Subscribe via RSS Feed

Rhetoric amounts to more than what you advocate.

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

The title should go without saying, but even among intelligent conservatives, sometimes it doesn’t:

The fact that a homicidal maniac shares your goals doesn’t make you responsible for his methods.

I never claimed otherwise. In point of fact, I didn’t say that the ideological brethren of homicidal maniacs are responsible for the actions of homicidal maniacs. Quite the opposite. I claimed that there exists “a non-incidental relation of particular ideologies with acts of violence,” a fact no one who’s ever opposed Islamic fundamentalism can deny. I further claimed that:

conservatives do inspire those on their fringes to engage in politically motivated violence. The politics of the George Tiller murder are an indictment against conservative rhetoric because that rhetoric made Tiller a target[.]

So as to this:

Is it fair to say that I “inspired” Scott Roeder’s actions if I have engaged in full-throated condemnation of partial-birth abortion (and I have)? If I accurately describe the horrific acts of violence involved in that monstrous process, does that rhetoric “make” an abortion doctor a “target”?

My question would be, “Have you, Patrick Frey, ever said anything like the following from mainstream conservative figure Rush Limbaugh?”

One of the things I strongly believe is that we are not going to, as individuals, erase evil from the world. That is God’s task. But we can be soldiers in that process, and we can confront it when we see it. Now, is child abuse an evil? Of course it is. Child abuse is an evil, and we confront it, and we take children away from parents who are abusive all day, do we not? Well, if child abuse is evil, as Mr. Morrissey points out here, then infanticide is even more evil.

In this comment, Patrick notes that both of us can point to cases on the right and left in which fringe figures “advocate” violence, and I’ll concede that. But openly advocating violence isn’t the issue here (if only because those who do so are immediately dismissed as the cowardly cranks they undoubtedly are). The issue is the rhetoric of violence, and I don’t think anyone will deny the violence inherent in Limbaugh’s rhetoric there.

The phrase “soldiers in that process,” in which that “process” is stopping “infanticide,” is not neutral language. Envisioning opposition in martial terms encourages the mentally unstable to think of themselves in grandiose terms, e.g. as God’s soldiers. Is Limbaugh encouraging people to murder abortion providers? Not directly. (Plausible deniability is the order of the day.) Is he encouraging those people invested in the cause of stopping infanticide to imagine that they’re “soldiers” in a “process” who should “confront [evil] when [they] see it”? Of course he is. How do I know that?

Because that’s what he said. He may not have meant it that way, but that’s what he said. Trace the logic of his comment:

God’s task is to erase evil from the world. We can be soldiers in the process of erasing evil from the world. We should confront evil in the world when we see it. Because abusing children is evil, infanticide is more evil.

What conclusion might an unstable person draw from it?


"We’ve plenty of hearsay and conjecture. Those are kinds of evidence."

[ 0 ] February 16, 2010 |

Ann Althouse wishes to emphasize that, while Glenn Reynolds based his assumption that Amy Bishop is a left-wing radical on a single RateMyProfessor comment, her own evidence is absolutely airtight:

LGM expends much effort trying to make it look as though the only source for Bishop’s politics was some student review on RateMyProfessors. But — I’ve already linked to this — here’s the Boston Herald:

A family source said Bishop… was a far-left political extremist who was “obsessed” with President Obama to the point of being off-putting

Well, I can understand why Althouse is proud of citing two whole pieces of what can charitably be called “evidence.” After all, she once wrote an op-ed asserting that Sam Alito was a moderate who deserved liberal support that had no evidence at all. But it should be obvious that this anonymous quote is scarcely better evidence of Bishop’s politics than isolated RateMyProfesors comments. I know “family sources” who consider my partner a radical leftist because she eats vegetables other than iceberg lettuce and drives a Subaru; without knowing who the family source is or how well he/she knows Bishop the quote isn’t reliable evidence of anything. Moreover, the quote is self-refuting — a radical leftist obsessed with Barack Obama? It’s better evidence that the “family source” considers anybody to the left of Jim DeMint a “far-left political extremist” than that Bishop had radical politics.

Of course, even if this highly unconvincing “evidence” was accurate, it doesn’t really matter, as Althouse leaves the other Scott’s central point untouched. Scott Roeder’s murder was explicitly and admittedly political in purpose, while Bishop’s homicides seem to have resulted from an apolitical personal grievance. To argue that the MSM is biased because they’re not treating these cases the same way is idiotic.

Google Plays Defense

[ 0 ] February 16, 2010 |

Google is backpedaling amid the buzz about Buzz, apologizing for its premature launch and the privacy issues it created, and promising to make Buzz more like other social networking sites, where users can choose the friends they associate with.

The brou-ha-ha goes to show that “privacy is still a social norm,” to contradict the claim of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg last year that people these days want the whole world to see what they put online. It’s heartening to see Google acknowledge this openly and take immediate remedial steps. Will they be enough? Keep watching to find out…

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

More on Corpse-Counting

[ 0 ] February 16, 2010 |

The HSR study I mentioned before on the declining toll of war has attracted a number of criticisms. Les Roberts at Making Sense of Sudan argues that their result is an artifact of the way in which the authors have defined the term “war.” HRDAG argues that if HSR applied the standards to their own data that they apply to the Congo death data, they couldn’t argue that they know anything about whether deaths are declining or not. The IRC has been quick to defend its Congo death toll estimate, which the HSR report says is inflated.

Some threads of these arguments dovetail with an ongoing academic debate about how to most accurately measure war deaths. (For example, is it better to estimate war deaths by counting the reported deaths in media accounts, or by doing surveys of war-affected populations?) But parts of the criticisms instead seem based on a belief that challenging conventional statistical wisdom is bad for human rights. Georgianne Neinaber of the Huffington Post claims:

It is far beyond unfortunate that this academic debate stands to produce a possible humanitarian aid backlash for the Congolese people. This debate should not be conducted in the press, and it is highly unfortunate that the headlined 900,000 number may become the new “fact,” because of an academic paper whose authors readily admit that they “do not know” the real numbers.

Similarly, Les Roberts, who contributed to the “debunked” IRC Congo report, called the HRS’ study “A Major Blow to Humanitarian Accountability.”

I have my own scholarly issues with the HSR report – in particular that the authors don’t really back up their assertions about why national mortality rates have declined, though their hypotheses are certainly plausible. But as a scientist, I’m leery of this narrative that somehow, even if the findings were accurate, it would be unethical to publish them on humanitarian grounds.

Would it be? Is it really the job of social scientists to publish counter-intuitive data only if they can be absolutely certain it won’t be misinterpreted? Or is it merely their job to do their best to lay out the evidence as accurately as they see it, in language as likely as possible to be understood, and to correct misinterpretations when they inevitably arise? (Andrew Mack has taken pains to correct the alleged perception that his report is arguing “only” 900,000 have died, which it certainly does not – though nor have I found evidence of this “headlined 900,000 number” beyond Nienaber’s Huffington Post essay.)

And is the international community really so fickle as to withdraw aid from the DRC on the basis that “too few” millions have died? I don’t see evidence of that either, but if they are, should a single research team be blamed for this outcome? Or should we be blaming the international community itself for its complacency?

Which graphic novels would you teach in a visual rhetoric course?

[ 0 ] February 16, 2010 |

The plan for the book I’m co-authoring is to have three or four substantial chapters focusing on 1) rhetoric generally, 2) the history of the medium, 3) the mechanics of comics, and 4) the rhetoric of comics, followed by ten chapters devoted to particular novels that instructors compel their students to purchase. The problem, as you can probably guess, is deciding which ten books should we subject to sustained close-reading. We’re going to be leaning hard on McCloud’s Understanding Comics throughout, but as for the ten other books, the list we’ve compiled so far includes:

The idea is to provide a wide variety of central texts to teach—as well as a template for doing so—which is why we have American comics, European comics, and manga; autobiographical works and books decked in tights; novels with readily available film adaptations (300, Watchmen, Persepolis) or companions (Miyazaki’s Nausicaä and his animated features like Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away); etc. In short, our concern is not to represent the best-and-brightest the medium has to offer, but to offer a selection of novels that will be useful to the greatest number of potential teachers.

For example, this list lacks an overtly political book like Joe Sacco’s Palestine; Gaiman is absent, as the narrative complexity of the Sandman trades would force him to be represented by a minor work like Black Orchid; Batman is nowhere to found, as we already have a Miller and a Moore, so The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns are out, which means the Nolan films have no natural pair; etc.

In an ideal world, what other works would you like to see us cover?

Joementum 2: Electric Boogaloo

[ 0 ] February 15, 2010 |

Obviously, the idea that Evan Bayh has any chance of winning a national Democratic primary is funny stuff (or pathetic, when the person making the argument is actually paid to write about politics; it’s funnier coming from hapless amateurs.) But I especially enjoyed this from Lane’s tribute to Bayh:

For months now, Bayh has been screaming at the top of his voice that the party needs to reorient toward a more popular, centrist agenda — one that emphasizes jobs and fiscal responsibility over health care and cap and trade. Neither the White House nor the Senate leadership has given him the response he wanted.

Leaving aside the feigned shock about the fact that the Democratic leadership was unenthusiastic about adopting the agenda of the second-most conservative Democratic senator, you have to enjoy the idea that the “popular” strategy for the Democrats would apparently be a “jobs” program…of the “fiscally disciplined” kind adopted by Herbert Hoover and Martin Van Buren. If Congress actually adopted Bayh’s ideas, his choice to run or not would be moot, given that his chances of winning would be roughly zero given the state of the economy…

This is how we frame the narrative.

[ 0 ] February 15, 2010 |

The Other Scott already noted Glenn Reynolds’s tendentious link and Steven Taylor’s pithy rebuttal of its underlying “logic,” but I wanted to focus on the quotation from Reynolds’s reader in the update, because it points to a fundamental disconnect between the rhetoric of the right and the left:

I’m guessing the “she’s a socialist” part won’t get talked about much in the MSM. But if she had been a conservative it’d lead every evening news cast for two months.

The crucial difference between this mass-shooting and other recent ones is that, for example, Nidal Hasan didn’t consider himself a liberal, nor did he devote himself to liberal causes—he was, it seems, someone with pretensions to Islamic jihad. Scott Roeder, however, shot George Tiller in the service of a mainstream conservative cause. The difference, obviously, is not in the media’s furtherance of a narrative, but in the non-incidental relation of particular ideologies with acts of violence.

Conservatives complain 1) when liberals ask that any brown person with a funny name not be labeled a jihadist until evidence of such is unearthed, and 2) when mainstream news outlets link the murder of prominent abortion doctors to conservative causes. They fail to see the lack of equivalence: liberals don’t espouse jihad against the United States, but conservatives do inspire those on their fringes to engage in politically motivated violence. The politics of the George Tiller murder are an indictment against conservative rhetoric because that rhetoric made Tiller a target; whereas the personal politics of Amy Bishop are utterly irrelevant in the absence of a vocal and sustained opposition to the existence of the university and the tenure system among liberals.

That conservatives are working a false equivalence is made evident by Reynolds’s pathological desire to find evidence that will allow him to turn this tragedy into mere political gamesmanship. Unlike his acolyte Althouse, whose affected contrarianism runs so vast and deep she’ll write anything if she thinks one rube will do a double-take reading it, Reynolds plays politics to win. He wants to own the narrative, and because his platform trickles up into all the right places, he mostly has a legitimate claim to it. In this case, he hikes over to—a site that allows angry students to vent anonymously after they receive grades they deserve—and finds a comment in which an undergraduate calls her a “socialist” and before you know it, all the usual suspects are employing “socialist” as an anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier, e.g. “socialist Alabama professor,” “socialist serial killer,” etc. On the strength, then, of a single comment by an upset undergraduate, conservative hacks are folding socialism into what they imagine her profession to be—be it a professor or a serial killer—in an attempt to create the impression of equivalence between ideology and act where none actually exists.

At least not yet. (The day still being young and all.)

UPDATE: More here.

Apparently the Robot Revolution is No Cause for Concern

[ 0 ] February 15, 2010 |

The conclusion to draw from this video is that robots pose no threat to our way of life.

If even a simple cat can defeat a robot, then it would seem we have little to fear. For shame, James Cameron.

"Mixed Feelings, Buddy. Like seeing Larry Wildmon going off a cliff…in my new Maserati."

[ 0 ] February 15, 2010 |

My official, rational, considered position is that Evan Bayh’s retirement is a bad thing, given the near certainty that he will be replaced by a Republican with a much worse voting record. My emotional reaction is that it’s hard to be that upset about a quintessential centrist wanker leaving the World’s Worst Deliberative Body.

…and as Matt correctly points out, his manner of departure itself constitutes a major act of immoral center-right wankery.

The BNP’s Big Tent

[ 0 ] February 15, 2010 |

The British National Party has boldly entered the 20th Century by voting to allow non whites to become, gasp, members of the BNP. Leader (and MEP) Nick Griffin is quoted in The Guardian article as conservatively estimating membership from non-whites to be a “trickle, rather than a flood”. Magnanimously, he goes on to observe that “Anyone can be a member of this party. We are happy to accept anyone as a member providing they agree with us that this country should remain fundamentally British”.

Of course, the BNP’s definition of fundamentally British might differ from a more mainstream view. I’d go on about it, but it’s a) a soft target, and b) they have an FAQ for the more curious or open minded. Suffice it to say that while they claim to not be racist, they wouldn’t mind it if everybody who is not white left these islands for good, via a mechanism of “firm but voluntary incentives for immigrants and their descendants to return home”, according to their manifesto in advance of the 2005 General Election. I’m OK, even though I’m an American citizen of largely Irish lineage, but if you’re third or fourth generation Caribbean, you’re out.

So, in essence, you have to agree to kick yourself out of the UK in order to be a member of the BNP.

I propose the following. While Griffin argues that these odd looking newcomers to the party will “be accepted, they’ll be welcomed, providing they’re there to do the things that we want to do, and providing they accept and agree with our principles, which is that multiculturalism, we believe, has been a failure . . . “, with only 14,000 members, it wouldn’t take too many new members to overwhelm and take over the party.

I’m just saying.

It’s good to see that membership in the club of respectable fascist right parties in the UK has increased by one. We needed a little competition over there, to keep UKIP honest.

Try Again

[ 0 ] February 14, 2010 |

I think it’s pretty well-known that nothing can turn a music critic’s mind to mush faster than considering whether someone has “sold out,” but David Hajdu’s entry in the field is impressively vacant. To an even greater extent than the typical faux-hippie rant, I have no idea what “selling out” even means here. What is it about the funny Smothers Brothers appearance that opened The Kids Are Alright that constituted “selling out,” exactly? Being self-conscious and ironic? Promoting your music on television? What popular musician hasn’t “sold out” under these definitions, and why would we care? Is it any more “selling out” than taking money to write as a music critic and then writing witless Abraham Simpson screeds about video games and bands whose lead singer’s and best 60s album’s names you can’t even be bothered to look up? (I guess the line between “selling out” and “phoning it in” is a thin one, but Hajdu strikes me as further over the line on both counts than even the tiredest zombie classic rock act coming to your local county fair.)

Anyway, if your definition of “selling out” leads you to the conclusion that the Townshend-Daltrey band that played the Super Bowl is “essentially the same” as the Who circa 1967, you really need to consider abandoning the concept altogether.

Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] February 14, 2010 |

Glenn Reynolds.

it’s a twofer! In context, taking an isolated assertion at ratemyprofessor that Bishop is a “socialist” at face value and then implying that it’s somehow relevant to her multiple homicides is probably worse that falling for another global denialist hoax, but it’s close…