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?