Monday, April 03, 2006

rishawn biddle's greatest hits

i got in a bit of a dust-up this weekend in the comments at masson's blog. doug wrote a post about the patronizing tone of much of the state's daylight saving time coverage. doug wrote, "It's as if the writers believe that the reason Hoosiers remained on Hoosier Standard Time (HST) for more than a generation because we considered ourselves too stupid to work a clock."

i agreed and made a snarky (and slightly exaggerated) comment about rishawn biddle, who i have long considered to be the indiana blogosphere's king of condescension. rishawn is an editorial writer for the indy star and is also the most frequent poster on the star's expresso group blog.

i knew rishawn reads masson's blog, and knew he might come across the comment and take umbrage, but i didn't think he would find it within a half hour (and at 9:30 on a saturday night, though i can't really criticize him for that without getting into a pot-kettle situation). he pointed out my exaggeration and accused me of not being familiar with his work because i never comment on expresso.

the star's group blogs are an unruly, inconsistent place (though expresso is the best of them). some posters are reasonable. others are... well, wingnuts. and the commenters... oh lord. i can only handle the inanity for short periods of time, and simply stop by a couple times a week to see what's going on. i rarely comment, but that doesn't mean i'm not familiar with rishawn's work.

so i followed up and took him to task for one of the recurring themes of his expresso blogging: to rishawn, there are two types of hoosiers: reformers and obstructionists. reformers = good, obstructionists = bad. the reformers are bold people like mitch daniels (and occasionally bart peterson) who propose grandiose political plans. the obstructionists are ignorant rubes who've never been out of been out of their hometowns and are just too small-minded and stuck in their ways to realize how awesome proposals like DST, the toll road lease, and indy works really are. people who oppose these plans are obstructionists, and if they would only open their minds, the scales would fall from their eyes and they would be anointed in the church of daniels.

(an important corollary to this is that when obstructionists finally get up and leave indiana for awhile, they invariably return to indiana, at which point they have "matured" into reformers. kind of like invasion of the body snatchers.)

rishawn is actually capable of being quite reasonable and articulate and i do tend to agree with him on a number of issues. but sometimes, like when discussing the issues i've mentioned above, he convinces himself that he is the vanguard of reason. on these issues, there is no gray area.

of course, there's a grain of truth to his mindset: this is a largely rural state, and there are plenty of sheltered rednecks around. we all know this to be true. but rishawn makes a logical leap and attributes these characteristics to anyone who disagrees with his pet plans, which in some cases is a majority of the state's population. rishawn isn't just creating a straw man: he's creating an entire state full of 'em.

i expected rishawn to once again try to spin this as not being anti-hoosier, but instead he surprised me by seemingly denying it altogether, accusing me of being "unwilling to make a compelling argument" and then bizarrely trying to turn my comment around as evidence that i am the one who is unable "to consider an opposing viewpoint".

i took that as a personal challenge to document, in detail, rishawn's "ignorant closed-minded hoosiers" argument, and let his words speak for themselves. so i've gone through the expresso archives for the past three months and collected a bunch of rishawn biddle quotes here. this post is long as hell but i think it shows a pattern of patronizing behavior and a sharp sense of superiority over his readers (and the people he's supposed to cover). perhaps you'll disagree.

rishawn has expressed these views at least as far back as january, and all along has been criticized as being anti-hoosier:

My apologies John if I seem like I'm being arrogant and treating Hoosiers as hayseeds. I don't think I'm being all that arrogant about this, nor am I treating Hoosiers as hayseeds. If anything, I'm actually demanding that native Hoosiers who simply oppose any change in the status quo actually do some thinking things through instead of asking questions and making counter-arguments that aren't well thought out nor consider the possibility that the concept may actually be a good idea in this circumstance.

As far as I'm concerned, it's frustrating that in an age when information is at one's fingertips, in which one can actually educate oneself thoroughly, that there are folks who support maintaining the status quo without thinking things over or actually thinking beyond the current paradigm. Hoosiers are smarter than they are willing to give themselves credit for being and better-able to change with the times than they are willing to admit. When someone who arrives into this state confronts a culture in which the argument of the day isn't how to improve government, but over the time of day, it's bound to make one shake their head and wonder if they know what century this is.

I admit I must also show more care for the tender mercies of others. That's why I don't resort to calling anyone stupid; there is ignorance and obstinancy and blinding self-interest, but never stupidity. That's why I also won't allow such comments to be made by other commenters on this site. And I will do better to not make people feel that I'm calling them hayseeds.

he's right that there's technically a difference between ignorance and stupidity, but the difference is subtle. one is an educational problem; the other is biological. but either accusation, when used the way rishawn uses them, is the effectively the same: they're both ad hominem attacks. rishawn declares that those who disagree are naive hillbillies, and therefore he can dismiss anything they say.

constructing the army of straw men: apparently lots of hoosiers believe "that any idea that doesn't originate from Indiana is a bad idea". who the hell are these people?

What I am arguing is that Indiana and its citizens can do better What I criticize is a mindset that dares to not think differently, to not rethink conventions and conceits, to perhaps look beyond a corner of their town or city. There are plenty of great ideas and great innovations going on. Not all of them are within Indiana's borders.

This doesn't mean there isn't innovative thinking within the state; there is that as well. But the mindset that any idea that doesn't originate from Indiana is a bad idea is as ridiculous as a Californian thinking that all ideas from Indiana are dumb. Ideas should be judged on their merits and that's that.

this post from feb 19 is really the cornerstone, where rishawn first fleshes out his view that opponents of [fill in the blank] are xenophobic, isolated, small-town hicks who are just too damn ignorant to understand that [fill in the blank] would be good for them:

But in Indiana, self-interest, philosophy and bedeviling details aren't as much drivers in the opposition. As seen in another reform debate, the efficiency efforts at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the justifications come down to two facts of life in Indiana: The state's stubborn tribalist culture and an unwillingness to rethink traditional and not always well-informed notions.

The former often lies in the particularly Hoosier unthinking political partisanship: I'm a [insert party affiliation] because my daddy and granddaddy were that affiliation too; those who aren't of that affiliation are my enemy and thus, I must destroy them. The Toll Road deal would be more palatable to Democrats and their ilk if Mitch Daniels was a Democrat; the same goes in the case of Marion County Republicans when it comes to the Indy Works plan of Bart Peterson, a Democrat.

The tribalism also comes into play when it comes to the players on both sides of the debate. The reformers are often the newcomers to Indiana, natives who have spent years elsewhere and came back with new ideas and ways of thinking through issues and natives who may have never left the state, but are curious and willing to challenge their own notions. The latter are often neither one of those groups; they never left both physically or intellectually.

This plays a role in the ability to rethink an established notion. After all, these are the people who never left Indiana save for a trip to Chicago, have never read the Economist or Forbes or even the Web edition of the Times of London. Chances are they didn't even think of attending a college other than Indiana, Ball State or Purdue. So they tend to be endowed with the kind of thinking indicative of never having been anywhere else or of open minds: All ideas from other parts of the world are horrible, not be trusted, and thus, should be ignored. Even those ideas arising from within the state, as far as they are concerned, deserves abolute scorn because they tinker or revamp the status quo.

later on in the comments, rishawn admits that there are "legitimate arguments" against the toll road deal, but still concludes that people only oppose the plan because they are opposed to progress:

Instead of concluding some nefarious plot, Carol dear, you should consider the other side. This is something I did when I examined the opponents of the Toll Road deal -- and believe me, I thought long and hard about the opposing arguments. It's just that after learning so much about this state, the arguments against the deal reflect so many previous talking points against other reform efforts -- be it those of Paul McNutt or those against Unigov decades ago -- that I can only conclude the argument is more about maintaining the status quo than anything else. This isn't to say there aren't legitimate arguments against the plan, but that few have advanced them with any vigor. Apparently it's so much easier for many, if not most, Toll Road deal opponents to malign, obfuscate and use faulty logic instead of simply making those legitimate points.

I definitely understand the universal nature of people to resist change. And this is observed in many places. Nor am I criticizing the natural reluctance. What I do critique is the unwillingness of a large portion of the state -- and once again, to address John, I'm not criticizing all Hoosiers and I'd wish you'd actually try to comprehend that; it would do you good -- to dare imagining anything other than the status quo, to stop being limited and timid in their thinking. I also am also frustrated by the unwillingness of opponents to listen; throughout this entire debate, those who oppose the deal seem less interested in the explanations as to why the deal may work in this case (and I emphasize this case; as I've discussed throughout the debate, some projects may not be the right fit for such a plan) and more interested in not giving an even break. It's hard to discuss an idea when the opposition insists on calling it a scam, a fraud and a shellgame.

There is no Hoosier-bashing from this corner John, nor am I being insensitive to the views of those who disagree with me. What I am doing is challenging mindsets and having mine challenged in return. I'm not surprised that you don't understand this. But I'm not apologizing for making my points.

of course, not all hoosiers are backward and content with "a stagnant economy and culture": just the ones rishawn disagrees with:

"Is it too much to hope that the national response to the ports deal proves that Hoosiers may not be so singular in their various forms of stagnation as I may have erroneously assumed you have been saying?

Again you seem to be making the mistake most people make when reading my argument: That I'm somehow arguing that all Hoosiers aren't forward-minded in their thinking. As I've said repeatedly, what we have here are two groups, of which one is willing to accept a stagnant economy and culture.

Best headline of the week: Xenophobes department

because xenophobia is the only reason one might have opposed the toll road lease:

For those whose xenophobia, anti-outsiderism and fear of change is driving their opposition to such ideas, local and otherwise, such as the proposed Toll Road lease deal, some data should give them pause.

"Why do you keep blabbering about xenophobia (outsiderism, etc)? It's about the unfair tax in the north in the form of toll, man. It's about money. "

Because it isn't just about money, Carol, otherwise the discussion would have simply focused on it. So far, since the announcement of the bid, much has been made by opponents of the proposed Toll Road lease deal about the fact that the road is being leased by an Australian- and Spanish-controlled firm; that it's the "selling" of an Indiana asset to foreigners; that the deal is outsourcing jobs, even though toll workers would have likely been displaced when the state finally got around to putting in electronic tolling machines (whenever that would happen).

If it were just about supposed unfairness of Northern Indiana residents paying tolls, who by the way, have been able to share the risks of delayed capital maintenance and future capital costs with the rest of the state instead of bearing it alone, then that could be understandable -- even though residents who live in Indianapolis and the rest of the state also pay, though indirectly, for non-tolled roads whether they use them or not. But you should know by now Carol that this issue is not simply about fairness or money.

It is about whether or not to maintain a status quo that is no longer sustainable, about whether or not the state should start managing its risks in some sensible form as most organizations do, about political gain for both Democrats and Republicans and a schism between those who believe change is necessary and those who have never left the state either in mind or body. And yes, Carol, it is about that nasty form of tribalism called xenophobia.

again with the xenophobia:

For those who want to close the borders, oppose the lease of toll roads to foreign countries and other forms of xenophobia, the Star Editorial Board has some pieces that should open your eyes to reality.

on why "brain drain" is good because it gets those isolated hoosiers out into the world:

Yet everyone wins. By leaving Indiana, these Hoosiers get to hone their talents, make their mistakes and become mature, stable adults; upon their return, they become the kind of contributors to the economy and social fabric that Indiana needs for its revival and survival, a fact that also holds true for Belgium and Wisconsin. At the same time, the newcomers also aid Indiana in its revitalization -- as do Hoosiers that end up in Brussels or Milwaukee -- by bringing new ideas, ways of thinking and of course, their ample paychecks. Even if neither of them return home -- and most Hoosiers always seem to return back home to Indiana -- they still bring benefits to their former homes by serving as cultural ambassadors of a sort, offering the kind of cross-cultural exchanges that both keep a society from remaining insular and offer opportunities for institutions back home to expand their operations.

For Indiana, the challenges have little to do with any brain drain, but whether its citizens will embrace the kind of changes -- both in government, society and the economy -- being wrought by its interdependence with the rest of the world. The time to do so is now.

and most recently, in the comments on friday's post on how DST is back. Get used to it.

The reality is that while most people dislike change, a large portion of Hoosiers, most of whom have never left their township much less the state, really hate change. That's fine. But history isn't going to stop because you want it to do so. It's time to adapt and move on.

Sorry to break it to you, but as special as Indiana is -- both positive and otherwise -- it isn't so special as to evade the proverbial laws of gravity. It's time to get with the program. More importantly, the bellyaching over DST takes away from the far more pressing issues facing the state, including an education crisis under which 23,000 students who should have been in last year's graduating class more than likely dropped out and have become burdens -- and shames -- to the state.

If Hoosiers of a certain mindset spent as much time addressing the dropout crisis as they did on DST, more students would graduate and the better off Indiana would be.

get it? indiana is "special"... as in "retarded". ha ha ha. as i mentioned in the comments at doug's blog, i find this comment from a couple days ago particularly telling, considering what doug said about the state's recent DST coverage: "When I read those articles, for some reason they remind me of a Special Olympics pep talk."

(incidentally, i agree we have much more important issues than DST to worry about, so why did republicans force it on us in the first place?)

if you've made to this point in the post, you're probably rishawn himself (if he hasn't concluded that i'm just a partisan obstructionist who should be ignored). or maybe you're someone who, like me, has long been annoyed by rishawn's belittling tone and anti-hoosierism. we know the state is a little backward, rishawn, but that isn't the only reason some of us disagree over major issues. but ironically, as much as rishawn talks about how his opponents should open their minds and consider his arguments, he seems incapable of doing so himself. in psychology, they call that projection.


sis said...

I am wondering if Rishawn has ever been out of Indiana? Coming from someone who lived in CA and NV for 10 years...those who live elsewhere have issues changing their clocks too (and they have been doing it for years). Do you think people in Central California are any less set in there ways than Hoosiers? Stop picking on those who disagree with you and if you don't like it here there are 49 other states to choose from.

stAllio! said...

according to his expresso profile, rishawn has only been in indy for "about a year"

Pila said...

Wow! Who is this Rishawn Biddle guy? I've lived in Indiana most of my life and am an IU grad. I also happen to read the Economist, Harper's, and the Atlantic, stream world radio from the internet, used to listen to the BBC from an Ohio NPR station-- back in the good old days (last year) when doing so meant I didn't have to stay up until midnight listen.

I don't get to travel much, but most of my friends and family do. I am also reasonably well-read, write essays and short stories, garden organically, cook gourmet food, etc. Wasn't aware I had to move away from Indiana in order to appreciate or understand that the rest of the world is different from Indiana.

There is a whole state full of people whose lives don't revolve around Indianapolis and who are not a bunch of ignorant hayseeds.

bill plummer said...

I think RiShawn is a condescending ass. I had a whole exchange with him about real vs. nominal prices and the toll road, pointing out a simple an obvious misstatement he had made, and he would never answer me 1) if he had ever had an economics course 2) and if had ever, ever, admitted he was wrong about anything--anything.

Haven't seen him on Expresso lately. Maybe his head exploded and he finally left us backward Hoosiers.