RSSCategory: Language

I’d’ve never believed it if I hadn’t’ve seen them: double contractions

January 5, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
I’d’ve never believed it if I hadn’t’ve seen them: double contractions

I never gave it much thought, but there is such a thing as a double-contraction in English. There are many of them.

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No such people

December 11, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
No such people

Newt Gingrich recently asserted that the Palestinians are “an invented people,” and that they are also “terrorists.” Gingrich then offered this alleged history:

“Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire,” Gingrich told The Jewish Channel in an interview released on Friday.

. . .

[The] American Task Force on Palestine spokesman Hussein Ibish was quick to point out that “there was no Israel and no such thing as an ‘Israeli people’ before 1948,” when the Jewish state was established.

Glenn Greenwald has pointed out that the most damaging words tend to be those words like “terrorism,” which have no clear meaning.

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On defining “terrorism”

December 11, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More
On defining “terrorism”

Glenn Greenwald once again finds that the United States defines its terms, in this case, “terrorism,” in strangely specialized ways:

Few things better illustrate the utter meaninglessness of the word Terrorism than applying it to a citizen of an invaded country for fighting back against the invading army and aiming at purely military targets (this is far from the first time that Iraqis and others who were accused of fighting back against the invading U.S. military have been formally deemed to be Terrorists for having done so). To the extent the word means anything operationally, it is: he who effectively opposes the will of the U.S. and its allies.

This topic is so vital because this meaningless, definition-free word — Terrorism — drives so many of our political debates and policies. Virtually every debate in which I ever participate quickly and prominently includes defenders of government policy invoking the word as some sort of debate-ending, magical elixir: of course President Obama has to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process: they’re Terrorists; of course we have to stay in Afghanistan: we have to stop The Terrorists; President Obama is not only right to kill people (including civilians) using drones, but is justified in boasting and even joking about it, because they’re Terrorists; of course some people should be held in prison without charges: they’re Terrorists, etc. etc. It’s a word that simultaneously means nothing and justifies everything.

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What Most Sets of Commandments Get Wrong

December 11, 2011 | By | Reply More
What Most Sets of Commandments Get Wrong

I recently read Penn Jillette’s 10 Commandments for atheists, written as a response to a challenge by Glenn Beck. Most of Penn’s rules made good sense. But one went off the rails, I opine.

He included one found in most mistranslations of the Christian Ten: “Don’t Lie.” Penn explicitly adds the caveat: “(You know, unless you’re doing magic tricks and it’s part of your job. Does that make it OK for politicians, too?)”

But the premise is basically flawed. The original line in Exodus 20:16 (KJV) is Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. This is a very specific form of lie. Even too specific. Not only is it an injunction against perjury, but only against perjury against your landholding neighbor, as opposed to people from other places, or to property such as women and slaves.

Of course we all must lie on occasion. How else can we answer, “Isn’t she the most beautiful baby ever?” or “Honey, do I look puffy?” Would it be false testimony to confirm a harmless bias one on one?

Yet I suggest that the proper commandment should be, “Don’t bear false witness.” Period. Don’t testify to things of which you are not absolutely sure; that you have not personally experienced. Not in a public forum. Don’t repeat “what everybody knows” unless you preface it with an appropriate waffle, such as “I heard that someone else heard that…”

But this might make it difficult to testify to the all-embracing love of a demonstrably genocidal God. A Google image search of “Testify” gives mostly Christian imagery.

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The inherent danger of complex laws and regulations

November 11, 2011 | By | 6 Replies More
The inherent danger of complex laws and regulations

We often hear big businesses complaining about regulations, but if those regulations are complex enough, they turn into giant opportunities for big business. All you need is a smart team of lawyers in order to drive a big truck through a tiny loophole or exemption, as explained by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones:

[N]o one should take too seriously Republican complaints about burdensome regulations strangling the economy. The truth is that most reformers prefer fairly simple rules. In the tax world, they’d prefer to simply tax all income. In the environmental world, they’d prefer to set firm limits for pollutants. In the financial world, they’d prefer blunt rules that cut off risky activity at its knees.

But businesses don’t like simple rules, because simple rules are hard to evade. So they lobby endlessly for exemptions both big and small. This is why we end up with tax subsidies for bow-and-arrow makers. It’s why we end up with environmental rules that treat a hundred different industries a hundred different ways. It’s why financial regulators don’t enact simple leverage rules or place firm asset caps on firm size. Those would be hard to get around and might genuinely eat into bank profits. Complex rules, conversely, are the meat and drink of $500-per-hour lawyers and whiz kid engineers. If the rules are complicated enough, smart lawyers can always find ways around them. And American corporations employ lots of smart lawyers.

In an earlier post, I had cited this quote: “One can make money only if there is real risk based on actual uncertainty, and without uncertainty there is no risk.’ To the extent that we have simple and understandable rules, it is harder to hide unfair business practices.

There is great value to uncertainty–to unwieldy and vague legislation–to those who have teams of savvy lawyers and accountants whose job it is to navigate and circumvent the purported intent of the legislation. That’s because most of us don’t have the time, attention, energy or political clout to rein in those who create these legislative monstrosities. We’re too busy working 8 or more hours per day at the office, then trying to be good parents, trying to fix the house or car, and maybe relaxing for an hour or two per night. How many of us are interested or able of plowing through 2,000 page legislative packages or regulations in our “free time,” or trying to make sense of complex court decisions that also struggle with these legislative morasses?

As Kevin Drum writes:

We could probably cut the size of agency regulations by 10 times if we wanted to. But business don’t want to. Sure, they’d prefer no regulation at all, but they know that’s not in the cards. So in public they bemoan complexity, but in private they fight endlessly for more of it. To their lawyers, every single extra page is an extra opportunity to make more money.

It makes one think that we need a law to outlaw complex laws.  We need a law that all laws should be written in plain English and that they must be understandable by high school graduates.  Those who insist that they need something that is not reasonably understandable should be presumed to benefit a special interest and presumed to be opposed to the public good.  Complex laws are huge red flags, regardless of the title of the law or the way politicians assure us that these laws will benefit the public.

Indigestibly complex laws almost always signal that ordinary Americans are getting screwed.

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George Lakoff frames American conservatism versus OWS

October 19, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
George Lakoff frames American conservatism versus OWS

Linguist George Lakoff has set forth frames for American conservatism:

Conservatives have figured out their moral basis and you see it on Wall Street: It includes: The primacy of self-interest. Individual responsibility, but not social responsibility. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power. A moral hierarchy of who is “deserving,” defined by success. And the highest principle is the primacy of this moral system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy, and especially government. Conservative “democracy” is seen as a system of governance and elections that fits this model.

Versus that which appears to be the frame of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Democracy starts with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that sense of care, taking responsibility both for oneself and for one’s family, community, country, people in general, and the planet. The role of government is to protect and empower all citizens equally via The Public: public infrastructure, laws and enforcement, health, education, scientific research, protection, public lands, transportation, resources, art and culture, trade policies, safety nets, and on and on. Nobody makes it one their own. If you got wealthy, you depended on The Public, and you have a responsibility to contribute significantly to The Public so that others can benefit in the future. Moreover, the wealthy depend on those who work, and who deserve a fair return for their contribution to our national life. Corporations exist to make life better for most people. Their reason for existing is as public as it is private.

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Was 9/11 a crime or a war?

September 24, 2011 | By | Reply More
Was 9/11 a crime or a war?

At Huffpo, George Lakoff discusses the consequences for the way in which Americans have framed the 9/11 attacks.

Colin Powell recommended calling the attack a crime. But Cheney understood that if it were framed as an act of war, then Bush and Cheney would be given war powers. So war it was, a metaphorical “war” on terror. The American people, intimidated by the vision of the towers falling, accepted the framing. Democrats, seeing the reaction of their constituents, went along with the framing. Except for my congresswoman, Barbara Lee. I ran to my computer to be the first to congratulate her on her no vote.

Terror meant everyone should be afraid of terrorists. Throughout the Midwest the predictable happened. A highly memorable event raises one’s judgment of the probability that it will happen to them. All over America people started being afraid of terrorists. Bush asked for and got unlimited war powers and the Patriot Act.

I discussed this same issue in this earlier post on the frame of war.

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Scary News from the Christian Coalition

August 7, 2011 | By | Reply More

I did not opt out of the Christian Coalition newsletter mailing list that someone unknown signed me up for some months ago. It helps to keep an eye on what the other side is up to. The Aug 5, 2011 issue includes the following scary observation:

“Critics and supporters of the Budget Control Act … agree that the Tea Party now controls the agenda in Washington D.C. As one who attended Glenn Beck’s Tea Party event last August — along with over a half million other Tea Party supporters — when looking at the hundreds of thousands of families near the Lincoln Memorial on Washington D.C.’s Mall, I realized that those families represent the large majority of the American people, as anyone with any kind of commonsense would.

Why in particular do I find this scary?

  • Open admission that The Tea Party (not even an official political party) controls the actions of our legislature. This group is a powerful vocal minority, arguably smaller but richer than the 1980’s “Moral Majority.”
  • Lack of fact checking: The attendance of the Glen Beck event is well established by several independent sources. They range from Beck’s hopeful “300,000 to 600,000” and Michelle Bachman’s “at least a million” to several actual counts from aerial photos between 60,000 and 87,000.
  • The massive innumeracy that equates “thousands of families” with “large majority of the American people.” Please divide several thousand by hundreds of millions and show that this is somehow more than half.
    87,000 / 330,000,000 = 0.00026 or somewhat less than a majority, however you massage it.
  • The implication that the openly theocratic ideals of the Tea Party are somehow related to common sense. Even Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” argued against a government supported by the church (as is England’s).
  • And in totality, the tone that says that the oddball ideals of this group are somehow mainstream. They seem hopeful about Lenin’s maxim that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. And the Christian Coalition is all about The Truth.
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I’m looking for a punchy word that is the singular of “sheeple.”

June 24, 2011 | By | 16 Replies More
I’m looking for a punchy word that is the singular of “sheeple.”

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