DEMON ARIZONA! The Post ran with an inane attack on more than six million demons: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2011
For thee, but not for me: Last night, Chris Matthews continued his channels lofty, high-minded attack on Sarah Palins use of the term blood libel. Two pundits joined in the scripted inanity. Earlier, in the Washington Post, Gene Robinson had written this:
When it comes to Sarah Palin, theres a great deal which can be criticized. That said, we were surprised to see Robinson play the blood libel card, because he himself had used the term in a metaphoric way on MSNBC, just two years ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/13/11).
Yesterday afternoon, Robinson had an on-line Q-and-A about this column. We wondered if someone would ask him about this rather puzzling matter. It may well be that someone didbut if so, it wasnt one of the questions Robinson chose to publish and answer.
No one mentioned Robinsons use of the term as the pundits battered Palin last night. You see, MSNBC works from antique tribal logic: For thee, but not for me.
DEMON ARIZONA (permalink): We humans tend to dream up demons. In the American context, that sometimes means that entire states are cast in the demon role.
This has tended to happen with Arizona over the past several years. In this mornings New York Times, a former Arizonan offers a sweeping view of the state, from two thousand miles away, in Pittsburgh. His sweeping view begins with these observations:
When did the writer leave the state? The controversy about King Day largely occurred in the 1980s; in November 1992, Arizonans voted to observe the King holiday. And are vigilantes patrolling the border? New York Times editors have long used that word in this context, reflecting their crabbed High Manhattan culture. But have actual acts of vigilantism occurred? Do you have to commit such an act before you become such a person?
As he continues, the Pittsburgh writer makes sweeping claims about the fallen folk of his former state. By the way: Have the people of Arizona changed since the writer left? Actually, yesthey quite plainly have. In 1990, the states population was 3.6 million. In 2008, it stood at 6.5 million.
Theres a great deal to criticize in Arizonaand in Pennsylvania too. But Demon Arizona played the lead role in Sundays Washington Posts Outlook section. On its front page, Outlook gave massive play to this ludicrous piece by Amy Silverman, long-time managing editor of the Phoenix New Times.
For the record, Silverman has long been an Arizona-trasher. To read an endless piece from 2005 about how massively the city of Phoenix sucks, one must simply click here, then settle in to endure a long, foolish, self-involved slog.
Of course, theres a Silverman in pretty much every statea person who lets the locals know how hopelessly clueless and worthless they are. Sadly, these people will often be nominal liberals; in their relentless condescension, they tend to give liberalism a very bad name among the unwashed rubes. On Sunday, Silvermans portrait of her state wasnt really a political portraitbut it was grossly moronic, and stunningly ugly. For us, this raised a basic question: Why would the Washington Post print such palpable, unrelieved rubbish? Related question: Are Americas journalistic elites smart enough to help run a national state?
Silvermans thesis was sadly familiar: Everyone sucks except me (and my husband). That said, her critique took on a particular focus before too much nonsense had passed:
Just like Jared Loughner himself, the state of Arizona is defined by isolation; Silvermans long and silly piece revolved around this sweeping claim. Arizona state of mind, the large headline screamed. In a place known for sunshine and fresh starts, a tragedy reveals a culture of isolation.
Is it true? Is the state of Arizona really defined by a culture of isolation? And what exactly could such a claim mean? [T]he truth is that few places are as exclusionary as Arizona, Silverman soon said. After describing a scene where she hand her husband lay in bed predicting a copy-cat killing, she began to explain what she meant her central claimand she caught the eye of our analysts:
Arizona is ripe for a copycat killing! After making this repellent charge, Silverman backed her claim with a single statistica single statistic she slightly misstated, and failed to put into larger context. Well return to that troubling 12 percentto the troubling statistic which fueled that repellent charge. But first, bathe in the nonsense as Silverman continues, listing the various ways she can see her fellow Arizonans culture of isolation:
It would be hard to be more fatuous. Question: What does it mean when one of our most influential newspapers selects such nonsense to headline its week-ending, Sunday ruminations about a deeply serious national event?
How isolated are Arizonans? Silverman is troubled by the fact that these people put on the A/C (and the radio!) when they drive around in their cars! We dont even bother to honk our horns, she weirdly says, struggling to call attention to her own terminal foolishness. Just for the record: In our experience, people dont sit out on the porch much in many states, including states where the daily temperatures arent as brutal as those in AZ. But in this ridiculous passage, Silverman explains that her home state is ripe for another killing because people dont sit and bake in the sunand because they use the A/C when they drive around in their cars. By the way: Why should people honk their horns, if children, locked in their own isolation, no longer play in the street?
Can we talk? Silverman has lived in the same house for 13 years, but she can count on one hand the number of times I've been invited into a neighbor's house. Living far away in Maryland, we dont find this especially shocking as a general matter. But lets get specific: Would you invite Silverman into your home? Who would invite such a morbid soul over for dinner? The same people who would have liked Loughner himself?
The piece continues on from here in various low-IQ ways. Silverman is soon saying that living here can be incredibly depressing; she even tells us how miserable her mother was when she attended Tucson Higha very large public high schoolat least several decades ago. This ridiculous passage is instructive for several different reasons:
At least she didnt tell the old groaner about the kid who thought everyone wanted to know if Jose could see at the baseball game. (This old joke turns on a misunderstanding of the national anthems opening lyrics: Jose, can you see by the dawns early light?) But even if we set aside Silvermans groaning joke about her mothers teen-age misery, this bungled, propagandistic passage is interesting for several reasons.
We dont know why Silverman says that Tucson High is now a fancy college prep called University High. In fact, Tucson High remains a very large school (now officially called Tucson Magnet High School); University High is a separate school, at a separate location, and has been since 1985 (click here). This factual blunder may have been made in good faith, but it does let Silverman reinforce her overall theme of isolation and exclusion. In her factually bungled portrait, a large public high school has become a fancy school for a bunkered elite. (For the record, elite public schools like University High have been created in cities all over the nation; this isnt special to Demon Zona.) Silverman is even so bold as to suggest that Giffords, who cant defend herself, shared Silvermans distaste for the statethough that plainly isnt the spirit of the commencement address from which Silverman goes on to cherry-pick one small helpful quote. But what could possibly make an editor want to print this consummate nonsense, in which the teen-age misery of the authors mother is offered as a sign that an entire state is ready for a copy-cat killing?
What explains the fact that the Washington Post chose to print this ugly mess?
Theres more to Silvermans dumb, ugly portrait, including a sneering aside about the way people move to Arizona after they get out of prison. But lets return to that one statistic, the one which was used to condemn this vile state. Once again, here is the remarkable passage in which Silverman slimes a whole state:
Silverman uses a statistic here. Not being as dumb as the Washington Post, we wondered what it meant.
Long story short: Silverman has slightly misstated this statistic. In fact, just 12 percent of Arizonans gave the state the highest possible mark on this measure; asked to grade the state from 1 to 5, 12 percent gave the state a grade of 5 for caring about each other. Of course, Silverman has no earthly idea how citizens of other states would have responded to that questionand the sponsors of that survey actually said that Arizonans are surprisingly attached to their communities, based on the set of questions about attachment from which Silverman cherry-picked the question with the lowest response. (To read their report, click here.) The Gallup Arizona Poll measures the emotional attachment people feel for place and found that 36 percent of all Arizona citizens feel passionate about and loyal to their communities, the sponsors said. The criteria [are] rigorous and Arizonas percentage is among the highest of all geographic areas studied to date using this index.
No pure comparisons can be offered; previously, these questions about attachment have been used in surveys of 23 urban areas around the country. The sponsors are thus comparing a survey of a whole state to previous surveys of 23 citiesbut they note that Arizonans expressed the highest degree of attachment to community that the survey had ever recorded.
Out of that, Silverman cherry-picked one response; slightly misstated it; and failed to make any attempt to compare it to responses from other states. On this basis, she declared that her state is ripe for a copy-cat killing.
Why would the Washington Post print this garbage? What does such a judgment say about the IQ of our major elites? You can decide that for yourselves, but lets note this in closing:
Silverman seems to talk throughout the piece about her own depression, and about the misery and depression of others around her. If Silverman herself really is depressed, thats an unfortunate thing, of course. But she churns a vile hatred against her state, slandering all others within it. We thought it might be worth mentioning several people in Arizona who seem to defy her portrait.
Gabrielle Giffords seems to have been a giant of outreachor caring concern for her fellow citizens. (We hope she will be again.) Just this morning, we learn that Judge John Roll died in that Safeway parking lot while saving a younger persons life (click here). And then too, there was Christin Gilmer, speaking with Anderson Cooper last Tuesday. Just a guess: Gilmer probably knows the difference between Tucson and University High Schoolsand she seems to have a vastly different idea of what Tucson is actually like.
When Gilmer heard that the crackpot Westboro Baptist Church might come to Arizona to slime the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, she helped organize a response. Watching her speak with Cooper, we were deeply impressed by her attitude, even before we read Silvermans ugly, crabbed remarks in the Post.
Gilmer seems to know a different Arizona. But then, she herself isnt filled with loathing, condescension or hate:
I believe that Tucson is one of the strongest communities in the world, Gilmer told Cooper a bit later. And I think that that love is kind of going to overcome any threats or any violence that will occur. I don't think Tucson will let something like that happen. And I truly hope not.
Does Christin Gilmer sit on the porch? Does she own a car? Does she use the A/C? Well guess she has worthwhile things on her mind whether she does or doesnt.
Gilmer knows a different Arizona than the one portrayed in the Post. If she were the face of progressive Tucson, progressive Tucson would be rather hard to dislike. One last note: Gilmer and her associates won. The profoundly fallen Westboro people decided not to come to the state.
I believe that Tucson is one of the strongest communities in the world, Gilmer said, last Tuesday night. Five days later, the Post published Silvermans consummate nonsensea piece that was driven by factual bungles, profound self-involvement and ludicrous logic. A piece which made a repulsive claimbecause its citizens dont sit on the porch, Arizona (whoever that is) is ripe for a copycat killing.
What does it means when journalistic elites publish such uglinesssuch consummate nonsense? Question: If our press elites really reason this way, will this nation survive?