This article was posted to gnu.misc.discuss by Lloyd Wood and is archived here with his permission.
From: Lloyd Wood <email@example.com> Newsgroups: talk.bizarre,gnu.misc.discuss Subject: seeing Stallman and deconstructing Katz Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1999 03:40:52 +0000 Reply-To: Lloyd Wood <L.Wood@ee.surrey.ac.uk> To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com I would like to say that the Stating the Obvious article below is the most accurate and incisive 'Stating the Obvious' piece that I have ever read. However, and but first... Right around now I was supposed to be getting around to describing what it was like to see Richard Stallman live when he appeared at the Commonwealth Institute in London on Tuesday night. I was sidetracked by the Obvious piece, which clearly articulated reasons for disliking Jon Katz's writings more clearly than an infinite number of anonymous cowards armed with keyboards could ever do. [Short Stallman summary: if Eric Raymond gives a good performance and could do credit to a suitable role in a film, Stallman would be the man who wrote the book the film was based on - and that book would be something like Eco's 'Name of the Rose'. Would you prefer to converse with a shallow and vain actor, or to someone who can expound his own philosophy of life to you in a reasonably compelling and convincing way? If Raymond is Pepsi, with fashionable marketing, Stallman is the original Coke, and the choice of a Gnu generation to boot - and Stallman doesn't score points by explicitly lambasting Microsoft or others in the way that Raymond increasingly feels he needs to. Although giving a less polished, much less scripted, jetlagged performance and obviously less comfortable with the same stage that Raymond occupied two months earlier, I found Stallman far more credible in person -- even if I will never forgive him for that do-not-use-Tcl outburst of a few years back. Mind you, it appeared that half the audience always seemed to be laughing with Stallman, while the other half laughed at him - but the halves regularly swapped places, and the laughter was generally goodnatured. On the other hand, Stallman is fussily literal-minded in the extreme, to the extent of pronouncing the 'slash' in GNU/Linux, and not referring to Torvalds by name but as 'the author of Linux'. His comments when asked about MP3, sampling, music copyright and payment systems wavered between naive, idealistic and just plain stupid; he should think about these more and carefully before speaking on them, and the contrast between this part of the discussion and the more solid and developed philosophical ground of GNU was vivid. The amount of time spent talking about emacs - an infinitely customizable kitchen-sink editor and travesty of lisp that you no longer want to customise after you've invested semi-infinite time learning it to the point where you can actually customise it to the way you'd have expected an editor to function before you'd succumbed to the meme of emacs and how RMS believes an editor should work despite years of human-interface work to the contrary - was disproportionately large compared to the time spent talking about gcc. I know which one was more important to the development of GNU/Linux, and it wasn't the network packet hog with the patronising 'Please answer yes or no' that couldn't handle single keypresses. Back to the Obvious...] Unfortunately, the Stating the Obvious article below is ruined by that gratuitous 'pay the Obvious for recommending Katz's book' Amazon link at its end. Furthering Katz's agenda while furthering your own monetary gains loses moral high ground and brings you dangerously near Katz's level of advancing and promoting clueless-content-free rhetoric for fame and fortune. (Take note, Obvious, NTK, and others. Reviewing books while making money off the sale of those same books is ethically questionable in the extreme.) Criticising Jon Katz for using the login JonKatz on a site where Anonymous Coward is the lowest of the low is an unnecessarily cheap shot; I cannot fault Katz for identifying himself as himself - it's fair warning, after all - but only for _being_ himself and telling us about it in such detail. I must fault Rob Malda for letting Katz be himself in front of us in exchange for the occasional Slashdot mention on primetime television and in mass media. That's selling out, cheaply. Enough of such stunts. Katz claims to be a writer, and should be judged on that. Better, if slightly more work, to spend more time examining and reading Katz's writing, to see if there is anything worthwhile or notable in there. Let's begin with: http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1999/2/19katz.asp where Katz praises a favourite site of his, Keith Dawson's Tasty Bits from the Technology Front (TBTF). Katz writes: Like most good Net and Web sites, TBTF includes vigorous public discussion areas where readers can share information and argue about Dawson's tasty bits, sometimes in brainy, usually civilized, running conversations that continue for months, even years. and what public discussion areas would those be? TBTF has culled and edited emails from readers related to stories in the newsletter - material deemed appropriate and placed publically after being chosen and asked permission to post by Dawson. This is not a public discussion area. Why is TBTF's information sharing good? Because Dawson has reasonable taste, education, judgement and editorial control, while public discussions generally don't. Read usenet lately? Or Slashdot, for that matter. Katz describes TBTF as one of his favourite sites, and he _hasn't noticed this_? You might think that Katz skimped on background research, and you'd be right. This is one of the more obvious, more recent, examples outside Slashdot of Katz's lack of background research. [necessary disclaimer: http://www.tbtf.com/jaundiced/ is my output, unpaid, and you should be aware of this when evaluating my comments concerning TBTF above.] Speaking of Slashdot, let's look at Katz's output there. There's: http://slashdot.org/articles/99/03/17/1634238.shtml where Katz writes: It takes a certain amount of shamelessness to be a monomaniac billionaire dwarf. Well, it takes a certain amount of shamelessness to be a content-free pundit with nothing to say, either. Katz then goes on to harp on about deconstruction, prompted by the wake of a not-very-suited-for-Slashdot- either piece by someone else that, to its credit, did actually result in anonymous cowards arguing about Foucault for a couple of posts. It's not as if Foucault invented criticism; he merely brought thinking about other people's arguments critically back into fashion amongst the fashionable-but-woefully-uneducated. Following the Foucault lead, I will attempt to deconstruct Katz, to see what remains in the harsh light of criticism. Or at least, to examine anything amusing that turns up. There's: http://slashdot.org/features/99/02/15/1151241.shtml where Katz commits such memorable aphorisms to paper as: Movies (and TV) are, after all, one of a culture's most revealing, reliable mirrors And what does this tell us about ancient Rome - or should I watch a rerun of 'Ben Hur'? If this is true of the United States, I'm glad I don't live there. I'd hate to think that the Jerry Springer show was real life, or that Katz appearing on the Today Show would indicate that many Americans using the Internet are just like Katz. Or: Geeks bit the heads off of chickens and rats in carnivals at the beginning of the century in exchange for room and board. Suggesting that Alice Cooper, faded mainstream media musician who gets television time as an indicator of American culture, is a geek, strikes me as rather, well, odd. Come again? http://slashdot.org/features/99/02/21/1623232.shtml The excerpting of my book "Running To The Mountain" on Slashdot last week was shockingly and surprisingly successful. Because of the excerpting here, I shot near the top of Amazon's Top 100-selling books in just a few hours, and stayed on the list all weekend. Katz applauds both his self-promoting cynicism and the lack of education and nous of the Slashdot readers who bought the book in good faith. To add some context, I'll just note some Amazon comments on one of Katz's previous books, the punchily-titled 'Virtuous Reality; How America Surrendered Discussion of Moral Values to Opportunists, Nitwits, and Blockheads Like Will': http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679449132 Here's Katz on Katz's own book: I'm the author of Virtuous Reality and am much struck by the ways in which this new medium works for writers. You can see the 'self-promotion' light switching on round about... here. Above is a summary of the book, an author's an editor's description, a review, and a pro and con response as part of a running opportunity for people to talk about it. This kind of discussion is a reminder to me that this medium doesn't undermine literacy, but promotes it in completely new ways. I haven't seen them in bookstores. [..] The currently concluding reader comment: [..] The author is apparantly ignorant of most if not all of the philisophical and religious literature dealing with questions of morality which is just as well as he prefers his intuitions to any appeal to reason. His main argument in any case seems to be that traditional morality as expressed by Bennet et al won't let him do whatever he want to whomever he wants to do it to. This is the philisophical argument of a three year old. At least there was more to Foucault than that. Despite the misspelling of 'philosophical', that reader appears to be literate; Katz doesn't. Rob Malda is someone who can lay claim to an enviable drawing ability while constantly and honestly disclaiming any ability with the English language whatsoever and throwing considerable and mostly-laudable effort into running what has become a popular public service. He's also someone who appears to be functionally illiterate (cf his review of the 'Open Source Book' on Slashdot) and it looks as if he would think that 'editorial balance' has something to do with spreading webserving load via SMP. I could forgive Malda that, given his youth and lack of a decent education, but I cannot forgive him latching onto Katz in the hope of bringing Slashdot more business. (Can a leech leech off a leech?) This is a marriage of financial convenience, nothing more, as shown by: http://slashdot.org/books/99/01/31/1413256.shtml Katz, if asked to identify himself as a type of programmer, would probably say something fashionable and meaningless like 'open source libertanian who is learning object-oriented', yet here he pontificates about Y2K. This is a review of a book covering the Y2K problem from the man who consistently types the year beginning with a lower-case L, and who has taken considerable time to get the hang of something as simple as cross-platform apostrophes. It would be both curmudgeonly to suggest that Katz - someone who has never discussed Y2K in comp.risks - is unqualified to review this book, and completely unnecessary. It's OBVIOUS Katz is unqualified, dammit. Not that that stops him or even gives him pause for thought. Winner, a political scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and one of the country's most thoughtful technology scholars, ...presumably numbering Winner's output among the kind of vacuous things you'll find in abundance in poor company at <http://www.ctheory.com/>. Not a Y2K expert, then? Further on, there's Katz on Katz, when you know he's at his best because there's a good chance he's factually correct and may have actually done his background research to boot: Journalists don't seem to have a clue. It's correct. It's self-referential (if you're willing to regard Katz as a journalist), but it's correct. Journalists don't have a clue. That's the whole point of journalism; the ability to see things from the general ('clueless') layman's perspective, although defining the layman - or rather, the journalist's chosen target audience - is becoming increasingly tricky. The redeeming feature of the good journalist is the ability, time and funding to find information and sources who do have a clue, and to apply critical judgement in obtaining and parlaying the information he gains onwards within the framework of a comprehensible story. Katz is not a good journalist. Katz isn't even a good _writer_. Many journalists use the web the same way you or I do, only not as well; a good journalist is not this lazy. Good journalists are increasingly rare. When I was a columnist for Wired News ...while columnists are increasingly commonplace. Heck, I seem to be turning into one myself, and even Stallman's thoughts litter usenet like unexploded mortar shells, demanding corralling into a column to provide a counterbalance to whatever Sheriff-Ed material Raymond is churning out in LinuxWorld this week. (to whoever gets to subedit Stallman: lose the 'we'. to whoever gets to subedit Raymond: send it back for a rewrite, and remind him that not everyone has read everything else he's written. Much less agreed with it. Much less found it hilariously memorable or funny.) Those two comments in Katz's article are correct. Self-referential, but correct. Katz is, unfortunately, at his most accurate when talking about himself in tedious detail, and this is why he does it so much... I know sober and knowledgeable computer programmers and engineers ... but I very much doubt this, unless the 'of' is missing from the first line. A knowledgeable computer programmer would have trouble keeping a sober face while talking to Katz. But that's not important here; what's important here is the 'You can buy this book at Computer Literacy and help Slashdot out' at the end of the article, which is rather the whole commercial point and so financially convenient. And that's where we came in. Does Katz know anything about computers? Well, there's: http://slashdot.org/features/99/01/27/198200.shtml Clicking on Star Office took me to an open file, where I wrote a message I intended to post directly to Slashdot. In two minutes, I had gone deeper into the inside of a computer than I ever had. And I was writing in a word program that was every bit as easy and comprehensible as Microsoft. At this point, I'd like to remind the stout-hearted reader who has stuck this out this far of Slashdot's motto: 'News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters'. Who is Malda trying to kid here? If Katz's technical knowledge is still open to question, I'll point out: http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1999/1/20katz.asp and its ilk: Join the Katz-alert listserv: E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. where <http://jefferson.fac.org/> wwill give you a 'welcome to the NT 4 options pack' page running on an IIS server. Remember, Katz is a man praising Linux to the skies (All Hail Linux! To criticise Linux is to risk the wrath of thousands of high school students and other sociopaths who can't spell!), while dismissing Gates as a dwarf even as he relies on Gates' software. And then there are articles such as: http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1999/2/16katz.asp trumpeting the end of the Microsoft Age. This is a man who appears to have questionable sincerity. Rather unlike Richard Stallman, who you may choose (a word that Stallman has always had trouble conjugating, presumably because he has never had much use for it) to regard as nuts, but _sincerely_ nuts, and who practices what he preaches. http://slashdot.org/features/99/01/14/1814224.shtml The Internet is the first organic technological revolution, the first one that and self-replicates. I'd nominate agriculture for this, where next year's crop comes from the seed of this year's crop (unless you're buying from Monsanto, of course); that was a revolution equally as full of, well, manure. http://www.slashdot.org/features/99/01/03/2218232.shtml Online, everybody is a critic, each opinion as good as any other. This is said by the man who goes on to talk about text written in 'ASCCI', thus disproving his own claim. I think the opinion that it's called ASCII is likely to be the rather better opinion. The opinion that relates it to ISO-8859-x and Unicode is better still. http://slashdot.org/features/98/12/28/1745252.shtml Lurkers are one of the Net's biggest disenfranchised groups [..] Online, Lurkers are a culture all their own. Indeed. They're the people who lurk. And several hundred words of generalisation about lurkers later: It's impossible to generalize about Lurkers, Oh, how very well done! Better would be to say that it's impossible to generalize _well_ about lurkers. In the interim, the description of lurker culture was skipped over through copious waffling. I believe that Katzing will be to Slashdot as Wilsoning is to Neuromancer: to be remembered for all time by the public for screwing up stupidly. Eventually, they won't even remember _why_ it's called Katzing. Still, it's the second best shot at immortality Katz has after his daughter. This is, however, an unfortunate and ignominious end for those who are luckless enough to share his name, especially if they're running ISPs: http://uwsg.ucs.indiana.edu/hypermail/linux/alpha/9602/0000.html And here's the in-the-public-eye-so-he-must-be-the-real-Katz back on a book tour in early 1997, long before he allied with Slashdot: http://www.booknotes.org/transcripts/50404.htm LAMB: W--let me ask the obvious question: Why is Bill Bennett an opportunist and you're not? Mr. KATZ: Well, he's made a lot more money than I have, basically. Whe--if I get to the point where I've sold as many books as he has, we'll be equal. ...and with the aid of Slashdot, Katz has now achieved that. He's an opportunist even in his own lights, nothing more; he may have written books, but that doesn't mean that he can write. He has nothing much to say, and too much media coverage to say it in. He appears to know little, and demonstrates this apparent lack of knowledge constantly. All he appears to care about is his profit. As for literacy and education, what of it? LAMB: By the way, did you ever get that college degree? Mr. KATZ: No. Well, Gates dropped out of college too - and Katz does have those important advantages of not being either a monomaniac or a dwarf. Both Raymond and Stallman are on the short and portly side, and can be... well, a little focused in their interests. (And just how tall is Bruce Perens?) One of Katz's claims is that he answers every email sent to him, no matter how gushing or flame-filled, how thoughtful or trite - and I've observed that his rushed replies tend towards the trivial and content-free as a result. If they were usenet postings, they'd be rejected by the newsreader for having more quoted material than new text. Much more. Much much more. Katz's belief that this is a worthwhile exercise shows his emphasis on the goal of mass marketing - ever emailed Scott Adams? - and suggests a lack of critical judgement, never mind lack of anything worthwhile to discuss. I expect that this email will receive an amused smiley or something equally slapdash from Katz, despite demonstrating careful tedious background research over a period of months, quoted sources, and all those other things that Katz doesn't care about. After all, Katz _is_ on a book tour. He's got interviews to give and books to sell. Katz just doesn't care, period. Katz is still getting our attention, and that's all that matters to Katz and, by association, to Slashdot. And that, quite simply, is the only possible conclusion to this deconstruction, such as it is. http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1999/1/29katz.asp It's no longer possible even to guess at the cultural and technological challenges the journalists of the future will be facing. I find it hard to believe that Katz didn't see the challenge of this backlash coming - but writing about this backlash and describing exactly what it means for _Katz in particular_ will be increasing grist for his mill as he sets new records for gall. If I posted this to Slashdot it would be quietly censored - as previous anti-Katz material has reportedly been. I don't believe Malda has either the courage or the understanding of editorial balance to post this in full in his Brave New Widely-Moderated World Where Anything Supposedly Goes, despite the traffic and attention it may attract. Consider that a challenge, Jon 'Journalist of the Future' Katz and your cravenly commercially-focused sidekicks. Richard Stallman has more editorial balance in his usenet postings than Slashdot has, and he's widely regarded as a whackjob - at least according to Eric Raymond, who's not as commercially focused as Slashdot by a long long way. You've got a long way to go, guys. L. This article is copyright (c) Lloyd Wood 1999, apart from the bits quoted under fair use which are the property of Jon Katz or other owners, and which should not be attributed to Lloyd Wood under any circumstances. The Berkeley licence isn't so much a licence as a clear disclaimer of responsibility for use, and Apple and Eric Raymond should be ashamed of themselves. Yes, Open Source and Pepsi leave me with a bitter aftertaste - why do you ask? <L.Wood@surrey.ac.uk>PGP<http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Personal/L.Wood/> Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1999 11:08:56 -0800 From: Stating the Obvious <email@example.com> To: retro-push <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: The Katzdot Effect ---------------------------------- This is the email channel of Stating the Obvious, located on the web at <http://theobvious.com/>. ---------------------------------- 3/25/99 The Katzdot Effect ***Wednesday's "News for Nerds" on Slashdot: Novell goes open source, Linux 2.2.4 is out and Jon Katz got to be on the Today Show with his dog.*** When Slashdot creator Rob Malda added filtering capabilities to the site this month, he announced snidely that it was "for all you Katz haters." Jon Katz, the first well-known journalist to write for the site, is now the first to inspire a tool for completely avoiding his work. If you haven't heard of Jon Katz, you must not have read his work for WIRED, GQ, Rolling Stone, HotWired and the New York Times. Not a problem, though -- Katz made sure you knew about these credits by listing them in full on his Nov. 17 news item, two weeks after he arrived. And what news did Katz contribute that day? A poll conducted at his request so everyone could vote on whether he should stick around. "Do I belong here?" he asked in the front-page summary of the poll, which was given the loaded title of "dump the jerk?" Katz, like most journalists of any stature, considers himself a central element of every story he writes. Count the number of personal pronouns he uses in a typical Katzdot piece and the number of times he makes himself the subject of a sentence. If they were a trigger in a drinking game, you'd have a guaranteed recipe for morning-after hangovers. Compare this to the approach that has been taken by Malda and others who post news on the site. Little is known about them because they never make themselves the story. They don't even associate their real names with their efforts, choosing the kind of anonymous handles you'd see in Internet chat rooms such as CmdrTaco, Hemos and Sengan. Jon Katz's Slashdot handle? JonKatz. Katz has used Slashdot as a platform for promoting _Running to the Mountain: A Journey of Faith and Change_, his new book that's about as far from the norm as anything ever covered on the Linux-heavy site. There are no Slashdot icons for mid-life ruminations of a man buying a rustic fixer-upper so he can commune with a dead monk. An excerpt from his book was followed quickly with Katz's announcement that it has become a "surprisingly successful" best-seller. In an industry where writers must generate buzz, he got it at the most crucial time -- publication -- because of his relationship with Slashdot. Although Katz minimizes the financial impact, he admits that the trip into Amazon's Top 100 is making a huge difference. Before it, he was a writer "trapped in mid-list Hell, struggling for a way to reach readers," as he wrote in a February 22 Slashdot story. Now he has his publisher's "full attention." Slashdot, from day one, has been a place where the technology was more important than the technologist. An open-source project where no one cares who you are if you can code. A brilliant hack of a Web site written by programmers for their own amusement. An accidental success for all the right reasons. No one needed to know who Rob Malda was before they were impressed by his site. Everyone on Slashdot knew who Jon Katz was before they had a chance to be impressed. Since he appeared last November, every Katz action results in a negative reaction. While some say this is driven by his critics, recent events show why Jon Katz makes himself the focus of attention: Celebrity sells. Though you might not think the word applies to Katz, the only way he gets the editorial prominence of Slashdot is through the power of celebrity. The only way his book falls under Slashdot's definition of "Stuff That Matters" is through celebrity. The frequent self-promotion of his book shows how an egalitarian community like Slashdot diminishes itself by rewarding a member for being a celebrity. Slashdot is a news community driven by submissions from ordinary people who make themselves known by their technological acumen. Slashdot's honesty comes from this -- real people are making the editorial judgments on topics they know well. Turn the contributors into celebrities and you end up with people like Jerry Pournelle, who can't review a monitor without describing his home, spouse, relatives, friends, recently published novel and the insipid pet names of every computer that he owns. If Jon Katz really wants to understand Slashdot, he needs to set aside the self-centered approach that made him into a writer who gets published in places like the New York Times. The same approach that sent his book into four printings, as he announced this Wednesday in a Katzdot contribution about his book tour. By defining his life as Stuff That Matters, Katz sets himself apart from everyone else in the Slashdot community. "This flap about me has to do with the kind of place Slashdot decides it wants to be," Katz stated in November. "I'd rather write about other things." Until he can do that, Katz doesn't belong there. -- Rogers Cadenhead Rogers Cadenhead <http://www.prefect.com/> is a professional writer who did not mention any of his books in this commentary. ---------------------------------- Related links: Slashdot: http://www.slashdot.org/ Katz's new book: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679456783/statingtheobviouA/ Jerry Pournelle: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/ ---------------------------------- Want even more email from theobvious.com? Try miscellany. <http://theobvious.com/miscellany/> ---------------------------------- Stating the Obvious. All meta, all the time. <http://theobvious.com/> ---------------------------------- To remove yourself from this list, send a message to <email@example.com> with the phrase "unsubscribe retro-push" (without the quotes) in the body of the message.