answers would be:

A. Roquefort. You stink, but French people like you.
B. Stilton. You stink, and are frequently seen with a glass of Port.
C. Shropshire Blue. You stink, but have an interesting hue.
D. Maytag Blue. You stink, and remind people of an appliance repairman.

I think that would pretty much cover everybody. Might need to add a Gorgonzola or Cabrales in there to round it out.

***

Fall arrived this morning. No I don’t mean by the calendar. That happened two days ago. I mean the real thing.

Went home last night after a thunderstorm passed. The sun was peeking back out, making things nicely warm and humid again. Walked out the door this morning to a gray sky, no humidity to speak of, a temp in the mid-50’s, and a light breeze.

Fall is almost welcome this year, because summer pissed me off. August in particular. The coldest on record since glaciers covered the place, or thereabout. September has actually been warmer than August. But August built such a deep sense of mistrust, I was never able to really enjoy it. I kept thinking, “Sure, it’s 80 degrees today, but I’m making no summer-like plans. Tomorrow will probably be 55.” And this morning, that actually came true. Fine.

Were it not for my miserable tomato harvest, I would have no big gripe. Fall is generally my favorite season. I’m a light-jacket weather kind of guy. Love the fall colors as the leaves change. Heading out to the apple orchard. Lighting a fire in the fireplace. Getting the kids dressed for Halloween and showing them off to all the neighbors. Football.

I even like the nasty cold – but not quite winter-cold – weather the first few times it snaps through. A sort of seasonal wake-up call, reminding you that mother nature isn’t all Sesame-Street happy-go-lucky all the time. The weather that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald came in the fall. Sort of puts things in perspective for me in a strange way.

Anyway, I’ve got nothing more at the moment. It should be a fairly busy day at work, but also leaving no work to take home with me over the weekend. Not a bad deal, in my book.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Keepin' It Real

*SLURP*

Mmmm…. Burnt coffee. I’m currently taking a wee break at the office I’m currently consulting at. Good wireless network. Lousy coffee. You win some, you lose some.

Anyway, I think my inner child freaked out over my earlier post. I was suddenly seized by an urge to run out to Best Buy over lunch to try to find this…





Lileks likes games where he can kill things up close and personal. I prefer the carnage of grand battles, and the drive to build empires in meticulously detailed historic settings. Potayto, Potahto.

Well, no luck. The game was supposed to be out on the shelves today, but it wasn’t. Having gone through an uber-geek phase earlier in my life, I know all the tricks for tracking the game down today if I really cared to. But it wasn’t THAT big an urge. More a passing fancy.

Much like this….




… which I bought instead.

I thought about just walking past the display. But they’d dropped the price to one of those “just released” special levels. And it’s not like I was NEVER going to buy it. So why not take advantage of the good price… reasoned the whiny little child who went to see the first Star Wars move 8 times in the movie theatre, a number which equaled my age at the time.

So let’s use this to further elaborate my idea below, which, I realized after posting, came terribly close to channeling a crotchety, old “you-kids-get-out-of-my-yard” curmudgeon.

I don’t actually have a problem with goofy, silly, irresponsible leisure activities. As evidenced above, I actually engage in them. My beef is that this seems to be all there is in pop culture, combined with a sense of importance in it that is just ridiculous. Both that computer game, and the Star Wars DVD set are fine in themselves. But they’re just diversions. A little escape from reality. A balanced life ought to include higher pursuits. And in many if not most cases, this is certainly true. But the culture fights against it.

So anyway, feel free to join me in bemoaning the lack of any real adult pop scene, while still enjoying the things you like from the here and now. If you concentrate too much on the former, you’ll end up in a bathrobe on your front lawn yelling at the kids to “Turn down your music! Why.. in my day…” And if you concentrate too much on the latter? Well….





(courtesy Big Red Man Barn)

… that has its downside too.



Pop Culture For Adults

Like many of my age-group, I jumped onto the late 90’s Swing music revival with both feet (Not literally. I never got into the dancing part. I think I’m still technically obliged to take swing dancing lessons with my wife some day. Any day now. Right after football season. Some year.).

Anyway, unlike those who soon rushed off in search of the next great fad, I hung around. Never being much of a socialite, the live music scene was always a peripheral thing to me anyway. I was happy listening to recorded music. So when the local bands dried up, I had plenty of others to choose from. Like darn near every band who had ever recorded since the 30’s. We live in magical times.

Anyway, I can’t say I truly “studied” the genre in some musicology sense. It just sort of supplanted my previous purchases of classic rock, pop, or even classical for a while. Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Louis Prima, Duke Ellington, and many others became the stuff I’d pop into the CD player over dinner, or just when unwinding after work.

The music hit me at the right time. I was ready for something different. In general rock and pop seemed grating to my nerves more than anything. A mixture of the shallow and the self-important, cast around themes almost none of the performers seemed to have an adult perspective on – regardless of their actual age. And when I did find a pop tune or two I enjoyed, it never really launched a rediscovery of anything interesting going on. Just a quirky little twist the rest of those in the genre ignored in favor of cranking out more crappy Hip-Hop “gangsta” bilge.

Anyway, through Swing I became acquainted with some of the original pop music, and pop singers. People like Louis Prima (again), Billie Holliday, Mel Torme, Nat King Cole, and of course Frank. What, he needs a last name? We know who Frank is. He didn’t have to pretend he didn’t have a last name – like fame-whores Cher, Madonna, and Sting - but we still know him by the one name. He didn’t have to change his real name to something more stage friendly, like Dean Martin. Francis Albert Sinatra he was born, and that’s who he remained until he died. The guy in the middle here:



I got deeply into Frank the moment I discovered him (actually prompted by hearing a biography piece about him on NPR shortly after his death - which I can't find on the Web, but here's a Time magazine piece that has the same general sentiment). At first I reasoned that my liking was based on him having a good voice, but an excellent taste in song selection. That was true as far as it went, but there was more as well. I think part of it was just the opposite of what had turned me off of modern pop. Frank sang like an adult. He could sing with humor, or melancholy, or passion. But he didn’t sing like an adolescent, and couldn’t have managed if he tried.

I think this was the general sense that had drawn me into swing in the first place. It was pop music – but it was meant for adults.

So much of modern pop music – and pop culture generally – is about celebrating perpetual adolescence. I guess the vast majority of people must have enjoyed adolescence more than me. I couldn’t wait to grow up. My pre-adult years were not torturous or anything. They were just … well shallow, self-important, and lacking perspective. Not a state of life I was eager to sustain.

Makes me wonder why we put so much energy into political elections. Cultural problems aren’t resolved politically. It doesn’t matter which party occupies the seat of government if the people are hell-bent on acting like children. How is the government supposed to resolve real problems like this if our fellow citizens childishly demand immediate gratification while accepting virtually no responsibility or sacrifice themselves?

*sigh*

Of course, I have no answer either. But at least I can kick back, lose myself in a little adult pop-culture from a bygone era, and feel a bit better about it for a while. Those who never leave the pop-mainstream will never know what they're missing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

More Thoughts on the Mitch Berg Interview

Mitch kindly thanked me for my interview of him this morning. Thanks right back to him for allowing the interview.

His comments on the experience somewhat match up with my own. Mitch noted:

“The interesting part is that Doug and I come at interviewing from two whole different perspectives. I've been a reporter, producer, talk show host. To me, interviews are things you do, and then edit wholesale to find what you need, or at least focus ruthlessly.

Doug, of course, comes from anthropology. Interviews are more of a completist artifact, which is why he captured our conversation completely - every um, ah, and false start.”
Well, technically I did edit out a few of the “umms” and “ahhs.” But I left most of them in place. And that was intentional. The point certainly wasn’t to make Mitch self-conscious about the way he talks (collateral damage, sorry about that Mitch). The point was to bring a sort of slice-of-life feel to it.

Anyone who has studied the work of Harold Pinter or David Mamet, at least approaching their work as an actor rather than audience, is forced to confront the reality that people don’t speak the way we tend to think they do. We speak in fragments. We talk over one another. We don’t get the chance to finish a thought before another one interrupts us and sends us verbally off in another direction. I suppose to most people that’s awkward or even embarrassing. To me it’s fascinating. I’m weird that way.

For all the umms, and ahhs, Mitch is an excellent communicator. Much like a David Mamet play in which the characters speaking in choppy little fragments sometimes communicate more clearly and powerfully than grand and elaborate soliloquies in other plays. And of course in real life no one speaks in soliloquies without extensive preparation.

But that’s just some thoughts on everyday speech in general. There’s more.
The thing that caught my attention was this sentence from Mitch: “To me, interviews are things you do, and then edit wholesale to find what you need, or at least focus ruthlessly.”

This is something I was sort of aware of. I even mentioned it in my own reflections on the interview; to the extent I noticed that it’s not my style. But the reason why is probably only somewhat associated to my modest anthropology education. There’s another part as well.

I think it has to do with Mitch’s comment about editing. In the case of an interview, I’m agin’ it. I don’t see it as my place to second guess the interviewee about phrasing, any more than I’d put words in his mouth. And I suppose I’m a mildly surprised about that self-discovery, because I really don’t mind reading interviews where that has been done, provided it didn’t intentionally twist the meaning. But I put a lot of value in capturing exactly the way something was said. Perhaps I simply don’t want to find myself in a situation where I twisted someone’s meaning by being careless with semantics.

Anyway, if I went over the top and made Mitch come across as foolish, oops. For the record I think he’s a good thinker, interesting conversationalist, and a good communicator. And from my skewed perspective, that all came across very well in the interview. To those seeing it from other perspectives, just take my word for it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Political Exhaustion

I'm pooped. Beat. Fried.

This Rather-gate thing is fascinating and everything. But I'm starting to feel the way I felt after the 2000 election, during the whole Florida recount fiasco. Like I want the story to just go on vacation for a while, so I can read stories about some kid with Leukemia kayaking with a movie star due to the Make-a-Wish foundation. Something that makes you feel good about humanity and the future, instead of adversarial and combative.

Mind you, I've been saying for a while that the big "scoop" here is less a big breakthrough than an illustration of something we had already achieved. The tipping point "tipped" when people weren't paying attention. The shocked reaction to how it applies to this story is because few people really thought about some of the implications until now.

Which isn't to say the Rather thing isn't news. Or that no one should focus on it. But it' s making me tired. Like a train-wreck I keep looking, but it's sure not giving me any satisfaction. Schadenfreude can only sustain you for a brief period, and I think today I passed beyond it.

Partially my own fault. I dove into the "timeline" thingy this morning because it was something I thought was being overlooked. Like most elements of this story I soon discovered others were already on the track. And then I discovered I just can't keep up with it because I simply can't care enough at the moment.

Came across this in ABC's "the Note" today (sorry.. they have no permalinks):

"One thing is certain: the Bush political operation, when presented with a gift, knows how to milk it for all its worth (and you'll excuse the semi-mixed metaphor; imagine the gift is a cow … )."

And you know what? That screwy metaphor joke is the first thing I've read all day that actually gave me a little relief from the oppressive Rather-gate zetigeist.

So I'm thinking I just need to give the topic a rest. Plenty of excellent sources out there for those of you who want to keep track of things. I'm going to try to lay off the political blogging and get back into some more human-oriented interests for the next couple of days. We'll see how well that works.

CBS - DNC Timeline

Balloon Juice (assist to Instapundit) posts some musings regarding the timeline of the CBS hit-piece, and the "coincidentally" perfectly timed Kerry campaign followup.

Remember, this was not just some random Kerry spokemen leaping on the story after it broke. This was a full-fledged PR campaign, which the Kerry campaign dubbed "Fortunate Son." It was premised on the "facts" that Bush was the son of privilege who used family connections to avoid the draft, and once in the National Guard, used those same connections to shirk his responsibilities. Sound familiar? Sort of like exactly the content of a certain 60 minutes segment featuring Dan Rather?

The Kerry campaign has not been observed to exactly turn on a dime and whip out fully dressed and focused PR campaigns overnight. Yet that's exactly what we're supposed to believe in this case. And "over night" is not just a metaphor. Do what Balloon Juice did and check the timeline:

September 8th- the CBS 60 Minutes hit piece airs [remember it aired late in the evening - Doug]

September 9th- DNC launches 'Fortunate Son' campaign:

Yesterday we found out a few things that make the picture here a bit clearer, whichever side of the partisan fence you sit on. We found out:

"At the behest of CBS, an adviser to John Kerry said he talked to a central figure in the controversy over President Bush's National Guard service shortly before disputed documents were released." from the AP (via Powerline).

Then this morning we further discovered:

"CBS arranged for a confidential source to talk with Joe Lockhart, a top aide to John Kerry, after the source provided the network with the now-disputed documents about President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard." from USA Today (another assist to Powerline).

From that we can establish a couple of things:

1. Whatever information was in those documents was already known by both Burkett, and CBS, at the time CBS contacted the Kerry campaign.

2. The Kerry campaign was ready to followup with a full fledged media campaign, predicated on precisely the charges made in the 60 Minutes piece, and implied by the forged memos, less than 24 hours after the 60 Minutes story aired.

Those two items be established, there are only two reasonable conclusions:

A. An amazing coincidence.

B. CBS (either themselves or through Burkett) slipped the Kerry campaign information about what 60 Minutes was going to air ahead of time.

In my opinion, this is the area Republicans should focus on to unearth the real scandal. We're not talking about sloppy jounalism anymore here. Go ahead and assume CBS was stupid enough to fall for the forgeries, and stupid enough to trust Burkett. Even if that's true, this is election tampering. CBS covertly tried to help the Kerry campaign attack Bush. About two months before an election.


UPDATE:

The timeline seems even fishier when you add in a couple of things noted by Steve, from Fat Steve's Blatherings (assist to Vodkapundit).

Added to the timing of Burkett's communication with the DNC and CBS noted above, here's some more we can add:

September 7th: The Pentagon releases newly discovered Bush TANG records. Also new 527 group, "Texans for Truth," releases an add claiming Bush didn't fulfill his Guard service in Alabama.

September 8th & 9th: 4 media stories (The Boston Globe, U.S.News and World Report, Salon, and 60 Minutes)

Also on the 9th:

" ...Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe announced that the Democratic party would keep attention focused on this issue. In fact, they had ads ready to go against Bush the next week."

I wish Steve had a source for that McAuliffe statement. If it can be established, it's pretty damning.

Steve notes that the rush by 60 Minutes to get their story onto the air might be explained by them being aware of the others, and not wanting to be an "also ran." Sounds a heck of a lot more plausible than anything CBS has offered so far.

Steve's concludes this way:

"...the place to look for signs of collusion is the timing of the stories. Over the course of three days, one commercial, two print stories, a web story, and a television show all did supposedly independent pieces on the same subject. I find that very hard to believe. The DNC was ready to go with "Operation Fortunate Son" a week later, on Tuesday the 14th. We need to investigate that timing."

I totally agree.

(Incidentally, it looks like Steve is another new Minnesota blogger. Welcome to the family, Steve!)


Stanley Kurtz has a Modest Proposal

NRO's Stanley Kurtz is channelling Jonathan Swift this morning, in his article: A Grand Media Bargain

A few little gems:

Apparent conservative glee over the Rather fiasco is actually closer to obsessive fascination, relief, and terror. It's a bit like having a doctor cut out and show you a tumor you knew was inside you, but never imagined was so ugly, dangerous, or just plain real. You're riveted, revolted, happy, and scared all at once. To see displayed so openly the bias and treachery conservatives always knew was under the surface of network news is both a relief and a warning. In short, the conservative obsession with Rathergate is not so much a political tactic as an index of just how much the mainstream media spook the Right.

...

Then there's the lure of simple relief at no longer having to pretend to be fair. Imagine the effort it must take to create a patina of balance and objectivity when your very reason for being a journalist is to help move the country leftward. True, the authority conferred by a reporter's apparent objectivity is a major asset in any attempt to influence the voting behavior of a trusting public. Yet it's no longer clear that liberals want or need that pretense. A bestseller list dominated by angry attacks on President Bush, along with the embrace of Michael Moore by even the most respectable senior Democrats, suggest that nowadays liberal reporters might as well let their bias show.

...

Perhaps in some fundamental sense I have misjudged the liberal media. I have claimed that left-leaning journalists actually know themselves to be biased, and would therefore relish the chance to discard the pretense of fairness and turn into open political advocates. But couldn't it be argued that what most characterizes today's mainstream liberal journalists is the illusion that their own prejudices are indistinguishable from fairness itself?.... (snip)... I reject this challenge to my proposal. It is impossible that a respectable liberal journalist might actually confuse his own political biases with fairness itself. To believe that liberal journalism (and by extension, American liberalism itself) is this far gone, we would have to believe that Dan Rather was incapable of acknowledging how profoundly he has betrayed his own journalistic principles.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Thoughts On The Interview

Not much blogging tonight. Work picked up today at the same time my body decided to celebrate the end of summer by catching my final summer cold of the season.

Some thoughts about the Mitch Berg interview (Which you should read if you haven’t yet. Mitch is more interesting than anything I have to say tonight)…

First and foremost, it was fun and interesting. People actually get paid to do this? Admittedly, I stacked the deck in my favor. Mitch is an interesting guy, and a good conversationalist. Those combined for a pretty painless interview process.

This is not to say there was no pain in getting it published to my blog.

Rookie mistake: I picked up the first digital recording device I could find, and did little testing of it. It turned out to be a poor choice. The sound quality was terrible. And while it had the ability to pause, rewind a couple of seconds, and play back – which are the basics I needed – it had the annoying quality of jumping back to the very beginning of the interview if I pressed the rewind button too hard (I think that’s supposed to be a “feature”), and there is no similarly quick way to return to the spot I just left. And when paused, it skips about a second ahead when restarted. Seems like no big deal… until you combine that with the terrible sound quality, because of which I had to replay 2 or 3 second sequences over repeatedly to try to decipher what some word or phrase was.

I also didn’t respect the fact that the background noise inside Keegan’s would be a factor. The place was filling up as we approached the dinner hour during the interview. Just a general background murmer to our ears. But a very noticeable presense on the recording, making it very challenging to hear Mitch at times; especially in the latter stages of the interview.

Yet for all that pain, I’m happy with it. I would not compromise the style – face to face talking over a beer – to compensate for the equipment and typing challenges. I wanted it to be relaxed and conversational. If we had done it over an online chat session it would have saved me a ton of time transcribing, but I don’t think it would have produced the same sort of interview at all. And if I had sealed us in a sound booth, rather than conversing in a friendly pub, that would have changed the feeling as well. So I think the answer going forward will be to find better equipment.

I had some fairly simple goals going into this, and I think I accomplished them. I wanted the resulting interview to be something I would enjoy reading. And I do. I wanted to keep myself out of the interview as much as possible (it wasn’t supposed to be about me – just Mitch). And with perhaps a couple of exceptions, I think I did. And I wanted to capture a sort of stream-of-conscious meandering with Mitch thinking through things freshly, rather than getting canned responses. And I think that one happened as well.

I’ve gotten a couple of inquiries about why I’m doing this. And the short version is, because no one else did.

The long version stems from the Rather-gate thing. With much discussion of the blogosphere assuming traditional media roles as needed, I remember having an “ah-ha” moment when the INDC Journal took the initiative and called up its own document expert when the mainstream press was still asleep at the wheel. Surely not the first case where a blogger successfully took on the role of the professional media. But for some reason that one really hit me. I realized it doesn’t have to be just about pressuring the old media to write the stories you want to see. If they don’t write it, why shouldn’t a blogger step in and do it?

Later that week I was listening to the NARN guys filling in for Prager. And I thought it would be really interesting to read an article to get the perspective of some of these guys at the heart of this new media storm. Find out how this wild roller-coaster ride – from sleepy backwater blogs to national media figures - seemed to them. But all the articles I found covered only a tiny little slice. They also seemed stupidly stuck rehashing Blogging 101, and never going much deeper. And something just clicked in my mind. These guys weren’t writing from the far side of the moon. They live here in town. I’ve had beers with a couple of them. So why not use that and, in my own way, do what INDC Journal did. I didn’t see a story I wanted to read, so why not roll up my sleeves and write it myself?

I knew Mitch a bit better than any of the others (not that we’re terribly close or anything, but it was a start), so I picked him as my starting point (and hopefully not also the ending point). I shot him an e-mail. We hashed out the when and where. And that was it.

Kind of funny when I read it in retrospect, and observe how I approached this. I have no formal journalism training. But I do have a modest academic background in anthropology and history. Looking at the way I tried to steer things, I definitely felt more comfortable just letting the interviewee talk and talk, and take off in any direction he wanted without interruption. That’s sort of how I’d do an ethnography interview for a cultural anthropology assignment. You never know when someone is going to reveal something important you would have never thought to ask about, due to your lack of understanding of the culture under study, so you try not to interrupt. The history interest comes out more in choosing the topic. Unlike a journalist, I didn’t care so much about reporting the hard news. I wanted to get a feel for what it was like to live through such interesting times. This is the sort of interview I’ll enjoy looking back and reading years from now to remember what it was like as the blogosphere was emerging in late 2004.

I hope more of the Northern Alliance guys agree to sit down for more of these. The transcribing is painful, but the end result made it seem very worthwhile. I hope those reading it got something out of it too.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Mitch Berg interview

Like many other new blogs, Bogus Gold was (blogospherically) spawned by the work of the Northern Alliance. My conception of what blogs are, what they’re good for, why they’re fun, and why they’re important comes from watching the Northern Alliance blogs develop and grow over the past couple of years.

Something one is immediately struck by when exploring the Northern Alliance blogs is how distinct they are. There is no “Northern Alliance” mold. They’re all compelling and talented in (sometimes wildly) different ways. Something we locals take a bit of home-town pride in perhaps, but also a microcosm of the blogosphere in general.

This series attempts to offer (hopefully) new and personal insights into the people who are responsible for the Northern Alliance blogs. Beyond that, we’ll just see where the conversations lead us. That’s part of the fun of blogs themselves, isn’t it?

First up…

Mitch Berg




Mitch is the author of Shot in the Dark, and a host of the Northern Alliance Radio Network.

I met up with Mitch at Keegan’s Irish Pub, in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon, following the Northern Alliance Radio Show.

Me: I thought we’d start with the basic biographical stuff.

Mitch: Oh Boy. Well this should be really, really dull. I was born in Rugby, North Dakota. I’m 41. Single parent. 2 kids, ages 11 and 13. Live in St Paul in a very, very old house with a dog and a cat and an extremely large mortgage.

Boy, what else is there? I play 10 musical instruments. In descending order of competence: guitar, cello, mandolin, harmonica, drums, (garbled) …., keyboards – I’m really bad at keyboards…. bagpipes.

Me: Where’d you go to school?

Mitch: Well, I graduated from high school in Jamestown, North Dakota. The same place that gave us Peggy Lee, Jim Ramstead, Dan Erstead(?), and Louis L’Amour. Oh… and Shadow Stevens. I went to college in Jamestown North Dakota. I went to college in my home town, a place I knew when I was 14 that I had to get the hell away from. It was basically – 80 percent free tuition, because my mother went there. It was either that or join the Army.

And so I went to Jamestown college. I got a degree in English, with minors in History, Computer Science, and German, and enough credits for minors in Music and Theater, but it was all performance stuff so it didn’t really count. I was kind of a stupid workaholic in college. I went to 23 credits a semester for four years. It was insane. I kind of got to the end of four years and thought I had spent so much time working so on college, I had no idea what I was going to do when I got out.

So I spent five months working construction. And working at a bookstore. All my friends came back for homecoming at home in October, or September… you know, for college homecoming, and came back from their difficult jobs and their big lives, and we got to talking. And we got about 6 beers into the evening. And they got around to me, sitting at the table, and they said, “Well, what are you going to do Mitch?”

And I said, “Well, I’m working construction now, but um…” I was a little more slurred by this point. And I said, “But I’m moving pretty soon.” And they said, “That’s great, where?” And I thought, “Christ! Okay, where can I afford to move to?” because I had maybe 500 bucks in the bank at this point... where can I afford to move.. “Uhh… The Twin Cities.”

They said, “Oh, really? That’s great. When?”

“Uh... Two weeks.”

And I thought, everybody’s so bombed here that they’ll have forgotten about it by the time we sober up. But in fact they did not. And so I was committed. And three weeks later, I in fact moved to Minneapolis.

And, you know I’ve been working in radio since I was 16, I figured… I wound up almost accidentally getting a job at KSTP… and before it had become a talk radio station…

Me: How did you get that job?

Mitch: I was with this friend of mine, and we went to this demonstration. I’d been crashing on this friend’s couch for like 10 days. And this person’s parents were ministers in the inner city. And they were going to go to this demonstration in the old Rialto Theater, a place on Chicago, which was an old porn theater. And they wanted to get it out of their neighborhood. And, as I said, I’d been crashing on their child’s couch for 10 days, I figured I owed them this much at least, so … here I am walking back and forth with this sign. I’m the only male there under the age of 50. I’m the only person there over 5’8” tall. So I got a little bit of attention, both negative, I had a few water balloons thrown at me, and positive. I had Alan Constantine from Channel 11 come over, and do an interview with me, so I got myself on TV.

And then another reporter came over, his name’s Paul Nyreh(?), and he asks if he could have an interview. He has this huge tape recorder. By this time I’d worked in radio for 6 years, so you can’t escape the obvious with me. I’m a master of the bleeding obvious. And I said, “You’re in radio aren’t you? I need a job really bad. I just got in from North Dakota. And, I’ll do the interview, but I’d appreciate if you’d take me to your leader.”

And he said, “Really, what part of North Dakota?”

And I said, “Jamestown.”

And he said, “Really? I’m from Casselton. I’ll set you up with an interview.”

So I got the job. And two week later I was working as a phone screener for Don Vogel. And two months after that… um.. three or four months after that they put me on the air on overnight weeknight graveyards, as a conservative talk-show host, and I was only 24.

Me: You were already a conservative at 24?

Mitch: I had just become a conservative within the previous 3 or 4 years. And new conservatives are the most obnoxious ones apparently. So, they put me on the air, 2-4 in the morning.

Me: You were Chris Krok. [reference to a young, right wing talk-show host currently at KSTP – ed].

Mitch: (chuckles) I was Chris Krok. Absolutely. I was… I made Chris look pretty good, all things considered. I was only a kid.

But I was amazed. In a way it was the perfect life for me, because I got paid to be juvenile, write comedy material, and do comedy bits five days a week. I got paid a little bit at least to argue politics with drunks at 3 in the morning. Both are things I’d gladly do for free, so it was really the life of Riley as long as it lasted.

Anyway that was sort of the… what lead to, indirectly, very indirectly… to me blogging. Because I did… although the talk-show I had only lasted maybe a year at the outside… I sort of got a taste for being kind of an amateur pundit. Er... semi-professionally at that point. I was only making maybe 8 bucks an hour. But it was a lot of fun I realized, just spouting off on things… whether I has any qualification or not… was kind of a blast. And, I mean, people would tune in and call in and argue with me and … pay me some attention. That was absolutely the bomb.

So I went and did it. And over several years I did many other things. I was a night-club disk-jockey… uh, became a technical writer, got into software design – that’s what I do now. Got married. Had two kids. Got divorced. Uh… kept on with my career in software design. And, um… gradually blogging came into the picture.

I mean I basically buried the part of me over the course of the.. I don’t know… 14, 15 years I spent out of talk radio... I sort of buried that part of me for a long time.

But... um... there were these mailing groups in town? One called Minnesota Politics. Run by a group called e-Democracy. And for a while there it was a pretty credible…. This was in the days before the web. It hosted a discussion forum, and people would post opinions about political discussions and there’d be a discussion. And um... it was… I mean I was brought because a couple of libertarian friends... were… okay, this was kind of a typical liberal... DFL... playground, where we need to bring some balance, Mitch why don’t you come in and do this? And I did. That was my main outlet for… um… for the next seven years. And actually that…. That sort of whetted my appetite for writing… for being sort of an amateur, written prose pundit, there. For a while, there.

And then blogs came. And that was kind of the next step.

Me: How did you discover blogging? I mean, what was the point where you realized what blogs were about?

Mitch: Wow. I have to think back for a little bit… In early ’02, late January or early February of ’02… I was reading in… I think it was Time magazine, I’m not positive, but it mentioned Andrew Sullivan. And it was the first piece I’d ever seen… may have been the first piece in the mainstream media about blogging. And... Andrew Sullivan, and kind of the... it was actually a piece... It wasn’t about blogging. It was about young, intellectual, conservative authors... writers. Like Andrew Sullivan, and Jonah Goldberg. And people like that. And it mentioned blogging very offhandedly. And there was maybe a paragraph describing what blogging was. As a sort of a do-it-yourself venue for uncensored, self-moderated opinion. And I thought, woah, this is so perfect.

And I went out to blogger.com that night, and set up my first blog, Shot In The Dark; the first edition of Shot in the Dark, out on Blogger.com. And, um… had the domain bought already at that time, so I had a place to put it. And I … I read that article in Time probably the first third of 2002. And I had the first episode of Shot in the Dark published the next day. And I’ve been writing more or less every day since.

Me: Why don’t you talk a little bit a bout the development of Shot in the Dark. I mean, you started writing, and then obviously… one of the things I assume… I don’t even remember when I started reading Shot in the Dark. It was a while ago. It was one of things that sort of happened one day, and just becomes part of your day, and it just kind of blends into everyday. So... what was your experience along that time? I mean, you started in February of ’02…

Mitch: I started in February of 2002. I... the only advertising was I would put a little reference to Shot in the Dark in the postings I was still doing on Minnesota Politics. And it was becoming ever more sporadic, and obviously biased toward the... I mean… more blinkered in its bias toward the left. It’s a long story, and a little bit of sour grapes on my part. Um… And it’s really okay. But, it was becoming an unsatisfying forum for me. And the blogs were just the right thing at the right time.

I started out with between… 4 to 8 visitors a day, from probably February ’02, until probably August of ’02. And gradually the traffic built up over the course of about six months. I went from 4 visitors a day… maybe… to maybe 15 or 20 over the course of six months. And… toward the elections… through word of mouth, I was maybe into the low 30’s a day … mid 30’s a day… by the time of the elections.

It was just basically… it was a wide variety of picks. It’s all still out there on my archives. I mean I wrote about… actually short little pieces about local politics, a little bit of national stuff, a little bit of defense, a little bit of music... some fairly grandiloquent looking music reviews… um… just a whole grab bag of things. Whatever crossed my mind I wrote about.

And I was doing it at work, secretly. I was doing, like, 10… 12 posts a day. And... just a variety of subjects. And two things happened almost simultaneously. The, uh... Well three things happened simultaneously in the fall of 2002. The elections. … The second was I discovered the form of the “Fisking.” It was a major revelation in my life. And, uh, third, Garrison Kellior published his little poisoned-pen piece on Norm Coleman in Slate magazine.. I believe that was November 8th. And the three things came together. It was my first fisking of Garrison Kellior, and his rant about Norm Coleman. And to this day I have no idea how this happened. But I got picked up on Instapundit. And it was... to this day it was probably the single biggest day I’ve ever had to my blog. I probably got 7,000 visitors that day.

Me: Not to interrupt you here. But I’m one of the very few who discovered Instapundit through people like you, rather than the other way around.

Mitch: I discovered Instapundit through Sullivan. I mean Sullivan was and it was the only blog I read. I didn’t know there were other blogs in the Twin Cities for the longest time. Which is a whole conversational thread right there.

In fact it was shortly before the election that I first discovered other bloggers in the Twin Cities, and that’s a story in and of itself, which lead me to the radio show eventually.

But um… no. I wrote this piece, and I got linked. I got probably 15,000 hits in three days. And… at the end of these three days I’m thinking, Oh man, because I was... where before I was averaging 30 visitors a day, I was averaging maybe 240 visitors a day after the election. So it was a big jump for me. Huge. I mean I jumped into a whole different league, and I met a whole lot of new bloggers, and lot of people decided to blogroll me.

And then... a week later Kellior wrote another piece, which I had an even more fun Fisking of. And some more traffic. And...

A big one was when the… the one that probably launched me locally actually… was a piece I wrote on the billboard of Norm Coleman’s, which had been defaced with Nazi propaganda over in Saint Paul. I wrote a piece... put the picture up... Instapundit linked… everybody. And it was…. It kind of put me on the map, and a lot of local people discovered me and uh… or rediscovered me in at least one case... and uh… met some old friends who kind of … it sort of re-exposed me to the real world finally. And that was kind of where it was where the blog started to grow.

And from there it’s been kind of a steady progression upwards, in terms of like traffic and exposure and uh… people on the blog. It’s really, unaccountably amazing to me that ... that’s the way it’s worked.

Me: What’s your traffic like now?

Mitch: I’m kind of amazed. I was averaging around… It’s gone in a couple of distinct stages. I was at about 200 a day back in 2002 – 2003. Last year, 2003, when I was unemployed, I had a lot – way too much – time to spend on the blog. I brokered that rather quickly to around 500 a day. And last March, about the time the show started, my domain hosting disappeared, and I wound up having to jump on this new hosting real quick. And fortunately just as I made that switch, Hugh Hewitt, Glenn Reynolds, and James Lileks who famously appeared on the Hewitt show, gave me a big shout out, and I got 10,000 hits in two days. And it kind of launched my new domain, shotinthedark.info. And I was up to... James Lileks said I was getting 300 hits a day, and I should be getting 10 times as much. Well I was actually getting 500 a day, but um… I’m up to about 1500 on a weekday, and maybe 8 or 9 hundred on weekends. Which was incomprehensible to me a year earlier. I mean that would have been an Instalanche for me. Right now, just kind of the trickle down I’ve been getting from the rest of the Northern Alliance it’s been roughly around 2200 on a weekday – visits, not visitors. Probably about 1600-1800 visitors and 2200 visits a day. And right around 800 visitors a day on weekends. Which is… I pinch myself sometimes…. This is stuff I’d given up ever aspiring to years ago.

Me: Well let’s go from there into what you think of your blog. How would you characterize it for someone who’d never heard of blogs before? Or maybe had heard of blogs, but not your blog?

Mitch: I don’t know. And the fact is, I don’t know why people read... I’m glad they do read my blog … I’m thankful for every single one of them. Why do people read my blog? I don’t know. I don’t have the time to do the reporting of people like Ed… Captain Ed, from Captain’s Quarters… or John Hinderaker here. I’ve done a little bit of it, but it’s not like I’ve devoted a lot of time to it. I think I’m probably a pretty fair ersatz editorial columnist. I can rant pretty well and fairly articulately, and I have a lot of fun taking apart articles that I disagree with. Every once in a while I can come up with the right source in the right situation where I can introduce some original reportage out there. But that’s a weird thing for me. I’m probably the opinion columnist of the Northern Alliance. I mean among the Northern Alliance crowd I’m probably the local opinion guy… Think of me as the Kim Ode of the Northern Alliance, maybe. With the occasional fisking thrown in for good measure, like the Garrison Kellior piece.

I mean... I know people read in numbers... and thrill me to this very day. But a lot of pieces I have… I have no idea ... to a large extent I have no idea why a lot of people have come here. I don’t have a lot of areas of deep expertise. Like Rocketman and Big Trunk have with the law. Or Ed’s ... uh… well Ed’s quite a polymath. He knows a lot of things. I’m more of a jack of all trades, and the master of none. I’m someone who can occasionally turn a pithy phrase, and it might help someone else encapsulate their feelings. Probably someone who thinks about things the same way I think. I use that a lot to help me focus my own energy here a little bit, perhaps. That’s the nearest I can come maybe to a reason anybody would read Shot In The Dark.

Me: Let’s move on from Shot in the Dark to the Northern Alliance. I don’t even think I know the full story of how it developed, and how you got involved.

Mitch: Well… around 2002 actually… uh.. Hugh Hewitt gets on the air and basically declared that some of his favorite blogs... his favorite conservative blogs... came from the middle of the wilds of liberal Minnesota. And since we were... at least to his point of view… a beleaguered faction in the middle of hostile territory, he suggested calling us... or, at this point it was them… the Northern Alliance of Blogs. And at this point they were just Fraters Libertas, Powerline, and James Lileks. And they stayed for a while. And the Fraters, who I’d become acquainted with the previous several months, right before the election… actually as it turned out they remembered me from the old Don Vogel show… wrote me an e-mail and it said, hey…. Actually they put up a very large flattering post of me and my history in radio on the old Don Vogel show. And they sent me an e-mail that said hey, I don’t know if you know this, but we wrote this post up about you. And I think that was for both of us the first time we realized that there were other bloggers in the Twin Cities other than Lileks, who everyone knows, and whom I know from waaay back when. Several years ago. Uh... in the Twin Cities...

Sometime after that… it would be January of ’03… the Fraters and the Powerline guys prevailed upon Hewitt to admit me and King Banyan from Scholars to the Northern Alliance. So it was a five member group for a while. And then, probably last winter… probably Decemberish or thereabouts… Hewitt added Captain Ed, and Spitbull to the group. So that rounded out the whole Northern Alliance.

Me: Ed has only been around that long? Seems like it’s been longer.

Mitch: He’s only been blogging for like 11 months now. He’s had the most meteoric rise of any blog that I’ve ever seen ever, anywhere. He’s gone from being ... from having a brand new blank page blog, to one of the top 20 blogs anywhere in the business within a year. Which is just amazing. He’s had this knack of getting several Instalanches a week, which certainly doesn’t hurt. And he’s a good blogger... so…

Anyway, the two were added to the list in December. And that was where the Northern Alliance was. We were, for a long time... for about a year...what we’d do is we would sometimes do some cooperative blogging. Hugh Hewitt... if he had a story that pertained to Minnesota, or pertained to some sort of issue that he thought we’d have some influence or interest in, he’d say, “Okay Northern Alliance what do you guys think about this?” And... at that point it flattered us with… or... whichever portion of the five of us heard the call… would do his blog... would write about it... and do weekly updates. And we had some fairly good exchanges on different subjects back in 2003. And if it had stayed just an alliance of blogs, it would have been a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun as far as it went. Um… but... it evolved from there, which is another whole story, which I will encapsulate in a whole separate piece of dialogue.

The birth of the radio show was a strange situation. It was… kind of cloaked in mystery even within the alliance itself. The show started… actually it’s tied in rather indirectly with one the ... well... one of my biggest stories I’ve had… which was the demise of Plain Layne. Which happened a few months ago. Everyone’s familiar with it.

Me: Not everyone.

Mitch: Well... even so... the hoaxter, Odin Soli, is an old friend of mine. But... writing under the cover of Layne, which I didn’t know he was for the longest time, I mentioned in this comment thread… you know there’s times I wish I could get back into talk radio. And Layne, quote unquote, writes back and says, you know you should stick with this blogging and maybe try that because you never know, because... as long as it’s something you love, it will come to you. And I thought, Hmm. There’s an interesting thought. It kind of cemented this blogging thing into a bigger place in my life. I should be pouring more of my emotional energy into things that I love unlike work…. Things like blogging and being an amateur pundit. And less into things that I don’t like as much... like… work.

And so we had kind of an exchange like in Our Gang, sort of a, “Hey gang, let’s do a show.” And I wrote… e-mailed the other guys from Fraters, and Powerline. And I said… this is before Ed and Spitbull became involved… and I said what would you guys feel about doing a radio show? And uh… they said… well we’re fine with that but… uh... you do the legwork. And I was fine with that.

Me: You didn’t mention Lileks, and he used to have a radio show.

Mitch: Oh I did. I forgot. But I did e-mail Lileks as well. And in fact we wound up having… about this time… oh a year ago I suppose I think the idea had, on some level, been passed around…. We passed some e-mails around. Everyone was interested, but no one knew where to start. I figured... well… about this time we started getting a lot of play on the Hugh Hewitt show, and getting mentioned a lot, and getting air time. And that’s a cool point on a talk radio show where you call in and always get put on the air. You get past the screeners on your name alone. It’s kind of heady stuff. And I pitched it to Lileks, Saint Paul, Elder, and… probably the Rocketman. And they all said… well sure. Make a pitch. So I did. About this time a year ago. And the idea bounced around in various forms… oh... for the first few months. It kind of sat there dormant for a little while, as we... basically... kind of tried to find a real focus for it.

And then the big turning point for it came in January of ’04 when Hugh Hewitt came to town, and threw a lunch for the Northern Alliance at this restaurant out on... uh… Lake Minnetonka. And we all crowded into this room, and Hugh said, “So, you guys going to do the show?” And I said, well… you know… Lileks is kind of the marquee player, and he’s not really into doing a show for free. And Hugh’s like, forget Lileks, forget the marquee player, are you guys going to do the show? And I said, well okay, let’s call somebody. After Hugh Hewitt left the entire assembled Northern Alliance, James Lileks wasn’t there that day, but everyone else was, so I said, okay what do you think about doing this? Because... they gave us a start date, March 6th if we could have a show ready by then. What do you think? And everybody said, yeah, maybe we could give it a shot. See what happens.

So we got their answer back later that day. The next Monday they said, well yeah. Sure we’ll do this. And we knocked around a few ideas, and we settled on… since I was the only one besides Lileks who’d ever done radio before, I’d be the anchor, more or less. And we sort of sketched out a sort of very, very rough ad hoc format. And we went from there. And it was really interesting, because... except for Saint Paul and Lileks, I’d only met… never met anyone in the Northern Alliance before this meeting in January of ‘04. And we only had one more meeting before we had our first broadcast. I got everyone down in the basement studio so they all knew what earphones felt like and what microphones looked like. And to kind of hammer out a rough format for the show. And that was it. We sat there for 45 minutes. And everybody talked into a microphone and listened to their voices. And uh…. That was on the last Saturday in February of ’04. The next weekend we were on the air. We did our first show... and... It’s off to the races since there.

Me: Speaking of the radio show… the Northern Alliance consists of a number of blogs, and some of them aren’t represented in the show. How did that come about?

Mitch: Well it came about because … like a few of them… Spitbull… are just not especially interested in doing radio. I call them our covert operations arm of the Northern Alliance. They support us. Actually there have been times that Eloise has sent us… has called in and said hey, so and so has a link to such and such here, check this out, while we’re on the air. That’s been invaluable. Um… most everyone else who’s involved... there’s a total of 15 people involved in the Northern Alliance all told. If you leave out people who are out of town, like Whiskey from Captain’s Quarters, or Deacon from Powerline. And a few people, who are only peripherally involved, like three of King Banyan’s associates up at Saint Cloud State Scholars… and Lileks is an occasional player on the air. There’s really 8 people involved in the show. This is… a small… Those are the people who really, really want to be involved in the show on a daily basis. And it works out really well. People who aren’t involved pretty much made it clear from the beginning they just didn’t feel like going on the air very much. Atomizer tried it once. He helps out at remotes all the time. In fact, he was out at the [Minnesota] State Fair quite a bit... Atomizer from Fraters Libertas. He provides the signal service of... every time we have a live remote broadcast… of bringing his Martini kit out to the post-show. And uh… you know we went from there.

Basically it’s all volunteer. I mean the people who want to do the show do the show.

Me: This may be tough to answer. I got a hint of this from you the other night. But, where is the show going?

Mitch: Very good question. We don’t know. I mean, right now the sky is the limit. And also… I mean... right now the sky is the limit… the sky is not only the limit, it’s also the requirements document at this point.

We have um… we’ve had an insane amount of interest in the show from people we’d never expected. I mean, we’d been on the air for six weeks and we did our first national gig for Hugh Hewitt, on April 14th and 15th of ’04. Those were our 6th and 7th broadcasts respectively. And we did it again within the month. And then we filled in for Prager this last week. And we may be filling in for other radio personalities in the next few weeks. And… the possibilities are…. literally… imponderable at this point. We don’t know. I mean, there’s possibilities... there’s communication… without any concrete sense of what they are. The web-streaming has been a galloping success so far. I mean, we had a thousand people come to the Northern Alliance website last weekend... which is triple normal… largely because of the CBS memo-gate scandal. And in sense of like distribution… it’s hard to say exactly where it will go. Or even to kind of predict.

Because if you’d have told us seven months ago, when we first started the show, that we’d be filling in for Hewitt, and Prager, and on the Web… and getting calls from China and New Jersey, both… we would have said you were nuts. It was interesting. Going into the first show, some of the parties who were going into the show, who will not be named, said, yeah we’ll probably last three weeks and then they’ll kick us off the air. Um... and we…

Me: Any hint who those parties might be?

Mitch: Um... they may be a major trial lawyer, and a couple of them may be rather alcohol focused slacker members of the Fraters Libertas. I mean… I don’t remember who had... I remember having a lot of confidence in the idea initially. Because I figured, A, why not? You can’t go into these things half-assed. You have to dive into these things, or stay on the diving board. You can’t just wade in up to your knees. That was one of the big lessons I learned when I was in radio. It was, if you get a break, you go with it all the way or it goes to someone else... or someone else will do it for you. Um… And so we did. And then… in some ways… if you ask the experts in radio... Do you do a group show? And they’ll say no. Group shows never work. Which only proves experts are sometimes right about some things.

Me: Let’s go into that… We spoke about that a little bit earlier. One of the reasons I came up with the idea to do this interview was listening to you guys on the Prager show…

Mitch: (chuckles) Ok.

Me: And I realized… Oh my God. It seemed like you involved dozens of people at any one time. And I was familiar with the background information from the blogs. And I realized how much information there was. And here you guys were, just trying to get all these people involved for who’d been writing about this for days. And here you were kind of emceeing the thing, trying to pull from all these different people, and hit the commercial breaks. And it worked. It worked amazingly well. And I thought, I’ve got to interview Mitch to find out how he does that. What’s his secret?

Mitch: You know, that’s a great question. How do I do it? I see my role as being sort of the quarterback of the Northern Alliance. I mean, John Hinderaker is sort of the Randy Moss… he catches the long ball and spikes it in the endzone, and the crowd goes wild. And Captain Ed is probably the half-back…. He slips five tackles and gets 40 yards… and the crowd goes wild. And the Fraters are like the pulling guards.. the big, pudgy, lovable pulling guards that everyone loves. And I’m sort of like the quaterba…. Nahh… I don’t even want to call myself the quarterback. I call myself the middle linebacker… because I’m the one who reads the signals, and tries to get everyone to the right place at the right time.

And I spend more time on the air… Lileks has written various posts about appearing on the show... because he’s been with us when we were filling in for Hewitt and Prager both... and he seems to have captured my role in the show, which is… I’m hand signaling all the time off the air. I mean… not that it’s fancy, but when we’re on the air it’s like signaling, okay you’re up. And you’re up next. And then we’ll take calls. We have this little evolved… little… simple but effective sign language on the air… where we control who’s coming up, who’s got something to say, and who responds to a caller, or whatever. And I’m the one who has in my head, okay this is what’s coming up… what’s going to sort of be the narrative of this hour? If it can be said that hours have narratives. I try and give them something of a narrative. That’s sort of a… I sort of see myself as kind of a producer on the fly... and there is a narrative to be had… in the subject matter... and we could be talking with a guest, there has to be a beginning, a middle, and an end to any interview. If you have an hour… a week in review hour… which is how we start every show out... there’s got to be a beginning, a middle, and an end to every week in review. I try and pace things. And bring out the comments. And sequence the calls so there... sort of… it seems like some sort of narrative... which may or may not be discernable to the listener at all... as something we try to shoot for.

One of the things I try to do is sort of structuring this thing behind the scenes. And doing the scene with a lot of give and take. I mean the guys have their own point of views, and we try to bring those out on the air… and focus things on their efforts and so forth. That’s a big part of… the biggest part of my job. Of course… I’ve been on the radio, and I know a little bit about filling up air space with blather. So when a guest drops off the line in the middle of an interview I have a little bit of experience with being able to babble through until a producer brings the guest back up. It happened today with Jed Babbin. We lost him during the break. And I tap danced until Joe Hanson got him back on the line… That kind of thing, which is not so big in itself exactly, but it’s kind of a learned skill. And it’s... those kind of situations really that may be my one real qualification to be on the show. I can keep babbling when that stuff happens.

Me: What were the best moments in the show so far? Either because you liked them, or you thought they worked the best?

Mitch: Um… I have a soft spot in my heart for comedy radio. And so our broadcast at the fair… especially the first weekend… where we were doing live play by play from the fair because we couldn’t… you know... it was the only trick we had. Parades were going by. And Brian Ward, who was out doing his live play by play, and basically… heckling the Dairy Princess... uh... Princess Kay… and getting attacked by Goldie Gopher. That was some of my favorite stuff.

Um… live, off-the-cuff arguments about music with Captain Ed and J. B. Doubtless…

The interviews we’ve had with the likes of… um…well last week with John Fund was just a gas… oh, and Michele Malkin… When you’re just in the zone… and it comes so fast you don’t even know where the hour goes. And that’s all good. And it’s hard for me to pick those moments, because for the last 6 or 7 weeks everything is just clicking so very, very well, it’s like every show is a favorite moment probably.

Me: What are your thoughts on the blogosphere? Where is it going?

Mitch: Oh, I don’t know. Where is it going? I ... I... I knew that question was going to come. And I should probably have thought of an intelligent answer for it. But I don’t know that I have one. I’m not really a visionary. I’m more of a tactician when it comes to these sorts of things.

Where do I think it’s going? I think… It think that there’s probably going to be a cycle that the blogosphere goes through that’s similar to the cycle that, say, punk rock went through. I think there’s parallels. And I say this perhaps because Johnny Ramone just died... you know... because he was one of my idols as a kid. But there’s a cycle that punk rock went through… where it was brand new, snotty, entertaining, fun, do-it-yourself garage-level phenomenon. Like the earliest inclination of the Ramones, and the Dead Boys and other people like that, where it sort of … it was new and it shook the roots of the establishment in ways nobody could have predicted. And then it grew up a little bit, it got serious, started getting some money thrown at it, it sort of went establishment to some extent. It became part of the establishment. You had the Ramones playing at bars where you didn’t have to unstick yourself from the seat when you got up. And I think I’d put bloggers right now at about the same place punk rock was when the Sex Pistols came to America. And… we’re kind of at the same fork in the road the Pistols were when they came to America. We can present a lot of credibility and… um... presence in the marketplace of ideas, if not quite the marketplace of finance. And where we go with it from here? Do we give into hubris? Do we say we don’t know what we’re going to do from here? Do we crater because we have no desire to do anything but crater, as the Sex Pistols did in 1977, ‘78? Or do we... Or does it evolve into an institution with its own sclerosis and its own traditions and institutions? I don’t know. I’m hoping that it’s a self renewing… I hate the term “revolution.” I’m hoping it’s a self-renewing uh… exfoliation (chuckles)… for lack of a better term. I’m hoping it’s a sort of exfoliation process. It renews itself and checks itself and keeps itself lean… and… and young and revolutionary. Rather than turn into… say… what broadcasting turned into between the 1920’s and the 1970’s.

Me: So you don’t want to see yourself being Dan Rather 20 years from now.

Mitch: Yeah, right. Exactly. I don’t want to turn into…um… A pundit’s more of a mainstream phenomenon. And I don’t want to see it get... “corrupted” is not quite the right word I’m looking for… But I don’t want to see blogs become… sort of a cash cow for… someone else. … another …. Instead of a cash cow maybe another paying phenomenon... like the Web became.

Yet overall I think that the blogosphere is living out a lot of... you know… the promise that the Web held. And um… you know twelve years ago. I think that’s kind of where we are right now in terms of like in terms of information. The blogosphere is there… and um... That’s kind of a very incoherent vision for where I’d like to see it go.

Me: What kind of blogs do you like to read?

Mitch: Oh gosh. Um… All the Northern Alliance, because I find myself getting all the facts that I need about the major pieces of the news of the day. I mean between Ed… and Powerline… and some of the other big news blogs. I mean, Instapundit I read daily. I read… The one’s that more than any I find myself reading daily besides the whole Northern Alliance lineup, and some of the Minnesota Organization of Blogs lineup, is uh… you know Lileks of course, daily, he’s an every day. Um… I find myself reading Sheila O’Malley every day. She’s fun. A polymath… writes about everything from news to... books to... just curious little obsessions she has. And she’s sort of… I called her a manic, female Lileks a little while ago and uh… it seemed to fit. So I like reading that one. I read uh... Phil Carter(?) .. uh… intel blog(?), he posts a couple times a day. Um... local bloggers… Jay Reding, from Mankato, I read him a lot.

Then I try to sort through some of the new blogs. I’ve been reading more opposition blogs lately. Um… there’s a group of lefty bloggers who’ve tried to form sort of an instant association. I guess I’ve heard through the grapevine that they’re trying this as sort of a leftwing answer to the Northern Alliance… called the New Patriots. They have a website. It’s a group of ten local lefty bloggers, with a variety of writing skill levels. And I find myself reading them. Not that I ... probably because I enjoy some of them. Some of them are interesting writers. Some of them are… um… are whackos. And, um… I’ll let the discerning reader tell who’s who. And I read them. And I’ll find myself going out on some of the lefty blogs… with the… to get ideas to write about. And some of them are interesting… some of them are… I went through a process, probably a month, month and a half ago. Trying to... as one of my posts said... trying to find a good lefty blog. And I found a few. I mean there’s a few left blogs that I enjoy reading around here now. I enjoy... uh... rphaedrus, Jason’s blog, who... I think you met Jason at one of the blogger get togethers here [I did. – ed.]. Great guy. Worked with him… He and I and “Plain Layne” used to work together. Let’s see... um... Chuck Olson. He’s just a personable guy, and he writes a presentable blog that I enjoy reading from time to time. I do read his blog. I do it fairly regularly. And all the other lefty blogs less so. There’s kind of just… this bitterness to a lot of the local lefty blogs … and I find it just sort of unbecoming. It’s kind of just off-putting.

Me: What non-political blogs do you read?

Mitch: Well let’s see. Politics covers a lot of the business. Um... Sheila O’Malley, that’s a big one. Um… For non-political stuff I find myself looking a lot. And so… I find myself going down Sheila O’Malley’s blogroll... she covers so much stuff. Uh… I was reading a lot of Blind Cave Fish for a time. She’s a girl from New York who writes kind of a very entertaining blog. Um... there was a local woman… uh... she wrote a fascinating blog. It was called Pussyranch.com, which was recently retired in the past two weeks. It was a blog written by a woman who worked in the local sex industry. She was a stripper basically. And it was a fascinating, wonderfully written blog. And I’m really bummed that she has shut down her blog to write part time, on a free lance basis, for City Pages.

Because the stuff she writes for City Pages is the standard, homogenized… sort of mushy-left City Pages kind of fare. Whereas the stuff she wrote for her blog was wonderful stuff. Wrong choice. I mean I feel for her. She made some money obviously. You want to go for… whatever it is they pay these days. I think it was 50 bucks when I was free-lancing. And I’m sure it hasn’t gone up much. Um... as opposed to the blog that she pretty much did for free. But… um… I miss that blog badly actually. I think you can say okay, blogger works for the sex industry, whoo-hoo-hoo! But no, it was actually very well written. A very insightful blog that I think I miss badly already.

Me: I know what you mean. Once you get past the titillation factor, there has to be something that keeps you there... What sort of things keep you going back to a blog? What draws you in?

Mitch: Someone who has some insights. I mean... some insights I wouldn’t have thought of. And who states these insights well and artfully… and has some mastery… whether typical or back-door… for writing the English language. Or German language for some blogs... I read both languages. Um… Someone who has insights on things I’m not familiar with who states them in interesting and fascinating ways. And those are the ones… other than… outside the world of politics… that I find myself going back to more and more. And um… I’m aware there’s over 3 million blogs out there. And I... I ... sometimes I’ll just go on these little journeys…. Surf from one blogroll to another to another… blogs at random. And sometimes… my God, there’s an absolute wasteland out there. But it... there’s times I find blogs I’ve never seen before, who have perspectives on things that I’ve never seen before. And sometimes they grab you for some length of time, and sometimes I agree and sometimes I enjoy that. And sometimes I disagree and I never go back again. And sometimes I like them so much I blogroll them… so... anything can happen.

Me: I have to transcribe this. So I’m not going to let this go too much longer.

Mitch: (chuckles) Ok.

Me: What are your top five blogs… not in the Northern Alliance?

Mitch: Not in the Northern Alliance? That’s a good one. Um… Sheila O’Malley. Um… let’s see… there’s Phil Carter… I uh… find myself going back to Hugh Hewitt… a lot. I mean he digests an awful lot of the moderate right blogosphere. Um… I mean I read Lileks every day, but he’s Northern Alliance, so I can’t mention him. Uh... let’s see. Belmont Club… an absolute must-read for everyone. Um… and I find myself going back to Blackfive. A lot. Uh... I guess that’s six.

Me: Ok... top bands. I don’t care what style. Rock bands, Punk Bands .. Bagpipe bands…

Mitch: Uh... ok… alright. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. Iron City House Rockers. Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. Uh… Big Country in their golden years... and uh... Richard Thompson.

Me: Top five books.

Mitch: Boy, that’s a good one. I don’t know if I can even remember the top five. Um... Crime and Punishment… War and Peace… it sounds like name dropping but it’s not. Both books had a profound impact on me, as a young liberal who was about to emerge into conservatism. It had… a deep impact on my conversion. Um… Republican Party Reptile, by P. J. O’Rourke. That’s another that had a deep impact on me. Um... number four… Modern Times, by Paul Johnson. Yet another of the books that converted me to conservatism back in the day. Um… number five… Dakota, A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. Uh... a book about the spiritual, psychological, emotional... inner - life of the people of the Great Plains. It’s a fascinating book. It brought a tear to my eye. It’s an autobiography written by someone else, if you will. I just love that book. Very much worth a read for anyone who ever lived west of (garbled).

Me: Any closing comments?

Mitch: Gosh. Read your local blogs. Support them. Come out to the Minnesota Association of blogs party, which should be coming up here at Keegans, sometime before the election. Um… read and support your local blogs. Slip them a couple of bucks through their uh… PayPal links… and uh… If you’ve ever even thought about writing a blog yourself, just do it. I mean it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. Just like falling off a log. And… who knows? Maybe you might find it’s ready to become part of your life... a part you’ve never discovered, or maybe... oh… a part you’d given up on 10 or 15 years earlier.

Me: Thank you very much.

Mitch: My pleasure.