The Godwin Limit

Hunting on the edge of reason, good taste and manners

Partisan mis-quotes

Here’s a good one …..
from the comments in John Quiggin’s blog
“The Victorian Ombudsman – – has just presented his report on the ‘Foodbowl Modernisation Project and related matters’. Inter an excellent alia, chapter 3 presents a succinct account of the false claims that are often made about the potential for water savings through investment in irrigation infrastructure.” and so on.

In fact a reading of the Vic ombudsmans report suggests that his (the ombudsman – Mr Brouwer’s) concerns are with project governance and to a lesser extent, the accounting processes for water losses (it did not , in my reading, refer to these as false, just suspect), rather than commenting on the potential savings and the broader economic value.
To quote, selectively:
“NVIRP has achieved its progressive water savings targets to date and
made satisfactory progress in modernising the irrigation infrastructure.
However, some capital installations are behind, due to the recent floods,
and some quality issues exist in relation to capital installations and

So, the commmenter is “falsely” boosting his cred by suggesting a report says something it does not.

Not news? People lie? yes but watch how snippy they get when called on it.


Disappearing up its own fundamental …

The passing of significant climate change legislation in a minor South Pacific country is probably a “Reason to be Cheerful” as Ian Dury might write if he ever chooses to release (part 4). I see that John Quiggin thinks its a better result than the Rudd ETS, rejected by the Greens (effectively). At the time it seemed more like an ideology win within the Greens (purists vs pragmatists ).

The problem of the “better result” is that it cost so much in political capital (Rudd, Turnbull, soon Gillard) and has allowed a greatly debased climate change debate to rage. This cost, it seems to me, is the triumph of “belief” based policy over more considered & rational policy. This ground is not easily recovered. because there are no forums, no journals or newspapers capable of rational analysis.

An example of this cost is the Drum, which continues to founder on the rocks of Canberra irrelevance, despite the light cast by Jay Rosen (at regular intervals). The coinage of political debate is so debased that the ABC’s efforts to chase the will-o-the-wisp of “balanced political debate’ that The Drum now features its insiders, journalist with opinions, and selected think tankers, as the breadth of the political landscape. And it’s wallpaper – so easy to clean if the pollie-whingers ever impinge. There are so many agendas pushed in its shows that its difficult to get a fact, factoid or piece of evidence across.

To quote Jay Rosen quoting former US Senator Daniel Moynihan “You’re entitled to your own opinion, you’re not entitled to your own facts”.

Visualising data

An interesting link (via Andrew Gelman) I know from the capitalisations that it’s Google – Vis, but why am I *so* tempted by Goog – levis?
As children, we Antipodeans called hens eggs “googs”, so it provides very strong image. Ah, the power of visualisation!

Anonymity and Speaking Freely

Google+ vs facebook. Anonymity vs responsibility.
“Freely” in no way implies “with courtesy”.
As an example, the Australian blog Club Troppo (which counts as reasoned and thoughtful in its posts) has a thread that has generated a conversation that is clearly off the rails. Anonymous commenters the culprits here. A number of named commenters and the OP write reasonably and with some courtesy.

It deals with a former Guantanamo prisoner (David Hicks), who was released some years ago after admitting to various crimes and agreeing not to profit from this. His case has re-surfaced in the MSM because of a documentary on the Australian ABC and his publication of a book (Guantanamo: My Journey) .

Within 7 posts, the commenters have suggested Hicks:

  • is a traitor and should be executed (presumably extra-legally as this is not part of Australian Law)
  • is a sexual inadequate, an advocate of rape and wanton shooting
  • should have been killed by his captors
  • placed himself outside the “social contract” (Rousseau or La guillotine?) and, by implication, is an outlaw (in the strict sense)

And that, it seems to me, is the Godwin Limit. Despite reasonable intervention from the OP, by post 40 the call is for assassination.
Dogwhistles were clear from the start, and attracted the tribe:

  • the majority of Australians … (and various “he’s unAustralian and so not entitled to legal due process”)
  • like a lot of other people …
  • Rule .303 covers this case … (a movie reference to a killing by a soldier during the Boer War)

No doubt many other examples can be found, and parallels drawn. But the impoverishment of the political discussion is irreversible.

Incivility, slogans and the mob

“Dogwhistle” slogans are the stuff of threads – that is, formulated slogans that seem harmless or (more often) meaningless, but nevertheless have a specific meaning to particular communities.

The dogwhistle referred to is the ultrasonic (or at least beyoud human hearing) whistle that was meant to be audible to dogs but not humans. No mention of cats, ‘possums, birds or assorted domestic rodents.
In that this is a reassuring scent marker (to extend the canine analogy) for your clan, tribe or pack, it is probably harmless. More usually, though, it serves as a rallying point for a mob attack on a heretical view. The aim is to drown out dissening views (the political version of a DDOS attack). And, too often, it succeeds.

Open discussion requres civility and a sense of perspective, which is rare in blog threads. Humour helps, but abuse is not humour. A willingness to accept alternate perspectives and to change ones own mind is needful.

The Godwin Limit

Godwin’s Law identifies the point that a thread descends into mindless abuse, often characterised by reference to the Third Reich.

The “Godwin Limit” is the event horizon for Godwin’s Law – the comment at which a thread is in dire risk of invoking the Law. Interesting cases are requested.