Monday, June 2, 2008

Equal time: hating on non-left-wing columns

For all my "I'm not a partisan GOP drone" talk, I do mostly go after left-wing writers. I tend to respond more strongly to those who dismiss or ridicule the right-wing POV instead of those who merely do a bad job of defending it. Human nature I suppose.

Over the last few months I've spent more and more time reading online content, almost all of which updates 6 days a week or more. The Wall Street Journal has opened more content to the public, I've started following RealClearMarkets, the RalClearPolitics blog roundup is back, and it's hard to keep up with everything. Yet somehow I'm not overwhelmed by new pieces of bad writing. Part of that is my unspoken policy of not doing blog responses; blogs are more inflammatory by nature. Another part is a tendency to avoid hitting the same authors repeatedly (RCP helped by no longer linking to Paul Campos), which over time has reduced the number of targets.

The net result will probably be less griping about pundits and more time doing substantive analysis. For instance I plan on doing a lot of comparisons between McCain and Obama using their speeches and websites. This should be more informative than the anti-Kerry writing I did in '04. I anticipate a lot of draws based on my disliking both of their positions, that should be fun.

Anyway, back to the griping.

John Dvorak of the Wall Street Journal's "Marketwatch" writes about the Microsoft/Yahoo/Google situation. Most financial analysts have been getting into the ins-and-outs of insider politics, revenue streams, market forecasting, that sort of thing. John? Not so much. After a lot of rambling he gets to one of the most spectacular examples of web ignorance I've seen from a professional:

What is really needed are new and better search engines. To be honest about it, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all stink. We all know this is true. Sure, you can find the major and obvious sites with any of them. But seriously try and find, for example, the best knitting site. Go ahead: Type in the keywords "best knitting site" into Google and tell me which site, out of the 300,000-plus results Google returns, is really the best knitting site. It cannot be done, despite the fact that there must be a best one. A group of knitters might know, or maybe not.

There are a lot of adjectives one can use somewhat properly in a web search: biggest, oldest and most viewed come to mind. "Best"? No. That requires subjective analysis and consensus which would be practically impossible to find about websites. It's one thing to search for "Best Mid-sized Sedan" and find the opinion of 'authoritative' sources like JD Power. That's because there are one a handful of them. Now try saying with a straight face that there is one and only one "best" website about practically anything, keeping in mind that you are going to be seen as 'authoritative' on the subject. John seems to think that either Google should judge the "best" on every subject while choosing from across the internet, or he thinks that a term as generic as "best" should only return a few worthy results.

It's getting more difficult to find anything with a narrow target using any of these search engines. Recently, I was searching for a Barack Obama citation for an article and could not find it on Google; there were too many results to be useful.

I might cut him slack if he went into detail about the search he tried, but he doesn't. I would bet that this is because if we knew what he was looking for, we could find it in seconds on Google. Why am I so sure? Because this is the kind of person who thinks Google should be able to tell you what the best knitting website is.

While the Google mechanism works great for selling millions of little ads, it's old-fashioned and already dead, as are the rest of these search engines, which basically are all based on decade-old Web-crawling technologies combined with massive caching. To do its job, Google has to maintain up-to-date and redundant copies of the entire Internet on its servers. It's a ridiculous idea.

I won't even touch "already dead". That's absurd on its face. No, the worst part about the entire column is that he thinks using webcrawlers to comb and cache the internet is 'a ridiculous idea', but determining the best websites about every subject up to and including knitting ought to be a defining test for a search engine.

Our second bad column is from a man by the name of Dennis Prager. Let's join this column already in progress.

Nothing imaginable -- leftward or rightward -- would constitute as radical a change in the way society is structured ... Not another Prohibition, not government taking over all health care, not changing all public education to private schools, not America leaving the United Nations, not rescinding the income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax. Nothing.

...four justices of the California Supreme Court ... have changed American society more than any four individuals since Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison.

Wow! That's pretty huge! I mean we're talking about the history of the nation. And what is it they did?

...redefining marriage from opposite sex to include members of the same sex...

Wait, what? Seriously?

Dennis goes off the rails at the start and says "screw the rails, more coal!", gorging himself on one bit of slippery-slope hyperbole after another. One might think that for a right-wing Christian, Roe v Wade would be far more historical than the decision of a single state court. One wonders the lengths to which he'd go if you used THAT as the start of his rhetorical exercise, seeing as life itself is bigger than marriage.

Prager's hyperventilating and over-reaching do the 'traditional marriage' side a disservice. The extremes to which he goes are so laughable that they couldn't possibly change anyone's mind, and they'll only be effective with those who are already worked up about the issue. What's more he makes it sound as if his side has utterly lost, and defeatism is never an effective position.

There are several reasons why went from one of my daily stops to a website I avoid if possible, and people like Dennis Prager are one of them.