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January 25, 2003
Glenn Reynolds breaks his silence on the John Lott saga, and includes the following paragraph:
If Glenn can show me an instance where I've seriously accused him of a lack of decorum, then I will happily donate $100 to the charity of his choice.
Fairness is another story. In my opinion, Reynolds regularly accuses the professional press of behavior (inaccuracy, bias, laziness) that often characterizes his own work. I don't know that I've ever accused Reynolds of being "unfair" because of this tendency, and I'm not sure that I would describe his failure to live up to his own standards as "unfair." Instead, I've generally criticized him, in certain specific instances, of being hypocritical and disingenuous.
As for my artist's rendition of Mary Rosh, was it indecorous? Sure. Was it some kind of breach of journalistic ethics? I can't really see how. It's just a silly visual response to Lott's admission that he was posting under a female pseudonym.
As for my conflation of Bellesiles' behavior with Lott's behavior, I'll simply state again what I already stated in the comments section of that post: Lott didn't just "use a pseudonym in chat groups." He also used a pseudonym to try to discourage inquiry regarding his 1997 survey on several blogs and in correspondence with several bloggers (scroll down to find the Lott post). He also used his pseudonym to accuse Tim Lambert of dishonesty. He also used his pseudonym in an attempt to obtain information under false pretenses.
In Reynolds' post about Bellesiles, he includes the following quote from someone: "This is not typical academic behavior..."
I believe this conclusion applies to Lott's behavior as well. Apparently Lott has said that he was simply using his pseudonym as a labor-saving device, to publish informal posts that he wasn't committed to spending enough time on to carry the full authority of his real name. That seems like a plausible rationale - but the problem is that's not the only way in which Lott was using his pseudonym. He was also utilizing the anonymity it gave him in a strategic way, by attempting to deliberately mislead people by posing as a partisan but nonetheless discrete third party when in fact he was not.
The fact that Lott was doing this certainly qualified as "actual news." It's true that Reynolds has no obligation to publish "actual news." His site makes no promise of objectivity, and no promise to feature every newsworthy story that appears. But to claim that the Lott/Rosh revelation somehow failed to meet the criteria of "actual news" is a very difficult proposition to credibly maintain.
As for the Lott saga in general: I have admittedly focused on a silly, somewhat peripheral aspect of it. Others have examined more pertinent aspects of it in more serious fashion. If anyone hasn't read them already and has an interest in this story that goes beyond digital ventriloquism, I recommend these posts: Kevin Drum (keep scrolling down as there are several separate posts in a row); Ted Barlow; and, of course, Tim Lambert, who has the comprehensive coverage and set of links about the story.
Posted by Greg Beato at 11:22 PM
January 24, 2003
Have you heard the one about the Iranian law professor...
An Iranian law professor has been convicted of "mischief" for saying "No, no, be careful or it might explode" to a flight attendant as she put his briefcase under a seat.
What's curious about this article: its subhead reads: "Norouz Barghi claimed he was joking about explosive in his briefcase."
But the body of the article says: "Barghi did not testify in his own defence and no defence witnesses were called." And: "Navy Lieut. Jeff Hamilton, who was sitting next to Barghi on the plane, said during the trial the professor became flustered when the flight attendant tried to shove his briefcase under a seat. But he said the Iranian's use of the word 'explode' probably meant the case would pop open and strew its contents all over the place. Cadieux concluded such reasoning was only speculation on Hamilton's part."
The article also says: "Crown prosecutor Pierre Garon said the message to all passengers is: 'Don't joke.'"
But that's it - there's nothing in the body of the article about Barghi saying he was joking. It's certainly possible that at some point, he did say he was joking - after all, law professors are well known for their senses of humor. But why doesn't the author of the article bother to explain when Barghi said it? Or did the headline writer simply assume that Barghi must have said that at some point, based on Garon's 'Don't joke' advice?
An earlier, completely different account of the story can be found here. In this version, Barghi says he really said the word "exception," not "explosion," and that because of his heavy accent, the flight attendant misheard him.
The punchline: Barghi was reportedly traveling to Canada to learn English better. After his arrest in October, he spent several weeks in prison. Then he "finally managed to contact a lawyer, who spent another week tracing his things and getting him freed. Barghi was released into a snowstorm wearing only the light clothing he had been travelling in. 'I told them I want to get back to prison,' he said, 'I told them I have no money. I know no person here.' A court having ordered his release, the prison officials couldn't let him in but they did get him a place in a local shelter for the homeless."
(Initial link via Unknownnews.net.)
Posted by Greg Beato at 12:26 PM
Rock is the new porn
To be sure, today's middleman does a lot of good, too. Fans taught by two generations of rock and roll to loathe the Suits don't appreciate the enormous contributions of producers and A&R executives (think Ahmet Ertegun or Russell Simmons). And the labels perform the invaluable function of backing young performers financially as they begin their careers. But in a post-label world, musicians might find other ways to get this help, from the American Idol model (building recognition as part of a corporate campaign) to the Broadway show model (getting ad hoc groups of small investors to provide funds). Eliminating the big-label overheads could cut the cost of making music, too, enlarging the pool of contenders and democratizing the process.
Well, yeah, it's kind of bad. If rock 'n' roll becomes the career equivalent of, say, graphic design or teaching, it's just not going to be as interesting as it is now. And say what you will about today's middlemen; at least they help some creators get rich. Has Kazaa, Napster, Apple, and every other would-be profiteer of the digital music revolution made any creator rich yet?
Good music will still get made, no doubt, but ultimately the industry that this Wired article envisions (written by Charles Mann) sounds a lot like the porn industry. The porn industry produces content for which there is a big demand, it's relatively decentralized as far as media goes these days, only a small percentage of performers attain name-brand status (though all are "stars" of course!), most have short-lived careers, and revenue generation potential for any single title is relatively low.
Not coincidentally, porn is the least accomplished of all major media in terms of aesthetics and technique. There's little incentive to make something really good, because it doesn't matter if you make something good or bad: either way, you're only going to sell 10,000 units or so.
Of course, the money shot of porn has always been commerce, not art, so you could say that this isn't really an apt analogy. There are already plenty of bands who make great albums for little or no compensation. The question, I guess, is how much that the possibility of great compensation, no matter how small, motivates them. If lotteries eliminated jackpots, would some true believers still buy tickets? Hopefully they would - the future of rock 'n' roll pretty much depends on them.
Posted by Greg Beato at 11:08 AM
January 23, 2003
What makes news news?
Some people have been wondering how come certain bloggers haven't mentioned anything about John Lott's alter ego, Mary Rosh.
True, Lott's digital ventriloquism does not directly reflect on the integrity of his research work. On a more general level, a few of his Rosh posts suggest questionable judgement and a seemingly deliberate intent to deceive - but is that enough to qualify as "news"?
Let's look at the situation in the abstract: an academic whose work has been under scrutiny is accused of strange Internet-related behavior arising from that scrutiny. Is that news?
UPDATE: For my response to Reynolds' Instapundit.com post on this subject, click here.
Posted by Greg Beato at 04:28 PM
Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
Two weeks ago, I published a list of 100 sites that publish political news, ordering them via their Alexa.com ranking. It didn't draw much interest, perhaps because of the particular spin I put on it, which was that the statistics belie the notion that the Internet, like other "open mediums" (i.e., talk-radio and book publishing) is overwhelmingly conservative in nature.
A couple days ago, a site called Right Wing News published a similar survey, using the Alexa.com rankings to list 100 top political websites. Its survey had a tighter scope: while I included general news sites that include political news as part of their coverage (i.e., ABCNews.com, NYTimes.com, etc.), Right Wing News focused on sites that are generally more political in nature (i.e. National Review Online, The Nation, etc.) , along with some blogs that aren't always political. On the other hand, it includes some pretty general-interest sites as well, like the New Yorker, Time, US News & World Report.
In any case, Right Wing News made a smart decision to not include big sites like ABCNews.com and the NYTimes.com, because that means that all of the sites it did include finish higher in the rankings. And while sites like the ABCNews.com and NYTimes.com aren't likely to link to a blogger just because they came up with some survey ranking them in the top 10 of all news sites, smaller sites are. First one to bite: National Review Online.
(For more info on blog popularity, see this list too. It includes orders the top blogs/DYI sites by Nexis.com mentions and Alexa.com rankings.)
Posted by Greg Beato at 01:19 PM
"Your emails are so much fun..."
Great collection of Matt Drudge correspondence available at Weaslesearch.com. It's evidence from a lawsuit involving writers John Connolly and Harriette Surovell: the former is suing the latter for supplying Drudge with parts of a book manuscript he was writing about the Clinton-Lewinsky saga and its various players.
After Drudge got a copy of the book, the usually indolent reporter started attacking it with rare gusto: in five days, he filed at least 6 "exclusives" about the book:
To reward Surovell for sending him Connolly's manuscript, Drudge hyped her work on The Drudge Report: "your story linked until wednesday am is fine," he promised in this email.
Posted by Greg Beato at 09:50 AM
A Web Mystery Continues...
Big Media Reynolds is perplexed: "HUH. Just checked traffic for the day, and it's shockingly above 100,000 pageviews already today. This could be a new record. But why? It's not like there's an election, or the 9/11 anniversary, which is what it took to break 100K before."
Huh. On January 15, Big Media announced his new association with MSNBC.com, which according to Nielsen//Netratings was the "rated number one in the Current Events and Global News category for December 2002" with over 15 million unique monthly visitors. Big Media gets great exposure at his new home, including links to Instapundit.com.
In the wake of such exposure, his Instapundit.com traffic has been rising. I guess it must be more evidence of the off-the-grid, grassroots appeal that has fueled the rise of Instapundit.com all along. Word of mouth can be such a powerful force!
Posted by Greg Beato at 09:11 AM
January 22, 2003
You knew it was coming...
Q: How many John Lotts does it take to change a light bulb?
A: I had Lott for classes when he was on the faculty at the Wharton
Posted by Greg Beato at 02:34 PM
Send in the clown
Academic John Lott has been under fire lately regarding a gun-related survey he conducted in 1997: apparently there was some doubt that he'd actually conducted it. While some evidence has emerged to corroborate his story, the controversy just gets stranger and stranger: blogger Julian Sanchez explains how Lott had been using the pseudonym "Mary Rosh" to post pro-Lott comments on Sanchez' blog.
When Sanchez published his suspicions that Lott was doing this, Lott admitted that he was indeed "Mary Rosh," and that he had been posting those comments on Sanchez' site (and elsewhere, as Atrios has shown). Nontheless, Lott explained that there was a perfectly rational explanation for his digital ventriloquism:
In an unrelated story, Nancy Nall examines clown insurance.
UPDATE: Here are a few examples of Mary Rosh in action:
Posted by Greg Beato at 09:29 AM
January 20, 2003
Pop goes the Journal
While the NY Times may be angling to improve its pop culture coverage, one thing's for certain: it shouldn't be hard to beat the WSJ on this front.
Consider, for example, this piece, in which Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the WSJ editorial page, compares Star Trek: Nemesis with Casablanca and finds the former lacking. The reason Nemesis isn't very good, he explains, is because big media companies aim "to put any one 'product' (film, singer, or characters created by a TV show, videogame or novelist) in front of millions people in as many different places as possible...thus 'Star Trek: Nemesis,' the 10th Star Trek movie, was just awful, but so what? It extends the Star Trek 'franchise' as a platform for other products. This is the reason that so much of American culture seems so dumb, and is getting dumber. Certainly in the old days movies or music were sold into the mass market, too. 'Casablanca' was mass market, and so was Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. But those discrete markets aren't big or broad enough now to support the massive quarter-over-quarter revenue needs of a 'cross-market' media giant."
Henninger declines to explain why WSJ staffers seem so dumb, and are getting dumber, but let me fill you in on this. In 1942, the year that Casablanca was released, the box-office champs were Abbott and Costello. And guess what - like Star Trek, they were a cross-media franchise. They churned out 15 movies between 1941 and 1946. They had a radio show on ABC and then NBC. They published articles in newspapers, their jokes were featured in joke anthologies, the soundtracks from their movies were marketed via sheet music. And through it all, they were about as funny as, oh, Rob Schneider.
Keeping Henninger company in the realm of the soon-to-be-forgotten is fellow WSJ staffer Collin Leven, who contributes this piece on "pop music's long decline." In it, she essentially argues that capitalism has killed the genre: "Internet piracy may be tearing down the traditional music labels, but it's also tearing down the machinery that turned pop music into a business of bringing together strangers who look good and creating bands designed to appeal to specific demographics. Let's hope that with so much money leaking out of the industry, bands will begin to succeed again based on the way they sound."
Her contention, I think, is that because the Bee Gees were uglier than 'N Sync, they were better artists. Or something like that. In any case, like so many commentators who have no actual knowledge of the music industry, Leven assumes that the industry really does have the power to pick its stars and then push them on a servile public.
Alas, for every 'N Sync, there's hundreds of bands whose big push from their label sent them straight into the bargain bin. Still, the only reason there are so many teen-pop bands now is because they sell, and the only reason they sell is because that's what millions of kids want to buy. In 1994, when Jive signed the Backstreet Boys, the industry was still pushing grunge, indie, and gangsta rap - i.e., music created by people who could hardly be described as the "bottled celebrities" whom Leven says currently dominate pop music.
In other words, teen-pop was hardly a can't-miss proposition in those days, and in fact, it took three years of worldwide touring for the Backstreet Boys to break into the U.S. market and ignite the teen-pop craze. And as soon as a million people bought their record, other record labels tried to duplicate Jive's success. If the Backstreet Boys hadn't gone platinum, and if Britney Spears hadn't followed suit, the industry would have likely shown very little interest in the genre; it only began to make a really concerted effort to push it until after it realized that that's what fans wanted. And, of course, the same thing was true for gangsta rap and grunge before it: these were musical triumphs, not marketing ones, initiated by listeners rather than the industry.
Furthermore, there hasn't been any decline in pop music at all. Like Henninger, Leven pulls the trick of comparing one kind of group with another:
In addition, despite the prevalence of teen-pop, there's no shortage today of plain old pop, created by bands who write their own songs and play their own instruments, and who formed without the assistance of a visionary svengali. Groups like Imperial Teen, Belle & Sebastian, and Fountains of Wayne have all produced brilliant pop albums in the era of teen-pop, and only a relatively small number of people have noticed. The failure-point in the system isn't the groups, or the labels, it's the fans, the majority of whom really do like Britney and Justin best. Unfortunately, you can't force good taste on people; you can only try to give them what they've shown they want.
You'd think that someone who works at a business newspaper would understand this basic entrepreneurial principle, but apparently not. I guess it's all a part of today's columnists taking themselves more seriously and their punditry less so.
Posted by Greg Beato at 08:35 PM
Republican Reds for Peace
If you're a pro-labor Democrat opposed to a war in Iraq, you may find yourself seeking common cause with some unexpected comrades. No, not International A.N.S.W.E.R. - I'm talking about Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. According to the NY Times, "a group of Republican business executives organized by movement leaders published a full-page letter in The Wall Street Journal under the title 'A Republican Dissent on Iraq,' warning President Bush: 'The world wants Saddam Hussein disarmed. But you must find a better way to do it.'"
Now, it's true that Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities was founded by liberal ice cream mogul Ben Cohen - but the guy behind the WSJ letter, one Edward Hamm, is a retired businessman who says he gives hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the Republican party. According to the Times, "the group had the structure to help Mr. Hamm get his message out, and they allowed him to frame it from a Republican point of view."
The truth is that there is plenty of mainstream anti-war sentiment: you'd think that people eager to spend billions and kill thousands in the name of democracy would also be at least marginally interested in acknowledging it in action.
Posted by Greg Beato at 03:54 PM
Part Aniston, part Bezos, all Rumsfeld
Remember when, in the immediate wake of 9/11, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter said that "things that were considered fringe and frivolous are going to disappear"?
In magazine-speak, that basically meant "no more 3000-word puff pieces on what Jennifer Aniston had for lunch before she did the photo shoot for our cover."
Soon, VF was putting the President and his minions on the cover and actually running some pretty good articles on the War on Terror...
But the February 2003 issue brings a profile of Donald Rumsfeld that hits softer than a quadrapalegic pacifist on Quaaludes. It's fine to be complimentary, of course, but this article, which is given five pages, doesn't even ask any questions, much less provide any answers.
Entitled "The Radical at the Pentagon" and written by "the world's most esteemed military historian," Sir John Keegan, the article aims to "assess Rumsfeld's character and mission," and, according to the cover blurb, explain why he "won't back down in Iraq."
The apparent answer: Well, it's hard to say, because Rumsfeld doesn't really provide any. In fact his most revealing quote involves his pants: "Don't photograph my old cords."
Other than that, Keegan didn't get much out of him:
Not content to merely turn Rumsfeld's stonewalling into a noble mark of character, Keegan fawningly contrasts Rumsfeld with his Pentagon predecessors: he's riskier, apparently, and he has no interest in developing "exit strategies," obtaining support from allies, or observing "rules of engagement."
These characteristics, of course, are the very things that make people (who haven't had the benefit of a one-on-one "seminar") wary of Rumsfeld, but by turning them into unchallenged virtues, Keegan spares himself another round of stonewalling. Still, one wonders: why is a guy who is risky, who apparently favors perpetual engagement over "exit strategies," who operates unilaterally, and who doesn't care about killing civilians the right man for the job?
According to Keegan, it's because "the terrorists are not an army, nor a people, nor a state. They present none of the targets which a traditional military establishment is trained to place under attack."
Currently, of course, Rumsfeld's main preoccupation involves attacking a state of sorts, but maybe when he's done with that (even though his exit strategy remains a little fuzzy), he'll get on with the business of being a maverick New Military risk-taker.
In any case, he certainly has the lingo down. Consider, for example, this passage that Keegan excerpts; it's from a piece that Rumsfeld wrote for Foreign Affairs a few months ago:
Posted by Greg Beato at 09:17 AM
January 19, 2003
The National Review Celebrates Free Speech
John Derbyshire: "A friend in DC emails to tell me that there are 100,000 antiwar protestors on the Mall. I am reminded of watching the New York St. Patrick's Day parade once with a friend of Ulster Unionist sympathies. As the massed ranks of Irish marched past, my friend sighed and said: 'The things you see when you don't have a gun!'"
Posted by Greg Beato at 09:38 AM
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