Department of bad writing

I am not writing this to pick on Mrs. Edwards, who is suffering from a recurrence of her breast cancer. As to that, she has only my best wishes that her cancer is, in fact, curable or, if not, that its progress is slow and mild. I cannot resist, however, making you all privy to this remarkably awkward bit of writing in the BBC report about Mrs. Edwards’ cancer:

Mr Edwards said the disease was incurable, but treatable, and that Mrs Edwards would live with the disease for as long as she was alive. (Emphasis mine.)

I can only assume, after reading that above, that once Mrs. Edwards dies (and I hope that event occurs many decades from now), she will cease living with the disease.

If you’re like me, you think it’s rather remarkable that the person who wrote that silly sentence is actually paid by the British taxpayers to write for the BBC news.

UPDATE:  By the way, I’m assuming that the above semantic silliness is from the BBC writer, and not Edwards himself.  I also assume it’s an awkward way of saying that, because the cancer is treatable, it will not significantly shorten her life, but will simply become a chronic problem.  To the extent the news report said the cancer is in her bone, however, that prognosis, sadly, sounds like a very optimistic one.  Of the many people I’ve known with cancer, none have long survived its infiltration into their bones.  As I said before, I sincerely hope for the best for Mrs. Edwards who, despite lots of material wealth, has taken some of life’s hardest hits.  And, while I dislike Edwards the politician, I feel nothing but compassion for Edwards the man.

The triumph of the mundane

The more I learn about Obama, the less — much less — that I like him. Over at Cheat-Seeking Missiles, Laer brings up the fact that Obama’s moderate posturing for his presidential candidacy is just that: posturing. In fact, he’s about as liberal as liberal can be, which is fine if you like that kind of stuff, but not fine if you’re trying to gull the American public into believing you’re just Mr. Middle-of-the-Road.

The other thing that really irks me about the guy, aside from his duplicity, is the fawning over his stellar rhetoric. It shows how cheapened that commodity is in this day and age that Obama is held up as an example of quality speech making. Fortunately, I’m not the only one who sees the emperor parading down the street with people singing hosannas to his invisible speech making skills. Patrick, my favorite Paragraph Farmer, is wise to Obama too, and has written a wonderful, and extremely funny, article exposing Obama’s verbal nakedness.

After reading Patrick’s article, which will leave you both laughing and feeling depressed about the level of political debate in this country, you may want to visit this website for a good dose of quality political speeches. | digg it

A cultural divide

When I hear of a long-term relationship, I think in terms of decades — multiples of them. So when I read the headline that “Uma Thurman and long-time beau split up,” I assumed that we were talking about one of those bizarre Hollywood relationships whose years can actually be counted in the double digits. Silly me. Turns out that Thurman and beau were together for three years, and even during that time, they kept drifting in and out of the relationship. I’m not even really into middle-age yet and I’m already an out-of-it old coot (coot-ess, ’cause I’m a girl?). | digg it

Analyzing liberal speak

I’m one of those people who never, never has a good comeback in conversation. Hurl an insult or a fallacy at me and I’m the one with my mouth agape. (Typically, the French have a phrase for it: “Esprit de l’escalier.”) I can tell that something is wrong with what I just heard, but I simply need more time to process the flaws before I can respond. This is why I’m a much better legal writer than I am a courtroom attorney. In the courtroom, I just flap my mouth like a fish, whereas in the world of paper, I can carefully break down my opponent’s argument, analyze its failures, and rebut it at my leisure. This characteristic also explains why I like to confine my political arguments to the blog world — a written world — and avoid face-to-face confrontations with people.

Fortunately, there is help out there for people like me. Richard Mgrdechian, frustrated by liberal rhetorical tactics, decided to analyze them and break them down into their component parts. The result of these efforts is his book How The Left Was Won : An In-Depth Analysis of the Tools and Methodologies Used by Liberals to Undermine Society and Disrupt the Social Order. This book is not a political tract that analyzes Democratic/Lefist/Liberal politics and policies. Instead, it is what it promises to be — a book analyzing the rhetorical patterns that emanate from the Left to advance Leftist positions.

Mgrdechian, after reading my blog, thought that I might be someone who would appreciate his book, and was kind enough to send me a copy. As I explained to him later, I was terribly worried that I would read it and hate it. Since I had gotten a free copy, I would be tremendously bothered by the conflict between my obligations to him — to be polite and grateful — and my obligations to my blog — to be honest and reliable. Fortunately, there is no conflict. I read his book in one day, and thought it was just great. I can write about it with a clear conscience, which I’m happy to do, because it comes out of a small publisher and has almost no advertising. So, here’s the review for those of you plagued by chronic esprit de l’escalier.
Mgrdechian has straight-forward writing that’s easy to read and follow. You’re not going to get lost in a morass of scholarly terminology. Instead, in 15 chapters, he examines common rhetorical tools one sees coming from the liberal side of the political spectrum. (And I think that, whether you agree with the agenda or not, you’re going to have to acknowledge that Mgrdechian is correct in identifying the various tactics for imposing that agenda.) The multi-chapter book includes the following concepts:

Promote and Exploit Divisiveness — This chapter focuses on the habit, which the Democrats are working on hard lately, to make everyone feel like a victim. The Balkanization of our society into special interest groups isn’t only an on-the-ground fact but, as Mgredechian points out, a useful rhetorical devise to make constituent members of society angry and hostile. This rhetorical tactic doesn’t provide solutions or hope, but it does advance an anger agenda.

Bad Competition — This short chapter was one of my favorites, since it examines what I call the “race to the bottom.” Mgredechian opens by defining his terms, with good competition having people optimize their product to compete in the marketplace, and bad competition which focuses on impairing others, rather than improving oneself. This latter concept underlies so much government interference that’s predicated on impairing, rather than rewarding, success. I was aware of the phenomenon, but never actually stopped to realize that it’s a formalized tool in the liberal arsenal.

Relevancy and Proportion — Because I come by my analytical skills the hard way — they’re not innate, they’re the product of mental sweat — I loved the chapter on relevancy and proportion. Mgrdechian explains that,

[I]n any meaningful discussion or analysis, there are only two things that actually matter — relevancy and proportion. Relevancy is the concept of applicability — to what extent does a particular point or statement matter to the issue being discussed? Proportion, on the other hand, is how much an issue matters in comparison to the others that need to be considered. [p. 35.]

This is huge, because I tend to follow red-herrings like crazy. Unlike DQ, who is innately talented at spotting core issues in any argument, and ignoring irrelevancies, they’re all the same to me. In a carefully reasoned chapter, however, Mgrdechian gives examples of common arguments and then explains how to separate wheat from chaff. For example:

In the 2004 Presidential election, much was made of the military service records of both Bush and Kerry. But how much did they really matter? At the time of the election, Bush had been President (and therefore Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces) for nearly four years. He had never made a big deal about his National Guard service, and never used it to sell himself to the American people in terms of why he should be President. Since it was not an issue for him, its relevancy in the campaign was pretty close to zero.

On the other hand, most of John Kerry’s campaign — and indeed his entire persona — were built on his military record and all the medals he was somehow awarded in just six months of service. That being the case, the relevancy of his military records was pretty close to being a ten. However, despite this, liberals smeared Bush’s record every chance they could, while simultaneously attacking every effort to look into the details of Kerry’s record. They made every effort to focus on sabotaging something with a relevancy (and importance) of zero, and every effort to avoid any understanding of the details of something with a relevancy (and importance) of ten. [pp. 38-39.]

Anyway, I’m going to be away tomorrow and won’t blog, so I’ll be posting a few excerpts from the book so you can get a better feel for what it’s all about.

UPDATE: If this post has you thinking about rhetoric, check out Catherine Seipp’s funny, on point, article about hypocrisy, an article that opens with her describing some of the usual attack tactics emanating from the Left. (And yes, I know the Right does it too, but that’s no what I’m talking about. Also, as a long time Leftie and a fairly new Rightie, I can tell you from personal experience that, whether or not you agree with the underlying position, the Right uses more fact and logic to argue its points.)
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Religious war

My posting was light yesterday, in part because I had a lot of work and childcare obligations, and in part because I’d sort of run myself out of energy working on a contribution to the American Thinker‘s series of articles about religious wars. For the American Thinker, I ended up with this idea [hyperlinks omitted]:

Five days after 9/11, George Bush stated

“This crusade, this war on terrorism is gonna take awhile. And the American people must be patient. I’m gonna be patient.”

America has been running from that speech ever since.

It doesn’t matter that George Bush used the word “crusade,” not in a religious sense, but in a more literary, erudite sense, to mean “a vigorous concerted movement for a cause or against an abuse.” Because the President is known to be a religious man, his detractors and our enemies abroad have latched onto that single word to characterize all of America’s subsequent actions in the Middle East as a Christian crusade. (See, for example, this The Nation article, in which the author crows about President Bush’s ineptitude in allying himself with the medieval Crusaders, something that had “Bush already reading from [Osama Bin Laden’s] script.”)

These attacks against Bush’s (in retrospect) poor choice of words mean that America has vigorously and repeatedly denied that this war has anything to do with religion. Thus, while our opponents “coincidentally” belong to the same faith – Islam – we’re told repeatedly that Islam is a “religion of peace” (all present, historical and doctrinal evidence to the contrary). The obvious implication is that, to the extent that Islam is peaceful, religion can have nothing to do with events around us.

This blind obeisance to maintaining parity – because we’re not engaged in a religious war, they’re not engaged in a religious war – is both nonsensical and harmful. It’s nonsensical, of course, because it’s so obvious that our opponents – whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Canada, England, or wherever – make no secret about the impetus behind their animus towards us. While the Marxists may be spouting off about economic imperialism, those who array themselves against us talk generally about seeing Sharia enforced through the world. At a more specific level, they demand a Muslim takeover of America, the imposition of Sharia in Britain, and urge a holocaust to wipe out the Jewish nation (a nation Islam has long held to be an intractable enemy that must be destroyed). Under these circumstances, our denial that there is a religious component to the instant World War merely makes us look foolish.

If you think this is an interesting premise, you can read the rest here.

Giving words meaning

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

Through the Looking Glass.

I was reminded of Humpty Dumpty’s immortal words when I read Prof. James R. Russell’s lengthy celebration of David Horowitz’s book, The Professors. That book is about the rabid Leftism that characterizes so many American professors. It turns out that Prof. Russell has experienced much of that insanity firsthand. Near the end of a lengthy article about the professorial insanity that would offend anyone normal person, whether that person claims the title “liberal” or “conservative,” Russell talks about what words mean in the context of the professors’ bizarre, anti-Democratic conduct:

A problem we face is that of terminology. Words like “liberal” and “Left” actually mean today the opposite of what they once did; while “conservatives” on American campuses are a dissenting, often disenfranchised minority who believe in freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, fair hiring practices, and so on. They tend to oppose the murder of Jews, the practice of slavery, female circumcision, and, of course, destroying office buildings full of working people with airplanes full of more working people. (Among the “little Eichmanns” working at the WTC when “the chickens came home to roost” were men and women from my old neighborhood, Washington Heights: Dominican immigrants who worked as janitors, as cooks at Windows on the World.) Let’s start by calling things by their right names: Horowitz’s 101 professors are bigots, racists, apologists for murder, fascists, traitors to this country.

Unsurprisingly, Prof. Russell’s thoughts about labeling tie in neatly with my earlier post about the Berkeley prof. who concluded that bad children grow up to be evil conservatives, while good children grow up to be good liberals. Even if one concedes the developmental trajectory, no one should allow professors to control the labels.

UPDATE:  For a wonderful post about words and their meanings, this time regarding the maybe yes/maybe no “civil war” in Iraq, be sure to check out this post at Callimachus’s Done With Mirrors.
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