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What Is Wrong with Ann Althouse? (Part II)

December 20th, 2010 No comments

I don’t know whether Ann Althouse is so angry that her judgment and analytical skills are clouded, or whether she just loves the traffic on her blog so much that she’ll say anything to drive it up. Last time, it was a series of irresponsible assumptions about who was to blame about some Tea Party violence at a D.C. rally. This time, it was NPR — quite a daring target for a right-wing blogger! — that felt her fury. You should read the whole thing (which is her take on linguist Geoff Nunberg’s analysis of the political uses of the word “no), but I’ll pick up at the point where she runs into the ditch. First, she presents this part of the Nunberg piece:

“No” has a great power to bring people together, precisely because it doesn’t have to be pinned down. A child has a much harder time mastering “yes,” which is always the response to a specific prospect — “Do you need to go potty?” Whereas the child’s first “no” comes earlier, as a pure eruption of willful refusal. And the word retains that capacity, even as we learn to intone it to convey despair, anger, defiance, fear, astonishment, disappointment or resignation.

Here’s Althouse’s just plain nutty take:

And that’s how NPR sees you voters: You’re children. You’re resisting potty training. Your Tea Potty Party is mindless emotionalism. You’re — as Andrew Sullivan would put itintellectually inert brats.

Her primal rant would make sense if the quoted material stopped before the last sentence. But perhaps by then Althouse was too angry to see (let alone read) the text. Nunberg was obviously making a complex point about the power of the word “no”, which can — as the Tea Partiers and others have learned — convey a range of emotions and responses that are (1) a far cry from what kids can express by the word; and (2) cohesive stuff,  which those invoking it can then rally around, picking up folks along the way who feel the same (sometimes hard to articulate) sense that things are going wrong. (And Sullivan, for the record, was talking about Sarah Palin; is Althouse really challenging that description, or just trying to gin up her KADs’ support?)

In other words — and as Nunberg himself pointed out in an earlier part of the segment, which Althouse quoted but then left behind — “no” can be invoked by any party or interest group, not just by conservatives. Here’s the quote:

[“No”] usually gets a bad rap in public life; it’s never a compliment to call somebody a naysayer. So Democrats obviously meant to put Republicans on the defensive when they began to call them “the party of no” for opposing the stimulus bill in early 2009. As The New York Times’ Ben Zimmer pointed out, that phrase has often been used by the party in power to label the opposition as obstructionist. Ronald Reagan branded Democrats as the “party of no” in 1988, Bill Clinton did the same thing to Republicans in 1994, and Tom Delay turned the phrase back on Democrats in 2005.

So it’s used by both sides, and for obvious reasons. Oops.

There’s more, though. Here’s the last paragraph from Nunberg’s piece, which really seems to have gotten under her skin (and led to her peroration, the rant quoted below):

That’s what makes these choruses of negativity so hard to read, whether they’re coming from unhappy voters or tired preschoolers in full shutdown. Everybody is sounding the same plaintive note, but it isn’t as if there’s any single juice flavor that will make them all happy again.

His point is that the word isn’t specific when used outside of a clear and limited context. “Hell, no…” but to…what? To everything? Er, no, it’s a call to arms. If it is meant to be global, that is intellectually inert. So “no” is a response, but it only gets you so far; just as polls on what angry voters were reacting to yield an unclear picture. That’s what Nunberg was saying, in addition to providing lots of fascinating information about the whole idea of a “word of the year” and other uses of “no.” (Here‘s the transcript with a link to the five-minute audio, which Althouse proudly states she doesn’t have the patience to listen to. Do not buy this woman a book on CD for the holidays!)

Oh, I almost forgot about the juice flavor comment, which may have triggered that final, barely coherent paragraph which I must now somehow find it in myself to reproduce:

Hard to read?! Is conservatism a foreign language to Nunberg and the NPR slow-listeners stuck in traffic? Juice flavor? It would be a punch line for me to call that a punch line — juice ≈ punch — but why is that a punch line? Maybe Nunberg plied his intellectually inert brats with juice — I’ll get grape, because grape is a little more favorite — but what does that mean about what he (and NPR) think government is supposed to do? It’s supposed to give us yummy things to make us feel good (and compliant). No wonder he can’t read these choruses of negativity.

Relax. It’s a “metaphor.” And really, I have almost no idea what she’s talking about.

What is Wrong With Ann Althouse?

March 21st, 2010 5 comments

Ann Althouse’s blog features many funny and deliberately irreverent observations. I can’t always tell whether she’s being serious, and that’s OK — if not a job requirement — for a blogger. But it seems that her love of blog traffic (of which I’m admittedly envious) has overtaken her best judgment. Her recent post on the ugly racist and homophobic incidents that unfolded at yesterday’s Tea Party protest in Washington, as reported by, among others, that left-leaning MSM outlet known as “Fox News”, is just nuts. Here are some choice nuggets from her defense of the nasty people who hurled racial and anti-gay epithets at several African-American congressmen and at Barney Frank:

“There’s nothing wrong with showing anger at the thing that motivates you to protest. That’s what protests are for! The members of Congress have a lot of power, and they ought to have to hear the anger their exercise of that power is causing. It’s outrageous for them to pose as victims without very good cause. So what if some idiot said a bad word?”

Yeah, so what?  And how do we know that it was just “some idiot” and not a broader swath of the protesters? Althouse has the goods: Her husband told her (apparently he saw everything), and there’s a 48-second video that doesn’t contain any nastiness, posted on her website. Then she concludes, on that basis, that the race card was being played for nothing. “Shame!” (The fact that she actually uses the term “race card” is a problem by itself, but never mind.)

Nice evidence. Let’s look at some reliance  evidence, shall we? Here‘s a story, told by witnesses, recounting how Barney Frank had to call the capitol police to haul away some protesters who were banging on his door, shouting through the mail slot (classy!), and calling him “Homo communist” and telling him, cleverly, to “go homo to Massachusetts.”

Althouse might not know, somehow, that gays live in a society where our physical security is often at risk. (But by saying that, I’m sure I’ll be accused of playing the “gay card.”) Frank might well have believed that people banging on his door, shouting, and calling insults, might be about to do him harm. But that doesn’t seem to have occurred to her.

Later, she added a final inanity to the post, disputing the account that one Congressman had been spat upon by noting that no arrest had been made. Therefore, she’s assuming it’s a lie. What? Perhaps the offender eluded detection, slipped away, or the police weren’t right on the spot — to name just a few other possibilities in the real world of imperfect law enforcement. But she needs to provoke, so there it is.

All of this might be tolerable, barely, but for the willingness she has to post any and all comments, without editing or comments of her own, no matter how horrible. Andrew Sullivan repeated a few of these that her readers had for him this past Fall, and they’re far worse than anything accompanying this story. But some of these are bad enough. . As a law professor and a member of the profession, she should show some minimal discretion. Here’s an example of the kind of comment she allows (this from a reader reacting to a gay commenter’s offense):

Hey downtownload, you dumbfuck of a homo, did it ever occur to you that the more you show your naked hatred of “straights” the more it will be returned? It is good, profoundly good that normal America is getting it full in the face from all the marginal shits, it’s a lesson that will be well and truly learned and never forgotten. A tidal wave coming your way in November, fagellah.

At the least, she might have edited out the more vituperative epithets. But that’s not what drives traffic to her blog.

Captain America vs. Anti-American Ideals

February 10th, 2010 No comments

This story alerted me to a recent flap over the legendary Marvel Comics hero, Captain America. It seems that the Tea Party Movement, not widely known for its sense of humor or its tolerance for self-deprecation, took offense at the latest issue of the comic. It featured this panel:

The protest drew a friendly exchange between the Star-Spangled Avenger and his sometimes-partner superhero, the Falcon, who happens to be African-American. After Cap says that protest is “some kind of anti-tax thing,” the Falcon (half) jokes that he wouldn’t be welcomed into the crowd of “angry white folks.”

The Tea Party leaders were steeped in anger, and Marvel has now pulled the controversial scene and response from future printings. (It didn’t help, either, that the writer has well-known progressive tendencies.)

Why were these folks boiling over? Part of it was the Falcon’s statement; the Tea Party, which consists mostly of a bunch of angry white guys, doesn’t want to be thought of as a bunch of angry white guys. Beyond that, though: Who cares about what Captain America thinks? He was create as a super-soldier by the U.S. government during World War II (comic book heroes never really die, even when they do), and the Tea Party, after all, is the product of an anti-government movement. Shouldn’t they be happy to be dissed by this guy?

My guess is that some higher-up in the organization has been following Captain America enough to know that, at least since the 1970’s, Captain America has found a way to accommodate his origins and his ideals — he believes in American ideals of justice, fairness and equality — and has become a critical patriot whose support of the government can’t be assumed. During the Watergate era, he even briefly shed his identity and assumed the character of “Nomad.” Although this was a critical and commercial disaster — Nomad even tripped over his cape — since that time, Captain America has stood as a rebuke to the kind of easy patriotism that leaders often cynically invoke. But he’s also stood against hate and fringe groups, including neo-Nazis and now…the Tea Party.

They might not have been crazy about the use of the verb “tea bag” either.

How’s that withering, dead-on thing workin’ for ya?

Town Halls, Tea Parties, and My Further Adventures in the ER

August 15th, 2009 3 comments

Apparently, my kidneys are manufacturing stones like cheap Chinese toys. Last night, I found myself back in the ER with another stabbing pain. This is now what I look for in home sale ads: “Charming Victorian house in diverse neighborhood. Walking distance to emergency room. Must see!”

This time, I thought that a CT scan did make sense, but that wasn’t going to happen for several hours, because all of the CT staff was out sick. So, doped up on morphine, I walked home in the sticky dawn. I then took advantage of my pain-free state to sleep for several hours, but now I’m awake and uncomfortable. Hence, this post.

I’m now in favor of some kind of “cap and trade” program for kidney stones. I’m also in favor of major changes to the health care system. Today’s lesson is that the pieces don’t move especially well together. ER docs, my doc on call, the urologist I’m supposed to see next week — my experience suggests that they won’t check each other’s notes thoroughly enough (if at all), and that there are lost efficiencies all over the place.

But don’t take  my word for it: Here’s what some academic physicians had to say about the cost issue in a recent op-ed piece in the NY Times. Their many useful suggestions include reconsidering the “fee for service” model, which encourages overutilization of procedures. In a given year, for example, the number of CT scans done exceeds .2 per capita (62 million for 300 million people).

In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Lisa Sanders, who writes the fascinating (to me and other worry warts) “Diagnosis” column for the Times, picked up on related point with her pithy insight that doctors are reimbursed for “doing” — not for “thinking.” One morning, she explained, she had some twelve patients, who represented the mine run of what internists encounter on a typical day: colds; bronchitis; flu symptoms; pain. Her final patient needed an ingrown toenail removed. Doing that brought Dr. Sanders more reimbursement from the insurance companies than everything else she’d done all morning, combined. Fee for service combined with heavy compensation for procedures, rather than diagnosis, may explain a good part of our current mess.

You may have heard that the evident need for some kind of health care reform hasn’t exactly resulted in universal acclaim for President Obama’s initiative. To an extent, the responsibility rests with the White House for failing to engage and to make clear exactly what’s being proposed, what would happen as a result, and so on.

Obama’s Town Hall Meetings have been a belated corrective to the more vitriolic incarnations of the format that have caught many people, including me, by surprise. Listen in and you’ll hear comments that are only sometimes about health care itself. In this story, one woman complains broadly and emotionally about the death of American exceptionalism. It seems to me that Kai Wright, senior  writer for the Root who was interviewed for the story, is exactly right in saying that health care has provided a convenient flash point for broader anger and anxiety: “What is my place in a vastly changing culture and a vastly changing economy?” is the question he suggests underlies whatever is actually spoken.

Wright also blames right-wing flame-fanners — especially Glenn Beck — for provoking this anger. In the chain of distribution, Beck is the wholesaler, and people like John Stahl, President of the Berks County, PA Tea Party Patriots, are the distributors who work on the local level. Reading about Stahl’s criticisms of “Obamacare” at Arlen Specter’s noisy town hall meeting, I did the only sensible thing: I called the guy. (His phone number is on his organization’s website.)

Stahl, who’s about to turn 65, doesn’t plan to turn down Medicare. This would be an easy but unfair ground for calling him on hypocrisy; as he pointed out, Medicare is a contract on which people (presumably including “John Stahl”) have relied upon. But it’s broke, he says, and so is the whole system. He doesn’t exempt insurance companies from blame for what he acknowledges is a problem with our health care system but puts the lion’s share of blame on lawyers and med mal suits, illegal aliens (and legal ones, too!) using the system, and the insufficient number of doc being graduated  from medical school.

A staunch libertarian (but one who critizes Obama and his staff for being “ideologues”), Stahl favors the free market solution (which I’m convinced won’t work in the case of health care insurance), opposes any kind of “counseling” of people about their legal options regarding end of life care (not the role of government, he says), and even put on a retro, Steve Forbes wig to call for the “flat tax, ” an idea that no one will ever be able to drive a stake through. The flat tax should fix the problem, he says, along with an unspecified dose of tort and immigration “reform.”

Stahl’s positions aren’t radical, and he stressed the need for civility in debate. But his idea of civility is broad enough to include even Claire McCaskill’s notorious Town Hall Meeting, which he defended. See what you think:

At the risk of engaging in amateur social psychology, Stahl seems to me very much to fit within Wright’s questioning classes. Laid off from his job in his mid-sixties, a conservative Christian seeing his world changing at a vertiginous pace, Wright has seized on an issue in which he’d seem to have little personal stake, using it as a prism through which his deeper concerns can be reflected. Obama is “not a good person.”  He’s “not to be trusted,” based on his “background.” He and his ideologues are using the public option as a kind of Trojan horse, to get to their ultimate goal of complete government takeover of health care.

Is this code for a kind of racism? That’s much too simple, because Obama’s race may itself be a surrogate, for some, for what’s making them uncomfortable with change, more broadly. The world is caving in on John Stahl, and it’s not fair.