Tag Archives: Internet

That’s one way to do it, I guess

Pax Arcana

The Internet is a vast expanse of miracle cures. Including, in the case of this ad I spotted on Yahoo! Yellowpages today, a way to whiten your yellowed teeth for $10 a day:


Looks like the key to whiter teeth is to paint the rest of your face — including your lips — a deep black color. That really makes your teeth “pop,” say leading researchers from the Al Jolson School of Cosmetic Dentistry.


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Friday Random 10: Three Wolf Moon Edition

Pax Arcana

Often people ask me, “Pax — how am I to understand the Internet, when it is ever so vast and so frightfully arranged in a series of blind corners and funhouse mirrors?” And I say “Stop talking like a queer.”

three_wolf_moonI then expand on my point to say that the beauty of the Internet exists not in comprehension of the whole of it — but rather in those moments of perfect happenstance, when the unlikeliest of candidates rise to the top of the giant ocean of information and enjoy a few blissful moments of propulsion at the crest of a powerful wave. Examples of these seredipitous moments are too many to list, but to illustrate a recent example, let’s consider the story of the Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the T-shirt pictured at right has currently — and inexplicably — become the focus of attention for many snarky Internet types, who have taken to posting amusing comments about the shirt on Amazon.com. For example:

The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to ‘howl at the moon’ from time to time (if you catch my drift!). The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called meth. I told them no, because they didn’t have enough teeth, and frankly a man with a wolf-shirt shouldn’t settle for the first thing that comes to him. — B.Govern

Of course the attention is more than just a meme. The Three Wolf Moon T-shirt is currently the top-selling item of apparel on Amazon, according to the company. Meanwhile, my line of backless cardigans for men remains mired near the bottom. Won’t you people ever get with the times?

The songs:

Good Morning Good Morning — The Beatles
Crawled Out of the Sea — Laura Marling
Here We Are — Patrick Park
Nomenclature — Andrew Bird
The Island — The Decemberists
OK Oyot System — Extra Golden
The Best Thing — Ivy
Halfway Home — TV on the Radio
Ashamed — Deertick
Cracks in the Causeway — Oxford Collapse

Bonus video:

Souled Out!!! — Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.


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Nicholas Kristof has something to say

Pax Arcana

Nicholas Kristof has something to say. It’s about the Internet, I think. I’m not sure. We’ll get to it in a minute, but in the meantime I just want to reassure people that this will not be a reprise of my hysterical ranting against Tom Friedman and his enablers.

While I disagree with Kristof often, I also think he’s a sincere man and one who does what he does for the right reasons — he has a bully pulpit at the NY Times and istead of using it to hobnob with the crowd at Davos (FRIEDMAN!!!), Kristof tries to stop things like sex trafficking and genocide.

That said, I’m really not sure what this is:

Some of the obituaries these days aren’t in the newspapers but are for the newspapers. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is the latest to pass away, save for a remnant that will exist only in cyberspace, and the public is increasingly seeking its news not from mainstream television networks or ink-on-dead-trees but from grazing online.

Sounds about right. In fact, I have never, in my entire life, read a Kristof column in print. I grew up in New Jersey reading the New York Times, but in the past 10 years have only read the print edition while on vacation or while killing time at Starbucks or something.

The Internet: It’s like spaghetti coming out of your computer

When we go online, each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about.

I know — it’s awesome right?

Nicholas Negroponte of M.I.T. has called this emerging news product The Daily Me. And if that’s the trend, God save us from ourselves.

Oh… so it’s not awesome?

That’s because there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.

Right. Humans have always been that way. I’m confused, though — what does this have to do with the Internet?

One classic study sent mailings to Republicans and Democrats, offering them various kinds of political research, ostensibly from a neutral source. Both groups were most eager to receive intelligent arguments that strongly corroborated their pre-existing views.

Nothing confirms a story about the Internet like quoting a study involving “mailings” to registered Republicans and Democrats (aka “old people who don’t use the Internet”).

There was also modest interest in receiving manifestly silly arguments for the other party’s views (we feel good when we can caricature the other guys as dunces). But there was little interest in encountering solid arguments that might undermine one’s own position.

Thankfully, the Internet provides quick access to all manner of silly arguments, so no more mailings please Mr. Kristof!!

Let me get one thing out of the way: I’m sometimes guilty myself of selective truth-seeking on the Web. The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole’s, because he’s smart, well-informed and sensible — in other words, I often agree with his take. I’m less likely to peruse the blog of Daniel Pipes, another Middle East expert who is smart and well-informed — but who strikes me as less sensible, partly because I often disagree with him.

This just in — Nicholas D. Kristof is, in fact, a human being and not immune to his own biases. We must return him to the lab post-haste and replace his central processing unit with a more mincing version. Early tests indicate the subject believes it was the Internet that scrambled his wiring:

The effect of The Daily Me would be to insulate us further in our own hermetically sealed political chambers. One of last year’s more fascinating books was Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.” He argues that Americans increasingly are segregating themselves into communities, clubs and churches where they are surrounded by people who think the way they do.

Is the Internet a club? A church? A community? Did I wake up in the matrix?

Almost half of Americans now live in counties that vote in landslides either for Democrats or for Republicans, he said. In the 1960s and 1970s, in similarly competitive national elections, only about one-third lived in landslide counties.

The Internet of the 1960s and 1970s did not force people to move their families into like-minded communities like today’s Internet does. Just last week a giant moving truck from the Internet Relocation Administration carted off my neighbor’s belongings to Nebraska. I think he must have clicked on Rush Limbaugh’s Web site or something.

“The nation grows more politically segregated — and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups,” Mr. Bishop writes.

Mr. Bishop wrote it, but I read it three times. And I still have no idea what the fuck that sentence means.

The result is polarization and intolerance. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor now working for President Obama, has conducted research showing that when liberals or conservatives discuss issues such as affirmative action or climate change with like-minded people, their views quickly become more homogeneous and more extreme than before the discussion. For example, some liberals in one study initially worried that action on climate change might hurt the poor, while some conservatives were sympathetic to affirmative action. But after discussing the issue with like-minded people for only 15 minutes, liberals became more liberal and conservatives more conservative.

It’s almost as though humans conform to the prevailing social cues of the group. I call this new kind of science “Sociology” and plan to publish a paper on this subject. I’ll call it “Conformism: People Usually Start to Think Like Other People in the Same Group.” I’m really prepared to break some new ground with this one, people.

But wait, wasn’t this piece about the Internet? All these studies seem to involve real people receiving mailings or discussing things in real live groups.

The decline of traditional news media will accelerate the rise of The Daily Me, and we’ll be irritated less by what we read and find our wisdom confirmed more often. The danger is that this self-selected “news” acts as a narcotic, lulling us into a self-confident stupor through which we will perceive in blacks and whites a world that typically unfolds in grays.

So all these studies that show that humans tend to replicate the behaviors of their peers in real-live social groups means that they will do the exact same thing on the Internet? I’d say that’s kind of a stretch, Kristof, but I suppose that would just be me reconfirming my bias against your argument — which I found on the Internet, where I normally only read things I agree with. OH MY GOD I’M SO CONFUSED!

So what’s the solution? Tax breaks for liberals who watch Bill O’Reilly or conservatives who watch Keith Olbermann? No, until President Obama brings us universal health care, we can’t risk the surge in heart attacks.

Bill O’Reilly = Not Internet
Keith Olbermann = Not Internet
Barack Obama = Not Internet

So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count.

Now excuse me while I go and read The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.

Hokay, have fun Nick. I’m going to spend the rest of the day reinforcing my narrow belief system at Random Things Like Vikings and Zombies Mets Rule Science is Funny and Scotch is Delicious.com.

The Daily Me [NYT]


Filed under journalism

An open letter to Andre Ethier

Pax Arcana

Dear Andre Ethier,

Like many baseball fans, I have greatly admired your talent since you broke into the big leagues in 2006.

You possess a rare combination of speed, hand-eye coordination, and power — and you seem to get better every year.

When you slugged .477 your rookie year, I was worried that your power numbers were a fluke. But then you went and slugged .507 in 132 games so far this year — an impressive statistic considering your place in the batting order leaves you with little protection behind you. Your OPS+ of 124 is also most impressive, as it puts you among the top young outfielders in the National League in that category. By all accounts, you are also a superb defensive player.

But this is not why I write to you today.

You see, while your baseball abilities are most formidable, they pale in comparison to the might of your army of loyal fans.

Nine days ago, I penned a satirical piece on this blog in which I lashed out at you for daring to write silly things on the Internet. Adopting a tone of outrage, I mockingly scolded you — a young and handsome Major League Baseball player — for encroaching on the world of losers that is the Internet.

“Blogging about stupid crap is our refuge from the pain of our epic failure to have your life, you throbbing hairy ball sack,” I wrote, figuring that anyone with more than a handful of brain cells to rub together would realize that I was making fun of myself and not you.

But like so many National League pitchers, I underestimated the power of Andre Ethier.

My satirical post was linked to on a number of Dodgers message boards, where it was promptly tethered to a sturdy post and swatted at with rusty yard tools. On this blog, people left comments encouraging me to “shut the fuck up,” and advising me that I “fucken suck at life.”

I have even been accused of sinnisism, which is almost as bad as being accused of cynicism.

That my original post was clearly a jab at those, like me, who write about trivial things on the Internet — and was not, by any possible definition, an actual criticism of you — did not matter. Your army of loyal Ethierites were not deterred. They attacked and they attacked and they attacked. I fear they will not stop until I am a wilted husk of a man, cowering beneath my desk, afraid to venture back out into the maelstrom of failure that is my life.

As I have already explained to Coolio, Pax Arcana is a blog with but one enemy — zombies. The shuffling hordes of the undead will not stop until they have devoured the brains of each and every one of us.

Pax Arcana, and our army of Flying Shark Vikings, has led the fight against these slow-moving ghouls for more than a year — and I believe your army of devoted fans would make a valuable asset to our side. Their blind devotion to you is clear. They will follow you anywhere and will do your bidding.

Join us, Andre Ethier. Join us, and we — and maybe Coolio, we haven’t heard back yet — will fight these miserable plodding zombies side-by-side. We will fight them with baseball bats, and with other heavy things, and with Internet flames.

I eagerly await your reply.


Pax Arcana

P.S. As a token of my sincerity, please heed the following advice as you continue your adventure in food writing — if you see something on the menu called butterfish, do not order it. Sometimes it makes orange oil shoot out of your ass.


Filed under baseball

You too, can be a star on the Internet

Pax Arcana

The Internet is a vast ocean of shared knowledge, open and expansive, on which we pilot our own ships in the pursuit of information.

In this analogy, the endless panoply of dead blogs are the driftwood and detritus that bang into your hull, then sadly float on into oblivion.

Thankfully, One Post Wonder has gathered together the best of the best of blogs that never survived even their first day. Many of them include only one post.

Individually, they are terrible. Collectively they are art.

Here’s my personal favorite, from a blog called “I’m Attractive… So What?”:

Double standards
I never knew being attractive could be a negative thing until I entered the world of “adults”! I am blonde and attractive and have even been turned down for jobs due to my looks… Too distracting to other workers… What’s that all about! I’m an accountant for Pete’s sake!!! They like to look, but think differently when considering serious business. I know there are other people out there that feel like I do.
Posted by Real Blonde at 5:56 AM 0 comments

Real Blonde never posted again on that site, but after a sex change and a dye job reemerged on Pax Arcana as a mild-mannered indie lumberjack from Maine. Also — not that attractive.

One Post Wonder [Home]


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For once, the Internet kills off a community of whack jobs instead of creating it

The Washington Monthly has an interesting article on the decline of the Lyndon LaRouche movement, which for 40 years has tried to get LaRouche elected president by standing on street corners with homemade signs accusing the Queen of England of heading up the global drug trade (seriously).

“What you don’t understand is that the global dialectical paradigm must necessarily shift in an advanced preeminent status quo. Also, there are rats living in my boobies and Dick Cheney talks to me through the television.”

The LaRouche model was basically to draft cocked-up nonsensical diatribes, force movement members to bear the printing costs, and push younger members to distribute the wild-eyed rantings to the public. A vulnerable few could always be counted on to contribute money to the “cause.”

Interestingly, LaRouche’s popularity started to spiral downhill not when he was sent to jail for FEC and tax violations, but when he demanded his members stay away from the Internet:

But LaRouche’s politics had always focused on physical infrastructure—in recent years, for instance, he had championed massive maglev construction and giant waterworks projects. The rise of the information and services industry held little interest for him, and so, having failed to predict the Internet, he proceeded to ignore it. Moreover, Computron and other similar fiascos had forced out the talent that made the group an early adopter of technology in the late 1970s. Although the group’s fund-raising had improved in the ’80s, it had failed to attract new classes of committed, educated senior cadres. This generational gap left the organization painfully unaware of the Internet’s value as an organizing tool.

When the group’s older leaders eventually ventured online, they often stumbled. They were slow to grasp that although the Internet allowed the free dissemination of ideas, it also made criticism equally accessible. Around 2003, the organization set up a discussion board and then a Yahoo group, but both were discovered by a former member who delighted in asking inconvenient questions about Jeremiah Duggan, a young Briton who died in 2003 under mysterious circumstances at a LaRouche conference in Germany. Organization members shut the boards down and tried a more proactive approach, popping up on anti-LaRouche sites to defend the organization. That tactic only inspired more criticism, and confirmed to posters that the LaRouche organization was worried about what they were saying. Eventually, Youth Movement members were ordered to stay off social networking sites like MySpace, which LaRouche deemed an “Orwellian brain-washing operation.”

Of course you can’t really kill a community of whack jobs. You can only drive them to Ron Paul.

Publish and Perish [Washington Monthly]


Filed under politics