Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for February 12th, 2007

Where are the journalist reorientation therapies?

Posted by metaphorical on 12 February 2007

It’s hard to know how much to condemn an article in today’s NY Times—either a lot, or just quite a bit. What’s wrong with the article is hidden by its title, “Some Tormented by Homosexuality Look to a Controversial Therapy.” If it were only about the poor deluded souls taken in by $240-a-session therapists, that would be one thing. But the article doesn’t get around to saying what bullshit these therapies are until the 7th or 8th paragraph, and then spends all to many subsequent paragraphs taking them seriously.

To be sure, the 8th paragraph is a TKO all by itself, or should be.

“There’s not a debate in the profession on this issue,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and former chairman of the Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues of the American Psychiatric Association. “This is like creationism. You create the impression to the public as if there was a debate in the profession, which there is not.”

It’s too bad its in the mouth of someone identified as, in effect, an advocate for homosexuality. That’s a tactic of a writer unwilling to write anything about a controversy that might look as if it takes one side or another. That’s just the wrong way to go when one side is 100% ideology and 0% science; even if the other side has some ideology as well, it also has 100% of the science going for it. I call it a tactic because it’s obviously deliberately done: it’s not as if it would have been hard to get an unaffiliated expert to similarly lift sexual reorientation therapy from the ever-replenishing pile of contemporary fad therapies and place it on the same dustbin of discarded psychological ideas as phrenology, Skinnerism, and hysteria.

Why do we need another 34 paragraphs to dismiss these therapies as a blend of religious wishful thinking and unadulterated nonsense—not that the writer ends up dismissing it at all, more’s the pity. Speaking of pity, the Times admirably looks the people desperate to put their psyches, their future happiness, and a not inconsiderable chunk of their wallets, into the hands of charlatans:

Despite the skepticism about whether ex-gay programs can work, there is no denying the struggle of those involved. Among them are evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Roman Catholics and others often driven by deeply held religious beliefs that run counter to societal voices that encourage them to embrace being gay. It is unclear how many people participate in these programs, but a leading Christian organization in the movement, Exodus International, estimated in 2003 it had 11,000 in its affiliated ministries.

It’s a common tactic by the religious right to portray themselves as the oppressed minority, but it’s hard to remember the last time a Greenwich Village fundamentalist teenager was robbed, severely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. Why the Times would buy into the 180-degree spin of reality suggested by the phrase “societal voices that encourage them to embrace being gay” is a question only its editors can answer.

Then there’s the term “ex-gay,” which is itself interesting in a troubling way. It’s introduced earlier, in this way:

Nevertheless, these efforts, commonly called the “ex-gay” movement, have become increasingly visible across the country, where the battle over gay marriage and sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church have brought the divisive issue of homosexuality to the forefront in recent years.

The term presumes the conclusion that the therapists want and that science refutes: That a gay person can be made un-gay. Here, its usage is somewhat unassailable: these efforts are sometimes called by this name. Thus introduced, however, the writer is then enabled by some weird and difficult to articulate standard of contemporary mainstream journalism to freely use it to describe the therapies as if they merited the name. War is peace; freedom is slavery, and perpetual motion machines will solve the problem of global warming.

Naturally, the sexual reorienters have some pseudoscience to counter the overwhelming scientific evidence opposing them.

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Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, Times-watch | 3 Comments »

Anna Nicole Smith, by the numbers

Posted by metaphorical on 12 February 2007


was one of the headlines on the front page of the Daily News this morning. Even at 5:00 pm, it was still the #3 story on the paper’s website.

It’s impossible to comment on this, and almost impossible not to. Even when descrying the paparazzi, one is supporting it in some twisted, enabling way. (I guess this is a corollary of the “no news is bad news” rule and its obverse, “any news, however bad, is good news.”)

The Anna Nicole Smith story isn’t just a car wreck, it’s one of those I-80 150-car pile-ups in the middle of Iowa in the middle of winter where 2 tractor-trailers collide, suddenly blocking all 3 westbound lanes. Dozens of dozens of cars behind them start skidding and can’t stop.

In this case it’s 10 different kinds of pills, a 5-month-old baby who may or may not have come to full 9-month term, 2 breast surgeries since the child’s birth to maintain the 39-year-old’s 42-26-38 figure, and at least 3 different men contesting both paternity and 1 sprawling waterfront estate, if I understand the story correctly. Just wow. Jacqueline Suzanne, the inevitable conclusion of your life’s work is calling you.

Posted in journalism, the arts | 3 Comments »

Tuberculosis, mad cow disease, and a porcine plague

Posted by metaphorical on 12 February 2007

No news is bad news, and there’s lots of bad news regarding the health of animals raised to be food for humans. There’s also plenty of bad news in the no-news sense—the mainstream U.S. media resolutely refuses to write about this stuff.

I wrote the other day that overreporting bad news gives people a skewed impression of reality and risk. In this case, underreporting does the same thing, leaving people free to believe that the food supply is healthy and healthful, and that those who worry about this sort of thing are fringe cranks, the sort of people you see wearing hospital masks whenever they walk down a city street.

But first, the good news. “Kansas State study finds new vaccine effective against deadly viral disease affecting swine,” according to a press release from the school.

(PressZoom) – MANHATTAN, KAN. — Researchers from Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine have completed a study showing that a newly-developed vaccine is effective against a deadly viral disease that is affecting swine herds in Kansas.

The disease, most widely known as porcine circovirus associated disease, was first recognized in Kansas swine herds in November 2005. The disease complex is an immunosuppressive condition associated with porcine circovirus type 2 or PCV2.

That’s particularly good news, because it seems the same plague has made its way into Iowa pig herds, via Canada.

Circovirus takes hold in Iowa 

By Kristin Danley-Greiner, Farm News staff

DES MOINES — Pork producers learned at the Iowa Pork Congress last week that a common swine disease plaguing Canada since the 1990s has reared its head in Iowa herds.

That’s not the only animal disease coming down from Canada, there’s our old friend, mad cow disease, as the Canada Press reports.

EDMONTON (CP) – Canada has confirmed its ninth case of mad cow disease since 2003, in an Alberta bull.  

… Eight previous cases of BSE have been detected in Canadian cattle since May 2003, when the discovery of an Alberta cow with the disease caused the United States to slam the border shut to cattle exports entirely.

The border reopened for Canadian beef from younger cattle within months of the original ban. But live cattle have only been allowed to move across the border since July 2005.

Five new cases were discovered in Canada in 2006, including one in a cow born five years after safeguards were adopted to prevent the spread of the disease.

And (to use the same segue twice in a row) that’s not all that’s plaguing cattle these days, according to this Associated Press story:

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Posted in animal-rights, food, journalism, politics | 1 Comment »