Friday, January 21, 2011

two dumb to play with themselves, part 3

1. The Present: Farhad Manjoo Is a Humorless Nincompoop


Farhad Manjoo has been on my radar for kind of a while, ever since I heard him come on the radio and make the following argument.

  1. People are buying Apple products.
  2. Those people notice that Flash is kind of, well, fucking ubiquitous on the web.
  3. Those people notice that Apple products don't support Flash.
  4. Those people are upset with the lack of support.
  5. Those people are stupid and wrong, because Steve Jobs says Flash is Teh Gay and Steve Jobs is smart--remember the time he shipped those funny-colored computers with the mice that didn't fucking work like at all because they were round but those funny-colored computers didn't have floppy drives and everybody thought he was nuts but here it is 10 years later and no computers have floppy drives anymore, so Steve Jobs is smart and Flash is probably doomed.
  6. Also there is HTML 5, so who needs Flash.


(Farhad Manjoo at work)

1 through 4 there I think are pretty inarguably true. 6 is debatable, but I'm willing to have the debate. 5, though, I found a truly annoying illustration of at least two logical fallacies: post hoc ergo propter hoc and wildly overreaching analogy. (Might not have the Aristotelian terminology down on that second one there.)

And then I kind of kept on living my life without paying all that much attention to Manjoo, somehow. Pity me. But then he dropped this impassioned screed on the topic of Two Spaces After a Period Is Fucked Up and Wrong and Important.

I've received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces.
Yes, these truly are the issues that exercise the journalists of my generation: I feel excellent about the future. So I weighed in. Since I am a complete prick bastard, I clued him into my in-weighing.

Apparently nobody needed a stooge to mindlessly mouth their talking points for them yesterday, and all the local paint chips had already been munched, b/c Manjoo got all het up and decided to spend the bulk of the day angrily claiming levels of integrity and involvement his career has never at any point displayed.


(Farhad Manjoo interacting on Twitter)


Collision: Pretty heavy-handed for a guy who breathlessly reads Apple press releases for a living. @fmanjoo http://www.slate.com/id/2281146/
@fmanjoo: This was the best Apple PR note ever, by the way: http://www.slate.com/id/2260619
Collision: Yeah, I liked better the time you forecasted the death of Flash b/c we don't use floppy disks anymore.
@fmanjoo: That wasn't the reasoning. But I just disproved your baseless claim, and I'll do it again, free: http://slate.me/fufxrb
Collision: Yes, two spine-filled articles DO make baseless my claim that on the radio you gush so thoroughly that I reach for the dial.
Collision: And your reasoning went: Apple doesn't like Flash; Apple didn't like floppies; Apple will win vs Flash. Piffle.
@fmanjoo: On the radio? What are you talking about? Here's a third. http://slate.me/cPgj1T I could go on all day.
Collision: Apparently you can go on all day. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyID=130244142
Collision: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyID=125588123
@fmanjoo: You asserted that I'm never critical of Apple (reading press releases). How many articles would it take to prove you wrong?1
Collision: Actually, I accused you of "breathless gushing". I see now you have other modes, including humorless pedantry.
@fmanjoo: So you'll concede I'm not exclusively positive about Apple?
Collision: I'll "concede" that you take timeouts from breathless gushing to act like a jilted lover. Having not devoted myself to yr work?
Collision: (2/2) Somehow I had missed those frantic screeds. My mistake.
@fmanjoo: Ah, in other words you're inconvincable. You've got your opinion and by golly nothing's going to change it, not even facts.
Collision: Right: like you on Apple. ;) Are you a fanboy? No. Did I say you were? Also no. Have you breathlessly gushed? YES.
@fmanjoo: You accused me of reading press releases. If that's not an accusation of bias nothing is.
Collision: No, no, sorry: was my mistake to single out the Apple press releases (the ones that stuck in my head).
@fmanjoo: So you're objecting to my offering praise for any company, ever.4
Collision: It's not just iPad YAY on your resume: I was wrong. On Slate you've also cosigned PowerPoint, Firefox, Chrome, Google, & Office PR.
@fmanjoo: Let's get this straight: You're not a accusing me of never being negative, because I've already shown you examples of that.
@fmanjoo: You're also not accusing me of being hopelessly biased toward one company, because you've already seen that's not true.
Collision: Hey, man, if that's what you think your job consists of? Carry on, my wayward son. But I do prefer your challenging of lies, yes.
@fmanjoo: So you're asking me to never praise anything, but I'm the humorless pedant.
Collision: RT @cfCollision So you're asking me to never praise anything, but I'm the humorless pedant.
Collision: Ooo! That one was a good one! That's the spirit--now try it on a claim made by a tech CEO! It'll feel *great*!
Collision: (I would say 'never praise anything' is a poor reading of my position, but I'm enjoying yr last tweet way too much to quibble.)
Collision: Oh, I don't think you're biased. I think you're a 'journalist' like Nintendo Power's staff members are.2 You're an industry flack.
@fmanjoo: Yes, an assertion you're making while holding your hands in your ears and ignoring evidence to the contrary.5
Collision: I read your 2 counterexamples.3 You wrote my 5 examples.
Collision: You know what? Fuck it. You're super. You're wonderful. Hard-hitting work, thy name is Farhad Manjoo, scourge of the second space.

2. The Past: Farhad Manjoo Is a Dangerous Lunatic

The universe might be finite, so I cannot take on the project of arguing with every preposterous piece of nonsense Manjoo has signed off on. As a synecdoche, however, I would like to interact with the following excerpt.

Every Office app satisfies two important demands for Microsoft's large and diverse customer base: It's simple for novices to grasp but offers enough deep features for people to develop undying bonds of affection and expertise.

Let's...let's stop and think about this, just for a second. Because I'm not a tech journalist--one step straight sideways from the automotive section liars and scumbags, apparently--it's okay for me to think about claims other people make.

Imagine someone, a novice, firing up Excel or Outlook for the first time.

Does this imaginary cat--let's call her Ferdinande--say

Ferdinande: "wow! user friendly! as a novice, I feel comfortable with and welcomed by this program! I'm grasping it simply and, golly, I surely do hope I can continue to build expertise with this program!

Imagine a long-time user of Excel or Outlook. Or, fuck, Word.

Has any long-time user of Outlook, Excel or Word--let's call her Gottlobe--ever said

Gottlobe: "man, my expertise with this program sure feels good--I particularly enjoy how the program isn't bloated, sluggish and crash-prone! Microsoft, you've really made a product for which I feel undying bonds of affection!"

In Manjoo's universe, novices and power users alike apparently think and say things like that. In the cube farms I've worked in? Outlook is inescapable, spreadsheets are pressed into service in dozens of bizarre ways, and I have never at any time heard a single human express any pleasure whatsoever in their relationship with these products. I will go farther: short of deeply problematic levels of masochism, or maybe an advanced case of Stockholm Syndrome, it is in fact not possible to enjoy interacting with any aspect of Office. And anybody telling you otherwise is either barking fucking mad or lying right to your fucking face.

3. The Future: Please Anticipate the Following Asinine Farhad Manjoo Advertorials!

My main man Canada and I riffed on this for a while, and we expect the following kick-ass compensated pieces in the next couple months. (Note that Canada regards all of this as a waste of my powers, on account of Manjoo "ain't worth it".)

  • 11 Reasons to Fall in Love with Bing
    It's suave, supple, robust, and surprisingly fun to use!
  • Don't sleep on Corel Draw, folks: the old pony's still got a few tricks in her!
  • Do You Know Juno?
    The world's first free email service is arguably still the best!
  • Nintendo: Profit on every hardware sale + massive penetration of new market(s) = a colossal failure in strategy--a conversation with David Sony
  • New physical formats for media: essential and useful upgrades or completely necessary innovations you can't live without?
  • Xbox 360: 360 guaranteed days of pre-failure fun!*
    *Not guaranteed
  • Product Set Itself on Fire, Killing Three: 7/10
  • Early Zune Adopters Clear Winners in Long Run
  • Closed Formats, Open Arms: How--and Why!--Microsoft Is Saving the Net
  • Criticism Is Like Unto Raping to Murder: A Tech Journalist's Manifesto
  • Hotmail, wow! The Innovations!
  • PSP2 & PS3: Sony Finally Hits Their Stride!
  • America's Most Delightful processors: Why you should certainly settle for second (-ish) in the processor space
    Because note--AMD gives you good value...and...uhm...less heat

4. In Conclusion: Farhad Manjoo Is Decadent and Depraved

This is America, so it's not like being incredibly inept and uninterested in doing your job is a crime. In fact, a guy like Manjoo, with three entire examples of effort, is probably better than most, at least in the stunningly offensive field of tech journalism.

However, my five examples--which, even in J-school, is a number bigger than three--were taken from the first 25 hits returned on a search of Slate. His three counterexamples were not to be found there--maybe he's been phoning it in of late? Braces for the kids?

Furthermore, those five-of-25 were the only five that actually expressed a viewpoint of any kind. The other 20 were just bog-standard effulgences of tech...uh..."news".

And if we were to examine Manjoo's self-selected pieces purporting to exercise the journalistic impulse, applying a strong intellect and unparalleled access to information to reveal unexpected truths improving the knowledge base and lives of the reading public? What do we find?

  • One instance of piling on a well-established fuck-up.
    Which is to say, you know what you don't get credit for? Opinion pieces that express the opinion of literally everyone with an opinion.
    Agreeing stridently and trenchantly with everyone on the planet that the iPhone needed to make phone calls better than it did doesn't exactly set you up to displace Woodward and Bernstein.
  • One impassioned and somewhat baffling howl about not suing people for patent infringement.
    Which, for the record, contains damn-the-torpedoes criticism like
    [Apple] rightly claims ownership over the ... specific way in which the iPhone marries software and hardware to do what it does so well.
  • One lengthy whine about ads, which demonstrates his keen understanding of capitalism, as he says "wait, what? companies are gonna inconvenience me, the end user, by advertising at me? and they're doing it just to make money?" (The man has apparently never watched broadcast television.)
    The issue is that advertisements apparently are annoying on Apple device applications.6
    Other highlight: "I don't begrudge Apple any of this" written after 994 words of him begrudging Apple all of this.
    The main problem, of course, is that, as a bought-and-paid-for industry shill, Manjoo desperately wants tech advertising dollars to continue to flow to his domain, what in reputable fields gets called "editorial"; as he sees dollars go to things that are explicitly ads, rather than financing junkets for him to go on be impressed by MS Office's rich aroma and tender fillings, he realizes that he's got to up his shameful game and assault the new competition.

Is he a bad person? Probably not. But I think he's terrible at his job and I will go out of my way to avoid reading anything he writes in the future, bolstering my semi-long-standing campaign of avoiding listening to him fawn over consumer goods on the radio.

So let me admit it: Farhad Manjoo, you did make me change my mind. I admit: at the beginning, I thought you were just a silly Apple enthusiast. I was wrong. Then I thought you were a craven toady, as terrified of writing an interesting sentence as you are of finding and presenting a novel fact. I was right.

And before you unleash another instance of your interesting argument--that I must read everything you've ever written to have an opinion about your work--let me give you some basic truths, drawn from the realm of Moral Mathematics. You keep asking "how many [awful] columns and articles will it take to convince you of [the opposite of whatever point you're misascribing to me]?". Well, none. Because having read 10 of your pieces, I may have your stance wrong? but I'm certainly entitled to the opinion that you're a world-historically shoddy excuse for a journalist and that my life will be richer and better informed for your absence. Your position seems to be that I can't judge the meal of Shit Cake and Piss Tea you're feeding me until I've chewed every chunk and swallowed every drop: but I don't like the Shit Cake, I don't like the Piss Tea, and I'm not going to consume any more of your mush-headed corporate boosterism.

Am I trying to get him fired? Fuck no. Jobs for everybody, I say. Do I have a potent, throbbing desire for him to get a job he's actually good at, preferably in some arena I'd never under any circumstances enter?

Fuck Yes I Do

--Fat

1Note that this is literally false. Nowhere did I say he was "never critical". How many articles would it take to disprove my actual claim--the claim that he does, at least sometimes, give uncritical lip service to preposterous PR claims? Well, it would take a review of all his articles to disprove that claim. Alas but that a cursory review of his articles demonstrates that the claim I actually made is inarguably true.

The illusory claim he tries to weasel out of? Sure, okay: Farhad Manjoo can certainly argue that literally several times in his career he has done something approximating his job.

To be so clear that even Farhad Manjoo in full-on defensive weasel mode can't misinterpret:

My claim is that Farhad Manjoo frequently abdicates both the potential and the responsibilities for analysis and criticism that are inherent in his position and chooses instead to function as a cheerleader for the industry, thoughtlessly reiterating the talking points of Information Officers and lending whatever weight his position possesses to the misleading and disingenuous horseshit spewed by liars attempting to mislead consumers and improve their standing in the marketplace.

2This was a cheap shot and I regret it. The staff members of Nintendo Power are intelligent and enthusiastic practitioners of their craft. I've been reading their work for years with enjoyment and increased understanding of the topics they cover. I regret associating them with Farhad Manjoo.

3It was three counterexamples. I regret the error.
To be fair to myself--which is easily my favorite kind of being fair--I found not five examples of him sucking, but in fact six. Which is more than five examples. Also more than two counterexamples. Or three.

4Note the move here is "you claim to be a journalist but default to reading press releases" becoming "I am not allowed to give praise ever". Ahem. No, it is not that you are never allowed to give praise; it is that you are always required to deploy intelligence and the insight your position grants you.

To put it a different way: you are required to not praise everything all the time.

To put it in his formulation: I object to Farhad Manjoo praising essentially every company essentially all of the time.

5I literally have no idea what this is supposed to mean. I have small hands and big ears, this is true, but I truly cannot hold anything with my ears, certainly not my hands. Maybe he means I was maintaining a position with my hands such that my hands were in my ears? But that's silly: not only do my hands not fit in my ears, the idiom is "plugging your ears with your fingers". Surely he couldn't make such a mistake.

6Sorry: reading this shit is deathly dull, and I've had to resort to typography to keep myself interested.

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