December 19, 2004

Another Kinsley Fisking!

It's been almost two years since I undertook my first full-scale fisking. It was of a Michael Kinsley column in late January, 2003 that I wrote as an email to my ol' buddy ol' pal Freedom's Slave. Shortly afterward I started Blather Review on blogspot and made that fisking my first post.

I wasn't on line at all on Friday, and had little time yesterday to read much or to write anything. So, I've spent a lazy Sunday surfing blogs, news sites and stuff, and just found the new Michael Kinsley column via the Instapuppy blenderer.

I haven't read it yet, so this will be a Live FiskingTM! Hang on, folks, I'm going in blind!

Blogged Down

By Michael Kinsley
Sunday, December 19, 2004; Page B07

Yeah, but you obviously didn't write this today, didja Mikey? I publish my crappy works of artifice just after I finish rewriting them!

Okay, maybe I'm jumping into this too fast. Let's see what Michael the K has to say first before I presume that it's gonna torque me off... ;)

If you're going to peddle opinions for a living, self-assurance is essential. If you don't have it, you need to bluff.

Aah, yes. Opinion-making is just an intellectual poker game. The truth may be that all I've got to back up an argument is a pair of sevens. But why admit that when I can convince you that I've got aces backed with eights... as long as I don't blink...

People don't want to read a lot of "Oh dear, this is so terribly complicated, I just can't make up my poor little mind . . . ." Many's the pundit who has retired on full disability after developing a tragic tendency to see both sides of the issue.

Well, it'd certainly make for dull reading for an op-ed column and, I guess, and a columnist might lose readers if he or she couldn't get a rise out of either the pros and cons.
But are you telling me that if you ever found yourself so vexed for lack of certainty, you'd bluff to avoid your column's "retirement"?!

Of course, you didn't say that you'd resort to bluffing. But, beginning a column with this observation makes me wonder if you're projecting. On the other hand, I have no idea where you're going with this, so maybe I'll just wait and see.

Hey, I never promised that live fisking was a good idea. But let's trudge on...

Rarely, though, does even the most self-assured commentator on public affairs (i.e., George Will) inflate certainty to the level of a mathematical proof.

Hey! Why are you picking on George Will?! Is he any more "self-assured" than Maureen Dowd? Walter WIlliams? Jonathan Alter? Okay, Jonathan Alter suffers from acute self-assurance envy (ASAE), so nevermind that one.

So, what's this about a "mathematical proof" now? Persuasion is best achieved through air-tight, rock-solid argument. While logic and fact-based argumentation is not as exact a science as mathematics, it's at least a second cousin one removed.

Premise 1: All green bananas are unripe.
Premise 2: All of these bananas are green.
Conclusion: All of these bananas are unripe.

That's pretty damn near "mathematical" f'yask me. So I'm not sure what you mean by "rarely...does even the the most self-assured commentator...inflate [their] certainty to the level of a mathematical proof." Persuasion itself is the art of presenting a near-mathematically provable argument. Except that it's logic and deduction. We'll call it mathematics of the mind. The trick trick is to keep it from becoming heuristics of the heart or, worse, sophistry of the soul.

But let's find out where Michael is going with this, shall we already...?

It's happened to me only once,

BWAHAHAHA!!! You wrote "only"! You're bluffing!!!

on the subject (unfortunately) of Social Security privatization. Not, perhaps, the most glamorous topic on which to waste the gift of certitude. But, to borrow philosophically from our secretary of defense, you make do with the epiphany you have, not with the epiphany you might wish or want to have.

Way t' blahbiddy blah yer way into a dig at Rumsfeld! Well played!

I won't bore you with my mathematical proof that Social Security privatization can't work. Not quite true: I will bore you with it, but not until next week. Right now I have something more exciting to bore you with.

Aah, that rare "mathematical proof" that only hacks like George Will ever provide is coming. Is there a point to this column other than to dazzle us with your penchant for dry self-assurance?

Like you, I'm sure, I try to be a good sport about the inexplicable fact that other people sometimes disagree with me. What other choice is there? The nonsense that other people think is often amazing and always disappointing -- but at this late date it's not really surprising, is it?

"this late date"? Feeling a little long in the tooth are we? :P

And other people are disappointing in so many ways. What's one more? For all I know, you yourself may even disagree with me about this or that, and I may disagree with you about the other. It's everywhere.

Golly, surely not!

Okay, what have we got so far? We have a Michael Kinsley column that seems to be about disagreement and argumentation and how not to let it destroy your ability to argue and disagree forever, or, how to make a living by shrugging off them pesky, annoying disagree'ersTM. When the $#@& do blogs finally get mentioned?!

And other people are so stubborn! Possibly unlike you, I actually get paid to try to convince people that I am right and they are wrong, and thank goodness I'm not paid on the basis of results. It's almost enough to make you consider the possibility that other people are right and you are wrong. Merely considering this possibility is therapeutic, if you don't make a habit of it.

*yawn* Other than trying to purposefully wrangle yourself into a fetal knot of would-be willful uncertainty, what the fark is your point?! Get to it already!!

But when you're sure of something to a mathematical certainty, everything changes. It becomes supremely irritating that other people continue to debate the issue as if there were some doubt. It is enraging that some people even act as if certainty belonged to the other side. This general failure to acknowledge that the issue is settled and the argument over is even more irritating when you have explained it all in columns and editorials over the years. Nor does it help when the president himself passes up every opportunity to accept your airtight logic, as Bush did in pushing partial privatization yet again at his White House economic conference this past week. The gentle explanation that the president may be unfamiliar with you and your logic is, oddly, not comforting.

Wow! And thank you!

This column isn't about logic or argument or truth or sophistry or social security or, apparently, not even blogs. Nope. It's about Michael Kinsley fretting about why he's not the center of everyone else's universe, too.

Is this something we all are s'posed to be just as angst-ridden over, Mike? "I talk and talk and it seems like I can't change everyone else who talks and talks and so I'm feeling sad and lonely and wondering if maybe I should just go home, feed the cats and withdraw to quiescent uncertainty."
Buck up, man! We're never strangers when we agree to disagree. More sugar in yer coffee...?

That conference was the last straw. Last week, to vent my frustration, I sent an e-mail to some economists and privatizing buffs saying, look, either show me my mistake or drop this issue. Refute me or salute me. Disprove it or move it. Or words to that effect.

As an afterthought, I sent copies to a couple of blogs (kausfiles.comand What hap- pened next was unnerving.

Ooo, this is getting good...

A few days later, most of the big shots hadn't replied. But overnight I had dozens of responses from the blogosphere. They're still pouring in. And that's just direct e-mail to me. Within hours, there were discussions going on in a dozen blogs, all hyperlinking to one another like rabbits.

Erm.. "hyperlinking to one another like rabbits"? Now this is just plain vulgar, Mikey. I thought you were better than this.

Just so I don't sound too naive: I am familiar with the blog phenomenon, and I worked at a Web site for eight years.Some of my best friends are bloggers.

Oh, dear. The "present company excepted" disclaimer rears it's ugly head...

Still, it's different when you purposely drop an idea into this bubbling cauldron and watch the reaction. What floored me was not just the volume and speed of the feedback but its seriousness and sophistication. Sure, there were some simpletons and some name-calling nasties echoing rote-learned propa- ganda. But we get those in letters to the editor. What we don't get, nearly as much, is smart and sincere intellectual engagement -- mostly from people who are not intellectuals by profession -- with obscure and tedious, but important, issues.

Wow! People who aren't actually paid to think actually think anyways?! What a surfuckingprise, Mikey! Next thing you know yer butler might recall his own first name! Maybe gonna hafta rethink the whole pardigm yet again?

Why the difference? Length, for one. I'll be hard-put, next week, even to summarize my own argument, let alone discuss those of others, in the space available to a columnist. Letters get even less space, if they are published at all. Certainty that what you write will get posted is surely another factor. It's nice to know you're not wasting your time. Ease is important, too. You can send your views electronically to a blog in less time than it takes to find a stamp, let alone type a letter.


What f@&$#!*ng world are you living in? I mean, we're at the end and I'm sure you thought you had a point but clearly your well is as dry as mine.

I'd hoped that fisking a Michael Kinsley column could inspire a post worthy of my readers' patience and loyalty. I know now that I was wrong.

Michael, if I may call ya Michael,

You get paid for this; I don't. If I click on yer name then it's because I want to read a salient column, not a wanton slope-shouldered poutfest.

I'm very disappointed, Michael. I've just live-blogged a piece of crap.

Buck up, man. Inspiration is only one less donut away. Just, next time, gimmee something worth arguing about to argue about!


Oh, wait, there's more:...!

Most interesting, though, is how the Web enables people who are scattered physically around the globe, who share an interest in a topic as naturally uninteresting as the economic theory behind Social Security privatization, to find one another and enjoy a gabfest. Webheads like to call this phenomenon "community." I used to think that was a little grand and a little misleading. Populist electronic conversation mech- anisms like blogs and Web bulletin boards are more about the opportunity to talk than about the opportunity to listen. But that may be true of physical communities as well.


The writer is editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times.


Posted by Tuning Spork at December 19, 2004 08:30 PM
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