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April 3, 2009 at 4:23 am Leave a comment

Obamas Give Queen Elizabeth an iPod – NY Times

April 2, 2009
By HELENE COOPER

LONDON — Finally, an answer to the question consuming protocol watchers and tabloid reporters here: What did the Obamas give Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday when they arrived at Buckingham Palace?

An iPod.

An Obama aide reported the queen was given an iPod loaded with video and photos of her 2007 trip to the United States, as well as songs and accessories. She also received a rare songbook signed by the composer Richard Rodgers.

The gift issue had come up after Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House last month. Mr. Brown gave Mr. Obama a pen holder carved from the timber of an anti-slave ship, receiving in return a DVD box set of American movies, igniting a torrent of criticism in the British press.

According to news reports here, the queen gave the Obamas a silver-framed signed photograph — a gift she gives to all visiting dignitaries.

There was no word on whether the songbook included the “Sound of Music” classic, “My Favorite Things.”

But one thing is certain: that iPod better have some good songs, because if past is prologue, the British papers will be examining this gift for a while.

(Original article)

April 2, 2009 at 7:34 am Leave a comment

The Queen and Mrs. Obama: Did the First Lady Break Protocol? – Time.com

Wednesday, Apr. 01, 2009
By Howard Chua-Eoan

The rules are set in stone, and so the eagerly watching British media sputtered when the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, briefly put her hand on the back of Queen Elizabeth II as the two chatted at a reception. Etiquette is quite stern about this (“Whatever you do, don’t touch the Queen!”). In 2007 John Howard, then Prime Minister of Australia, got plenty of criticism for apparently putting his arm around the Queen to direct her through a crowd. He denied actually touching her, but photographs suggest that he came quite close. (Another former Australian Prime Minister did put his hand on the Queen in a similar circumstance and was later branded “the Lizard of Oz.”)

Of course, there are corollaries to this. One must certainly touch the Queen if the monarch offers her hand (though you should return this not with a firm handshake but just a touch). On Wednesday, Michelle Obama put her hand on the Queen only after the Queen had placed her own hand on the First Lady’s back as part of their conversation. So there is room for theological argument as to whether the American reciprocity of touch was allowable given the social dynamics of the situation. (Less explicable was when President George W. Bush winked at the Queen.) Still, the sight of anyone apparently touching the Queen with anything more than a limp handshake is enough to send the British (or traditionalists in the old Commonwealth) twittering. (See pictures of the Obamas’ travels in Europe.)

Another defense for Michelle Obama, of course, is that she is not a subject of the Queen. (Australians, despite referendums attempting to turn themselves into a republic, still recognize the Queen as their head of state.) The First Lady of the United States is not required to curtsey before her or any other crowned head. In any case, the touch lasted just a second or two, and the Queen did not seem particularly perturbed — though she appeared slightly surprised as she drew away. (See how Barack Obama is connected to the Queen via TIME’s Person of the Year.)

So where does this rule about not touching the Queen come from? The sovereigns of England and France at some point in their nations’ long histories claimed a divine right to rule, a right often amplified by titles bestowed by the Pope in Rome. (The Queen, in fact, still has the title Defender of the Faith, an honor given to Henry VIII before he broke with the Catholic Church and established the Church of England.) That touch of holiness once gave the occupant of the throne the supposed ability to cure certain diseases — most famously, scrofula, a terrible skin ailment that was called “the king’s evil.” Thus, the miraculous contact had to be conserved. And so, whether a touch or a nod or a gaze, royal favor, like that of God, is not a subject’s on demand; it is dispensed by kingly prerogative. (See pictures from the 2006 celebration of the Queen’s birthday.)

— With reporting by Simon Robinson / London

Find this article at:
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1888962,00.html

April 2, 2009 at 3:37 am Leave a comment

Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity (CADIE)

When you walk into a dark field in the middle of the night…

and look up into a black sky and wonder how many stars there are in the universe, let’s be honest: in all likelihood you don’t have the faintest clue, and even if you’re one of the few who do, you lack any real capacity to comprehend the figure save for the same vague sense of stunned wonder that our earliest human ancestors felt when they looked up from the African savannah at the same starry sky.

Our species’ journey toward tonight’s epochal announcement had much less to do with that awestruck moment than it did with the moment those same ancestors woke up hungry the next morning and started studying animal tracks in the savannah mud, thereby inadvertently developing concepts like time and causality which, by abstracting both location and temporal context into a unique reconning tool within the brain, sparked the set of responses that, ages later, we now call reason.

Original article

April 1, 2009 at 6:55 am Leave a comment

Politics and the English Language by George Orwell

Original Article

Politics and the English Language

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Language becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

Examples of poor language

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

  1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
    ~ Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

  2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.
    ~ Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)

  3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
    ~ Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

  4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
    ~ Communist pamphlet

  5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!
    ~ Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

The worst offenders

I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.

Examples are:

  • ring the changes on
  • take up the cudgel for
  • toe the line
  • ride roughshod over
  • stand shoulder to shoulder with
  • play into the hands of
  • no axe to grind
  • grist to the mill
  • fishing in troubled waters
  • on the order of the day
  • Achilles’ heel
  • swan song
  • hotbed

Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying.

Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators or verbal false limbs

These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are:

  • render inoperative
  • militate against
  • make contact with
  • be subjected to
  • give rise to
  • give grounds for
  • have the effect of
  • play a leading part (role) in
  • make itself felt
  • take effect
  • exhibit a tendency to
  • serve the purpose of

The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining).

The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as:

  • with respect to,
  • having regard to,
  • the fact that,
  • by dint of,
  • in view of,
  • in the interests of,
  • on the hypothesis that;

…and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as:

  • greatly to be desired,
  • cannot be left out of account,
  • a development to be expected in the near future,
  • deserving of serious consideration,
  • brought to a satisfactory conclusion;

…and so on and so forth.

Pretentious diction

Words like:

  • phenomenon,
  • element,
  • individual (as noun),
  • objective,
  • categorical,
  • effective,
  • virtual,
  • basic,
  • primary,
  • promote,
  • constitute,
  • exhibit,
  • exploit,
  • utilize,
  • eliminate,
  • liquidate;

…are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like:

  • epoch-making,
  • epic,
  • historic,
  • unforgettable,
  • triumphant,
  • age-old,
  • inevitable,
  • inexorable,
  • veritable;

…are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being:

  • realm,
  • throne,
  • chariot,
  • mailed fist,
  • trident,
  • sword,
  • shield,
  • buckler,
  • banner,
  • jackboot,
  • clarion.

Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers (See appendix 1).

The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

Meaningless words

In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning (See appendix 2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way.

Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like:

  • Marshal Petain was a true patriot,
  • The Soviet press is the freest in the world,
  • The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution;

…are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

A move away from concreteness

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Example 3 above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness.

Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English.

I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

The debasement of language

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious.

By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.

When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.

This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.

Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (Example 1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness.

Professor Hogben (Example 2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means.

Example 3, if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In Example 4, the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink.

In Example 5, words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

Insincere language and its uses

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech.

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy.

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.

And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.

Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.

Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

The invasion of ready-made phrases

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow.

Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see:

‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’

You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists.

There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence (See appendix 3), to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

The defence of the English language

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’.

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.

On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.

In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning.

Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.

But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

Simplifying English

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.

If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.

Appendix

  1. An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.
  2. Example: ‘Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative ginting at a cruel, an inexorably selene timelessness… Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly).
  3. One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.

By George Orwell, 1946

George OrwellGeorge Orwell (1903-1950) was a noted British writer and journalist, and one of the most gifted cultural commentators of the 20th century. He is now best known for his two classic novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, although he was also a prolific essayist and contributed to many publications during his writing career.

He was especially concerned about the uses and abuses of language, in particular how its gradual disintegration made a direct contribution to poor quality thinking; a central theme in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Some notes on this version

The above version has been slightly reformatted for online use, and onscreen reading. Orwell of course wrote for print, and the minor changes are intended to aid comprehension using established techniques for online publishing. The author’s underlying meaning and intent have been left untouched.

Reading on a screen is different than in print, and long blocks of text are especially difficult on readers. Many of the conventions that have been developed for online writing are an attempt to compensate for this, and typically revolve around the idea of breaking up large chunks of text into smaller, more manageable units. Orwell’s original essay, although elegantly written, is tough-going on a computer screen. Hence the minor changes.

All changes have been kept to a minimum, and mainly involve adding sub headings as well as bullet points for the examples provided by the author. In addition, longer paragraphs have been broken down into smaller sub paragraphs where this helped with clarity. Finally, the article makes use of links within the page in order to make better sense of the author’s use of examples.

Purists who think of the above reformatting as sacrilege can avail themselves of Orwell’s original text.

~ Calvin van Hoek, 2007


March 30, 2009 at 12:01 pm Leave a comment

Rising Powers Challenge U.S. on Role in I.M.F. – NYTimes.com

By MARK LANDLER

WASHINGTON — Barely six months ago, the International Monetary Fund emerged from years of declining relevance, hurriedly cobbling together emergency loans for countries from Iceland to Pakistan, as the first wave of the financial crisis hit.

Now, with world leaders gathering this week in London to plot a response to the gravest global economic downturn since World War II, the fund is becoming a chip in a contest to reshape the postcrisis landscape.

The Obama administration has made fortifying the I.M.F. one of its primary goals for the meeting of the Group of 20, which includes leading industrial and developing countries and the European Union. But China, India and other rising powers seem to believe that the made-in-America crisis has curtailed the ability of the United States to set the agenda. They view the Western-dominated fund as a place to begin staking their claim to a greater voice in global economic affairs.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who once worked at the fund, has called for its financial resources to be expanded by $500 billion, effectively tripling its lending capacity to distressed countries and cementing its status as the lender of last resort for much of the world.

Japan and the European Union have each pledged $100 billion; the United States has signaled it will contribute a similar sum, though its money will take longer to arrive because of the need for Congressional approval. China, with its mammoth foreign exchange reserves, is the next obvious donor.

Yet officials of China and other developing countries have served notice that they are reluctant to make comparable pledges without getting a greater say in the operations of the fund, which is run by a Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and is heavily influenced by the United States and Western Europe.

A senior Chinese leader, Wang Qishan, said Friday that Beijing was willing to kick in some money, but he called for an overhaul of the way the fund is governed. China wants its quota — which determines its financial contribution and voting power — adjusted to reflect its economic weight better.

China’s contribution, Mr. Wang said, should not be based on the size of its reserves but on its economic output per person, which is still modest. Some American officials now expect a pledge on the order of $50 billion from China.

“Their arms may yet be twisted, but they simply do not want to pony up based on vague promises of governance reform,” said Eswar S. Prasad, a professor of economics at Cornell University who has discussed the matter in recent days with Chinese and Indian officials.

Given the inevitability that these countries will have a growing influence, the London summit meeting, which begins Thursday, is likely to be remembered “as the last hurrah for the U.S. and Europe rescuing the world economy,” said Simon Johnson, a professor at M.I.T. and a former chief economist of the fund.

One reason the I.M.F. has emerged as such a popular cause is that the United States has been unable to rally countries behind its other major priority: economic stimulus. The European Union opposes further stimulus packages in 2010, arguing that its social safety net makes an increase in government spending unnecessary.

European and American officials are also still divided, to a lesser degree, on how to rewrite international financial regulations. France and Germany are more receptive than the United States to giving regulators supranational authority to scrutinize global banks and other financial companies.

“The United States is desperately trying to assert leadership, as if it were 10 years ago, when the U.S. set the agenda,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, an economist at Harvard and another former chief economist of the fund.

With more countries slipping into crisis by the week, there is general agreement that the fund needs additional resources. Since last year, the I.M.F. has made nearly $50 billion in loans to 13 countries. It is streamlining the process for making loans and loosening its strings, hoping to counter the resentment that built up against it during past crises because of its stringent demands.

At a preparatory meeting two weeks ago, finance ministers of the Group of 20 agreed to “very substantially” increase financing, though the Europeans favored an extra $250 billion, not $500 billion.

Whatever their reservations about financing, the Chinese have seized on the fund for another purpose: to tweak the United States. The governor of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, recently proposed that the American dollar be phased out as the world’s default reserve currency. As a replacement, he suggested using special drawing rights, or S.D.R.’s, the synthetic currency created by the fund that is used for transactions between it and its 185 member countries.

Few economists view that idea as a realistic one, at least for years to come. But the mere assertion that the dollar’s pre-eminence is waning — a theme picked up by Russian officials as well — sends a message.

“I don’t think the Chinese or Russians really believe the S.D.R. is a viable currency,” said Mr. Prasad, the Cornell economist. “But they’re laying down a very clear marker that they’re going to be much more assertive about their role.”

Mr. Geithner took the remarks seriously enough that he publicly reaffirmed the primacy of the dollar.

The United States will address China’s status this week, when it announces details of a new high-level strategic and economic dialogue with Beijing, led by Mr. Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to a senior administration official, who spoke anonymously because the information was not yet public. The announcement will come after the first meeting between President Obama and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, in London.

The Obama administration has personal reasons to support the fund. Mr. Geithner was the I.M.F. director of policy planning from 2001 to 2003, after his first stint in the Treasury Department. He recruited Edwin M. Truman, another former Treasury official and a longtime advocate of the fund, as a temporary adviser to develop policies for the Group of 20 meeting.

Just before leaving his academic position at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Mr. Truman proposed that the fund issue $250 billion in S.D.R.’s on a one-time basis to be allocated to all its members, as another way of increasing its resources. Western European countries, he said, could use their S.D.R.’s to lend money to their troubled Eastern neighbors.

That proposal is in a current draft of the statement to be issued at the Group of 20 meeting. If all the American proposals for the fund are adopted, its resources will approach $1 trillion — a big number, even in these extraordinary times.

Yet for Mr. Johnson of M.I.T., it merely shows how difficult it is for the United States to marshal support for anything else.

“They can’t agree on fiscal policy; they can’t agree on regulations,” he said. “The only thing left is the I.M.F.”

March 30, 2009 at 6:47 am Leave a comment

Microsoft to attack Mac pricing in new series of TV ads

AppleInsider | Print: Microsoft to attack Mac pricing in new series of TV ads

appleinsider

Microsoft to attack Mac pricing in new series of TV ads

After running through a series of ad campaigns designed to make Windows look cool, then victimized, then simply inescapably ubiquitous, Microsoft is now hoping to attack Apple in new ads that portray Macs as unaffordable compared to generic PCs.

According to a report by the Associated Press, Microsoft hired Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the ad agency behind the campaign pairing Bill Gates with Jerry Seinfeld, to recruit “unwitting subjects by posing as a market research firm studying laptop purchasing decisions.”

Participants found on Craigslist were given between $700 to $2,000 to buy a computer fitting certain criteria, and were told they could keep the computer they selected.

One participant named Lauren was told to buy a 17″ notebook for less than $1000. She was then filmed entering an Apple Store where she couldn’t find one. Lauren then heads to Best Buy and selects a $699 HP machine running Windows. That experience was turned into a 60 second TV spot for Microsoft after the agency told the buyer that the purpose of the excursion was really to promote Windows.

Shopping for hardware

The new ads don’t go into details on hardware purchases; they simply make the case that PC laptops can be found for cheaper, playing up tight funds in the tough economy. Best Buy actually does sell the DV7-1245DX, an HP notebook with 17″ screen, but it lacks fast wireless 802.11n, fast Gigabit Ethernet, digital audio inputs and outputs, weighs 7.75 pounds, and only features the screen resolution of Apple’s 15″ notebooks: 1440 by 900. Technically, it is a 17″ notebook in terms of size, but it doesn’t have the 17″ resolution of Apple’s MacBook Pro, which is 1920 by 1200.

One HP buyer pointed out that this model series “has the worst screen I have ever seen in my life. It’s the 1440×900 screen and the viewing angles are so poor that even when sitting directly eye level with the screen it is totally washed out. If I go a little bit off-axis the screen results in a negative image. I was using the default settings. Unfortunately I didn’t read reviews before i purchased.”

Shopping for software

More importantly however, the HP notebook runs Windows Vista, rated by ChangeWave as having the lowest operating system satisfaction rating in rankings that were led by Mac OS X Leopard and also included Linux and Windows XP. Many PC makers continue to add a “Windows XP downgrade” as a feature on their new PCs.

This makes it particularly interesting that Microsoft would advertise its product by citing the price of the hardware it runs on, rather than calling attention to any of the features in its own product. It’s not that Microsoft hasn’t tried. Vista’s first “Wow” campaign portrayed customers in a state of pleasant shock when using it.

changewave

Shopping for an ad campaign

After those ads collapsed in an avalanche of bad press complaining about arbitrary changes that did not improve anything and software and hardware compatibility problems, Microsoft rolled out the Mojave Experiment, which showed users a “new OS” that was really just a repackaged version of Vista. Those ads attempted to claim that Vista’s bad reputation was all due to customers not giving the system a fair shake, but the ads sidestepped the real problems users were experiencing by not allowing participants to run Vista on their own PC or with their existing software and peripherals.

Microsoft then announced a $300 million campaign to revive the Windows brand by associating it with skits featuring Gates and Seinfeld which promised to “tell the story of Windows.” Instead, the ads were canceled mid-production after being poorly received.

Following that, the company released a “Windows vs Walls” campaign reminiscent of Apple’s Think Different commercials, and then a series of “I’m a PC” ads that tried to defuse Apple’s Get a Mac spots by claiming that generic PCs were empowered to do anything, except of course, producing the ads themselves, as it was embarrassingly revealed that those ads were actually created using Macs.

Promoting cheap

Talking about price during a recession where the global PC market is actually shrinking for the first time ever is probably Microsoft’s best bet in trying to stem the tide of switchers buying Macs. However, the company has to be careful because it’s also competing against free software such as Ubuntu Linux, which also runs on generic PCs. In fact, those PCs get cheaper if they’re sold without Microsoft’s Windows, something the company has worked hard to prevent from happening.

When cheap netbooks surfaced last year and began to sell in increasing numbers, PC makers were able to hit their low price targets by bundling them with Linux. However, Microsoft stepped in and dumped low cost Windows XP licenses on the PC makers to get them to stop selling Ubuntu’s software as a competing product, according to Ubuntu CEO Mark Shuttleworth.

Shuttleworth “believes that a decent edition of Windows [7] will mean Microsoft finally has to charge full price and that Redmond will finally stop allowing OEMs to use low-cost copies of Windows XP instead of paying full price for the full version of the official flagship – Windows Vista,” according to an interview published by the Register.

“We are in an awkward situation now because they [Microsoft] are giving away XP in the netbook market – they are literally giving it way to OEMs,” Shuttleworth said. “You can make the argument Linux is more expensive that Windows XP because Microsoft has been very aggressive in licensing.”

As Microsoft starts charging more for its software, it will have to compete against Linux on the low end and Apple on the premium end. Further, as Apple builds WWLAN mobile broadband support into its forthcoming machines, Microsoft will also have to push Windows PCs against Apple hardware that is similarly priced due to begin subsidized by mobile carrier contracts, just as the iPhone broke down competitive barriers and leveled the playing field in smartphones, catching up to Microsoft’s Windows Mobile shipments in just a matter of months.

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March 27, 2009 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

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