Cynical Scare Quotes

Monday, June 06, 2011

A little over a week ago, I commented on an article in the New York Times that made the point that incandescent bulbs had not been banned under environmentalist legislation signed by President Bush. Specifically, after portraying various people who are stockpiling incandescent bulbs as worrying about nothing, the article stated:

"My electrician said they were being phased out," he said. "If he's wrong, I'm going to kill him."

As it happens, Mr. Henault's electrician is wrong.


The law does not ban the use or manufacture of all incandescent bulbs, nor does it mandate the use of compact fluorescent ones. It simply requires that companies make some of their incandescent bulbs work a bit better, meeting a series of rolling deadlines between 2012 and 2014.
My comment on this was, "I cannot help but wonder whether federal efficiency standards won't amount to a phase-out, anyway."

This morning, I learned -- and from the Grey Lady herself, no less -- that I was completely right to be suspicious:
[T]hat's fortunate, because one day very soon, traditional incandescent bulbs won't be available in stores anymore. They're about to be effectively outlawed.
And now, for the icing on the cake: In the very next paragraph, Andrew Rice has the gall to chide people via scare quotes who use the colloquialism, "light bulb ban!"
Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh have denounced the "light-bulb ban" -- actually, a new set of federal efficiency regulations that the traditional incandescent can't meet -- as a symbolic case of environmentalist overreaching...
Rice's reasoning seems to go something along these lines: "You see, the law didn't actually call this a ban, so it isn't. And if people in the same lowbrow category as Rush Limbaugh can't even be bothered to say, 'energy standards that don't actually outlaw incandescents, but will make it impossible to manufacture incandescents that meet its requirements,' every time instead of 'ban,' then you know to ignore anything else they might have to say."

First, this babbling about the light bulb ban not really being a ban is a dishonest appeal to the vanity of readers who can't be bothered to examine whether the government should be dictating how we manufacture lighting -- but who will take great pride in "knowing" the difference between a ban and an effective ban. (Actually, they don't, because there is no essential difference.) Second, it is an attempt to undermine the confidence of people who call a spade a spade, by sowing doubt. ("Huh! I heard there was a ban, but I guess I was wrong.")

It is one thing to point out that someone ginning up controversy doesn't really know what the hell he is talking about. It is quite another to take an identification of an essential issue in a debate (i.e., whether we can freely produce incandescent bulbs) as "evidence" that one's opponent has disqualified himself from the debate.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo.


Dismuke said...

My nickname for the New York Times is "The House That Walter Duranty Built" (a play on "The House That Edward R Murrow Built" that pre-Dan Rather disgrace CBS News used to refer to itself as.) As far as I am concerned, the paper has never stopped operating on that tradition. While one cannot deny that it does publish some quality content on its pages, as an institution, that paper is a thoroughly and contemptibly intellectually dishonest and pretentious rag.

Gus Van Horn said...

That is as polite a nickname as that paper deserves.

Jennifer Snow said...

It's "sowing" doubt, as "sowing" seeds. "Sewing" the doubt would mean stitching it to something, which I have been told doubt finds rather painful and would prefer to avoid.


Gus Van Horn said...

Oof! Thanks for the catch!

kelleyn said...

Here we have yet another example of leftist word games.

I think it's fair to apply a speculation I have about Christian creationists to leftists too: that in a technical sense they aren't prevaricating, because they don't understand what truth is--not just the truth, but truth as such--and therefore can't go against it because they can't even make reference to it. That would make them no less dishonest, of course; it would mean that their dishonesty goes deeper than the level of their individual statements. It would also explain why pointing out the truth to them doesn't work.

Gus Van Horn said...

As George Costanza would say, "It's not a lie if you believe it's true."

You indirectly raise a good point: You can cross the line from simple dishonesty to full-blown psychological problem if you make a habit of being dishonest.

Vigilis said...

Surprisingly enlightening. What will SC do?

Gus Van Horn said...

Get shot down in court:

"Even if it became law, it would probably be challenged in court.

And Randy Barnett, a constitutional law expert at Georgetown University, said the state would probably lose, in part because it wouldn't be able to keep people from buying incandescent light bulbs in South Carolina and using them in another state.