Special Report

Kossacks in the Desert

If the dreary Yearly Kos convention is any indication, who could possibly care if what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?

By 6.13.06

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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- As I listened to a group of twenty or so Kossacks (slang for devotees of the Daily Kos website) argue over the three "L"s of the Bush presidency, eventually determined to be "Liar," "Louse" and "Lawbreaker in Chief" -- the third "L" was tough to tease out, but the committee persevered -- at this weekend's much-heralded Yearly Kos convention, I could hear Mr. Valerie Plame's voice interrupted intermittently by raucous applause at a panel discussion of the CIA leak investigation in the next room.

As tempting as the opportunity to watch the ongoing beatification process for Joseph Wilson continue unabated -- later that day Barbara Boxer would spend a quarter of her speaking time heaping stunningly excessive praise on the former ambassador -- I already have a working familiarity with the story and other reporters had already permeated every porous crevasse of that particular bedrock. Since a good deal of the hype surrounding Yearly Kos was based on the idea of establishing Internet bloggers as flesh and blood human beings who could make a splash in the real as well as electronic world, I opted to attend one of the roundtable sessions instead.

I wanted to get inside the heads of people who would eagerly accept retired NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark's inclusion on the Championing Science panel, while Arianna Huffington held down the National Security discussion, redefining the word "banal" and the phrase "about as deep as a spoon" -- did you know they didn't find any WMDs in Iraq? -- along the way.

Sure, I'd read the bumper stickers and buttons -- Impeach Bush. End the Occupation in Iraq. Kicking Ass for the Working Class. Dump Joe (As in Joe Lieberman, former vice-presidential candidate, current personification of all evil in Kosland. Buttons showing Bush kissing Lieberman were ubiquitous), Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam, Capitalism is Organized Crime, etc. -- but the left enjoys few things more than smugly explaining how their "nuanced" message doesn't fit on bumper stickers. So I thought I might as well go directly to these consumers of anti-consumerism to get the real skinny on how they viewed the world.

Without putting too fine a point on things, many of them view it entirely through the prism of the blogosphere. The roundtable I attended began with a fifteen-minute debate as to whether holding the discussion in an "exclusive" -- i.e. real world -- locale didn't trample on the supposed unimpeachable blogger value of openness by locking out Daily Kos's other 90,000 registered users. Perhaps they should all pull out their laptops and hold the roundtable in the "inclusive" live blogging world? Finally someone pointed out the obvious: They hadn't flown to Las Vegas to spend the weekend online. A young man forlornly stowed his computer, the "Talk Nerdy to Me" sticker festooned on the front disappearing with it.

THINGS BEGAN PROMISINGLY ENOUGH with a short argument over the need to sometimes subvert "Berkeley-style ideological purity" with its "circular firing squads" for big tent election wins. Before long, however, the session had descended into a discussion not of the latest news or political stratagems, but of the technical minutiae of the complex algorithms used, as I understand it, to determine how a poster's diary can become a "featured" or "recommended" selection.

This led to lengthy, sometimes heated discussions over whether "mojo," part of online popularity ranking of diaries, apparently, was being created and distributed fairly by the overlords of Kosland in a fair way? "Is there any way to set up a virtual stoning of trolls uninterested in our ideas or would that stifle debate among those of us who want to be here?" a middle-aged woman asked, making engagement in the Daily Kos community sound sort of like a video game pitting people-powered mojo warriors against evil trolls. When Howard Dean made a reference in his speech to kicking trolls off websites the next morning, despite the knowledge that "trolls" in this context are malevolent commenters, it still seemed wholly surreal.

When in the waning minutes of the roundtable the conversation veered back towards politics with a question about ways to oppose the drat right-wing noise machine drowning out progressive voices, one Kossack promised to fly to Aruba, fake his wife's kidnapping and when the media showed up, put his son on to say, "Sure I miss my mom, but what I really miss is the freedoms we used to enjoy in the United States of America."

Now, since during his Thursday evening welcome address cartoonist Tom Tomorrow suggested those who write for those publications ensconced within the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy have severely malformed irony detectors, I suppose I should add a disclaimer: I understand this was a joke. What I don't understand is how a roomful of people who believe they must organize now against imminent jackboot fascism before it is too late can gather at a political conference and spend the majority of their time making jokes and talking about how to get more traffic to their web postings.

TOWARDS THE END OF THE HOUR two actual current events were discussed: Immigration and the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The prompt question about the former was, "Do we really need our own solution on immigration or is it enough to point out that the Republicans are falling over their feet on this one?" Short answer: No. "They divide the American people every day," one woman sniffed. "Let them see how they like being divided for a while." As for the latter, no one dissented when a man scoffed, "If Zarqawi was so important why did we drop two 500 pound bombs on his head? Why not capture him and put him on trial? We just wanted to kill him before the Iraqis got to him and everyone found out he was a nobody, a hoax cooked up by the Bushies."

And then it was over and time to head to the next session.

"Live blogging is exhausting," one of the session attendees yawned as he interlocked his fingers and cracked his knuckles. "I'm going to have to ice my fingers after this weekend."

"Really?" a young woman asked. "This is nothing for me."

Welcome to the netroots, son. You just got schooled at Yearly Kos 2006!

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