Friday, November 26, 2010

On Living In The (Im)Material World

Blog swarms are a fact of online life. They tend to be nasty things, sometimes with a coherent point, but just as often they are wildly chaotic attacks designed to cause as much harm as possible to the weakest online targets.

There have been many blog swarms in my experience. I don't try to hold on to memories of them, but one that comes to mind was the swarming attack in January of 2006 on Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell, triggered by her clearly uninformed claim that Jack Abramoff had made campaign contributions to both major parties, a factoid you might say that was simply -- and demonstrably -- false.

The blogospheric OUTRAGE!!!!™ was immediate and immense, innundating the Post with hundreds and hundreds of comments and emails, almost all of which denounced The Howell Woman (as I came to call her) in the most virulent and vituperative terms.

The point was made within a few minutes of her first posting on the matter (this was when "blogs" at major newspapers were still pretty new, and comment sections were not necessarily monitored) that she was in error. But she did not respond to her critics the way a blogger would, more or less in real time. She didn't respond to emails. She could not be reached at the Post by phone. The level of OUTRAGE!!!!™ grew exponentially. Other contacts were made at the Post, demanding an immediate response, retraction, correction, apology, whatever. Nothing. The Post was simply ignoring this INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT MATTER THAT HAD TO BE ADDRESSED RIGHT NOW OR ELSE!!!!

As the days dragged on with no response from the Post, the level of vituperation and venom from the Blogswarm continued to increase. Days into The Howell Woman Affair, she emerged from seclusion to make a brief statement in which she claimed she should have said Abramoff 'directed' donations to both parties, which re-triggered the OUTRAGE!!!!™, which in turn led to the shutting off of comments to her column, which led to more OUTRAGE!!!!™. Finally, a week or more into the Controversy, Howell issued her now infamous "Thank you and fuck you" statement in which she repeated her claims that Abramoff was an equal opportunity corrupter and she told her critics to pound sand, she had a "contract" and there was no way she was going to get fired over a simple mistake.


At first, this Blogswarm might have been useful or appropriate, but it became very ugly very fast, essentially becoming the online equivalent of a lynch mob, especially as The Howell Woman did not immediately respond, and when she did respond, it was with an arrogant and contemptuous attitude toward her critics.

I have a propensity to intervene when I sense that incidents like this are turning into mob actions, and so I made some statements in some of the venues where Howell Woman Hate was being stirred up. Of course, that sometimes subjected me to the same sort of vituperation, but you know, I've rarely been goaded by personal attacks. But I found the whole thing very distasteful and said so.

That was then. There have been other more recent Blogswarms, and one of them was engineered (or appeared to be engineered) by Glenn Greenwald the other day in response to what he claimed was a "smear" of John Tyner, the "Don't Touch My Junk" guy from the TSA Uprising Battles.

Mark Ames and Yasha Levine of the eXile wrote an investigative article for The Nation in which they presented some information about Tyner they had gleaned from a profile in his hometown paper, his many television appearances, his blog, and an interview with him. They were, they said, suspicious of the timing and media focus on the TSA Porno-Scan and Sex Assault "uprising" because it looked to them too much like the other faux uprisings that had proliferated since the installation of the Obamas in the White House. They'd previously investigated the "uprising" phenom and had discovered-- and reported on -- an intimate interplay between certain named billionaires, some Libertarian and rightist activists, a concentrated media focus, and various "grassroots-populist movements," particularly the TeaBaggers. They saw the same pattern unfolding again, and they wrote about it.

Because they mentioned Tyner and what they had found out about him -- without accusing him of anything and specifically citing his denial of any funny business -- Glenn launched one of his typical broadside attacks on Ames and Levine, accusing them of "smearing" Tyner, and in the process smearing Ames and Levine.

It was nonsense, but it's what happens with Glenn when he senses an ally needing his "protection." He did the same thing when John Burns wrote about some of the accusations against Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

After reading the article, it was obvious to me that there was no "smear" -- except by Glenn -- and that the purpose of the article was to focus on the Koch financing and ties to so many of the "uprisings" since Obama's advent, and to question the timing and media focus on the TSA "uprising."

I said as much at Glenn's place, but by that time, the Blogswarm was in full swing and the OUTRAGE!!!!™ was unstoppable. The Nation and the authors were hit from all sides running, and in fact have since been taken to task not solely by Glenn and his cheering squad, but by a range of ostensibly professional voices in the field. Jeremy Scahill of The Nation among others.

Of course, after Ames and Levine offered a detailed response in which they stated their inclusion of Tyner in the article should have been clarified and some of the information about him that they included was inappropriate, the Blogswarm, if anything intensified.

They were now "admitting" that they had "smeared" Tyner, an innocent man who meant and did no harm, a Civil Liberties Hero, yaddayadda, and for that there was no forgiveness.

What was striking to me is that most of those among Glenn's commentariat who were attacking Ames and Levine for "smearing" Tyner had not read the article and had no idea what it was about. When it was repeatedly pointed out by me -- and many others, including Cuchulain2007, Publican, 23Skidoo, Milton Wiltmellow and more -- what the article was about, the information was met with a blank stare, or -- in the case of Glenn and other attackers -- with a yawning dismissal or mockery. It was of no concern or interest to those who were so intent on ATTACK!!! It was most intriguingly of no interest to -- and indeed it was subject to ridicule and mockery by Glenn Greenwald himself.

Well. That was interesting. Why would he have no (apparent) interest in what Ames and Levine were focused on and writing about? Why would his entire interest be on defending John Tyner from this Horrible Smear?

I wound up repeating over and over what was in the article itself and suggesting that people actually read it and other works by Ames and Levine that touched on the same topic and others. Some people seemed to do that, but like Glenn, they were entirely focused on defending Tyner the individual, and anything else Ames and Levine had to say was simply irrelevant. Besides, who cared?

This was very interesting. After I read Yasha Levine's investigation into the connections between the Koch fortune and Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union, it hit me. The Kochs, who have essentially created the Libertarian "movement" and continue to finance it handsomely, along with many rightist and libertarian political activities and think tanks and so on, want these two trouble makers to be exiled, if you will, from the mainstream. They want them shut up and shut down, much as they were -- at least partially -- in Russia.

And the Blogswarm attack has been very effective in accomplishing that goal, at least from appearances. It appears to be a case of the "left" eating its own, always a pleasing sight to bloodsoaked rightists and libertarians.

But simply by asking "who benefits?" we realize what is likely going on. The Kochs, who are the moneybags for the Libertarian "movement" and all sorts of other anti-(this)-government "movements" are the ones who benefit. The public is the loser.

As far as I know, this is the first time Ames and Levine have been published in The Nation -- as staid an old line Liberal mainstream magazine as the United States has -- and this incident will probably make it impossible for Ames and Levine to be published there again. Likely they will be denied a mainstream venue in perpetuity. Who benefits? The Kochs do.

This isn't over. But to date, it has been very interesting. To say the least. And it's not a little chilling.

Some sites for more information:

There is much, much more. But this is a start.


  1. Nice summary.

    I'm still surprised by the total lack of self-awareness exhibited by Glenn in this case. I swear even a third grader could see he is guilty of projecting motives and "smearing" Ames and Levine. That same third grader might well see that Tyner was treated unfairly as well. But how on earth does Glenn miss that his idea of a "logical inference" is simply not logical?

    At least Ames and Levine attempted to show Tyner fit into a larger pattern. Fair or not, they made an attempt. Glenn, OTOH, makes no such attempt to show that Ames and Levine are guilty as charged. He just assumes it's all so self-evident that their only motive must be their slavish devotion to Obama, the Dems, government, etc. . . . and their sole purpose is to crush decent. There can be no other reason, as far as Glenn is concerned.

    Seriously. That's one hell of a leap to make, given the text. Glenn may be an ex-lawyer and a good media critic, but he's not good at close textual readings. Give me a book lovin' literary scholar any day over a lawyer in that case.

    In general, the lawyer starts out with a supposition and seeks to prove it. The book lover is hoping for wonder and involvement, a compelling story and a place to go.

    What I'd like to know is how Glenn heard about the story in the first place. That might help us understand "where he was coming from" in the fist place and where his suppositions may have originated.

  2. The vehemence was also surprising. Taking the time to go after the comments and hurling more motive-projections?

    What the hell was that all about?

    . . .

    Hope all is well --

  3. Cu-hool,

    Glenn's behavior in comments today is entirely different; he is like a different person, completely at ease, open, warm and friendly, curious, involved, no animosity or hostility, even toward those who challenge him or tell him he's wrong.

    Lack of self-awareness? Perhaps in a sense, but my experience has been that he is very calculated, and he usually knows exactly what he is doing and what the consequences will be. What's really unusual is to see him let down his guard as much as he has today.

    That said, I have little doubt the attack on Ames and Levine was highly calculated and intended to have exactly the effect it did. And that was to shut down their voice in the mainstream. It worked. You won't find more than a handful of people who are aware of the Controversy who have any idea what's in Ames's and Levine's article let alone their body of work. They haven't read it. As bystander put it, I think completely honestly -- she can't because they smeared John Tyner!!!!. Nothing else they have to say matters.

    That result is clearly intentional.

    Who benefits? Glenn in the first instance. His profile in the media has gone up yet again. No, he wasn't being fair or even rational, but that's not so important in modern American media. What matters is that you can stir the pot and dominate the discussion. And that you have a loyal audience.

    In that regard, Glenn is doing everything right. He's been very methodical and he's achieving his objectives right on schedule.

    The Kochs are the secondary beneficiaries. Their brand of Libertarianism moves up a notch, too.

    From their perspective, it's all good.

    The Nation and Katrina are the principle losers.

    Ames and Levine should be ok in their niche, but they will have to stay there for the foreseeable future. They can still have an impact, but as adnoto (Glenn's New Minion, but I have long suspected that adnoto is a sockpuppet for another poster who has always been a Minion) put it: So what? Who cares about the Kochs and their money bags?

    And there you have it.

    Libertarians have no problem with the Kochs at all. They don't see anything to be alarmed at.

    And to them, nothing Ames and Levine have to say about it makes any difference.

    On the other hand, I was pleased to see ondelette take the gloves off and give back well more than he's been getting from the Libertarians. They're completely thrown off their game by someone who fights back like that -- the way any cowardly bully would be.

  4. As for how Glenn came to know about the article...

    I doubt he reads The Nation regularly -- except for Jeremy Scahill. But think about this: Ames and Levine have been investigating the Kochs for a long time. The Kochs essentially founded and fund the American Libertarian "movement" and they are apparently very sensitive to criticism. I'm sure they are aware of and despise Ames and Levine. Their names alone are enough to set off the jungle telegraph, and if they are associated with The Nation, all the alarms go off. This attack appeared to originate with Glenn's broadside but it was very quickly followed by other blogospheric and media figures who echoed his complaints. Few went beyond the Tyner matter and said a word about the article as a whole. It became a very coordinated and essentially lockstep attack very quickly.

    This is all to shut the voices of Ames and Levine out of the mainstream.

    Someone who didn't weigh in: Matt Taibbi. Former colleague in Russia with Mark Ames and Yasha Levine. And I'm sure he knows to watch his back.

  5. Addendum:

    Finally got around to Crooks and Liars, where karoli -- who has tangled with Glenn on a number of occasions, mostly over his excessive hyperbole -- tried to take a holistic view of the matter, she read the entire Ames/Levine article, and she said that Glenn was wrong to characterize it as a "smear" of Tyner, and then ignore everything else in it.

    Yes. Well.

    Some of the C&L commentariat then went after HER.

    Of course the problem is the same there as it is with much of Glenn's commentariat: they take the word of someone they Trust as Gospel. If, for example, Glenn says a Thing Is Bad, then it becomes taboo. They will not look into it themselves, or as bystander put it, she can't.

    Think about that for a minute.

    To be able to make something taboo is an enormous power. It's one that Glenn seems to enjoy wielding.

    Without wisdom, though, such power can be deeply dangerous.

  6. Makes sense. Interesting about Taibbi, someone I respect. Scahill, too, for his work on Blackwater.

    I hope when things calm down, someone has the guts to maybe walk some of the "outrage" back.

    But, if you're right about all of this, that taint gonna happen.

    Taboo. Yep. That does mean power. Glenn Beck has it, and his audience, of course, is far larger than GG's.

    . . .

    Thanks for the C L tip. Will take a look. But overall I think I'm coming to another crossroads of sorts. I hit them now and then. Time to step away from all of this for while and concentrate on other things. I've been putting off the novel for far too long, and it's time to get back into it. I'm even toying with a switch from Arthur to the Hound of Ulster. Give it an update, try to put him and the Red Branch in an historical context and bring in some bits of "realism" to boot.

    Watched "Bloody Sunday" last night, about the British massacre of Derry citizens in 1972. Very well done. I think it's from 2002. Worth a look for its moving, powerful, cinema verite feel and build up to the tragedy. Shows the background and there's no preaching, cuz the images do the trick all by themselves.

    Take care

  7. "Bloody Sunday" is a powerful pic.

    I was more or less an Anglophile until that incident -- and I realized what the Brits were actually doing -- and not just in Ulster. Which got me to look more deeply into history of the British Empire, the origins of the American experiment, and why things are the way they are.

    I'm not an Anglophile any more.

    Believe me, I can understand your urge to take another path -- at least for a while. I sometimes love to just immerse myself in Old Irish stories and legends, but I'm still working on the Greeks. And with both, the contemporary parallels are striking. It takes a sure eye and hand to find and show them, though.

    We can consider ourselves lucky to still have some choices.

    As for the situation we and others have been discussing endlessly over this holiday, I don't know how it is going to turn out. I've got a pretty good idea what Glenn's goals are, and he's well on the way to realizing them. As for the other players, they may need to look for the lifeboats.

    But then, Tom Waits is performing in his magnum opus "Big Time" on teevee, and I am mesmerized by the trainwreck quality of it all.

    I keep imagining there will be a shot of the audience of skeletons slumped over their drinks.

    You take care of yourself, OK?



  8. Addendum:

    Katrina rolled over.

    Anybody surprised?

    And yes, I'm the "brfelix" who has posted a few comments over at The Nation defending Ames and Levine.

    I haven't used that screen name for a long time, not since I was active at Table Talk at Salon, which probably stopped about 2002.

    It's been my log-in name at The Nation since I first signed up over there. A long time ago.

    Some Kinks to lighten the mood:

    Picture yourself when you're getting old,
    Sat by the fireside, pondering on...
    Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago.
    Picture book, of people with each other, to prove they love each other a long time ago.