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Weblog Entry for 07 March 2002

It’s not really surprising that Slashdot is going to a subscription-based model, with obnoxious ads for non-subscribers. It’s also not all that surprising that some clever hacker would find a way to circumvent the ad sftware. What is surprising is that Slashdot would run the article describing the hack.

Kevin Holtsberry both linked to me in his blog and sent me email (HTML-formatted, grumble grumble) taking issue with several points in my long piece from earlier in the day. He takes issue with my description of him as a “neocon”, describing himself as a Russell Kirk-style traditionalist conservative. (I find Kirk refreshing — it’s nice to see a conservative who’s honest about what conservatism means.)

But his refutation of my main point rests on nothing but the claim that liberals are left-of-center, as if it were inherently obvious that leftists want big government and rightists small. This despite the evidence to the contrary that formed a good portion of my earlier post. He does at one point make a distinction between the bulk of the left and the fringe at the extreme left, but fails to explain why, if leftists of any kind must be in favor of big government, that wouldn’t apply more to the extreme left rather than less.

The plain obvious truth of it is that the middle-ward bulks on both sides promote government solutions to problems; it’s only the liberals who are willing to admit it. It’s not liberals who want to use the iron fist of the state to take away women’s abortion rights, and it wasn’t President Al Gore who just imposed 30% tariffs on imported steel and created a new federal agency to spy on Americans. Pat Buchanan wants the government to shield American workers from foreign competition, Jesse Helms has long been a protectionist for the textile industry. Republicans have traditionally not been opposed to spending big bucks on military projects the Pentagon doesn’t even want; or on keeping federal land available for grazing cattle; or censoring TV, movies, and the Internet. It’s largely Republicans in Congress who want to use the power of the federal government to ban human cloning and stem cell research.

You learn something new every day. I got mail today from the guy who runs the Headph0ne Phet1sh site I linked to the other day, and he explained that the fetish usually arises in people who had early, formative erotic experiences with a girl wearing headphones. So simple and obvious. I was hoping for something more exotic. I hope there isn’t a similar origin for the quicksand fetish.

Is this what passes for conservative analysis in the blogging world?

Last week, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post wrote “Liberal Media Conspiracy Falls Flat”, debunking the popular conservative claim of widespread liberal bias in the media, summarizing Paul Glastris’s “Why Can’t the Democrats Get Tough?” from The Washington Monthly. The theory here is that the liberals making up the majority of journalists bend over backwards to be fair, while the conservative minority is unabashedly partisan. (There’s more to Glastris’s article than that, but that’s the main point Kurtz is picking up.) To back the theory up, Kurtz quotes Glastris quoting conservative strategist Grover Norquist, and citing a specific concrete example (Senatorial blocking of judicial nominations).

And by way of Instapundit, I found Patrick Ruffini, taking Kurtz on. (But only Kurtz; Ruffini doesn’t so much as mention Glastris, nor seem at all aware that Kurtz was quoting another source, though it’s quite apparent in Kurtz’s piece.) What evidence does Ruffini bring out to challenge the examples of actual stories covered by the media? He does a Lexis/Nexis search to find who most often uses the phrases “right-wing”, “left-wing”, “liberal”, and “conservative”! And his results indicate that the Wall Street Journal has a leftward bias, but not so much of one as the New York Times (the paper that broke the Whitewater story) or the Washington Post. (He doesn’t give a rating for the Fox News website, which has picked up his article.) This is sheer numerology substituting for rational thought. Ruffini’s dismissal of Kurtz is based on a theory conjured out of pure vapor — “I start with the pretty basic assumption that any bias that exists will tend to be cynical and oppositional” — and then does some lazy research to enable him to plug in numbers he’s almost certainly already familiar with to “prove” his point. (And Bob Somerby, of The Daily Howler, debunks a similar claim Bernard Golberg made.)

In the same paragraph as the Ruffini link, Instapundit linked to another piece about Kurtz and Glastris, in Cut On The Bias (a blog by a nameless journalism student). The author of this piece seems to have actually read both articles (and Ruffini’s as well), and his comments are a bit more intelligent. But the example to which he devotes a good-sized chunk of his analysis comes from Mars. He presents a bulleted list (with hyphens instead of bullets, I suppose because he doesn’t know how to make an HTML unordered list) derived from a Michael Fumento piece purportedly showing that a 48 Hours exposé (hosted by Dan Rather) about ADHD and Ritaln prescriptions for children may have been biased against the use of Ritalin, and argues that this is evidence of liberal bias on the part of Rather, and perhaps the CBS television network itself (owned by Viacom, a large corporation). Huh? Since when is questioning the use of drugs a liberal political position? I’d think that a desire to explore alternative medicines, thwarting the controlling desires of the centralized authoritarians at the American Medical Association and Food and Drug Administration, would be the sort of position that conservative minarchists and libertarians would approve of.

I’ve been seeing a lot of naïve neocons writing from a perspective of total unfamiliarity with liberalism. Look at Kevin Holtsberry’s take on Kurtz and Glastris, or David Carr’s post on Libertarian Samizdata about attending the Big Brother Awards ceremony. Neither of these guys seems to have a fraction of a clue that leftists, especially those on the extreme left, see themselves as harsh critics of the government. This is, of course, also true on the right — the abovementioned Grover Norquist once said his goal was to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub”. And moderates on both sides see government as a tool, and seek to expand the parts they’re fond of and shrink those they dislike. My over-simplified soundbite take on it is that both the right and the left want to move power from the government to the people, but the right makes an exception for the military while the left doesn’t see corporations as people.

Anyway, so neocons (especially libertarians) like to define themselves as anti-government, and therefore (according to the basic laws of association and opposition by which the lowest levels of the human mind operate, and I’m going to have to write an entry on that one of these days) their opponents must necessarily be pro-government. That’s why they use the phrase “anti-American” to describe the kneejerk response many extremists on the left had to the war in Afghanistan — the neocons can’t consciously recognize anti-government sentiments in their opponents, so they frame it as a form of negative nationalism.

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