Human Advancement

"...and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." - Genesis 11:6
"Where are the flying cars?" - IBM television commercial ca. 2000
NOTE: The new blogging software is going! Don't miss all the fun over there at www.humanadvancement.net/blog.

Categories

  • Life
  • Intelligence
  • Technology
  • Freedom

Blogs I Like

If Freedom is the Problem....

05.05.04.07.30 MST / PDT ------------------------------------
Congressman Tom Tancredo (R, CO) was on Fox News this morning talking about illegal immigration and Driver's Licenses. There's a bill running through congress ("like shit through a goose" would be a good analogy, but I won't go there) to standardize the identification requirements for getting a Driver's Licence from state to state. Tancredo, and apparently many others, believe that this will "slam the door" on terrorists trying to get into the US.

Setting aside for the moment how ludicrous that is, Tancredo made a very telling statement that deserves further examination. When asked about the privacy concerns of "civil liberatrians" (a mealy-mouthed non-concept if I've ever heard one), he dismissed them by saying that terrorists "take advantage of every freedom we have."

Well, well.

So it's freedom that is the problem, eh Mr. Tancredo? Then the obvious solution is to start eliminating freedoms as fast as we can right? If, afterall, freedom is the tool the terrorists use against us, then freedom is the one thing we don't need any of around here, is it? Nosiree, freedom is bad for us, very bad. The sooner we can do away with that albatross, the safer we'll all be!

Let's, for the sake of argument, forget for a moment the principles that freedom is based on, and the fact that it is the very thing we seek to protect from these terrorists (pretend I'm a Neo-Libertarian for the moment). And lets pretend that there are thousands of would-be terrorists lined up at DMV's around the country itching to fill their cars or trucks with ANFO so they can blow us all to hell, if they could just be allowed to drive legally.

We needn't worry, because we've got thousands of Federal Agents on our side, ready to fight the terrorists on our behalf, issuing tickets left and right, waiting to round them all up when they show up in traffic court. That's maybe a 2-1 ratio of good guys to terrorists. Let's be generous and assume it's a 5-1 ratio, hell, I'll even give them 10-1.

The rest of us can only cross our fingers and wait. Maybe we'll be lucky and have the opportunity to phone in a tip to Homeland Security one day. Those ten Feds to each terrorist are our bastion against the evils they intend for us. We're in good hands, no doubt.

I'm not demeaning Federal Agents, though there's ample room for doing just that. The majority of them are probably very well-intentioned, decent people who genuinely want to keep us safe. I'm sure Mr. Tancredo is too. But if freedom is such a powerful tool, why not use it ourselves? Why not let 300 million people use freedom as a weapon against the terrorists. Why should they get all the benefits?

300 million puts the ratio more in the range of tens of thousands to one. Sure, Grandma and little Billy in kindergrten aren't going to be on the front lines of the War on Terror(TM). But the rest of us can be. It's not just arming ourselves - though that is a nice thought - it is also going out there and working, and travelling freely, and reading what we want to. You know, that great "Engine of Democracy"? Free people are more resilient to terrorism, and free people create the tools needed to fight it.

If all we have is those thousands of Federal Agents, if all we have is the tiny fraction of Americans who work in law enforcement, then that limits the problem from the terrorists' point of view. They know who they have to neutralize, they know who they have to avoid, or fool into not seeing them.

But if its all of us who could potentially thwart them at every turn - if the waitress at Denny's and the truck driver on I-90 are just as much a threat to them as the agent downtown at the federal building or the state trooper running his speed trap from the tall grass - then they have a much tougher job. If every home and business around the country could take its own security measures, they have a much tougher job. If inventors and businessmen from New York city to Des Moines, Iowa, to rural Nevada is free to work on tools and techniques to fight terror, then not only is a solution within our reach, but the variety of solutions will make tactical planning for the next C-4 belted madman just dying to visit Allaha a logistical nightmare.

Freedom is not the problem, it is the solution. That we face a crisis now means we need more freedom, not less. If we need now more than ever to come together and fight this, then freedom is what will bring us together. Freedom is our strength, not our weakness. Freedom is what the terrorists fear, and what they want to destroy. We don't need Tom Tancredo helping them.

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Wednesday,5/4/05 7:30 am | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

The Case of the Runaway Bride

05.05.03.19.15 MST / PDT ------------------------------------
Richard blogged this before I could get to it. His article covers the gut reaction points, and pretty much gets it right by me. But I wonder, what would advanced humans do about this.

By advanced humans, I don't necessarily mean the crew of the Starship Enterprise, or some alien version of humans so advanced as to almost constitute another species. I mean you and me, and your kids and grandkids, if we can ever advance beyond politics, beyond the use of force to solve our problems, beyond mystical beliefs that teach us to fear progress and doubt ourselves and our judgement, beyond "we". I mean humans who say "I" and really mean it.

How would such people handle the problem of a Jennifer Willbanks?

Here's what I imagine a rational society would look like to Jennifer after an emotionally fraudulent stunt like the one she pulled. She'd wake up the next morning, alone, to a letter from her husband demanding the ring back, and explaining to her that the wedding is off. She'd call one of her friends for a shoulder to cry on, and the call would not be answered or returned. She'd go down to the 7-11 for some comfort food, or maybe cigarettes and whiskey, and she would not be served. She'd buy a copy of the local paper (from a machine, since nobody would sell her one) and see her picture on the front page, along with the facts, just the facts, and no excuses.

She'd stop for gas and find that her credit card was cancelled, but maybe that she could still use her debit card at the pay-at-the-pump. She'd return home and sit in front of the TV, but see nothing about herself. No shared grief, or even outrage, no long debates about her and the "issues" she must be dealing with that forced her to such a drastic cry for attention and help. Nothing, as if she didn't even matter.

She'd return to work only to find her desk cleared, her psersonal belongings in boxes, along with her final paycheck. This would go on, with everyone around her going on with their lives, but without her in them - with storekeepers and service people deciding they didn't need her business. She'd face no criminal charges, because everyone would realize that they expendedtheir time, effort, and emotions voluntarily in the search for her.

It sounds harsh, doesn't it? Well, it is, though not as harsh as the legal pound of flesh some people want from her. But there's a silver lining in this harshness, should she choose to take advantage of it. It's this: there's no one person, or committe, or law deciding that this must happen to her, and it doesn't have to be permanent.

What I'm describing is one of the oldest forms of punishment known to man: ostracism, or shunning. It was used in ancient Egypt and Greece, it was the central plot device in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter", and continues to this day in India, with the "Untouchables". Elements of it can even be seen, in a much abstracted form, in today's organized boycotts against companies seen to be doing wrong.

What all of these prior incarnations had in common was an element of force or central authority. The ancients legally banished offenders from the land, Hester Prynne was imprisoned and forced to wear a red "A" on her dress. Boycotts are organized by the likes of Jesse Jackson and rely on a collective effort aimed at pressuring the target company into chainging their policies.

But this is a rational society we're talking about. Obviously, the element of force is not an option. Less obviously, but still true, collective organization is right out. Even less obviously, but still vitally important, is that it isn't about how the target reacts to it.

Let's restate that last one, because it is key. It doesn't matter how the person being ostracized is affected by it, or even whether they are affected at all.

In a rational society, nobody would explicitly decide to ostracize someone. They might not even be aware that that is what they are doing, and they won't care one bit if they are the only one to do it. This is Jennefer Willbanks' silver lining, in our hypothetical rational society.

What rational people do is continually decide who they do and do not want to associate with, who they do and do not want as customers, as employees, as wives. They judge, not to condemn, but to control their own lives and their own quest for their values.

Rational people don't say to themselves "If I ignore this person, maybe they'll apologize, or change their minds, or learn their lesson." There might be a lesson to be learned, but it is not my job to teach it to you. It is my job to seek values, and if you cannot or will not provide them, or worse, provide a disvalue, I don't want you in my life. And when I say "I", I mean it - it's not about you, its not about punishment or what lesson you might learn, or how sorry you might claim to be.

In a society that has moved beyond politics, another thing rational people don't do is say "There oughtta be a law", or ask someone else to protect them from people like Willbanks, or to take out their revenge for them. Thye simply go about their lives without the people and things in them that don't contribute to it.

Our runaway bride (who, by the way, is conspicuouosly not blushing over this little social faux-pas) would face the fact that the majority of her neighbors have decided she is of no value to them. Even perfect strangers, due to the widespread publicity she very well might have been seeking, have decided they don't want her in their company, or in their mini-mart or gas station.

But not everybody. There will always be those who are less discriminating in who they associate with, or those who can't put logic ahead of sympathy, and will still do business with her. That's their choice, but those are the people she'd be stuck with, for a while at least. There would probably be enough of them that she can get by, though she might have to move to a different state to find enough of them.

But now she has a choice.

She can wallow in her misery, blaming everyone else for her problems, and start that downward spiral among her newly narrowed circle of questionable acquaintances. Or, she can try to redeem herself. There's no time limit on her exile from polite society, there's no central authority to convince to let her come back, there's no-one forcing her to wear a scarlet letter or stay out of town. She has to convince people one at a time, individually, that she can be of value to them, that she can produce values for others.

She has to re-earn their respect, but she can do it. The very self-interest that made people shun her to begin with will cause them to, tentatively at first, and then with gusto as she continues to prove herself, accept her again.

But she needn't worry. We're not that kind of society, yet. For now, she only has to play the media and the courts long enough to avoid serious legal action and get her book deal. She has to tell her husband, with the most sobbing contrite face she can put on, how sorry she is. But she'll walk into 7-11 tomorrow and her money will be as good as anyone else's. The clerk may be a little less polite, he may even be thinking to himself "How can she get away with this?" It won't dawn on him that when he puts that money in the cash drawer, that he has just allowed her to get away with it, at least as far as his values are concerned.

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Tuesday, 5/3/05 7:15 pm | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

Making yourself valuable.

05.04.24.12.20 MST / PDT ------------------------------------
Human Advancment is meant to refer to the advancement of individual humans. That means you, and it means me. I have another blog, called "Adventures in Programming", very rarely updated, that is my take on the business and technology of software engineering. The twist is that most articles take the form of a conversation with myself, the myself of maybe 20 years ago. I've learned a lot since then, and I wish I could go back in time to tell myself about all those things so I could learn them sooner than I did.

But it serves another purpose, which is to help me - the here and now me - to sort out some of those lessons. Doing so is fundamentally about human advancement - learning from the lessons of the past, both the mistakes and the successes, and building on that knowledge to advance myself.

There are many obstacles and traps to overcome on the way to advancement. One of the biggest obstacles to freedom - freedom in its widest context, which includes political freedom, but also the personal freedom to control your own life - is debt and a dead-end job. In this extremely long post I examine one of the ways to start overcoming this trap. The intended audience is those entering the IT profession, or even those who have been in it for some time, but it also contains lessons more broadly applicable to any kind of job, even to life in general.

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Sunday, 4/24/05 12:20 pm | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

Two Quickies

05.04.20.21.50 MST / PDT ------------------------------------
I'm having a fascinating conversation with Richard at Uncommon Sense. It's not really the level I'm aiming at for this blog, but very interesting, nonetheless. I may even learn something.

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Lileks is always worth a read, even though I can't find the time to read him every day. He's more like an occasional treat instead of a daily snack. An ice cream sundae with hot fudge and nuts, not the Snickers bar in the car after work every day.

At least my greatest fear didn’t happen: they’d choose a Pope from Africa, and, unaware with the nomenclature of American marketing, he would call himself "Urban".
If you like The Bleat, then explore the rest of his site a bit. The Gallery of Regrettable Food is a side-splitter.
Posted By Kyle Bennett | Wednesday, 4/20/05 9:50 pm, | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

The Changeless Core

05.04.18.23.45 MST/PDT ------------------------------------
This post is both a warning to libertarians and a promise to everyone else. If my experience is any indication, most of you, the "everyone else", are vaguely aware that there's a bunch of people out there who call themselves libertarians. Your experience with them has most likely been around election time, when they seem to come out of the woodwork with their wacky plans to change everything, and their implied belief that the only reason that you find them wacky is that you aren't moral enough, or smart enough, or consistent enough, or give enough of a damn about what that ragtag bunch who fought off the most powerful nation on earth 200 years ago sacrificed for.

All of that may be true - it is certainly true for some people. But here's the promise, and the warning:

People can't live with change if there's not a changless core inside them. The key to the ability to live with change is a sense of knowing who you are, what you are about, and what you value. -- Steven Covey
This blog is all about change - profound, drastic change in many areas of life. But the one thing I won't talk about changing is your core.

The libertarians know their core, they pride themselves on it. They call themselves the "Party of Principle". That's to be applauded, but they make one key mistake because of it. They want you to change your core.

Libertarians want you to vote how they vote, to believe what they believe. But they spend zero time appealing to your values, and all their time telling you that their values are superior. They tell you that you don't know who you are, what you are about, what you value. Or worse, they tell you that you may know them, but they aren't good enough.

Whether they are right or wrong doesn't matter. You think your core is right, that it is consistent, it is moral, and it is intelligent. That's good enough for me - it has to be because even if I disagree, I'll never change your mind on that.

My guess is that most people want a few basic things: security for their family and friends; enough money to be comfortable, healthy and safe; enough freedom to pursue their own happiness; and enough order in society that they can keep reasonable expectations and plan for the future. In my experience, that's the core of the average American.

And that's good enough for me.

Most of you aren't going to read long political or philosophical tracts, and you aren't going to spend the time it takes to learn enough background to evaluate them thoroughly even if you did. You've got enough to do feeding your family and keeping a roof over their heads, or, if you don't have a family, then building your career or pursuing your dreams. In many cases, all of the above.

That's fine by me.

Most of you value reason, and honesty, and fair play. Most of you value hard work, self-sufficiency, and minding your own business, so long as other people mind theirs.

Works for me.

Most of you don't want to see others suffering, but don't want to have your family taxed into poverty to prevent it. Most of you value the benefits technology brings, but don't worship it. Most of you want a better environment, but don't want to go back to living in mud huts to get it. Most of you want less war and strife in the world, but don't want to see any more 9/11's. Most of you want to see criminals caught and punished, but don't want to be treated like a criminal yourself to make it happen.

Me too.

Most of you think that libertarians have a few good ideas, but doubt they will work in the real world, or think they conflict with your core values.

You might be mistaken on that one.

Maybe you just don't trust them to do what they say they will do, or think they will never be able to. You might have something there.

I don't want you to change your values. I hope to show you that the things I will be talking about here serve your values. I'm not going to ask you to vote a certain way. I believe that we need to move beyond politics, that politics undermines your values, that politics sets your values in opposition to what you want out of life, that politics creates more problems than it solves - even if libertarians are the ones in charge.

I think there's a better way, a way that you can pursue your values without having to sacrifice them in order to get the things you need and want. A way to acheive all of your values, and not have to choose which ones you'll give up for the sake of the others. I don't know completely what that way is yet, but I think I have some solid leads. You can watch me figure it out as this blog evolves. But I won't ever tell you that "here's the way it is, now go do it." This blog is for me. For me to figure it out for myself. If you like what you see, then go do it for yourself as well. If you don't, then don't. Pick and choose, or ignore it altogether, it's up to you.

Make it fit your core, if you can, if you want to. Don't change your core to fit it. Either way, I'll accept it. I promise.

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Monday, 4/18/05, 11:45 pm | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

Here's What I'm Talking About

05.04.18.19.25 MST/PDT ------------------------------------
Billy Beck writes a warm little story about an uncle helping his neice in these days of instant messaging and email. It's just a nice little thing no different than what happens thousands or maybe millions of times every day in this world. Pretty mundane stuff, no news here, right? Well, Billy hits the point in his next-to last paragraph, where he notes the profound significance of what just happened:
Ten years ago, it would have been a very different thing to have her questions addressed so casually. It probably wouldn't have happened. And she has never known that world.
Think about that. For those of us older than our thirties, this is revolutionary. No matter how much we take it for granted now, we can remember a time when it was unheard of. Communication with distant family or friends took an expensive phone call or a long wait for the mail. That's just the way it was; we never missed instant, free, casual communication because it never even entered our conciousness as a possibility.

What worlds will those being born today, or in the next decades never know? What is it we can't even imagine now that the little rugrats of the class of '35 will never know having done without? What will we do to make it happen?

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Monday, 4/18/05, 7:25 pm | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

Human Advancement

05.04.17.02.15 MST/PDT ------------------------------------

This blog represents the coming together of two convergent lines of thought that I've carried with me through most of my life. These lines have become increasingly clearly defined - not smoothly, but in fits and starts - as I've advanced in years. I've only now begun to really see their convergence, and that they were really the same idea all along.

It's become clear to me partly as a result of two recent forays into the amazing world of online discussions. Not amazing in the sense of new or novel - I've been involved to a varying extent with them for going on 10 years now - but amazing in the fact that people thousands of miles apart can come together over even the most obscure interests and form a community of sorts. This internet thing - and I really do think it will catch on, just watch - will itself be the subject of many of my thoughts in the still very hypothetical future of this blog. But the reason I mention it now is that it has provided me with an incomparable tool for exercising my own budding theories, and for learning so much that I can not even begin to catalog what it's done for me.

The first direct inspiration for this blog - for a whole new way of thinking for me - was an article called "Human Destinies" by Richard Nikoley on his "Uncommon Sense" blog. Richard was asking about the future of civilization. What his article really did for me was to get me to think directly on a subject that I've been thinking around the edges of for a long time: What is the future of human civilization? I'm a huge fan of Science fiction. I've read about distopias, utopias, a-topias, and every other kind of "topia" imaginable. I've absorbed incredible amounts of "knowledge" about the physics of subterranean travel, space travel, time travel, and "beam me up" travel. I've learned all about theocracy, technocracy, autocracy, and dysfunctional democracy. So this was the kind of discussion I'm always ready to jump into and make a fool of myself in.

But Richard's phrasing of the question took it beyond the mere technological, beyond the mere political. He identified the three core developments that he believes have marked turning points in human civilization: agriculture, secularization, and industrialization. Then he asked: What is the state of humanity that "we must either achieve ... or it means we've destroyed ourselves". With a setup like that, he was obviously not looking for answers pertaining to really fast computers or flying cars.

I jumped into this with both feet, making what will seem to many like a grandiose prediction. To sum it up briefly, and in keeping with the "ation" form from the last paragraph, my answer was individuation, then universal habitation. And that's it. Someday, individualism will be the reigning political and social order. I consider this an advance on par with the other three, and what's more, I believe it is a prerequisite for the final stage of human advancement, the ability for individuals to live anywhere and anywhen they choose.

More on that in a bit.

The second direct inspiration was a conversation I had in the comments to two posts about the future of libertarian politics at the QandO blog. (You'll have to scroll down a bit on those links to see my comments, which are themselves numerous and scattered, because this was a long and heated debate, and I came in late.) The gist of my argument was that politics, libertarian or otherwise, is most definitely not the future. Politics is a system that has utterly failed to solve any real problems. Politics has only fostered human advancement to the extent that it has bent over backwards to get out of the way, as it tried to one bright day in 1776.

I had a very hard time getting anyone to even understand the point I was really making. To be fair, I went a bit outside the context of the question at hand, so it's no surprise that I didn't succeed. But it really got me thinking. I've though a lot about politics since discovering it as an interest during the Daddy Bush administration. What struck me during this conversation is that, while I've always thought of politics as a means to an end and not an end in itself, I've never focused on those ends as the primary motivation for what I've been doing.

The discussion at Richard's blog brought those ends into sharp focus for me, and the discussion at QandO, coming right on its heels, brought a bit of an epiphany. I discovered that what I really want to talk about, what I really want to get the world talking about - if I can be so bold as to assume I have any power to do so - is where we are going. It's nice to talk about how we'll get there, but it's meaningless without the why that informs the how.

The scattered and chaotic state of the libertarian movement makes more sense to me now. It is a result of the idea, implicit in everything it does, that the main purpose of the libertarian movement is to advance the libertarian movement. Libertarianism is an inherently negative movement - its against this or that - but what is it for? They will be adamant that they are for freedom, but all that really means is that they are against oppression. But why? I don't think that I'll ever again be able to take seriously discussions about the latest outrage in the war on drugs, or the fact that a Libertarian Party candidate for a minor office managed to get 11% in a three-way race. Yes, there are outrages, yes there are promising electoral results. But, no, these are not the things I live for.

So what does a rationally self-interested post-libertarian who still wants to see the world turn out the right way live and work for, if not politics? The idea of universal individualism and the ability to live anywhere and anywhen is a compelling idea, but lets be serious. It's not something that will be a consideration in my lifetime. My answer to Richard was, I believe, right on the money. But in addressing the broadest possible context it necessarily leaves out a few minor details.

In the context of my life (the only context that means anything - you may not agree, and I won't respect you in the morning if you do) the here-and-now and the tomorrow matter a lot more than a thousand-year speculation, however enticing that speculation is. The faster computers and the flying cars are important. Important because they are steps in human advancement considered in the largest possible context, but also because they are things that can be real and concrete in the here-and-now and in the tomorrows that I and others alive today can actually experience.

There are four threads that I think encompass all, or at least most, of the touchstones of Human Advancement.

Life is the necessary prerequisite for everything that matters and the standard by which we judge everything's value. Life is humans being. Life is the fact that we keep breathing, but also the fact that we keep thinking and keep doing. Life is about medical advances that keep us alive longer and better, it is about how technology can make us live not only better but also differently and in different environments than the one that nurtured us to where we are now.

Intelligence is the defining characteristic of human nature. The predecessor to this blog was called think!freedom. It was going to be a political blog, but that odd exclamation point in the middle was intended to be significant. It was supposed to symbolize the idea that freedom starts in your head. It starts by thinking, it advances by thinking, and thinking is it's breath and blood. Intelligence, is not only the ideas of one individual, it is also the sharing of those ideas with others. It is about not only what we think, but how we communicate those thoughts. It is the fountainhead of all that is to come and the understanding of all that has been. It is the future and the past, and the link between them.

Technology is the application of intelligence to concrete needs. It is faster computers and flying cars. It is the means by which our intelligence creates the conditions for its own advancement - for Human Advancement. It is intelligence made concrete - wrought in steel and plastic and electronics. It is what will bring us from cave dwellers to masters of the universe.

Freedom is the external context necessary for our intelligence to do its job. It is the individualism that I spoke about in Human Destinies. Nothing more can be achieved without it. The demands the future will place on our intelligence and the cooperative efforts required to realize our destiny are too great to be achieved in a world of "We" instead of "I". Politics is obsolete, it has been for decades if not centuries. It can be argued that it served a purpose at one time, but even so, its purpose is done. It is now only an obstacle to be overcome, or better, to be pushed aside.

Together, these are the purpose of this blog. To examine those next steps that will lead us from today to that distant tomorrow I talked about in Human Destinies. It's roots and inspiration are in politics, but its purpose now is to discuss the steps that politics will have to make - including stepping out of the picture altogether - only as part of the full range of things that get us closer to our destiny.

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Sunday, 4/17/05, 2:15 am | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

Below are the posts from the original think!freedom blog - all three of em'.


One Small Step For Man...
...One Giant Leap For Capitalism

04.10.03.08.10 MST/PDT ------------------------------------

Jet airplanes first made their appearance at the end of WWII. For decadees, they were the exclusive domain of the military. What came to be known as the jet age didn't start until the 60's, when commercial aviation expanded the scope of jet airplane use to the masses.

Today will begin the space age. Appollo ushered in an era of limited government run space experimentation, but no real space age. A novelty, not an everyday reality. If all goes well today in the Mojave desert - and all indications are that it will - private, commercial spaceflight will be a reality.

For the masses.

Good luck Burt Rutan and the as yet unnamed pilot who will be flying today. Heroes all.

Posted By Kyle | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

Post 47

04.09.12 14.50 MST/PDT ------------------------------------

History was made Thursday. It might not affect the election much, but it will be talked about for a long time. Just as Monica's Dress brought a previously unknown internet newshound into the international spotlight and first raised the idea of "new media" to the American consciousness, an offhand comment to a right-wing internet discussion group planted a seed in the fertile soil of the Blogosphere. Overnight, what had been an obscure curiosity at the national conventions weeks earlier had driven the breaking of a major news event. The story itself is not earth-shattering. The story of the story might just be.

Dan Rather's Wednesday night blockbuster story on documents purporting to discredit George Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard (TANG) during the Vietnam War looked to be just another in a long series of accusations and counter accusations in a nasty campaign season. That was until Post 47, by someone with the screen name "Buckhead" about three hours after the broadcast, questioned whether or not a memo whose type clearly had proportional spacing could have been created with technology available in 1973. What would eventually be proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, was that the document was produced on a computer, using Microsoft Word with all of its default settings.

By Thursday morning the Blogosphere exploded with spontaneous investigative reporting analyzing with surprising depth insight, and thoroughness every imaginable aspect of typefaces and typewriter capabilities from that era. Sites with unlikely names like PowerLineBlog and LittleGreenFootballs got credit for leading the charge - and were indeed on the forefront of the investigation - but it became a phenomenon that grew beyond either of them.

For most of the next several days, apperent inconsitencies between the text properties of the memos and the available technology at the time of their supposed creation were raised one after the other, too fast to keep up with. At the same time, the uncanny similarities to Microsoft Word default formatting were being repidly dopcumented. At some point on Friday, inconsistencies in not only the typefaces but in the contents were discovered. Inconsistent addresses, references to long retired players, and violations of the ridiculously anal document protocols the military is famous for were all documented.

These same blogs, and and others, produced objections to many of the assertions, and with blinding speed and efficiency, further investigation by an ever widening group of bloggers and commentors refuted many of them. But in a display of conscientious journalism the likes of which is rarely seen anymore in mainstream news, those objections that could not be refuted were acknowledged, and the evidence refuted by them discarded. What remained was a body of evidence that was not only massive, but had survived a daunting series of "internal" challenges.

The break, and the making of history, arrived by way of an ironic route. Sometime Thursday afternoon, Drudge linked to a Cybercast News article at the top of his page. The upstart "New Media" loose cannon, with only six years of credibility to his name, who had been railed against for those six years as out of control, with no checks and balances to reign him in, was now the stamp of credibility. The floodgates were open, and by that evening, it was competing with Hurrican Ivan and the 3rd anniversary of 9/11 on all the major news outlets, broadcast and cable.

On Friday evening, Dan Rather felt the pressure, and, in a surreal broadcast moment, aired a weak and desperate defense of his story. His defense ignored most of the evidence and continued to rely on discredited or disavowed expert and witness opinion. Rather offered as his own evidence what amounted to little more than a bald assertion that it has to be true.

As I write this, the controversy is raging. Almost nobody, with the exception of CBS and the Boston Globe, still contend the documents are not forgeries. This story now threatens to ruin one of the oldest and most respected news institutions in the country. It could be the epitaph for the revered successor to the legendary Walter Cronkite.

But that is not why it is history. For years, previously arcane typestting terms like "superscript", "kerning", and "Times New Roman" will be the buzzwords that bring back memories of the day the blogs rose up and left the three-letter-named giants of the Main Stream Media scrambling to keep up. It was a shock to the system that will change the world of news. If Monica's Dress was the beginning of the New Media, this could very well mark the beginning of the end for the Old Media. The Guys In Pajamas have made their mark on the media landscape, and it won't be forgotten.

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UPDATE 4/17/05: Many of the links in the story above have disappeared or changed their content. Ah, wll, such is the nature of this new media. I hope the people involved have all archived their work for posterity.

Posted By Kyle | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK

04.09.11 15.20 MST/PDT ------------------------------------

Today's a good day to start a blog. Not that I'm prepared - no software, no permanent hosting, no big press releases announcing the start - but it's today anyway. It has to be.

This won't be a right-wing blog, an anti-Islamic blog, a blogful of emotional ranting, or a collection of links with little original content.

Except for today. Today it will be all those things.

Because of this.

Remember.

Look.

Don't turn away.

Then read this, and remember that it is not yet time to sheath that "Terrible, Swift Sword".

Posted By Kyle | comments to kyle at kylebennett.net | PERMALINK