Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Emoji and Language

This week's Idea Channel video is about emoji, writing, language, discourse analysis, linguistics, composition, mediated speech, technology, and the larger question of what makes something language.

So, yeah, I was pretty into it.
The video goes out of its way to point us toward Gretchen McCulloch's blog, All Things Linguistic. It also shows the way to her SXSW talk on the subject (with slides!).

All of it is worth a listen.

Monday, April 18, 2016


I Won't Ignore a Lack of Smoking Guns

I admire Naomi Klein. She is an important voice in the climate change debate. She models an intelligent way to argue against globalization. Her book No Logo is immensely important for people trying to understand how the modern corporation has impacted cultures.

But my admiration does not mean I will unquestioningly accept everything she has to say. I expect a smart argument from Klein.

That is why I was disappointed when I finally got around to reading Klein's piece in The Nation from earlier this month. I expected a critique of Clinton, which I got. But more importantly, from Klein I expected a careful critique, which I did not get.

I'm proud of the debate the Democratic presidential primary has fostered. It's been invigorating to read and listen to arguments about criminal justice reform, environmental regulations, and economic inequality. Bernie Sanders deserves a lot of credit for bringing these issues to the fore.

But to put a new spin on one of Clinton's go-to lines from the New York debate: It is one thing to demand we debate an issue; it is another thing to debate that issue in a substantive way.

Klein spends the first third of her piece arguing this: We do not need to find any clear evidence that Clinton has been corrupted in order to argue that she is in fact corrupt.

I'm not exaggerating.

After admitting there "is no proof–no 'smoking gun'," Klein's argument effectively becomes "Clinton’s web of corporate entanglements is deeply alarming with or without a 'smoking gun.'” This statement is followed by two things:
1. A description of just how serious the climate change issue is (a description no one from the Clinton camp would deny).
2. An invitation to "forget the smoking guns for the moment."

At that invitation, I'm already checking out. Even though the rest of the piece includes some smart analysis of Clinton-style policy making, it is out of line for Klein argue we should accept Clinton as corrupt without clear evidence.

When we discuss Clinton, we are talking about a woman who has been the target of countless smear campaigns. By itself, that's not a problem; Clinton is a prominent public figure, which makes her a target for those kinds of attacks. She can handle it.

But for people who are critically engaged in public political discourse, the existence of clear evidence is the only way we can sort the smears from the substantive attacks.

When an intelligent public thinker such as Klein asks us to ignore the lack of evidence - even if only for the moment - she is asking us to suspend our critical engagement.

And where does that lead us?

Later in Klein's piece, we read this:
Books have been filled with the failures of Clinton-style philanthrocapitalism. When it comes to climate change, we have all the evidence we need to know that this model is a disaster on a planetary scale. 
Let's examine what Klein has asserted here.

Klein, who writes primarily about climate change, would have us believe the model used by The Clinton Foundation is a disaster on a planetary scale. She doesn't say the model has contributed to the planetary disaster of climate change. No. The "model is a disaster on a planetary scale."

Klein's language is placing the blame for climate change on The Clinton Foundation

Of course I know Klein doesn't think the climate change crisis began in 2001 when the Bill Clinton started the non-profit foundation.

That's silly.

But when we expect readers to accept arguments (or accusations) without evidence, we are allowed to say some silly things.