Monday, October 20, 2008

Life in the Blogosphere: The Feedback Can Be Instant, Personal, Emotionally Unstable, and Brutal

Some excerpts from the article "Why I Blog" by Andrew Sullivan in the new issue of The Atlantic:

A reporter can wait—must wait—until every source has confirmed. A novelist can spend months or years before committing words to the world. For bloggers, the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.

It was obvious from the start that it was revolutionary. Every writer since the printing press has longed for a means to publish himself and reach—instantly—any reader on Earth.

Within minutes of my posting something, even in the earliest days, readers responded. E-mail seemed to unleash their inner beast. They were more brutal than any editor, more persnickety than any copy editor, and more emotionally unstable than any colleague.

Again, it’s hard to overrate how different this is. Writers can be sensitive, vain souls, requiring gentle nurturing from editors, and oddly susceptible to the blows delivered by reviewers. They survive, for the most part, but the thinness of their skins is legendary. Moreover, before the blogosphere, reporters and columnists were largely shielded from this kind of direct hazing. Yes, letters to the editor would arrive in due course and subscriptions would be canceled.

But reporters and columnists tended to operate in a relative sanctuary, answerable mainly to their editors, not readers. For a long time, columns were essentially monologues published to applause, muffled murmurs, silence, or a distant heckle. I’d gotten blowback from pieces before—but in an amorphous, time-delayed, distant way. Now the feedback was instant, personal, and brutal.

Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.

For all the intense gloom surrounding the news-paper and magazine business, this is actually a golden era for journalism. The blogosphere has added a whole new idiom to the act of writing and has introduced an entirely new generation to nonfiction. It has enabled writers to write out loud in ways never seen or understood before. And yet it has exposed a hunger and need for traditional writing that, in the age of television’s dominance, had seemed on the wane. Words, of all sorts, have never seemed so now.


At 10/21/2008 3:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

here is some feedback for you:

your daily posts enlighten my mind and in turn raise the quality of my life. thank you.

At 10/21/2008 6:51 AM, Blogger CBI said...

Andrew Sullivan's article had many good points, but I almost quit reading after the opening sentence: "A reporter can wait—must wait—until every source has confirmed." His participation in The Big Lie--that reporters currently do and even "must" confirm their sources--would lead one to question the veracity of anything else he would write. But once past that, his account of the best blogs (exemplified by Carpe Diem) provides a pithy explanation of the benefits (and some of the perils) of blogs.

At 10/21/2008 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sullivan is a loon. His OCD about Trig Palin--among other witch hunts that he's been on the past several years--mark him as irrelevant. Giving this leftard any attention is a mistake.


At 10/21/2008 3:36 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

A good, thoughtful link, Mark --- thank you.

1) Sullivan doesn't mention the worst sin of the blogging sphere: it reinforces ideological polarization.

When, in the past, people got their views from newspapers or radio or TV --- at any rate until the unleashing of right-wing talk-radio in the 1980s and some left-wing counterparts (not many more recently) --- they had to read or listen to a range of different views or simply lay down the paper or shut off the radio or TV.


2) Nowadays, it's way to easy and self-satisfying to limit visits to the blog sphere to writers and scholars who reinforce your ideological bent, rather than ever challenge it . . . whether on the political left or right.

Even charitably viewed, the outcome is group-think run rampant.


3) I myself am a moderate middle-roader, who spent much of his academic career combatting the fatuities and witch-hunting propensities of the pc-left . . . far to many of whose academic members, it seems, took their cue from the Spanish Inquisition and Communist-imposed confessionals like those in the mass-murdering Stalinist regime of the 1930s.


4) My hostility to them is one reason why I like visiting Mark's web site --- full of data-driven posts and charts and commentary.

For my part, I'm glad glad we don't have the kind of restrictive statist societies that mark the welfare-state, massively regulated systems of the Continental EU-members in West Europe. I did and still do fear, though, deregulation in the financial sphere. All our contemporary economic upheavals in our matchlessly innovative, energetic country since 1982 have derived from well-intended but increasingly harmful deregulations in a financial world in which innovations of a high-risk sort have, sooner or later, caused havoc:

• the junk-bond scandals of the mid-1980s;

• the subsequent 1987 financial meltdown (caused in no small measure by brokers promising to move their stock-market customers seamlessly into the bond market if the Dow tumbled a certain level);

• the S&L scandal, which cost about 2-3% of GDP in the late 1980s; the over-expansive market of the late 1990s;

• the Asian financial crisis --- a harbinger of the current financial crisis in the western world, caused in no small measure by trillions of dollars of footloose investment capital moving in and out rapidly of poorly regulated and corrupt-laden markets;

• the hedge-fund crash and government rescue of Long Term Capital Management . . . run by two Nobel Prize-Winning financial “geniuses”, plus 25 Ph.D. economists in the same late 1990s; then the Enron and accounting scandals between 2001 and 2003;

• then the explosion of the housing-market and sub-prime mortgages and financial derivatives of the most arcane, risk-ridden, non-transparent forms imaginable;

• leverage limits to the sky in the banking system, encouraged by a non-regulating SEC in the Bush-W era --- with the 5 major investment banks either now disappeared or under government-supported subsidies;

• credit-default swaps that created a global-length chain of creditors, scarcely any of them able to meet their financial obligations . . . with no margins or regulations required;

• and of course the current credit-crunch that resulted.


That’s a swarming lot of upheavals, wouldn't you say? --- what with runaway financial markets free to do what their incompetent, over-confident, and recklessly avaricious managers wanted them to do.


5) And so, to return to the consistent high-quality of Mark’s web-site, I --- a non-libertarian who has decided to vote for Obama (for reasons set out at length in an exchange with QT, a regular poster here) --- appreciate his work even when I don’t always agree with it, just as I do his mentor’s posts at the Marginal Revolution . . . Professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University, who was among other things Mark’s Ph.D. superviser.


My hope is that my own posts reflect, when they disagree with Mark’s views, evidence-laden and balanced views that encourage some open-minded thinking among his many visitors here, just as I hope that those of my numerous blog-visitors ---- at one time 6000 a day back in 2003 and 2004 --- show some open-minded awareness of the virtues of relatively free-market capitalism of the American sort . . . always provided that financial markets are subject by rules and regulatory oversight to proper credit-analysis, proper risk-management, and proper allocation of capital.

Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, that is supposed to be their main function in a capitalist market system . . . not the untrammeled skyhooting quests for multi-millions and multi-billions by reckless financiers in charge of this or that commercial bank, investment bank, mortgage broker, stock-broker, insurance company, hedge-funds, or --- to put an end to this list --- phantom Credit-Default-Swap creditors-debtors and virtual banks and hedge-funds run by out-of-control con-men or arrogant and overly confident financial innovators on-the-make.


Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor

At 10/21/2008 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

far to many of whose academic members, it seems, took their cue from the Spanish Inquisition and Communist-imposed confessionals like those in the mass-murdering Stalinist regime of the 1930s.

Last time I visited a university, there were no torture chambers nor any campaigns of mass extermination underway.

Why does the boomer generation in particular have such a perchant toward the employment of outlandish, disproportionate comparisons in argumentation?

Another example is today's posted article by Thomas Sowell regarding "Change" which compares the change Obama offers to Hitler, Mao, the Bolsheviks and Jim Jones. Makes you wonder whether he moonlights writing sermons.

At 10/21/2008 4:30 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

1) Just dawned on me after I posted the previous comments . . . apropos of what I said there about my own preferences for not wanting to live in the kinds of highly regulated welfare-states on the Continent of West Europe --- rather, much preferring the sort of innovative, high-energy, free-for-all economy that we have in the US. With one exception: the need for effective rules and regulatory agencies to apply them to financial institutions.


2) The dawning jolt to my mind?

The need to add that the European welfare-states have their own achievements they can boast about, as does Japan --- not much of a welfare-state (though central government does spend more there than here by a small margin); but regulated to the hilt compared to the US.


3) The best way to illustrate their achievements?

Well, consider as Mark did about 10 days ago the World Economic Forum's latest ranking of the top ten countries in terms of competitive efficiency. Then compare that top-10 competitive economies with their rank-order in Economic Freedom, which is published yearly by the Heritage Foundation with the Wall Street Journal on the strength of several criteria that probe the state-economy relations in the countries of the world.


4) Here are the rankings of both, set out in a table at the following link. (It's to my web site, and not out of self-aggrandizing smugness, but because Mark's comments HTML don't permit a table to be built or duplicated.

Darn! Mark's comments html won't let me use a href= html tag with http. So here it is without being able to set out clear columns:

Country ...WEF …Econ Free
USA ........…1……..5
Finland……....6... 6
Germany….....7…. 23


5) As you can see, 4 of the top 10 WEF-ranked countries in economic competitiveness are listed by the Heritage/WSJ index as being in the top 10 free economies.

Another 4 are found between 11 and 20 on the econ freedom index.

And 2 --- Germany and Sweden --- are 23rd and 27th.


6) The buggy conclusion?

It's ambiguous. Six of the top 10 competitive economies aren't in the top 10 economically free countries. They have far more advanced welfare-state and regulatory rules and laws compared to the US. And, further, compared to Singapore (a small authoritarian Chinese city-state), Switzerland, and Canada.

But the more regulated, high-taxing, and (save for Japan) advanced welfare-state economies have their own vigor and competitive virtues; have shown an ability (save for Japan really) to adapt and overhaul their economies in the last decade; and have enjoyed solid growth in the last four years or more until very recently.


7) One conclusion, though, is less ambiguous.

Capitalism comes in a variety of forms, all depending on the state-market relationships. And these are embedded not in theoretical socialist or free-market ideologies, but rather in the institutional, cultural, and political histories of these countries.


It's hard for Americans --- even professional economists in the main (who aren't well grounded in economic history) --- to grasp that free-market capitalism is a rarity in the world because of very different histories than our own country.


8) Something else now --- a big surprise no doubt for most regular posters at Prof Perry's web site.
Contrary to what they seem to think, the United States became the mightiest industrial country in per capita income in the 1880s (Britain no. 1 until then) and in productivity slightly later by industrializing behind high tariff protection.

How much such protection in the early 19th century contributed to that industrial manufacturing thrust --- it started in 1791 --- has been debated by economic historians.


No matter. The protection was there, and it actually accentuated in the late 19th and early 20th century after some tepid liberalization in after the civil war.

And, most astonishingly for most posters here, I suspect, is that the bedrock of protectionist sentiment was the Republican Party --- from the civil war right down through the disastrous Herbert Hoover days of the early Great Depression.

Since 1936, it was the Democratic Party right through the Clinton Administration that pushed through all major free-trade measures. The Republican Party had to be ear-stroked and arm-twisted by Harry Truman in the late 1940s to set up the GATT system . . . the fore-runner of the WTO.

It was the Republican Reagan administration that adopted in the early 1980s a policy, at odds with free trade, of coercing other countries into opening trade outlets for the US on pain of protectionist retaliation. And it was George W. Bush who, in the run-up to the 2002 Congressional elections, adopted the demagogic tactic of protecting the steel industry for well over a year.

Will that now change in an Obama administration?


Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor

At 10/21/2008 4:41 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

"Last time I visited a university, there were no torture chambers nor any campaigns of mass extermination underway." --- QT, referring to the buggy prof

No, agreed: no Gulags, no torture chambers . . . just hate-codes and secretive kangaroo courts to keep pc-orthodoxies intact, where the judge, jury, and prosecutors are one and the same. Every one of these violations of free-speech and the related efforts at intimidation have --- when taken to our court system --- been seen to violate our Constitutional rights.


And it was the Spanish and other Catholic Inquisitions --- later the Fascist and Communist regimes --- that sought not just to slaughter their opponents (something dictators, whether called kings or emperors or tribal leaders or Presidents-for-life) have done for time immemorial), but rather like the Inquisitions and the Stalinists and Maoists wanted heretics and apostates and non-believers to confess they were wrong before being burned or shot in the head.


Oh, not to forget the tolerance on way too many campuses for efforts by storm-trooping students and off-campus riff-raff to drive off speakers with heckling and other tactics who didn't toe-the-line in orthodoxy, not to mention --- as happened in my classes several times --- barging into lectures and accusing me of being a CIA-agent.

Don't recall any of the faculty protesting these thuggish tactics . . . pioneered in the German universities before Hitler came to power in early 1933 by the Nazi student movement. It gained control of student government (to the extent it existed) in German universities before Hitler took power.


Michael Gordon,


Oh, by the way: I was born in 1939, or 6 years before the post-WWII baby-boom . . . though I do recall our 3rd and 4th grades being crammed into one classroom and one teacher because of a building shortage.

At 10/21/2008 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buggy Prof,

The left leanings of universities and the pressures they exert on faculty who do not share the same political bent were not the issue.

It really is fun the way you talk at me rather than to me. Shall we try again?

My question concerned the use of exaggerated, totally disproportionate comparisons in argumentation. Why have you invoked visions of gulags, executions, and mass extermination in the same sentence let alone the same paragraph as an institution of higher education in a democratic country?

It is a most curious usage and one which greatly mystifies me.

Why does a person with a PhD like you or Dr. Sowell use comparisons that are completely and utterly disparate to the topic under discussion? The exaggeration surely does not serve to inform nor to why is it used?

At 10/21/2008 5:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you can see, 4 of the top 10 WEF-ranked countries in economic competitiveness are listed by the Heritage/WSJ index as being in the top 10 free economies.

Another 4 are found between 11 and 20 on the econ freedom index.

Shouldn't that be 5 and 3 rather than 4 and 4?

At 10/21/2008 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since 1936, it was the Democratic Party right through the Clinton Administration that pushed through all major free-trade measures.

NAFTA was initially promoted by politicians in the United States and Canada supportive of free trade, led by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, U.S. President George H. W. Bush, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The agreement was pursued by business interests in all three countries and opposed by labor, environmental, and other business interests, in all three countries. NAFTA was negotiated under the first Bush admin and subsequently ratified under Bill Clinton.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to concede that both parties were instrumental in this historic trilateral trade agreement?

At 10/22/2008 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buggy professor, just a note here to say I enjoy your entries here as much as I do the entries from Mr. Perry. This is informative. In your 1st post you made mention of the polarization we have because we can now go to the "site of our choice". I agree and it is interesting, my son who is a teacher, made reference to that as a possible downside to the internet about a year ago. Possibly because I was visiting the "sites of my choice". The flip side to that, however, is (at least from my perspective) the mainstream media like CBS, NBC, ABC and NPR before the internet were almost always in lockstep for all things liberal. I know because I watched it for years after getting off work. My own instincts told me they were not discussing the important issues, as I saw them, day after day after day. Guess what, I stopped watching them. I guess my point is the genesis of polarization really started with people like Cronkite and so many others who with their slant on the "issues" basically ridiculed anything conservative.

We do need a balance but it will not come soon in my view.

qt, I read today 3,000 "academicians" defend Ayers stating basically it is all old history and he is a fine guy. Yet, if you go to his blog it is obvious he is a a) commie sympathizer b) hates the USA and c) is unrepentant about his terrorist days. Among the signers were the stalwart patriot Ward Churchill who compared the passengers on the hijacked airplanes of 9/11 to "little eichmann's and Rashid Khalidi, a former PLO spokesman.

The only people, in my view, who defend these people or Ayers are those who believe as they do, i.e., bombing is ok, referring to innocent civilians as Nazis or "little Eichmann's" is ok and therefore it is not a stretch to say they will try to thwart, by whatever means necessary, those who disagree with them. Therefore, I believe the analogy of Sowell and Gordon are correct.

It would be interesting as well to see who else signed the petition extolling Ayers as a model citizen.

At 10/22/2008 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ralph Short,

I appreciate your viewpoint on this subject and certainly agree that the suppression of ideas at an institution of higher learning is a situation that is extremely serious.

Agree that Mr. Ayers has one hell of a track record and Mr. Obama seems to use these dubious kinds of contacts throughout his career. The issue of Ayers, however, is not catching with the public. People vote for something not against something. Unless McCain can offer a positive vision "not that one" is just not going to work.

In Canada, the terms "nazi" and "stormtrooper" are routinely used by bloggers to describe members of the Conservative Party of Canada. 2 weeks ago, I was called a "nazi" by a female motorist for putting up a lawn sign in an election.

As a history major, I don't think it's appropriate to use these terms lightly. We are talking about genocide.

The reference you cited to "little Eichmann's" is equally offensive. Is the public so ignorant that they accept the comparison of the victims of a terrorist attack to a Nazi war criminal?

Milton Friedman showed us something better...superior arguments, brilliant logic, and charming wit. When Sowell compares Obama to Hitler and Mao, he deals conservatism a blow. He is a smart man who realizes the implications of what he is writing and how it will be twisted by the left. Journalists seem to do this to get attention but what sticks in the reader's mind isn't the valid questions about Obama but the comparison to Hitler, Mao, etc.

Charles Krauthammer is a far more insightful writer. He compared Obama to Gadsby (as Senator Obama would say "the scalpul instead of the sledge hammer") a much more subtle and revealing comparison.

Link to Charles Krauthammer's articles

At 10/24/2008 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark, feedback can be brutal. So why do you delete comments that are critical of you, but are not profane, but instead well-reasoned and well-documented?


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