Archive for ‘Blogosphere’ Category

BK Drinkwater replied several days ago to my post on the core philosophical difference between Labour and National. Unfortunately I’ve been too busy (with work and with caring for family members at either end of their lives) to give very much attention to this sort of thing, and this state will continue for the foreseeable future. His is a good post, and although it’s couched as a critique of mine, I mostly agree with it. It’s not so much arguing a different point than mine as looking at the issue more deeply. I especially like his restatement of the matter in formal terms:

The big question, and this is the one that will probably decide which camp of economic thought you pitch your tent in, is this: to what extent do the ill social products of income inequality compound as according to income inequality, and does this effect rival the benefits of economic growth to the point where you’re willing to see less of the latter?

A therefore B (therefore A)
I was in the initial post perhaps a bit vague about which parts of my argument were the hypothesis and which were the evidence to prove it (in truth, they’re both, which is itself problematic). This meant BK accepted the utilitarian dichotomy I raised (greatest good versus least harm), but didn’t follow it completely through. Once followed through, I think it illuminates the reasoning behind both sides’ policy preferences and ideological truisms. I pegged the core philosophical difference to a crude split of those who see the world as being bounteous with opportunity and potential, and those who see it as being fraught with danger and risk. For example:

Classical liberals in National are concerned almost solely with negative rights: the right not to have your stuff stolen, the right not to be raped, etc etc. Labour recognizes also positive rights: the right to a high standard of education and healthcare, the right to share equitably in the prosperity of the nation as a whole.

(Ignoring for a moment that the example isn’t accurate because both National and Labour believe in the things ascribed above to Labour). The notional ambitionist is concerned with negative rights because they see the world as basically beneficial, and consider that if people are just left the hell alone human beings will generally be sweet. The notional mitigationist ideologue, on the other hand, believes that the world is a harsh place, and that minimum entitlements of comfort and dignity should be guaranteed in positive rights. The two positions positions don’t explain the worldview as much as they are derived from the worldview. Other dichotomies map to this with a fair degree of accuracy: the abundance versus scarcity split of how full the glass is represents just one, you can probably think up others.

Above, I used `the world’ deliberately, because I think a good case study for this sort of thing are the linked matters of climate change and peak oil. Ambitionists, by and large, see neither of these as a great problem, because at core they hold an unshakable confidence in humanity’s ability to overcome anything and will find ways to mitigate against both, given enough time and good reason to do so. This is the throughoing theme of Atlas Shrugged. Mitigationists, on the other hand, believe that there are forces greater than humanity and that these problems cannot be overcome – at least not by the ambitionist approach. This is the throughgoing theme of another great dystopic novel, The War of the Worlds, where humanity is saved through no fault of our own but through careful preservation of a lower bound.

These dichotomies are heavily propagandised, and are a significant matter of political identity. I reject much of the Marxist cui bono? approach to explaining political allegiance, and rather think that (warning, rash generalisations follow) the wealthy support National because National reflects their experience that the world is a sweet place where everyone has opportunities, they just have to take them; while the less-wealthy support Labour because Labour reflects their experience that it’s tough to scrape by without a decent base-line of public support. This leads me to my next point: what do people really believe?

Apology
Answer: what their ideological identity tells them to. The dirty little secret of my initial post is that I appealed to utilitarianism because it’s a useful framework, but I don’t actually buy it, and I don’t think very many other people do either. The unstated assumption was that people think rationally about matters like this, in terms of actual utility. I think people should, but I don’t think they do. When it comes to propagandised political identity markers such as these dichotomies, people assess policies or political positions in deontological terms, not in utilitarian terms – they identify themselves with an end and then rationalise the necessary means, inventing or adopting or appropriating arguments which allow them to sleep at night. The question is what does this policy advocate vis-a-vis what I believe to be right rather than what utility will this policy bring vis-a-vis the alternatives. So all this talk about opportunity and risk and discount rates and such is useful in theory, and useful in practice inasmuch as it might form the basis for ideologically resonant arguments which might lead to greater support for better policy outcomes, but I don’t think the question I raised was strictly one of utility – it’s one of identity. Sorry about that.

More on the money proxy
I want to expand on why I have problems with the money proxy, which I touched on in the last post. It’s pretty simple, and explains the reason why I’m not strictly an ambitionist: money is both the means by which we judge a person’s worth (in the human sense) and the resource needed to enjoy the comfort and dignity to which I (and most people) believe human beings are entitled by simple virtue of their being human beings. Because the same thing is used as both a means and an end, there is inevitable conflict: by denying people access to sufficient food, healthcare, accomodation, etc. on the grounds that they cannot afford to buy it for themselves, a society tacitly says: you are not worth it because you do not have enough money. This, to me, is not acceptable. If we cannot divorce the value of a person’s dignity, comfort and wellbeing from the monetary cost of sustaining it, what’s the purpose of society?

I suppose that’s my A.

L

A useful press release generator, or three

datePosted on 22:32, March 5th, 2009 by Lew

DPF’s post mentioning MediaCom, which allows you to get/send press releases via NZPA feed, reminded me of this, which I’ve been meaning to post for awhile. The reason PR companies need to spam people with press releases is because at a basic level they’re so easy to write that almost any idiot can hack one out in half an hour, and so people do. If you’re someone who relies on them, by the time you’ve read the title and the first three paragraphs in order to figure out whether the press release has anything relevant for you, its writer has already won.

Not to say that writing good press releases is easy – far from it, writing genuinely good press releases is extremely hard; so hard that very few people actually can, and even for those people it can seem futile because nobody knows whether your press release is any better than all the rest of the guff which is clogging their intertubes until they’ve read the title and the first three paragraphs. If you’re a CommsTart,* this is a very important skill, however, because by writing good press releases you give the overworked, underpaid minions of the Corporate News Machine a labour-saving device, and if you can consistently write to spec they will gladly shortlist your releases for pre-publication, sight unseen, because they don’t have time to read the title and the first three paragraphs because … well …

That stuff in them there press releases ends up in your media. I don’t have it to hand (Kate, can I have it back?), but I seem to recall that very thorough Cardiff University research commissioned by Nick Davies’ for his excellent book Flat Earth News found that no more than 12% of articles published in major British papers were entirely free from material published by someone’s PR department or agency. In my work as a media analyst, if I actually want to find out about a major issue I go to Scoop and try to triangulate the facts from everyone’s press releases before I bother with the actual end-user media outlets. It’s rare they can tell me something the stakeholders’ CommsTarts haven’t already.

These facts – it’s easy to do badly, hard to do well, indispensable and ubiquitous – are not lost upon the wags of the media world, who have taken delight in lampooning this most cherished aspect of their craft. There are lots of press release generators out there. Most are good for a black bit of fun – this by one of our few remaining satirists Lyndon Hood only deals with the the one topic of child abuse, but it has good bones.

For the 80th birthday of AdNews, the Sydney office of Clemenger BBDO made this handy visual self-congratulatory press release generator:
adnews80thclem
(From commercial-archive.com.)
They know their stuff: this remains one of the best ways of quickly and efficiently putting together a quality press release – chop all the information up into bits of paper and arrange it so it flows, with just (barely) enough glue to keep people reading. Remember: the title and three paragraphs, and you win.

If you want industrial-strength, this one is made of much sterner stuff. Written by a computer programmer back in the Nineties and endlessly hacked on since, it and its variations will generate a dense blob of impressive verbiage – Bush-speak, web jargon, whatever you want. If fed the right source material, it would probably generate a halfway-competent press release.

It goes the other way, too – David Slack, in homage to George Orwell and Christopher Ketcham, created a DuckSpeak Translator which, if fed media-ready prose, would deliver you a lot of QUACKs and perhaps (if you were very fortunate or the author was very clever) a few actual words and even an idea. The DuckSpeak Translator is sadly no more, brought to its knees by the fact that David allowed any old idiot to add phrases to its vocabulary, so that by the time I got to using it sometime in 2006 it was so thoroughly clogged that you could put anything in and get nothing back but quacks – which may have been the intention after all. I think the project should be revived with a clean database, and phrases only admitted to its vocabulary if they have been taken cleanly from some rich source of such matter – such as the Hansard, or press releases. That’d be something worth quacking about.

L

* I use the term in gender-neutral reference to anyone whose work is tarting up their client’s self-interest so it can be mistaken for news.

Edit: Heh, the `or three’ on the end of the title was an afterthought added without reference to the previous post, which also contains it :)

Worker organised resistance

datePosted on 10:10, March 1st, 2009 by Anita

Once again Indymedia is the only place providing coverage of worker organised resistance against the current government’s policies.

While the media, major political parties and even the left wing blogs have concentrated on  what was going on inside the Jobs Summit a good old fashioned protest was going on outside. Despite the great messages, the photo friendly images and reality of the protest the coverage we’ve seen has focussed only on the centre-left’s response.

Even the left wing commentary on the lack of men at the summit has been full of images of men (to show the absence of women) rather than images of strong women raising their own voices.

I also haven’t seen any mainstream coverage of the Christchurch picket against the 90 day sacking law which attracted a variety of workers groups and unions.

Sometime in the next few years the left needs to realise that we’re no longer part of the orthodoxy, it’s ok to protest (in fact it always was). We can take our banner and loudspeakers out on the street and tell the world that our voices and our rights are important.

Fear itself

datePosted on 20:37, February 28th, 2009 by Lew

Chris Trotter seems to think I’m being culturally precious and pandering to Māori separatism with my post on the h issue. He misses the point, and fearmongers about vague Orewa-like shadows of a savage threat to the settler way of life.

While it did a lot of describing, the purpose of the post was not descriptive, (is) but normative (ought). The question was not whether Wanganui has become the de facto and de jure name of the town; it manifestly has, a fact I acknowledge by using that spelling throughout that post and this one.* The question was whether those who made it so had the right to make it so, and whether they have the right to keep it so against the will of those who retain rights to the name and its usage – rights granted in principle (but not necessarily enforceable in law) by the Treaty of Waitangi.

Chris seeks to derail this by reference to the changing nature of language, but his example hardly addresses the point, far from invalidating it. The `ought’ I’m arguing is that those with a legitimate historical, linguistic and cultural claim to a name – nobody disputes that they do – which forms a core aspect of their whakapapa and regional identity and who have been actively working to maintain that name for generations should not have that claim summarily invalidated by the whim of a majority whose sole attachment to the word is the ignorance of colonial hegemony – wanting to control whatever aspect of the local culture they can for fear of their own insecure identity. The Bowalley Road example, while interesting, is fundamentally different from the case in point for two reasons: first, it is a name which was attached to a place by individual fiat rather than from long-established common usage; and second, nobody seems to care that it has been changed. My argument rests firmly on both these considerations, and they lend it legitimacy: if it were a made-up name, and if nobody cared, my claim would clearly be invalid. The proponents of retaining the current spelling also appeal to both these grounds for legitimacy, so the question is not which of the two causes is legitimate – it is which of the two spellings should take primacy over the other. Who gets to exercise cultural control – rangatiratanga – over the name? Its originators, whose regional and whakapapa identity is tied to in it, at whose pleasure the original Pākehā settlement was founded, and who have since been systematically excluded from its affairs to the point where they are now outsiders on their own historical lands; or the settlers, whose cultural and linguistic dominance is already evident in myriad ways, who are responsible for the marginalisation of the tangata whenua, and who fight tooth and nail against every attempt at reconciliation or reparation unless it is on their terms and their terms alone. The two claims to primacy have the same grounds in principle – it’s just that the grounds of one are stronger than the grounds of the other.

The second part of Chris’ article is worse, though, because rather than misunderstanding the point and its arguments, he misstates the cause and repeats a divisive propaganda line about the dangers of allowing the natives to exercise any authority. Although Chris might not agree, this kite about the Māori radicals in the closet just waiting for their moment to disrupt the nice harmonious race relations we have in NZ is not too dissimilar from that flown by Don Brash five years ago at the Orewa Rotary Club. Let me deal with the two paragraphs in turn:

What’s more, Ken Mair’s demand that the pre-colonial appellation be restored is, I strongly suspect, part-and-parcel of a much more ambitious plan to reclaim his people’s sovereignty over the entire region. To do that, however, Ken and his people would have to fight the colonial wars of conquest all over again – this time emerging as the winners.

Why didn’t we see through their nefarious plan?

1. Change the name.
2. ?????
3. Declare the Mairist Republic of Whanganui.
4. Profit!

The assertion is beyond preposterous; comparing it to the Underpants Gnome business model almost does the model a disservice.

The goals of tino rangatiratanga ceased to be cession/secession, revolution and mass reoccupation by force generations ago. Tangata whenua – and particularly those of the Whanganui region – have embraced the legitimate governmental and judicial processes at their disposal, so much so that one of their daughters is a minister in the current government.

So perhaps the “grasping settlers” Lew condemns are smarter than he is willing to admit. Perhaps they see right through Ken’s seemingly harmless demand that the spelling of the city’s name be changed. Perhaps, by resisting this little challenge today, the Wanganui District Council and its Mayor can avoid resisting much more dangerous challenges tomorrow.

I never condemned the settlers as stupid – I freely admit that they’re not; they have very smartly and efficiently suppressed almost all Māori resistance, to their great advantage. I condemned their actions and attitudes as unjust and counterproductive in the long term. Chris’ whole argument here begs the question that there’s a race war on, and this is the fundamental assertion that the logic of Orewa and of the iwi/kiwi billboards and of the underclass and the warrior gene expects us to accept – for without it, the edifice crumbles. The entire assumption rises from that same grasping settler mentality I identified – fear of the other, fear of scarcity, fear of losing control, the constant feeling of being embattled and under siege and somehow insecure.

If one accepts – and there is copious evidence for this – that there is no intractable race war, and Māori no longer want to fight, but to retain rangatiratanga over the things they still have, and gain control – mostly symbolic, rather than material – over a tiny fraction of what they lost, there’s no argument to be had here. Work with them, rather than against them, treat in good faith and look to the future, and the future begins to look a whole lot brighter.

Today, 28 February, is the anniversary of the 1995 occupation of Pakaitore, the grounds upon which the Wanganui District Courthouse stands, known formerly as Moutoa Gardens in honour of the `loyal Māoris’ who defended the settlement against a Hauhau assault at Moutoa Island in 1864. The occupation lasted nearly three tense months during which the settlers thought their town had been invaded – my wife’s cousin phoned from London in the middle of the night to make sure she wasn’t in any danger; of course, she wasn’t because there was no violence beyond the usual which happened between the Rutland and Commercial Hotels. The occupation centred upon the claim that the land had been expropriated by the city, not sold by tangata whenua. On this same day in 2007, the Māori Land Court returned the block to iwi, who now receive a rental from the Ministry of Justice, whose courthouse continues to operate undisturbed. The land remains publicly accessible to all, although the statue of John Ballance no longer stands. Today, in the wind and rain, there were tents set up selling fry bread and hāngi and raw fish and home-grown veges and artwork; people standing around talking and kids playing. Ken Mair was there; he doesn’t know me and I’m just about as white as can be, but he greeted me warmly and bid me welcome and we chatted for a moment. There was a big tino rangatiratanga flag, but no chest-thumping or politicking or nationalistic fervour – it was a marketplace, on the site of a historical marketplace. The only problem was that there were hardly any white folk there, and those who were there looked guilty and suspicious, like they thought they were trespassing. The people selling the raw fish were embarrassed that they had trouble producing change for a $20 note. A girl of about seven wanted to know where I was from, and when I told her `Wellington, but I grew up here’, she asked `why don’t you live in Wanganui any more?’ What’s needed, and wanted, is more understanding, not the entrenchment of colonial ignorance or its endorsement as a valid way of life.

So, Chris, beyond the vague shadows of Orewa, what `dangerous challenges’ might the latter-day settlers of New Zealand face if they allow tangata whenua a bit of symbolic and linguistic authority over their own names and history?

L

* I use the spelling `Wanganui’ because this spelling currently has primacy. While I believe the spelling should be `Whanganui’, it’s not good enough to just have it become the de facto spelling. In order to recognise rangatiratanga, it must be made official – ariki ki te ariki, tangata ki te tangata.

Blackout review

datePosted on 11:29, February 23rd, 2009 by Lew

This morning’s blackout was quite widely observed. My impressions (and ratings) of some of the usual suspects’ efforts are presented below. Overall – I’m a bit underwhelmed.

The point of the action was not about colouring your site black – it was about withholding content. To black your site out and to obliterate all the content on it, demonstrating what might happen in a s92-safe world. Many did, many didn’t.

So, according to my totally unscientific rating scheme, if you didn’t remove the content the best you got is a bare pass. Other than that, it was points on or off for clarity of message, design, and general commitment to the cause. Don’t take this as me being uncharitable – I figure everyone benefits if actions like this are as well-produced as possible.

publicaddressPublic Address – clear, punchy, doesn’t get bogged down in detail, links through to information. A.

kiwiblogKiwiblog – One post blacked out, ads off, comments off. Given that KB is one of the banner sponsors and organisers of this action, you’d think it was important enough to do properly. Bloody weak. But then some time around 0945, the site redirected to http://creativefreedom.org.nz/blackout-homepage.html, thankfully. B overall.

The Standard [shot] – Nuked the colour scheme and all content, but didn’t make it black! C+.

The Hand Mirror [shot] – Changed the colour scheme, but didn’t make it black. Page looks like it’s been haxx0red. Content still there too. D+.

Scoop [shot] – `404 Page Censored’. Mixed messages, but 404 is the http error meaning `file not found’, and this is what we’re looking at under s92. Requires people to engage (which they might not), but `page censored’ is a strong statement. A.

Not PC [shot] – Weak. Clearly not an important issue. D.

No Right Turn [shot] – Stock CFF page, nothing else. B.

noministerNo Minister – Partisan hackery plus no blackout and all the content still there – only the animated gif. Minor points for leaving up a full explanatory message. Not quite worse than useless, but almost. D-.

Homepaddock [shot] – Customised blog post and theme, which gets the full point across well. Content remains, however. C.

Macdoctor Moments [shot]- Properly blacked out, but busy and complicated design obscures the message somewhat. B-.

cbtpCapitalism Bad, Tree Pretty – Properly blacked out, Dylan Horrocks cartoon instead of s92 message is a nice touch. B+.

Kiwipolitico [shot] – Stock CFF page, nothing else. B.

TVHE [shot] – Blacked out, but content remains. C.

frogFrogblog – Nice work on the theme, but content remains and the advertised cartoon isn’t actually showing. C-.

BK Drinkwater [shot] – Yeah, it looks like a plain black page, but that’s just because I took the screenshot while the animated GIF was all black. No other content. A-.

Monkeys With Typewriters [shot] – Animated gif and all the rest of the site as usual. D-.

Tumeke! [shot] – Just the banner; the rest of the page links through to CFNZ. Vivid, but not obvious. B-.

The Dim Post [shot] – Stock CFF page. B.

micropartywatchMicro Party Watch – Technical fail, but at least done with some humour. D.

I haven’t rated those who didn’t participate – they all just get `F’ for `Fail’. Also, these are just the sites I got around to checking – add others below, if they’re notable.

Curran confirmed

datePosted on 16:56, February 19th, 2009 by Lew

I can confirm claims by Trevor Mallard and Clare Curran on The Standard that Curran attempted to prevent the guilt by accusation copyright law from taking effect by today seeking leave to introduce a bill, but was prevented from doing so by National members. Audio is here.

Scoop also confirms it.

L

Very sadly ironic, indeed

datePosted on 11:32, February 19th, 2009 by Lew

DPF has just blogged on the murder of Aasiya Hassan. He comments on the irony of an apparently reformist Muslim beheading his wife in a way resembling an honour-killing. The irony he doesn’t seem to see is that he is guilty of doing the very thing he claims is a problem, when he says

The problem is when people apply a stereotype to all individuas in a group, rather than treat people as individuals.

The fact is that murders, like suicides and like rapes, are committed by people from all strata of society, from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and by and large for the same sorts of reasons. This includes honour-killings, which occur frequently enough (and are tacitly accepted as being `provoked’, attracting less opprobrium and lesser sentences) in western cultures as well – just using different methods, and not formally defined as such. We call them by the more appealing handle `crimes of passion’. Such acts are committed using methods and technologies which are readily available to the murderer, both in a physical sense of I-can-get-my-hands-on-it and in the cultural sense of that’s-just-how-it’s-done. Middle-class [Anglo-American] people tend to use poisons and firearms; working-class [Anglo-American] people knives or blunt objects or nooses, and so on. That a Muslim man, wronged in his marriage, might resort to beheading is as obvious as saying that he might have shot her if he was a white middle-class American. But DPF implicitly privileges some murder methods over others, and implies that Hassan might have avoided the stereotype by choosing another method, as if the method – not the fact of the killing – was the important thing.

David is appealing to the symbolic nature of a beheading to demonstrate that the stereotypes about Muslims are well-founded, rather than treating this murder as an individual case, as he preaches.

This is a bone thrown to the wolves of the KBR, but unusually, this one does not make David look sensible by comparison.

L

Edit: Added [Anglo-American] above to distinguish the generalisation somewhat.

Perspective

datePosted on 07:33, February 18th, 2009 by Lew

The Standard and Kiwiblog last night, but not for the first time, crystallised what it is to be two sides of the same political coin. Both covered Health Minister Tony Ryall’s removal* of Richard Thomson from the Otago DHB chair using, respectively, the verbs to sack the old one and to appoint the new one. The difference in emphasis couldn’t be clearer.

For what it’s worth, DPF’s headline is more correct. Ryall didn’t actually fire Richard Thomson, he has been removed from the chair but will remain a DHB member (though the Herald article referenced in the Standard post also uses the `sack’ terminology). On the other hand, I think Tane’s analysis is more correct – Thompson has been removed from the post for political reasons more than for reasons of governance. However the governance failure was bad enough that Ryall was on safe ground in doing so – he’s got two birds with one stone here.

L

* see how hard it is to avoid partisan terminology?

[Edit: Silly me for believing the Herald – it’s spelt Richard Thomson – changed.]

Ansell’s talents underemployed

datePosted on 21:29, February 17th, 2009 by Lew

John Ansell, author of the famous and fabulously effective 2005 National party billboard campaign, has been blogging since September last year. As a political communication geek, I kept an eye on his site for the first month or so, but unfortunately neglected it before he published a lot of proofs of material – billboards, banners and newspaper ads for the ACT campaign, and a couple for National, many of which I’d not seen. His services were not in high demand for the 2008 election, but I think they should have been. Regardless of whether you agree with the policy positions these advocate, the point is to convey a message, and I think these do that job admirably. The parties currently outside government have a great deal to learn from those in government in this regard.

Click on this one, my nomination for Most Outrageous NZ Propaganda Image of 2008, for the whole lot. They’re worth it.

Just try to imagine the outcry if it had been hung from the Ghuznee St overpass.

L

On blog conduct

datePosted on 10:48, February 13th, 2009 by Lew

Or, this is not a democracy, it’s a private residence, get used to it. But we need you, and you apparently need us, so let’s do what we can to get along.

Weblogs and online discussion forums are a type of feedback media, where the published content forms the opening chapter, not the entire story. In feedback media, there are broadly two groups of participants, who I’ll term proprietors and contributors; the former being those who operate the medium and provide its `official’ content, the latter those who participate in the medium by adding their own content. The nature of the relationship between these two groups is critical in determining how the medium functions. This post is a quick examination of how feedback media operate at a theoretical level, a survey of examples, and a rationale for dual-mode gatekeeping, with a view to creating an environment conducive to quality discourse which is largely free of personal feuds and partisan point-scoring.

The Dump Button
Though there are others, the canonical mainstream feedback media are the letters-to-the-editor page and talk radio. In either of those media, a proprietor has the unilateral ability to prevent or limit contributors’ participation – in the case of the newspaper editor, the mechanism is `points noted’; radio hosts have a button with which they can drop a caller between when she starts speaking and when she goes to air – traditionally, this timeframe is seven seconds. Blog proprietors have a range of similar devices at their disposal.

This has important implications when viewed in the light of one of the fundamental pieces of media theory – Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model, which argues that a given text is encoded with meaning by its creator, and that meaning is decoded by the person reading it, who can accept, partially accept or wholly reject the encoder’s frame of reference (not the content; that’s a different matter with which Hall was not largely concerned). In principle, the presence of gatekeeping mechanisms such as those described above means it’s virtually impossible to have a statement published which the proprietor doesn’t want to be there. The logical flipside of this is: if your comment gets published, it’s because the proprietor wants it to be published, and for their own reasons.

Symbiosis
Proprietors of feedback media generally have plenty of reasons for wanting to allow content to be published, the primary one of which is the symbiotic relationship they have with contributors. The nature of the content and the nature of the gatekeeping are the two primary factors which determine the tone of a medium; the former largely because of the contributors it attracts and the latter largely because of the contributors it drives away. When Lindsay Perigo took over from John Banks on his Radio Pacific talk show, many regular callers kept calling because the political content Perigo aired was quite similar. Banks was extremely tolerant of callers who took a while to get to the point – he rarely, if ever, cut people off, and he had a great deal of time for listening to peoples’ stories. Perigo was the opposite; he guided the show much more firmly and did not generally tolerate callers chatting about trivial or mundane matters, and that changed his audience and his contributors. Banks’ loyal callers became quite displeased when Perigo, for instance, dedicated an entire hour of his show to the songs of Mario Lanza, of whom they’d never heard, and became irate when he lost his temper with some of the more elderly callers and began to cut them off for not sticking to the programme or saying anything he considered meaningful. Gradually, the old callers stopped calling and were replaced by a new set: younger, less religious, sharper of tongue, etc.

Gatekeeping Models
Plenty of different gatekeeping models exist in practice. I’ll focus on four which are fairly archetypal. Each creates a different atmosphere.
1. Slashdot. The lunatic asylum model. Members control almost everything. This results in a community which is extremely tolerant of insults, memes, tomfoolery, and has an incredibly low signal to noise ratio.
2. Kiwiblog. The echo chamber model. Content is published by DPF, commented upon by members, who use a karma system and are subject to a demerit system (operated by DPF) which is more theoretical than anything. This results in a sort of groupthink; not because DPF enforces it, but because he allows his commentariat to do so, creating a recursive loop of abuse which deters dissenters from participating. There is an argument that DPF (who’s a thoroughly decent bloke, quite unlike his comment threads) keeps his blog this way in order to make himself look sensible and reasonable by comparison.
3. No Right Turn. The Holy Sepulchre model. Content is published by Idiot/Savant, and that’s what you get. Idiot/Savant took the opposite line to DPF and turned off comments altogether a good long while ago. The result is almost pure signal, very little noise. I/S is frequently referred to by and comments on other blogs to maintain the feedback aspect of his medium.
4. The Standard. The noisy tavern model. Content is posted and comments are moderated by a group of writers, and Lynn Prentice, who tolerates very little of the sort of abuse for which KB is known. In general this results in a more congenial atmosphere, with a wide range of dissenting voices who are usually treated with at least a modicum of respect. However, it still gets pretty heated because there is no clear delineation between content and conveyance.

The Living Room Model
Anita’s model for Kiwipolitico is of a living room in which robust and complex but civil and reasoned discussions take place. This implies rights and responsibilities, and although I’ve only recently moved in (as it were) I shall presume to list a few as I see them. These apply equally to proprietors and to contributors.

* You have a right to be treated as an honourable contributor and to be free from serious personal attacks, abuse or character assassination.
* You have a right to not have your personal or professional life dragged into a discussion unless you allow it, or it is somehow germane to a legitimate matter of debate.
* You have a responsibility to defend and substantiate your arguments and assertions, not to assume that because people here are civil you can get away with a weak argument or unproven claims.
* You have a responsibility to adhere to and enforce these standards of conduct to the extent you are able.

Sir Karl Popper (and others) argued that if a society is perfectly tolerant of any and all behaviour, it must tolerate behaviour which is destructive of toleration itself, eventually leading to a general absence of toleration. This is pretty clearly evident in the Slashdot and Kiwiblog examples above and to a lesser extent in The Standard example, where because of a greater or lesser lack of discipline, much worthwhile discussion is simply drowned out, and the signal to noise ratio drops. The problem is usually not with the arguments, which can be well-reasoned and supported; it is the attacks and epithets which accompany those arguments which deters dissent. Therefore, in order to privilege argument over attacks, the content to be argued and the means by which it is argued need to be treated separately. The living room model requires that there be little or no gatekeeping of argument itself, coupled with strict gatekeeping of the means by which that argument is conveyed – essentially: make what points you choose, but do so in good faith and in accordance with decent norms of conduct and reasoned debate.

The point and purpose of the model is to separate arguer and argument for the purpose of criticism. You should be vulnerable to critique only on the grounds of your arguments, your ideas, or your conduct. Good ideas and arguments, cleanly made and supported by evidence and logic, will thrive here regardless of their ideological bent, but arguments resorting to personal attacks, abuse, absurd hyperbole, rash generalisation or wilful misinterpretation to make a point will perish whether we agree with their premises or not, because these are the signs of a hollow argument which lacks a valid foundation. While you will be sheltered from personal attacks, don’t expect your argument to be sheltered or defended by the proprietors; indeed, we may take great glee in watching it be torn asunder, as long as the tearing is done in a civil, justified and reasoned fashion. Finally, toleration breeds toleration. If you consistently exhibit good character and careful arguments, occasional minor indiscretions may be overlooked. This is a privilege to be earned, and I hope everyone will earn it.

L

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