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Bloggingheads
03-03-2008, 03:15 PM

Bloggin' Noggin
03-03-2008, 04:12 PM
Can anyone see this new diavlog? I see a big white space where the faces usually are.
My guess is that one of the diavloggers is Benjamin Barber.
Aaaaagh, the suspense!

A bit later: I found the diavlog by looking at the side bar of another diavlog. Now I see that it's McWhorter and McArdle.

The main page is still weirdly blank, though.

graz
03-03-2008, 04:22 PM
Off point maybe. Did anyone else see John McWhorter yesterday on Booknotes in-depth. He is fascinating and prolific. Even though I have always found his diavlogs interesting, I had a tendency to want to paint him as a conservative (not that that is a bad thing)...he is so much more.

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 04:58 PM
BN: Display seems to be working (now) for me.

graz: Thanks for the reminder about JM's BookTV appearance. I plan to catch it when the webcast is posted.

Thus Spoke Elvis
03-03-2008, 04:58 PM
McWhorter is fast becoming my favorite non-Mickey/Bob blogginghead. Glad to see him paired with someone other than Loury. What can I say? Linguistics is a surprisingly interesting subject!

David Thomson
03-03-2008, 05:43 PM
Barack Obama will likely lose by a landslide to John McCain. The middle-of-the-road voters are more interested in competence then merely proving they are not racists. Obama is another George McGovern who has learned to manipulate white guilt. This will get him the support of "elites" like John McWhorter and Megan McArdle---but few others past the guaranteed 40% that even the previously mentioned McGovern earned on Election Day.

Many voters are starting to realize that Obama is both inexperienced and a mealy mouther leftist. Also, why didn't Megan mention that Austan Goolsbee has been caught lying on behalf of the Obama campaign. Does she really believe that elitists like this University of Chicago economist can get away with their nonsense in this era of the Internet?

David Thomson
03-03-2008, 06:31 PM
There is something else that cannot be overlooked during the 2008 elections: America is at war against Islamic nihilism. This fact may be of little concern to John McWhorter and Megan McArdle---but it is very important to middle America. What in heaven's name does Barack "Barry" Obama have to offer in this regard? A number of Megan's friends like Michael Totten have already jumped aboard the John McCain bandwagon because of this top priority issue. Does McWhorter even spend five minutes a week thinking about the threat of Muslim extremism? Somehow I doubt it very much.

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 06:58 PM
David:

I doubt I'll budge you out of your thinking, but for the record, here's (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2008/02/not-available-yet.html) my new favorite bumper sticker:

Hope Kicks Fear's Ass

I am not about to vote for a candidate who's running on the same basis as the current administration has operated. No how. No way.

David Thomson
03-03-2008, 07:18 PM
"Hope Kicks Fear's Ass
I am not about to vote for a candidate who's running on the same basis as the current administration has operated. No how. No way."

Wow, it sure is nice to communicate with the one of the forty percent who will vote for "Barry" Obama on Election Day. Most American voters do not think of themselves as paranoid regarding the threat of Islamic nihilism. No, they are convinced that the threat is real. And God help the candidate who wants to become our country's next commander-in-chief if they fail to share this concern. Alas, with friends like you---Obama does not need any enemies. Is it even possible that Karl Rove hired you to damage his campaign?

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 07:30 PM
David:

And God help the candidate who wants to become our country's next commander-in-chief if they fail to share this concern.

You are mistaken if you think Obama or most of his supporters believe there is no threat from terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The differences between someone like me and someone like you on this issue can be expressed by two questions: (1) How big is the threat, really? and (2) What's the best way of dealing with it?

I am of the opinion that terrorism is not an existential threat to the US or any of its allies, and that it can be better dealt with once people stop attributing magical powers to those who engage in terroristic actions. I am also of the opinion that there are better ways to deal with the problem than by trying to solve it exclusively through military means. And I am convinced that the Bush Administration is doing more to help the terrorists than they are to stop them, both by acting as a recruiting poster and by allowing fear to change our way of life at home. I do not see McCain as being different in any of these areas.

Finally, I don't know what you hope to accomplish by saying "Barry" over and over again. Are you so unconvinced of your own political views or the soundness of your preferred candidate that you need to resort to name-calling?

cragger
03-03-2008, 07:38 PM
"White guilt", "liberal elites", "'Barry' Obama" - first time I've ever heard that last one, and all in a couple short paragraphs.

David Thomson
03-03-2008, 07:50 PM
I am preparing dinner and have not had the chance to listen to the whole dialogue between John McWhorter and Megan McArdle. At this moment, however, it sure seems that the war against Islamic nihilism is not one of their top concerns. This should tell all you need to know about the "elites" supporting "Barry" Obama. They live in their own little yuppie world. This may be especially true of Mr. McWhorter.

Wonderment
03-03-2008, 07:52 PM
I know people have commented on Megan's lack of prep in the past, but interviewing a linguist and asking, "what's a dialect?" is like interviewing a chemist and asking, "what's a molecule?"

John is a pragmatist about the loss of languages (it's inevitable), but he also seems to underestimate the unique value of each language. It is not just a matter of vocabulary and grammar, as he seems to suggest, but much more importantly a cultural universe. What dies is absolutely irrecoverable, and it is significant to humanity.

Ask anyone who is a language orphan. Once the native speakers are gone it's impossible to capture the essence of the culture/linguistic community.

Hebrew, which John briefly discusses, is not really a recovered language. When Hebrew was "revived" it was quite clinically dead. There were zero native speakers, and there hadn't been any for many centuries. The new Israeli language that now has millions of native speakers is only roughly based on ancient Hebrew and certainly does not capture the culture of the original Hebrew speakers.

Ironically, the Jewish languages that were sacrificed for Hebrew (Yiddish and Djudeo-Espanyol (Ladino) are in disfavor in Israel and barely hanging on. (Ladino is in much graver danger than Yiddish.) An Israeli lingua franca meant the destruction of irreplacable Jewish treasures and the loss of a true understanding of Jewish experience over the last millennium.

David Thomson
03-03-2008, 07:56 PM
"I am of the opinion that terrorism is not an existential threat to the US"

Please keep talking. Karl Rove must be paying you a huge sum of money. "Barry" Obama most assuredly does not need friends like you.

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 08:03 PM
Wonderment:

I know people have commented on Megan's lack of prep in the past, but interviewing a linguist and asking, "what's a dialect?" is like interviewing a chemist and asking, "what's a molecule?"

In fairness, it is often the case that when interviewing an expert, one asks questions simply to get the conversation started. I think it's also arguable, especially from the way that John answered the question, that there really isn't an easy answer to the question.

John is a pragmatist about the loss of languages (it's inevitable), but he also seems to underestimate the unique value of each language. It is not just a matter of vocabulary and grammar, as he seems to suggest, but much more importantly a cultural universe. What dies is absolutely irrecoverable, and it is significant to humanity.

How so? I sort of had the same emotion as you before hearing John talk about this, and now I would find it harder to say what of significance is lost when a language dies.

Ask anyone who is a language orphan. Once the native speakers are gone it's impossible to capture the essence of the culture/linguistic community.

But once the native speakers are gone, isn't it the case that the essences of their culture and community have also vanished?

Interesting stuff about Hebrew. Thanks for that. I will be sad if Yiddish vanishes. I find it far more euphonic, for one thing, and many of its expressions seem so evocative they're practically onomatopoeic.

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 08:09 PM
David:

You're not making a whole lot of sense.

First, why would Karl Rove be happy with my attitude regarding terrorism as an overblown threat? Wouldn't he rather have me talking like you? After all, that's how he advised Bush and Congressional Republicans to run -- all terrorism hype, all the time.

Second, why do you keep saying "Islamic nihilism?" As I understand nihilism, it is an attitude that says nothing is knowable and that life has no purpose. While I don't agree with anything religious fundamentalist believe in, it seems to me that what they do believe in is the exact opposite of this -- they believe they are doing what God wants them to do, and that is the reason for their existence.

publius
03-03-2008, 08:10 PM
Wow. This diavlog was recorded on March 28th. In the future!

Namazu
03-03-2008, 09:37 PM
Did anyone else see John McWhorter yesterday on Booknotes in-depth.
Very worthwhile. John identifies Shelby Steele as an early inspiration, and I'd be very interested in his take on Steele's "Bound Man" thesis (see, for instance, the C-SPAN Book TV archives, or the National Review video archives). I guess he disagrees with the conclusion (that Obama can't win), but that would be a fascinating conversation.

Wonderment
03-03-2008, 10:23 PM
How so? I sort of had the same emotion as you before hearing John talk about this, and now I would find it harder to say what of significance is lost when a language dies.

Without the language (native speakers) it's impossible to experience the culture from the inside. Subjectivity is lost, much like in the death of an individual. No one else can be you.

But once the native speakers are gone, isn't it the case that the essences of their culture and community have also vanished?

Yes, that's the point. Linguistic extinction is comparable to genocide or ethnocide, although not necessarily with an evil perpetrator.

So you can debate how important preservation is or what we should do about endangered languages, but that debate shouldn't diminish how much we value the dying language. The language has an intrinsic value, just as a biological species does or an individual human being.

John seems to accept the inevitable. Languages, he estimates, are disappearing at the rate of one every two weeks. Maybe so. But it matters when it's YOUR language. People are dying of cancer at the rate of one every few seconds. We can be very philsophical about the inevitability of that statistic, but we're deeply affected if it's our parent or child who is getting chemo.

The politics gets very tricky. There's a large population of Mixteco speakers in my community, for example. Emigration to the US is a path out of poverty for these people. But their language, which has resisted Spanish domination for 500 years, is now threatened by NAFTA. Globalization pressures are having these kinds of linguistic/cultural consequences all over the planet. The process is accelerating. What should we do?

Eastwest
03-04-2008, 01:44 AM
Hmmmm.

Can't say I blame either JM or MM for having their starry-eyed riff on the charm-filled rhetoric of Monsier Obama, but having to listen to such a long interlaced aria on the matter wore on me rather like the fingernails-on-chalkboard syndrome. Or perhaps more aptly: like watching a couple making out passionately in the middle of a church service.

Result: They both dropped at least two points on my 10-point scale of previously stratospherically high estimation for such uncritical intoxication with what finally is only rather mundane and shallow vanilla demagoguery.

Oh, well. They're young yet. What do you expect? (We can revisit this 3 years into the first McCain administration initiated in the wake of disemboweling Obama for lack of national-security credentials in the terrorist-threat-filled run-up to the general election.)

Frankly, although I hope Shelby Steele is wrong on Obama's unelectability, I think he really has a much better analysis on the psyche of the Obama mania currently diseasing the mind of the nouveau-Left.

Cheers,
Eastwest

benjy
03-04-2008, 02:03 AM
I don't really have any comments specifically about this diavlog, just a general corny comment that I love Bloggingheads TV! :) Its just such a pleasure to listen to such high level discussion, and a special place in my heart is of course reserved for your fearless leader Bob and Mickey's banter....its so pitch perfect--I trust compliments won't make you self-conscious with praise ... When Mickey asked if you can say you-know-what on the last one it was just classic...And an apology of sorts--one of the first diavlogs I watched was with Megan and I wrote in a slight criticism which I feel terribly guilty about after seeing her later discussions and especially after seeing her in the cook-off and realizing how nice she really is...I have the unfortunately common characteristic of writing more often with criticisms than with praise....hopefully Megan will read this comment if she read the other one and they'll cancel out :) Anyway, I really love all the discussions, they're just so interesting and generally provide a higher curiosity satisfaction to effort ratio than books :) And I just love that all of you love learning and discussing ideas and the world so much...BHTV--Heaven for intellectuals ;) You guys are the best!!

JIM3CH
03-04-2008, 04:09 AM
Whatever happened to Eric Alterman? I don't remember seeing him since his rather interesting encounter with the police. Did he fall from BHtv grace?

Thus Spoke Elvis
03-04-2008, 09:08 AM
David:

I doubt I'll budge you out of your thinking, but for the record, here's (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2008/02/not-available-yet.html) my new favorite bumper sticker:

Hope Kicks Fear's Ass



For my own health, I pray that this bumper sticker doesn't catch on. Is it possible to go blind from excessive rolling of the eyes?

UPDATE: I see that the Hitch has a new Slate column up lambasting the inanity of using words and phrases like "hope," "change," and "yes we can!" in political campaigns. http://www.slate.com/id/2185606/

Favorite line:

Take "Yes We Can," for example. It's the sort of thing parents might chant encouragingly to a child slow on the potty-training uptake.

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 11:13 AM
Elvis:

If the slogans were all there were, I'd agree with you. After all, we have been suffering through two terms of an administration that seemed to generate little else; e.g., "Compassionate Conservative," "Uniter, Not a Divider," "Stay The Course," "No Child Left Behind," "You're Either With Us Or You're Against Us," "Healthy Forests," "Clear Skies," "When the Iraqis Stand Up, We'll Stand Down," "If we don't do [X], the terrorists win," etc., etc., ad nauseum.

So, I understand your cynicism.

However, it seems to me that Obama also has substantive policy proposals, if you're interested (http://www.barackobama.com/issues/). Just because he's smart enough to realize that a big crowd doesn't want to hear a speech filled with nine-point plans and wonkish details is no reason to assume he has none to offer. It's a question of timing and of recognizing the audience.

The first thing this country needs, in order to turn around, is its citizens feeling like there is a reason to make an effort, a reason to believe that others will be there with them, and a reason to expect that their efforts will pay off. Nothing long with a little good old fashioned revivalist-style chanting to boost the spirits. Think of it as the birds singing at the first sign of spring, after a long, hard winter. We'll get to actual nest-building, food gathering, and egg-laying soon enough.

Yes We Will.

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 11:16 AM
Jim:

... his [Alterman's] rather interesting encounter with the police.

Details, please.

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 11:22 AM
EW:

Apart from too much uncritical reading of the Beltway pundits, I can't imagine what makes you so sure McCain can win, or even what makes you think there's anything to him. What national security credentials does he have, apart from talking about his POW experience for forty years? We'll see how well he stands up when the primaries end, and the Straight Talk Express finally starts getting a much-needed look under the hood.

As for Obama's supposed "unelectability," I remind you that just a few months ago, all the groupthinkers agreed: he had no chance against the inevitable Hillary Clinton.

Via TPM (http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/180096.php):

Tale of the Tape

CBS News/NYT national poll:

Jan 13: Clinton 42%, Obama 27%
Feb 3: Clinton 41%, Obama 41%
Feb 25: Obama 54%, Clinton 38%

brucds
03-04-2008, 12:01 PM
Hitchens lampooning profligate, content-less incantations like "hope", "change", "yes we can" is rich - since those sound like exactly like the plans and prognostications of he and his neo-con buddies when they were dropping their "regime-change" wisdom on the rest of us poor uninspired knaves who thought they were total wack jobs drooling onto their ties (or in Hitchens' case, his unbuttoned shirtcollar) for promoting an invasion of Iraq. Read Obama's speech in the lead-up to the war and read some of Hitchens ravings at the time and the difference between substance and unhinged hopes (in tandem with deliberate disinformation) looks rather stark.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 12:04 PM
Since I've always been of the party of nuance and qualification -- a party that in the 2004 election, the Republicans identified as the Democratic Party -- I've never been very fond of bumper stickers. They struck me as necessarily simple-minded.

But tell me, would you urge the Republicans (or any party you supported) to unilaterally disarm -- give up slogans and bumper stickers? Or would you have them produce paragraph-long bumper stickers with plenty of space for caveats and footnotes?

Short statements of purpose are necessary everywhere: Philosophers are fond of caveats and highly individualistic descriptions fo their positions, but they still need to use shorthand and indicate broad areas of agreement and disagreement: e.g., "compatibilism/incompatibilism", "dualism/materialism", "naturalism/supernaturalism" etc.
Given that we need to be able to sum a position up in a few words, and given that doing this helps to indicate with whom our disagreements are more and less profound, it seems that we can't just reject all slogans. Instead, we need to distinguish between good slogans and bad slogans.

One criticism of a slogan is emotive: it doesn't move people. The other kind of criticism is intellectual: it's empty or deceptive. Given what I said above, we can't just reject all slogans as empty and deceptive -- we need to find reasonable distinctions among slogans.
I'd suggest the following:

1) A slogan should be a summary of a more fully spelled out position, not a substitute for it, and

2) It should not (unlike the "Clear Skies" and "Healthy Forests" of the Bush Administration) be more of a distortion of the fuller policy than its short form requires.

By these standards, I don't find Obama's slogans all that objectionable. Take the "Change" slogan. When it comes down to it, the public does not have the ability to directly vote for policies. Ultimately, elections come down to the question whether you feel the party in power is doing well enough to be rewarded with another term, or whether you want to try something different and possibly even punish that party for mismanagement. Recall Reagan's "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
Individuals may have any number of idiosyncratic theories about what the party in power has done right or wrong and they may not agree on the specifics. Whether people agree on these theories or not, the issue of the election is ultimately whether enough people agree that the leadership needs to be changed. In this election, many, many people agree that it needs to be changed -- both because there's a sense that our leaders are taking us in the wrong direction and would continue to do so, and because many people feel that they shouldn't be rewarded for past mistakes.

The invocation of "Hope" also goes back to Reagan -- think of "Morning in America." The context in the current campaign is GWB's relentless use of the politics of fear -- playing with the threat index in 2004, associating Democrats with Osama bin Laden and so on. Obama senses that people are sick of this kind of approach and he's suggesting that he would take something like the approach that the pundits THOUGHT GWB should adopt in the wake of his controversial election/appointment and in the wake of 9/11: seek national unity.
In the context of Obama's other moves, this doesn't strike me as deceptive. He recently floated the idea of putting Republicans (specifically Chuck Hagel) in his cabinet.

Slogans are necessarily going to rely a lot on context. In the context, the slogans we're talking about are not really all that empty -- nor is it clear that they are deceptive.

Both Clinton and Obama, I will say, are pretty clearly "demagoguing" the NAFTA issue in Ohio. They may well renegotiate NAFTA and insert more labor protections, but both know perfectly well that these will be insignificant.
If Clinton were more honest about this than Obama, that would give her points in my book. But neither (probably rightly) feels they can get away with honesty here. McCain gets some points for honesty here, but a) the pressure is not as strong on him because he's a Republican and he's already sewed up the nomination, and b) I'm far more concerned about repudiating the Bush legacy as completely as possible and c) I'm sure I would prefer Democratic policies on balance to McCain's policies.

Thus Spoke Elvis
03-04-2008, 12:21 PM
I don't think Obama lacks substance. He does have lots of policy proposals that are available at his website, and he'll talk about them when asked.

But I think that his campaign message and his appeal to many (thought not all) of his supporters is largely substanceless [see here for a notable example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGeu_4Ekx-o]. That's hardly unique to Obama campaign -- you see this in almost every major election. But the dewy-eyed reaction that many Obama supporters have to his vacuous statements strikes me as particularly fervent and pathetic.

Thus Spoke Elvis
03-04-2008, 12:50 PM
Noggin',

I understand the purpose and necessity of slogans, and consider them a necessary evil. I think your explanation of what makes a slogan acceptable is spot-on.

Of course, some slogans are more annoying than others. A factor in one's annoyance level is the type of people to whom the slogan panders. On a personal level, I have a greater bias against do-gooders than jingoists. I'm less bothered by a person waving his fist in the air when a politician says "We'll hunt them down" than when I see a grown man tear up when a politician says "Working together, we can make the world a better place."

If I saw someone with a bumper sticker that said "Hope Kicks Fear's Ass," my immediate reaction would be "God, what a pussy." (I'm assuming that Mickey made that word safe for bloggingheads).

Again, our reaction to slogans and bumper stickers is entirely based on our personal biases and peeves. What I find annoying is not the same as what others do, etc.

JIM3CH
03-04-2008, 12:57 PM
It was quite a while ago:

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2007/06/03/columnistauthor-arrested-in-spin-room/

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 12:58 PM
That's hardly unique to Obama campaign -- you see this in almost every major election. But the dewy-eyed reaction that many Obama supporters have to his vacuous statements strikes me as particularly fervent and pathetic.

Would you argue that it was any more pathetic than the reactions we saw in Bush's Potemkin-village audiences in the last Presidential election? (And what about Midge Decter on Rumsfeld and some of the Hagiography we heard from people like Frum and Gerson regarding Bush?) Bush's message was also, not merely contentless, but frequently positively deceptive -- implying that Iraq was part of the "war on terror" and that those who thought terrorism should be approached in a different way just didn't recognize the danger of terrorism.

I'm an Obama supporter myself. I find most of the plans I've read about quite cleverly designed and worthwhile in their goals. But apart from any such reading, I am impressed with the thoughtfulness and intelligence of what he says even when he is not giving a big speech. I see no reason to think even his less informed readers are simply blind to these factors, which are a big part of my reason for favoring him.
And then, if some of his supporters seem a bit too worshipful, is that supposed to discourage me from voting for the person I think would be best?

graz
03-04-2008, 01:02 PM
QUOTE=Thus Spoke Elvis; "I don't think Obama lacks substance. He does have lots of policy proposals that are available at his website, and he'll talk about them when asked.

But I think that his campaign message and his appeal to many (thought not all) of his supporters is largely substanceless [see here for a notable example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGeu_4Ekx-o]. That's hardly unique to Obama campaign -- you see this in almost every major election. But the dewy-eyed reaction that many Obama supporters have to his vacuous statements strikes me as particularly fervent and pathetic".

Elvis:
So are you irked because otherwise intelligent fellow citizens are treating a presidential nomination like a high school popularity contest? Would you propose to disallow the power of rhetoric and persuasion? Free speech is a bitch when you do not agree with the results. If you are inclined to vote, wouldn't you make your informed choice based on factors other than the perceived response of the charmed crowds? Can you offer a case on the merits for dismissing Senator Obama as a worthy candidate?

uncle ebeneezer
03-04-2008, 01:02 PM
The costant harping of the all-Obama-supporters-are-starry-eyed-idiots meme, is really getting old from all the Clinton supporters. First of all, there are plenty of Democrats out there who have been around just as long as, or longer than you who support Obama (some are even prominent elected officials with lifetimes of experience) not because of his charisma but because of strongly held beliefs in Democratic ideals as expressed in his plan for America and the policies he proposes. Lumping all Obama supporters together as a bunch of mindless, star-struck morons, is not only bad for the unity of the Democratic party, but it's also wildly over-simplistic. It would be like me saying that all Clinton supporters are only supporting her because she's a woman, or because she's a Clinton.

Now, I'm not saying there are NO star-struck idiot supporters. Unfortunately, the public is largely made up of sheep who vote on either one or two issues, or on personality. But Clinton and McCain have them too. And those sheep will be voting in the General, and their votes count just as much as the well-informed voters.

You think that Obama can't win for a variety of reasons. Fine. Many Democrats disagree. The same could be said about Clinton. I think even if she manages to get the nomination that she would lose in a landslide to McCain based on the fact that she won't be able to use the "experience" argument against him, she has the high negatives, the "Clinton" name that motivates the GOP like no other word, and the fact that Obama supporters (after being routinely derided as morons) might be less-than-enthusiastic about supporting her. Hopefully, I'm wrong. If HRC gets the nomination I will support her rather than McCain, any day of the week.

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 01:20 PM
Elvis:

I'm glad that you acknowledge the candidate himself is not without substance.

As for the rest, I'm sorry the groundswell of emotion in response to Obama leaves you feeling cold. As one who is usually a card-carrying cynic, I can certainly sympathize with that reaction. I can't say exactly why I've dropped my cynic's credentials this time around. Maybe it just feels right for once. Maybe things are just so crappy with our political system and our image around the world that it's time to take a chance on the idea that if enough people feel confidence in something good, they can make it happen.

More pragmatically, I don't care if some of Obama's supporters like him only for, say, his presence on stage. You can't govern if you don't win. I'll take support based on less political sophistication than I might prefer. For many of the people who like him, who bug you, the options are: (1) get out and vote for Obama or (2) keep up the apathetic attitude and stay at home. And, in any case, people always like a candidate for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with rationality. A drawback of democracy, but that's our system.

(And speaking of lack of rationality, I hope you're not basing too much of your doubt on one person's bad moment before the cameras, just because he couldn't name what many (http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/02/dear-chris-matt.html) others (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/03/AR2008010303303.html) have (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/2/21/164117/783?new=true) no (http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/2/20/201332/807/36/458633) problem (http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/02/obama-actually.html) listing (http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/02/dear-chris-matt.html).)

I myself want Obama to win just on the merits -- compared to the other two choices, there's no contest. It's a choice between two known quantities who offer nothing more than the same old same old, and one candidate who at least offers the chance of something new. If he can make a crowd feel positively energized and committed to boot, that's just gravy to me.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 01:23 PM
I'm less bothered by a person waving his fist in the air when a politician says "We'll hunt them down" than when I see a grown man tear up when a politician says "Working together, we can make the world a better place."


Hmmm. I'm more afraid of jingoists -- or rather tribalists. The do-gooders can certainly become tribalists: "if you're not with us in our program to make the world a better place, then you're against us, and if you're against us, then you're evil, and if you're evil, you don't even count as a human being..."

The Manichaean temptation is neither left nor right, and it's dangerous. "Pussies" or lame-brained idealists (http://www.reason.com/blog/show/125264.html)might be ridiculous and annoying, but they aren't that dangerous (unless they actually get into a position of power).

Concerning Obama's speeches, I think it's really only a very selective view that can make them seem contentless. They generally don't get into the weeds of policy implementation, but they do talk about goals -- problems he would like to solve. Nor does he always just tell people what they want to hear. He told black congregations that they should extend their Christian attitudes to gay people. He told black audiences that they need to work hard to make sure their children do well in school -- turn off the TV, help with homework, even get help from the teacher if they don't understand the homework. He told teachers he'd look into merit pay and that he was favorably inclined toward charter schools.
It isn't unreasonable to talk more about goals to the voters than about the details of how one will achieve these goals -- most voters are, fortunately or unfortunately, willing to leave that to the candidate. They'll judge on success or failure later. I admit it could help to know how he'll prioritize his goals, but I suspect we'll get clearer on that during the general election. Right now, I'd expect healthcare and Iraq to be at the top of the list.

deebee
03-04-2008, 01:27 PM
I agree with "Elvis" that personal peeves are mysterious. For example the very cadenced, preacherly style that so enraptures Obama supporters leaves me cold because it just doesn't seem to suit the Presidential persona -- to me he's just too cool by half. His continual "let me inspire you" theme also strikes me as presumptuous. I don't doubt Obama's intelligence or motivation, but his style and thin resume do concern me a lot.

I would guess that Obama strongly appeals to about 25-30% of the population which will not be nearly enough in a general election. A recent Pew Research poll backs this perception up by indicating that 25% of Hillary supporters are likely to defect to McCain if she doesn't get the nod, while only 10% of Obama supporters would do the same. If a more conservative Republican were running, this probably wouldn't happen, but as things stand, I believe that of the two Democrats, Hillary has the best chance of winning in November.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 01:32 PM
Good post, Uncle. I'd add that the only objective evidence we have right now (the polls and the turn-out figures from the actual primary battle going on now) support the claim that Obama can beat McCain in the general election.

uncle ebeneezer
03-04-2008, 02:05 PM
Brendan, I know why you've dropped your cynical stance. You're a baller!! As Charles Barkeley says, it's all about matchups in the playoffs. And the same can be said of politics. You understand that Obama actually matches up against McCain better than Hillary would. He can differentiate his record and his goals a little better than Hillary can. And he can steal some of McCain's independent base better than Hillary can.

I think that if Hillary wins OH and TX today and makes it close, then the only fair way to settle it would be a game of one-on-one. How cool would it be to finally have a President that can dunk? (allegedly)

Eastwest
03-04-2008, 02:06 PM
Re UE's:
The constant harping of the all-Obama-supporters-are-starry-eyed-idiots meme, is really getting old.

1) See the "deebee" post. Nails it. (Though I will certainly vote for Barack if he can't be stopped.)

2) Check out Shelby Steele's latest on "white guilt" & "masking, examples being Louis Armstrong and Oprah (as opposed to what won't work for black's seeking power ("challenging" [examples: Jesse J. & Al Sharpton]). Barack is hip to this, plays the youngsters like a harp, but is just as much a liar-politician (justified as means-to-an-end) as all others (example: back-channel note to Canadians he was just BS-ing on NAFTA to sneak by a particular audience).

Talk about "not having looked under the hood," the sycophantic press hasn't even thought about looking closely at Barack (see "white guilt," per Shelby Steele).

The Republicans won't be bashful. Barack's rig needs disassembly to the last drive-shaft bearing and he's trying to slick his way by on Leo ego strength to avoid that process just long enough to bump Hillary to the curb.

EW

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 02:30 PM
uncle eb:

Good call. You might be right.

I did hear a rumor that if Obama wins, he'll install a basketball court in the White House. Just another solid reason to vote for him, in my book.

Think about it. What other sport invented in America has had more international appeal? Even in his peripheral interests, Obama's got the best instincts for reaching out to the rest of the world.

McCain, undoubtedly, is a football fan; i.e., all war, all the time. Clinton? I would be amazed if she actually liked any sports. Maybe fencing.

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 02:31 PM
Elvis:

I'm less bothered by a person waving his fist in the air when a politician says "We'll hunt them down" than when I see a grown man tear up when a politician says "Working together, we can make the world a better place."

Bloggin has already noted this line of yours, but I do want to add one thing: That statement, to me, summarizes the bad part of the American psyche, and more particularly, it encapsulates everything I hate about the Bush Administration and the way Republicans have lately tried to appeal to voters. So, as abhorrent as I find this feeling of yours, I'll give you points for pithiness.

If I saw someone with a bumper sticker that said "Hope Kicks Fear's Ass," my immediate reaction would be "God, what a pussy."

I dunno. Cowering under one's bed, where the Republicans never stop urging Americans to go, hardly seems the hallmark of courage. An attitude of hope may occasionally be excessively idealistic, but it is never timid.

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 02:35 PM
EW:

Talk about "not having looked under the hood," the sycophantic press hasn't even thought about looking closely at Barack ...

Disagree. Paul Krugman has been non-stop in his criticism of some of Obama's policies and statements. Many other columnists and bloggers, including a lot of lefties, have been equally tireless in raising questions.

As far as finding dirt, you have to believe that if it was there to be found, the Clinton campaign would have dug it up and faxed it a thousand times to every newsroom by now. At some point, you have to entertain the possibility that there actually might not be that much to find.

Given the already year-long coverage of the race, it borders on conspiracy thinking to suggest that there is something being consciously ignored by the entire media.

Finally, as far as "sycophantic press" goes, nobody, but nobody, gets the uncritical MSM love that McCain does. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard or read "maverick" or "straight talk," I could pay off the national debt.

Thus Spoke Elvis
03-04-2008, 02:38 PM
I don't want a majority of the people I usually debate in these forums to think I'm speaking ill of them, so I'll try to summarize my position the best I can.

1.) I think Barrack Obama is a likeable and intelligent guy, and he has substantive policy positions that are, for the most part, well thought-out. I disagree with many of those positions (which is why I probably won't vote for him), but I recognize that many people support them for valid reasons.

2.) Many people, including most who visit bloggingheads I'd imagine, support Obama primarily because they agree with him on the issues. The other aspects of his appeal (e.g., his speeches, his background) may be contributing factors, but they are not determinative.

3.) For many voters and pundits (e.g., Ezra, Sullivan, Matthews), however, Obama's position on issues appears less important than what the man himself represents. He is appealing to them first and foremost because of his life story and his speeches.

4.) It's not Obama's stance on health care or tax policy that's drawing the crowds or the applause lines, it's how he speaks generically about how we can make a difference. Speeches and slogans that appeal to idealistic notions of working together to make the world better leave me cold, and I can't understand how grown people can actually be inspired or moved to tears by these platitudes. Ezra Klein's famous post (http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/ezraklein_archive?month=01&year=2008&base_name=obamas_gift) on the meaning of Obama's candidacy exemplifies the attitude that I find nauseating and all too prevalent.

In sum, I have a lot less problems with Obama himself than I have with some of his supporters.

Eastwest
03-04-2008, 03:05 PM
Well, I think to really get my point about the gullibility of the kids and the very grim downstream effects, please indulge me by watching both of these short videos in precisely this order, all the way to their ends:

1) http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=ghSJsEVf0pU

2) http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=EdM8PDu6VMg

This is the mindset which leads the press in general (a few minor exceptions, which themselves, don't really do much more than check the oil and tire pressure).

EW

graz
03-04-2008, 03:14 PM
Elvis:
Quote: I don't want a majority of the people I usually debate in these forums to think I'm speaking ill of them, so I'll try to summarize my position the best I can.

1.) I think Barrack Obama is a likeable and intelligent guy, and he has substantive policy positions that are, for the most part, well thought-out. I disagree with many of those positions (which is why I probably won't vote for him), but I recognize that many people support them for valid reasons.

2.) Many people, including most who visit bloggingheads I'd imagine, support Obama primarily because they agree with him on the issues. The other aspects of his appeal (e.g., his speeches, his background) may be contributing factors, but they are not determinative.

3.) For many voters and pundits (e.g., Ezra, Sullivan, Matthews), however, Obama's position on issues appears less important than what the man himself represents. He is appealing to them first and foremost because of his life story and his speeches.

4.) It's not Obama's stance on health care or tax policy that's drawing the crowds or the applause lines, it's how he speaks generically about how we can make a difference. Speeches and slogans that appeal to idealistic notions of working together to make the world better leave me cold, and I can't understand how grown people can actually be inspired or moved to tears by these platitudes. Ezra Klein's famous post (http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/ezraklein_archive?month=01&year=2008&base_name=obamas_gift) on the meaning of Obama's candidacy exemplifies the attitude that I find nauseating and all too prevalent.

In sum, I have a lot less problems with Obama himself than I have with some of his supporters".

I would refer you back to your original post about the value of McWhorter and linguistics in general. In the Booknotes interview he makes a case for why he would support Obama. If I might summarize: He believes that the value of having a generation of Americans raised with the image and reality of a Black President and First Family in the White House and on the world stage is a wedge issue that could trump for him any of the policy distinctions that either of the alternative candidates offer. I would certainly view this as a bonus. He also addresses in much the same vein as Brendan and Bloggin the necessity and rationale for the style of rhetoric that Obama has offered on the campaign trail.
I don't expect to sway your inclination in regard to policy, but I think you might be less cynical and dissapointed with his appeal to "the dewey-eyed" if you just allowed for the applied linguistic principles that McWhorter offers.

Just because it feels good, doesn't make it foolish.

Thus Spoke Elvis
03-04-2008, 04:00 PM
I would refer you back to your original post about the value of McWhorter and linguistics in general. In the Booknotes interview he makes a case for why he would support Obama. If I might summarize: He believes that the value of having a generation of Americans raised with the image and reality of a Black President and First Family in the White House and on the world stage is a wedge issue that could trump for him any of the policy distinctions that either of the alternative candidates offer.

I understand the argument, and certainly see the appeal. But it rests on an assumption that people will like an Obama presidency, and that will make people abandon their racial hang-ups. But what happens if Obama is a bad President? Would that not reenforce negative racial attitudes about the capabilities of blacks, the effectiveness of racial preferences, etc.? Between Iraq, terrorism, and the precarious state of the economy, there's certainly going to be lots of opportunities for the next president to fail miserably.

A lot of the more abstract arguments in favor of an Obama presidency remind me of positions taken in the lead-up to the Iraq war (e.g., removing Saddam will set of a secular democratic movement in Iraq and throughout the Middle East). Many of these arguments are premised on the best-case scenario, and fail to take into account the very real possibility that things will not go as planned.

uncle ebeneezer
03-04-2008, 04:09 PM
Elvis, i sympathize with your view. I hate bandwagons too, especially when I feel like the majority of people are oblivious to the part of whatever person or phenomenon that "matters" IMO.

Some of the bands I love, have huge, devoted almost cult-like followings (Tool & Phish r.i.p. for example). When I go to their shows I see thousands of people who are there for all the wrong reasons. They're there to be seen, or be trendy, or to do drugs or whatever and many times are completely ignorant of the artistic brilliance that attracted me. However, at the end of the day I'm glad those bands made it onto that stage so that I could see them. And as much as the sheep might annoy me, it is their willingness to pay $ on said band's cd's and merchandise etc., that helped to get them there. So I can either wallow in misery about the ignorant masses, or just enjoy the show. It's a pretty easy decision for me.

Another analogy is George Clooney who once said that he does those stupid romantic blockbuster movies because it puts him into the position to do the things that he cares about: Michael Clayton, Syriana, Good Night Good Luck etc. To me, Obama's "inspiring" speeches (which I DO find inspiring, sue me) are just part of the game to get him to the important stuff.

So much of politics, the way the media covers it of it and the way it is digested by the masses is based on utter bull-shit, and always has been, that it surprises me that people want to spend so much time talking about it as if it's a new development. Just ask Al Gore about the media's obsession with the inane.

If you, or EW or whoever has policy differences with Obama, then that's what is important, and while many of us may disagree, we certainly enjoy looking at things from a different perspective and like to read your differences.

But so far, the most criticisms I read of Obama are either that he's a.) too inexperienced and b.) that he's essentially TOO popular, charismatic, speaks well etc. As several others have mentioned before, rhetoric, and ability to inspire people are both factors that matter to voters. Sometimes more than I think is appropriate, but I have a hard time kncoking someone because their good at playing that aspect of the electoral game.

PS Ezra has written quite a bit about Obama's policy differences, and has never seemed like an Obama-bot at all. In fact, he pretty stridently favored Edwards through most of the primary campaign. Matthews, might as well be Mary Hart (Entertainment Tonight) as far as I'm concerned. He fawns over everything that is bright and shiny. Just watch him the next time McCain is on. Christ, I think he gets a kickback everytime he uses the word Maverick.

Cheers-- UE

uncle ebeneezer
03-04-2008, 04:12 PM
By the way, this will probably get me sent to bed without supper for mentioning appearances, but Meghan's new look (not sure if it's the lighting, hair color etc.) worked nicely on this one.

And yes, John McW (my favorite Irishman) is rivalling Will as the biggest non-Bob/Mickey star in the BH stable. Great as always.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 04:47 PM
.... But what happens if Obama is a bad President? Would that not reenforce negative racial attitudes about the capabilities of blacks, the effectiveness of racial preferences, etc.? Between Iraq, terrorism, and the precarious state of the economy, there's certainly going to be lots of opportunities for the next president to fail miserably.


I don't really buy that. First, if he does a rotten job, I don't think it will be imputed to his race by most people. Obama's inexperience would be the most likely explanation. The stereotype about black people is that they are lazy and unintelligent. NO WAY anyone but die-hard racists attribute these qualities to Obama.
Second, even if he's just a mediocre president, he still sets a precedent, still makes it possible for people to get comfortable with the idea. Race will be that much less of a factor when choosing between the next mediocre white and mediocre black candidates.
And finally, if he gets elected, even if he doesn't do all that well, he'll be a demonstration to young black people that this country is maybe not so stacked against them at this point after all. If, as McWhorter and Obama both say in different ways, the sense of grievance and of the hopelessness of making a big effort is part of what stands in the way of young black people, then Obama's election ought to help with that, even if he turns out to be another Jimmy Carter. If young black people won't listen to lectures from whites, and if whites can't deliver the lectures for fear of being racist, and if, as conservatives maintain, black people need to start pulling harder at their own bootstraps, then Obama is capable of delivering the message in a way that's hard to dismiss.
It's true that Iraq did require the equivalent of rolling boxcars six times in a row if it was going to have the desired effect (especially given how little planning was done for the occupation). The difference here is that Obama only needs to turn in a fairly ordinary performance as president to achieve these results. Of course, if I thought Clinton would make a much better president, I'd put that aside (and I'd rejoice that we were electing our first woman president), but I don't think so.

uncle ebeneezer
03-04-2008, 05:35 PM
http://www.bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/9189?in=00:21:02&out=00:21:05

bkjazfan
03-04-2008, 08:58 PM
Where does this "Barry" come from? Is that what his friends call him? This is the first time I've seen him referred to as "Barry."

bkjazfan
03-04-2008, 09:00 PM
Yes, Megan is nice looking.

Thus Spoke Elvis
03-05-2008, 09:21 AM
I agree that the potential benefits for race relations springing from an Obama presidency are more significant than the potential negative effects. But those negative effects shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

Of course you're right that an ineffective and unpopular Obama presidency won't cause many whites to unequivocally believe that a black man isn't capable of doing the work that a white man can do. I think the reaction would be more subtle but also more pervasive. I can imagine many whites referring to Obama as our first "Affirmative Action" President -- meaning that he was a guy who had a skimpy resume that got chosen for a job over better-qualified people, and then ended up over his head. That, in turn, could reenforce prejudices and preconceptions many whites have about blacks in white-collar jobs or prestigious academic institutions. As much as we wish that people wouldn't make such inferences from a failed Obama presidency, I'm afraid that many would.

It's tempting to take Obama's race into account when deciding who to vote for, because the potential effects that a successful (half-) black president would have on race relations are very appealing. But if we accept that his race matters and make this a factor in our voting preference, we also have to consider the possible negative racial consequences that would come from an unpopular Obama presidency. That's a big reason why I try to ignore the racial implications of an Obama presidency completely.

eric
03-05-2008, 04:03 PM
I found it funny when Megan and McWhorter noted that they received both benefits and disadvantages from their gender/race, is if that said something really profound about their life seen from their unique perspective.

We are all unique! As if people don't make snap judgments, dismissive remarks, about the Beaver Cleavers of the world. I have never met someone who didn't feel like they were a bit 'different' in some important way, no matter how superficially mainstream they appear (after all, its not superficialities like race and sex that define our minds). It's a staple of children's fiction, coming to grips with the insecurities about being a little different than everyone else...

garbagecowboy
03-05-2008, 07:30 PM
What national security credentials does he have, apart from talking about his POW experience for forty years?

20+ years on the Armed Services Committee?

garbagecowboy
03-05-2008, 07:35 PM
It's unfortunate, but what is the alternative? Force people to live in schmaltzy tourist traps where they wear their national costume and speak their national language as a way to make a living in a modern society? Force people living in isolated tribes in the rainforests of New Guinea or the Amazon to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle because to allow them to integrate into modern society would threaten their language?

It is a shame that languages go extinct, but I share McWhorter's ambivalence. It is the price of progress, and there is no practical way to stop it, even if there were some moral imperative.

If a linguist is reconciled to it, I believe I can reconcile myself to it, too.

look
03-05-2008, 08:12 PM
This reminds me of an article I just read by Spengler. It's about the women in Obama's life, but for the most part is a an opinion-filled rant that Obama was raised to hate America.

But here's the part about language:


America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America is the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Between half and nine-tenths of the world's 6,700 spoken languages will become extinct in the next century, and the anguish of dying peoples rises up in a global cry of despair. Some of those who listen to this cry become anthropologists, the curators of soon-to-be extinct cultures; anthropologists who really identify with their subjects marry them. Obama's mother, the University of Hawaii anthropologist Ann Dunham, did so twice.


http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JB26Aa01.html

Wonderment
03-05-2008, 08:34 PM
America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America is the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Between half and nine-tenths of the world's 6,700 spoken languages will become extinct in the next century, and the anguish of dying peoples rises up in a global cry of despair. Some of those who listen to this cry become anthropologists, the curators of soon-to-be extinct cultures; anthropologists who really identify with their subjects marry them. Obama's mother, the University of Hawaii anthropologist Ann Dunham, did so twice.

Well, it's an unfortunate piece of ethnocentric cant. I don't think most immigrants view their native culture as a "failing." That strikes me as a hideous value judgment.

And to suggest that that Ann Dunham married a Kenyan and an Indonesian to honor their respective doomed cultures, is simply idiotic.

The whole rant suggests the writer is a cultural Darwinist (in the pejorative sense of the word). It's true that dominant cultures often replace the languages of minority cultures, but attributing the domination to "creative success" is biased.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that many democracies do just fine with multilingualism: Switzerland, India, Canada and Spain come to mind.

Wonderment
03-05-2008, 08:36 PM
It is a shame that languages go extinct, but I share McWhorter's ambivalence. It is the price of progress, and there is no practical way to stop it, even if there were some moral imperative.

Maybe. In the same sense that polar bears and tigers are the price of progress.

bjkeefe
03-05-2008, 10:37 PM
Maybe. In the same sense that polar bears and tigers are the price of progress.

That's a good way of thinking about it, Wonderment, and also a good way to pitch a program aimed at preserving dying languages. It's also is a harsh measure of reality: the odds are, humans are more concerned about charismatic megafauna than they are about a slice of their own history.

bjkeefe
03-05-2008, 10:39 PM
20+ years on the Armed Services Committee?

A fair point, although it is often argued that a long history in Congress indicates a life full of unsavory compromises, too.

garbagecowboy
03-06-2008, 04:40 PM
The extinction of a human language is perhaps equivalent in type to the extinction of a large mammal from the planet, but the loss to my mind is nowhere near of the same degree.

Tiny languages are an interesting but relatively unimportant relic of human culture. If you morn the death of a language, what about traditional ways of life. I'm sure you would say that if Icelandic (a thriving ancient language, by the way, with probably half a million native speakers) were to go extinct, this would be a shame. However, Icelandic's vocabulary and literature are recorded in the sagas of the vikings. While this is perhaps a better record than the cultural recordings linguists are making by making word lists and grammar studies of dying languages, it is this kind of artifact that linguists are trying to preserve. The nuts and bolts of the language and associated cultural information.

Though Icelandic survives as the first language of a country that is first-world, well-educated and Anglophone, should we morn the loss of the Viking culture that was originally associated with people who spoke Icelandic and other closely related old Norse languages? This is arguably a cultural loss, on par with the loss of a community of speakers of an Eskimo language. Should we be upset by the fact that there aren't Vikings anymore? Is this really as upsetting as the loss of a variety of megafauna?

If the fact that there are no more Vikings anymore is not upsetting, why is the loss of the last member of a hunter-gatherer tribe or a band of Inuit who happens to speak a particular language? Particularly if the language has been recorded to some degree, the loss is nowhere near as offensive (to me anyways) as humans obliterating an entire species of animal.

That is because yes, indeed, this is the cost of progress. You dismissively implied that so are animal extinctions. But elevating human standards of living is the goal of human effort. That humans are living in large nation-states, with the accoutrement of society (infrastructure, education, etc.) and the centralization of language that accompanies this, as opposed to living in remote bands of hunter-gatherer tribes that preserve the diversity of language on this planet is a good thing, to me, on balance. I, myself, would not want to be forced to learn a language that nobody needs anymore for the sake of keeping it alive. I certainly wouldn't want to be forced to live apart from society to avoid the obsolescence of my language. So if I can't wish the lives that would be required to save these languages on other people, then I can't really feel bad when the languages die.

On the other hand, the pollution of the environment and the destruction of species of plants and insects and megafauna are an unintended consequence of progress. Particularly since in the case of megafauna, people often go out of their way to destroy the species. Tigers in Asia are hunted for their pelts and for other organs sold in Asian medicine. Whales were hunted to near-extinction (some species of marine mammals actually too extinction) for their fat resources.

So if people are going to Inuit villages and banning people from learning their parents language, or forcibly dispossessing tribesmen in New Guinea from their land and the lifestyle they want to live, then I would regret the side-effect that is the loss of their language. If the loss of the language occurs as a consequence of choices people willingly make in search of a better life, I can do no better than ambivalence.

garbagecowboy
03-06-2008, 05:19 PM
A fair point, although it is often argued that a long history in Congress indicates a life full of unsavory compromises, too.


Well, Obama certainly doesn't have that problem (of a long history in Congress).

Unsavory compromises or not, though, I'd say that two and a half decades of committee meetings discussing national security issues with key players is probably as much concrete national security experience as a Presidential candidate can have other than actually having been involved in combat.

bjkeefe
03-06-2008, 05:23 PM
Adam:

You dismissively implied that so are animal extinctions.

I didn't mean to, and I certainly don't feel that way. I happen to be one of those who, like you, thinks the loss of a species is worse than the loss of a language. I was just trying to make the point to Wonderment that while yes, both losses may be looked at as the "price of progress," it appears to be the case that more people more about one than the other. That is, I was trying for a bit of abstract remove to illustrate that there isn't much point in equating the two types of losses when in most people's minds, the two are not, in fact, equal.

Sorry if I was unclear about that. On the other hand, it might be good that I was, because your essay made my case stronger.

Wonderment
03-06-2008, 08:55 PM
So if people are going to Inuit villages and banning people from learning their parents language, or forcibly dispossessing tribesmen in New Guinea from their land and the lifestyle they want to live, then I would regret the side-effect that is the loss of their language. If the loss of the language occurs as a consequence of choices people willingly make in search of a better life, I can do no better than ambivalence.

Let's try another analogy and thought experiment. Let's say that we chop down all the Sequoias in Muir Woods (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muir_woods) and turn the national park into a university, medical research center and a furniture factory.

By cutting down all the trees and clearing the property we have created thousands of new jobs, brought prosperity to the region, educated generations of doctors, created a state-of-the-art medical research facility specializing in autism and Alzheimer's; and with the funds raised from the sale of redwood furniture and trinkets, we've given scholarships to hundreds of gifted high school graduates from poverty-stricken countries like Somalia and Bangladesh.

It's a "better life" for many and the only "regrettable side effect" is the loss of Muir Woods.

Why don't we do this sort of thing anymore? Because we have finally decided as a society that Muir Woods and the Sequoias have a value to civilization. We conclude that we don't have to sacrifice them for hospitals, jobs and universities. We can do both things: create universities AND preserve ecological treasures.

If we thought about languages in the same way -- that they are precious resources and of value to humanity -- we would also figure out that we can do both things: preserve languages on the brink AND raise the standard of living of the members of the linguistic community.

If, on the other hand, we say we're "ambivalent" about the "inevitable," we'll have different results.

bjkeefe
03-06-2008, 09:12 PM
Wonderment:

It's an instructive analogy, but my kneejerk reaction is: we have too few primeval forests -- in fact, are close to having none, at least in the continental US -- but plenty of human languages. The loss of one or some smallish number of languages, just by attrition, while regrettable in the abstract, does not tug at my heartstrings the way loss of a forest does. We have plenty more, most of which do a very large fraction of what the lost language would do. And, as with polar bears, et al, I presume I am again in the majority on this one.

This may be bickering about the analogy a little too much, but I'd also note that loss of a forest is a loss of an entire ecosystem. By comparison, the loss of a language is sort of like letting the last tree die, when everything else around it has long since vanished.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-07-2008, 03:39 PM
There's quite a difference between chopping down trees and not intervening to save a language.
The comparison would have to be that the trees were going to die and you had the choice of stepping in to save them or just letting them die.

We might well step in to save a forest from some environmental blight, of course. But there's another disanalogy: it wasn't the tree's choice to die.

If a language is dying out because the speakers no longer see much use in maintaining it, then what are you going to do? One can of course try to keep government thumbs off the scale -- keep them from suppressing minority languages and cultures, but beyond that, I'm not sure what can be done.

Another disanalogy: there's no doubt about when a tree is dead, but when has a language died? Old English and Latin are both dead, even though they have modern descendents. Should we mourn the death of these languages? Or is it enough that we have texts written in the languages and people who choose to can learn the grammar and vocabulary of each?

Wonderment
03-07-2008, 04:31 PM
There's quite a difference between chopping down trees and not intervening to save a language.The comparison would have to be that the trees were going to die and you had the choice of stepping in to save them or just letting them die.

It's just a rough, flawed analogy, but I disagree that the trees would have to be "destined to die." The emergency intervention model is only accurate when you get to the point of a handful of speakers left. Then it's too late. I am saying that we need to take steps to PRESERVE endangered languages, perhaps when they have a few hundred thousand native speakers, not a few dozen.

If a language is dying out because the speakers no longer see much use in maintaining it, then what are you going to do?

But that is not how it works. Languages don't die because speakers no longer find them useful. How could you not find your native language useful? That's tantamount to not finding your brain useful. What happens is that other languages apply irresistible pressures.

One can of course try to keep government thumbs off the scale -- keep them from suppressing minority languages and cultures, but beyond that, I'm not sure what can be done.

There are lots of things you can do. I'll give you a simple example. In the early part of the 20th century, the Mexican government established universal public education in Spanish. Indigenous kids went to monoligual schools and native languages took a huge hit. In the 60s the government began to value the cultures they were decimating (in various ways) and started bilingual education programs (Nahuatl-Spanish, Zapateco-SPanish, etc.) and helped preserve the indigenous languages.

Another disanalogy: there's no doubt about when a tree is dead, but when has a language died? Old English and Latin are both dead, even though they have modern descendents. Should we mourn the death of these languages? Or is it enough that we have texts written in the languages and people who choose to can learn the grammar and vocabulary of each?

Well, it's up to you if you mourn them. Do you more the loss of a mammalian species? Or is it enough to have fossils and DNA? Will you mourn the loss of the mountain gorilla, or is it enough to have videos and some living specimens in captivity? Again, a rough analogy, but my point is that how much we care about these things and how much we're willing to do about them are not a matter of resignation, indifference and "ambivalence." We make political and moral choices about how much we value such things as trees, animals and languages.

pod2
03-08-2008, 01:20 AM
I'm not sure whether this is posted in the right thread, but... is it just me, or did "hovering" strike anyone as a really bad example of the linguistic principle McWhorter was trying to shoot down? Does not 'hovering' refer primarily to the act of 'floating above'-- which was then retroactively applied to the spousal surveillance described? Surely there are better examples of words that refer to specific, unique concepts in English.... what about 'hip hop' or 'phallocentrism' or 'neoliberalism' or 'pop' or 'diavlog?' I take the general point-- just because there is no word in English for 'schadenfreude' doesn't mean that AMericans don't sometimes delight in the downfall of their enemies-- but, 'hovering' as the case in point? Or am I missing something?

Wonderment
03-08-2008, 11:57 PM
I'm not sure whether this is posted in the right thread, but... is it just me, or did "hovering" strike anyone as a really bad example of the linguistic principle McWhorter was trying to shoot down? Does not 'hovering' refer primarily to the act of 'floating above'-- which was then retroactively applied to the spousal surveillance described? Surely there are better examples of words that refer to specific, unique concepts in English.... what about 'hip hop' or 'phallocentrism' or 'neoliberalism' or 'pop' or 'diavlog?' I take the general point-- just because there is no word in English for 'schadenfreude' doesn't mean that AMericans don't sometimes delight in the downfall of their enemies-- but, 'hovering' as the case in point? Or am I missing something?

Actually, I thought "hovering" was a very good example. I'm not sure that "hovering" is unique to English, but it is a challenge to translate into Spanish, for example. Of course, you can always use circumlocutions, as John pointed out.

"Hip hop" isn't a very good example because words that refer to national or ethnic cultures tend to just become neologisms in other languages. For example, "Salsa" or "Mambo" (the dances) become "salsa and mambo" in English or German or Arabic or Vietnamese. "Jazz" is probably "Jazz" in hundreds of languages.

Your other examples are also easy to translate, especially to European languages where Latin and Greek words have long been imported. For example, neo-liberalism is "neoliberalismo" in Spanish and "phallocentric" is falocÚntrico. Schadenfreude is a better example and more in the "hovering" category.

pod2
03-09-2008, 12:09 AM
Here, I don't really understand your point, or maybe you misinterpreted mine. There is a word for schadenfreude in English--it's "schadenfreude." In other words, the fact that we have to import a German word to express the idea is a kind of proof that the word does not exist already. The fact that other languages import the words "hip hop" or jazz or neoliberalism or phallocentrism would tend to underline my point rather than undermine it. As for hovering, i think that the sense that mcwhorter refers to is one of connotation rather than denotation. I'm fairly certain that there are words for floating above in many languages. My point is that, as a touchstone example, mcwhorter could have done better to choose a word that doesn't have a rather mundane denotation which was then bootstrapped into a more arcane subtlety of social interaction. It's like saying that the Inuit word for slush also means the ambiguous tension/hostility/respect demonstrated in the Corn/Sklar diavlogs-- it refers to a kind of neither snow nor water state.

Now there is no doubt that the Inuit have a word for slush, just as we do. And that this concept of slush may subsequently be bootstrapped to refer to a rather fine social conception. But it doesn't speak powerfully to the point mcwhorter is trying to make. The point mcwhorter makes is more in line with words that are so unique to a language that they must be imported intact into other languages, ala jazz, neoliberalism, diavlog.