Posts tagged ‘reason’

The Meaning of Words

We live in a world where language is at best sloppy. People say all kinds of things that are untrue or are gross over exaggerations. Since I spent a lot of my career working where the language and structure of words is really important, contracts, I pay attention. Commercials are a great training ground if you are interested, in what they say and don’t say. With the continuous stream of lying and misrepresentations coming out of the White House and President DFF it gets worse. But one thing that may bring us back a little is the Mueller investigation. The meaning of words is really really important when you are being investigated and to the law.

This morning I picked up (downloaded, but picked up sounds more homey, wait! What does homey mean again? See what I mean about words?) the Washington post and there was a great article where a journalist took apart the Roger Stone interview with Chuck Todd. It was all about the meaning of the exact words and what seemed to be said and was not. Here is a small part:

With that as background, I’ve pulled out some of Stone’s comments Tuesday and provided a careful parsing.

“I never had any advanced knowledge of the content, the source or the exact timing of the WikiLeaks disclosures.”

What first struck me when watching Stone’s interview was his use of the word “exact.” Just because you didn’t know the exact timing of something doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t know it was coming at some point.

In addition, Stone says he didn’t know about the “content” or the “source” of the leaked documents. Again, these are things you might be aware of if you had coordinated, but not necessarily so. It would be much simpler for Stone to say, “I had no advanced knowledge of the hacked emails,” but he’s oddly specific here.

Nit picking? I don’t think so. If we want to really understand something we need to understand what we are being told and not told. What we are not being told is way more important than what we are. Here is my favorite:

I can say with confidence that I know nothing about any Russian collusion or any other inappropriate act.”

This seems like a blanket denial, but consider this: Stone doesn’t concede that WikiLeaks is allied with Russia, and he argues that it does important journalistic work. He was even asked by Todd if he thought working with WikiLeaks would be treasonous, and he said it would not be.

“No, actually, I don’t think so because for it to be a treasonous act, Assange would have to be provably a Russian asset and WikiLeaks would have to be a Russian front, and I do not believe that is the case,” Stone said. He called Assange “a courageous journalist” and said his “track record for accuracy and authenticity is superior than the New York Times or The Washington Post.”

So Stone’s thresholds for what constitutes collusion and “inappropriate acts” seem to be pretty high — and don’t include anything he’s accused of.

See it just depends on how you define words and trick yourself. Remember Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman?” That is true only if you only define sex as intercourse, which Clinton did for his benefit. But of course he did have sex with that woman in the broader context of what sex entails.

So why do I bring this all up. Well the meaning of words is about being precise. Great literature is precise in an unusual way, it explains the human condition in a way that allows us to be there and understand. The really good stuff uses language in a way that connects with us. But Roger Stone and so many others are masters at being imprecise while seeming precise. Many commercials do the same thing, and our normal conversations, Twitter, and Facebook are the very definition of imprecise, not well thought out thoughts. Being precise in 146 characters is usually not possible. That is why President DFF uses it so much, because all the underlying assumptions of the statement itself are unexposed and protected from onslaught. All this is about reason, the thing we seem to be losing, critical thinking.

The author of the above article, Aaron Blake, did a masterful job of showing how reason makes things clearer. You think you clearly understand his denials, and then you use your reason to see they are really non-denials. It is why so many are misled today and why many of our news talking heads end up with a false narrative. They did not have the training to parse the words and recognize it in others. Now you have an example. Start listening more carefully and may even find it is fun. Yes most of them out there are lying sacks of ….

Does Reason Have a Chance?

I used to think so, but I am not so sure anymore.  I do get my hopes up when I watch Up with Chris Hayes and I see young people who really are smart and get it, but when more than half the nation are ignorant of basic facts, it makes you wonder.  This morning’s show with Chris had several themes, one of which was how either irrelevant or untrue facts about Trayvon Martin are being pushed by the right as though they bear on the murder of a unarmed kid (See Smearing Trayvon).  It is so easy to distract most of the American people from the real issues like the systemic problems in laws like Stand and Defend or concealed weapon laws by slimming the victim.  It makes me really stop and just shake my head that a large segment of our population could go down this road.  Have we become the trailer trash nation?  Yes.

Then I listened to a discussion of Wall Street and Wall Street reform between Alexis Goldstein and Representative Carol Maloney and as Chris pointed out, the issues are complex.  So once again one has to wonder how our trailer trash nation watching reruns of Jersey Shores Housewives will even bother to try.  Just give them some pablum about over regulation and they are happy.  I thought there was a really good question by Chris, when he pointed out that these are complex issues and when you have two competing (oh dare I say it) lobbyists arguing each side of the issue, how do you ferret out the truth?  The Congresswoman said you have to study the issue, but I could not help thinking sooner or later, there are too many issues to be an expert on, and who do you trust.  The answer at this point based upon the irrational behavior of the Republican candidates is Fox News.

And then in the same vein was Karen Ho talking about her studies of “the best and the brightest” on Wall Street, how that leads to a perception of invincibility and arrogance in what they believe and do (both in themselves and those of us who depend on financial markets for our security), how the insecurity of their own positions (the incentivizing of how much they can sell, not what it is worth), leads to a looting mentality.  I won’t even pretend that the Jersey Shores Housewives fans would follow this, or understand how this trust in their invincibility (Masters of the Universe) is imbued throughout our government at the highest levels.  I sat their listening and watching little Alexis Goldstein nodding knowing that from her diminutive frame is a giant intellect, and wonder if she will ever really get listened to.  I can only hope so.

In the same vein, the most important thing on everybody’s mind is the economy and there is a wonderful paper written by Paul McCulley about why the current problems with our economy requires a departure from the orthodoxy of microeconomic solutions (confused already?).  Which said in English is while the private sector is bereft of demand (aren’t buying anything) because they are de-leveraging (trying to pay off debt), the public sector must create that demand through spending (giving people incomes to buy things with), while the Fed keeps interest rates low until the private sector can sustain itself.  It goes against what we have learned about controlling inflation and spiraling interest rates, but the policy we are following is just making things worse when fiscal policy no longer works (liquidity trap or said another way, when lowering the interest rate has no effect on investment).  And I wonder how you get the rabble to stop and listen instead of voting for the morons that got us to where we are with fears of passing the deficit on to our children which of course will get bigger and worse under current policies.

Finally a book that is making the rounds, called Why Nations Fail notes that nations that are successful create institutions that are not insular, that represent all of the people and give everyone a chance.  They note here at home:  “The real problem is that economic inequality, when it becomes this large, translates into political inequality.”  This is their definition for how nations then loose the ability for sustained economic growth.  “Sustained economic growth requires innovation, and innovation cannot be decoupled from creative destruction, which replaces the old with the new in the economic realm and also destabilizes established power relations in politics.” Yet here we are in the United States with a whole political party trying to transfer further wealth and power to wealthy and our economy is degrading and yet they have a real chance to gain power in the next election.  So do I think reason has a chance?  Not so far.  But Jersey Shores Housewife number two has great legs.