Friday, February 16, 2007

Announcing the "Maledictometer": A new way to measure hate speech in political debate

I would like to use this blog to announce my new invention. It's called the "Maledictometer". The Maledictometer (ma' luh dik tah' mih ter) is a device that detects hate speech in political debate. I have been at work on this invention for some time, and I think I have now perfected it to a point where it is ready for use. And with the Kentucky General Assembly now in session and hot button issues on the table, what better time to give it a whirl?

The name 'Maledictometer' comes from two Latin words: malus, meaning "bad" or "evil", and dicere, which means to "speak" or "say". In English, a "malediction" is a curse. And, yes, I am very happy that I have finally put the skills I have acquired from my 13 years of the classroom teaching of Latin to good use.

The Maledictometer is not quite as fanciful a device as that invented by the protagonist in Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins. That invention, called the "Ontological Lapsometer" was a "stethoscope of the soul," and was designed to detect and cure spiritual maladies.

The Maledictometer is much simpler. All it purports to do is identify verbal formulations (in either speech or writing) that express hatefulness toward others. I have not yet been able, as Dr. More in Percy's novel was, to find a way to actually cure this sickness. That will take more time than I can afford right now.

The Maledictometer, however, does have one very helpful advanced feature: it can detect a hypocritical spirit behind the expression. If a person, for example, claims to be tolerant, and has a habit of giving long tiresome lectures to other people about the evils of hating certain groups of people, and then turns around and expresses hate towards the very group of people he has just given a lecture, the Maledictometer goes positively haywire.

This last feature gave me some trouble in the laboratory, let me tell ya. For example, when I was trying to calibrate the hypocrisy setting, I made the mistake of pointing it toward the television when State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone was giving his speech against SB 152, the bill that would require state universities to actually abide by the State Constitution and refrain from lavishing taxpayer money on the live-in sexual partners of their staff.

As you know if you saw the speech, Sen. Scorsone launched off on his customary denunciation of the "religious right" and all its works. Sen. Scorsone's problem with these groups, he has repeatedly said, is that they promote hatred of homosexuals. In doing so, however, he began applying such terms as "bigotry" to his opposition. The Maledictometer began to shake and rattle, and finally began putting out a great deal of smoke. I had to go in and replace several wires in order to get it working again.

Now, however, I think I have it perfected. I want to explain first, however, how you read the results.

The Maledictometer operates on what I have chosen to call the "Keeling Scale". This is a unit of measure named for Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Larry Dale Keeling, who sets the standard when it comes to hypocritical use of hate speech. The Keeling Scale is a measure from 1-10, 1 being a mildly distasteful rebuke, and 10 being a really ugly smear.

In addition, the hypocrisy behind the remark can multiply the score by a factor of 2. In other words, if the hatefulness of the remark is a 5, but the person is in the habit of denouncing the hatred he claims to find in other people, the score could rise to as high as 10. I have tried this out on several of Keeling's past columns, and have gotten readings as high as 18.

Now I want to say (and I can just see the sceptical look on the faces of my detractors when I say this) that I am not allowing any outside inspection of this device. We saw what happened when the Ontological Lapsometer got into the hands of the wrong people. It began to ignite salt deposits in the nearby vicinity, causing fires in the sandpits of nearby golf courses. I do not intend to let this kind of thing happen with the Maledictometer. I'm keeping this close to the vest, but I think you'll see just by looking at the remarks of these people that the readings make sense.

How do I intend to use it? I'm going to analyze the discussion of several issues in the General Assembly session, including the debate over domestic partner benefits and HPV vaccination just to see if conservatives are really the ones who are hateful, as liberal lawmakers like to argue. My thesis is that this is not so, and that, in fact, it is those who are always talking about tolerance and the evils of hate speech who are actually the ones who are the practitioners of these things.

If you have any examples from either side of the debate on these issues, please let me know and I'll fire up the Maledictometer and report the score.

I will be announcing initial results later tonight or this weekend on the basis of events this week, and will continue to report results at least weekly during the legislative session.

Wish me luck.

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