This is the continuation of my long multi-part post on the “Open Source/PJ” media launch at Solomonia last November. I have divided them up differently this time and made slight changes.
First Panel: Whimper of Joke?
I didn’t check the program, trusting that it would be stellar. We finally sit down, at our tables with outlets and wireless, and then have Roger and Charles tell us about OSM. Good stuff. I’m following on my computer — what a great way to take notes at a conference, look up anything I want while the speaker speaks. And then the first panel. Lifestyles.
Lifestyles? I look up from my computer and watch in astonishment and growing horror as a bevy of smart beauties take their seats, introduced by a witty moderator, each one a specialist in that great lifestyle arena — fashion. And behind, occasionally adding a comment in a disembodied voice, the great Manolo, whose Dadaesque blog on shoes and other fashion accessories I quickly visited.
“Wait a minute,” I thought, “the last time I looked in my computer, France was still burning (smoldering the MSM would insist), and we’re listening to what?”
I look at Pedro with astonishment. He smiles at me and raises his eyebrows. Then the panel begins with Elizabeth Hayt, fashion columnist for the NYT and author of I’m No Saint : A Nasty Little Memoir of Love and Leaving (2005) and when asked the very deep question “what do you think the blogosphere means for fashion?” replied with refreshing if somewhat disconcerting candor: “I’m not sure why youíve asked me here, I don’t blog, I don’t even think blogging is useful, it’s for rich people with too much time on their hands.”
I blinked. Excuse me? Wait a minute, whatís going on here. Isnít this woman making a fine career in fashion, that field for people with too little money and too little time on their hands? Did I go to the wrong place. Is this the People Magazine blog launch?
Pedro leaned over and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “It must be a joke.”
I looked around to see who got it. The faces were wonderful. Some staring in disbelief, some smiling, some annoyed, the people with computers started to work… Sol had a poker face with the traces of a bemused smile on the edges of his lips, no way to tell what he’s thinking; Tom Bowler pulled his glasses down and a blank stare descended over his face. One of our tablemates leaned forward and whispered in Pedro’s ear: “I think theyíre waiting for Larry Kudlow.”
The situation became particularly surreal when the nice looking blonde girl on the panel, began talking about the make-up styles of celebrities: “I trash them every Saturday.” Stunned silence. Some people started moving uncomfortably in their seats, others looked bemused and, others like Pedro, were slowly becoming aware that the joke was on us. I felt like the Roman soldiers in Life of Brian trying desperately not to laugh as Pontius Pilate talks about his fwend Biggus Dickus and his wife Incontinentia Buttox. I wondered how many people out in cyberspace were dropping out in astonished dismay.
As Austin Bay put it later, in an interesting conversation with me, neo-neocon and Pedro, Elizabeth Hayt “was quite admirable in her lack of curiosity.”
What? New York Times? Uninterested in the world around it? How can you say that?
Second Panel: Which Century are We in?
The second panel was good, although much of the discussion revolved around the kind of sports thinking that Charles had deplored in his opening comments. It does not help to think in terms of liberal, conservative, right, left, the two teams that you try to “balance” in order to be “fair” or “objective.” And yet the panel had been stacked to give us those 20th century notions center stage, especially with David Corn and John Podhoretz (author of Bush Country : How George W. Bush Became the First Great Leader of the 21st Century—While Driving Liberals Insane) who started going at each other before we even heard from Claudia Rosett.
Much reworking of the old debates about objectivity and facts vs. opinion and partisanship, about the difference between gumshoeing (what the best of the MSM claims to do — gathering facts) and thumbsucking (what the worst of the blogosphere thrives on — ruminating narcissism). Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club illustrated the sterling quality of the best bloggers, ferociously smart, modest of demeanor, thinking about the question he’s been asked, speaking in paragraphs.
He explored what it is that makes information as accurate as we can shape it, how we pursue theories (I’d prefer to call them “working hypotheses” — like, is the first panel an intentional joke?) and see how they firm up over time as we take in more data (after five minutes, apparently not), how we need to think about what would have to be true in order for what we (or someone else) think has happened to also be true (someone thought this would be a great way to show OSM’s broad spectrum of interests, and managed to convince the board). Listening to Fernandez was in some ways like revisiting the very exploration of thinking about reason and reality-testing in the 16th and 17th centuries, that made the West an open society, the place where both modern academia and modern science were born after the advent of printing.
The discussion ended with an observation on the difference in our idea of whatís going on in Iraq that we get from bloggers there and from the MSM here, prompting Podhoretz to make the classic “right-wing” argument that we really won the Tet offensive, and that the MSM (thank you uncle Walt), took it away by presenting it as a catastrophe, an observation that Austin Bay affirmed later that afternoon. But to bring this argument up to speed, John took it a step further, proffered the interesting analogous argument that, had there been bloggers in Vietnam, we would have won the war. Interesting, perhaps going too far. Worth a thought, an exploration.
“Oh yeah,” responds Corn in classic “left-wing” style, “well what about Latin America?!?”
“Oh yeah,” says Podhoretz, “well what about Irving Stone!”
And with a crescendo into the puerile arguments that have produced our current state of self-ghettoization, the panel came to an end with a promise to look further into these matters. (I hope OSM follows up on this one.)
At lunch we talked about the morning sessions, and I remarked about how it would be nice to know the statistics about who was following the webcast, and be able to trace what I suspected — looking at the members of the audience “drop out” — was a precipitous drop-off as the first panel went on. “It was webcast?” one of our table companions gasped, blushing bright red.