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DailyKos: Conversion and Conformity

ccv3h71w8aasjtlPeter Daou wrote about Markos Moulitsos, founder of DailyKos, and his announcement that he will be shifting his support to Hillary as soon as the nomination is wrapped up. Sorry, Bernie fans, time to get in line.

Atrios yesterday wrote that he doubted that one person’s “Why I am Voting for So&So diary” is worth anything. I was happy to see Atrios embrace the idea that your vote is your own but I think he’s dead wrong about the value of the conversion diary. Maybe they’re not as powerful as they used to be but I saw DailyKos lose its collective mind and then get in line twice in 2007-2008. First, it went bat s^&* crazy over John Edwards, then when Edwards became non-viable, it became moonstruck over Obama.

During the infamous Rec List Hostage Crisis of 2008, the pivot from Edwards to Obama was incredibly smooth. I could almost swear that the same people were writing those diaries.

The value of the testimonial can not be underestimated. Maybe we should get John Dehlin, psychologist, former Mormon and host of Mormon Stories to come and explain how it works. The conversion or testimonial is particularly effective in groups that are also exercising other high control tactics, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

A typical conversion story relates how a person is transformed by a moment of revelation. They become “born again” in some important way. People who study high control groups might say the convert’s  behavior has been unduly influenced by informational, emotional and thought control. Go ahead, read about the BITE model and you’ll never see DailyKos in the same way again.

That’s why I think Markos’s conversion story looks like it might not be important to those of us who have figured out how he operates even if it eventually does. His life is only going to change if his revelation leads to more advertising revenue from the Clinton campaign. Deep down inside, I doubt that Markos is wed to any one particular candidate. If anything, he seems to swing Libertarian and attracts the same guys who are stuck in adolescence who aren’t going to let any woman be the boss of them. It’s his business model.

Also, the conversion story does not work in the absence of other features. There has to be praise of the convert. In many religions and high control groups, this would include love bombing. At DailyKos, love bombing is accomplished through the use of recommendations. If a diarist gets enough recommends, their diary can make it to the recommended diary list where its prominence will influence other Kossacks.

The more you toe the founder’s line, the more mojo you get. That is, your level of  authority, at DailyKos increases and you can achieve Trusted User status. A trusted user has very few privileges and while Kossacks are told they don’t mean much, they actually do. A Trusted user can demote recommendations. They are enforcers. A mob of enforcers can deplete a Kossack’s mojo completely. If you don’t stay with the herd, you can be excommunicated and banned from the site.

This is what happened to me in January 2008 when I used the word “jihad” to explain how Obama supporters were mobbing other candidate’s supporters on DailyKos in order to get them banned. In the span of a couple hours, I went from being a trusted user to an exile. I was on to them by the time I posted that diary and while my diary was not meant to get me banned, I watched in fascination how efficiently and quickly the process worked.  I guess to someone who likes to be one of a crowd, that might have been devastating and I saw other Kossacks try very hard to not it happen to them. But for me? It was no big deal. What I learned at DailyKos was that I could write well enough to make the rec list fairly frequently. So, I left and started The Confluence. I didn’t get the fame or the ad money but I’ve enjoyed it anyway.

Those of you who still visit DailyKos can correct me if I’m wrong on any of this. Some of the rules of the game have changed since I was there last. The parameters of the model can be tweaked to keep everyone in line. But Markos knows what he’s doing and he set up his site to enforce conformity and a single message. Yes, there is a bit of wiggle room there. It’s like the difference between being a Methodist and a Presbyterian but it’s still Christianity. And when Markos signs the contract or gives the nod of the head, the machine works of his site will kick into gear and everyone will fall in line, write conversion diaries and disfellowship the apostates.

It’s conformity on a grand blog scale.

Maybe it doesn’t mean as much as it did 8 years ago. But Markos still attracts a lot of the same kind of people. They talk amongst themselves, reminisce about when they had their revelation and swallow their disappointments on queue when their leader gets “new light”.  And when it came time to throw away rules, disenfranchise voters and abbreviate roll call votes in Denver, the Kossacks were enthusiastic supporters of all things not very Democratic. We ended up with an establishment president who is more conservative than just about anyone on DailyKos but by golly, they won, didn’t they? So what if they ripped their party in two in the meantime?

They have a lot in common with Trump supporters.

Yes, conversion diaries, especially many of them, written with the blessing and encouragement and sometimes the coding skills and public megaphone of the founder, can and do make a difference. It simply is what it is, regardless of what Atrios says.

 

One of the most sensible things I’ve read on the left in years

Atrios this morning on the bombing of Iraq.

The war in Iraq was stupid and expensive.  But we are responsible for the humans we left behind in the country we messed up.

 

Oh My God! The problem is the 401K!!

Suddenly, there are bloggers and writers popping out of the woodwork claiming that there is something very wrong with a retirement system built around a 401K.  It’s like a collective light bulb going on.  How did they miss it when it was staring them in the face all along??

Yes, many of our problems, from insufficient retirement funds to lack of labor protection to massive layoffs to wildly irrational corporate greed and testosterone fueled gambling at the global casino by the finance industry leading to global market catastrophes can be traced back to the 401K.  I am not being hyperbolic here.  I’ve been writing about the 401K monstrosity for several years and have been highly suspicious about it for many years before that.  Here are just a few of the many, many posts I’ve done on the recklessness of the 401K.

Is the 401K system a Ponzi Scheme? Discuss.

And now for something Radical and Extreme: Get rid of the 401K 

Convergence: Reckless Endangerment, Can you afford to Retire?

By the way, although Atrios is right about increasing social security benefits, he is wrong about having people invest more of their money in 401Ks.  The 401K should not be an opt out default retirement account.  It should be stepped down and offered as a supplement to a regular boring pension.  It’s not that the politics of abolishing the 401K as a primary retirement fund is very difficult.  It’s that we don’t really have a choice if we want to reign in the runaway finance industry’s ability to carelessly destroy economies and people’s lives.  I mean, what does a banker care if he loses a billion here or there?  For one thing, the money will get replenished in the next payroll cycle and for another, the US government will frantically cover all loses in order to prevent nationwide insurrection.  Go ask Neil Barofsky about the trillions of dollars in government funds that banks have access to in order to cover their losses and make themselves look healthy.

But wait! There’s more!

You can’t touch your 401K before you’re almost 60 without a heavy excise tax.  Oh sure, there are some hardship exceptions but just paying your bills because you’ve been out of work or using the funds to start your own business (to buy hardware and software licenses for example), not possible.  Now, I suppose this is the benevolent governmental entities preventing you from spending your retirement before you retire and in normal economic circumstances, this would be perfectly understandable.

But these are not normal economic circumstances and with the House controlled by a bunch of hardass Republicans bent on a new Civil War against Americans using stinginess and closing the tap on the money supply to people who desperately need it, the fact that the finance industry is able to sit on our nest eggs and play with them to their heart’s content while there are people out here who are losing everything so they don’t have to pay a crazy excise tax, well, I’m sorry but that’s just immoral.  Sure, you can’t spend your pension in this manner but you know what you’re going to get at the end of 40 years of work with a pension.  With a 401K, the only people who are going to make out for sure are the financiers.  Why should the rest of us be paying for that?

401K’s are bad investments with insidious consequences.  They have to go.

See Jon Stewart’s interview with Helaine Olen on her book Pound Foolish for more about what havoc has been wrecked by the 401K.

Why questions

Why does Adam Davidson even have a recurring Sunday column in the NYTimes?

Why are there so few women opinion makers and so many male opinion makers who go on to become pompous gasbags on Sunday morning talk shows?  Why do I get the feeling that when MoDo dies or retires, she’ll be replaced by someone like Kevin Drum?

Why do I get the feeling that the lack of female voices in major media outlets has to do with the fact that they are unlikely to identify with the villagers?  Why are the villagers so much like the Taliban in their repression of women in the public forum?

***********************

Why do otherwise smart bloggers make a big f&*(ing deal about re-electing an African-American president when it was clear that the re-elected dude’s whole campaign revolved around making giant leaps of hyperbolic meme planting about how evil his opponent was while simultaneously re-inforcing learned helplessness to make sure his own disgusted base didn’t defect to third parties?  Why doesn’t this blogger see that many people felt they didn’t have a choice and it had nothing to do with melanocyte density?  Why doesn’t the blogger understand that if the disgusted had a choice they would have ditched the dude even if he had been the first purple skinned president in history?   Why doesn’t he understand that this is not a triumphant moment but an indication of the feeling of impotence in the electorate?  And why doesn’t the blogger admit that the ability to “win” a nomination and have a series of unfortunate events lead to winning an election is no guarantee that the candidate will be anything more than an inexperienced, mediocre, banker sycophantic president who is a notoriously poor negotiator, even in his second term?  Why won’t the left shut up about Obama because going on about racism and politics is about as out-of-touch with everyday living conditions as it is possible to get and the rest of the electorate, even the ones on their side, is starting to resent it?

Why doesn’t the blogger understand that it is even less possible now for an intelligent, left of center female to win the presidency than it was 4 years ago and that it will probably never happen in my lifetime because Obama’s campaign showed how to take out the female competition?

Why doesn’t the blogger understand that there were/are dozens of women who were more qualified to be president and had years more legislative experience than Obama and they were never even considered by the Democratic party?  Why do we just assume that they wouldn’t have been better presidents than Obama?  Why do I get the feeling that the next conservative grand bargaineer that the Democrats try to rush through will be a woman and the meme machine will say “It’s her time!” and everyone will jump on the bandwagon and inadvertently elect another Reagan lover?

Why do most left blogosphere bloggers act like no damage was done to women by the hateful way women candidates were treated in 2008?  Why are they living in la-la land about how women’s standing has been set back?  Why are they so fucking clueless?

Why do I get the feeling that Democrats are as dumb as a box of rocks?

Childhood songs mondagans

Atrios put up the lyrics of two childhood songs yesterday but he got them all wrong.

Here are the correct lyrics for the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Old Smokey:

My eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
We have tortured every teacher, we have broken every rule
We are marching to the office now to hang the principal
Our school is marching on

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Teacher hit me with a ruler
I bopped her on the bean
With a rotten tangerine
And now she’s not so mean

(note that the original lyrics predates the use of assault weapons in school)

And here is Old Smokey:

On top of old Spaghetti, all covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed
It rolled of the table, and onto the floor
And then my poor meatball rolled right out the door

It rolled into the garden and under a bush
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

The mush was as tasty
As tasty could be,
And then the next summer,
It grew into a tree.

The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.

Kids in the 60s and early 70s were less violent. We knew all the words to the protest songs and no one we knew owned guns except bad suburban dads wwho beat their kids on Sundays as prophylactic punishment and hunters.

True story.

An answer to Atrios on how old you need to be to ride a city bus to school

Taking the public bus to school in Nuremberg, Germany

Atrios asked the question in response to Lenore Skenazy’s post on FreeRangeKids about a mother who was reported to CPS for allowing her 10 year old to ride the public bus to school by herself. Here’s my take on it.

My kid spent the summer in Nuremberg, Germany as an summer study award recipient from the German government (Long story.  She earned it). She was paired with a girl who was a couple of years younger than Brooke.  We’ll call her C.  C is 14 and attends the equivalent of eighth grade.  Germans go to school well into July so Brooke went to school with C and spent time in the high school level gymnasium as well. Additionally, in Germany, it seems like the school isn’t necessarily in the immediate neighborhood.  The gymnasium Brooke and C attended was in the middle of Nuremberg but C lived about about 8-10 miles away.

To get to school every morning, Brooke and C would get on the city bus, just like all the other students in Nuremberg.  They took the bus to the train station and then took the train into town. Then they walked.  Brooke didn’t say how young the youngest students were that took the bus and train but you can expect that from about the 6th grade on, the public transit system was the transportation that the students were expected to use.   She was given an unlimited transit pass for the month that she was there but that was part of her award.  C and her family used a more limited pass with a certain number of rides and they needed to buy new ones periodically, sort of like a metro card.

But wait! There’s more.

Brooke says that a typical gymnasium day is broken into two parts.  The compulsory parts of the curriculum are in the morning.  The electives are in the afternoon and afternoon scheduling varies depending on what you’re taking.  It’s difficult to describe but it sounds like more of a college schedule in the afternoon because the elective classes don’t meet every day of the week or meet hours apart, that kind of thing.  So, after your morning classes, you’re pretty much free to do what you want until your afternoon electives begin.  And she didn’t have lunch at school.  You’re on your own after your morning classes are finished and that means you can leave the school if you want.  Students either go home or they roam the city foraging for food, usually at McDonalds.  Brooke said she ate more lunches at Mickey D’s in Nuremberg than she ever has in the US.

That kind of behavior is unheard of here in the states and yet it seems to work just fine in Nuremberg.  There aren’t gangs of kids getting into trouble during the middle of the day or getting kidnapped at the bus stops.  You can imagine what it was like when she started school this fall back in her old high school.  Suddenly, she was treated like a feeble minded toddler again after a summer of expectations of mature and responsible behavior.  There is no public transportation in this town and no way for her to go and explore the city or walk around.  There really aren’t that many destinations here anyway.  It’s a suburb and all the businesses are on a busy main drag without many sidewalks.  It’s strictly SUVLand.  There aren’t any cathedrals or museums or gathering places nearby. No place where a bunch of teenagers with time to kill before their classes can hang out without suspicions of  wrongdoing. Not only that but leaving the campus during the middle of the day is strictly forbidden.  You can’t just go off to a local coffee shop or a cafe order a sausage and a beer, which you can drink at 16.  Nooooo.  Your movements are strictly controlled.  Can you imagine that?? Nuremberg lets a whole junior year’s worth of students loose in a city where it’s legal to drink beer at 16 and no one bats an eye.  Here in NJ, a 16 year old can’t go anywhere without a strict chain of custody.

And the weird thing is that the whole time she was in Germany riding the buses and trains from town to town with her friends, and many times without the chaperone, I never worried about her.  During her time in Berlin, her group had several opportunities to explore the city on their own without the chaperone.  And they did.  For a bunch of American kids to go to a city in a different country and not have to be tied to a chaperone who practically has to be in the bathroom with them to wipe their asses just doesn’t happen here.  It must have been very liberating.  And they all made it back to the hotel in one piece.  Fancy that.  Will wonders never cease.

Why the people of central New Jersey think it is good or healthy to regulate their kids’ every move is beyond me.  Brooke really resents being curtailed.  She can’t go anywhere without a car, which is too expensive for her to learn to drive in our present domestic circumstances, and the system acts like it can’t trust her or her classmates to keep their commitments.  They’re assumed to be up to no good before they’ve even done anything.  Around here, little groups of teenagers can’t walk through the neighborhoods talking and laughing without some irate citizen calling the police on them for making noise.

But the more I see it, the more I am convinced that it’s not really a safety issue.  It’s a control issue.  There are many things we can’t control anymore.  Our jobs and retirements seem very uncontrollable.  We can’t control the wars our elected officials got us into.  We can’t control gas prices or food prices or global warming.  But we can control our kids.  It seems like some people are hanging onto that power way past the point where it serves any useful purpose.  You have to let your kids grow up sometime.

As for Brooke, the summer in Germany matured her quite a bit.  A couple of weeks ago, I drove her to Philadelphia Airport  to catch a flight to visit her grandparents in Houston.  I left her off at the curb in front of the terminal, got her bags out of the car, and told her to wait inside for me while I parked the car.  Before I had even found a spot, she buzzed me on the phone.  She had checked in, gotten her boarding pass, checked her baggage and was going through security.  I could leave because there was nothing left for me to do or hover over or fret about.  She jumped on the plane without any help at all.  Thank you, Nuremberg.

So, the answer to the question about how old should a student be in order to take public transportation to school is: find out what the best practices are in the rest of the world and use that as a guideline.  If it’s ok for a 10 year old in Nuremberg to take the public bus to school, it’s probably ok for an American kid to do it.  It would be nice if the kid had other friends doing it too.  There’s comfort in numbers.  But as long as the kid can navigate the bus route and use the token/card system by themselves after practice with a parent, why not?  Give the kid a cell phone and tell him/her to call if they get stuck.

They’ll probably do fine.

And here’s how they get to school in the Netherlands.  Now THIS is what I’d love to see in more places in the US:

Repeat after me, Duncan

Nobody outside of your little circle of Democrats gives a flying fuck about what you call “neoliberalism“.

Yes, you think there is a big, dark ugly political philosophy behind neoliberalism.  We are aware of the theories. To me, it sounds like you have blown up the neoliberal boogieman disproportionately to its actual effect.  But we don’t care.  No, we do not.

We have our own theories about what the Clintons were up to and we simply disagree with you.  We disagree strenuously because we weren’t brain dead during the past 20 years.  We know how to keep score.

Give up already.  It’s bad enough that you committed us to 4 years of Obama with Gitmo, Kill Lists and 9.8% unemployment in NJ.  Remember, in 2008 he was touted as the cure for “neoliberalism”.  And how did that turn out?

Don’t make us dislike you.

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