Paranoid Android

by Henry Farrell on August 9, 2003

And while we’re being snippy with tech-crazy rightwing bloggers, has anyone checked out Steven den Beste lately? His topic du jour is how European males “don’t like”: rugged, manly Harley-Davidson bikes, and have persuaded them to come out with a ‘castrated,’ ‘effeminate’ version. Whatever. I dunno – I’ve never been able to get the den Beste thing myself. He’s always reminded me of the bloke in Searle’s “Chinese Box”: – parsing and recombining facts without ever understanding them. I imagine him locked in a cubicle somewhere, endlessly surfing the web for factoids which he weaves together into vast conspiratorial ‘explanations’ that are almost, but not quite, unlike real political analyses. His posts are vaguely interesting on the level of spectacle, but I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone takes him seriously. Evidently, the WSJ _Opinion Journal_ disagrees.



BA 08.09.03 at 3:53 am

Sigh. Consumers of the bloggosphere ought to behave like pillaging soldiers, taking what they fancy and value, discarding the rest. Someone who finds nothing of value in Denbeste just isn’t looking hard — you’ll find fascinating nuggets of fact on American energy consumption and military history, just for starters. If his tone interferes with your ability to parse and enjoy these facts, stop reading. Indeed, I am puzzled beyond measure by the percentage of web dailog devoted to trashing other sites — not trying to convince the authors of there error, not entering into argument, but the pure ill-nature. Paranoid right-wing, effete liberal, blah blah fucking blah.

Of course, here I am writing a comment to such a post…


Rook 08.09.03 at 4:04 am

It’s the Star Trek graphics. Been there twice, yawned, moved on. And I loved Star Trek.


Henry 08.09.03 at 5:06 am

ba – fair enough – I’m probably being a little snarky – I personally don’t see much of anything that I find interesting in den Beste, but de gustibus …


Robert Schwartz 08.09.03 at 8:35 pm

“His posts are vaguely interesting on the level of spectacle, but I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone takes him seriously.”

Says more about you than him.


James Hamilton 08.09.03 at 9:22 pm

Well, it’s encouraging to see I’m not the first to come in defence of den Beste here. I would add to preceding comments my own point – that den Beste has come in for a lot of flak on left wing blogs of late, but I’ve yet to see anyone actually take him on in argument on one of his more serious posts (his own comments on the response to the Harley post are interesting in this instance). What is depressing is that I haven’t seen ‘Henry’ prostitute himself in this manner until now. Such cheap shots are usually left up to ‘Kieran’. Is it so complicated an idea that one’s political position should not rule out everything one has to say? I was flamed a month or so ago for calling Crooked Timber a straw man factory, and took the flamer’s advice and read other things awhile. Well, until the site grows up, I’ll do it again. What on earth Chris Bertram is doing in such company escapes me completely.


Dell Adams 08.09.03 at 10:15 pm

Don’t you mean ‘Chris Bertram’?


back40 08.09.03 at 10:30 pm

hmmm, Chris is good, gentle and thoughtful, but I think it’s a mistake to dismiss Henry simply because his posts are interested, have an obvious bias, since he is willing to engage in thoughtful discussion. It’s just a different, more contentious style consistent with his views about the desirability of such partisan debate.

One measure of Henry’s value to the blog is the amount and quality of discussion that takes place in comments about his posts. It seems to me that he is a major component of the soul of CT.


Mark 08.10.03 at 6:28 am

Those poor castrated Europeans on their poor castrated roads. And they’ll never know.

Er, sarcasm aside, aren’t traffic conditions a little different in Europe? Fancy wrestling a Harley around the sort of hairpins that a Ducati is built for?


marc 08.10.03 at 9:37 pm

I dont take anything leftists say seriously, though, it sure is fun to peruse the foibles of leftist intellectual-wannabes. Its better than anything on Comedy Central!!!


Tripp 08.10.03 at 11:22 pm

den Beste was interesting for awhile, and he was good at inventing plausible-sounding explanations for politics, but his latest infatuation with Europeans is a little sad. I suppose they make easy targets, and they don’t fight back.


John Hardy 08.11.03 at 5:44 am


One of the few smart things that Den Beste said early on in his blogging career was that the blogosphere was a bit like a Ponzi scheme. In other words, built into the web’s topology there is a natural favouritism via link referrals towards the blogs that have been around the longest. Den Beste at the time (c 2000) was bemoaning the popularity of sites like which he considered were popular way beyond their intellectual value but the reason he agued was that the early “a-list” blogs had had a number of years’ behind them in order to build up a base of links. Another way to look at this is to say that blogs are organized according to a Power Law Distribution with, say, the top 20% getting about 80% of the links (aka Pareto’s Principle).

Years later, I think it’s a fair thing to say the same thing about Den Beste’s own blog. It’s not bad by any means (although he can be pretty narrow-minded and annoying) but I think that his post-S11 über-blogger prominance (and that of the likes of Instapundit et al) has a lot more to do with a network effect than anything much else.

Oh yeah, one more link: Den Beste in a nutshell


Doug 08.11.03 at 8:20 am

Den Beste as the Nutrimatic Opinion Machine: columns that are almost, but not quite entirely unlike political analysis. Maybe the whole blog is actually a prototype from Sirius Cybernetics?


dsquared 08.11.03 at 9:31 am

Strange that so many self-styled engineers’ laser-like ability to cut through “marketing bullshit” deserts them immediately the products of the Harley Davidson company are brought on board. The new roadster is selling well in Europe, and everywhere else, because it’s the first Harley that hasn’t been woefully overpriced and underspecified relative to the Japanese and European competition. It’s actually a good bike. Unlike the historical Harleys SdB likes so much; if American male sexuality actually lived up to H-D’s standards of performance and reliability, they’d be in trouble.


Henry Shieh 08.11.03 at 2:19 pm

I’ll take a Ducati over a Harley any day of the week. Harleys are big, slow, and clumsy as all hell. Let me get something that can compete on the autobahn, not one that makes me look like Brian Bosworth.


nolo 08.11.03 at 6:13 pm

Harleys aren’t bikes, they’re fetish objects. Hence their relationship in Den Beste’s mind to American male sexuality, I guess ;) Ducatis aren’t that far from being fetish objects either, but at least the Ducati fetish has some relationship to performance, as opposed to just being a size and sound fetish (more analogs to American male sexuality — this is fun!!!).

There’s nothing funnier than watching a full-dress Harley wallow through a turn (unless it’s watching a Sportster on the freeway). But I do have to wonder why the Ducati fetish is doing so well when the Japanese have been turning out better sportbikes for years. It can’t just be the v-twin thang, given that Suzuki’s been building a happening little v-twin (the SV) for a few years now.

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