Guest blogging this week for Glenn is Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she teaches constitutional law and the jurisdiction of courts.  Her regular blog can be found at Althouse.blogspot.com.

February 20, 2005 | 11:07 PM ET

I'm not Glenn.  I'm Ann Althouse, subbing this week for Glenn Reynolds, who is caring for his wife who is recovering from a medical procedure.  I know Glenn and Helen have received many good wishes, and I offer mine here as well.  I'm glad I can help out.  Here goes:

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said that if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand him.  But people taught a gorilla to speak and she said the very thing – if we are to believe this new lawsuit that drunken guys say to women at Mardi Gras.  If a gorilla could speak, we would understand her all too well!

Perhaps sensitivity to gorilla culture ought to have moved the women who worked with the renowned Koko to show her their nipples, but, America being what it is, they sued.  Ah!  Our litigious society!  Should that be part of a job?  Accommodating a gorilla?  Make that, accommodating a celebrity gorilla!  Well, there's no hope – exceedingly little hope – of convincing the gorilla that sexual harassment is wrong.

Being human, we love Wittgenstein's idea that the lion – or the gorilla -- would say something stunningly new.  But the truth may be that the animal would just say "show me your t**s" – again and again.  Oh, Koko!  We once thought you were so profound.  We believed we could make you human through language, but what have we done?  Have we only reminded ourselves of our own lack of profundity?

Meanwhile, a lion seems to be roaming about in California.  It's not a talking lion, and it's surely not a reading lion, but it is lurking somewhere in the vicinity of the Ronald Reagan Memorial Library.

(If you miss Glenn, he's still blogging on Instapundit.  If you haven't had enough of me, I'm blogging over at Althouse.)

February 17, 2005 | 8:56 PM ET

Life on MarsIs there life on Mars?  Could be:

WASHINGTON -- A pair of NASA scientists told a group of space officials at a private meeting here Sunday that they have found strong evidence that life may exist today on Mars, hidden away in caves and sustained by pockets of water.

The scientists, Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke of NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, told the group that they have submitted their findings to the journal Nature for publication in May, and their paper currently is being peer reviewed.

What Stoker and Lemke have found, according to several attendees of the private meeting, is not direct proof of life on Mars, but methane signatures and other signs of possible biological activity remarkably similar to those recently discovered in caves here on Earth.

Some people are still skeptical:

"Experience tells us that nature is good at fooling us,'' said Jonathan McDowell, a NASA watcher and astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
 
"Just because methane is something that life makes doesn't mean there aren't other ways of producing it,'' McDowell said.  "Until you get the actual life form wriggling under a microscope, people aren't going to be convinced.''

Of course, the only way to tell is to go ourselves.  But that raises problems of its own.  Bacteria on Mars have interesting implications -- suggesting either that life can evolve in multiple locations, or alternatively that Earth and Mars life share a common ancestor. 

Either way, importing Martian bacteria might be a concern.  If there's life on Mars, it might be able to live on Earth.  And if it can live on Earth, we might not want it.  That requires some pretty careful precautions. 

It'll be a while before we look seriously at sending people to Mars, or even at returning samples from Mars.  But the likelihood that there's life there will certainly complicate our plans.

February 15, 2005 | 5:10 PM ET

Salivating lynch mobs

As discussed below Eason Jordan has resigned, and now a lot of folks in Big Media are getting nervous.  For some, their nervousness tends to manifest itself as anger.

The New York Times quoted Steve Lovelady of the Columbia Journalism Review:

"The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail," he lamented online after Mr. Jordan's resignation.

Not surprisingly, these intemperate remarks were widely circulated around the blogosphere, and to many wound up symbolizing the Big Media take on Eason Jordan's resignation -- though, in fact, most bloggers would rather have seen the still-secret Davos video of Jordan's remarks made public than see Jordan's resignation.  (CNN, on the other hand, had different priorities.) Blogger Ed Morrissey, though, corresponded with Lovelady and noted that the Times quote didn't represent Lovelady's views of all bloggers, and that Lovelady planned to clarify things -- on his blog.  But of course!

Tom Maguire, meanwhile, notes that the Big Media are, strangely, spinning this as a blog story without mentioning some key non-blog players:

In the course of emphasizing that the Eason Jordan lynching was engineered by a right wing mob, the Times somehow drops from this story (a) Howard Kurtz of the WaPo, who offers some relatively real coverage here; Rep. Barney Frank, D, MA, who made a cameo appearance in the audience in the Times' Saturday story (yes, of course he was on the panel); and Sen. Chris Dodd, D, CT, who has now failed to appear in both of the stories offered by the Times, despite his expressions of outrage and calls for the release of the videotape. What does a Democrat from neighboring Connecticut need to do to break into the Times?

On the other hand, Jordan's defenders -- like David Gergen on the PBS Newshour -- keep stressing that Jordan lost his job for a single mis-statement.  But in fact, he's been making unsupported accusations against U.S. troops for some time, as this article from The Guardian notes:

Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, said there had been only a "limited amount of progress", despite repeated meetings between news organisations and the US authorities.

"Actions speak louder than words. The reality is that at least 10 journalists have been killed by the US military, and according to reports I believe to be true journalists have been arrested and tortured by US forces," Mr Jordan told an audience of news executives at the News Xchange conference in Portugal.

That sounds like a huge story, but CNN hasn't reported it.  Should a top executive at a major network make accusations like this, in wartime, with no backup?  CNN has apparently decided that the answer is "no."

In the more paranoid -- or at least more cynical -- portions of the blogosphere, there has been speculation that news media organizations will try to "get" a leading blogger or two.  This would be a dumb move, sort of like North Korea invading China, and for the same reason:  Both are wildly outnumbered.  (But, too, both have been known to make dumb moves in the past...)  The blogosphere is huge and decentralized, and most bloggers blog as hobbies, meaning that you can't get them fired from blogging anyway.  And if you got them fired from their day jobs, they'd just be able to blog full-time.

Besides, some Big Media folks get it.  The Chicago Tribune's Charlie Madigan writes:

It all reminds me of a mix of what I have read about genuinely robust periods in American journalism, the era of the pamphleteers back before everything became so formal, the "yellow kids" era, when the media barons of the 19th and early 20th Centuries were carving up the pie, and maybe the birth of TV, when no one quite knew what to put on the screen.

The difference is that, in those eras, it took decades before media became self-referential enough to develop ethics and standards and journalism schools and thoughtful journals that would deconstruct every aspect of this messy business.  Because the medium of blogging is speed-of-light stuff, we have become self-referential and obsessive about what happens well ahead of the historical curve.

Howard Kurtz gets it, too:

I lean toward the view that the rise of blogs is a healthy development and is forcing the MSM (how did the mainstream media get stuck with a three-letter initial?) to become more accountable, rather than display their old we-stand-by-our-story arrogance. There is, to be sure, plenty of partisan noise and mean-spirited attacks out there, but also a lot of thoughtful and ground-breaking posting on stories, or angles, either missed or minimized by the MSM types.
...
After all, bloggers can form all the lynch mobs they want, but if they don't have the factual goods, or an issue that resonates, their targets will slip the noose.

And law professor/blogger Eugene Volokh writes that we're not seeing "lynch mobs," but " persuasion bunches:"

Now I realize that "lynch mob" is figurative, and hyperbole at that.

Still, figurative references and analogies (even hyperbolic ones) only make sense to the extent that the analogy is apt -- to the extent that the figurative usage, while literally false, reflects a deeper truth.

The trouble is that here the analogy is extremely weak. What's wrong with lynch mobs? It's that the mob itself has the power to kill. They could be completely wrong, and entirely unpersuasive to reasonable people or to the rest of the public. Yet by their physical power, they can impose their will without regard to the law.

But bloggers, or critics generally, have power only to the extent that they are persuasive.  Jordan's resignation didn't come because he was afraid that bloggers will fire him. They can't fire him. I assume that to the extent the bloggers' speech led him to resign, it did so by persuading the public that he wasn't trustworthy.

So Jordan's critics (bloggers or not) aren't a lynch mob: If they're a mob, they're at most a "persuasion mob." What's more, since they're generally a very small group, they're really a "persuasion bunch."

Maybe if a persuasion bunch tries to persuade people by using factual falsehoods, they could be faulted on those grounds (though that too has little to do with lynch mobs). But I've seen no evidence that their criticisms were factually unfounded, or that Jordan quit because of any factual errors in the criticisms. (Plus presumably releasing the video of the panel would have been the best way to fight the factual errors.) We should love persuasion bunches, who operate through peaceful persuasion, while hating lynch mobs, who operate through violence and coercion. What's more, journalists -- to the extent that they love the First Amendment's premise that broad public debate helps discover the truth, and improve society -- ought to love persuasion bunches, too.

That seems right to me.  I'd still like to see the Davos video, though.

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