Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Strike three! You're out, Sarah Palin!

In writing and in speech, Sarah Palin has a problem with citations. She cites others' work, out of context, to support whatever she's chosen to write or talk about.

Strike One
Defending 'Death Panel' Claim, Sarah Palin Misleadingly Quotes Op-ed That Criticizes Her
In a September 8, 2009 Facebook note, Sarah Palin posted her written testimony for the New York State Senate Aging Committee. In her testimony, she defends using the "death panel" phrase and insists "its accuracy has been vindicated." To support this false claim, Palin cites a piece written by the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson. She doesn't mention that Robinson's very next sentence calls her "death panel" claim outlandish and false. ...

Strike Two
Palin Advocates War With Iran After Apparently Misunderstanding Buchanan Column
Citing a column by Pat Buchanan that clearly argues against conflict with Iran, Sarah Palin on Sunday suggested that a war with Iran would be good policy and a boon for President Obama's 2012 reelection hopes. ...

Strike Three
Palin Takes the Easy Road on Climate Change
... Palin's post [on climate change] is a prime example of such an attempted diversion. She writes, "The IPCC’s supposedly definitive report proving the theory is riddled with serious errors," while bulldozing over the fact that those errors don't speak at all to the core of climate science. In reality it's a perverse sort of ad hominem attack on the IPCC and the 620 scientists who authored the 4th assessment report. The argument goes: they've made these errors, therefore everything they've said must be an error. But, in reality, none of these mistakes undercuts at all the scientific consensus that greenhouse gases have raised and will continue to raise global temperatures, a belief held by nearly all climate scientists.

She then tries to back herself up by suggesting that the former head of the IPCC, Greenpeace UK, and the Natural Environment Research Council are in her corner. They clearly are not. They have attacked the IPCC because they believe, rightfully so, that these petty errors can be used by opportunists to distract from the central and unwavering truths of climate science. Alan Thorpe says as much in the article to which Palin links:

We open ourselves up to trouble if we start getting into hearsay and grey literature. We have enough research that has been peer-reviewed to provide evidence for climate change, so it is concerning that the IPCC has strayed from that. ...

There you have it. Sarah's out. Time to retire the side?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wendy Kaminer on Ghostwriters

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and writer. Recently, she wrote, in Ghostwriters, Speechwriters, and the State of Our Union,
... [F]reshman Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is "writing a book," and I suppose that's an accurate statement if "writing a book" means hiring someone to write a book for you. As Brown's spokeswoman says, he "will work with a collaborator," indicating that like most celebrity athletes, pop stars, and politicians, he will be the "author" of a book (a memoir, no less) that someone else has written.
But the degradation of authorship, hardly a new phenomenon, does seem a most appropriate one today. When political inexperience and ignorance are practically qualifications for office, why should literary experience or talent be required of authors? People who can't or won't govern are elected to high office, so why shouldn't people who can't write win lucrative contracts to author books? ...
... [C]andidates for offices that require extensive knowledge, intelligence, reason, fairness, and nuanced judgment often boast of their ordinariness (at least you can't accuse them of false advertising). Scott Brown posed with his truck; Sarah Palin introduced herself as a "hockey mom[.]" ...
Ordinariness is supposed to signal the candidate's authenticity, but authenticity, in politics or publishing, is carefully constructed by agents, consultants, and other marketers--with the full cooperation of voters and consumers. (Voting, as many have observed, has devolved into consuming.) The construction process is surprisingly and disturbingly transparent. ...
... It's no secret that Lynn Vincent ghostwrote Sarah Palin's book, but her critics and detractors alike have treated Palin as both author and writer anyway. "She writes with sensitivity and affection," the Wall Street Journal's Melanie Kirkpatrick opines. (Actually she writes with Lynn Vincent.) ...
... Politics matters. Celebrating Ronald Reagan for what we knew to be Peggy Noonan's eloquence mattered. Political consultants openly fashion "stories" and "narratives" about candidates, as if they were fictional characters engaged in metaphoric quests. And we oblige them by reacting less like citizens than members of an audience, willingly suspending our disbelief.
Many leaders have used speech writers and ghost writers, but every thoughtful, intelligent one has the capacity to write for himself or herself, simply because they are able to think for themselves. We do need to know what and how candidates think before we vote for them, because they're going to be making decisions on our behalf, if they're elected. We shouldn't have empty vessels making decisions that will affect our lives and the lives of others. Perhaps we should give more weight to what candidates say during in-depth interviews, press conferences, and substantive debates, as well as what they wrote before trying-out for the big leagues.

Continuing with Wendy Kaminer's observation that voting has devolved into consuming, we might all be better off if the schools taught children to think critically about advertising. It could begin with taking apart toy and food ads, so they would grow up understanding how they're influenced by advertising and be able to see through it, appreciating it as entertainment that is sometimes done well, sometimes poorly, rather than the truth.

Here's Wendy Kaminer's website.

There are several blog posts concerned with the false narrative constructed by Sarah Palin. You can find them on the sidebar, by scrolling down to the Mythbusting Sarah Palin section.