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A Serious Piece About Why Noozhawk Shouldn't Be Taken Seriously

I had a little spat with Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen over a piece I wrote for Santa Barbara Bullshit, poking fun at local columnist Paul Burri. Macfadyen said I was just making “personal attacks” and told me to come back when I was willing to “write about [the] issues.”

Fine. Let’s be serious for a few minutes.

Background: there are some terrible people in Santa Barbara

The issue I brought up with Macfadyen on Twitter was Paul Burri’s inspired proposal that Santa Barbara require homeless individuals to perform manual labor before forcing them to leave the city:

First, confiscate their beloved shopping carts and return them to their rightful owners—the supermarkets. Then assign them to roadkill or freeway cleanup, beach patrol of dog litter or hazardous waste sorting. Feed them lunches of baloney sandwiches on stale white bread, like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona does, accompanied with nutritious broccoli, celery and spinach smoothies.

When their time is served, provide them with mandatory one-way transportation to Oxnard.

The fact that Burri apparently idolizes one of the most openly racist public figures in the United States should be enough to show that he’s not someone worth listening to, but his own pathetic, hateful, and unconstitutional proposal clearly has no place in civilized discourse concerning the welfare of the homeless population of our city.

Unfortunately, Bill Macfadyen thinks otherwise. Paul Burri has his own column on Noozhawk.

Considering the state of news media in Santa Barbara, however, this is less surprising than it should be. Most opinion pieces track the mindset of the privileged, and are correspondingly racist, sexist, and classist. The racism is less open than it used to be, taking now the form of support for gang injunctions and closed borders or else targeted at the most invisible members of society. The sexism is mostly benevolent, but class-based hatred directed at the homeless remains not only condoned but encouraged.

It often seems that the sole purpose of the Santa Barbara View in particular, taglined with the NIMBY-ism “Keep Santa Barbara Santa Barbara”, is to stoke anger at the marginalized and powerless among us. They devote a rather alarming amount of space to discussion of “solutions” to the homeless “problem” and, after a recent incident at the local skate park, ran a poll titled “Is it time to close Skater’s Point in Santa Barbara?”. As of the evening of 10 July, almost two-thirds of respondents expressed their desire that the city bulldoze $830,000 dollars of construction because of some water balloons.

Bill Macfadyen did not look upon these privileged tears with the contempt they deserve. Instead he sided with the bulldozer crowd, suggesting that the city “just dump sand in the damn thing.”

So there’s a fair amount of convergence between Noozhawk and the Santa Barbara View (and Edhat commenters) when it comes to vilifying the oppressed. But while the View is more openly hostile to the young and homeless, they’ve never given a platform for someone to suggest that a local government not only arrest and detain people without charges, but compel them to perform manual labor before forcibly removing them from their place of current residence.

So I called Macfadyen out on Twitter.

But so what? People have a right to their opinions, don’t they?

(I made a typo in that tweet: Paul Burri’s Twitter name is BronxPaul.)

His reply:

Silly me! I had no idea!

Now, whatever Macfadyen says about free speech and whatever it says in Noozhawk’s disclaimer that opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by the organization, there are surely things that the website would not publish. I would be very surprised if, for example, a piece comparing supporters of Trayvon Martin to the KKK, which appeared in Taki’s Magazine, would be accepted by the Noozhawk editors. It would not be allowed because, even if the publisher and editors of Noozhawk explicitly stated that they disagreed with a piece in the strongest terms, their printing it would send the message that it’s a valid opinion to have. It would legitimize the idea that black people are the real racists, even if there is no actual endorsement. The Noozhawk editors, I think, understand this. (The editors of Taki’s probably do too, but they’re even more racist than Joe Arpaio.)

The fact that there almost certainly are limits to what Noozhawk will publish is why I was so troubled by Paul Burri’s column. Its being posted signals that Noozhawk thinks that the rightness of rounding up undesirable citizens into work gangs is something that reasonable people can disagree about.

It’s not. It’s not a position that should be rationally discussed anywhere. The only appropriate attitude to take toward Paul Burri’s Noozhawk column is scorn. And that’s why I won’t be accepting Macfadyen’s offer to write a rebuttal. Some things aren’t up for debate.

But we can still laugh at them

“Oh! shocking!” cried Miss Bingley. “I never heard any thing so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?”

*“Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Elizabeth. “We can all plague and punish one another. Teaze him—laugh at him.—Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.”*

Mr. Darcy might not leave himself open for ridicule, but Mr. Burri does, and I have tried, successfully or not, to take advantage of that. What Macfadyen calls “personal attacks” are attempts by me to represent Paul Burri for what he is—an ignorant old man who looks up to other ignorant old men and who should not be listened to. No matter how much of his views concerning the homeless is the result of thoughtlessness as opposed to actual malice, they are dangerous when treated as legitimate by supposedly respectable news outlets. They normalize the idea that homeless individuals are parasites who do not deserve the same rights that others enjoy.

Paul Burri should not be listened to, and his opinions should not be respected. By giving him a platform, Noozhawk is actively undermining support for the welfare of other people and contributing to the narrative that those who find themselves without a home aren’t quite as valuable as the rest of us.

So instead of talking with them, I’m laughing at Paul Burri and other members of our community who aren’t willing to acknowledge the homeless as equals. By making them look ridiculous, their potentially deadly opinions might carry less weight with those who read what I write at SBBS. And maybe, eventually, we’ll stop caring about what they think altogether.