Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Movin' On Up -- Or Are We?

I have a confession to make: I am a traffic junkie. Ever since I discovered the TTLB Blog ecosystem and the tools afforded my by Site Meter, I have become fascinated with my stats, and with tracking how many visitors I get, as well as where they originate, and how many page views they go to while here. While I still write what I want, when I want, and how I want, I do get excited when I get a response, and I'm not too proud to advertise with links on other blogs where I think the owners and/or readers will appreciate my offering, nor to trackback when one of my entries is inspired by another blog.

And I'm pleased to report that my readership has steadily risen over time. I currently have an average of 116 visits per day, with a one day record of around 250. Now, that's admittedly peanuts compared to the big boys, but still, considering how new I am and how limited my blogging time is, I think that's a pretty decent gain. All by being myself.

All of this is to provide background for my take on the following blog entry by Michelle Malkin:


In the LA Times, former blogger Billmon writes that bloggers have sold out. His thesis is that "[a]s blogs commercialize, they are tied ever closer to the mainstream media and its increasingly frivolous news agenda."

I was particularly interested in his argument that "a charmed circle of bloggers" is gaining "larger audiences and greater influence," while the rest of the blogosphere is being left behind. Media exposure to the top blogs, he argues, "is intensifying an existing trend toward a 'winner take all' concentration of audience share." He goes on:

Even before blogs hit the big time, Web stats showed the blogosphere to be a surprisingly unequal place, with a relative handful of blogs — say, the top several hundred — accounting for the lion's share of all page hits.

In Billmon's eyes, the blogosphere is an inegalitarian place, with little opportunity for new blogs to break into the "charmed circle" of high-traffic sites that have sold out in pursuit of advertising dollars. I am not familiar with Billmon's writings, but I get the sense that he (or she) probably feels the same way about economic opportunity in the U.S.

How well does this pessimistic view of the blogosphere align with reality? Is mobility really as limited as Billmon suggests?

A little more than a year ago, John Hawkins listed the most influential center-right bloggers. (He ignored left-of-center blogs and non-political blogs because he was not well acquainted with them.) His list was as follows:

1. Andrew Sullivan
2. Instapundit
3. The Corner
4. The Volokh Conspiracy
5. Little Green Footballs
6. Lileks (James) The Bleat
7. Steven Den Beste
8. Scrappleface
9. A Small Victory
10. Tim Blair

If Hawkins were to create such a list today, I have no doubt we'd see plenty of new names--sites like Powerline, Hewitt, Allah, and perhaps Wizbang and INDC Journal. Not coincidentally, these are among the most consistently interesting and informed sites in the blogosphere.

In essence, Billmon believes the game is rigged. But in blogging, as in life more generally, there is tremendous opportunity for those inclined to seize it.

It cannot be denied that early bloggers enjoy an advantage over latecomers. A blog that launches today, no matter how good or heavily promoted, will not soon overtake Instapundit or Daily Kos. Yet even the mightiest blog won't retain its position in the "charmed circle" for long if it is running on fumes.

More thoughts on Billmon's op-ed (from liberal bloggers) here: 1 2 3

Update: It turns out that Hawkins ranked the top 125 political blogs just this week. Compare to his October 2003 list here and his January 2003 list here.

Update II: For blog newbies, N.Z. Bear's weblog ecosystem is a fascinating barometer of blog mobility (though it seems to be down this morning for maintenance).

I am in agreement with Michelle on this. A while back I blogged about Memogate (who didn't?), and in particular about the level of fact checking and policing done by blogs, OF OTHER BLOGS. In it, I also touched on the issue of blog quality and how it affects blog popularity. To shamelessly quote myself:

The internet and blogs changed that. Now you have an outlet. Now everyone can have a voice. If that voice is used poorly, you will be ignored, mocked, and refuted. But while it may be small at first, if what your new internet voice has to say is right, and significant, and well said, it will get heard. And listened to. And repeated.

That, I think, is the point that Billmon has missed. The Blogosphere is truly a "Free Market of Ideas" in the sense for which that term was truly intended. Not only are you free to express your opinions on a blog, but your success, at least in terms of readership, is directly related to how well-expressed and well-received those opinions are BY YOUR AUDIENCE -- not by a publisher or producer. Unlike the MSM, where only those who please the ear of the bigwigs ever gets a chance to present their views to the public, anyone can post to a blog. From there, its success is up to you and your audience. Admittedly, there are bloggers who have received commercial support, and who continue to blog because of it. But as Michelle points out, these blogs don't necessarily get the readerhsip they once did.

Furthermore, she could have used as examples two of my favorite blogs, both of whome have been gaining in readership and influence (and upon whose coattails I have made some of my most spectacular gains): Ace of Spades and MyPetJawa. Both of these guys blog because they enjoy doing it, yes, both care about recognition, but no, neither one has bee coopted by the forces of conformity because of it.

While it may be arguable that blogs in general are not as upwardly mobile as Billmon wishes we were, one thing can be said in our defense:

At least we're self-propelled.

Guest Post

You'll recall, perhaps, a post I made early on in my blogging about how my Christian faith shapes my political views.

Well, one of my best friends in the whole world read it, we had a dialogue, and the following blog entry is his response. With his permission, I am reprinting it here, without comment from me:

As you called for on your blog several weeks ago, there is a need for "righteousness" in American government. It is, in fact, a virtue toward which individuals and institutions are morally obligated to strive. Despite the claims in recent years by some in the political arena, the pursuit of justice has always been (to varying degrees) a part of the American experiment. This is evident in the three great documents of the American form of government - the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. These documents wit-ness to certain principles, ideals and virtues that the state must recognize and strive to secure or, at the very least, recognize above all others:
· All citizens will have liberty
· All citizens will be equal
· All citizens will be justly governed - i.e., justice

Whereas liberty and equality are oriented toward the individual, justice (as the highest of the three) is always geared toward the common good.(1) Because "good" is a moral term, the common good is understood as a political science about what is best and right for the whole. This is how and why justice will "run into" or at times "run over" liberty and equality. Of course, the devil is in the details, and our task as citizens of a representative republic is to seek the proper definition of the common good and then to create an atmosphere in order for people to achieve it.

This naturally leads to a discussion of rights, which should be understood as natural rights recognized (though not created nor established) by our democracy. Tocqueville wrote that it is by reference to natural rights that "men have always defined the nature of license and tyranny." In other words, no nation can be called great without having respect for natural rights. It seems to me that it could be persuasively argued that without this there can be no real civil society at all (unless one considers types of tyrannical societies "civil").

Even a rudimentary inspection of American history will show that liberty and equality have always quarreled with each other in our democracy. And they will do so in any democracy. This is what Alexander Hamilton and James Madison feared the most when considering the future of democracy in America. In fact, this is the explanation for John Adams' fear of the eventual failure of the American experiment, writing (in a private letter after his presidency) that "all democracies eventually self-destruct."

As Mortimer J. Adler wrote in The Time of Our Lives (1970) the conflict in our society between liberty and equality occurs only when neither is limited by justice. The application of this principle is extraordinary: from affirmative action to abortion. Only justice has the natural ability to resolve the inevitable tension and conflict between liberty and equality that will arise in any type of democracy. Justice must be the controlling principle among these three since it alone has the ability to determine the scope of the other two without sacrificing either. Left unchecked, liberty will run roughshod over equality and vice-versa. Justice, when properly conceived in coordination with "the common good" and "natural rights" must be recognized as the ultimate discriminating virtue in government.


Below are some detailed definitions of several key terms I have outlined above.

Natural Rights
There are several ways to define natural rights. One way is through the observing that natural rights are to be identified by our natural needs. This is to say that human beings possess no natural right that does not correspond to a natural need. Justice and natural rights are inherently linked together because our ability to determine right and wrong in both private and social contexts is based on what is really and objectively good.
A just government must recognize and secure the natural rights of men and women in order that they may be able to make good lives. This is what the Declaration of Independence is speaking of when it mentions our natural right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." No government has the power to grant a good life. The good life entails meeting our natural needs through the possession of real goods, as well as the possession of those goods or wants that we have that do not interfere with our natural needs (or those of others).
All of this is possible, of course, because all human beings possess the same essential nature. If this were not so, society would be impossible. This last point has been famously rejected by many political, biological, sociological and, sadly, even religious thinkers of the past century. Thankfully, not all have fallen into this serious philosophical error.

To understand liberty properly (which is synonymous with freedom) we need to under-stand the four kinds of liberty. Circumstantial liberty is the ability and right of self-realization. Moral liberty is the freedom to perfect oneself - that is, to be perfected by means of a virtuous character. Natural liberty is the ability and right we possess for self-determination. The final kind, political liberty, can be considered as a type or aspect of circumstantial freedom - that is, a person possesses political liberty or freedom only when they are living in economic, social, and political conditions that foster it. The essence of this last type of liberty is the ability of an individual or a society to be governed by their consent and to have a voice in that government.

Like liberty, there are several types of equality. For the purposes of the present discussion, political equality is based on circumstances, but is entitled to all human beings by virtue of being human. In other words, these are conditions that should be experienced by everyone - specifically, the political conditions of status, treatment and opportunity.
The issue of slavery is a good, if not obvious, example to use to explore these conditions. In terms of status, the reason why slavery is wrong is because no person is more or less human than another. This means that every member of society deserves the same general treatment since no one naturally deserves more dignity than anyone else. As for opportunity, every human being naturally deserves the same opportunity afforded to others for the same reason - their shared human nature. If and when these conditions are not distributed equally, it is the duty of a just state to override liberty and do what is necessary to correct the situation (e.g., Brown v. Board of Education). Every person is by nature equal to all other persons and is naturally entitled to an equality of political, social and economic conditions. Our greatest President and statesman, the honorable Abraham Lincoln, recognized this as one of the core principles of democracy, even though it was not evident in American society at the time. This is why he called the ideals in the Declaration of Independence as a promise to the future rather than a statement of fact.

Aristotle (4th century B.C.) distinguished between two types of justice - universal and particular justice. Particular justice deals with such things as fairness in exchange, the distribution of goods and taking corrective steps to ensure equality (like in the example given in the immediately preceding paragraph). John Rawls, the late Harvard professor, was mistaken when he argued that justice was limited to fairness in how we deal with others. When it comes to universal justice Aristotle asked the question, what is lawful? By which he meant, what is right and good? Understood in this way, justice is recognized as one of the four cardinal virtues (along with courage, temperance and prudence). This idea can be traced back to his teacher Plato who had the insight to observe that justice consisted in virtuous acts toward others. It is universal justice that we speak of when discussing political justice.
Aristotle also recognized that, while all other animals are social to various degrees, only man is a political animal. When seeking to understand the proper relation of justice to the state we must ask whether the principle of justice is prior to the political state (including its constitution, laws, etc.) or if justice is relative to the political state. If it is relative then we are forced to into two positions. First, that justice is completely dependent on the power of state. Second, that justice is the result of the state’s laws rather than the basis of them. This is tantamount to saying that saying that justice is merely political. However, if we say that justice is antecedent to the political state, then we are claiming that political justice is deter-mined by natural justice. Hence, justice is understood as natural and rational rather than conventional. In other words, justice is not man-made. If it were then justice would change with the coming and going of different political regimes. Instead, because justice is natural it is, therefore, universally binding on all people in all places and at all times.
It was this definition of justice that led Lincoln to conclude that the obligations of a just government were to do for its people what they, individually, cannot do for themselves. The preamble of the U. S. Constitution summarizes these obligations well - "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

(1) Admittedly, these terms are not oriented wholly to the individual. They are corporate terms that also possess specific personal and/or individual application.

- David Alan Reed

Pundit Review's Upcoming Schedule

From an email I received from Pundit Review:

This Saturday (10/2) at noon we will have on Dean's World to talk about the latest project for Operation Hope and then we will have Scoott Johnson of PowerLine. The show can be heard live at www.wbix.com and archived at punditreview.com. If you want to call in, the number is 877-711-1060.

We have a great line up, including Don Luskin of Poor and Stupid.com on 10/9.


1. Open the top to the coffee pot.
2. Slide the pot under the brewer.
3. Slide the filter basket out of the brewer.
4. Dump the old filter and grounds in the trash.
5. Place a new filter in the basket.
6. Place the basket in the dispenser and pull the handle twice.
7. Slide the basket back in the brewer.
8. Press the "Start" button.

Eight steps. A total of oh, two minutes. How freaking hard is that? And yet, every day, when I come to work, ONE OR BOTH OF THE POTS IS EMPTY!!!!!

I can only assume this is attributable to rudeness or stupidity. Or both.