Salon.Com Managing Editor: U.S. Would Have Been Better if Reagan Had Never Been President

Salon.Com managing editor has a factually challenged blog post about Reagan’s 1980 victory over Jimmy Carter inaugurating a “dark age” in America,

I was a senior in college when Reagan was elected — in a very close election which he’d probably have lost had it not been for the participation of a third party candidate (John Anderson) — and that moment was like the start of a dark age. As a fiery young writer of editorials for my college paper I’d railed against Carter for his compromises with conservatism, and proudly chose to cast my first vote for an American president not for Carter against Reagan but for Barry Commoner.

It was a stubborn gesture, and in retrospect a dumb one. Too much was at stake to throw my vote away just so I could feel consistent. (Naderites, take heed.) America would have been a lot better off if Ronald Reagan had never been president. This was true while he was alive, and it is no less true now that he is gone.

The dark age comment is just silly, but his analysis of the 1980 election is a typical example of Salon.Com’s dedication to the facts.

The 1980 election was hardly close. Reagan earned 51 percent of the popular vote to Carter’s 41.1 percent and John Anderson’s 6.6 percent. The electoral college was a landslide with Reagan defeating Carter 489-49. Carter carried only Georgia, Minnesota and West Virginia.

Apparently, Rosenberg paid as much attention in college as he does as Salon.Com’s Managing Editor.


Scott Rosenberg Blog Post. June 6, 2004.

Frank Sulloway’s Other Hypothesis

A lot of weblogs are talking lately about a study originating out of Berkeley whose results are summed up by this ridiculous quote,

Hitler, Mussolini, and former President Ronald Reagan were individuals, but all were right-wing conservatives because they preached a return to an idealized past and condoned inequality in some form.

A lot of people have commented on the validity (or lack thereof) of the study and some of its obvious failings (Stalin, et al are also counted as conservatives), but no one to my knowledge has noted the connections between this study and the other nutty theory put forth by one of its co-authors, Frank Sulloway.

Pseudo-scientific theories about conservatism are nothing new for Sulloway who is a prominent advocate of the mother of all psycho-babble historical claims. In his book Born to Rebel, Sulloway argued that birth order is the single most important force in history.

I’m not making this up or even exaggerating Sulloway’s claims. As Scott Rosenberg summed up the book in a review for Salon.Com,

Sulloway declares that “the primary engine of historical change” is sibling conflict, rooted in a Darwinian struggle within the family based on birth order: “Compared with firstborns, laterborns are more likely to identify with the underdog and to challenge the established order. Because they identify with parents and authority, firstborns are more likely to defend the status quo. The effects of birth order transcend gender, social class, race, nationality, and — for the last five centuries — time.”

Sulloway goes so far as to argue that a historical event such as the French Revolution is best explained not by class or ideology or historical context, but rather by the number of first-borns vs. later-borns in the various groups that came to power during the French Revolution.

And, as with the “Stalin was a conservative” line, sometimes in Sulloway’s “data”, a first-born can be a later-born. Galileo, for example, was a first-born and under Sulloways’ theory should have been a conservative supporter of the dominant worldview. But because Galileo was nine years older than his next sibling, Sulloway insists that he was “functionally an only child.” Similarly, as Paul Elovitz notes, Sulloway is also forced to dismiss first-born innovators such as Einstein,

For example, such first born innovators of new theories as Newton, Lavoisier, Freud, and Einstein are dismissed by quickly noting that “the supporters of innovation are still predominantly laterborn.” Of course they are; most people are later born, especially prior to the current low birth rate in Western culture.

As the Skeptic’s Dictionary points out, Born to Rebel is little more than a book-length case of confirmation bias,

Many social scientists also are guilty of confirmation bias, especially those who seek to establish correlations between ambiguous variables, such as birth order and ‘radical ideas’, during arbitrarily defined historical periods. If you define the beginning and end points of data collection regarding the idea of evolution in the way Frank Sulloway did in Born to Rebel, you arrive at significant correlations between functional birth order and tendency to accept or reject the theory of evolution. However, if you start with Anaximander and stop with St. Augustine, you will get quite different results, since the idea was universally rejected during that period.

Radio Userland Comment Problems

The other day I mentioned the problems that Scott Rosenberg was having at his Salon.Com blog with some folks who filled up the comments section of his site with posts that were hundreds of kilobytes long. The person(s) in question were posting so much text so quickly that according to Rosenberg it was bringing the server to a crawl. Because of the way the Radio Community Server is configured, Rosenberg and other users aren’t given the ability to delete such irritating and pointless posts, or IP block them, etc.

Userland appears to have responded with two interim solutions.

The first is pointless but harmless,

UserLand has implemented a maximum limit on the length of a comments thread. The good news is that this deals with the problem. The bad news is that this limits the length of comments threads.

Okay, that might help maintain the server performance, but it simply means that this spammer’s efforts will result in all of the threads on Rosenberg’s weblog being closed so no discussion can take place — not much better than simply turning off the feature in the first place.

The second solution (for Manila) is a personal pet peeve of mind that I’ve seen elsewhere and really gets my blood boiling — publicly displaying the IP address of people who post.

Jake Savin describes this new feature,

Today we released a new feature for Manila — IP address tracking. This feature helps to prevent spammers from attacking your site.

Whenever a new discussion group message or comment is posted, Manila now records the IP address along with the discussion group message.

People who might abuse public comment systems and discussion groups will be discouraged to do so if their IP address is made public.

I think publicly displaying IP addresses is behavior that is even worse than the spammers. Sites that implement this are making public a good deal of information about the person posting — information which, when combined with other things, could get people in a lot of trouble.

VegSource is a site that displays the IP addresses and illustrates the danger of posting this. For example, I once read a rather pro-animal rights post in the middle of the day on VegSource. Doing a DNS lookup it turned out that she was posting from a computer at a pharmaceutical company. Based on the things the person said, it was likely she worked in some sort of accounting department.

Somehow I don’t think this company would have been happy to find out that one of their employees as an activist posting to activist sites on company time.

In some cases you can get even more information. I’ll never understand why some libraries don’t use dynamic IP addresses for their public machines. Giving a public machine a static IP address is just asking for trouble (for example, one of my more irritating posters used to post from the same machine at a library in Cleveland — if I lived in the area, it wouldn’t have been too hard to track him down if I was so motivated).

Certainly site administrators have valid uses for tracking IPs, such as IP-blocking people who abuse their systems. But broadcasting the IP address of everyone who posts to the entire Internet? A Very Bad Idea (TM).

Scott Rosenberg Held Hostage by Radio Userland’s Limitations

I use Radio Userland as a news aggregator, but have never really investigated its feasibility as a weblog tool. I was very surprised to see how easily Scott Rosenberg’s Salon.Com blog has been hijacked by spammers thanks to the extremely limited nature of Radio Userland’s Comments feature,

Speaking of comments, those of you who pay attention to the comments on this blog will have noticed a marked increase in the strange practice of spam-posting comments — reposting the same verbiage multiple times. (Sometimes this happens as a result of slow response time from the server, but those cases usually lead to 2, 3 or 4 reposts, not ten and 20.) This is a waste of bandwidth and, more important, a waste of this blog’s readers’ time. So cut it out. If necessary I’ll just turn off comments here, but I’d rather not do that. I’ve got no problem with endless vocal disagreement with me. There’s been lots of good, smart dialogue in there. But I have no patience for juvenile spam tactics.

And yes, I know that Radio UserLand’s comments feature is pretty rudimentary — it should offer the ability to delete posts, ban posters and otherwise moderate those comments boards. I’m sorry it’s not better. Since we don’t develop the software here at Salon, I can’t take this on myself, but will continue to communicate this kind of feedback to the UserLand team.

I disagree with Rosenberg about pretty much everything, but now it’s pointless to even post such disagreements on his comments section because some idiot goes in and posts hundreds of kilobytes worth of junk text precisely to sabotage his comments section.

Userland announced the comments feature for Radio back in February of 2002, so it’s a bit surprising they haven’t added even basic features like the ability to delete a post. Maybe someone could put together a checklist for Userland on how to get there, because it’s got to be embarassing to have such a prominent user of their software have these sorts of problems.

He Had to Make Up the Quote to Save It!

Salon.Com’s Scott Rosenberg had his usual all-over-the-map weblog post the other day which concluded thusly,

Vietnam bequeathed us the bitter remark, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Every day the Iraq war continues we march a little closer to playing out that paradox on the scale of an entire nation.

Vietnam did not bequeath us this bitter remark. Rather this quote came from a story filed by Peter Arnett who made his career on the back of his Vietnam-era reporting.

But the quote has always had a questionable provenance, with its authenticity only becoming more in question as Arnett has thrown away his career on stories and methods that could charitably be called lousy and uncharitably called fraudulent.

Mona Charen and B.G. Burkett claim that Arnett’s reporting on this remark were wrong on a number of accounts.

First, the village in question that was destroyed — Ben Tre — was destroyed by Viet Cong forces rather than by Americans.

Second, Charen reports that the officer who supposedly made the infamous statement denies ever saying it, adding that he simply remembers telling Arnett, “It was a shame the town was destroyed.”

Given Arnett’s behavior in the Tailwind scandal, and his reporting in both of the Persian Gulf Wars, I think it is the soldier rather than Arnett that deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Unloading on Salon.Com’s Scott Rosenberg

Salon.Com’s managing editor Scott Rosenberg made the mistake of castigating weblogger Damian Penny, who was the first to draw attention to Salon’s 9/11 feature that includes dozens of tasteless and crass thoughts about the terrorist attacks. In one letter, for example, an anonymous writer complains that he hates his dad and wishes he hadn’t survived the World Trade Center attack. Another letter simply says, “2001 was a great year for me; I hated the twin towers and I hated the Taliban and now they’re both gone!”

Rosenberg offers an extremely lame justification for running this feature on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and the warbloggers are unloading on him in the comments section of his weblog.

Penny asked what Salon.Com could have been thinking running this, and Rosenberg responds that,

We were thinking precisely this: That an orthodoxy has coalesced around 9/11, and that one good role of journalism is to puncture orthodoxies. That the range of human response to 9/11 was a lot wider than that reflected in the media orgy of 9/11 retrospectives. And that it’s probably a lot healthier to air such responses than to pretend that they don’t exist.

The “one good role of journalism is to puncture orthodoxies” is a standard excuse used by journalists to justify bad decisions. I’m surprised that Rosenberg didn’t follow it up with the other standard excuse, that the American public has “a right to know” (you know, CBS had to show the Daniel Pearl videotape — the public had a right to know. Didn’t have anything to do with ratings, no sir).

Rosenberg then takes issue with Penny’s suggestion that it would be a good thing if Salon.Com went bankrupt.

But before you wish that Salon goes bankrupt, may I ask how you pay your bills, and how you’d feel if someone wished the same on the source of your livelihood? When did political disagreement turn into a license to wish that your opponents lose their jobs, or worse (cf. Ann Coulter’s comment, “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building”)? Good night.

See, this is where it’s obvious that the whole “puncturing orthodoxies” line is nonsense. When Salon.Com publishes dozens of tasteless letters about 9/11, it’s simply doing its job. But when someone directs a mildly offensive statement at Salon, all bets are off the table. How dare this mere weblogger try to puncture Salon.Com’s orthodoxies. That’s just uncalled for.