Archive for August, 2009

So It Matters (Finale . . . I Promise!)

August 31, 2009

Before I put this topic to rest, here are some parting thoughts, in no particular order, that occurred to me over the course of last week:

1.  If I’m going to expand a point so much, I REALLY should use a better title for it. 

2.  I should do my best to avoid such a serious line of posts during my busier weeks.

3.  Even in “The Age of Convenience,” one can end up spending most of the day just trying to get a simple car battery replaced (i.e., “Ask me how my Friday went.”).

4.  At the beginning of the topic, I slammed politicians as a general breed.   Not only do I not regret that, I regret I didn’t do it hard enough . . . but to do so at the time would have added to an already overlong thought process.   I’ll likely elaborate on that someday.

5.  But NOT today!

So It Matters (Fourth Clarification Example)

August 28, 2009

Now let’s hit Father Bartholomew with the style of reporting that I’m seeing with distressing regularity these days:

Father Bartholomew, demagogue beloved of numerous foreign interests, spoke in Washington today despite the protests of many respectable captains of industry who oppose the Father’s suspect politics.  While the Father’s ties to Communist nations has never been PROVEN, he is known to have traveled through rural China on no fewer than FOUR occasions that we know of . . .

Note the method of mixing a dash of fact (the Father’s travel through rural China, hardly unexpected from a man championing the cause of the hungry) with a pound of innuendo (pretty much the rest of that sentence, particularly the inclusion of the phrase “that we know of” . . . you can almost hear the ominous drum sting of dum, dum, DUM!).   More subtle is the use of the phrase “respectable captains of industry” (making them sound quite lofty compared to the obviously despicable Father);  and while a case could be made that they were “respected” (odds are good that SOME power block respects them, if only for their positions), by calling them “respectable” the report is showing a clear bias, not reporting a fact.

There’s other things to look for of course, but I feel we’ve about beat this horse as much as it can take, and no doubt Father Bartholomew wouldn’t object at the idea of a break.  Hopefully all of this excessive clarification was not only obvious, but maybe even so obvious to you that you found it a touch boring.

I really, REALLY hope so, at least.

So It Matters (Third Clarification Example)

August 27, 2009

But before we tear the good Father down . . . let’s build him up to ludicrous levels.

Father Bartholomew, beloved by all those faithful and loyal to the cause of good for his continued championing on behalf of the meek unable to help themselves, continued his crusade in Washington today despite the ineffectual mewlings of the pawns of the forces of evil that would steal food from the mouths of starving children.  His words were seen by all right thinking peoples as being full of wisdom, and no doubt profoundly changed more than a few sinner’s lives today for the better. 

More than a bit over the top, isn’t it?  To disagree with Father Bartholomew in the slightest is CLEARLY not only against simple morality, but against righteousness itself!  OBVIOUSLY all right thinking people agree with him, and YOU are a right thinking person, aren’t you?

Fortunately, this sort of obvious manipulation is usually restricted to press releases from the worst (and clumsiest) of totalitarian governments and fringe groups so far out there that even most extremist groups in this day and age recognize them as putting the “lunatic” into “lunatic fringe.”  For this type of manipulation to be effective, the audience generally has to be have been indoctrinated from birth AND sufficiently insulated from other opinions enough to accept it without question, and that’s becoming harder and harder to pull off in the Information Age.  Still . . . I suppose it’s unlikely this style of “reporting” will ever fully die off so long as there are isolated pockets for that sort of thinking to hide in.

Unfortunately, there is another case where this sort of manipulation is effective . . . and that is when people are flat out DESPERATE enough to accept it (the Nazi propaganda machine used this approach with great effectiveness, for instance).  Its only positive trait is that it’s pretty easy to recognize, but, obvious and clumsy though it may be, never bet your life on the belief that EVERYONE will be able to see through it.  If this approach didn’t work at least SOME of the time, it wouldn’t be used . . . and should you ever see TOO many of your neighbors nodding in agreement to a report like this, well . . .

Just do yourself a favor and run like the wind and never look back.

So It Matters (Second Clarification Example)

August 26, 2009

After I posted yesterday, I got to thinking that maybe I was being TOO kind to Father Bartholomew, but I’m not ready to rake him over the coals quite yet.  But let’s still take the positive slant away from him and make it negative, but still keep everything factual.

Father Bartholomew spoke in Washington today over the objections of many prominent agricultural lobbyists.  He spoke as part of his lecture tour urging the Federal government to re-evaluate its policies regarding paying farmers to not grow food, policies that lobbyists say are economically necessary.  While the lobbyists were quick to point out they respected the father’s good intentions, they felt he simply had no understanding of the practicalities of the situation.  

Poor Father Bartholomew . . . he’s gone from honored world-wide to a nice old duffer who just doesn’t have a head for worldly matters all in the stroke of a single re-write.    Those that oppose him are given more time, so the slant of the report is obvious, but it remains as factual as the first report. (And did you notice how the lobbyists, much less their objections, weren’t even MENTIONED in the first report?  Good.)  Father Bartholomew still spoke, and he still spoke on the same topic, and everything that was opinion was labeled as such. 

Still . . . I can’t help but feeling a tad sorry for the good father; all this has got to be quite a letdown from the way the first report talked about him.

But at least it should warn him for what’s to come.

So It Matters (First Clarification Example)

August 25, 2009

Now I don’t pretend to be a journalist, but for me, a news report I’d be comfortable with might go something like the following:

Father Bartholomew, honored by forty seven countries worldwide for his work on behalf of the starving and homeless, spoke in Washington today as part of his lecture tour urging the Federal government to re-evaluate its policies regarding paying farmers to not grow food, food, the Father claims, that is desperately needed in other parts of the world, as well as at home.

Now the slant of the report could rightfully be described as positive, but factual (assuming for the sake of example that all the claimed facts are true and that Father Bartholomew does indeed carry that title, has been honored by 47 countries, etc.).   It even takes pains to point out that it is Bartholomew making the claim that the food not being grown is desperately needed, though many people might argue that world hunger is indeed a fact and, as such, the statement doesn’t require such clarification.

Either way though . . . it sticks to the facts.

So It Matters (Followup)

August 24, 2009

Not long after I posted what I did on Friday, I realized my example wasn’t too clear (which is a hazard of my habit of doing these posts quickly).  I was going for an example that hearkened back the the real life incident that inspired it, but one that wasn’t muddled by any identifying details that would have detracted from my point. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t leave me with much of an example, but rather than edit the post (which generally feels like cheating to me unless I’m correcting a typo), I’m going to do a followup example.


I drafted my example out today, but I’m a bit worn out from a weekend trip to Gainesville I took, and I think to try and post my new example today would unacceptably risk me giving ANOTHER unclear example, which would necessitate yet ANOTHER followup, which (due to stress from all these followups) might not be clear, which might begin an endless cycle of unclear examples followed by ineffective followups.

And I prefer to leave those sorts of cycles to politicians.

So It Matters

August 21, 2009

“So what?” you may be asking.

Well . . . once you realize how much words and descriptions say about the people uttering them, you suddenly have, among other things, one of the finest tools available to detect bias . . . in yourself and in others.   At first this may only seem useful to you in places where you already KNEW there was bias (your least favorite news outlet, for instance), but once you start honestly applying it, you’ll start noticing bias in places you didn’t realize it existed.  (And for those that need a hint, here’s one:  Someone agreeing with what you believe to be true is NOT, in and of itself, an example of them being unbiased!)

This is a particularly useful trick should you be watching the news (as I was earlier this week) and hear a reporter (and I use the term loosely here, because one of MY biases is that I believe that reporters should REPORT the facts, and ONLY the facts) ‘reporting’ on a situation while punctuating with such editorial phrases as “that we KNOW of!”  

He might as well have used the word “whores.”

Words Matter

August 20, 2009

Even the single word you call something or someone by makes a HUGE difference on how you think of it/them . . . or at the very least frequently shows HOW you think. 

As a case in point, I was once privy to the conversation between a group of young ladies, admittedly not one of them was a member of a tea club or likely enjoyed knitting, and the girlfriend of a young man who had been more than a little . . . expressive of his negative opinion of said group of young ladies.  The group correctly pointed out they had not harmed this young man in any way, nor had they even inconvenienced him in the slightest, and yet he had made it a point to go out of his way to insult them quite loudly.  He had stalked off, but they had approached his girlfriend (who was familiar to some of them) with a mixture of outrage and confusion because what had started this young man’s tirade was a mystery to the group, and they were of the opinion that if he didn’t like them, it would be nice if he kept that opinion to himself . . . at least until he provided a reason WHY he disliked them so much.

The girlfriend’s response was “I don’t see why he should care one bit about the opinion of ________.”

Now, at this point, for the sake of clarity, please fill in your least favorite slur, be it racial, social, or political, to get the true meaning of what she said, the kind of slur that has no ACTUAL meaning other than “I don’t like you, and I REALLY don’t respect you.”  

Done?  Good.

The slur SHE used was “whores.”

Now, I’ve no doubt this group of young ladies numbered members that were sexual active, though perhaps no more so than young ladies who WERE members of a tea club, but this really was beside the point.  But that one word revealed that, in the speaker’s mind, the young ladies before her weren’t people with hurt feelings and a justifiable grievance . . . they were merely “whores.”

Which in practical terms said nothing about the young ladies, but VOLUMES about the speaker.


Descriptions Matter

August 19, 2009

You can be utterly factual in your description of something, and STILL be completely inaccurate AND miss the point of what you are trying to describe. 

For instance, it took me a long time to appreciate a good cup of tea; in fact, for years if you had asked me if there WAS such a thing as a “good” cup of tea, I would have said no.  Eventually I learned better (and yes, there was a girl involved, but that’s beside the point).  

However, had tea EVER been offered to me as “Would you like a cup of hot dirty water?” (1) I would NEVER have tried it.

Descriptions MATTER!


(1)  To give credit where credit is due, the source of this description, by the way, comes from the webcomic ErfWorld.

Ill Winds Blowing

August 18, 2009

Actually it’s nowhere NEAR that bad at the moment (I just like the title), but the recent tropical storms/hurricanes doing their thing off the coast of Florida have brought it home this week that we are well into hurricane season once more.  Rest assured that as a denizen of Florida I watch such storms VERY closely with the stated goal that if I DO need to evacuate the area, I want to know that’s a potential no less than 24 hours before any OFFICIAL evacuation order is given. 

So far these storms have just been warning shots, and it doesn’t look like anything serious is going to touch my area of the world this week or next, but such things have been known to change without notice.  (Just ask Mom, who once teased me for suggesting she at least lay in some supplies because a storm was heading her way, because she felt she was far enough inland for it not to matter even if the storm rolled right over her head.  Well . . . it did, and she spent the night with her head down in a hallway wondering if the wind was going to shatter the windows. (It didn’t.))

So basically I just wanted to say that I’ll keep you posted if anything interesting happens to me THIS hurricane season.