Political Rhetoric

From a Wall Street Journal article on Congressional expense accounts:

Summaries of such lawmaker expenses are available to the public in print, either by mail or in volumes that can be viewed in basement rooms on Capitol Hill. The House’s quarterly reports – which run over 3,000 pages apiece, across multiple volumes – are stored in a cupboard in a windowless office near a shoeshine stand.

It’s a piss-poor device when you actually think about it: why would you need storage to have windows (it’s probably better for the books to not have sunlight)? and who cares if it’s near a shoeshine stand (other than the associations with race and class, of course)? This is the equivalent of an ad hominem attack, but for an inaniment object.

Business rhetoric

“They aren’t charities. They have shareholders to report to,” he [Robert Hammer, an industry consultant] said, referring to banks and credit card companies. “Whatever is left in the model to work from, they will start to maneuver.” This wonderful rhetoric is in regards to beginning to charge annual fees and remove grace periods from people who regularly pay off their credit cards (from the NY Times). In other words, consistent revenue from transaction fees is not the near-term windfall quick-buck, pump and dump shareholders demand. (Yeah, my rhetoric is rusty.)

Current Consumption of Currants

While eating a delicious currant scone from one of my favorite cafes, I looked it currants on Wikipedia and discovered some interesting history of why currants are popular in Britain, but not the United States:

During World War II, most fruits rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, became almost impossible to obtain in the United Kingdom. Since blackcurrant berries are a rich source of vitamin C and blackcurrant plants are suitable for growing in the UK climate, blackcurrant cultivation was encouraged by the British government. Soon, the yield of the nation’s crop increased significantly. From 1942 on, almost the entire British blackcurrant crop was made into blackcurrant syrup (or cordial) and distributed to the nation’s children free, giving rise to the lasting popularity of blackcurrant flavorings in Britain.

Blackcurrants were once popular in the United States as well, but became extremely rare in the 20th century after currant farming was banned in the early 1900s when blackcurrants, as a vector of white pine blister rust, were considered a threat to the U.S. logging industry. The federal ban on growing currants was shifted to individual States’ jurisdiction in 1966, and was lifted in New York State in 2003 through the efforts of horticulturist Greg Quinn. As a result, currant growing is making a comeback in New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Oregon. However, several statewide bans still exist including Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Since the federal ban ceased currant production anywhere in the U.S., the fruit is not well-known and has yet to reach the popularity that it had in 19th century United States or that it currently has in Europe. Since blackcurrants are a strong source of antioxidants and vitamins, awareness and popularity are once again growing, with a number of consumer products entering the market.

Lying in subtext and by omission

Previously posting on writing authentically, I wanted to find some other criticisms/observations on the topic.  The following is from Can’t You Get Along with Anyone by Allan C. Weisbecker, one of my favorite how-to books on writing that is not explicitly a how-to book on writing [Part 1, Ch. 12: p. 64]:

Nonfiction writers, of which I am one at this moment, routinely lie like slugs in their narratives. Often they’ll lie like like slugs about facts, which, as you already know, I sometimes do. Sometimes lying about facts is okay, sometimes not. But what’s never okay is to lie in subtext, purposely cause the reader to have a rush of insight about the workings of the world which the writer knows to be false. Lying in subtext is sin. Writers who do this, of which there are a bunch, will rot in Writer Hell. My theory is that this worse case lying-in-writing scenario is invariably caused by the same condition that cases bad behavior of any sort: a failure in self-reflection.*

If you’re going to write a book (but not someday): The key to writing, good writing, is self-reflection. In  a sense, it’s a writer’s job, his only job. Take that to the bank and put it in an interest-bearing account.†

*     My view is that lying about facts is sometimes “okay” when the writer’s sole motive is to keep the story moving, or to foster unity (symmetry), or to ease the narrative onto another subject (a segue), with not deceitful implications about ho the world works.

†    Aside from self-reflecting in his work, a writer has to keep the reader wanting to know What Happens Next. So, regarding jobs, writers actually have two.

Later on in the book, Weisbecker shows some explicit examples, as well as makes (to me) a damning statement for media literacy [Part 5, Ch. 7: p. 336]:

Woodward sees fit to end Veil, the Secret Wars of the CIA with a lie on every level you can lie in a nonfiction book. He ends with a chapter describing a personal visit with CIA director William Casey on his deathbed (from the brain tumor).

About two sentences into this, I knew Woodward had made up the scene …. (Others have opined the same regarding that scene, based on looking into dates and hospital records and the like.)

But I could have forgiven that lie, which was only about facts, i.e., Woodward’s deathbed visit to Casey having never happened. … What Woodward does, however in the deathbed scene he made up, is to lie in the subtext as well —in what is really going on —which kind of lying is a sin, for the commission of which writers will rot in Writer Hell.

Here’s the scene: Casey, on his deathbed, admits to having known about the diversion of Iran arms sales funds to the contras. The subtext here is that Casey didn’t have anything to do with the diversion. He knew about it.

Technically, Woodward wasn’t outright lying. But what he left out of his fucking narrative is that Casey knew about the diversion because he had been instrumental in planning and executing it.

A whopper of a lie by omission, no?

But my favorite lie by omission, one near and dear to my heart, comes in Woodward’s Plan of Attack - _his definitive history of our conflict with Saddam Hussein. Woodward does better, wordage-wise, in this one, devoting _one whole page _(out of 450) to U.S. history with “The Beast of Baghdad.” One little problem though: In his one page history Woodward skips from the 1970s to the 1990s, leaving out the 1980s. _Not a word about the decade of the 1980s. Right: The decade during which the U.S. and The Beast of Baghdad were close allies and the U.S., under Reagan then Bush I, was actively and knowingly aiding and abetting The Beast of Baghdad in his crimes against humanity.

Thing is, Bob Woodward himself classifies his books, his nonfiction books, as being “somewhere between the news and the history books.”

Let’s take him at his word on that.

See if you concur: People who provide a democratic society (like what the United States is purported to be) with news (meaning journalists) should maybe question what the shitball motherfuckers in power tell them about their antics. Same goes for the writers of history books, which mold the minds of our children.

Bob Woodward does not question anything the shitball motherfuckers tell him. Woodward just parrots their lies and perception management as facts. Bob Woodward’s books, his nonfiction books, which are something “between the news and the history books,” are lies.

That I had this rush of insight about the journalist who in the 1970s questioned everything and in doing so uncovered the truth, then followed the truth wherever it led, even to the toppling of a president, and who was a hero of mine, and who was now the personification of why Orwell was an optimist and hence of why the world is so fucked-up, slightly exacerbated my terminal loneliness.*

*    If the rewriting (or erasing) of history, which is what Woodward does in his books, sounds vaguely familiar, this was the protagonist Winston Smith’s job at the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984. Smith, along with the rest of the world of that story, was intimidated, threatened, bullied, into denial/lying via “jackboots on human faces.” That the jackboots are unnecessary in the world of today to get Woodward (and the rest of the mainstream media) to rewrite history is the basis of my observation that Orwell was an optimist.

Example of the (false) metaphor of the tube

I was flipping through my old college business communications textbook (_Business Communication: Process and Product, 4th Edition _by Mary Ellen Guffy) when lo and behold I came across the (false) metaphor of the tube for communications:

Guffey - Communications sketch

I will give the textbook some credit since there is some explanation that it’s not so simple as just putting up a semaphore:

Only when the receiver understands the meaning intended by the sender—that is, successful decodes the message—does the communication take place. Such success, however, is difficult to achieve because no two people share the same life experiences and because many barriers can disrupt the process.

But this is a very message-centric view of communications.  As I’ve learned in my experiences, when you think of communications as “messaging” you are concentrating on the process, rather than the outcome.  As I would argue, the outcome is that you induce an action in the other receiver.  By action I mean either physically (getting the receiver do something) or mentally (changing the way people think is the very basis of Public Relations and Perception Management). This action can be external (getting someone else to do something), internal (writing this out will help me understand it better) or temporal (I’m writing in my diary so that I can tell my future self how I’m feeling right now; or, I’m adding a memo to the file so that, in the event of a future audit, the auditor will know what happened and not decertify us).

I would say that a better explanation of how communications takes place is as follows:

  1. You (the sender) define/desire something to take place (in relation to your worldview/nature)

  2. You identify individual(s) with influence or affect over your desire (the receiver)

  3. You define the action/change you want to induce in the receiver (in relation to the receiver’s worldview/nature) that corresponds to you achieving your desire

  4. You identify the mediums the receiver can accept and how using that medium might affect the action/change you wish to induce in the receiver (in relation to the receiver’s worldview/nature)

  5. You decide upon a medium and appropriate message that will most effectively/efficiently induce the action/change in the receiver.

  6. Then you send it.

Now I’m not saying that you need to do these as discrete steps all the time—human social evolution makes us incredibly efficient at doing these types of things without thinking …most of the time. But those innate skills break down when talking with people of different cultures (or subcultures, e.g. liberals and conservatives or baby boomers and millenials) or life experience, you need to take into account the whole process before the message is sent.

The key part in this is understanding—as best as possible—the receiver’s worldview/nature.  This is why the key skills to communications are curiosity, observation, listening, understanding, and empathy—not to mention broad life experiences.  Which is not to say that effective communications requires touchy-feely feel-goodery: not at all.  In some situations being an asshole is effective and efficient; in some situations it isn’t. Being able to know the difference is the key for communicating effectively.

Satyagraha versus Duragraha

This year’s Symposium on Values, Spirit and Business has the theme “How to Grow Your Business by Integrating the Gandhian Philosophy of Satyagraha”.  The Wikipedia has this to say on Satyagraha—and that “passive resistance” is not descriptive of its tenets—:

Gandhi contrasted satyagraha (holding on to truth) with “duragraha” (holding on by force), as in protest meant more to harass than enlighten opponents. He wrote: “There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.”

Pratfalls to writing authentically

I go back and forth with my mom—a library media teacher—about information literacy: for me, the future of communications is not about authority, but authenticity. Below is a list of self-deceptions writers put into their writing from Writing to Be Read by Ken Macrorie (also author of Telling Writing) :

No writer knows how often he deceives himself and his reader until he becomes a professional and listens to the complaints of editors and readers. Then he often sees that he has unconsciously

  1. not written what really motivated him to put pen to paper, or
  2. not spoken truly when he thought he was being faithful to the world he experienced, or
  3. told only a small part of the truth, or
  4. forgotten to tell the reader the facts that make convincing what he insists the reader must be overwhelmed by, or
  5. grandly asks questions that everyone knows the answer to, or
  6. apologized for not being an expert on what he writes pages and pages about, or
  7. uses awkward and phony language that does not belong to him, or
  8. used six words where his reader needed only two.

The best writers commit these sins. You cannot rid your writing of them, but you can learn the identifying marks of the snakes and where they are likely to slither into your paragraphs.

Harnessing inequality

The following quote from Here Comes Everybody is interesting in that it exposes dewy-eyed optimism surrounding equal participation (rather than equal access or equal ability) as untenable:

…imbalance drives large social systems rather than damaging them. Fewer that two percent of Wikipedia users ever contribute, yet that is enough to create profound value for millions of users. And among those contributors,  no effort is made to even out their contributions. The spontaneous division of effort driving Wikipedia wouldn’t be possible if there were concern for reducing inequality. On the contrary, most large social experiments are engines for harnessing inequality rather than limiting it. Though the word “ecosystem” is overused as a way to make simple situations seem more complex, it is merited here, because large social systems cannot be understood as a simple aggregation of the behavior of some nonexistent “average” user.

This follows discussion of power-law distributions (in contrast to bell-curves) and the 80-20 rule.