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Friday, October 20, 2017

National Public Radio

They've just not given this sufficient thought. Sometimes a communications shortcut that is arguably reasonable in one medium becomes much less so in others. Abbreviations and acronyms make sense in written communications, especially when the acronyms are clearly identified early in a news story or editorial. One shouldn't have to write out National Collegiate Athletic Association multiple times in an article when it can be identified as such initially and then referred to as NCAA following times. But what's true in print does not necessarily hold for use on the radio or TV.
But rather than lay additional groundwork, let me go straight to the specific example that prompted my screed. Today I was listening to National Public Radio (NPR). The reporter on the program commented on an email to the program complaining about this very issue. The listener declared she was annoyed when “they used acronyms and abbreviations without ever clarifying and identifying what some of the letters represented.” . The specific abbreviation that piqued her was BBC-OS. In this case she was not objecting to the BBC. Everybody hearing the program and everybody on NPR knows that BBC stands for the British Broadcasting Corporation or Company. The caller was pretty sure, though, that the “OS” was seldom or never explained. This gave the NPR person the opening to answer the question at some length. Seems “OS” is short for “Outside Sources”. As painfully explained, this meant virtually all sources since BBC doesn't internally create much news. But other than providing this definition, the NPR person never adequately responded to the complainer's complaint. Why couldn't they refer to this little news niche program as “Outside Sources” every time instead of the “OS” abbreviation? When speaking it, two syllables are required to say “O” and “S”. Only four syllables are expended in mouthing “Outside Sources”. The time savings orally fails to match the economy of abbreviating in writing.
It was mentioned in the excuses offered up by NPR that the habit of using abbreviations internally within all organizations, be they broadcasting corporations or government bureaucracies, at times represented merely “insider lingo”. They do allow those in the know to freeze out the unwashed.
I could wrap this up admitting that some acronyms can provide the same useful time savings orally that they do on the paper. This is especially true where the acronym does not dictate each letter being voiced if the acronym is also a recognizable word. It made sense for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties of the 70s and 80s to be referred to both in writing and on television as START treaties. But, having said that, I stand with the e-mailer that “inside baseball” abbreviations are often lazily used at the expense of clarity.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

SO

Rather than write another blog on a current political topic or the latest media outrage I think I'll go to modern society and language.
                                                                     "So"

Recall, if you will, the time when one difference between the person on the street  and the one trained in public speaking was that the average person would often be caught beginning a sentence or thought or response to a question with some innocuous utterance such as “Uh” or “you know”. They might also continue to pepper their conversation with additional “uhs” and “you know”s, apparently believing that any sound was preferable to silence.
Though not totally eradicated, superfluous words are significantly reduced in most TV and radio interviews and conversations in recent years. The occasional athlete may still include a number of “you know”s and “uhs” in answers to painfully inane questions about how he felt sinking the winning shot or putt. But for the most part, one can listen to interviews without wincing as much.
There is a new trend, however, in public utterances. And this tends to hold both for politicians, scientists, and scholarly trained persons being interviewed concerning topics of their area of expertise.  The new trend is that after being asked a nice open-ended question designed to allow the respondent to wax eloquent the first word spoken in the answer well be, “So”. 
“How does the new MOAB bomb change the way we deal with ISIS”?
“So, it was designed and is intended to not only do effective damage such as reaching tunnel or underground targets but it also serves as a psychological weapon.”  [Hypothetical example]
What purpose does the introductory “So” serve in the answer?  It acknowledges the legitimacy of the question in the first place.  It seems to declare that what follows is indeed responsive to the question. 
“So” can exist in language as an adjective, adverb or conjunction. (Some dictionaries even include pronoun and noun uses.) The “so” I am addressing is the conjuction designed to introduce subsequent thought or information.

Listen to NPR or one of the TV news interview shows over the course of several programs and days and you’ll discover that “So” is so common an introduction to an answer that it is used more than half the time.  It has not yet become such a cliched use that it is distracting. Typically a responder will use it only at the beginning of an answer, not repeatedly throughout the explanation. This keeps it from becoming as annoying as “uh” and “you know” were for a number of years.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Supreme Court games

The actions by Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate securing Justice Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, while disappointing, was entirely predictable and one could even justify as within the realms of “politics as usual”.  The Democrats would have taken pretty much the same course given a chance. In fact, the Democrats had performed a precursor of this with their moves several years earlier cutting back the “super majority” requirements on judicial nominations below the Supreme Court level.
What’s exceedingly more egregious and should have resulted in a different reaction was the prior year’s abdication of Senate responsibility to consider and vote on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for that same seat immediately upon the death of Antonin Scalia.  President Obama and the Democrats should have challenged the Republican blocking action.  The Constitution offers no such exception to the requirement in Article 2, Section 2 that the Senate provide its “advice and consent” to the president’s selections for potential replacement members to the Supreme Court.  Article 2, Sec. 2 does not say that the Senate can ignore such a nomination. True it offers no established deadline or timetable for this Senatorial duty to be accomplished.  But the clear implication is that the appointment is indeed an Executive Branch power, and agreement with or objection to the appointment by the Senate is a secondary ratification. That is why it is provided for in Article 2 rather than in Article 1 (Legislative) describing the powers of the Congress.
This being the case, President Obama and the Democrats in the Senate in 2016 should have challenged the Republican Senate.  After an appropriate length of time and following several published demands that the Senate perform its constitutional duty, the president should have declared that the Senate’s inaction amounted to acquiescence and that that lack of any negative declaration amounted to “consent”.  He then could have sworn Garland in and instructed to take his seat on the court.  Had the Republicans appealed this to the Supreme Court, and even if Garland recused himself, the Court would have split 4 to 4, leaving the accomplished action as the status quo.

This would have settled once and for all the fact that like it or not, the Congress must do what the Constitution says it must do.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Presidential election system

There are those who offer defenses of the current system of presidential elections that they believe disclose some kind of deep, pure motivation by the drafters of the Constitution.  And the centerpiece of their disclosure is that those putting together the first workable version of a democratic republic wanted to guard against certain dangers.  The claim is that a truly, pure democratic election needed to be protected from itself.  While people claimed to desire democratically elected leaders, they really only wanted only certain types of truly democratically elected leaders, those who agreed with them.
The earliest cited fears were that the power office of the total nation could be captured by those beholden to “regional factionalism”.  And where would such factionalism arise? It would be in the cities, the urban centers of the more populous states.  The gentlemen farmers like Jefferson and Washington could count. They knew that there were more people, and thus more voters
packed into the crowded neighborhoods of Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond than resided on the plantations and farms of Maryland and New Hampshire.  And yet when they studied maps they could see (as do today’s patriots) that our vast nation covered much, much more landmass than the actual acreage that housed those cities of the day.  And this realization produced the initial fear and desire that those city people not be allowed to render judgments which might be different than what the plantation owners knew was best policy for the new land.  Rural people did not want to be dictated to by city folk. 
And the Great Compromise which had shaped the bicameral Congress with the small states having equal representation in the Senate ended up bleeding over into a similar small state advantage (read that “rural” advantage)   for presidential elections. And in the early years the agrarian advantage was even more pronounced since there wasn’t that great a difference between the electoral votes of larger states to the smaller ones. But added together the smaller states totaled quite a few more votes in proportion when the votes counted in the Electoral College.
All of this brings us to contemporary times. Defenders of the status quo electoral system still love to point to the map, color every county that had a Republican plurality red and counties with Democratic pluralities blue and smugly declare that any idiot can see how much red covers the nation. And that seems to fuel their belief and assertion that hordes of voters packed into urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle did not possess votes as worthy as voters from smaller towns and rural areas. So even though Mr. Trump lost the overall popular vote, those in charge of current rules are quite comfortable allowing Republicans to believe and claim legitimacy since the existing rules declared them the winner.
There is another, separate issue that most citizens and observers simply don’t understand or don’t credit with enough importance.  That is the fact that the Constitution and the Electoral College do NOT require states to employ the “unit rule” whereby states seek to maximize the impact of their votes by assigning all their electoral votes to the winner of the mere plurality in their state.  This allowed all 38 electoral votes available in Texas to go to Republican Trump even though 47.4% of Texas voters picked other candidates. Such an inequity exists for 48 of the nation’s 50 states. On both sides. A more egregious example of the distortion for Trump would be Pennsylvania where a mere 68,000 voters out of 6 million, little over one percent, threw all 20 PA electoral votes to the president elect. And, of course, similar corresponding examples of Democrat Clinton winning a closely contested state could be cited, but this isn’t a lengthy grad school treatise on the topic, merely a lament.  And it is noteworthy that the two states that do allow their electoral vote to be divided (NE and ME) are small and pretty inconsequential, at least in the presidential election arena. 
But this whole side issue merely avoids the bigger point. Elections using the Electoral College, with or without the “unit rule”, are simply undemocratic, pure and simple.  The idea that a person’s vote is devalued for choosing to reside in an urban area is wrong. All votes should be of relatively equal value. Owners of broad swatches of countryside should not have weightier votes than those living in a four story walkup tenement. Newer voters, be they recent immigrants or young people attaining voting age, should not be discounted merely because they happen to live in cities.
This, I believe, is closer to the democratic ideal and understanding that infused the work of our nation’s framers than an approach that denies equal voice to some based on where they live and work.  
I do believe Donald Trump’s assertions that had the rules been different, had he needed to win the popular vote in order to win the presidency, that he would have run a significantly different campaign and might have indeed pulled off a popular vote win. I have no idea why this is true or possible. But I don’t discount it. Had Trump done campaign rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston in addition to where he did rallies, he well might have pulled some disinterested voters his way and eaten into Clinton’s urban advantage.  But regardless, I do wish we simply used the popular vote to settle on our national leader. We deserve to be assured that the winner, the leader for four years indeed has a mandate.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

RNC "New King" Christmas Declaration

RNC Exhibits Genius in “New King” Christmas declaration
Whether or not it was calculated, the Republican National Committee produced a Christmas declaration that benefited them at least four ways with little or no down side.  The statement they issued was as follows:
 "Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King.
For starters,  it does make one wonder why the national committee of the political party that recently won the White House for the first time in eight years chose to issue such a statement.  Is this routine? Do they always acknowledge universally commemorated religious events? Or were there specific causes of this year’s effusion?
Of course, the RNC claims innocent motives and surprise at the reaction on social media, in the mainline media, and among their political opponents. The notion that they issued this statement to draw any kind of comparison of their president-elect to the Son of God gives them several ways to try to profit from the controversy. I would suggest they get to benefit as follows:
1.     For those Americans inclined to make the same connection between Trump and Christ the RNC statement becomes a validation or affirmation.
2.     The RNC is seen as “pro-Christian” if anybody had doubted it.
3.     They get to position themselves as victims of petty, small-minded opponents who appear to protest every Republican utterance.
4.     They get to keep alive the fiction of religious persecution in this country without having to address any legitimate religious issue.  

If this was calculated, it was truly genius. If, as the RNC claims, it was innocent, then their streak of positive, lucky benefits continues unabated.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Waiting in an Airport

{This was first penned years ago when I was working full-time and traveling some.  It's apparent at least by the reference to airplane meals.}

      Waiting in an Airport
Some people sit and read.
Others sit and stare about.
Some march purposefully down the concourse.
Others stand as if waiting in a line,
But not in a line, instead scattered throughout.
The ticket agent drones on declaring
who can board, who must wait.
She makes a “Pre-boarding” announcement.
Those with young offspring or personal frailties
get to “pre-board”. How does one “pre-board”?
It appears that they never really “pre-board”. 
They simply board before I do.
To “pre-board” would be to engage in some activity
and then to board.
I never “pre-board”.
When my offspring were young we stayed home, or we drove.
And my frailties are not the sort to get me special treatment.
In fact, I fear “pre-boarding”.
If I “pre-board”, then at mealtime they might decide to “preserve” me.
Don’t know how long I’d last.
Upon arrival would I be “pre-deplaned”? Or “pre-disposed”?
Should my data cause confusion, their computers might even precurse me.
But if we did safely reach our destination, would I then have made
“pre-arrangements” for transportation from the airport?
I would presume so. For that would mean I would arrive in time
to watch a pre-recorded program.
You know, that’s one where they recorded it once and then decided

to go back and pre-record it previously.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Newspaper writing for the public


Not sure why, but I feel compelled to criticize the writing of some professional newspaper reporters and writers. This Washington Post article with a tri-person byline concerned Trump’s transition and selection of Whitehouse aids. It included the following sentence. They said:

“As the seriousness of governing subsumes the vitriol of the campaign, a dozen national security experts interviewed said they believed experienced people will resume their roles as apolitical professionals and be willing to join the administration.”

Did whichever writer who penned this sentence actually believe that most of their readers or even ANY of their readers actually talk like this? “The seriousness of the campaign subsumes the vitriol of the campaign . . .”   REALLY?

Rather than trying to impress their colleagues, they should work harder on using plain language that clearly makes their point.