Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Responses to Anne Trubek's Rebuttal

I wanted to post this in the comments, but it was too long.  Sorry for filling up your feed this week.

It was really nice for Anne to comment on this blog.  She is a well-known writer and does pieces for the New York Times.  For her to spend the time and energy responding to my comments is very nice of her.  That said, I am unconvinced by her responses.

Here is why: 

First, the idea that I am besmirching her character is something that I have a hard time understanding.  If she were a witness in a case of mine and I was tasked with cross examining her, I would absolutely bring out the points in which she appears biased.  Pointing out that she runs a magazine and writes and sells books about the end of cursive shows that she has a bias and bias is one of the classic ways humans determine credibility and the merits of a statement.  If your Dad says "Your roof needs replacing" that's one thing.  If a roofer trying to sell his services tells you that exact same thing, its something entirely different.  So too with pointing out where and how she makes her money.  My point is simple and not attack on her character--she is like the roofer trying to sell you a roof.  If I would have called her dumb or mean or snobby, those things constitute an attack on her character, but pointing out that she has a bias is a fair point of criticism in basically any form of argumentation.  Also note that I started my response by telling people of my bias--I like pens, handwriting, and cursive.   

As for the notion that she should seek publicity--I 100% agree with this.  She is selling her writing.  The more people that read her writing and the more people that know she is selling that writing the more likely she is to sell said writing.  But just like the Hollywood celebrity that makes money by being famous but also complains about the paparazzi, if you are staking out a position in the most respected newspaper in the world, you should be fine with criticism.  If not, then don't seek the publicity.  Being vocal in an opinion column means, by the very nature of the position, that people will be vocal with their opinions right back at you.  That is what I did.  

The buzzwords and jargon issue seems pretty clear to me--the "cognitive automaticity" argument was something that I laid out, even used the same descriptor--"term" as I referenced in the lead-in paragraph.  Sorry that she missed that. 

The derision argument is one based on a notable omission--California was conspicuous in its absence.  Maybe she genuinely didn't know, but it seems hard to miss, especially if she is doing research on this topic.  All her examples fit this stereotypical view that some (maybe not her) have of folks in the South.  It could all be a genuine mistake on her part, but I think it is fair for me to draw out the implication that it is something more. 

Its also important to note that she ties handwriting to nationalism, but again does not own up to the fact that she left out important details regarding the comments made in the Louisiana legislature.  She did the old movie trailer trick--she took the parts of the quote ("America!") that supported her argument and left out the ones that didn't ("Viva La France!").  Its hardly nationalism when an American legislator is saying "Viva La France".  Freedom Fries this ain't.

As far as her son's difficulties, there is no way to verify this.  It seems incredible to me, especially when the year it happen changed and now has blended into two years, but there is no way to confirm the claim and I'll assume its true.  But even if it is true, this doesn't prove the failings of cursive or the teaching of cursive or the correctness of Common Core abandoning cursive.  It proves, if true, that Anne's son was taught by a few terrible people.  And we all know this logic is baloney--Ted Bundy went to law school, but not every law student is a serial killer.

As for Common Core, I have no opinion on it.  I'd need to do some research before proffering an opinion and that opinion would not be germane to this blog, so...I am not going to waste time discussing something I do not know enough about to responsibly form an opinion capable of being defended in a logical and reasonable way. 

32 comments:

  1. How about just getting back to gear reviews. The reason why were all here or have been here since the beginning.

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    1. Will do. 247 review goes up Friday. This was bonus content...yay...bonus. Sorry I can be a stubborn bastard sometimes.

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    2. I'm actually a big fan of the bonus content. Gear reviews are great, but these asides provide a lot of info that'd be hard to come by otherwise.

      Might just be the academic in me.

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    3. Our gear doesn't exist in a vacuum, and the context matters. While there may not be a huge overlap between "pen people" and "gear people", it does exist, and this site does review some pens. I appreciate the fact that Tony gives us the extra context to this gear. It would be silly to expect a review of his Survive! knife, if it ever comes in, without knowing all about the problems acquiring it, or with the fanboy community that someone might encounter if they were to read the review and go looking for more information. Tony also does have a hard-earned reputation for being as transparent and objective as possible, and not giving in to what he calls "magical thinking". This, combined with years of gear reviewing experience, makes him able to acquire information that us normal gear folks wouldn't, and I'm happy to read that bonus content any time. I know a lot of people say this and they are trying to be a dick about it, but I am serious and trying to be non-snarky when I say that you don't have to read the bonus content if you don't like it.

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  2. So I read all your articles as well as Trudek's. I have to say, I think I agree with her on the major points: the use of cursive is beginning to die out in our society, and it's elimination from some school curricula does not spell intellectual disaster for our children. I also happen to be a trained historian specifically of nationalism, and can tell you for a fact that cursive writing is undeniably a component (albeit a small one) of American nationalism. This is true at the very least on the premise that script writing is an important part of written language and due to its use in our country's "sacred texts". I also have to admit that I am slightly disappointed in you for your comments about things that are "typical of intellectuals". I can say, for example that the tendency of a great many real intellectuals (not TV pundits) is not to deride the south, or any other place as backwards. Quite the opposite is true in my experience. I have always liked your site for its smart, intellectual-friendly tone, actually.

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    1. My experience in graduate school, my reading of non-fiction since then, and pieces like Ms. Trubek's have made me suspicious of the group think that seems to be exhibited in some intellectual circles. Among the major flaws I see right now is this link between being an intellectual and having political commitments and beliefs that magically align with the current two party politics in America. Looking back over the thousands of years of critical thinking leads me to believe that the reasonable position is one that doesn't accord with either the Democrats or Republicans but I see a lot of "critical" thinking that is in lock step with the parties' agendas. If we were in an era of intellectuals like Bertrand Russell or Sartre, that would be one thing, but the public intellectuals we have right now are a pretty sorry lot, with a few very notable exceptions.

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    2. Thanks for the reply! I think you are correct about scholarly consensus being an issue, but would add that the real issues at stake are often not very easy to see. In my academic neck of the woods, for example, I have to be very careful not to be too critical of certain foreign governments in front of the wrong people. On the flip side, I think that this specific issue concerning deriding the South has not been a problem in history, anthropology, or sociology for many years. We're talking about the people who coined the term "global south" to specifically critique such assumptions. There are for sure some worthwhile public intellectuals out there independent of the two party system, albeit small in number. Terry Eagleton comes to mind offhand, as an example from much further left than the norm.

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  3. It's Vive (with an e) La France, as is correct, and as is quoted in the Times Picayune. Cheers from New Orleans, where we are European in our culture, our laws, and our handwriting.

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  4. It's Vive (with an e) La France, as is correct, and as is quoted in the Times Picayune. Cheers from New Orleans, where we are European in our culture, our laws, and our handwriting.

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  5. I'm sorry, but your roofer analogy simply doesn't follow. Your roofer stands to make money from pushing one side of an argument, an author staking out a position on a controversial topic would make money as easily from taking either side of the argument.

    You've provided no evidence whatsoever that she has any financial interest in the argument going her way, which is the inarguable insinuation of the beginning of this article.

    I like you, your reviews and your prose in general, but I think you're doing something that I'm OFTEN guilty of myself and reacting to a perceived attack on something you have a real passion for rather than addressing the argument at hand.

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    1. I don't think it requires evidence to conclude that a writer writing and selling a book on handwriting stands to benefit from the publicity of a NYT piece. She doesn't benefit from having a good argument, just having the publicity. Similarly the roofer does not benefit from having a good argument about your roof, but from having you believe him or her.

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    2. I do defend my preferences and I was doing so here, but her argument and biases were so poor and evident it was fun to rebut them apart from any passion I have. Some people like me just like to argue and debate.

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    3. The roofer only benefits from telling you that you need a new roof. The author could benefit just as much arguing that cursive should be included in common core. That's why stating her conclusion is dependent on financial gain is so problematic.

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    4. This is following the analogy too far but the reality is the roofer doesn't benefit from telling you but from you being aware of his service and BELIEVING him. Trubek similarly benefits from us being aware of her work. If you buy her argument all the better as that will make you more likely to buy the book.

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    5. IM: I'm not sure I understand your reasoning here. If I take position X in a published work, how would taking a position -X in public benefit the sales of that published work? I guess it might generate some sort of publicity, but would it be that beneficial? If Bill O'Reilly wrote an op-ed about how he likes the ACA and welfare and more taxes, would that help him sell his books that state the opposite?

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    6. We would be aware of her work if we read the article regardless of what position she took in regards to cursive in schools. There is no additional financial benefit for her to argue for or against.

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  6. This whole argument rebuttal etc. is not why I read your blog, nor I suspect why you write. Next time just skip the polemic/rhetoric and review something. I bet you would enjoy that more and your readers would too. That would be a better use of this readers time. I did read the whole thing. I suspect you were just talking past each other.

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    1. I have received the message loud and clear. That said, the review of the 247 will come out tomorrow, as scheduled. This took away from none of the reviews and was really and truly just extra.

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    2. I enjoyed reading it, Tony. You write reviews about pens, and this is pen philosophy; the same as knives and knife philosophy. Similar to the fallacious argument of, "why are we talking about Y, when X is so important," one can, indeed, talk, write, or think about both without affecting the other.

      Thanks for your blog, Tony. I know you do this for no financial gain, and I've actually gotten into, and have found real enjoyment from, this hobby because of reading this blog.

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    3. "Thanks for your blog, Tony. I know you do this for no financial gain, and I've actually gotten into, and have found real enjoyment from, this hobby because of reading this blog."

      I can say that this statement is very literally true for me as well, and I am sure that we're not the only ones. Read Dragonfly 2 review, purchased knife, hooked.

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  7. God what a waste of time. I'm about done visiting this nonsense blog that any more seems only to exist in a state of anger and arguments.

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    1. I posted twenty three reviews so far in 2016. I have put out 9 plus hours of podcasts. I have posted quite a few Youtube videos. All of it was free. And last I checked this comment "Another Spyderco Home Run" and this comment "Iteration at its best--a perfect blade" aren't sentiments of anger and both came from reviews I did this year. In fact, there were only 4 reviews I wrote this year with a score less than 16.

      I won't stray this far afield again, but I do feel like I make a very good effort to put out good, abundant, free high quality content that is a good balance between critical assessment and enthusiast press praise.

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  8. I am not sure why some folks are complaining. If you don't enjoy these kinds of articles, simply don't read them. It's not as if Tony has said that he won't be putting out any more gear related articles, nor has his outputs of gear articles taken a significant toll. At the end of the day it's his blog (albeit us readers are a good part of it) and I don't see a huge problem if he chooses to put non gear articles here and there.

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  9. Tony,
    I think your argument about the kid held in for recess would have been better served by pointing out that Ms. Trubek's personal example is an anecdotal fallacy rather than quibbling about whether or not it happened as described. It undermines the force of that argument without the 'he said, she said'.

    I enjoyed this aside to the usual content, thanks.
    Josh

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  10. As the managing editor of a widely read special interest blog, I can tell you that these mediums exist every bit as much to please their publishes as they do to please their readers. Tony argues for a living and my guess is that he found the opportunity to stretch his rhetorical legs on a topic outside the blog's usual remit refreshing and satisfying.

    The nice thing about that for the reader is that you're free to not read off topic posts like these if they don't interest you. Clearly Tony's output appears to have let you down here and earlier due to its alleged "state of anger and arguments." I'll presume to speak for him in saying it's too bad his free content has let you down with such a jarring thud...and don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.

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  11. This exchange is an interesting aside that brings to mind that apart from gear we actually need to interact with other human beings.

    The argument begin put forth by Trubek is not necessarily new or novel and I am a bit puzzled by the furor. I take her argument as a description of our current status, not a prescription. We live in a post-literate society (See Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death). As our technology changes we also change how we interact with the world around us (Marshal McLuhan- The Gutenberg Galaxy). In a push for simplification and what is easier it is not surprising to see cursive bow out in a technological darwinism. Should it? No, it is still of benefit. However, just as people want easier to read fonts such as Helvetica and Arial I think cursive will eventually fade away.

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  12. I second the bonus content. As fun as reviews are, what separates this blog from the rest is the philosophy and transparency, 'trolling for hate' series, the 'bonus content', as Tony as called it earlier in the comments. Keep up the reviews (I'm sure you are), and bonus will stay bonus and fun. Thanks for this blog, Tony.

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  13. Oh and I find your lawyer analysis on the occasional legal gear controversy to be invaluable. Feel free to append this to previous comment, thanks again Tony. Quite honestly, I feel like people want nothing but reviews, go on unbox therapy, plenty of reviewers.

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  14. Kind of strange that this person went out of their way to argue with you on your own blog. I think it's totally acceptable to retain practices simply out of tradition. It seems like, nowadays, if something isn't entirely necessary it suddenly becomes undesirable. There's a lot of throwing the baby out with the bathwater going on.

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  15. Tony, This entire exchange is fascinating. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about penmanship, patriotism, state legislative efforts regarding penmanship, et cetera. I just spent the last hour reading about the "round robin" method of signing documents! I think you absolutely SHOULD continue to post writing that is not strictly gear related. I love my Benchmade knives and carefully selecting gear for my next adventure, but I also know there is a world out there we would all do well to learn more about. Well done.

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  16. "The idea that I am besmirching her character is something that I have a hard time understanding."
    What? Your whole piece comes off to me as aggressive. I think a good part of the reason why she responded to you was because she felt she had to defend herself. Sure, there's nothing wrong with pointing out a bias, but your tone definitely felt standoffish to me.
    Of course you will disagree with that since you note that, "If I would have called her dumb or mean or snobby, those things constitute an attack on her character". But I seem to remember an entire paragraph where you made sweeping generalizations about intellectuals discrediting people because of where they live, and you were obviously counting her among those parties. In my mind, that is precisely calling her snobby.
    There is also a part of your argument where you mention citation indexes in the humanities, and how they are a new aspect to the humanities and you cede that while her works are not oft-cited, that may not be truly telling. And then you turn around and basically say, "well I just disproved my own point but she's still wrong," with the phrase, "the extremes can be indicative" of her being an unimportant scholar. It's like you wrote the whole paragraph and ran your own logic in a circle and then decided to twist it against her anyway.
    None of this is ad-hominiem per se, but resorting to profanity to discredit somebody's logic is usually a bad move because it so often smacks of desperation, frustration, and malice. I don't know why someone so familiar with constructing an argument would ever do that.
    But also worth noting is that it is very true that "She is selling her writing." I laughed out loud at the number of times she reiterates how the reader would understand her argument more fully if you'd buy her book. You'd see more footnotes in her book. Buy her book already!
    I'm not posting to discredit anybody and I don't have a problem seeing this on the blog, since you did justify why you put it here. You've got every right to put your passion out here for your readers to see, because that's what the blog is for.
    I will however say that as a twenty-something grad student, I can write cursive, badly, and many of my contemporaries cannot. Some did not learn cursive in school at all. I do not think it is a crucial or even particularly useful skill, though certainly other people do. However I don't quite understand why there is such a vehement debate over a disused skill that took maybe two weeks in middle school to teach. I think there are better things to be teaching kids, especially because many schools downsize and end up cutting music, art, and other "liberal arts" classes that represent entire fields or occupations and not just a single skill. Cursive isn't relevant anymore, but it's not a hard skill to teach, or teach your kids who don't learn in school, or teach yourself as an adult who decides to use their disposable income on archaic writing instruments because they "feel nice". Blacksmithing is just as important to American history as writing is, but I don't see people crying about the fact that you never see anvils in schools anymore. I'd have to agree with Sam McClanahan above, who says that you are talking past each other, because there really must be more to this impassioned argument than what we're seeing.

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    1. The argument was aggressive, but there is a difference between saying someone was dismissive of entire regions of a country and calling her snobby.

      The thing that I found surprising was just how thin skinned people can be, especially people that hold themselves out as public intellectuals. There as been a long tradition of public debate, even among partisans, and I can't imagine Pascal taking an argument directed only an opponent's argument (and not the opponent him or herself) being so easily offended.

      Its clear that this was too aggressive for the majority of people, but my background in law and philosophy has made hard, tough arguing more normal for me than other people.

      As for the swearing, I am just not so moved by notions that swearing shows weakness in an argument. What has been considered profanity has changed over time and to claim that profanity equals a weak argument is a silly position to have. I, for one, enjoy using profanity and I don't think it takes away from an argument. It may not be for everyone, but profanity alone does not weaken an argument.

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