Archive for ‘Blogosphere’ Category

To borrow from The Sprout for a moment

One of these things is not like the other…

  • Racist
  • Dishonest
  • Stupid
  • Shrill

When Lee is described as any of the first three it is a comment on her behaviour. When people say “shrill” of someone they are simply attacking their gender: they are saying “she sounds like a woman” and semaphoring “that is unacceptable”. Apparently they think MPs shouldn’t sound like women.

Over the last few weeks and days more and more lefties are using “shrill” to describe Lee in blogs posts and comments. What do you mean? Would it be an adjective you would use about a male candidate? Why is it negative? And, more importantly, why is a bad thing to sound like a woman?

P.S. You could consider whether writing “looks slitty eyed” would be acceptable in place of “sounds shrill”

It ain’t news

datePosted on 07:20, May 15th, 2009 by Anita

Late last year I wrote to the Police asking them for the current status of the recommendations of the Bazley Report (the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct). Several months later, after much to-ing and fro-ing and the involvement of the Ombudsmen, I have some documents, some redacted documents, and an out of date status report. I’ve probably got more paperwork about their non-answers, denials, forgetting and delays than I do in answers.

I still don’t know the current status of the implementation of the recommendations, I do know that the out of date status report says they’re still slipping and not making progress at the rate they’d committed to. I also know that if you redact a report, repaginate it but release it with the original table of contents and index it’s really annoying.

So, if Guyon Espiner, Tracey Watkins, TV3 or Rob Hosking would like to run big high profile stories saying it’s a “whitewash” or a “cover up” I’m totally open to that! Plus if any right wing blogs would like  to weigh in and show that it’s all part of a massive conspiracy run by the Labour government that would be grand too.

But seriously, it just ain’t news.

Although I have enjoyed participating in this weblog collective, I was unprepared to deal with the inability of many commentators to construct a proper argument in the debates about posts. By “inability to construct a proper argument” I do not mean those that  resort to ad hominems and vulgarity (whom we have thankfully excised via moderation). Nor do I refer to those who substitute opinion for fact and make statements or claims on subjects that they clearly know little about.  Instead, I am referring to those otherwise thoughtful commentators who misuse concepts and terms when making their arguments. I refer not to those who deliberately do so to be polemical or provocative, but to those who inadvertently do so. The main problem for the latter is the inability to distinguish between conceptual transfer and conceptual stretching.

Conceptual transfer refers to the process by which a concept or term is taken from its original context and applied to a new situation without appreciable loss of definition or meaning. Conceptual stretching refers to  the distortion of the original concept in order to apply it to a different situation or context. The first is a legitimate argumentative exercise; the second is intellectually dishonest or (most often) lazy.

Let me offer some examples. “Socialism” is a 19th century concept that refers to an economy in which the direct producers of wealth in a society appropriate the common surplus generated by their labours and distribute it according to egalitarian principles rooted in commonly accepted notions of need. Decisions on distribution take into account the need to reproduce the economic form via savings and reinvestment, so current individual allocations are balanced against the common interest in future allocations. This concept can be taken out of its 19th century context and applied, without loss of definition, to 1970s Israeli Kibbutzim, Spanish agricultural cooperatives in the 1990s or post 2002 Argentine worker-owned factories. In all of these instances, the concept was transfered to the new situation without distorting its initial meaning; in each instance workers make democratic allocation decisions about the surpluses they generate. On the other hand, calling the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus package or progressive tax policy “socialist,” or referring to Labour’s macreconomic policies as “socialism,” betrays either profound ignorance of the concept or bad intent on the part of those who make such claims. In the latter cases, the concept has been so badly stretched so has to render it meaningless other than as some type of pejorative.

Take another example: “fascism.” Fascism was a particular inter-war political phenomena. It emerged in response to the Great Depression among the so-called “weak links” of the imperialist chain, former great powers or empires that were being eclipsed by emerging powers. Fascism was characterised by an industrial state capitalist economic project directed by a one party mobilizational authoritarian regime dominated by a charismatic leadership that used inclusionary state corporatist vehicles for mass participation in grand nationalist projects that included the military reassertion of empire. In all cases fascism was a “passive revolution” in that it sought to stave off perceived Marxist-Leninist advances in the countries in which it emerged. European fascism had three variants: Austro-Germanic, in which the core constituency of the national socialist regimes was the lower bourgeoisie; the Italian version, in which the core constituency was the urban working class (Mussolini’s black shirts); and the Spanish version, which grouped monarchists, the agrarian oligarchy and rural peasantry against the urban middle and working classes. In the first two variants, efforts to re-assert their imperial status ended in military defeat. In the Spanish version, the self-recognized inability to re-assert imperial dominance allowed the Franco regime to survive until 1972. As for the Japanese, their version of fascism was an amalgam that had the most cross-class bases of support for monarchism, militarism and imperialism, but without the party mobilizational apparatus used by the European variants.

The point of this extended discussion of the concept of “fascism” is that it was a political form specific to a particular historical moment in the early 20th century, one that can not be replicated simply because the material and political conditions of existence are no longer those that gave it life. The closest parallel to fascism–Latin American populism of the 1940s and 1950s–emulated some but not all of the political features of European fascism and did not have the same economic base. All other recent forms of authoritarianism evidence differences far to great to even remotely call them “fascist.” And yet people do, repeatedly. General Pincohet’s regime in Chile was and is still said to be “fascist” even though his political project was demobilizational and his economic project neoliberal. Commodore Frank Bainarama is called a fascist because he led a coup and rules by fiat in Fiji. Mugabe is a fascist because, well, he is.  What is true is that all of these individuals were and are authoritarians, as are many others, civilian and military alike. But that does not make them “fascist.” To label them as such is to undercut any argument for their removal.

In extending the term “fascist” to other forms of authoritarianism that do not share its structural or political features, the term has been stretched to the point of insignificance. It is now just an insult without intellectual justification. It is, in other words, argumentatively useless.

There are plenty of other concepts that come to mind when the issue of conceptual stretching arises. “Hegemony” and “imperialist” are oft-abused, stretched and distorted concepts. “Nazi” (as in German national socialist) is another popularly distorted term. The list is long, and it appears all to often in the writing/commentary on this blog. I would simply ask that people do their conceptual stretching elsewhere–DPF’s blog is a good start.

Even astute writers can fall prey to conceptual stretching. In his otherwise insightful post on Agenda Setting below, my colleague Lew refers to the likelihood of “a more militaristic, less community-based approaching to policing–in international relations terms, a more strongly realist law enforcement posture” in the aftermath of the Napier shootings and siege. The trouble with his invocation of realism is two-fold: as an international relations theory, realism maintains that the international environment is a Hobbesian state of nature in which anarchy abounds. Absent a Leviathan such as those that exist within nation-states, international actors seek to accumulate and use power in order to a) achieve security and b) pursue national interests. Power in such a view is not simply military might, but includes economic resources, diplomatic influence, moral or ethical leadership–the particular mix of what goes into the notion of “power” is complex and variable, as well as contingent on the objectives being pursued or defended. Power is not exclusively “militaristic” nor is it necessarily anti-community–the formation of alliances and use of supranational organisations for conflict resolution is part and parcel of the realist approach.

Lew’s use of realism to describe a likely police response is doubly flawed because it has been stretched to describe a particularly military approach to law enforcement within a liberal democracy. In other words, both the context and the approach are completely different to those in which realism is applied to international relations.

This is not meant to cast aspersions on Lew. To the contrary, I admire his work and appreciate his insights. Instead, this post is an attempt to point out this very common argumentative flaw among otherwise thoughtful readers and commentators, so that we can avoid repeating them in future debates. In the mean time I shall ponder whether to write about another pet peeve: the inability of people to establish a “chain of causality” between independent, intervening and dependent variables when making their case.

SLOPS

datePosted on 13:17, May 3rd, 2009 by Lew

Having been reminded of this excellent neologism by Dolan at Just Left, it’s occurred to me that a similar affliction can be seen among the denizens of the NZ blogosphere.

Now, there are certain wings of that ‘sphere which are well-known for their wingnuttery and general tendency to fly off the handle, and those I won’t dwell upon. But in the past week or so I’ve seen a couple of examples from sources of which I’d expect a bit more.

First, and most egregious, Tim Selwyn’s rabid attack on Christopher Pryde, the NZ lawyer who has taken the post of Fijian Attorney-General. I can’t excerpt most of it, but here’s one of the politer sections:

He deserves to be summarily executed and/or tortured in the same way other victims of the military have under the aegis of his protection – that is the fate he courts. Let that day come soon.

Perhaps Tim’s purpose is to try and finesse a gag lawsuit. Not to criticise the fundamental point Tim is making – that Pryde is an opportunistic illegal-dictatorship-supporting hack, a discredit to his profession and his country – but the degree of invective here is simply over the top. The point would have been better made in more measured tones; as it stands, the personal attacks detract from the real reasons for condemning him, and make Pryde look like the victim of a character assassination attempt.

Second, The Standard’s response to the offensive and moronic smear ‘Nanny State’ with an even more offensive and moronic smear, the ‘Stepfather State’ characterised as distant, violent, self-indulgent and misogynistic, which originated in a comment on Colin Espiner’s blog:

Stepfather State’s taken over.
Our new parent likes to keep his distance…he usually comes home after work at the office…but only for a quick bite to eat…he ignores the kids, yells at the Mrs and kicks the dog on the way out to the club to meet his business mates for a few bevvies…most nights he gets to ogle/grope the pole dancer…and then drives home a “bit p!ssed” (it’s his right you know)…then a quick grope with either the Mrs or himself and a zzzzzz…

This resulted in the commentariat falling over themselves to invent yet more offensive and moronic characterisations in a bizarre competition to see which side could be more bigoted. Worst offender, the usually-sensible vto:

Or a bit like the smaller step-brother, the maori party.
“Our new bro likes to get in your face…he has no work but comes home pissed…but only for some eggs…he ignores the bitch, yells at the other bitch and kicks the kids on the way back to the pub to meet his mates still more bevvies and some P…most nights he gets to ogle/grope the fat slag behind the bar…and then smashes some innocent person walking home, gets picked up by the pigs and ends up with his mates in the klink… no gropes of his missus now so has to play with himself, which comes naturally to him being a labour voter”

What the hell?

L

Hope springs eternal

datePosted on 11:06, May 1st, 2009 by Lew

Over at The Standard the aptly-titled Mathemagician has been snapped trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat to prove that the government’s student loan carrot is in fact a stick.

This is fundamentally the problem with True Believers – they’re so committed to an ideological position (in this case, that National are trying to rip everyone off) that they’re credulous to the point of naïvete. Skeptic founder Michael Shermer lists this as one of the five core reasons Why People Believe Weird Things in his book of the same name: if it suits people’s worldview to believe something, they don’t bother to examine it too closely for fear they might prove themselves wrong.

The most cursory bit of critical thinking about this topic ought to have revealed it was all smoke and mirrors, but there wasn’t even that – in this sense it’s sort of like Schneier’s Law, viz:

Any person can invent a security system so clever that he or she can’t imagine a way of breaking it.

Since they’ve deleted the old table showing the original calculation, here’s a screenshot. Good work, Pat.

L

Protesting too much

datePosted on 23:09, April 28th, 2009 by Lew

I don’t mean to post on Kiwiblog so frequently, but oh well – there’s a lot to post on.

Annette King (or the minions who write her press releases) appear to have jumped the shark, intimating that a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy is behind David Farrar’s release of two of David Shearer’s old papers advocating the use of mercenaries. Ok, we know that this sort of thing happens – that some right-wing blogs are used to fly kites for politicians or parties who can’t afford to fly them themselves, and undoubtedly the same happens on the other side. But honestly, DPF does background research like this consistently and well, there’s no secret there, and when you allege this sort of thing in relation to a discrete event then you can expect to get taken to the cleaners if you don’t have the necessary documentary evidence. And, frankly, the real story here is the contents of the papers, not the circumstances of their discovery. So King looks like a weeny whinger unless she can put up, and perhaps even then.

On the other hand, it’s a bit rich for DPF to take such exception to the fine distinction between the parliamentary National party and its wider community apparatus. DPF and the KBR are highly important to National’s political strategy, and the lines between traditional media and citizen media, between internal (orthodox) and external (unorthodox) channels of political advice and communication are getting more blurred by the day. King’s press release makes the mistake of being too specific and trying to pin the issue on the official National apparatus, rather than simply being vague about it and probably having the same effect. Because ultimately, it’s no different whether National’s proxies David Farrar and Cameron Slater do the work or whether someone on the inside does it.

L

Cry havoc

datePosted on 18:38, April 27th, 2009 by Lew

DPF is up to his old tricks again – this one about Hone Harawira is content-free and David’s own comments are typically innocuous, but it functions very well indeed as a bone for the slavering mastiffs of the KBR to gnaw upon, making him look like a sensible moderate, if you squint a bit. For once, this one wasn’t tagged `Fun Things’.

All the necessary ingredients are there – race, privilege, power differential, obscenity and homophobia – because all minorities are equivalent, right?

Aspiring demagogues, take note.

L

Speak You’re Branes

datePosted on 16:46, April 17th, 2009 by Lew

I’ve been following Speak You’re Branes for a while, since a mate linked me to it, and it is made of win and awesome. We need a blog like it in NZ.

L

Ink by the barrel

datePosted on 00:52, April 17th, 2009 by Lew

There’s an interesting range of responses to the Tony Veitch guilty plea of reckless disregard causing injury to Kristin Dunne-Powell, his conviction and sentence to a fine and community service.

Some are baying for blood. The KBR aren’t quite unanimous that he should go to jail, but they’re close (though there is a foul stench of `men have rights [to kick the shit out of people who don’t behave]’ as well). Haiku Dave is particularly grim:

should have got jail, then
he’d know what it’s like to be
attacked from behind

Idiot/Savant is arguing it’s Bruce Emery all over again (and he’s not wrong). Commenter Alison at The Hand Mirror shows some sense, figuring that if prison isn’t a good thing for a random violent offender, it’s not going to be a good thing for Veitch either. Heather Henare, of Women’s Refuge, is similarly cool-headed. The Herald’s Your Views is divided, as are the talkback hordes. A particularly inspired friend and colleague of mine suggested he be made to front the ACC back injury ad campaign, needing to stand on a rickety chair or somesuch in order to reach something up high. Humiliation comes in many forms.

Judge Doogue told told Veitch he was the architect of his own misfortune, and I think that if he does genuinely intend to take legal action against the media for their treatment of the case this past year, then Tony Veitch will also become the architect of his own humiliation. The facts of the case are fairly simple: there is no possible justification he can give for his attack on Dunne-Powell, no argument he can make which will put him on the side of right, and any moral high ground he tries to occupy will come under sustained fire from more sources than he and his team of lawyers can possibly afford to shut down because public sympathy toward celebrities evaporates pretty rapidly when they are seen to be taking advantage of their celebrity status. At this point anything Tony Veitch says or does will play against him. If he tries to smack down the media establishment, any publisher who chooses to fight gets the chance to put the whole stinking mess on the public record. Tim Pankhurst, if he were still editor of the Dominion Post, would pick it up in a moment out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Veitch might be planning to go back to work for The Radio Network, and that might mean APN goes easy, but that’s a great risk to them – while NewsTalk ZB and Radio Sport might not need to demonstrate their lack of fear or favour, the NZ Herald surely does.

My advice to Tony Veitch: keep your head down and take your lumps like you made Kristin Dunne-Powell take hers [though you deserve yours, and she didn’t]. If you want to show us you’re better than we think you are, there is no short-cut, no easy atonement which you can buy or create from words or gestures. You can’t fix this by becoming a legal bully as you are (or were) a physical bully. If you genuinely want to be known and recognised as a good and righteous person, then the time to undertake good and righteous action is now. For your own sake if for nobody else’s.

L

For the record

datePosted on 13:00, April 15th, 2009 by Lew

I had prepared a thorough response to Chris Trotter’s Fiji Agonistes post, and was going to wait a few more days to see whether he reposted it on Bowalley Road before publishing it. Now Chris has saved me the trouble by redacting his post with an apology of sorts. Kiwipolitico is not the place for perpetuating such disagreements, and so I’ll leave it be with a few final words.

I remain a bit disappointed that Chris hasn’t bothered to engage with my previous critiques, and I agree somewhat with Lurgee’s assessment that he’s been dickwaving to try to gain status as “the alpha-male of the leftish bloglands”. While I was indeed furious enough with the personal attacks* to come out blazing against them, I was not behind the redaction; that’s Chris’ own doing. So, Chris, thank you – and while nothing is forgotten, I appreciate your good sense in this matter.

L

*The `kupapa Pakeha’ attack was the most offensive, and I can’t let it go unmentioned. I’ve heard that one before – a man with a bald head and steel-capped boots in Molly Malone’s once called me a `race traitor’ on account of my wearing a Tino Rangatiratanga hoodie. Not very progressive, that.

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