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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.