2011 Spring Quarterly Fundraiser, Day 5
It’s Day Five of our Spring fundraiser. This bleg is rushing by and I just remembered the reason: I’ve neglected my thank you acknowledgements in order to do yard clean-up. We’ve had almost a week of rain; with the arrival of the sun I had to rescue the plants I’d prepared for the garden. Instead of writing, I’ve been squeezing water out of small plant pots and pulling weeds. The latter have grown luxuriant in this weather.
I’ve also been answering emails here and there. For example, JLH (our German translator) and I began a discussion the other day which has ended up incorporated into this post. If I had more energy, a lot of emails would experience that fate.
At any rate, he’d mentioned our comment section, and when I asked for clarification, J said:
My remark on your comments is really the recognition that you can generate a level of sophisticated discussion among your readers at GoV without “putting on airs” about your own intellectual powers and general level of cultivation. You just attract thoughtful people.
He’s right. About our commenters, I mean. Some of the threads can be more enlightening than the original post. So much depends on the focus of the commenters. I still prefer brief comments: there is something about a computer screen that causes MEGO [My Eyes Glaze Over] much faster than would a block of similar text in, say, a book or magazine. This may be the reason Commenter B can miss the point Commenter A was making and begin addressing something else entirely — all the while sure that he’s staying On Topic. By such means do threads go sideways. Back when my health was more normal, I’d ask people to stick to the topic but now it’s a good day when I can even open the comment threads. And it’s a red-letter day when I can actually respond to someone.
However, mea culpas are in order here.
Since claiming (above) that brevity is the soul of a good comment thread I’ll have to admit to my own verbosity. In fact, it was that very character
fault trait which led to the birth of Gates of Vienna. Over many months, a particularly prune-mouthed participant in Wretchard’s comment section would sternly and repeatedly remind me that a courteous comment should not be more than two paragraphs. Whoops! Failed again. And again. Eventually I picked up my hat and departed to start GoV with the Baron. I told myself I’d return to the Belmont Club, and sometimes I do. There is still no one blogging as a sole proprietor who continues to maintain gravitas, moderation, and in-depth analysis. And yes, I’m a one-woman band for BC. Here’s some trenchant brevity for you, from his most recent post, second paragraph (he is talking about Obama’s recent Middle East speech):
In giving his speech the President may have done three things, none of which he quite intended. First, he has essentially denounced as evil and misguided, though in a lukewarm fashion, decades of American policy in the Middle East. Second, he has delegitimized Israel, at least within the context of its current borders. Third, he has by implication suggested that the rule of many of his allies is undemocratic and in consequence, declared himself King of Arabia. He has assumed ultimate responsibility for the political development of the region now. He’s declared it broken. Now he owns it.
You can go here to read the rest and look at the comments.
But my respect for Belmont Club eventuating in Gates of Vienna is a different path from that of the Baron, or from JLH’s involvement in the blogosphere. Their paths are quite similar — maybe it’s a guy thing? — except that the Baron would add Little Green Footballs and Fjordman to his list. That was back when Fj kept a blog. People are still reading it; I know because I see a fair number of referrals from his website, all these years later.
JLH describes what he meant about our commenters:
Actually, I had in mind a blog that I still visit and enjoy, but that I think exemplifies that description — Power Line. They are, in fact, what started me reading blogs, during Dan Rather’s last attempt to avenge himself on Papa Bush by trashing his son’s National Guard record. It is when I discovered “bloggery” and started to branch out, first by following their references to other blogs.
And then he gave me this:
For you entertainment, I add something I wrote near the beginning of my adventures with the blogs. After finishing, I discovered that there really was no home for what I’d written on any of the blogs I have come to know and trust. However it explains why I have jumped into groups like ICLA through the window of your site.
When you read JLH’s journey, it’ll bring back memories for you regarding your own adventures in cyberspace. From the context, you can pin down when he began reading, and then when he got serious about it.
This story could be told in a similar fashion by all of us. From wherever we started, well… here we are on the same page, I writing and you reading — and then perhaps you describing your own adventure in virtual reality for the rest of us.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blogs
Suppose you are an end-of-the-20th-century semi-Luddite, who has learned that word processing is infinitely superior to typing. Now you can correct mistakes and not be haunted by type-overs and erasure marks, like a literary Mark of Cain. Then you discover that there are things called search engines, and, if you aren’t indiscriminately trusting, you can locate information much faster than hopping from a dictionary to an encyclopedia to a history book — even assuming they are all together in the same space. Slowly but surely, you leave the card catalogue behind and learn how to distinguish one kind of search engine from another. That is how it starts. A new source of information has elbowed its way into your life.
How do you go from there to becoming addicted to the blogosphere? How do you even learn enough to call it “the blogosphere”?
Suppose that you listen to the evening news and read the daily paper. Maybe you even become ambitious and start listening to cable news channels. That’s more than there used to be. If you really have to know something more about the world, there’s always Time and all its reports from Asia, Europe, Africa. There’s The New York Times, BBC, Le Monde, Der Spiegel. What more could you want?
So why do you have the niggling feeling that you still don’t know what is going on — at home or abroad? Why do you have the same dark feeling of dissatisfaction you had when your high school history teacher declaimed that a new world was coming, and it would be governed by the UN?
Ah, the UN. That wonderful, noble palace of utopia living its corrupt octopus life on Turtle Bay. Some day future generations will look back on that failed experiment and wonder what in the world we could’ve been
drinking thinking to go on with it for so long.
How many of you remember those Hallowe’en cardboard cartons you took with you on your trick-or-treat rounds, piously asking your neighbors for whatever they were willing to donate to the UN “for the poor children around the world”. The first time I saw a bumper sticker saying “GET US OUT OF THE UN” I was certain the driver of that car was a loon. Instead, we went on to become good friends, and now I’m even more of a loon than she. Recently, during supper at our house we had an civil if murky conversation on “moderate” Muslims. When she pointed out a particular acquaintance of ours, I reminded her that he identifies himself as a Persian, not a Muslim. She pondered that and said, “You’re right. He used to go on and on about being a Persian”. So my long-term UN-hating friend is now trying to parse terrorism and where our mutual acquaintance fits in…unlike JLH, she never took that first step into the political blogs, though I have no doubt she’d enjoy considering herself a member of the VRWC.
JLH describes his moment on the Damascus road:
Then something happens. For me it was the Dan Rather-George W. Bush National Guard story. I heard or read that there was a controversy about the story and that the story behind the story had been broken by some blogs, including one in particular. So I located this thing called a blog and I started to read the authors’ mix of politics and sports and pop music and news of their college alma mater. I shared with a former student that I had learned something or other on a blog and he wrote back from France, where he was studying: “What is a blog?” That was when I knew I had crossed some invisible line and, in my own technologically helpless way, joined the internet generation. At the time, I had not heard that Al Gore had invented it. And his even greater invention was yet to come.
Once across that line, it is like deciding to “take a little walk” in Central Park or Hyde Park. You never quite get done. One day the blog you are reading mentions a subject of interest and refers to another blog. When you go to investigate at a thing called a URL, there is another complex and self-sufficient microcosm. At first, you take small steps. If you are from the US, you probably start out with US blogs. If you’re a Brit, you start with one from the UK, if you are German, with one in German, if French…well, let’s not get into imponderables.
Gradually, like walking in that big park, one path leads to another, your interests expand, new people and places beckon. Finally it becomes obvious to you why you felt you did not know everything that was going on. Because you didn’t. The media you have been trained to trust are like a large department store. There is a department for almost everything, but not much time is spent in any one of them and, even when it is, it appears that the same things are on sale every time. Somebody is deciding what you will be allowed to buy. You are not expected to discriminate — just buy.
“Trained to trust”? We certainly are. And no doubt many of you have family members who trust every word that drops from the mouth of those in the MSM. How about those who get their information from, say, Jon Stewart. An admission: I wouldn’t know this man if I fell over him. However, given the many references to him on other blogs, it appears he’s important to night-time television (here in the US). If I’ve understood his shtick, he does comedy focusing on the news, or at least on other famous people. He mixes liberal news with liberal humor and has a bias so big that he’s impregnable to actual input. That’s the usual case: if one is a popular entertainment “personality” one doesn’t need an input button, does one? No doubt he ladles it all out with lashings of snark. Liberals usually do.
But back to J’s further education in cyberspace:
Blogs that you have come to know are more like a selection of boutiques — each one specializes in its own way: culturally, politically, ethnically — take your pick. Instead of hanging on the news reports that — even on cable — repeat and repeat and repeat, you can go from a Brit boutique to an Austrian one; from a cultural concentration to international politics and from there to a consideration of economic questions.
Compare it to how you purchase clothing: instead of buying a suit and shoes and tie all in one place (and all of the same quality) you can go from an Italian tailor to an English haberdasher and end the day by picking up a Indian silk ascot in a wild paisley. Thus, when someone dressed in an off-the-rack double-breasted from one of the big outlets condescends to smile snidely at your eclectic attire, you can give him a swift kick with your L. L. Bean boots, knowing that you are better dressed than that twerp.
That’s a good comparison. When we look at how other people dress, depending on our own sartorial prescriptions, we judge accordingly. Thus a commenter at New English Review (I don’t have the URL to hand) pointed out Geert Wilders’ attire at some function in Tennessee. He had on a blue suit with brown shoes. Gasp! Something most American men have drummed into them by mothers or wiser-than-you girlfriends: never, ever wear a blue suit with brown shoes. It is the number one mortal sin in men’s business clothing, or at least it is here in the US. Maybe Europeans never got that memo. Maybe his wife dresses him funny — because you know that any married man is off the hook for his clothing choices. His wife makes them.
Further observations from JLH as he continues his journey:
Not only that, each blog has its own personality, so you learn not only where there is something worthwhile to see, but where you feel at home. It is like wandering through a town full of friends and acquaintances, each of whom knows something that is not in the local newspaper: news of local politics, scandalous doings, concerts or exhibitions worth going to. How can one or two antediluvian news sources compete with that?
Again, agreed. If you live in a small enough area, where there are few if any “degrees of separation” from you and those in charge, your informal network has much more resilient information than the bi-weekly newspaper does. Not that it’s not fun to read the obituaries.
He points out the new ways one has of interacting with the know-it-alls in town:
It is comforting to know something those fellows in the double-breasteds don’t know — especially when opinionated souls confidently speak bias as if it were fact. However, now they can no longer drown you in the warmed-over gruel that is being served up by the MSM. You have answers the MSM doesn’t know — or doesn’t want to know. When the willfully blind choose not to believe your point of view, you have some facts and arguments to back them up. They may not believe you, but their relationship to their own source of information will become a little strained. And that’s enough.
The old rulers of the information game are only now beginning to catch on. They are sending their troops out to man their own blogs and spread the gospel according to MSM. Too late. Now we know who they are. They flail and splutter, but we are part of the new underground. We can stand by and observe, or even join in, as the cold wash of contrary opinion sweeps over them. I expect to hear them cry: “Oh my beautiful wickedness. It’s melting!”
I think the Old Guard, the Gatekeepers of Information, are terrified. You know this must be the case when you see their level of reactive fear. They can feel the edges of the river banks crumbling beneath their feet. They can see the river rising, but all the sand bags in the world can’t keep them from drowning in the waves of The New Information Age.
Somewhere, Gutenberg is cheering us on.
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