Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Anatomy of a Blogstorm

I’ve been witness to plenty of blogstorms, but never have been at the center of one. Until the other day.

A blogstorm (my word) is a cyberblogical disturbance that can be triggered by the slightest difference in point of view. A blogger says "it’s Yin" and a reader posts a comment saying, “No, knucklehead, it’s Yang.” This usually is as turbulent as things get, but sometimes the heavens are aligned in such a way that a lot of people pile on the blogger and then Know It Alls from other blogs join in, and what began as a wee flickering flame becomes a full-blown blogstorm.

With all the really important stuff going on in the blogosphere these days (the Mess in Mesopotamia, O.J. Simpson still looking for the murderer and the question of whether Brittney will take back K-Fed), it is instructive that my maiden blogstorm started over something as trivial as underwear. Yes, underwear. Before this blogstorm had burned itself out, it had spread from the confines of a middle-sized blog to a bigger blog and then (cue "Jaws" theme music) one of the biggest blogs of all. (!!!)

This then is the anatomy of a blogstorm:

There I was last Sunday morning putting off painting the kitchen. Instead, I was assembling a gaggle of posts for Kiko’s House entitled "The American Trifecta: Religion, Race and Politix."

I figured that my item on religion -- whether Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would have a tough time running for president because he is a Mormon -- also would be a good post for that middle-sized blog, The Moderate Voice, where I am a coblogger.


I like to get out ahead of stories, have an edgy writing style, stand behind what I write and like to include photos or other images with my deathless prose. So while my post on Romney was factually accurate and had historic perspective, I gave it some edge by mentioning that another blog commentary about Romney noted that some Mormons wear church-approved underwear. I wondered:

“Can Romney endure the media exposure that awaits him? What if his great-great grandfather was a bigamist? And what about that underwear?”

I dressed up the posts with a photo of Mormon underwear plucked from Wikipedia and, drawing on my big city tabloid newspaper roots, I provided another dollop of edge by headlining them “Presidential Politix & Mitt Romney’s Underwear.”

Well, I hadn’t even painted half of one wall of the kitchen when the proverbial hit the fan. Comments began pouring in from members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) who were upset that I would mock their religion, let alone publish a photo of their official underwear. No curse words, mind you, but they got their point across.

So we had the makings of a Category 1 blogstorm.

Most blogstorms quickly branch off into substorms, as did this one. In addition to Mortified in Moab and other aggrieved LDSers, there were comment threads on:

* The sanctity of underwear and other religious garb.

* Whether The Moderate Voice had broken free of its moorings by publishing my post and was drifting into a shark-infested sea of invective.

* My badness. One commenter, in a rush to find something negative about me, went to Kiko's House, dredged up a post on Thanksgiving and screamed that I was a "religious bigot" because I had suggested throwing cranberry sauce at people who were oblivious to the rot in American society. (Good thing I didn't suggest tossing the whole turkey.)

* Some readers managed to navigate through the mounting hysteria and discussed what the post was all about to begin with – the scrutiny that Romney faced and whether he was a viable presidential candidate.

In no time at all, the blogstorm hit Category 2 as Mormon bloggers began piling on. Leading the charge was Guy Murray at Bloggernacle Times with a well orchestrated series of attacks.

I dunno. Maybe it’s the air in Utah, but these cats were reading right past what I had said and were taking it very personal, as they say in Philadelphia. Some actually compared my inclusion of the underwear thing as being akin to the Danish cartoonistist who penned the Mohammed cartoons.



Ann Althouse is a law prof at the University of Wisconsin. That’s where Dick Cheney hid out to avoid being sent to Vietnam. Dick was studying how to start a pretty big war of his own, which he would do with great flourish when he grew up to be a vice president.

Althouse has an eponymous middle-sized blog with a little of this and a little of that and a lot of politics and law stuff. She has a loyal following and is a certifiable blog diva.

I myself was Althouse Neutral until about the time I finished painting the second wall of the kitchen. That’s when it was brought to my attention that she had accused me of ridiculing Romney’s religion and possible choice of underwear in The Moderate Voice post.

At this point the blogstorm had reached Catagory 3.

It was obvious that The Diva hadn’t read a word of my post except the headline, or if she did read it she nevertheless was going to grossly mischaracterize it in the service of the ax she happened to be grinding, which was meant for Andrew Sullivan’s neck even if it drew my blood.

The Diva was on a big game hunt and Little Me was getting trampled by her elephant.

Andrew has a blog called The Daily Dish, which is one of the top 100 blogs ranked by readership in our part of the solar system. The Diva had taken offense at his discussions about the hijacking of her Republican Party by so-called “Christianists.”

Silly, silly me. I attempted to bring Althouse’s gross mischaracterization to her attention, but she kept turning that dang elephant my way and charging me. I was accused of ruining The Moderate Voice and being sexist, as well, which of course has become a last refuge when you're firing blanks.

(My mother told me never to pick scabs. The Diva apparently didn't learn that lesson, because she charged her elephant at me again the next day. Meanwhile, after repeatedly going after Sullivan, she alit from her elephant the day after that, took off her pith helmet, wiped her sweaty brow on the sleeve of her safari jacket, surveyed the savannah and issued a transparently insincere "why can't we all get along" plea to Andrew. And then got back on her elephant and c-h-a-r-g-e-d.

But back to our story . . .

I was well into painting the third wall of the kitchen when the blogstorm blew right past Category 4 and topped out at Catagory 5.

This was a not coincidental link to The Diva's posturing on my Mormon mendacity by Glenn Reynolds, who is the Bilbo Baggins of the blogosphere and holds court at Instapundit, which is one of the top 20 blogs. (!!!)

Why not coincidental?

First of all, The Diva and Reynolds are both lawyers, which is the second oldest profession, you know. Lawyers will say anything they want because they know they can get away with it. I know this to be so from substantial experience reporting on trials, being on the receiving end of lawsuits and depositions, and from doing consulting work in legal malpractice, which I must tell you is a very fast growing field in Wisconsin and Tennesse, but nowhere more so than in New Jersey. So it's easy for lawyers to become a bloggers. They just can't charge $250 an hour.

Second of all, The Diva fills in for Reynolds when he’s off testing new kitchen appliances.

I rest my case, Your Honor.


What lessons have I learned from my maiden blogstorm?

* Mormons are no different than members of other religious groups. Anything less than a big wet kiss (or in their case, a firm handshake) is viewed as an attack on their faith. So easy. So intellectually lazy. That said, I removed the offending photo from The Moderate Voice post because it was a distraction.

* Ann Althouse was wrong. I didn’t screw up The Moderate Voice. It not only seems to have weathered the storm, but perhaps even drawn some new readers and triggered a (generally) healthy debate about the meaning of “moderate” and “centrist” and what TMV’s roll in the blogosphere should be. You see, unlike too many blogs, including The Diva’s, TMV maestro Joe Gandelman welcomes healthy dissent.

* I was reminded of why I blog. Because I love it. My own underwear is made of Kevlar, so I’m pretty much immune from elephant charges. And while I was gratified when Kiko pointed out that my TMV post came up at the top when she Googled "Mitt Romney,” I’m not in the game for ego gratification.

Oh, and by the way, I finished painting the kitchen.


cognitorex said...

Sacred Mormon Underwear
Tableau & Song


We give you Homosexual marriage
Gonna wreck your family's life
Gay men want your husbands
Lesbians will steal your wife

Billy Frist and Arlen Spector
Know the votes are just not there
Orrin Hatch said "Go tell all of your wives"
In his sacred Mormon underwear

Anonymous said...

I can only speak for myself here but...

1. I think my experience growing up Mormon is not unusual. Before I was out of middle school I understood that mamy of friends thought I was a member of a freaky cult. Having endured that sort of thing my entire life, I expect "big wet kisses" much less often than you might think.

2. You underestimate (perhaps not anymore) the shock value for Mormons of posting pictures of the garments online. For many the wikipedia pic was probably the first photograph of the garment they had ever seen, period. The clothing are made as UNDERgarments BECAUSE we intend they not be held up for public scrutiny--the symbolism in the garment is independent of the fact that we wear it under our clothing.

3. In the interest of full disclosure I have an aesthetic problem with the pic. I HATE the style portrayed in the picture! I wear a much more "contemporary" style, the top is a white 100%cotton crew-neck t-shirt and the bottoms look like a longish version of my friend's designer briefs. People not in the know see me in the locker room and assume I'm wearing "normal" underwear. FYI they make garments for the military that aren't even white--the tops match the required color for the uniform (e.g. "sand" colored for the Army).

4. Congrats on your kitchen.

Juliet said...

I was accused of ruining The Moderate Voice and being sexist, as well, which of course has become a last refuge when you're firing blanks.

I think Althouse often cries wolf when she calls people sexist, and I don't think she ought to have called you out about the underwear post, but...

You called her "Annie Pooh." That's why she called you sexist. It's infantilizing. How often has misogyny manifested itself by treating women as children? Whether or not you intended to be sexist, why should you be surprised that she construed your comment that way? And regardless of whether your nickname for Ann was sexist, the kind of dissent that treats its opposition like a two-year-old isn't "healthy"; it merely devolves into the sycophantry and bickering I would think a moderate blogger would want to avoid.

Shaun Mullen said...


You are correct. Annie Pooh was over the top.

Juliet said...

Thanks for acknowledging that.

Good luck with TMV, and enjoy the underwear of your choice. :)