Posted by: clholoman | August 26, 2011

There are words and then there are words (and then there’s speech).

Three recent items, of varying significance, on the importance of context, either of the words or the speaker:

Someone, somewhere along the line, made a decision that makes King look like something he was not: an arrogant jerk. “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”  … This is the equivalent of a Hollywood publicist pulling four words out of context from a newspaper review to make a bad film seem good. Except in this case, it’s the reverse: It takes the good out of context and makes it bad.  King’s full quote:

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Interesting that a few of the commenters think this is no big deal. [On a side note, is this the sort of thing I should be tweeting? I am enjoying being a tweeter follower, but haven’t felt the need to tweet anything myself (except to the ding dongs at Verizon customer service.).

  • As you know, I am a fan of Dan Drezner–there’s a link to his blog on the right. A couple of days ago, he linked back to a post he made when he started tweeting. It’s mostly in jest, but with lots of truth included. All words, even from the same person, are not created equal. This is also perhaps helpful as we teach our students the hierarchy of scholarly sources.

So, just to clarify for those academics in the audience, here is the official Hierarchy of Drezner Publications — from highest degree of effort to lowest degree of effort:

  1. University press books
  2. Peer-refereed journal articles
  3. University press book chapters
  4. Editor-refereed essays
  5. Non-university press books and chapters
  6. Op-ed essays
  7. Commentaries for Marketplace
  8. Blog posts about Salma Hayek and zombies
  9. Other, lesser blog posts about trade, finance, etc.
  10. Twitter tweets/Facebook status updates
  11. Comments on friend’s Facebook pages
  12. Mutterings under my breath while waiting for airport security
  13. Things I shout at the television during Red Sox-Yankee games
  14. Things I say at the bar on the third day of the American Political Science Association annual meeting after I have three vodka tonics in me.
  15. Things I say at the bar on the third day of the American Political Science Association annual meeting when completely sober.
  • Finally, and most weighty is this from yesterday’s on-line NYT content.  Linda Greenhouse is on the Mt. Rushmore of Supreme Court reporters. She’s now retired from regular reporting, but still has a lot to say (which is a way of warning you that this is a bit long.) The narrower point is about the rights of corporations or other entities that are “individuals” only by a fiction of law. Do they deserve the same rights as real individuals?  Of course, this is most clearly an issue currently with the ruling that campaign contributions are speech. It’s a tricky balance, and Greenhouse recognizes that while also noting (the main point of the post) how the Court has shifted on this. But the broader point, while nothing new, is placed in an interesting context. What are the limits on “absolute” rights?  We’re all familiar with lots of examples (falsely yelling fire in a crowded theatre, most famously, I guess, although that phrase comes from a decision widely seen as wrong, and mostly overturned, today. But that’s a problem with the actual case, not the analogy.)  Greenhouse is concerned that the current Court is going too far in favoring the absolutism of free speech when it comes to corporations, endangering not just what many would think are reasonable attempts to “level the playing field” terms of money as political speech, but perhaps more disturbingly, limits on commercial speech that may be necessary for effective regulation and consumer protection.
“The Hibbs decision can be seen as an exercise in setting reasonable limits: this far, but not over a cliff. As to whether today’s judicial conservative orthodoxy recognizes any limits, we’ll soon see.”
All in all, a good read. i learned something.
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