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Daily Howler: Paul Krugman helped us consider the problem with creeping self-freeperization
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HOW MUSCLE WORKS! Paul Krugman helped us consider the problem with creeping self-freeperization: // link // print // previous // next //

DEEP THOUGHTS BY JACK HANDY: Someone decided it was time to wax eloquent. So the Times began to ponder the Net. In the process, someone even wrote this:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (8/5/05): It's natural enough to think of the growth of the blogosphere as a merely technical phenomenon. But it's also a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in.
“Hmm,” we quickly found ourselves wondering. Have we been engaged in “a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in?”

We gave it some thought, and then we replied: “In a sense—but not as such!”

The growth of the blogosphere is “a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in?” In fact, blogs became necessary when the perfumed royals of mainstream media began to write, think, cogitate and generally waste time like that.

A PREDICTION: This sentence will gain the most ridicule: “Perhaps the strongest indicator of the importance of blogdom [is] the extent to which media outlets are creating blogs—or bloglike manifestations—of their own.” As we’ve long said—if these lords of self-importance didn’t exist, no one could ever dream them up.

PENGUIN LOVE: Predictably, penguin apologists began fighting back as soon as we went after March of the Penguins. Here’s just one example:

E-MAIL: Your review of March of the Penguins was amazingly insipid. We humans can only hope to possess the tenacity found in nature by these birds and so many other creatures.

Homo sapiens, I'm afraid, will be the ones to annihilate themselves long
before these birds need to modify their reproductive ritual which spans thousands of years. How about a little more respect for these guys? Besides, they are the cutest things I have ever seen.

Another mailer even stooped to the point where he was willing the play the “great auk” card:
E-MAIL: Hey, if you want to rag on March of the Penguins, that's fine (even though I enjoyed it immensely). But lay off the Emperor Penguin and its reproductive cycle. Yes, it is byzantine, but it is also very successful. They certainly have fared much better than their northern hemisphere counterpart, the Great Auk, with whom they shared similar characteristics. Not having to reproduce near hungry human sailors (not to mention other land predators) has been a valuable trait.

"Hapless", those penguins are not, if you understand the meaning of the word. I think you exercise a bit too much zeal in denigrating their system, in your effort to discredit ID. ID certainly deserves derision, but not at the expense of making it seem that there is no method to the penguin's madness. Randomness is indeed a part of evolution, but the penguins continue to propagate not simply due to blind luck, as you insinuate.

Why do our e-mailers hate human sailors? Admirably, though, we didn’t back down. We jotted a scripted reply to all comers. But before we share it, let’s throw a bit of info into the mix:
E-MAIL: The film’s narration was actually written by an American, Jordan Roberts. That said, the French narration had (according to one review) "the penguins talking about their hopes and dreams; foreplay sounds were even dubbed in, and the music was silly and comedic," so it doesn't sound like the original is much of an improvement.
As Steve Martin once complained, “Those French!” At any rate, we didn’t back down a centimeter. Our standard reply to the critics:
E-MAIL REPLY: We stand by our original claim. The emperor penguin is badly in need of vigorous, inspired new leadership.
HOW MUSCLE WORKS: We’re headed off on a one-day mission of some minor personal importance. But before we leave, Paul Krugman’s Friday column suggests why we think the liberal web should resist the process we sometimes refer to as creeping self-freeperization.

Krugman discusses the process by which ideologues sometimes wage war on science. Crowning example, he says—global warming:

KRUGMAN (8/5/05): The most spectacular example is the campaign to discredit research on global warming. Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, many people have the impression that the issue is still unresolved. This impression reflects the assiduous work of conservative think tanks, which produce and promote skeptical reports that look like peer-reviewed research, but aren't. And behind it all lies lavish financing from the energy industry, especially ExxonMobil.
The same thing may be happening in the battle about evolution, Krugman says. For us, they key phrase in his final paragraph is this one—“political muscle:”
KRUGMAN: The important thing to remember is that like supply-side economics or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory. That, together with the political muscle of the religious right, may be enough to start a process that ends with banishing Darwin from the classroom.
We haven’t studied “intelligent design,” and we don’t want to weigh in on the evolution debate. But note the larger process described here. When standard intellectual procedures are undermined, those who have “political muscle” can step in and rule the roost. So it will go if libs become freepers—if we too make up quotes; invent pleasing “facts;” indulge in weird logic; and demonize wildly. When any damn fool can say any damn thing, the damn fools with power will win every time. Over the course of the past several centuries, the traditions known as “fact” and “logic” have served as brakes on desires of the powerful. The king could no longer simply say it. He now had to show it was true.

In our view, standard intellectual rigor will typically serve progressive interests. Libs would be foolish to adopt the gong-show behaviors which have defined the talk-show right all these years. Given the hapless conduct of liberal elites in the dozen years, it’s easy to see why progressives and libs might find themselves drawn to these gong-show behaviors. But this would be a path straight to hell. In our view, accurate facts clearly explained will normally favor progressive interests. We’ve been sad to see some on the liberal web starting to ape the gong-show pseudo-right—and praying for prosecution of the bad men we’re too inept to defeat on our own. (And too lazy; and too undisciplined; and too riddled with conflict of interest.)

This morning, Krugman describes an instructive process. Those who have “political muscle” will typically welcome intellectual chaos. If they can simply spread doubt and confusion—if they can undermine normal intellectual methods—then their muscle will start to take hold. So it will be in the wider discourse if we—like those whom we have long ridiculed—start to take our daily pleasure in the methods of gong-show discussion.

Funny, isn’t it? When we got into this business, we thought it would be a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in. Now, we think we might see something else developing—something less noble, less fine.

WHERE DO MUSCLES COME FROM: Remember the pattern: Loud judgment first, information much later! An e-mailer wrote about the new steroid flap. He said the “expert” feller in yesterday’s Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/4/05) didn’t know his stash from his stanozolol:

E-MAIL: I don't know what drugs the medical experts were on that were sourced in that NYT article you quoted, but stanozolol can certainly be found in tablet form. It's marketed as Winstrol and it is an anabolic steroid for humans as well as animals. That quote really proves nothing and only serves to confuse the issue. Plus stanzolol is very short lived in the body, about a month is what I read. Hardly seems like it could stay in the body for years.
True? We have no idea.

We haven’t followed this matter in obsessive detail, but we haven’t seen obvious questions addressed. Why would Palmeiro be taking a monster roid in a year when he knew he’d be tested? Are “masking agents” a part of all this? And did Canseco’s suggestion make any sense; can these steroids linger in the system for years? As we said on Day One, this case provides a good example of the way the press tends to examine other matters. In this case, we’ve seen little attempt to address obvious questions—but we heard loud conclusions right from the start. Some 8-year-old kids even jumped to conclusions. But then again, so did their elders.

This time, judgment rained down on ESPN. The “news” nets had bigger issues to ponder. The “news” nets were off on that cruise ship.

NO RAFFY FANS HERE: Sorry, analysts! We’re Red Sox fans, though we live near the Birds. In fact, to review the first game we ever attended, click here, scroll to April 17. We recall our mother explaining, after school on April 20, that you can’t win every game. One more example—of the way unthinking parental negativity can stunt the growth of the child.