The Death of the Straight Dope

THE DEATH OF THE STRAIGHT DOPE….Via Matt Welch, Scott MacMillan bemoans the difficulty of getting the straight dope these days:

There’s a hell of a lot going on in the world right now. Know what bothers me? What bothers me is that I don’t know of a single blog-type news/commentary source that devotes itself to international news events — not Beltway bullshit — without some huge ideological axe to grind. I’d buy a beer for anybody that could recommend, for instance, some interesting commentary about the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin or the non-capture of Ayman Al-Zawahiri or the non-killing of Herat’s Ismail Khan. I’d buy a whole dinner for somebody who can link it all to the Peace of Westphalia.

I can’t tell you have often I’ve thought the same thing. Everthing is so politicized these days that it’s practically impossible to find simple, straightforward information on much of anything anymore.

But despite my sympathy, this lament is misguided on a bunch of different levels:

  • Anybody who has studied a subject long enough to become an expert is bound to have a point of view. Given the current state of the art in human nature, consistent objectivity just isn’t a reasonable goal.

  • But if you insist on looking for it anyway, blogs are the last place you should look. I mean, the whole point of the blogosphere is to be partisan and opinionated or else it’s no fun. Complaining that it’s hard to find objective information in the blogosphere is like complaining that talk radio hosts are loud and superficial.

  • Having said that, there are places to go for this kind of information. There are serious foreign affairs magazines that post articles on the web, there are think tanks that are relatively nonideological, and there’s the mainstream press, which (contrary to blog mythology) tends to be fairly evenhanded, especially if you read accounts from multiple sources.

  • Finally, and not to get all postmodern on y’all, in a situation of any complexity there just isn’t always a clean, straightforward objective truth. Nobody knows for sure what’s really going on because everyone has different sources, documentation is vague, and the principals aren’t talking.

As for Westphalia, I think they’re still at peace. It took ’em a hell of a long time, though.

UPDATE: On a more serious note, the Economist is a pretty good source for international news (don’t let the title fool you). It’s not quite as breezy as a blog post, mind you, but it is readable, fairly authoritative, not wildly ideological, they update their site every day, and most of the content is (a) free and (b) neither overlong nor mere blurbs. Caveat emptor and all that, but you could do a lot worse. Especially if you’re not willing to spend any money.