Counting eyeballs

by Henry on June 21, 2005

“Chris Bowers”:http://www.mydd.com/story/2005/6/12/17357/3049 has an interesting post trying to explain why left wing blogs are now getting a lot more traffic than right wing ones. Bower’s theory is that this is because the high-traffic blogs in the left-blogosphere make far more use of community based systems such as Scoop and active comments sections than their equivalents on the right. The result, in Bowers’ eyes, is that:

bq. There are swarms of new conservative voices looking to breakout in the right-wing blogosphere, but they are not even allowed to comment, much less post a diary and gain a following, on the high traffic conservative blogs. Instead, without any fanfare, they are forced to start their own blogs. However, because of the top-down nature of right-wing blogs, new conservative blogs remain almost entirely dependent upon the untouchable high traffic blogs for visitors. In short, the anti-community nature of right-wing blogs has resulted in a stagnant aristocracy within the conservative blogosphere that prevents the emergence of new voices and, as a result, new reasons for people to visit conservative blogs.
[click to continue…]

Stitch-ups

by Henry on June 21, 2005

“Dan Drezner”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002131.html on the Downing Street Memos.

bq. The biggest charge is that the president shaped the intelligence to gin up an excuse for the war. On this point, Fred Kaplan’s essay in Slate does a nice job of encapsulating what I think:

bq. _The memos do not show, for instance, that Bush simply invented the notion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or that Saddam posed a threat to the region. In fact, the memos reveal quite clearly that the top leaders in the U.S. and British governments genuinely believed their claims…._

bq. _The implicit point of these passages is this: These top officials genuinely believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction—and that they constituted a threat. They believed that the international community had to be sold on the matter. But not all sales pitches are consciously deceptive. The salesmen in this case turned out to be wrong; their goods were bunk. But they seemed to believe in their product at the time._

bq. The administration was clearly wrong about the WMD threat — but I think they thought they were right. They deserve any criticism they get about being wrong — but they don’t deserve the meme that they consciously misled the American people.

I don’t think that this claim holds; and there’s an analogy that I think makes this clearer (Kaplan uses a “version”:http://slate.msn.com/id/2120886?nav=wp of this analogy in his article, but doesn’t develop it). In many countries (including my home country, Ireland), police have a reputation for stitching people up; they seem prepared in some instances to commit perjury in order to get people convicted for crimes. Now in some cases, this is a completely cynical exercise – the police have no idea of whether the accused is guilty or not, but need to get a conviction for political or other reasons. But in others, it’s because the police think that they know who committed a crime, but don’t have the necessary evidence to get the person convicted in court. Therefore, they perjure themselves and lie about the evidence in order to get the conviction.

This, it seems to me, is what happened in the lead-up to Iraq. The Bush administration, like others, probably did genuinely believe that Iraq had an active nuclear program. But it didn’t have the necessary evidence to prove this, either to its allies or to its own people. It therefore cooked the evidence that it did have in order to make its claims more convincing. It didn’t deceive the public about its basic belief that there were WMDs in Iraq. But it did deceive the public about the evidence that was there to support this belief, in order to convince them that there was a real problem. In other words, it _did_ “consciously mislead” the American people (and its allies). When the police are caught perjuring themselves to get convictions, they should (and frequently do) suffer serious consequences, even if they believe that they’re perjuring themselves in order to get the guilty convicted. That’s not what the police should be doing; they haven’t been appointed as judges, and for good reason. If the police persistently lie in order to get convictions, the system of criminal law is liable to break down. Similarly, when the administration lies about a major matter in order to get public support, it shouldn’t be excused on the basis that it thought that it was lying in a good cause. It’s still betraying its basic democratic responsibilities.

Salad days

by Maria on June 21, 2005

Dervala has the most beautiful, true and hair-raisingly universal (if you’re Irish) essay on the Leaving Cert, the quintessentially Irish right of passage, the Murder Machine, or, as I knew it at the time, The High Jump. I did the Leaving the same year Dervala did, and I could have written this piece myself. Except that I couldn’t. It’s just so well-written it feels like that, capturing hauntingly what it was to be 17 and have your dreams channelled through the points system and your entire life blocked off by an enormous obstacle/national obsession. And the sheer finality of it all:

“For two years we consumed seven subjects. Over a June fortnight, we regurgitated this knowledge into thirty hours worth of essays and proofs. The first day, we might dispatch Yeats, Scott Fitzgerald, George Eliot, and Shakespeare for good, and then choose from a list of titles the last original essay composition we would ever write. The next day, we would think about calculus, trigonometry, and quadratic equations—intensely, for six hours, and for the very last time.”

The LC marks you for life. I still dream every few months that I’m repeating it, especially when the weather starts to get warm and over-achievers’ happy little thoughts are inexplicably tinged with guilt.

Speaking of the weird things people do when summer finally comes to Belgium, two friends recently went to a community fair in one of Brussels’ rougher communes; Schaerbeek. Instead of jam stalls and face painting, they found tables full of rifles for purchase by all comers. Not Very European! And for family entertainment – one man was covered in heavy padding and put in an enclosure while another goaded a german shepherd with a stick and set him on the first man. Everyone clapped.

The fairs in the city are much nicer, though – and on a Sunday here you can’t walk half a mile without encountering one. Or a tiny, hidden park, or a humbly gorgeous art nouveau facade in an un-prepossessing street. I’m starting to think that Brussels, not Paris, is the true city of the flaneur.

French blogger under attack

by Chris Bertram on June 21, 2005

According to “a report in Libération”:http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=305543 , French blogger Christophe Grébert ( “MonPuteaux.com”:http://www.monputeaux.com/ )is being pursued through the courts for defamation by his local authority. His crime? To have set up a blog which centred around the domination of local government in Puteaux (at the edge of Paris) by a single family and their hangers-on and which documented anomalies such as the approval of the budget for a small garden at a cost of 600,000 euros. Grébert seems to have withstood a campaign of personal harrassment, but legal action seems to be the latest means of silencing him. It will be interesting to see how this goes. Grébert appears to have decided (almost certainly correctly) that blogging is a more effective method of pursuing political change than attending section meetings of local Socialist Party. His opponents seem to think he has been all too effective. An interesting case, and one that may set precedents for political blogging in France at least.