Conspiracy Theories at Boing! Boing!

What always amazes me about partisans of any political stripe is the sort of cognitive dissonance that allows any given behavior to be justified or condemned based on who is carrying it out rather than what is actually being done. So the Republicans who until a few months ago were defending pretty much unlimited power for Bush are suddenly concerned about the concentration of executive power in the Obama administration.

Mark Frauenfelder at Boing! Boing! provides an excellent example of this in posting about Fox News’ Glenn Beck claiming that FEMA is building camps that are intended to house American dissidents. The headline at BB reads, “Fox’s Glenn Beck says Obama is building concentration camps for Republicans,” even though Beck never says the alleged camps are exclusively for Republicans.

Frauenfelder rightly dismisses this nonsense, writing,

Swiping material from the X-Files, Fox’s Glenn Beck warns that Obama is setting up FEMA concentration camps to warehouse the nation’s neocons, fundies, wingnuts, and dittoheads.

Of course the FEMA story has persisted through a number of presidencies. Back in the mid-1990s, it was Clinton who supposedly was going to round up conservatives for the camps, and then for most of this decade it was Bush who was preparing to incarcerate potentially millions of American dissidents in FEMA camps.

Absurd. No one would believe this, stuff, right? Hmmm…lets rewind to May 19, 2008, when Frauenfelder decided to post to Boing! Boing! a link to an article on that scholarly publication, Radar Online, that alleged the government was compiling a list of millions of American dissidents to track and possibly even detain. Frauenfelder, swiping material from the X-Files, wrote,

A feature in the most recent issue of RADAR is about a possible government program that tracks citizens’ behavior (online and otherwise) to compile a list of people to detain in case of martial law.

Now that’s cognitive dissonance.

Xeni Jardin Hasn’t Learned A Damn Thing . . . But I Have

Xeni Jardin has a post today about her “unpublishing” of Violet Blue-related posts that caused so much controversy. Go read it now before she decides to take it down.

The post is fairly long but doesn’t really say anything beyond reaffirming that their her posts and she’ll take them down if she wants to. In the comments to the post, Cory Doctorow, Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz weigh in to indicate their agreement with Jardin’s position.

To understand my position on this, which I elaborate on very pointedly in the comments to that post, go read this Boing! Boing! post from 2005 which is Boing! Boing!’s coverage of the London subway bombings including photographs and updates on the status of individual posters like Cory Doctorow who was living in London at the time.

That post was removed from Boing! Boing! because in one of the many updates to it, Violet Blue is credited with pointing to a blog with additional information on the bombing. Violet Blue is extraordinarily tangential to the post, but because the string “Violet Blue” appeared in the post, Jardin deep-sixed it.

Now it is very clear from reading the comments in this post and in the previous Boing! Boing! post about the Violet Blue controversy, that I am in the minority who find it absurd that Boing! Boing! would retcon dozens of posts simply because of incidental mentions of Violet Blue over what turns out to be nothing more than a personal falling out between her and Jardin.

I’ll just sum up my thinking about Boing! Boing! by reproducing a reply I posted there to another user who defended routine removal of materials from the Internet,

Talia wrote:

“Well, if this is orwellian, I guess I’ve participated in Orwellian actions as well, as a person who has deleted things I’ve posted on the internet. And every other single person who has ever deleted anything they put on the internet, ever, has also participated in Orwellian actions.”

BTW, I have to say I find that odd. I don’t generally delete things on the Internet (I can only think of a single occasion where I deleted a single post I made at my blog because I realized it was seriously erroneous and would cause more harm by misinforming than by adding a correction). Believe me, I’ve said a lot of things on the Internet I wish I hadn’t, but coming from a journalism background, I’ve always thought it was important to stand behind your words and own your errors.

I’ve certainly endorsed the views of people, for example, who I later disassociated with. But I can’t ever remember thinking “gee, I should go back and delete all that stuff like it never happened.” And I really don’t remember ever thinking “I should take down this really long post because somewhere in there it mentions this person who I know longer like.”

And I find it bizarre that people do think that way, but that’s probably just my particular hangup.

OTOH, this whole episode was useful in that it showed us a side of BB I think many of us didn’t realize was there. If you had asked me before this if BB would go back and removed posts like that London bombing picture thread, I’d have said no way. Retconning is something only comic book writers and sleazy businesses do.

Now I know better.

By the way, I should add that Jardin and others have argued that it is routine for bloggers to remove and retroactively edited things. Personally, I would only do that under the most extreme circumstances as I mention in my comment on Boing! Boing! But now that I think of it, there is a very well known blogger who is known for frequently deleting and rewriting the things he posts — Dave Winer. At the moment, I think Winer would fit right in with Boing! Boing!’s vision of itself.

About that Impending Bird Influenza Pandemic

Saw this item at Boing! Boing!,

World Health Organization’s bird flu warning: 100 million deaths

Matt Vine sez: Since yesterday, the rest of the world has been buzzing with news of the World Health Organization’s warnings of a impending flu pandemic that could kill up to 100 million. These warnings are suspiciously missing from American news sites – we get things like “Godzilla honored with ‘Walk of Fame’ star” from CNN’s front page.” Link

posted by Mark Frauenfelder at 08:47:00 AM

Of coures if you actually bother to read any of the articles that Boing! Boing! links to you, you learn that the impending epidemic is not so impending.

In fact, there is no evidence that the bird flue can be spread from human to human, which would be necessary before it could become a pandemic. There are apparently two cases of bird flu where researchers haven’t yet figured out how the individuals contracted the disease, but otherwise all cases of the bird flu have been transmitted directly from birds to human beings. It is telling that unlike the SARS outbreak, so far there appear to be no cases of infections among health care workers who have treated victims.

So why is the WHO going around saying that there’s this impending pandemic? Well, the short version is that it isn’t. The long version is that its Pacific regional director made the claims about the bird flu pandemic, and the rest of WHO appears to be scratching its head about where he came up with these claims.

For example, here’s the New York Times’ coverage,

Dr. Shigeru Omi, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, said that if a pandemic should strike – an outcome he termed “very, very likely” – governments should be prepared to close schools, office buildings and factories to slow the rate of new infections. They also should work out emergency staffing to prevent a breakdown in basic public services like electricity and transportation, he said.

. . .

W.H.O. officials in Geneva said later that they had not received an advance copy of Dr. Omi’s remarks and did not know the basis for his estimates and why he believed a pandemic was so likely.

. . .

In sounding the alarm about avian influenza, “W.H.O. is trying to raise concern because we’re concerned, but W.H.O. is not trying to scare the planet,” Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the agency, said in a telephone interview.

“No one knows how many are likely to die in the next human influenza pandemic,” or even when it will occur, said Dr. Klaus Stöhr, the agency’s top influenza expert. “The numbers are all over the place.”

The same thing happened with SARS, you might remember, where there were a few individuals who claimed SARS was going to turn into a pandemic.

Obviously such a pandemic is always possible should a virus like the bird flu mutate into a highly communicable form, but a pandemic is far from impending.


W.H.O. Official Says Deadly Pandemic Is Likely if the Asian Bird Flu Spreads Among People. Keith Bradsher and Lawrence K. Altman, The New York Times, November 30, 2004.

Mark Frauenfelder Lies to Himself to Feel Better

Boing! Boing! again confirms its need to avoiding cognitive dissonance (emphasis in the original),

Olli sez: “Just found this link to some really interesting anti-communist propaganda from the 1960’s. It’s a comic book that looks at what *COULD* happen to *YOU* if those evil commies get their hands on the USA. Endorsed by none other than J. Edgar Hoover himself!” Link (When I read it, I mentally swapped every instance of “communists” with “red-state republicans” and it was even more enjoyable — Mark)

posted by Mark Frauenfelder at 09:50:43 AM

Almost enough to have me hoping for more Xeni jardin pr0n posts.