Category Archives: Politics and the English Language

Orwell is turning over in his grave.

Newspeak Fail

News is breaking today about NATO forces killing a couple dozen Pakistani soldiers. This is likely to be a big story, is likely to have long-lasting repercussions, and is, undoubtedly, bad news.

For whatever reason, the first round of stories about this subject has come from Reuters – al Reuters to its friends. I don’t pay much attention to al Reuters these days, so perhaps I am unique in being surprised to see that it has adopted the term “war on militancy” to describe what we provincial rubes sometimes call the War on Terror. The latter isn’t the best term, and has certain propagandistic qualities, but … war on militancy? Really? The flaws of “War on Terror” can be somewhat forgiven by observing that: 1) the term was crafted during a crisis when terminology was not the number one priority, and 2) it was developed by politicians with an agenda, so of course it’s going to have propagandistic qualities. A great many war names have this quality – several European kingdoms went to great lengths not to use the US government’s term “civil war” to describe the North American hostilities between 1861-65, as those hostilities were only a “civil war” if you believe there was no right of secession.

I’m open to journalists, particularly international journalists, adopting a more neutral terminology than what our government uses. Actually, I’d kinda prefer that they would, since the neutrality of outsiders is always useful to examine ourselves. But “War on Militancy” is utter nonsense, made worse by the observation that a lot of people put a lot of effort creating it. Professional “journalists” – people who tell us that they tell stories objectively – spent years thinking about this, and the best they can do is an oxymoron? Personally, if I’m forced to pick between the nonsense jingoistic phrase of my government or the nonsense jingoistic phrase of an international news organization that has made it clear it opposes my government, I’ll take the domestic nonsense. At least it’s our nonsense.

How Completely Wrong Can You Get a Statement?

The dumb thing here isn’t that Jay Carney isn’t aware that “The Lord helps those who help themselves” is a folksaying, not a Bible verse. That’s certainly a dumb thing. But the dumb thing is that he quotes that line to justify the President acting without Congressional approval to “help the American people.” The saying is one that justifies self-reliance and self-interested action; I can’t think of a less appropriate application of the saying than to use it to justify government intervention in the lives of citizens.

So let’s follow out the logical implications: Obama is helping himself to the power to “help the American people” without Congressional assistance. In this formulation, the Lord will help: Obama. The Lord will not help: the American people, and Congress. Gee, thanks, Mr. President.

Perhaps it’s not a dumb statement after all, but a strangely upfront acceptance of the conservative critique that this administration is persuing its own self-aggrandizing policies, regardless of mounting evidence that those policies are utter failures? Doubtful. I don’t give Carney credit for being that smart.

Does Rick Perry Know What the FMA Is?

Following on our earlier discussion, Pauper alumnus Conor took some time to dig into Perry’s book, Fed-up!,  today:

Here’s what I’ve found after further digging: if you care about federalism, Perry isn’t to be trusted. That is the only conclusion to draw after reviewing his lengthy, impassioned treatment of the subject in Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington. Its passages, juxtaposed with Perry’s recent actions, represent a betrayal of principle far more stark than I realized before reading the book. Its account of why federalism matters is anything but legalistic. And a man who intended to stand behind its contents would never support a Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban gay marriage in all states, imposing a traditional definition even on places like New York, where a duly elected legislature has already passed gay marriage.

The passages he cites makes it clear that, as of last year (if not last month) Perry preferred a federalist system that allowed different states to define marriage however they pleased. This cannot be squared with an endorsement of a Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), which defines marriage as monogamous and heterosexual both at the state and at the federal level.  From the 2004 version:

Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

There are only two possibilities:

  1. Perry lied, either in his book or in his recent statements;
  2. Perry has no flipping idea what the FMA is.

Though I’m fairly cynical when it comes to politicians — it’s a cynical business after all — there’s a non-zero chance that Perry is confusing terms.  More specifically, his recent statements on the matter have called for a “Federal Marriage Amendment” in terms that sound more like a constitutional amendment version of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Despite the similar names, the two are completely different: the FMA strips citizens of the right to define marriage in their own state; the latter would protect them from being bound by the decisions of citizens of other states.  In short, the FMA is an affront to the values of Fed-Up; a DOMA Amendment would embody it.

Taking a closer look at Perry’s exchange with Tony Perkins, it’s amazing how confused the conversation is.  I’ve highlighted FMA-like statements in redDOMA-like ones in blue, and ambiguous ones in black:

TONY PERKINS: You said that, “Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said that marriage can be between two people of the same sex and you know what that is New York and that is their business and that is fine with me, that is their call. If you believe in the tenth amendment, stay out of their business”.

GOV. PERRY: Let me just, I probably needed to add a few words after “that’s fine with me” its fine with me that the state is using their sovereign right to decide an issue. Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me, my stance had not changed. I believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

TONY PERKINS: Governor, we are about out of time but I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I think I hear what you are saying. The support given what’s happening across the nation, the fear of the courts, the administration’s failure to defend the defense of marriage act.

The only and thin line of protection for those states that have defined marriage, that have been historically been defined between a man and a woman. The support of a marriage amendment is a pro-state’s rights position, because it will defend the rights of states to define marriage as it has been.

GOV. PERRY: Yes sir, and I have long supported the appointment of judges who respect the constitution and the passage of a federal marriage amendment. That amendment defines marriage between one man and one woman, and it protects the states from being told otherwise. It respects the rights of the state by requiring three quarters of a states vote to ratify. It’s really strong medicine but is again our founding fathers had such great wisdom and their wisdom is just as clear and profound today as it was back in the late eighteenth century.

Honestly, I can’t tell what to make of this conversation; seriously, I’ve no idea.  But whatever it is, Perry needs to clarify his position  immediately so he can concentrate on more pressing matters.

Fingers crossed, Rick.

A Sick Joke

Whether it’s cranking up the deficit spending to 11, preemptively attacking foreign countries (serious question: are we still bombing Libya?), doubling down on Afghanistan, or asserting executive power, it frequently seems to me like the Obama administration consists of taking all the stuff that George Bush did and liberals didn’t like, and amplifying it.

Today comes this little bit from Obama:

President Obama told a crowd at a battery plant in Holland, Michigan, this afternoon that Republicans must “find a way to put country ahead of party.” Obama went on to say, “There are some in congress right now who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.”

Ugh. We spent years being lectured about how divisive George Bush was, and how he was always questioning everyone’s patriotism. And we were told that Obama would be better. Well here we are.

The story I linked to referred to this as Obama aping McCain’s ’08 slogan, “Country First.” But if you look at it, it’s the converse of McCain’s slogan. “Country First” was a description, meant to refer to McCain - how he himself had put country first during his military service, how he had put country first in bucking his own party to do what he thought was right, how he would continue to do that as a president beholden to none of the interest groups of his own party. “Country First” was a candidate pointing out his own virtues and history of service.

Obama’s message, “Put country before party,” on the other hand, is a command to Republicans – who, were it not for Obama’s urging, would surely place the interests of their party above the interests of their country; who would ruin our economy in order to achieve partisan gain.

So while McCain focused on hyping his own devotion to country – I guess you could have taken it as an implied swipe at the patriotism of others, but that’s being unfair; if people can’t point to their own virtues without it being taken as a swipe at others, we’ve entered a very unpleasant world – Obama is using the theme to question the patriotism of others in blunt terms: “There are some in Congress right now who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.” Because Republicans love power/hate Democrats more than they love America.

Action, Inaction; Compare, Contrast

In this post, I giggled at a journalist’s statements that many “compare” Obama to Reagan, and in a comment pointed out that the correct word would have been “constrast.”

Today I read this story, which details the political inaction in Minnesota during a government shutdown:

The lack of action contrasts with what’s been happening in Washington, where an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling has lawmakers scrambling for a deal that would keep the U.S. from a potential default on its debt. President Barack Obama has summoned leaders for a rare weekend session and aides are trading proposals behind the scenes.

The lack of “action” in Minnesota doesn’t “contrast” with what the federales are doing in Washington. In Minnesota there is talk; in Washington there is talk. In neither place is there “action.” Perhaps they are talking faster in Washington, but no matter how fast people talk, it’s not action.

“Did Obama’s own supporters ever take his Tucson speech seriously?”

There’s a reason Ann Althouse has a “civility bullshit” label.

The Tucson shooting had absolutely nothing to do with the tone of discourse. People on the Left grabbed “civility” as the first weapon at hand to attack the Tea Party. But it was ineffective as a weapon, and soon enough they realized that being civil’s no fun, so they gave up on it themselves and are back to hissing every time someone says the word Bush.

Ultimately, everything is as it should be. There wasn’t a problem to begin with and nothing has changed. But it would have been nice if, during the process of staying the same, one vocal and influential group of people hadn’t spent a couple of weeks insisting Tea Partiers were crypto-Nazis because they used the ordinary rhetoric of American politics. (Wait, aren’t you now griping about incivility just like they were?–Ed. No, I’m griping about the phoniness of their civility incivility. That they were uncivilly invoking civility is a mild irony that I find inoffensive.)

What Culture Are They Leading?

Gov. Perry has released his proposed budget to account for Texas’s enormous shortfall, and, among other things, he’s cutting all funding to the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts. The story cites concerns from “cultural leaders.”

If you’re like me, you read the phrase “cultural leaders” and think of people like P. Diddy, Martha Stewart, and the costume designers for Mad Men. Ya know, the people who lead the culture.

Instead, the “cultural leaders” in the story are: “Nancy Bless, executive director of Texas Folklife, a statewide nonprofit organization that promotes traditional culture,” “Amy M. Barbee , executive director of the Texas Cultural Trust, which promotes the importance of the arts,” and “Tere O’Connor of the Heritage Society of Austin.”

Ah yes, “culture” doesn’t refer to our actual culture. It refers to select elements of the culture of yore that some quirky people believe are worth preserving. You see, our actual culture – the books we read, the music we listen to, the way we dress, the tools we use – doesn’t need government’s help in preserving it, and it doesn’t need “leaders” in the people-with-titles sense of the word. We’re a free people who do what we want, and as such our culture is organic, ever-changing, and self-sustaining. It doesn’t take a government handout to support modern cloth production the way it takes a government handout to support some woman in a period costume who handweaves cloth from hand-picked cotton so she can tell school children about it.

So let me suggest a rephrasing. The people in this story aren’t actually “cultural leaders,” and calling them such gives them too much credibility. “Oh no!” says a reader, “Gov. Perry’s budget eliminates our culture!”  Instead, let’s use the more accurate phrasing: “people with jobs that revolve around their unusual tastes.” I think that gets across the point that, in essence, government support for these groups is taking from the many to indulge the odd preferences of a few. Though now that I put it that, I can see why they prefer “cultural leaders.”

Overdriving out of the Ditch

If there’s one thing we’re learning from our rhetorician-in-chief, it’s that he is not a car guy.

“The past two years years have been about pulling the economy back from the brink,” Obama said. “The next two years, our job now, is to put our economy in overdrive.”

Last November, I was one of millions of Americans who voted straight-ticket Republican based entirely on making the president stop using the worst analogy ever, his damned driving-into-a-ditch shtick. It seems that the president’s knowledge of gear ratios is at least as bad as his knowledge of getting cars out of ditches.

Overdrive is a gearing ratio of less than 1:1. That is, for each revolution of the crank shaft, the drive shaft will turn more than once. I think this description, though slightly technical, explains it well:

Technically, an overdrive gear should have a ratio lower than 1-to-1, which means the engine turns less than a full revolution for each revolution of the transmission’s output shaft. Because engines must run at a minimum speed of around 500 rpm, and because their output is greater at higher revolutions, the transmission’s job is to gear down the engine’s driveshaft so you can accelerate from a stop. For example, when the car is in first and second gear, the engine’s driveshaft rotates several times for each time the transmission’s output shaft rotates once.

Got that? Every modern car has an overdrive gear; mine has two, which is not uncommon with six speed automatic transmissions. The point of the overdrive gear is to allow for lower engine revs while cruising at speed. In my top overdrive gear, I can drive at 80 miles per hour while my engine spins at around 2700 rpms. Without an overdrive gear, my engine would have to spin at around 4200 rpms to drive at that velocity.

Of course, overdrive is not all merely about efficiency. Because they keep rpms so low, overdrive gears are not good for accelerating. If I’m driving 80 and need to quickly speed up to pass someone, I downshift into a lower gear in order to get my engine spinning more powerfully, which will allow me to accelerate quicker.

So let’s go back to the president’s comment. He refers to “overdrive” as though that’s the gear you put a car in when you want to go fast. But it’s actually the gear you put a car in when you’re already going fast. Or, when you’re going fast enough; in order to get the best EPA numbers, every modern car with an automatic transmission is programmed to seek out the highest possible gear, so frequently my car will be in sixth gear even when I’m just driving around at 35 or 40 miles per hour. In top gear at that speed, however, acceleration is abysmal, and I generally need a downshift to go up hills.

Why does my car have to get to 35 or 40 before it can use sixth gear? If an engine doesn’t maintain high enough rpms, it will stall out (i.e. stop working). If you put the car into too high of a gear at too low of a speed, the engine will not spin fast enough and will stall out. This is [one of many reasons] why people with stick shifts take off from a stop in first or second gear, not fifth.

So the president says it’s now time to put the economy into overdrive?  Essentially, he’s saying we’ve reached our cruising speed and no longer need to accelerate.

Does that sound like an accurate description of the economy right now? Personally, I think we need to drop down a gear or two so that we can get the revs up into the engine’s real powerband and can accelerate more quickly. I think we’re moving slowly after coming to a dead stop, and if we put our car into overdrive, there’s a good chance we’ll stall out completely.  I also think we need a president who doesn’t use metaphors about topics that he doesn’t understand.


This sort of crap really pisses me off. Really, there are numerous reasons why it’s offensive, not the least is that most of the “things have changed” crap fails on its own terms.

“Bob, when you and I grew up, we grew up listening to essentially three major news outlets: NBC, ABC, and of course, CBS. We listened to people like Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid, and Huntley-Brinkley, and they saw their job as to inform us of the facts and we would make a conclusion,” Hoyer said. “Far too many broadcasts now and so many outlets have the intent of inciting, and inciting people to opposition, to anger, to thinking the other side is less than moral. And I think that is a context in which somebody who is mentally unbalanced can somehow feel justified in taking this kind of action. And I think we need to all take cognizance of that and be aware that what we say can, in fact, have consequences.”

So our politics used to be less violent because we had different journalists, eh Steny? Well Walter Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News from 1962-1981. During that time, we had a president murdered, we had another president (Ford) who was almost shot on two occasions, and we had another president who was shot less than three weeks after Cronkite stopped anchoring the news. So of the six presidents during Cronkite’s tenure, 50% were or were very nearly assassinated.

Since the networks’ monopoly on television news was busted, we’ve had zero presidents shot. Zero.

But political violence is due to FoxNews. At least that’s what Leon Czolgosz says.

I Have A Dream

Where people stop refering to everything that disproportionately affects black people as “a civil rights issue.”

If elected (or appointed-by-others-who-are-elected) local school boards run school systems into the ground through a combination of incompetence and giving the teachers’ unions the run of the place, whose fault is that? The voters’, that’s whose. “I voted for a bunch of nitwits” is not a statement of “a civil rights issue” and it does not make you oppressed. Quite the opposite, actually.

A Thoughtless Metaphor

This metaphor from the president’s speech is unfortunate:

Our troops are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.

Ships these day are made of steel. The hull, the decks, the walls separating interior compartments, the propeller and engine – more or less the only essential part of the ship not made of steel is the wiring. Every thing that isn’t steel in a ship – furnishings, insulation, the crew – is not normally considered when one thinks of what is the essence of a “ship.” Is the president saying that our troops are the essence of the country, and everyone else is some variety of unnecessary creature comfort? Our country is made of troops, and the rest of us are just deck chairs and decorative windows?

But there were ships before steel. For thousands of years, wooden ships sailed through rough waters and many stormy nights on the ocean, venturing to every corner of the globe. Wooden ships crossed every ocean, explored both the Arctic and Antarctic, and in the overwhelmingly vast majority of times were perfectly safe. Making a ship out of steel is a neat luxury of the modern age, but it’s not essential to making a ship. Many ships made out of steel sink (paging DiCaprio, L.) and many ships made out of wood float (paging Columbus, C.).

So if our soldiers are the steel of our ship of state, are they just a luxury? We could have a wooden ship of state that, so long as we didn’t ram against people who had steel ships of state, would be perfectly fine. Indeed, in this age of steel ships many people look back on wooden ships with nostalgia. Perhaps the world would be better if every ship of state was wood, instead of expending the needless resources making them out of steel, which is only necessary in the case of conflict with other ships of state.

And since when does steel give sailors confidence that their “course is true”? Experienced sailors can navigate by the heavens; if a captain knows where he’s going and how to use an astrolabe, a steel compass is just a luxury. Moreover, there’s no reason why a compass needs to be made of steel. Inferior quality iron will work just fine for a compass needle. Is the president saying that we could do with lesser quality soldiers? Eliminating all but our National Guard would leave us, perhaps, with an iron compass, but an iron compass works just as well as a steel compass for determining if the course is true.

Finally, and most nonsensically, steel has absolutely nothing to do with “giv[ing] us confidence . . .  that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.” Sometimes, even if your ship is made of steel, there are no better days ahead. Unless you’re coliding with a steel ship, actually, I’d say that whether your ship is made of steel is more or less irrelevent to whether there are better days ahead. The word he’s looking for isn’t “steel,” it’s “optimism,” but I wouldn’t try to sail across a swimming pool in a ship made of optimism.

If George Bush had used that metaphor, we’d have been lectured on how stupid he was. Since it’s Barry, though, we’re probably just too dumb to understand.

Reeducation Time

People don’t know what’s in Obamacare and don’t like what they do know. So the cabinet secretary in charge of the program has a solution: “Reeducation“! Fantastic.

As Moe Lane points out, I think it’s fairly obvious that Sebelius isn’t being threatening when she uses that word, she’s being “inarticulate and stupidly insensitive.” Perhaps she needs to be reeducated regarding leftist totalitarianisms of the 20th Century?

Lane, on the real importance of the word: “Use of a term like ‘reeducation’ indicates that the user of it has decided that there’s nothing wrong with his or her argument; the flaw lies in whoever is not being persuaded by it.  So there’s no need to fix the argument itself, obviously.”

I think the non-partisan lesson that should be emerging from Obamacare is the danger of passing big (i.e. physically large) bills without bipartisan support. I agree that there’s tons of misinformation out there, and it comes from all sides. I don’t have a clue what the law does to me, and I challenge anybody to produce a comprehensive list of what the law does to them. That’s what happens when you pass a two-thousand page bill: absolutely nobody knows what it really means.

If I could make one reform in the rules of Congress, it would be this: any law longer than 50 pages must pass with 60% of each house. If a matter is controversial, good republicanism demands that the voters at least be able to understand it and act accordingly in the next election. The Obama administration’s “people’d-love-it-if-they-only-understood-it” defense is lame beyond belief – we’ve gone from “Change You Can Believe In” to “Change You’re Too Dumb To Understand” – and, when examined in the light of how they handled the legislative process, is in fact no defense at all.