Saturday, February 28, 2015

courtesy of Mockingbird: Camille Paglia on a failure in American feminism and on on the "brooding guilt and ranting fanaticism" of Irish Catholicism.

http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/catholic-pagan-10-questions-camille-paglia

In your view, what’s wrong with American feminism today, and what can it do to improve?
After the great victory won by my insurgent, pro-sex, pro-fashion wing of feminism in the 1990s, American and British feminism has amazingly collapsed backward again into whining, narcissistic victimology. As in the hoary old days of Gloria Steinem and her Stalinist cohorts, we are endlessly subjected to the hackneyed scenario of history as a toxic wasteland of vicious male oppression and gruesome female suffering. College campuses are hysterically portrayed as rape extravaganzas where women are helpless fluffs with no control over their own choices and behavior. I am an equal opportunity feminist: that is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women's advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women, which I reject as demeaning and infantilizing. My principal demand (as I have been repeating for nearly 25 years) is for colleges to confine themselves to education and to cease their tyrannical surveillance of students' social lives. If a real crime is committed, it must be reported to the police. College officials and committees have neither the expertise nor the legal right to be conducting investigations into he said/she said campus dating fiascos. Too many of today's young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system "street-smart feminism":  there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.

And here's something else Paglia had to say ...
...
After my parents moved to Syracuse, however, I was progressively stuck with far blander churches and less ethnic congregations. Irish Catholicism began to dominate—a completely different brand, with its lesser visual sense and its tendency toward brooding guilt and ranting fanaticism. ...

Why quote that last part ... oh ... well ... we'll get to that.

a New Republic piece associates Mark Driscoll's ideas on men and women with the ethos of the pick-up artist

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121138/mark-driscoll-and-macho-Christianity

Per another recently published post, Irish Catholicism as a formative influence on Driscoll has not exactly gotten a ton of informed discussion in the press.  The article botches a basic point in asserting Driscoll was fresh out of seminary when he started Mars Hill.  He wasn't.  At least Mike Gunn and Lief Moi got mentioned, which is a nice change in journalistic coverage from discussions of Mars Hill half a decade ago.

Having published the, er, extant works of William Wallace II Wenatchee The Hatchet is better informed than average what Driscoll was willing to present for public consideration.  The trouble with the New Republic piece is that while conflating the pick-up artist ethos with Mark Driscoll's ideas is interesting it seems a little speculative.  Driscoll used to go on tirades against Tom Leykis and men who use women.  Now a compelling case could be made that despite his objections Driscoll's "practical" teaching landed more or less in similar territory, that Driscoll paradoxically managed to ultimately embody the kind of ethos of men toward women that he convinced himself he was against. 

The New Republic article repeats the old, long since debunked canard that Mark Driscoll addressed Gayle Haggard in any way as having let herself go.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has documented this so many times it won't be hard for an interested reader to go look that up here.

The Real Marriage book played a role in the downfall of Driscoll for several reasons not adequately addressed by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig's piece.

First, the narrative of Real Marriage that anchored all the practical teaching flew in the face of the public narrative Mark Driscoll shared about life with his wife.  Instead of the "I'm happy" and "I love my wife" that had been shared from the pulpit from 2000-2008 we got a story of bitterness and resentment and sexual hang-ups and a Mark Driscoll who convinced his wife the cure for his mood swings and depression was more frequent sex.  This was a disturbing story not just because it made the public narrative of the Driscoll narrative retroactively seem like a sham, it also intimated the possibility that in spite of his rants against other guys for using wives for sexual gratification that Mark Driscoll's private ethic seemed to employ sex as a mood stabilizing drug of choice, to put things in blunt terms.  It's difficult to find an alternative explanation for how and why a guy might conclude that more sex would cure his depression.

Second, it turned out that Real Marriage made use of the ideas of other authors without adequate (or even any) citation in the first print edition.  Wenatchee The Hatchet and Warren Throckmorton have discussed that in such comprehensive detail you'll forgive a mere allusion.

Third, on top of all that there was that Result Source controversy.  In addition to the narrative gap and the lack of adequate citation it turned out that the book wasn't even a bestseller on its own terms; a place at the top had been procured for it.

The New Republic article gets to some of these things but it seems important to restate their cumulative impact.

There's something that could be discussed a bit further that's latent in the article, Driscoll was targeting young men but arguably not just any kind of young man.  Driscoll was aiming for aimless young men with growth potential.  Some early observers of Driscoll got wise that his aim was not necessarily to get conservative culture warfare after the older and more overt model.  What was endorsed instead was formulating a "counterculture" which, in a Puget Sound context, could be described a fairly simple middle American aspirational dream.  Married with kids and owning real estate.  But it was not enough to just tell guys to "man up" and go do these things.  The long-term failure of Driscoll could be formulated in Lutheran terms as a whole lot of Law and no Gospel.  Or you could say that grace was the bait on the hook and once a person was reeled in the mountains of Law were presented afterward. 

Now there "is" a kind of case to  be made that the Mosaic law was given as a pattern for living by after the deliverance of the Exodus but we're not going to get into all that in this post.  Debates about whether there is a legitimate application for the Third Use of the Law is for some other occasion. With respect to Driscoll the application is that he preached grace just enough to draw people in and then once they were in the metrics and measurements became the revealed internal cultural norm. 

It should be said that the New Republic piece associated Driscoll and the pick-up artist ethos in a way that doesn't fully account for negative reactions to Driscoll from what may be termed the "man-o-sphere".
https://dalrock.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/message-received/
...
Driscoll defines the eight types of worthless men he regularly comes across.   They are all either cowards or chauvinists and bullies.  And again, Driscoll is addressing this not to men outside the congregation, or even a smallish subset of the men in the congregation.  He means nearly all of the men in the congregation:

...

The hallmark of a real man, a real Christian man, according to Driscoll, is looking around at the other men in the room and knowing that they are pathetic compared to you.  This is of course exactly what Driscoll is doing throughout the sermon. [emphasis added]

The sermon Dalrock interrogates is over here:
http://life.biblechurch.org/slifejom/disciplined-audio-video/3092-marriage-and-men-a-sermon-by-mark-driscoll-mars-hill-church.html

And it was, in summary, recycled as a chapter into Real Marriage.  The litany of male losers in chapter 3 of the book can be found in the sermon featuring the "How Dare You!?" rant.

What Dalrock touches upon Brad Sargent has explicitly discussed,
"Mark Driscoll's culture of contempt"

It would be difficult to overstate that the long-term significance of Real Marriage was that it revealed a narrative that showed that in spite of Mark Driscoll's public excoriation of other men as failures in marriage or in sex, Mark Driscoll himself generally seemed to fail to live up to the ideal he set up for others and at times implicitly presented himself as living out.

As discussed here in the past, it's one thing for writers to note that Mark Driscoll used the pen name William Wallace II and to note that he said he was playing a character.  It's another thing to ask where on earth he might have drawn upon for the actorly method of what role he was playing.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2014/09/so-william-wallace-ii-was-character-but.html

If there's anything we've managed to observe in the wake of the plagiarism controversy and the subsequent materials in Driscoll books that have been analyzed by Throckmorton and here, it's that it seems unlikely in the extreme Mark Driscoll formulated the character of WW2 fresh, from whole cloth. 

Nor would the 2012 confession of bitterness be without a context
http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2014/08/from-earlier-this-year-mark-driscoll-on.html

One of the matters writers have not probed deeply enough that Wenatchee The Hatchet has felt obliged to revisit is that if you took the sum of Mark Driscoll's teaching on bitterness and spiritual warfare and cross-referenced that to his story of resenting his wife over a lack of sex in their marriage, the self-indictment becomes, well, severe.

It's not entirely inaccurate to say that Mark Driscoll reached a point where the sheer mass of information in what became the public narrative, taken as a whole, took on distressingly self-incriminating turns.  This wasn't a matter of making Mark Driscoll look bad by wresting some quote from its original context.  Wenatchee The Hatchet was able to take reams of material from Driscoll and associates, quote it accurately, quote it in context, and meticulously source everything and if Driscoll came out looking bad, well, there was a simple explanation for that.

POSTSCRIPT
03-01-2015

One of the reasons the conflation of Driscollian ideals with the pick-up artist scene seems so speculative to someone who was at Mars Hill or near it for ten years would be the author seems to have had no knowledge of the courtship fad at Mars Hill.  It's tough to apply the precepts of the pick-up artist inventory for picking up on women in a cultural context where the fad was insisting that the guy approach the father or father figure of a woman he was interested in.  Unless, of course, the whole pick up artist scene systematically factored in for that, too, which may be possible.  Wenatchee has not been interested in reading the writings of PUAs.  This is not to say there weren't pick up artists at Mars Hill, you can't exactly disprove that for a church that was as large as Mars Hill was.  But it does seem that without a firsthand knowledge of the courtship fad the easy association of Driscoll's ideas with the pick up artist scene seems like going for low hanging and over-ripe fruit, even if the common denominator across both scenes could be an ultimately low view of women. 

on a far more prosaic note (courtesy of The Atlantic) a requiem for the Big Mac

Just by being there—and by being the same everywhere—McDonald’s offered succor. This was, after all, the fundamental promise of the fast-food chain: cheap, accessible food that would always be the same anywhere. Even if we knew it wasn’t really food, exactly, sometimes convenience and comfort were more important. Particularly among the middle classes who were fortunate enough to appreciate McDo as the treat Smalera remembers, rather than as an affordable meal.
 
 

the death of Spock as a pop mythological touchstone of friendship amidst films of eros

There's essentially no contest the death of Spock in Star Trek 2 has been considered the greatest and most touching moment in the entirety of the Star Trek narrative canon.  It has never been equaled before or since and will not be.  We've had so many decades to have found out otherwise the case is settled, Spock's death has been seared into pop culture, and rightly so.

Slash fic withstanding, what makes the death of Spock an interesting touchstone in American pop culture mythology is that it is a moment not of eros (per the subsequent decades of slash fic) but of friendship. 

I have been - and always shall be - your friend. Live long and prosper.

We live in a pop cultural age where eros so defines narrative it is transposed into and imposed upon depictions of friendship.  Yes, even Kirk and Spock, which in some sense robs the death of Spock of its singular power as a pop cultural touchstone, a profession of friendship that is clear.

It was, and is, also a profession of friend by someone who sacrificed his life to save his friend.  Although Star Trek's pedigree as a franchise promoting secular humanism is beyond dispute, it's fascinating that the most emotionally potent scene in the entire canon so directly evokes such an utterly religious concern as friendship.  After all, Jesus was credited with the words, "Greater love has no one than this, that he will lay his life down for his friends."  Spock's decision was a logical one, he was able to restore the warp drive at the cost of his own life so that the rest of the crew might live.  But trading Kirk's life to Khan for the sake of everyone else being spared could have also been a "logical" move, even though we know it would not have been the decision Spock would have made.

Choosing the path of self-sacrifice to the point of death to save your friends is certainly human.

I've been considering for years writing about how and why I consider Star Trek to have taken the form of American pop culture mythology in a way that Star Wars cannot, and this would be the moment.  Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, if memory serves, once quipped in a commentary on an episode of Batman: the animated series, that you never win the Emmy by going for the Emmy.

George Lucas may have overtly tipped his hand by invoking Campbell's monomyth, but Campbell's monomyth can't be a monomyth.  It fails to account for the regional variance in the Faustian legend for one, and for another Campbell's monomyth is not the heroe's journey so much as an American journey.  There's nothing about Campbell's monomyth that seems to fit well or explain anything about The Tale of the Princess Kaguya in any of its forms, is there?

Even if I were to set aside my skepticism about the monomyth at those levels, or even about the restrictively male-centered cast of the narrative, the problem of the monomyth is that it is, in a phrase, going for the Emmy.  Lucas couldn't keep the narrative about Luke Skywalker. The prequels became about Anakin and lame commentaries on political events without substantially engaging them.  And Jar Jar ...

We live in an era in which pop culture narratives become ends unto themselves to a point where we consider the money to be made by the franchises to a point where whatever foundational appeal they may have had becomes secondary.  We want our franchises badly enough that there are people who want more Whedon franchises whether or not we have any compelling reason to have more of Buffy or Firefly. We don't want things to reach an irreversible end. 

Paradoxically some of the great power of Spock's death would have come from what, at the time, was its ostensibly irreversible nature.  We did not yet live in the era of the pop culture retcon, at least not in the way we've seen in the last thirty years.  Sherlock Holmes was brought back from death by popular demand but it's been in the last forty years that Marvel comics fans could begin to joke that nobody stays dead, except for maybe Uncle Ben.  Spock's death came in an era in which the retcon of the major character death wasn't normative because it wasn't normal to kill off as prominent a character as a Spock.

It had some foreshadowing early on in the Kobayashi-Maru test. Spock calls back to it in his words to Kirk:

I never took the Kobayahsi-Maru test til now.  What do you think of my solution?

Wrath of Khan was a story about how Kirk's judgment turned out to be tragically, and even comedically wrong.  Way back in "Space Seed" Kirk made a decision that was questioned by both Spock and McCoy.  Kirk stood by his decision and decades later, Khan came back for revenge.  Popular though it may be for some to say Kirk learned anything at all in Star Trek 2, the power of the story is that Kirk only learned he was willing to cheat death and that he'd never encountered a moment where it was truly unescapable for him.  His confrontation with mortality was not even for himself, but through the death of his friend.  Spock was willing to pay the price for the failure of his friend Kirk's judgment, however much an accident of circumstance that failure of judgment may ultimately have been.  We can't gamble on what failing stars destroy which planets, after all. 

That's the thing about failure, it can crash in on you unannounced (or grandly announced by someone like Khan) and there's nothing you could have done to have averted it. 

But of course we know Kirk cheated on the Kobayashi-Maru test because he refused to believe in no-win scenarios.  What Kirk, perhaps like many an American (perhaps?), didn't count on was that while there may not be many truly no-win scenarios there are many things in life and death where every opportunity has an opportunity cost.  In choosing a path we choose to go through things attending that path.  Kirk chose to give Khan the chance to form a new civilization after his own ideals, without considering the possibility of what might happen if that civilization failed and Khan blamed Kirk for that failure.  Well, in Star Trek 2, we got to find out ...

Spock assessed the situation at the end of the film and saw that there was a way to save as many lives as possible so long as he was willing and able to sacrifice his own life toward that end.  The death of Spock became a touchstone in American pop cinema because we'd always been shown that Spock was half human and half Vulcan and his death saving the Enterprise from Khan was a decision and an act that showed the unity of both halves that we knew was always there.  Spock was willing to pay the price that he knew Jim couldn't and maybe even wouldn't be willing to pay to save everyone. After all, to borrow a phrase from someone else, even if the spirit were willing, the flesh can be very weak. Kirk went decades without realizing he had a son, after all, and it's not like he managed to be a great lover/husband/father along the way. Wrath of Khan is in some sense a story of middle age and how all the foolish and ill-advised decisions of youth, the decisions you seemed so sure about at the time, all come crashing back into your life in the most embarrassing and disastrous ways possible.  What's worse, all of this happened in ways that you couldn't have anticipated and couldn't control. And when they do, who is there to help you walk through it?  A friend, a friend who ends up bearing the costs of all the disastrous decisions that you made so that you can keep living.

How many moments in cinematic history get in the zone of Kirk and Spock's friendship, or should we say Spock's friendship to Kirk?  Growing up it was difficult to think of another example.  As a fan of animation the only possible next runner up to the friendship of Spock and Kirk, for me, would be Woody and Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story franchise. American popular cinema tends to focus more on the attainment of and sustenance of eros than friendship, which may be why the friendships that capture the imagination capture the imagination so strongly.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

analog vs digital, mechanical vs physical: juxtaposing Brian Eno's concerns about digital recording with John Philip Sousa's concerns about mechanical music, with a few detours

language warning (for the readers who may want/need that). Brian Eno seems to be ambivalent about digital because while digital allows for perfection that may kind of be the problem.  Now it's not that composite performances and composite takes didn't exist in the analog era.  There was plenty of studio stuntwork on albums by the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix that could scarcely be replicated live with the timbres that were used. 

Think of it more like this, a skill set in analog may be getting lost that has had its unique contribution to artistry. Cyd Charisse remarked in a 50th anniversary edition of Singin' in the Rain that nearly all the people who had the skills and aesthetic perspectives to make the kinds of Broadway musicals that became classics are retired or dead.

http://www.thevinylfactory.com/vinyl-factory-releases/the-dangers-of-digital-brian-eno-on-technology-and-modern-music/

“So the question that everybody’s asking is, is it getting any better as a result of all this? But it’s such a hard temptation to resist. You’re recording a song and find a note that is really quite out of tune. In the past, you’d have said, it’s a great performance, so we’ll just live with it. What you do now is retune that note. So you’re always asking yourself, have we lost something of the tension of the performance, of the feeling of humanity and vulnerability and organic truth or whatever, by making these corrections? It does make you question the role of new technology in the studio. And, of course, there are all sorts of reactions against it. You have Jack White with his studio in Nashville, which is all analogue, he doesn’t have any digital equipment in there. And I’ve worked with bands who’ve said, we’re going back to tape. They’ve got in all the stuff, 24-track recorders, all the gear – but within half a day they’re saying, fuck, we can’t edit this stuff. They’re just not used to working that way.

Eno went on to say:
...
“There’s a very interesting exercise, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, not to use cmd-Z when you’re writing something. I write quite a lot on a Mac and like everybody I go back and change things. If you say to yourself, today I’m going to write exactly as if I was sitting in front of a piece of paper and writing – Jesus, it’s a whole different mind-set. Because you have to start thinking before you start writing. It’s really hard to go back to that. I’m not saying there is any advantage in going back to it, it’s just interesting to try it, to remind yourself of how completely you are now part of this new technology of writing.”

Actually, depending on the style of music there can be some significant advantages to writing with paper and pencil or pen.  But the advantages may accrue to someone who's writing, say, a fugue exposition with a subject and two countersubject who's trying to get at fully invertible counterpoint.  There's a physical process of committing lines to paper where you think about the spatial reasoning of the lines in a way that's not the same if you were doing all the work at a computer.  You could get at the same basic result, obviously, if your aim is counterpoint but if you're sitting on transit for an hour you won't necessarily have access to a computer, will you?  Or maybe you don't NEED the computer with you compared to being able to shove the paper and pencils in a backpack after you've done the work you want done.

Sometimes having that paper in front of you lets you see that if you want that second countersubject to make sense it has to fit in the space between the subject and the first countersubject.  Putting that to paper and then seeing what space you have lets you think through what you could sing in between those two lines. 

Which isn't to say that someone writing pop songs is going to benefit from writing things out with pencil and paper in the same way.

But if there's a series of rules and guidelines about how to compose counterpoint that restricts individual lines the beauty of polyphonic musical art is that it doesn't much matter which voices are performing that music.  I mean, yeah, it matters whether the people handling your music are the Tallis scholars or a local church choir that can't even read music if you've composed something like one of William Byrd's masses, but the point is that assuming a base line of musical literacy, the polyphony will take care of itself. 

But how differently we'd all think of "Eleanor Rigby" if it hadn't been accompanied by string quartet. 

http://www.kylegann.com/PC070329-Sacredness-of-Pop.html
...
In short, the pop record has turned its fans into cognoscenti of precise timbres. One reads constantly how proud they are of being able to recognize a tune or album from the first split second of a single note. There are possibly classical music mavens so familiar with recordings of the Brahms symphonies that they can recognize which orchestra is playing from the first note; but what does that have to do with Brahms's intentions? Most instruments are neutral, and can be easily dissociated from the music they are associated with. We can hear a piano without being disappointed that it isn't Chopin or Horowitz or Bud Powell, we hear an oboe without thinking of Mozart or Strauss, even an accordion without necessarily thinking of polkas. But trap sets and electric guitars, at this stage of the game, are not neutral, and cannot be bent to any compositional use the composer imagines. They make musicians want and expect to hear a certain kind of energy and virtuosity, and no music that fails in that comparison will be well received.
The evolution of pop music in the last century has been toward being anchored to a very specific set of timbres.  I remember once seeing someone joke in an online forum that I couldn't very well play a Fender Telecaster if I wasn't going to play country songs on it.  Fine, Hank Williams Sr. wrote some pretty sweet songs but ... it's interesting that more than a century ago there was an American composer who worried about the future of music in which reliance on mechanical production became normative.

Thus, John Philip Sousa's concern in 1906 that if machines became the usual way of experiencing music ...

http://www.phonozoic.net/n0155.htm
...
            Under such conditions the tide of amateurism cannot but recede, until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executant.  Singing will no longer be a fine accomplishment; vocal exercises, so important a factor in the curriculum of physical culture, will be out of vogue!
            Then what of the national throat?  Will it not weaken?  What of the national chest?  Will it not shrink?
            When a mother can turn on the phonograph with the same ease that she applies to the electric light, will she croon her baby to slumber with sweet lullabys, or will the infant be put to sleep by machinery?
            Children are naturally imitative, and if, in their infancy, they hear only phonographs, will they not sing, if they sing at all, in imitation and finally become simply human phonographs -- without soul or expression?  Congregational singing will suffer also, which, though crude at times, at least improves the respiration of many a weary sinner and softens the voices of those who live amid tumult and noise.
            The host of mechanical reproducing machines, in their mad desire to supply music for all occasions, are offering to supplant the illustrator in the class room, the dance orchestra, the home and public singers and players, and so on.  Evidently they believe no field too large for their incursions, no claim too extravagant.  But the further they can justify those claims, the more noxious the whole system becomes.
            Just so far as a spirit of emulation once inspired proud parent or aspiring daughter to send for the music teacher when the neighbor child across the way began to take lessons, the emulation is turning to the purchase of a rival piano player in each house, and the hope of developing the local musical personality is eliminated.

This lament seems to have overdone a few things, even Sousa was willing to admit he was an alarmist. 

Or ... was it alarmist?

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/01/in-music-uniformity-sells/384181/
...

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, scientists found that the more popular a musical style grew, the more generic it became—partly due to the glut of artists that flock to a burgeoning sound and the drop-off in innovation that tends to accompany demand.

http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/12/the-shazam-effect/382237/
... And not only are we hearing the same hits with greater frequency, but the hits themselves sound increasingly alike. As labels have gotten more adept at recognizing what’s selling, they’ve been quicker than ever to invest in copycats. People I spoke with in the music industry told me they worried that the reliance on data was leading to a “clustering” of styles and genres, promoting a dispiriting sameness in pop music.

Might there be a "solution" to this,  if it's even a problem?  One possibility is changing how we listen.  Or at least, in a corrective to audiophiles, producer Alan Parsons has said that all the great gear won't help you if you're not also aware of room acoustics.  It's not just as simple as what you're listening to but how you're listening to it.

http://www.cepro.com/article/beatles_pink_floyd_engineer_alan_parsons_rips_audiophiles/
http://www.cepro.com/article/beatles_pink_floyd_engineer_alan_parsons_rips_audiophiles/D2/

Of course we could then cue up laments about the decline of music education, like just about anything Scott Timberg has at his blog Culture Crash.  Music education may be considered an answer but it would depend on who you asked and when.  In his books in the mid-20th century the German √©migr√© composer Paul Hindemith sniped that American musical education was actually part of the problem in American culture; all the American music teacher was basically doing was producing another generation of music teachers and American teachers of music tended to fill kids with delusions of the possibility that if they all worked hard they might be another Heifetz or van Cliburn.  What was needed instead of this sort of mentality would be the promotion of amateur music-making. 

So in a way Timberg's lament at the loss of the "creative class" might be missing earlier observations that all artistic activity could in some sense or another but the work of a leisure class, a leisurely activity.  Sousa's warning that the age of musical machines would create a rigid delineation of the caste of consumers and the caste of professional executants might have been kind of correct, after all.

Kind of ...

Justin Dean on dealing with the press, revisiting the first high profile incident Justin Dean fielded on behalf of Mars Hill a few years later

On February 23, 2015 Justin Dean published a post.

http://www.ministrycommunicators.com/blog/dealing-with-the-press/

Among the list of things "to do" Dean mentioned correcting misinformation.  Back when the disciplinary situation of Andrew Lamb made headlines Justin Dean was willing to talk with Ruth Graham for an article she wrote that was published at Slate.  Let's go back and look at what Dean had to say at the time:


http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2012/02/mars_hill_pastor_mark_driscoll_faces_backlash_over_church_discipline_case_.single.html
...
Before now, Mars Hill’s only response has been posting an excerpt on church discipline from Driscoll’s 2009 book Vintage Church on its website and an opaque tweet from Driscoll. But Justin Dean, the church’s PR and marketing manager, agreed to answer my questions by email to tell the church’s side of the story.

One key element that was not clear in Andrew’s original account, Dean told me, was that the letter was intended to be read aloud, not posted online, and only to a “handful” of people. Instead, the group leader received unclear instructions and posted the letter online, a move Dean insists was not meant to hurt Andrew.

Furthermore, says Dean, only the approximately 15 members of Andrew’s small group, who met regularly and knew one another well, had access to the letter on the City. (Though Andrew was blocked from accessing the City, he says the letter was available to a slightly wider circle, including his fellow security volunteers.) “His case was not shared with the full church and had, until he posted it publicly online, only been known by a handful of people who were involved in his life and cared deeply about him,” Dean said. (Confusing social-media privacy settings strike again!) He added that Driscoll was not involved in the case at all. Mars Hill currently has 5,417 members and just nine ongoing church discipline cases.

So, basically, it looks as though Justin Dean's explanation of what happened with Andrew's situation was that there was "unclear communication" and a letter was posted online, it seems, to The City.  Who gave the unclear instructions was never explained but what seems clear from the explanation of "unclear communication" would be that Andrew's case became know via The City due to the imcompetence of the Mars Hill communications and leadership systems.

Thanks to the absence of robots.txt from The WayBack Machine let's go back and revisit what else was said:

http://web.archive.org/web/20120215171355/http://marshill.com/2012/02/13/a-response-regarding-church-discipline
...

That being said, we do wish to clarify one detail. In one of the cases, regrettably, a letter that was meant to be privately read aloud to a small group of about 15 people in close community and friendship with Andrew was instead posted to that group’s private online community page. There was never a letter sent to the church as a whole. The tragedy of this whole situation is that what was once a private and discreet matter is now on a grand stage, and those who were misinformed as to the actions of the church in this matter are now complicit in doing the very thing for which they have wrongly criticized us.

So the correction clarified that a letter was posted to a community page.  So if it seems speculative on the part of Wenatchee The Hatchet to suggest that Justin Dean's first major move fielding a PR situation on behalf of Mars Hill was to concede incompetence there are two testimonies, the statement made to Slate, and the published statement from Feb 13, 2012.

For those who don't remember the rest of what was said ... this snippet is worth revisiting:
...
In both cases that have been brought to light, things did not go as they should have, and well before they were ever written about in a public setting by bloggers and journalists, Mars Hill leadership stepped in to investigate. As a result of those investigations, it was determined that the leaders involved had a pattern of overstepping their authority. As such, they were released and are no longer on paid staff or in formal leadership in any capacity at Mars Hill Church. Again, these actions were taken months ago, prior to any public exposure.

The trouble with this statement was that there was no way to tell who the leaders were who had a pattern of overstepping their authoritah, on the one hand, and on the other hand anyone who was familiar with the bylaws of Mars Hill post-2007 would have been able to see that there was, functionally, no upward limit on what pastors could decided to do in member discipline scenarios. 

Furthermore, as Wenatchee The Hatchet established in exhaustive detail, it was possible to establish a reasonable conjecture that Andrew was connected to the Noriegas based entirely on social media content; Driscoll sermons; Mars Hill website content; and the skeleton of the narrative published by Matthew Paul Turner.  Wenatchee The Hatchet had worked out a good number of the parties involved through publicly accessible media content back in February 2012 but because Lamb had not gone on record, Wenatchee The Hatchet waited until later to publish and discuss what was out in the open for anyone to go consult.

Had MH PR not mentioned any staff being let go it wouldn't have crossed the mind of Wenatchee that maybe the reason James Noriega had unceremoniously vanished from the elder rosters at Mars Hill could have been because he was one of the people let go.  But Mars Hill has neither confirmed nor denied any statements pertinent to Noriega. 

As The Stranger would later describe in 2013, Justin Dean's explanation that Mars Hill was partnering (or going to partner) with Lifelong AIDs Alliance was, as The Stranger put it, a bit of a PR meltdown.

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/01/14/mars-hill-church-now-conveniently-closer-to-all-the-aids
http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/01/14/mars-hill-we-intend-to-help-the-capitol-hill-aids-victims-with-food-and-jesus
http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/01/14/mars-hill-church-not-actually-volunteering-with-lifelong-aids-alliance
It's also worth revisiting the fact that Mars Hill sermons were on a week delay, which meant that when outside press discussing Driscoll saying something on date X based on a media file made available at a website that the odds were decent the sermon in question was at least a week old.

And Justin Dean's wading into the fracas about the International Paper Building ... well ...

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2014/03/re-something-justin-dean-mentioned.html

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Church-Boasts-God-on-Their-Side-in-Property-Dispute-229184911.html
...
The Church had accused Sound Transit of taking the property by eminent domain, which Sound Transit denies. The Church has since backed down on that claim. Now the church leaders are questioning International Paper's acceptance of Sound Transit's offer.

 "We bid $250,000 over Sound Transit's bid," Dean said.

 In an email, a spokesman for International Paper in Memphis said that's not the case.
 "We accepted the highest and best overall offer which was from Sound Transit," wrote International Paper spokesman Kyle Morgolis. "Given our confidentiality agreement, we are unable to disclose the terms of the transaction".

 Sound Transit bristles at the idea it finalized the purchase agreement by undercutting and pushing Mars Hill out of any negotiation. "The idea that we intervened in the purchase of the property by them late in the game, that wasn't true," Patrick said. "We didn't hear from them until a week after we entered a binding agreement to purchase that property". [emphasis added]

So what if Mars Hill bid a quarter mil over the Sound Transit bid?  The Sound Transit deal turned out to have been finalized before Mars Hill had managed to express interest. 

A person could be forgiven for getting the idea that as PR went Justin Dean actually did more harm than good during his stint at Mars Hill.

If Dean hadn't made a point of talking about correcting misinformation Wenatchee wouldn't have felt any obligation to point out that during the heat of controversy amidst MH stuff circa 2012-2014 it sometimes looked like misinformation was more likely to come from Mars Hill about Mars Hill than from outside coverage.  Has Mars Hill EVER clarified which leaders were let go for overstepping spiritual authority, or even explained what that would mean? 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

a sprawling but intriguing overview of the history of the banjo (lots of videos featured, including a chamber work including banjo by George Crumb!)

http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/the-banjo-faces-its-shadow/

piggy-backing a bit an old post by Kyle Gann, if we're living in the guitar age it may be because the guitar spans so many popular styles in addition to "traditional" forms in concert music.  There's no reason either the guitar or the banjo need be straitjacketed into any expected style. 

Mark Sylvester's music is worth checking out, and he's written chamber music featuring the banjo as a concert instrument. 

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/msylvester2

Speaking as a guitarist one of the great obstacles in the way the guitar can be approached is basically conceptual.  This can seem particularly prevalent in a field of guitar activity where it shouldn't seem to be, classical guitar.  The idea that somehow sonata form is not amenable to the six string guitar seems ridiculous if you've familiarized yourself with the works of Sor, Giuliani, Diabelli, Matiegka and Carulli.  Now whether you enjoy their handling of sonata form as much as that of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven can be a whole separate discussion, but sonata form isn't "that" hard to engage on six strings.  I'm sure it's possible (and may well have already been done) that someone has composed a sonata allegro form for solo banjo.  If there hasn't been there should be.  :) 

two links on education "The Downfall of for profit colleges" at the Atlantic, and at Slate, "if you didn't get your phd at an elite university, good luck ever getting tenure", more or less

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/02/the-downfall-of-for-profit-colleges/385810/

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2015/02/university_hiring_if_you_didn_t_get_your_ph_d_at_an_elite_university_good.single.html

looks like the Powerpuff Girls will return ...

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cartoon-network-emphasizes-multiple-screens-775076

Monday, February 23, 2015

on shunnings and social status, a proposal--shunning as proportional to levels of formal and informal prestige the shunned person had before transgression

When Wenatchee The Hatchet stopped being a formal member of Mars Hill possibly nobody really noticed at first.  Rather than resign membership, I just let the membership expire in the great cancellation of 2007-2008.  Those renewed membership or actively resigned membership were making some kind of statement.  But to make such a statement they might have had to renew membership just enough to resign.

Wenatchee The Hatchet never once experience anything like a shunning.  Yet story after story emerged of shunning or ostracism.  So what was going on?

Well, permit a theory here.  Shunnings tended to happen when people with formal clout transgressed some code of conduct.  Petry got fired from being a pastor and a shunning edict came along.  Others resigned and found themselves shunned.  While it might be said here and there the shunnings were in reaction to decisions or statements, it may be the shunning was based on something else, on status.  If someone with a high level of formal and informal prestige in a culture is counted a transgressor or traitor, then he or she may be like some electromagnet where a switch gets flipped and the polarity is reversed.  Shunning would have to be commensurate to the level of prestige the person enjoyed before being subject to shunning.  The higher your profile and the greater your formal clout in an organization, the greater your abjection would have to be.

This could account for why people who experienced some particularly stressful isolation when they left Mars Hill have, at least at times, been people with a lot of prestige within the Mars Hill culture.  They had a high height from which to fall.  If someone had a good deal of clout but it was all informal clout, no formal employment contract or formally recognized leadership role, then the worst that could happen would be the person might not be recruited to volunteer this or that.  Their informal reputation would not particularly suffer or, even if it did, their loss would not be as large as the loss of someone who had a lot of formal prestige.

So with that in mind ...
https://musingsfromunderthebus.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/mars-hill-church-true-religion-does-not-abandon-orphans-and-widows-in-their-distress/
...
Little matter that I had just been approved to be an elder. Little matter that James Harleman had offered me a paid position as an elder at Wedgwood starting in 2008 if I would accept the position. Little matter that hundreds of members were supporting our orphans in Africa, and many could witness the ministry first hand.

It would seem like at least a possibility here that the transgression could be described as someone whose actions overstepped the socially recognized level of prestige.  I.e. in the wake of a political scandal Rob might have been construed as pulling a rank he didn't formally have.  He may have had a very high informal level of prestige but he was not at that point formally an elder, so if he said what he thought about an elder termination process as a deacon then at a formal and an informal level he could have been seen as having overstepped his legitimately bounds. 

Conversely, without any formal diaconate or elder associated tasks, a person could object to a termination process and be ignored.  This would not be the same for people who had formal recognition.  It would not go over well if a community group leader expressed reservations about the firings of Petry and Meyer.  A person who said that kind of thing might be asked to step aside from leading a community group.  A deacon who said those kinds of things might have gotten dismissed, which is not to say for sure that happened.  The proposal here is that the higher the level of informal and formal prestige, the greater the offense would be for having views not accepted by the leadership culture.

In such a cultural idiom there would be a good deal more advantage to only ever having had informal clout rather than formal clout.  If you ran afoul of a leader there would be nothing much they could do to make life difficult for you. Perhaps membership could be revoked but then what was lost?  Access to The City?  Was ... that really all that big a loss? 

Discouraging financial investment in a project, though, was possible, but this might reinforce the proposal here, that the damage was possible because of the prestige Rob Smith had at a formal and informal level.  Had he substantially diversified the donor base for Agathos prior to 2007 the political brushfires of Mars Hill would not necessarily have caused the kind of damage to Agathos' donor base that has since been described. 

That Smith had a lot of clout at a formal and informal level could be attested by none other than Driscoll himself, it seems, since Smith has been able to reproduce a sermon from the 2007 Ruth series in which Driscoll spoke positively of Smith and the work he did through Agathos.  That Petry was considered wrong to have consulted Smith may well be yet another indication that the perceived transgression was that Petry shared confidential materials with someone not worthy of the material.  It could be construed as another case of a guy being thought of as having asked form or been given access to, that for which his formal and informal prestige was not considered good enough.

Now there's no doubt people will wish to discuss spiritual abuse for a while to come.  But Wenatchee The Hatchet suggests that discussing spiritual abuse in strictly spiritual terms may well prove to be a waste of time.  It's not that this shouldn't be done, it's that we may benefit from shifting the discourse away from theological discussions to sociological discussions and psychological discussions.  It's possible to frame spiritual abuse for a secular reader as a type of emotional manipulation and abuse.  What happens is a spiritual narrative that is ostensibly shared by two or more parties is invoked or even manipulated by one party as a way to exert control over or exact obligation from another party.  The invocation is a demand of loyalty predicated on the threat that an infraction will be interpreted and also (perhaps this part most crucially) broadcast as an indication of betrayal. 

This doesn't even have to be a religious matter, it could simply be a relational double bind where you put someone in a no win scenario. If they disagree with you or do not perform as expected you exact a punishment that shames them or accuses them, but if they conform with what you may require and it still doesn't go well for them then, well, it was their fault anyway.  What may make this thing abusive is that the person who maintains control of the narrative ensures that he or she has no possibility of moral culpability for the implementation of a decision or the decision itself.

In such a setting the paradox is that the less prestige you have invested in or gained from the social system, the less emotional trouble you'll have when or if you part ways with the culture and the narrative and expectations of the culture.  .If you had a lot of clout in the culture but it was all informal your reputation would not really suffer much if you ended up disagreeing with the leadership culture.  If, however, you dissented from the leadership on some crucial point and you had a lot of formal clout then the yellow sun would become a corresponding amount of Kryptonite. You could find that the level of formal and informal prestige you used to have would become the commensurate, corresponding level to which you were rejected.

On the other hand, if your informal reputation was already bad you could never attain much formal clout and your reputation might never particularly improve, even if you were someone about whom leaders said "don't ostracize this person".  Not everyone in the history of Mars Hill who felt shunned was necessarily shunned by elder edict; not everyone who felt shunned in the history of Mars Hill may have even been shunned at all, some personalities were combative enough that they may have alienated a lot of people on their way out without anyone needing to suggest a shunning.  Mileage must surely have varied. But when the politics got heavy, it seems that there was a benefit to having a relatively high but purely informal level of prestige within the culture of Mars Hill.  Formal prestige could end up being a severe disadvantage as the political battles within the leadership culture began to emerge.  It could have been even worse if there was any attempt to leverage either formal or formal prestige to offer any counter to the prevailing winds of an era.

It seems one of the hallmarks of the culture that developed in Mars Hill was that when a disagreement arose leaders (whether formal or informal) would invoke status or rank (whether formal or informal) as a trump card to exact compliance.  This would be the simplest and most pervasive pattern that could be construed as spiritually abusive within the history of Mars Hill.  One of the most flamboyant deployments of this use of status indication was the polarity reversal inherent in a shunning.  The higher the formal or informal prestige the more abjectly that person had to be cast out.

In a cultural setting like that the people who may have been the best off were the "consumers".  The more "plugged in" you were to the leadership culture, the far worse off you were if by some chance, one day, you ran afoul of the leadership culture you built your reputation within.

some more thoughts on what some call watchblogging, freedom of the press does not mean freedom from litigation (i.e. why you need to know what defamation is)

First, a link, HT to Phoenix Preacher:
http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/02/19/pastors-defamation-suit-against-son-advances.htm

Michael had a podcast late last year where he said 2014 was the year of the blogger.  He mentioned the work of, among others, Wenatchee The Hatchet.  The comments are appreciated.  Something Michael said in that late 2014 podcast was that it was important to articulate and appreciate HOW blogging about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill was done, that it was actual journalistic work with carefully sourced and cited primary source documents. 

As watchblogging about churches and pastors as figures interacting with the public continues litigation must be taken as a given.  It's only a matter of when and not if a lawsuit will materialize.  It's a matter of when and not if defamation suits will emerge.  Christians who would undertake watchblogging on an occasional or vocational basis need to understand clearly what the freedom of the press does and does not entail.  You cannot expect to be protected from a defamation suit just because you're saying what you are certain is the truth about someone you think is a public figure.  As court discussions are revealing, what one person may construe as a public figure another judge may construe as not necessarily a public figure.  Watchbloggers need to have some understanding of theories of the press, defamation case precedents, and count the cost of what they can provably and journalistically discuss for the sake of public discourse. This has been more than just some pet project of Wenatchee The Hatchet over the last six years. 

Back in the old college days, Wenatchee The Hatchet took some courses in journalism.  One of the topics for discussion was what freedom of the press does and does not entail.  The First Amendment is colloquially known as ensuring freedom of the press and free speech but the reality is not all speech is protected.  There are whole swaths of unprotected speech. 

There's a way that xkcd put it  ... (go read it for yourself, it's short and sweet).

http://xkcd.com/1357/

The freedom of the press means the government (in theory, at least) can't arrest you for what you say.  It doesn't mean everyone else can't decide what you have to say isn't worth listening to.

More importantly, it doesn't mean someone can't decide they have a basis from which to sue you for defamation of character.  The First Amendment doesn't protect across the board in matters of defamation.  You can't just say what you will about anyone.  This is a detail that isn't very subtle and that watchbloggers have probably not adequately realized.  You get to say crazy or outrageous things about civil servants who are public figures.  The first amendment protects the liberty of people to say stuff about government officials as a way to encourage and preserve political discourse.  But not everyone is that kind of public figure.  Certainly your local or even regional megachurch pastor is not going to fit that category of public figure. 

So for private citizens, freedom of the press is no sure defense against a defamation suit.  You can't even necessarily rely on truth as the ultimate defense if the person we're discussing ISN'T a public figure.  If what you publish could be construed as permanently or significantly damaging the reputation of a person then even if what you published were factually true and the person is not a public figure (i.e. government employee for sake of this post) you can still be liable for, well, libel.  If you assert that someone did X and someone is a private citizen what you asserted could be libel.  Libel can, at least if memory serves, be the combination of disclosing a statement that harms the reputation of the person.  For public figures malicious intent would have to be established, but for private citizens not even this is necessarily the case depending on the state and the exigencies of the case.  If you were to say that a government official was guilty of embezzlement you'd have a free speech defense you wouldn't have if you said your neighbor was embezzling even if both might be true because the purpose of protecting speech is for the public good. 

For some reason Wenatchee The Hatchet has tended to be identified as a watchblog dealing with Mars Hill.  That has never been the case in intent or the sum of published work, but that's been how people have talked or written about the blog.  What needs to be stressed is that Wenatchee The Hatchet worked for years to stick with things that are public record and verifiable.  When Driscoll and Mars Hill sounded off on how some people made use of their intellectual property without giving proper credit, it was on the basis of that that Wenatchee The Hatchet broached the possibility that Driscoll himself had not adequately given credit to those whose writings and ideas influenced his approach to ministry (specifically, Dan Allender).  That the post-plagiarism controversy editions of Real Marriage gave Allender some credit can be cross referenced back to first-print editions of Real Marriage where you can see that was not what originally happened. It's not just that what was established was factually accurate, it was, how do we put this, redundantly verifiable, too.  It was a matter for public consideration.

What Wenatchee has not done is endorse or discuss allegations of what former MH leadership has allegedly said or done with respect to individuals, specifically certain long-since deleted allegations about individuals that could not be proven.  Defamation isn't protected speech and if a blogger makes a point of publicly expressing the sentiment that so-and-so's public career or ministry should die and makes claims about egregious moral offenses then, well, it's not hard to see how that could be construed as defamation.  The things alleged may even be true but the harsh reality is that if we're not talking about a public figure the truth defense alone won't cut it.  It's possible to be liable for defamation even if a person had made true statements that permanently damage a person's reputation. 

It can seem as though this or that story might be worth running if you're doing some kind of watchblog but you have to ask yourself if publishing that material would be worth going to court over and if you'd be willing to stake your reputation in a court setting on the veracity of what you publish.  It can seem as though too few watchbloggers have approached the discipline in this way.  While it is valuable that courts have upheld that bloggers have some first amendment protections there are journalistic responsibilities that must be upheld.  You have to acquaint yourself to the basics of what speech ISN'T protected and have some awareness that things you publish can damage people's lives.  You may at some point have to weigh the benefits of sharing information against the cost that may accrue to a person if information is made known.  There are stories and incidents and allegations Wenatchee The Hatchet doesn't plan to disclose because private citizens (even if they "seem" public) are (and should be) afforded protections and considerations that public figures don't have. 

And if you've read this blog for years you've probably already seen that this is a place where things are carefully and meticulously documented.  When things have been inaccurate (it happens, mere mortals, after all), corrections get made in a postscript or in comments at the relevant post.  As often or more, stuff has just not been discussed or in some cases comments have been deleted because some people who would sound off in blogs about this or that person either don't know or don't care to know what defamation is.  Christians toss around the word "slander" when they should probably use "gossip", and yet Christians have no problem slandering or libeling each other while thinking they are speaking up for the truth. 

So let's take a case like Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. When Mars Hill lamented that people infringed upon their intellectual property it was on that basis that it was possible and legitimate to discuss whether or not Driscoll's books had adequately cited and credited the work of other authors.  Since Driscoll and Mars Hill had deigned to make a public statement about intellectual property infringements there was a warrant, based on their public engagement of that topic, to ask whether or not they met the standards they asked others to comply with. 

Since the Bible is a document anyone can discuss with respect to historicity and interpretation whatever Mark Driscoll presented for public consideration and consumption was fair game.  It wasn't unfair to raise questions about the basic competency Mark Driscoll displays in biblical languages when he interpreted Song of Songs.  That Mark Driscoll in some way encouraged his daughter Ashley to be a blogger and have a public voice was a matter for discussion, too.  That Mark Driscoll leaned heavily on an anecdotal conversation with his daughter for a defense of a tendentious reading of Esther was also a matter for public consideration.  But beyond that, there was (and is) no compelling reason to discuss what relationship Mark Driscoll may or may not have with any of his children, by and large. 

Back in school I remember hearing the advice that you should avoid relying on anonymous sources.  You can't be certain they aren't lying to you.  You can't be certain they aren't blowing the whistle on an organization that may have even terminated them with cause.  Conversely, you may have to ask yourself whether what you might report is worth damaging someone's reputation or career over.  It also matters a great deal what sort of figure we're dealing with.  Is it a private citizen or a public figure?  What level of public figure?  A failure to engage with the significance of these definitions makes the difference between being able to speak or write things that are controversial but within the realm of legally acceptable speech on the one hand, and being the subject of a judicially accepted defamation suit on the other. 

Watchblogging has its perils and though there are encouraging indications that watchblogs can be taken seriously we should not lose sight of the grim reality that if we're going to do this kind of thing there are ethical and journalistic considerations at play.  We need to know what speech is and isn't protected.  We can't hide behind "free speech" as a defense in every case.  The First Amendment protects you from being arrested but not from becoming subject to a defamation suit. 

I've deleted a handful of comments made at this blog over the years that were libelous.  Some people with old scores to settle with other people insisted on making allegations that, if they had any merit, merited a legal filing rather than some comment on a blog.  The court of public opinion is not the same as legal standing.  The court of public opinion and popular sentiment is not the same as what can be shown to have actually been said and done.  For years people insisted Mark Driscoll claimed Gayle Haggard let herself go and that's why Ted Haggard strayed with drugs and a male escort.  It didn't matter how many times Wenatchee proved that's not what Mark Driscoll ever said, the court of popular sentiment had made up its mind.  That feedback loop reinforced loyalties. There may yet be people who sincerely believe Mark Driscoll was somehow "taken out" by the "media", as if the majority of media outlets had any idea who Mark Driscoll is or why he might matter. 

This blog is not a watchblog and even if it somehow is taken to be a watchblog let's clear the air, it's not a vocational watchblog but an occasional watchblog.  When the mainstream and independent press failed to keep up with what was going on in the history of Mars Hill Wenatchee The Hatchet kept tabs on Mars Hill and the teaching of Mark Driscoll.  When the press started to catch up WtH stayed on task.  Now that the corporation is moving toward formal expiration and dissolution there's lots of other things Wenatchee The Hatchet is looking forward to discussing INSTEAD of Mars Hill.

But there are things that still need to be said.  With respect to anyone who would consider being a watchblogger, let alone a vocational watchblogger, you can't afford to be ignorant of defamation.  You can't afford to lean on the idea that free speech means you somehow shouldn't or can't or won't get sued for defamation.  At the risk of overstating things a bit, if you're not willing to stand by what you publish at a blog in a court you may want to avoid saying what you think would be great or clever or powerful to say.  If Brian Williams can't afford to just say anything without losing time from his job how much less do you think you'll get away with saying something you think is clever or true that may be construed as the basis for a defamation suit? 

Stuff to consider.