Archive for August, 2009

The Guardian reports an unfortunate drive to kill Chinglish (or the more generic, Engrish), the delightful union of English words and Chinese grammar/syntax/brains. This can result in rather humorous non sequiturs (“I TOOK A SHOWER AFTER PLAYING SEX.“) to official blunders.

As with all attempts to standardize a language with prescriptive rules, I have no doubt of this one’s failure. Nevertheless, one wonders why this tendency to wipe out nonstandard forms of the language exist. Presumably they bring embarrassment to the one making the error, but they also point to the natural evolution of English and its malleability as lingua franca.

English’s dominance as a world language comes in large part because it is easy for cultures to slap their own stamp onto the language, one already a hodgepodge of Germanic, Latinate and random other roots. If one were to be picky about a language and its “proper” usage, English hardly seems like a good choice.

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The other day, the Washington Post had a piece about how awesome torture was and how it worked, that read as though it were written by Dick Cheney or Stephen Hayes. I’m used to seeing those by now, but it wasn’t in the Op-Ed section. Instead, it was a news story from the front-page section. I could go on and on about it, but Glenzilla really says everything important about it, so check it out.

Instead, I’d like to call your attention to a new piece in the Post today titled “Ex-Intelligence Officials Cite Low Spirits at CIA.” (And just fyi, I think I’ve decided to adopt the policy of never linking to the Post again, unless it’s Ezra Klein, since it’s probably the most pernicious major national newspaper). The article says basically what you’d expect, that because of Eric Holder’s decision to launch an investigation, CIA operatives are really upset, because they will feel handcuffed and prevented from performing certain operations, techniques, etc.

But here’s the key paragraph:

“A much-discussed question is whether the legal reassurances of one administration carry over to its successor. “When a previous administration says something was legal, and the next says it doesn’t matter, the result is hesitancy to take on cutting-edge missions,” the former senior official warned.”

Two things: first of all, that should not be a much-discussed question, since the entire basis for Holder’s investigation (and indeed, the reason why many people including me are furious about the scope of the investigation) is that the legal reassurances of Cheney, Addington, Yoo, Bybee et al are completely valid, and the only people who will be targeted are those who went beyond what the administration allowed. Waterboarding someone so often is legal – those who did it more frequently are the lawbreakers, etc.

Second, I’m getting tired of stories about the CIA’s morale, and CIA director Leon Panetta’s being pissed, and such. Why does the CIA think it is entitled to no oversight? Why is it that if some people at the IRS were found to be guilty of embezzling money or something, and we prosecuted the people who did it, we would never hear the IRS bitch and moan about how they were now unable to do their work because of hand-cuffing laws and political decisions. But the delicate flowers who work at the CIA apparently cannot handle the slightest bit of sunlight on them whenever they blatantly break even the most fraudulent laws.


Regarding point #1 above, check out this clip of interview with Cheney today (via):

WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re OK with it?


There is no form of torture the torture apologists aren’t willing to excuse. I guess if I understood that level of depravity, then maybe the CIA’s emo angst would make more sense.

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The news media tend to be self-righteous and grandiose about their own importance, but recent polling on the public option (via Nate Silver) demonstrates the degree to which the free press fails to do its job.

Public Option Polling

Public Option Polling (Penn, et al. for AARP, Divided We Remain: August 2009 Poll of Americans' Attitudes Towards Health Care Reform, 2009)

That’s atrocious. As Silver notes, only 37% got it right, whereas 33% would have gotten it right had they simply guessed.

After months of health care debate and non-stop media coverage from the Gray Lady on down to the tiniest call-in radio show, very few people actually know what the public option is. This is not a question of selective ignorance by the American people. This is a problem of low signal-to-noise ratio. Many bemoan the loss of newspapers and the collective loss of essential information that will befall us. It would appear that it doesn’t matter whether there are newspapers or not; people still don’t know what the hell is going on.

As long as political reporting continues to view politics as baseball — where objective reporting of balls and strikes, who’s winning and who’s losing — the news media will fail to do their job of actually informing the public of policy debates. Political reporters seem to envision the world as tactics and strategies, who’s up and who’s down, rather than considering the policy of it.

George W. Bush did not end his career with record low approval numbers because he was a poor tactician. Certainly he overstretched with Social Security privatization, but he failed because his policies were bad. They tanked the economy, lowered average quality of life, entrenched us in multiple wars; to boot, he didn’t pay for any of them. We have gone from “Rove is a genius!” stories to “Maybe Rove wasn’t a genius!” stories, instead of considering that the narrative was all wrong.

If health care reform dies, the news media will inevitably report that Obama couldn’t sell his plan, or that the conservative movement had scored a great victory, or that partisanship had carried the day again. It will entirely bypass any discussion of the policy, who it would help and who it would hurt.

22% of Americans are unsure if Barack Obama is an American citizen; 37% of Americans can correctly identify the public option.

Versailles, it would seem, is ruled by innuendo and scorekeeping, rather than policy — you know, the job of the government.

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Yes, this is hilarious, but it is a caustic satire of not only arguments in favor of torture,  but also specifically the media’s reactions to those arguments.

Note that:

  1. The moderator only “presents evidence”; she does not judge it. Analysis is all about fallout and spin, not about whether the evidence proves anything.
  2. Three pro-minotaur, one anti-minotaur, one feckless moderator.
  3. The Newspeak of “brutal interrogations” as opposed to, you know, torture

As with all things Onion, it would be much funnier, if it weren’t so true.

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Dear Me,

I have students do an activity at the beginning of the year called “Dear Me.” In it, students write a letter to themselves in the future. This serves a few purposes: it provides me with a writing sample, gives students a refresher on letter-writing conventions, etc. It also serves as an investment tool — students can use whatever language they like to speak to me in this letter, and it allows them to speak candidly and honestly about their lives.

I tell the students that its most important purpose is to give them a chance to motivate themselves. Later in the year, if they do poorly, I can pull out the letter and point out all the goals and hopes that they had at the beginning, along with all their promises to do better.

The secret is that these letters are my motivation as well.

Here’s a sample — with name redacted and everything else exactly as it appears on paper.

Dear Me,

What’s up? How are things? I hope your doing better than I am right now. I’m sure you’ve done some good things with your life, but I hope that you didn’t take the easy way.

Well where shall I start? This past year was really fucked up. Im a sophomore again. I tried but not as hard as I could have and it landed me in a different school, but same bullshit classes. I learned that the easiest way isn’t always the best way. I face the obstacle of looking like a jackass. It isn’t completely my fault, but I want to actually get passed being a sophomore this year. This year Im really going to get on the ball and work my ass off. I need to get to college, so I really need to get on it these next 2 years. I do see myself going to and graduating from college. It’s always been my goal I just need to work harder in accomplishing it.

Well I guess that’s all I have to say for now. Your the one thing that keeps me going, a person who has really done something with his life and got the hell out of the old neighborhood.



I’m not sure if teaching is what I want to do for the rest of my life, but these letters remind me that it is what I need to be doing right now.

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Just to follow up with Linus, I thought I’d list my top ten songs of the aughts.

Spoon – “The Underdog” (2007)
Sleater-Kinney – “Jumpers” (2005)
Phoenix – “Long Distance Call” (2006)
Jay-Z Feat UGK – “Big Pimpin'” (2000)
The New Pornographers – “My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” (2000)
Fountains of Wayne – “Hackensack” (2003)
Annie – “Heartbeat” (2004)
White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army” (2003)
E-40 – “Tell Me When To Go” (2007)
Taylor Swift – “Tim McGraw” (2006)

And because Linus hates her so much, here’s the video for Taylor Swift’s “Tim McGraw.”

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Thought for the day

How is it possible for so many conservatives or Republicans to hold the following two views at the same time:

(1) The federal government is incompetent to manage large and complicated things like health care, regulating business, welfare, etc.

(2) The people we imprison are all guilty and deserve to be there, those we execute are all guilty of murder, and those we torture are all terrorists.

How can they mock the government for its buffoonery, for its waste and inefficiencies, but still be sure it possesses exquisite precision when it comes to meting justice?

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