Saturday, December 6, 2008


Just discovered this site, Wordie, which has all sorts of interesting lists with words like louche and crepuscular, and comments like this one about the word rumored:

A highly unusual verb in Present-day English: it has only this one verb form. Although it was historically a full verb with all its parts ('Come hither Catesby, rumor it abroad, That Anne my Wife is very grieuous sicke.'—Richard III, IV.ii), for most of us today it can only be a past participle.

This raises the question of why it should be counted a verb at all, rather than an adjective: compare 'she was rumoured to be dead', 'she was keen/eager/reluctant to be dead': adjectives can take infinitival clause complements.

Well last night I found the answer, when I read this sentence opening Dorothy Parker's 'Mrs. Hoftstadter on Josephine Street':

That summer, the Colonel and I leased a bungalow named 947 West Catalpa Boulevard, rumored completely furnished: three forks, but twenty-four nutpicks.

'Completely furnished' is an adjective phrase (AdjP), and adjectives can't take AdjP complements, but verbs can: compare *'eager/easy/pleasant completely furnished' with 'considered completely furnished'. And indeed, on checking Google this morning, I find quite a few "was rumoured dead"—not the way I'd say it myself (I'd much prefer to add 'to be'), but common enough to prove it's verbal in Standard English. So, another discovery.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Palin Challenge

Since our masthead boasts that we “sometimes reminisce about diagramming sentences,” I thought when I came across an article by Kitty Burns Florey that outlines the perils of trying to diagram the classic Palin utterance that has become the hall- and mintmark of the vice-presidential candidate, that it was something to be shared here.

One really needs to read Ms Florey's article to get the background, but since she clearly asked for help at one point, it seems a worthwhile project to see if anyone has ideas of how to crack the Palin Challenge.

From Ms Florey:
Other Palinisms are not so tractable. From the Charlie Gibson interview:

I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people.

I didn't stop to marvel at the mad thrusting of that pet political watchword "families" into the text. I just rolled up my sleeves and attempted to bring order out of the chaos:

I had to give up. This sentence is not for diagramming lightweights. If there's anyone out there who can kick this sucker into line, I'd be delighted to hear from you. To me, it's not English—it's a collection of words strung together to elicit a reaction, floating ands and prepositional phrases ("with that vote of the American people") be damned. It requires not a diagram but a selection of push buttons.

There you have it. Anyone who thinks he or she is up to the Palin Challenge is welcome to take a shot at it. Or, if anyone feels the urge to try to diagram any of Palin's other sentences, feel free. Who knows, it might become a growth industry.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quotes of the week...

from Don Eggen at The Washington Post:

Quote of the Week No. 1

"Well, you know, God bless him, bless his heart, the president of the United States, a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject, and for him to be challenging Congress when we are trying to sweep up after his mess over and over and over again."

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), when asked by CNN about Bush's criticism of Congress

Quote of the Week No. 2

"And they have no disregard for human life."

-- President Bush, referring to enemy fighters in Afghanistan

Don't you just love the English language and all of its little idiosyncracies? I know I do.

the Myth of Centrism

Definitions of centrism on the the web:
  • a political philosophy of avoiding the extremes of left and right by taking a moderate position or course of action
  • In politics, centrism usually refers to the political ideal of promoting moderate policies which land in the middle ground between different political extremes. ...
  • Any moderate political philosophy that avoids extremes
  • But, as George Lakoff knows, that center is something of a myth.

    Jim White (noted UT commenter) attended Netroots 08, and shared with us in a post at AchievingOurCountry his experience at a session videotaped for DFA's night school. The session was based on work from Lakoff's latest book, The Political Mind.

    Jim writes:
    To illustrate the concept that there is not a linear scale, Lakoff holds up the brilliant example of Senators Joe Lieberman and Chuck Hagel. The popular press incessantly describes both as “centrists”, yet they share virtually no views. On social issues, Lieberman is consistently progressive and Hagel is solidly conservative. On the war, Lieberman is conservative and Hagel is progressive. They share views on nothing, yet both are branded as centrists. How can there be such a thing as a centrist, or a center, if these two agree on nothing?

    And isn't it interesting how often we use words that are just as likely to be Reality-challenged as if they were everyday items? As if they were things that you can use and touch.

    So, that mythic centrist space doesn't really exist, especially not as a spot in one-dimensional space. After all, in politics, even three dimensions can seem inadequate for describing what the hell is going on.

    Friday, June 27, 2008

    To Karen. Thanks.

    Thus far, with rough and all un-able pen,
    Our bending author hath pursued the story,
    In small room confining mighty men,
    Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
    Small time ...

    Sunday, June 8, 2008

    Reckless at Any Speech

    One commenter over at Daily Kos pointed out this sentence in John McCain's trainwreck of a speech Tuesday night:
    I don’t oppose a reckless withdrawal from Iraq because I’m indifferent to the suffering war inflicts on too many American families.
    While I would not characterize this sentence as a "major gaffe"—it's more like some loopy garden path sentence—(and this is, after all, John McCain, and the campaign has just begun), I somehow enjoy imagining, say, Dennis Steele in some ad, solemnly intoning:
    John McCain: He said he was indifferent to the suffering that the Iraq War inflicts on many American families. And, therefore, he would not oppose even a reckless withdrawal from Iraq. John McCain. Reckless. Indifferent. That's not a leader we can believe in.
    One might have hoped for some attempt at an elegant syncrisis—I don't oppose X because Y; I oppose X because…—but, well, that might have raised the question of what sort of withdrawal John McCain could support or, perhaps, if he could support any type of withdrawal at all.

    Tuesday, June 3, 2008

    I know what it says, but what does it mean?

    On the subject of rhetorical devices, here, by popular demand, is my vision of what the ultimate anti-McCain campaign ad would look like:
    Actual news footage — McCain standing at the microphone, Joe Lieberman in the background.

    MCCAIN: "Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate."

    Lieberman steps forward, takes McCain by the arm, and whispers in McCain's ear.

    MCCAIN: "I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda."

    The scene shifts; a child is in bed sleeping; in the background a phone is ringing.

    NARRATOR: "It's 3:00 AM and your children are safely asleep. But somewhere in the White House a phone is ringing. Something is wrong in the world. Who's going to answer that phone?"

    Still shot of Lieberman whispering in McCain's ear (above)

    NARRATOR: "What if it's John McCain and Joe Lieberman isn't there to tell him what to say?"

    Fade to text:
               AS WELL AS WHAT HE'S SAYING.

    Monday, May 26, 2008

    A Free Press

    In honor of Glenn's two most recent posts (here and here), I thought I'd post this little homily on the role of a free press in a democracy. While it may look like a handout for a ninth grade civics class, the source may surprise you.

    A Free Press

    In a democracy the press should operate free from governmental control. Democratic governments do not have ministries of information to regulate content of newspapers or the activities of journalists; requirements that journalists be vetted by the state; or force journalists to join government-controlled unions.
    • A free press informs the public, holds leaders accountable, and provides a forum for debate of local and national issues.

    • Democracies foster the existence of a free press. An independent judiciary, civil society with rule of law, and free speech all support a free press. A free press must have legal protections.

    • In democracies the government is accountable for its actions. Citizens therefore expect to be informed about decisions their governments make on their behalf. The press facilitates this “right to know,” by serving as a watchdog over the government, helping citizens to hold government accountable, and questioning its policies. Democratic governments grant journalists access to public meetings and public documents. They do not place prior restraints on what journalists may say or print.

    • The press, itself, must act responsibly. Through professional associations, independent press councils, and “ombudsmen,” in-house critics who hear public complaints, the press responds to complaints of its own excesses and remains internally accountable.

    • Democracy requires the public to make choices and decisions. In order for the public to trust the press, journalists must provide factual reporting based on credible sources and information. Plagiarism and false reporting are counterproductive to a free press.

    • Press outlets should establish their own editorial boards, independent of government control, in order to separate information gathering and dissemination from editorial processes.

    • Journalists should not be swayed by public opinion, only by the pursuit of truth, as close as they can get to it. A democracy allows the press to go about its business of collecting and reporting the news without fear or favor from the government.

    • Democracies foster a never-ending struggle between two rights: The government’s obligation to protect national security; and the people’s right to know, based on journalists’ ability to access information. Governments sometimes need to limit access to information considered too sensitive for general distribution. But journalists in democracies are fully justified in pursuing such information.

    Yeah, well, you say, everyone should know this, and, yes, everyone should. This is basic ninth grade civics. But just run through these points and see how many our “free press” and our “democratic government” violate or ignore.

    But what, you say, is the point in posting this if this is something everyone knows? The point lies not in the information itself, but in its source:

    That's right, this little homily on the role of a free press in a democracy is part of the State Department's primer on democracy — what we preach to the rest of the world while at home the government assiduously goes about subverting and suborning the press. Yes, the same State Department that hires Blackwater, Inc. to massacre Iraqi civilians (or at least doesn't fire them when they do).

    Well, you say, since the government and the press are supposed to be adversaries shouldn't the government try to subvert and suborn the press? The answer is, not in a democracy according to the USDOS. Consider the following quotations from the above: “Democratic governments grant journalists access to public meetings and public documents. They do not place prior restraints on what journalists may say or print” and “A democracy allows the press to go about its business of collecting and reporting the news without fear or favor from the government.”

    Perhaps a little statement to the effect that “the press should expect the government will try to subvert and suborn it” would be a helpful warning to a press that seems to be so easily subverted and suborned.

    So long as the press is willing to provide favorable coverage of the government in exchange for access, we do not have a free press or a democratic government. A democratic government is supposed to provide access to journalists regardless (“no prior restraints” and “without fear or favor”). The State Department says so (just not for domestic consumption).

    And note particularly the final paragraph concerning the admission that “journalists in democracies are fully justified in pursuing such [national security] information” and compare that with the insistence of Billy Kristol that the NY Times be prosecuted for publishing national security information (that coincidentally revealed that the president of the US was a felon). Why has the State Department never explained to Billy Kristol the duties and responsibilities of the journalist in a democracy as they themselves promulgate them? Does no one in the State Department ever speak to Kristol?

    [Sorry, I couldn't find any way to work language and grammar into this; someone else will have to do that.]

    Monday, April 28, 2008

    Vapid is as vapid does

    From KarenM in comments:

    Perhaps it's time for a post about synonyms for vapid?

    Good idea! Here's my list:



    Anybody else?

    Additions from comments (5/9/08):


    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Forcing vs. Pouring?

    From a diary at Kos by Elsinora... transcript from Dan Froomkin's column

    Ashcroft: "Now, listen here. You're comparing apples and oranges, apples and oranges. We don't do anything like what you described."

    Elsinora: "I'm sorry, I was under the impression that we still use the method of putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water down their throat. . . . "

    Ashcroft: "'Pouring'! 'Pouring'! Did you hear what she said?: 'Putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water on them.' That's not what you said before! Read that again, what you said before [about the Asano case]!"

    Elsinora: "'The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach.'"

    Ashcroft: "You hear that? You hear it? 'Forced'! If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring. . . . Does this college have an anatomy class?

    If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring. . . . "

    v 1: cause to run; of liquids
    move in large numbers; "people were pouring out
    of the theater" [syn: swarm, stream]
    3: pour out; of wines or sherry [syn: decant, pour out]
    flow in a spurt; of liquids
    supply in large amounts or quantities: "We poured
    money into the education of our children"
    rain heavily; "Put on your rain coat-- it's
    pouring outside!"
    pelt, stream, rain cats and dogs, rain buckets]

    v 1: to cause to do through pressure or necessity, by
    physical, moral or intellectual means :"She forced him
    to take a job in the city" [syn: coerce, hale, pressure]
    2: urge or force (a person) to an action; constrain or
    [syn: impel]
    3: move with force, "He pushed the table into a corner"
    [syn: push] [ant: pull]
    4: impose or thrust urgently, importunately, or inexorably;
    "She forced her diet fads on him" [syn: thrust]
    5: squeeze like a wedge into a tight space; "I squeezed
    myself into the corner" [syn: wedge, squeeze]
    6: force into or from an action or state, either
    physically or metaphorically; "She rammed her mind into
    focus"; "He drives me mad" [syn: drive, ram]
    7: do forcibly; exert force; "Don't force it!"
    8: cause to move along the ground by pulling; "draw
    a wagon"; "pull a sled" [syn: pull, draw] [ant: push]
    9: take by force; "Storm the fort" [syn: storm]

    I guess if it will ease Ashcroft's mind semantically, we can agree on using some variation of forcibly pouring, or poured by force. However, the words and phrases emphasized above should have sufficed.

    And, perhaps Knox College will, in future, make sure that the distinction between pouring and forcing is added to their anatomy curriculum. [/sarcasm]

    Image: "Waterboarding in Vietnam,"
    from Stop Torture: the Harvard anti-Torture Coalition

    Saturday, April 19, 2008

    Elites and Elitism

    Time to reclaim these words. They don't really sustain their proper meanings when applied, e.g., to our esteemed Press.

    "Elites," as I understand the term, are the cream of the crop, those with expertise to share, and with verifiable discernment. Journalism's true elites are not those who think it is too difficult to do actual research, or that they merely have to present two opposing views, no matter the facts of the case, in order to be objective. Nor do they think that facts have a liberal bias, but rather understand they are simply based in Reality.

    "Elites" may or may not belong to the uppermost income brackets. Although they often do, belonging to that bracket does not automatically confer "elitism" on a person; nor should it. Merit also counts.

    Saturday, April 5, 2008

    Can someone suggest to Glenn that he find a new word to characterize America's press coverage?

    While Glenn's regular use of the adjective "vapid" to describe the writings of the mainstream media is a completely apt descrption, he needs to insert a little variation into his narrative or else he's creating his own google bomb. If you google greenwald vapid, you get about 20,000 hits. An occasional post without "vapid", using instead some equally valid synonym such as "insipid", "pointless", "inane", "lifeless", or "tiresome", probably wouldn't damage the thrust of Glenn's prose and might even make it less predictable and, heaven forbid, "vapid".
    On the other hand, perhaps Glenn intends for "vapid" to become a signature word, so that "vapid press coverage" is automatically associated with Greenwald much as Carthago delenda est calls to mind Cato the Elder. If so, he's well on his way.
    (Update 4/6/08): Never mind. I've just read Glenn's post on the AP fluff piece on AG Mukasey and there really is no other word for it than vAPid.

    Saturday, March 8, 2008

    Monday, March 3, 2008

    Another way to support Black Flag Week...

    ...would be to display one of the above ads
    on your blog or website
    and support the Rule of Law.

    And please tell us about your efforts and participation at:
    in the comments.

    Sunday, March 2, 2008

    Rule of Law

    from "ondelette:"

    Next week, March 9-15, is Black Flag Week in Pakistan. The lawyers in Pakistan will carry black flags. And they will probably march, as they have done since November, for the reinstatement of the judiciary, for the rule of law, and for the return to the Constitution and democracy in Pakistan. The head of the lawyers, Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, has been knocking heads with the government over the rule of law during multiple dictatorships going back to Zia ul Haq and Ayub Khan. Pakistan has not had a steady democracy, but rather military dictatorships alternating with often corrupt democratic rule, for most of its history.

    Brief History of the Lawyers Protests

    The current military government took power in a coup in 1999 at the end of a standoff with India at the line of control, the separation between the two countries in Kashmir. Pervez Musharraf rewrote the Constitution, and ruled as both the head of the military and the president, and has staged rigged elections to maintain power. When the Constitution forbade him to run again this year, he fired the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudry, hoping to get a better decision on running. Ominously, he had also been apprehending and interrogating terrorism suspects, holding them without charge, and allegedly turning them over to the Americans for interrogation. The Court released many of them, and demanded that the government either bring charges against the others and arraign them in court, or release them.

    The rest of the court did not go along with Musharraf’s move, and reinstated Chaudry. On November 3, 2007, Musharraf declared an Emergency, and suspended the Constitution. He placed many thousands under house arrest, he sacked the entire Supreme Court and judiciary and made signing an oath to support the rules he replaced the Constitution with a precondition to reinstatement. He created a packed court, but most of the original justices refused to sign, and many justices and barristers were placed under house arrest. As well, many human rights workers, in particular Asma Jahangir, the Pakistan Human Rights Commissioner, were put under house arrest, as were political candidates, including Benazir Bhutto. With his permission to run in hand, Musharraf scheduled elections, but there were many flaws, and many protests. Musharraf, under both domestic and international pressure, lifted the Emergency, but many remained under house arrest, especially many lawyers, including Aitzaz Ahsan, and Justice Iftikhar Chaudry (who still are).

    Most of the world knows that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. This led to postponement of the elections, many realignments, and the issues of democracy, the Constitution and the judiciary coming to the fore. On February 18, opposition parties delivered a crushing defeat to Musharraf’s party, and a new government is forming around the Pakistan People’s Party, the Pakistan Muslim League - N (Nawaz), and the Awami National Party in the FATA region. There was an overwhelming vote in this referendum for the return to the rule of law, to secular government, and to reinstate the Constitution and judiciary.

    The Pakistani Parliament has two houses, the lower house, and the Senate. Musharraf’s people maintain a majority in the Senate, although it is weakening (6 senators broke with the majority last week bringing his lead there to 51-49). But although the incoming coalition has the two thirds majority it needs in the Lower House, it does not in the Senate, and therefore impeachment or a restoration of the 1973 Constitution (the last completely ratified) will wait until the necessary votes are there. Most observers believe this is only a matter of time as long as the pressure is on, and hopefully not too much longer. Stunningly, the government of the United States is continuing to treat Musharraf as if he has not suffered such a massive defeat. If democracy is to mean anything, the will of the people cannot be thwarted, and the U.S. support has brought criticism and suspicion of Americans in Pakistan.

    Where does it go from here?

    Throughout the crisis since November 3rd, people who watched the news in Pakistan have seen pictures of the lawyers, dressed in their trademark black suits, demonstrating for reinstatement of the judiciary and the return to the rule of law. These haven’t been the most peaceful of demonstrations, lawyers have been beaten, some arrested, there are allegations of harsh interrogation, in one case a lawyer’s kidneys failed during imprisonment, and tear gas. These lawyers have persevered, and continue to demonstrate.

    For those paying attention, this has been a drama that is at once uncomfortably violent, and inspiring in the courage shown by the lawyers, by the people who attend the demonstrations where it is not unheard of for people to be injured or die at the hands of bombers, by the people who went out to vote, by the bloggers and press, who maintained the flow of information both internally and out of the country and shot down concocted stories and propaganda that governments use when they are in trouble. Before the elections, the new military chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, ordered the army to vacate all government positions, and to maintain a separation between the military and the government. This move was instrumental in keeping the level of vote rigging low enough for the will of the people to be heard during the February elections.

    So the signs are right for a real return to democracy, for a real return to the rule of law, and for reinstatement of the Constitution and the judiciary in Pakistan. A healthy secular democracy there is an outcome that will benefit the entire world, and as we have learned in many countries over the past two decades, the real basis for a healthy democracy is respect for the Constitution, and the rule of law.

    On Black Flag Week, there is an opportunity to show solidarity for the Pakistani lawyers and their struggle for the things that we in this country hold to be fundamental — civil rights, democracy, law, and a Constitution. It isn’t there yet, and it won’t be unless the pressure is kept on. Even once it comes, it will be a slow climb out of corruption and broken rule, and the country has many problems including poverty, religious militancy, and illiteracy. The new government will more than have its hands full. It will have a much easier job if the laws of the country are secure.

    Please help show support for these lawyers. Please wear a black armband or other black clothing during the Black Flag Week, and please take the time to educate others on what that clothing or armband means. If the rule of law is fundamental, then it is never too unimportant to grow and strengthen it, anywhere in the world.

    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    Torture is torture, except when it's news

    The issue of word manipulation in politics and media is really Glenn Greenwald's claimed territory, but I can't let this week go by without commenting on it. Why? Because I heard a short news clip from the BBC about the six Guantanamo prisoners who have finally been charged with some sort of crime. And the broadcaster did something that made me want to break things: he said that one suspect's confession was under question because it had been gained using "the controversial waterboarding technique," a phrase that news media have universally decided is an acceptable way to refer to torture.

    By not calling waterboarding torture, news media around the world are complicit in the US government's flagrant violations of the Geneva Conventions and the ease with which they discard their humanity. By not simply saying straight out that acts such as waterboarding are wrong and evil, news media are pushing a pervasive doublethink on populations around the world. This is where we get our information--if the BBC doesn't call it torture, it must be at least debatable, if not perfectly okay, to partly drown people in order to make them say things. Must be okay, then, to deprive them of sleep, give them electric shocks, kick them, pull their hair, herd them into camps designed to cut them off from families, cultures, and societies, and then gas them. What the hell is the difference?

    We're all familiar with the idea of doublethink and how it has infiltrated our news outlets and common culture. We're also familiar with the tricks politicians use to make their atrocious positions more acceptable. We all know, here on a blog devoted to language use, that words can be used to manipulate and trick and redefine how we think. Oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is "energy exploration." The Refuge itself is made more vague by calling it ANWR. Coal gained from blowing up pristine mountains and leveling them is a source of "clean energy." Global warming is now "climate change" (although I think that one backfired a little bit). And torture is a "vital interrogation tool."

    It is unacceptable that news media play along with these tricks, just to keep the Bush administration happy. Pollution is pollution. Coal mining is filthy and destructive. Compassionate conservativism means absolutely nothing. And torture is torture.

    The administration claims, as we all know, that they need permission to use these techniques to preserve our national security. What sort of security are we talking about? Our simple physical existence? What kind of physical security do you have if you've sold your soul to the devil (sorry for the melodrama)? What could possibly be more important to our national security than preserving our humanity?

    Thursday, February 7, 2008

    Looking for Real Words

    So I missed out on my promised Thursday post last week. A teething baby, a house full of guests ... ack.

    There are a number of minor language topics on my mind this week: politically correct terms, thoughts on The Golden Compass series, questions of mass language manipulation. But the most recent one to come up is one of those niggly little issues that annoys me like a mosquito buzzing around my half-asleep ear every time I turn the light out.

    I'm looking for words for two concepts that, as far as I know, don't have real words. The first is one I heard for the first time this week: heterosexual life partner. This, I'm told, is something like what a bosom friend used to be, except we don't really use that phrase anymore outside of bra shopping. My younger sister has one, and another old friend has one. But what an ugly thing to call the person you consider to be more than a best friend but less ... attached, shall we say, than a spouse! Besides which, to me it can be confused with the relationship of heterosexual people who live as spouses but aren't married.

    In fact, I hate the word "partner" for describing that kind of relationship. It sounds so much like a business arrangement, nothing romantic or hopeful or optimistic in it, really.

    Anyway, any good suggestions for heterosexual life partner?

    The other is a little more complicated. It's a writing issue. I'll try to explain.

    Sometimes you write a scene in a story, or go into a long thought-chain in an essay, in which the character or narrator is meant to be in a particular place -- this especially comes up in travel writing. And you get caught up in your narration or thoughts on the character or whatever, and your words go on long enough that the reader forgets where you are meant to be. When this happens, bringing the reader back to that place can be a little jarring.

    So when you're revising, or someone's editing for you, you need to put in little placement reminders. For example, I was working on a colleague's essay about Cuba. She was describing sitting at an outdoor restaurant there, and was writing about Cuban economics and people's personal career situations and so on. She thought it went on too long, but all she needed was a little reminder that we were sitting in the restaurant: "The waiter brought us beers and I shifted the milk crate I was sitting on to let an old woman pass" or something like that.

    I find these lines really important, and for myself I made up a shorthand name for them. I call them 'locator lines.' But I'm thinking there either must already exist a good term for them, or someone can come up something a little shorter or more poetic. Any ideas? If I haven't explained very well, please say so.

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    Bring on the Babbling

    (Note: Introvert Girl--me--is going to attempt posting on the Choco-Bang every Thursday. Hurrah for New Year's resolutions!)

    Introvert Girl is not a talker. But you probably guessed that. Being an introvert, of course, I can thrive on a really meaningful conversation with one or two people whose opinions and ideas fire my imagination. For a couple of hours. Once a week. But I don't like being on the phone (really don't like it). I don't like frequent social gatherings. I don't like having guests in my house who can't entertain themselves. I usually need a day to myself to recover from a party, and a solid week to myself to recover from houseguests.

    So what could possibly turn I'Girl into a babbly, chatty, talking idiot? If you know that I've recently had a baby, you know the answer.

    It's not that his gummy, gorgeous smile prompts me to go "coochy-coo" at him on a whim. Nope, it's worse. It's a book.

    When I told her I was pregnant, my sister presented me with What's Going on in There? which is a book about baby brain development written by a neurobiologist. And it's good, really good -- interesting and educational and persuasive. I have some issues with the research the author quotes, which involves horrible behavior toward rats, monkeys, and orphaned and abused children, but that's a very small part of the book.

    A very large part is given over to the development of language in babies. And I've discovered, to my sorrow, that talking constantly to a baby (not just around the baby or near the baby) during its first couple years lays a a foundation for complex language development that can never be made up in later life. Research has shown that, no matter what your economic class or social background, the more you talk to a baby, the better its brain develops. The effects of early language exposure last well into elementary school, and, if maintained through childhood years, throughout a kid's learning life.

    You've got to talk, talk, talk. And it's hard. For someone who revels in silence and who can go whole happy days not saying a word to anyone, it's a massive shift in habit. (I usually use up my chatting energy by doing filial duty on the phone. I thought I could rack up talk credits while expressively directing my words at him while I was on the phone, but somehow he knows the difference and doesn't engage.) My only incentive is the overwhelming evidence that my constant chatter is really, really important to this fourteen-pounder's little brain.

    What's Going on in There? has been a true mind-opener for me. But as I try to remember to tell my son what I'm doing as I'm trying to make myself lunch, or spend an hour exchanging babble with him in his room, I kind of wish, secretly, that I hadn't read it. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    [sigh] ...and it was written by a "journalist"

    Wouldn't you think that a Serious Journalist would be more careful about email composition, especially considering how easily one's emails can appear in places where one least expects to find them... such as here. The following example simply cries out for a bit of editing (at a minimum), and, if I'm honest, a bit of embellishment, as well.

    While the rest of the peasants continue to go to town on Mr. King's so-called credentials as a journalist, his sense of ethics (or lack thereof), the pride that should be inherent in anyone choosing to call himself or herself a journalist, not to mention the the hypocrisy of our media's superficial attacks on serious presidential candidates, I thought we might have some more narrowly-focused fun...

    Please! Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions.

    ~ ~ ~

    From: King, John C


    Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 5:40 PM

    Subject: excuse me? [Tone: my limited understanding of the rules of Rhetoric makes me think that starting off immediately with such a sarcastic and defensive tone is probably a mistake.]

    I don't read biased uninformed drivel so I'm a little late to the game. [Okay, where are the conjunction and/or the commas?]

    But a friend who understands how my business works and knows a little something about my 20 plus years in it sent me the link to your ramblings. [A friend? Really? Perhaps the friend thought there were some things you should know, e.g., how your work is perceived by others, namely your audience. Sometimes it's very difficult for a friend to be that honest, but a true friend will take advantage of an opportune opening when one is provided.]

    Since the site suggests you have law training, maybe [perhaps?] you forgot that good lawyers to [sic] a little research before they spit out words. ["Law training" that usage meant to belittle Greenwald's own professional experience... a tit for tat? And "spit out words" that a synonym for "present an argument?" I've never actually seen a lawyer spit, though they do have a reputation for trying to catch their quarry unaware.]

    Did you think to ask me or anyone who works with me whether that was the entire interview? No. [Did the interview conclude with "to be continued?" If not, then one would reasonably conclude it was complete.] (It was not; just a portion used by one of the many CNN programs.) [The phrase following a semi-colon technically should be able to stand as a complete sentence. This one does not, since it lacks a proper verb: "it was just a portion used" or "just a portion was used".]

    Did you reach out to ask the purpose of that specific interview? No. [Again, I am not an expert in Rhetoric, but shouldn't the purpose of an interview (that is published in good faith) have been revealed in the actual interview-- as published-- rather than publishing it with the expectation that every reader or skeptical critic will call CNN or Mr. King himself to make inquiries? Shouldn't such interviews be able to stand on their own? Do CNN and Mr. King really have time to deal with so many inquiries?]

    Or how it might have fit in with other questions being asked of other candidates that day? No. [See above.]

    Or anything that might have put facts or context or fairness into your critique. No. [This "non-question" is a bit trickier, because it is more manipulative, implying that the burden of supplying facts, context and fairness rests even more heavily on the shoulders of the critic, than on the author of the original work. Certainly, the point is debatable, although Mr. King clearly does not think so.]

    McCain, for better or worse, is a very accessible candidate. If you did a little research (there he goes with that word again) [Was the intention in that parenthetical phrase to sound Reaganesque? If so, the attempt failed. I don't recall ever hearing Reagan refer to himself in the third person. Further, an interesting critique of Reagan's own rhetorical techniques can be found in Oliver Sachs's book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Very provocative.] you would find I have had my share of contentious moments with him over the years. [I must be of the older generation now, since I came of age expecting that the journalists would do the research, and that we, the readers, would read the results of their research. I don't recall any suggestions that I should do my own supplemental research, but only that I should keep an open and skeptical mind before coming to a conclusion.]

    But because of that accessibility, you don't have to go into every interview asking him about the time he cheated on his sixth grade math test. [Is this the sort of loaded question that today's journalists now believe constitutes being "hard-hitting?" Just curious. More to the point, the initial phrase does not work well with the one it is meant to parallel in the previous paragraph. Another possibility might have been to write "because Sen. McCain is so accessible, [one] does not have to..." The many jumps between between first, second and third person are very disconcerting.]

    The [purpose of the] interview was mainly [primarily?] to get a couple of questions to him on [Implies a delivery... perhaps: "ask him a couple of questions about..."] his thoughts on the [proper?] role of government when the economy is teetering on the edge of [a] recession, in conjunction with similar questions being put to several of the other candidates. [We readers (and viewers) would have greatly appreciated being able to find these questions. Were they accidentally misplaced or filed elsewhere? Also, who were the other candidates with whom Sen. McCain was being compared? The sentence is ambiguous, and could refer to any part of the GOP or Democratic fields, or to all of the candidates. Perhaps this information should also have been included in the interview.]

    The portion you cited was aired by one of our programs -- so by all means it is fair game for whatever "analysis" you care to apply to it using your right of free speech and your lack of any journalistic standards or fact checking or just plain basic curiosity. [Again, tone, is so important. Why is "analysis" in quotes? Are the quotes intended to impugn Greenwald's analysis with irony? How ironic, considering the vast streams of irony that pour forth from our newspapers, and, even more, from our news broadcasters every day. Further, "fair game" implies an adversarial relationship that is generally missing from most mainstream reporting on figures who are beloved by the press, e.g., Sen. McCain. Finally, although the program was also "fair game," as Mr. King notes, he undercuts that statement by implying a lack of fairness on Greenwald's part by using such phrases as "whatever 'analysis' you care to apply," "lack of any journalistic standards or fact checking or just plain basic curiosity.]

    You clearly know very little about journalism. [And, clearly, Mr. King knows very little about Greenwald's areas of expertise, e.g., the many failings of contemporary journalism when reporting on constitutional issues (among others), but then, he has admitted that he does not read such drivel. Still, a bit of "research"-- e.g., reading some of Greenwald's prior posts-- in advance of writing this email, might have been beneficial.] But credibility matters. It is what allows you to cover six presidential campaigns and [still?] be viewed as fair and respectful, while perhaps a little cranky, but Democrats and Republicans alike. [Does "but [by] Democrats and Republicans alike" refer to being "viewed as fair and respectful," or "perhaps a little cranky." The awkward construction leaves the reader wondering.]

    When I am writing something that calls someone's credibility into question, I pick up the phone and give them a chance to give their side, or perspective. [And yet, reviewers and critics never make such calls, as a number of Mr. Greenwald's commenters have noted. A distinction has been left floundering: both original reporting and reviewing/critiquing require sufficient background and knowledge, supplemented by research when necessary, but only reporting requires making calls and checking facts with sources, because the original work is still being written. The critique or review is of that finished work, and does not require the permission of, or any rationalizations from, the original author, although the author is certainly free to respond, just as Mr. King has done.]

    That way, even on days that I don't consider my best, or anywhere close, I can look myself in the mirror and know I tried to be fair and didn't call into question someone's credibility just for sport, or because I like seeing my name on a website or my face on TV. [Frankly, a little more skepticism would be welcome, not for sport or fame, but because our country faces so many serious challenges, many of which might have been avoided entirely if our current president had faced more skepticism during his first campaign, or even during his second.

    In fact, a great many of us -- according to polls, at least 75%, and perhaps as many as 80% -- awake each morning to look in our mirrors and reflect on the many misdirections to which we have been subjected -- by both the Bush administration and an acquiescent press -- and which have, far worse, sorely affected our country's reputation throughout the world.]

    ~ ~ ~

    The original post on Greenwald's blog can be found here.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Have your donut and your doughnut, too

    Today I bow my head to the gods of language devolution. I give up. The stupidifiers of language win. Today my Gmail automatic spell-checker told me I had spelled "doughnut" incorrectly. "Donut" was the right formation of letters to describe a ball of dough fried in oil.

    Fine. Go ahead. Have your strawberrys and your two week's notice and your donuts and your nucular energy, too. I'm too tired to argue.

    But why is it that people who insist on certain spellings or pronunciations out of ignorance always get to win? Don't we get one? Just one? A little one? Me, I'd really like to keep the word "nauseated." I realize it's a lost cause, that there are few of us anymore who shiver when someone says, "I feel nauseous," but that's my pick. It's a perfectly good word, as is "nauseous," and I don't see why language should be muddied by using the latter for more meanings than it previously had. Talk about downsizing! Residents of dictionaries oughta complain. They're being fired right out of existence.

    Speaking of which, I'm having lovely little time-wasting sessions playing vocabulary games on the Free Rice link recommended by Karen. But does anyone else find some of their definitions a little ... odd?