Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sound family science net...

Sophisticated research and polling methods have identified words and phrases that can do more than convey a thought.
Unspeak, writer Steven Poole's term for a phrase or word that contains a whole unspoken political argument, deserves a place in every journalist's daily vocabulary. Such gems of unspeak, such as pro-choice and pro-life, writes Poole in the opening pages in his book Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality, represent an attempt to say something without saying it, without getting into an argument and so having to justify itself. At the same time, it tries to unspeak—in the sense of erasing, or silencing—any possible opposing point of view, by laying a claim right at the start to only one choice of looking at a problem. [more]

This power in words is an important weapon in the media war waged by mainstream ag. Consider the words "sound science". To begin with unsound science is not science at all. I have already ranted about this type of code-word communication, but the technique continues to create misinformation throughout modern media.

But even more weasel-wordy are labels like "family" and "community".

Poole calls community one of the most perfect political words in English because it

can mean several things at once, or nothing at all. It can conjure things that don't exist, and deny the existence of those that do. It can be used in celebration, or in passive-aggressive attack. Its use in public language is almost always evidence of an Unspeak strategy at work.

The plasticity of community allows it to encompass geography, ethnicity, profession, hobby, or religion, and in the mouths of diplomats and journalists can expand to include everybody, as in the international community, a concept that Justice Antonin Scalia once described—rightly—as "fictional."

Hence the current clamor for a "safety net". It sounds so much better than guaranteed profits. From an engineer's point of view, however, there is little to differentiate between a safety net and a hammock. Besides, couldn't we weave our own nets, like other Americans have to?

Another word-bomb is "actuarially sound" insurance programs. For cryin' out loud. Without $4B in subsidies an actuarially sound crop insurance program would demonstrate vigorously where we should not be planting stuff.

Last year, the companies made $927 million in profit, a record. They received an additional $829 million from the government in administrative fees to help run the program. On top of that, taxpayers kicked in $2.3 billion to subsidize premium payments for farmers.

All of that to pay farmers $752 million for losses from bad weather. [More]

As long as we talk in unspeak, we will never truly communicate, and the real world will simply pass us by while we recite the same thoughts to each other. We can do better, and the first step is to call a spade a bowl.

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