Category Archives: Words

Remembering teachers for what they did to (I mean, for) you

Had to reTweet this item from The Onion today:

Unemployed, Miserable Man Still Remembers Teacher Who First Made Him Fall In Love With Writing

AUBURN, CA—Explaining that she introduced him to the literature that made him the man he is today, 41-year-old Casey Sheard, an unemployed and fundamentally miserable person, confirmed to reporters Tuesday that he still fondly remembers the high school teacher who first inspired him to fall in love with writing. “Mrs. Merriman was the one who put a copy of The Sound And The Fury in my hands when I was 16 years old, and it totally changed my life,” said Sheard, who has reportedly been unable to hold down any semblance of well-paid, full-time employment, constantly struggles to stay financially afloat, has thus far failed to make a living off of writing as a career, and has frequently spiraled into long periods of severe depression and unhappiness….

A couple of other word guys liked that. Mike Fitts just added, “Yep.”

The thing that makes Pope Francis special

bruised-church

Sometime over the last few days, someone shared the above quote on Facebook, which caused me to have three thoughts:

  1. Yes, that’s a nice quote, which speaks to what the Church is supposed to be. Here’s some context.
  2. There’s nothing new in it. If you had asked Pope Benedict whether that was a sound assertion, he would have agreed. Probably. Surely John Paul II would have.
  3. Why do people post things like this as images, rather than text, so that you can’t just copy and paste them? Is this another sign that we are moving toward a post-literate society? Drives me nuts…

And then I moved on.

But I ran across it again later, and had another thought:

Yes, other popes would have agreed with it, but Pope Francis chooses, unbidden, to assert this over and over. This is his chosen message. This is what he wants you to hear, and understand, about the Church and about Christianity.

And that’s what makes him special. It’s why the world welcomes him so joyfully. It’s why the guy can’t even leave an ordinary voice message for some nuns without it going viral. People love the guy. And that’s because the message he chooses, first and foremost, is that of love…

My linguistic map, according to the NYT

diction

I took this quiz to which Bryan drew my attention. It’s one that places you regionally in terms of, well, your terms — not your accent, but by the regionalism expressed in your choice of words.

I’m a little suspicious of the result. For the most part, it shows some influence from the places where I’ve lived. Almost everywhere I’ve ever lived is within the “more similar” areas, with the exception of Woodbury, NJ, which I think had a significant impact on the way I use language.

I think the reason I seem so Southern on the map is that I said that I use “y’all” as a second-person plural pronoun. Other than that one answer, which rang the Southern bell so loudly, I usually found myself distributed more widely across the country (the quiz gives you a map for each answer). And that would have been watered down if the test had allowed me to answer both “y’all” and “you,” which would have been accurate.

But hey, today, I’m going to be dismissive of anything the NYT has to say

UPDATE: Suspicious of the “y’all” bias in the test, which I felt anchored me as Southern no matter how I answered the other questions (two of the three Southern cities in which the test placed me — neither of which I ever lived in — were based on “y’all”), I went in and took the test again. This time, I answered “you,” which is accurate because I say that for the plural as well (when I lived in New Jersey in the 2nd grade, I would say, “youse guys,” so I could have stretched a point and answered that way).

This time, the test threw me a couple of curves and asked questions about two other words. I was asked how I pronounce “lawyer” and whether I call soft drinks “soda” or “pop” or whatever. I knew that “soda” would place me in the South, but that was the obvious answer. What shocked me was that pronouncing “lawyer” properly — clearly enunciating “law” and “yer” — also marked me as Southern (specifically, as being from what Memphis calls the “Mid-South” — could that be because I used to cover courts in that region?). Two of the three cities in which I was placed (Birmingham and Columbus, GA) were based on that. Which is weird, because Memphis would have made more sense, it being the dominant population center of the region that lit up when I answered the way I did.

Oh — and it also asked me about a pet peeve. I HATE it when I hear people call nighttime attire “puh-JAM-uhs.” Obviously, it is “pa-JAH-mas.” But answering that correctly also made me Southern. Go figure (which I’m pretty sure is Yankee talk).

My second result.

My second result — if anything, I came out more distinctly Southern.

How Americans and Brits came to sound so different

As a New Year’s present, my old high school friend Burl (and Ha’ole Makahiki Hou to you, too, Burl!) passes on a couple of links that he knew would interest me.

Here’s one, and here’s the other. The first one, headlined “When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents?,” is the more informative.

The main idea communicated by both is that General American (the way they talk in Nebraska) is in important ways closer to the way Brits spoke before 1776. For instance, their speech patterns were rhotic, meaning they pronounced their Rs back then. Sometime in Jane Austen’s (and Jack Aubrey‘s, had he existed) youth, upper-class Brits started dropping their Rs.

The coolest thing in the article is the way it explains why some Americans also went non-rhotic after that:

Around the turn of the 18th-19th century, not long after the revolution, non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper and upper-middle classes. It was a signifier of class and status. This posh accent was standardized as Received Pronunciation and taught widely by pronunciation tutors to people who wanted to learn to speak fashionably. Because the Received Pronunciation accent was regionally “neutral” and easy to understand, it spread across England and the empire through the armed forces, the civil service and, later, the BBC.

Across the pond, many former colonists also adopted and imitated Received Pronunciation to show off their status. This happened especially in the port cities that still had close trading ties with England — Boston, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah. From the Southeastern coast, the RP sound spread through much of the South along with plantation culture and wealth.

After industrialization and the Civil War and well into the 20th century, political and economic power largely passed from the port cities and cotton regions to the manufacturing hubs of the Mid Atlantic and Midwest — New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, etc. The British elite had much less cultural and linguistic influence in these places, which were mostly populated by the Scots-Irish and other settlers from Northern Britain, and rhotic English was still spoken there. As industrialists in these cities became the self-made economic and political elites of the Industrial Era, Received Pronunciation lost its status and fizzled out in the U.S. The prevalent accent in the Rust Belt, though, got dubbed General American and spread across the states just as RP had in Britain…

So, assuming this is all correct, that’s why many Charlestonians and denizens of South Boston don’t pronounce Rs today — because of the affectations of their ancestors.

There’s a lot more to the differences between General American and Received Pronunciation, starting with vowel sounds, but I liked the way the rhotacism thing was explained.

Burl, by the way, has a fairly typical military brat’s speech pattern — which most Americans would regard as accentless. But he and I both, in our youths, enjoyed tinkering around with other people’s ways of speaking. We loved accents, the more outrageous the better.

Much of that plasticity is gone from my tongue today, but with practice I can get it back. If I warm up the proper mouth muscles on Sunday morning (I do this by reading the passage aloud over and over before Mass), I can do a Scripture reading in Spanish in an accent that gets me about 80 percent of the way (to my ear) to sounding like a native speaker, of some vague nationality. And during rehearsals for “Pride and Prejudice,” our diction coach asked me where I was from, and complimented me on my use of Received Pronunciation. But I’d been practicing for weeks by that time. If you ask me to do it at the drop of a hat, I’ll probably fall flat.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve gradually started sounding a bit more Southern than I once did — taking on the coloration of my surroundings.

But my speech is still rhotic.

Thoughts on the president’s presser? Share them here…

I’ve sort of been listening along during the president’s pre-holiday press availability while doing other stuff.

I liked the question — I forget who asked it, and pressed it, but he was pretty insistent — that amounted to this: Mr. President, several months ago you said the NSA wasn’t doing anything wrong. Why do you think the procedures need to be changed now?

It was a good question. The president was right — there was nothing wrong with our surveillance programs then, and there isn’t now. What has happened is that the drip, drip, drip of details — which haven’t revealed anything significant regarding policy itself, but have merely attached names and specifics (things we did not need to know), and it has had an erosive effect on public opinion. Exactly as Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald intended.

And while he sort of danced around it, the president essentially said that: There’s nothing wrong with these programs, but political opinion has changed, so we’re reacting to that. And the way we’re reacting is that we’re looking for ways to get the intel job done with some procedural changes that make people feel better.

Which is not terrible in and of itself. But I would much, much rather that the president stand up to this propaganda campaign by two people who are trying to harm this nation, and argue against the public impression that their efforts have created. Because by reacting by making changes — or even reacting by trying to make it appear that we are making changes — tells any other minor players with a God complex that if they betray this country by disclosing classified information with which they have been entrusted, they will achieve their goals.

That creates an extremely dangerous precedent.

Now, as to the Obamacare comments, two things jumped out.

I reacted initially the way Ali Weinberg did: “Has Obama ever said before that he was only meeting with health care team ‘every other week, every three weeks’?”

But about two seconds later, I reflected that hey, having a meeting every two or three weeks with a bunch of underlings to make sure they’re doing their jobs is fairly often, given that a POTUS does have a few other responsibilities. It’s way short of micromanaging, but it’s more than “only.”

Then, I noticed that CBSNews reported, “Obama takes blame on health care rollout: ‘Since I’m in charge, we screwed it up’.”

Ummm… no, not really. In fact, when I heard him say it, it struck me as a case of verbal contortion, in an effort to fall just short of taking the blame personally.

That’s really a bizarre construction: “Since I’m in charge” sounds like he’s about to take the blame, but “we screwed it up” rather startlingly shares the blame with others.

I haven’t heard an acceptance of responsibility that tortured since “Mistakes were made.”

Any other thoughts on the president’s remarks today?

This year’s One Book: Conroy’s “My Reading Life”

Tony Tallent, the Director of Literacy and Learning at Richland Library, announced this year's selection.

Tony Tallent, the Director of Literacy and Learning at Richland Library, announced this year’s selection.

Last night, I dropped by Richland Library for the unveiling of the chosen book for the 2014 “One Book” program.

It’s My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy. Everyone was pretty pumped about it, in part because the author himself will be participating in the program.conroy

I look forward to reading it myself, and joining in discussions of it. As you may recall, I moderated a discussion at the library for this past year’s selection, A.J. Mayhew’s The Dry Grass of August, a book I enjoyed much more than I had thought I would.

Which I suppose is kinda the point of participating in a program that gets you to read something you might not have. It’s broadening to get pulled away, however briefly, from my obsessive re-reading of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series (I’m currently on about my sixth trip through some of the books — I still haven’t allowed myself to read the very last two in the series).

Now, to digress…

After the announcement, I got involved in a discussion of the strong-mayor referendum with Mike Miller, Tim Conroy (the author’s brother and a longtime Columbian), and City Councilman Sam Davis. All of us, except Mr. Davis, had been deeply disappointed by the outcome. He listened patiently to us, and we listened patiently to him, but I don’t think any minds were changed.

We were joined late in the discussion by our old blog friend James D. McAllister, a writer and owner of Loose Lucy’s. He was against strong-mayor, but Kathryn would probably discount his opinion, since, like me, he doesn’t live in the de jure city.

Anyway, back to the book… maybe we should all read it and have a good discussion of it here on the blog. Whaddya think?

No, that is NOT me. That's Mike Miller with Tim Conroy.

No, that is NOT me. That’s Mike Miller with Tim Conroy, later in the evening at First Thursday on Main.

A wonderfully temperate and respectful speech on an emotional issue

Andrew Sullivan embedded this video from the Scottish parliament earlier this week because he saw it as “The Conservative Case For Marriage Equality.”

I was impressed with it for another reason: It was so thoughtful, mature and respectful to people who might disagree.

We don’t see a lot of that on this side of the pond when it comes to these Culture War issues. For that matter, we seldom see politicians sincerely addressing themselves to people who disagree with them about anything — the parties are so far apart that speeches are just about lambasting the opposition, and gaining the admiration of those who agree.

Unlike the rhetoric I routinely see in press releases, or in commentary on the Web, there is no name-calling, no castigation of those who disagree as narrow-minded bigots, as the spiritual heirs of lynch mobs.

Instead, we have thoughts such as those contained in this passage:

I therefore commend all of the contributors to this debate over the past few months and years who have sought to make thoughtful contributions, to elevate the ideas and to temper the language, displaying a respect for beliefs which differ from their own, but recognizing that those beliefs are just as sincerely held.

And I hope that that temperance will continue this evening, demonstrating that while this may be a fledgling parliament, that it has a maturity too….

If this woman, Ruth Davidson, is a representative sample, hers is a mature parliament, indeed.

Hey, that’s what I think about the left and the right

For some reason — I forget why now — I was about to use the phrase “begging the question,” and I thought I’d better make sure I remembered what it meant.

So I looked it up. I did not find the Wikipedia explanation helpful. I thought I understood it from the definition, but the actual examples confused me, rather than clarifying, as examples are supposed to do. I must admit that after reading that, I doubt I could tell an instance of begging the question from “circular reasoning.”

But I was intrigued to read about another related fallacy, the “complex question.” To wit:

Begging the question is similar to the complex question (also known as trick question or fallacy of many questions): a question that, in order to be valid, requires the truth of another question that has not been established. For example, “Which color dress is Mary wearing—blue or red?” may be fallacious because it restricts the possible responses to a blue or red dress. Unless it has previously been established that the dress is one of those two colors, the question is fallacious because it could be neither of them…

Aha! Now I have a new name for the thing that I hate most about the way most of us engage politics.

Practically every political proposition set forth in our era is couched as red or blue — left or right, Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. Whereas to me, the correct answer is almost never blue or red.

But most people today will not allow you to answer any way other than “red” or “blue.” I mean, you can answer “green” or “brown” or “gray” or “khaki” or whatever you like — they just refuse to hear it.

This is the bane of anyone who tries to think about issues, rather than buying a prefab set of “red” or “blue” answers right off the shelf, and present honest conclusions based upon that thought. If you’re disagreeing with someone of the red persuasion, everyone assumes you are blue, and tells you so — and vice versa. The idea that you are neither red nor blue simply isn’t admitted. Because our public debate is not couched in terms that make it possible.

“Complex question” is misleading terminology. Yeah, I get that the question is complex, in the sense of having a complicating additional element, but the effect is to force the world into a binary choice — which is oversimplification.

But hey; I didn’t come up with the term…

Taking all the arrant pedants to task

It takes a lot of nerve to correct other people’s grammar, if only because of number 13 on the following list of 12.

It takes gall to the nth power (an expression which, I fear, may not make sense grammatically) to correct those who correct others.

So it is with admiration that I point to the following list (brought to my attention by Stanley Dubinsky), from a blog with the wonderful name “Arrant Pedantry.” You know, the thing up with which Churchill allegedly would not put.

This list won’t make a lot of sense without the explanations of each item, so I urge you to go to the original. But here’s a taste:

12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Who Writes About Grammar Mistakes Makes

1. Confusing grammar with spelling, punctuation, and usage….

2. Treating style choices as rules….

3. Ignoring register….

4. Saying that a disliked word isn’t a word….

5. Turning proposals into ironclad laws….

6. Failing to discuss exceptions to rules….

7. Overestimating the frequency of errors….

8. Believing that etymology is destiny….

9. Simply bungling the rules….

10. Saying that good grammar leads to good communication….

11. Using grammar to put people down….

12. Forgetting that correct usage ultimately comes from users….

13. Making mistakes themselves. It happens to the best of us. The act of making grammar or spelling mistakes in the course of pointing out someone else’s mistakes even has a name, Muphry’s law. This post probably has its fair share of typos. (If you spot one, feel free to point it out—politely!—in the comments.)

I’m not saying I agree with all those assertions. For instance, I disagree with No. 8. Contrary to the writer’s belief, “decimate” does have a definite meaning, one that is obvious from its Latin root, and the fact that many people use it to mean something worse, something more devastating, simply proves that they are wrong. And I don’t bloody care that the OED blog disagrees with me.

But this writer is right to say that most pedants need to chill on the absolutes. After all, there’s only one absolute rule that a true wordsmith will never violate: Don’t ever use “impact” as a verb.

Follow that one, and you’re OK in my book.

The Word of the Year, and a picture to go with it

I learned this from listening to NPR this morning:

Good morning. I’m Renee Montagne announcing the word of the year: Selfie. The Smartphone self-portrait. The Oxford Dictionary says it perfectly captures 2013. Selfies lit up social media and dirty ones derailed political careers. Teens even took one with the Pope. The word’s come a long way since popping up on an Australian message board a decade ago. It beat out binge watch, meaning marathon TV watching, and twerk. You can look that one up.

But what really made me enjoy the news was this Tweet from NASA’s Curiosity Rover:

selfie

By the way, as a guy who has had occasion to shoot a number of pictures of himself over the years, what with blogging and the avatars needed for social media, I really don’t like the way that word sounds.

Is ‘Common Core’ the ‘whole language’ of 2013?

Maybe I should have gone to that anti-Common Core rally yesterday. Maybe I’d understand better what the beef is.

So far, based on news coverage of the event, I can’t tell. As an issue that stirs people’s (at least, a few people’s) passions to the point of marching, it seems lacking.

People seem to dislike it because it’s federal — except that it isn’t. Or they seem to dislike it because it’s a standard, preferring to leave curriculum up to teachers. I think. Or maybe they just don’t like the word, “common.” I got that last impression from the woman quoted in The State today who asserted, “My kids are not common.”

I haven’t been perplexed this way over an education issue since the phonics-vs.-whole language wars.

Remember those? People who favored the teaching of reading and writing by the phonics method were really, really angry that this thing called “whole language” was being taught in schools.

I always thought it odd that this would be an issue, particularly a political issue. Like there was some deep ideological or even moral principle at stake in whether a kid learned to read “cat” by sounding it out or by recognizing it by context, or on sight.

In learning most Western language, the phonic method is useful. Especially a simple, straightforward language such as Spanish, in which letters usually (but still not always) represent the same sounds.

It’s even useful in English, for “cat” and “hat” and “bat” and “rat.”

But then, it’s not useful at all for recognizing, and knowing how to pronounce, “rough” and “bough” and “though” and “through.” There might be some other ways that “ough” is pronounced, but those are four that come to mind immediately.

You just sorta need to know a lot of words on site — I mean, sight. Or infer them by context (which, as I go and look it up while writing this, seems to be more what “whole language” is about). Phonics can be a big help when you’re trying to make out an unfamiliar word (which makes it a good tool to have in your box), but then, it might not.

I remember having a tremendous argument, when I was a first-grader, with a kid in my neighborhood who insisted that there was no way that “said” was the word we pronounced as “sed.” Phonics were all he knew, which limited his ability to come to grips with the language. What he had learned was valuable, but not everything he needed.

I digress. My point is, I didn’t understand why there was such a battle over phonics, and I don’t get the passionate objection to Common Core, either. Can anyone help me out here?

I’m feeling rather inarticulate today…

This is embarrassing.

Whatever my flaws, and they are legion, I thought I could comfort myself that I had an excellent vocabulary. In English, I mean. I’ve probably forgotten more Spanish words than I remember (after having been fluent as a child).

So, having been humiliated by the Slate current events quiz Friday (which asks questions about stupid stuff that no discerning newshound would follow), I thought I’d give myself an ego boost with I saw this Tweet from a mommy-blogger (I suppose they’d say “mum-blogger”) in England:

mamacrow

I followed the link, and took the test. Basically, you click on the words that you know at least one definition of (and you’re on the honor system, so it was a little fuzzy on a definition, I wouldn’t click on that word), and it infers from that how many words you know.

I ended up with a score of 35,100 words. Which is just barely outside the normal range of 22,000-35,000 for most adult native English speakers. There are 300,000 main entries in the OED, so that means I only know a bit more than a tenth of all words in my own language.

Which is depressing. Because while I would expect to be well below the normal range in, say, sports knowledge, I would expect to blow out vocabulary totally, like, you know?

One bright spot, though — when I looked back at the screenshot I saved from my test, below, I noticed that I had failed to click on “awry.” I must have clicked at it and missed, or something. Which means the whole process went, you know, awry! (Also, if I had clicked that I knew “bibulous,” and someone had challenged me on it, my guess of what it meant would have been right — so maybe I should have had more confidence.) So my test score is invalid! I probably would have scored as well as the mum-blogger if I hadn’t been in such a hurry!

vocab2

Good news, bad news, good news, good news, bad news, bad news, good news, bad news about Obamacare

headlines

Peruse the above image of the lockscreen of my iPad at 3:48 p.m. today. Here’s what I thought I understood from those headlines, which all came in within an eight-minute period, while I was in a meeting and couldn’t stop to read further:

  • More than 100,000 used healthcare.gov to pick a plan in October — way more than previously reported!
  • No, only about 26,000 signed up.
  •  No, it was 106,000!
  • … but that was way fewer than hoped.
  • No, wait; it’s just 26,000. That’s according to Sebelius.
  • No, according to Sebelius, it’s 106,000!

When you go beyond the headlines, you see that the 106,000 includes people who signed up through state exchanges (which SC does not have), and only 26k through the federal exchange. And the 106,000 number is way, way fewer than the Obama administration had hoped for and projected.

But, according to Sebelius, about a million people have gone far enough through the process to determine that they are eligible to enroll in a plan.

And off we go again…

Oh, and you’ll notice at the top of that stack of headlines that one had just come in on a story with far easier-to-understand, but more horrific, numbers

Do you really think it’s not a war if Americans aren’t there?

As the kōan goes, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Here’s a tougher one to contemplate on this Veteran’s Day: If there’s a war and no Americans are participating in it, is there still a war?

Many Americans, based on rhetoric I’ve heard in recent years regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, would apparently answer, “no.”

Sorry. “Rhetoric” isn’t quite the word. It suggests overtly political speech. I’m talking about plain ol’ everyday newswriting at the moment.

From an AP story today about the president’s remarks on Veteran’s Day:

Obama used his remarks to remind the nation that thousands of service members are still at war in Afghanistan. The war is expected to formally conclude at the end of next year, though the U.S. may keep a small footprint in the country.

Soon, “the longest war in America’s history will end,” Obama declared.

The boldfaced emphasis is mine.

I think sometimes that my years on the editorial pages made me more sensitive, not less so, to creeping editorializing in news copy. I know it, and I recognize it when I see it. And I saw it there — the representation of a worldview rather than straight reporting.

In the president’s partial defense, he didn’t exactly say the first of those boldfaced statements, although he did say the second one, the one that was a direct quote (I mean, one would certainly hope so, AP):

Our work is more urgent than ever, because this chapter of war is coming to an end.  Soon, one of the first Marines to arrive in Afghanistan 12 years ago — Brigadier General Daniel Yoo — will lead his Camp Pendleton Marines as they become one of the last major groups of Marines to deploy in this war.  And over the coming months, more of our troops will come home.  This winter, our troop levels in Afghanistan will be down to 34,000.  And by this time next year, the transition to Afghan-led security will be nearly complete.  The longest war in American history will end.

He was right when he said “this chapter… is coming to an end.” That doesn’t overstate the case the way the AP version did.

And on the second statement, I suppose you can defend the president on a technicality, saying that it would then end as “our war” — but only in that sense. And such a statement still represents a rather startling indifference toward what happens after we’re gone. It suggests that after we’re no longer in a position to hear them, we don’t care how many trees fall.

It’s a hoot the way Pinterest thinks it knows me

1b8b41e25511f0882a1034430b4bd102

Remember that picture I posted the other day of the protester from 1963?

Well, I posted it on Pinterest, too, and today I got a message from that social media service headlined, “Pins you’ll love!”

One of them was the picture above, with the caption, “Fashionable men.”

Pinterest thinks it knows me. It’s decided that what I want to see is natty young black men in skinny retro ties.

People worry about increasingly intuitive algorithms knowing too much about them. I look at the way those programs actually work, and have to smile. They have a tendency, shall we say, to leap to thinly supported conclusions.

You especially get wild results when the principal medium of expression is photographs, which are so subject to misinterpretation. I’m a word guy; I was interested in the words on the protester’s sign. All Pinterest saw was the picture….

Have you heard the one about the Redskins changing their name?

They’re dropping “Washington,” because it’s embarrassing…

Full disclosure — I didn’t come up with that one. I got it from my son’s father-in-law (and my fellow grandfather) Hunter Herring. He posted the graphic below on Facebook a couple of days back.

I don’t know where he got it. But I thought the #ObamaShutdown tag at the bottom was kind of weird, seeing that the joke seems to be more at the expense of Republicans, since they’re the ones being blamed by most people.

But either way seems overparsing it. It’s really a joke on Washington. We’re pretty much embarrassed by everyone within the Beltway.

Actually, I think the way I tell it works better than the graphic — the “Have you heard…” version. I’ve been trying it on people all day. The great thing is, they get all serious in response to the question, and start saying something like, “Yeah, as I understand it, it’s about…,” and they’re all wondering how I expect them to react… and then I say the punchline, and it relieves the tension. That’s why it works…

washington

Small example of how the parties distort our politics

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this come-on I received from the DCCC:

838,936 of you signed our petition standing with President Obama to end Boehner’s shutdown. That’s great!

BUT — Brad…your name is missing.

Stand with us against the Republican government shutdown, and call out Ted Cruz and John Boehner for their radical obstructionism.

Click here to automatically add your name >>

Thanks,

DCCC Rapid Response

But I thought I’d use it to illustrate how routinely, casually and systematically the major parties distort reality in their bids to keep the money flowing in.

“Boehner’s shutdown”? No, it’s the House radicals’ shutdown. Boehner is pretty much helpless in all this.

“call out Ted Cruz and John Boehner for their radical obstructionism?” Seriously? You expect me to see Cruz, who is actually, majorly culpable in all this, with that poor Tea Party piñata Boehner?

Yes, they do expect that. Because in their worldview, all Democrats are equally good, and all Republicans are equally bad, and equally to blame for all the world’s evils. And the Republicans’ worldview is this one’s mirror-image.

It is staggering to me that even one person would be sucker enough to buy into this claptrap. And yet, they claim, 838,936 people have done so. (By the way, my name is going to continue to be “missing.” But you knew that, right? I hope so…)

There is no way we are going to be able to engage real-world challenges effectively in this country as long as political discourse, and the perception of reality itself, are warped by these parties.

Vote UnParty.

If speaking ability carries the day, then Haley beats Sheheen

Gov. Nikki Haley, speaking to the Columbia Rotary Club last week.

Gov. Nikki Haley, speaking to the Columbia Rotary Club last week.

Reports this morning noted that Nikki Haley has amassed three times as much in campaign funds as has her once-and-future opponent, Vincent Sheheen.

But she enjoys another advantage that I suspect could be even more important: She’s a much better public speaker.

She’s energetic, articulate, engaging and sincere. And those things count with an audience. Especially a live one, as I was reminded when I heard her speak to the Columbia Rotary Club last week.

Meanwhile, Vincent is… Vincent. He’s articulate; I’ll give him that. But his comparatively lollygagging presentation keeps him from connecting the way she does. As I’ve said before, he comes across as a good, smart guy whose attitude is, “Sure, I’ll step forward and be governor, if no one better does.”

By contrast, there is zero doubt in the mind of any listener that Nikki Haley wants it. And that counts. Oh, Americans may give lip service to wanting to elect regular folks who aren’t “career politicians,” who can take public office or leave it alone. But they don’t give their votes to candidates who don’t care enough to court them with every ounce of energy they can muster.

And Nikki Haley does this. She certainly connected well with the Rotary crowd last week. I was reminded yet again of how charmed I was by Ms. Haley in her first couple of runs at public office. She makes a very good first, second, and several more impressions. It’s only after awhile that it starts to bother you that she persists in saying things that… aren’t… quite… true.

Henry McMaster, who has established himself as the best sport in South Carolina with his unstinting support of Nikki since she took from him the nomination that likely would have been his without her meteoric rise, gave her a strong introduction at Rotary. He spoke in glowing terms of how much better off he saw South Carolina as being than it was a few years ago.

And there wasn’t much to fault in what he said, beyond the implication that Nikki Haley deserved the credit. For instance… He lauded the fact that the state’s three major research universities work together these days rather than engaging in wasteful competition. And that is a good thing. But it started years before anyone ever conceived of Nikki Haley being governor. It started when Andrew Sorensen was president at USC (and has continued through Harris Pastides’ tenure). Sorensen formed a partnership with Clemson President James Barker and MUSC President Ray Greenberg. They started going to the Legislature together to talk budgets, rather than clawing at each other for funding. Here’s a column I wrote in February 2006 about the then-startling spectacle of seeing Sorensen and Barker meeting with House Speaker Bobby Harrell at the same time.

Anyway, the state of affairs Henry described was accurate, and worth applauding.

But then, when Nikki Haley got up to speak — and as I say, impressed the audience throughout — she twice spoke of her proposal to go to a system of “accountability funding” for higher education. But she suggested that we need this so as to end the current situation, in which each university is funded according to which of them has the best lobbyist.

No. That describes the situation we had a decade ago. The governor’s funding formula might be well and good — I don’t know enough to critique it at this point — but the problem she’s prescribing it for does not exist. The problem in state funding for higher education is that it has been reduced so much that it’s in the single digits, as a percentage of universities’ operating costs.

That inaccuracy seemed to go right by the audience, as did other things she said that sounded good — she always sounds good, to me as well as to everyone else — but weren’t quite as grounded in reality as a serious observer would like them to be.

And if you’re not a “professional politician,” or a dedicated student of what happens at the State House, or someone who works in the complex field of higher ed funding in this particular case, this stuff just blows right past you. She comes across as smart, informed, dedicated and caring.

And until Vincent Sheheen is able to project those same qualities with much greater gusto, he’s going to be left behind.

I tried shooting some video of her speech last week, but the sound was terrible. You can get a taste of her delivery, however, if you turn it way up. If you’d like to hear her whole speech, it’s here at the Rotary site. The governor’s speech starts at 22 minutes in.

Why do political flacks risk the hazards of Twitter? Because they HAVE to

pfeiffer

Talk about your nightmares.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer made an observation Tuesday on Twitter about how the changing media world was adding to political polarization in the country. Then he tried to add, to @jmartNYT, “also a much bigger factor on the right.”

Only his finger slipped, and he typed an N rather than a B on “bigger.” (Look at your keyboard; they’re right next to each other.) This was on an official White House Twitter account, mind you.

The Tweet was deleted, and he apologized. And the world moved on.

But then, some “veteran politicos” on the Hill started wondering why a senior adviser to the President was fooling around with anything as dangerous as Twitter anyway?

POLITICO explained, as would we, that he has little choice:

For years now, Twitter has served as the public square for political journalists, the place where the conventional wisdom is shaped before it turns into “the narrative.” Communications aides have always monitored that conversation closely, and some have long had an active Twitter presence. But many — top White House spokespeople, especially — often felt safer limiting their own remarks to carefully edited statements shared via press release. As a public forum, Twitter was too informal, too risky, too off-the-cuff.

Increasingly, however, flacks have come to see Twitter as a necessary tool in their communications arsenal. Instead of waiting to respond to reporters’ inquiries, Twitter enables them to influence reporters’ thinking and nip negative coverage in the bud.

“Twitter, like cable news, is another medium where the conversation in Washington gets shaped,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told POLITICO. “Given the current media environment, we engage in real time so that as many folks as possible understand our perspective. Twitter is simply another resource to get our message out, and we generally like to avail ourselves of every opportunity to do just that.”

Brendan Buck, the press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, said Twitter was “what the Speaker’s Lobby used to be. You want to find and talk to assembled reporters, open your Tweetdeck.”

Absolutely.

I am reminded of Trav Robertson who dealt with media for the Vincent Sheheen gubernatorial campaign in 2010. I ran into him (at Starbucks, of course) some months after Sheheen narrowly lost that contest, and he confided that there was one thing that he had been unprepared for: the fact that the old “news cycle” was gone, and that he had to pump out information, and counter stuff that was out there, 24/7.

I was surprised that he was surprised, and wondered if that played any role in Sheheen’s defeat. Probably not, but it was a close race, for a Democrat in South Carolina…