On writing–language and bias

If you haven’t accepted that words have the power to manipulate, take a look at this headline recently from the Huffington Post:

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Here’s a link to the article in question.

Shame on UPS, you “heartless” evil corporation. Its what the majority of Americans believe corporations are: Heartless, Unfeeling, Thieving, Conniving, etc., etc. The article goes on to say that the UPS facility in Queens will be firing 256 people. Gutless evil entity! And why? Well, because one employee decided to question work hours, got fired, and 250 walked out in protest. Saying it like this, you’d think, absolutely, what a “heartless” way to treat your employees. But this is where the biased language of our current media comes in to play. And they are all guilty of it. I’m looking at you Fox, CNN, MSNBC. It just so happens that Huffington Post committed the latest one. And it is a whopper.

Look closely at the published and updated dates/times. If you are not on the link, here they are:

Posted: 04/02/2014 4:38 pm EDT Updated: 04/03/2014 2:59 pm EDT

What I find amusing is that it took a day for Kevin Short, the author of the piece, to ask a simple question: Can the employees of UPS walk out? You’d think not since a work stoppage at a place like UPS or FedEx or the Post Office would cost the company millions. Of course, we all want our latest thing from Amazon shipped on time and would raise Cain if delivered late. And so, a day later, this is posted:

Update 4/3: Thursday, a UPS spokesperson informed The Huffington Post that the contract between UPS and the Teamsters includes a no-strike clause. Management at the Maspeth facility, where employees worked, warned the employees as they were leaving that their jobs were at risk, the spokesperson said. The Teamsters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Too little too late, or maybe just perfectly executed, depending on your position in politics. Reading the comments section, you find the battle lines clearly drawn by the people who will never ship with the “heartless” UPS and those who believe that UPS is in the right to fire the employees. I’d be amazed if some of the posters who said that UPS should face a nationwide boycott even read the article or just caught the tag on Huffington Post’s main page and commented. There’s even a moveon.org petition available. Of course, the petition says nothing about the language of the contract that these employees worked under. It all comes down to language.

One simple word–“heartless”–has energized what really should be a non-issue. Amazing. In this case it is not the power of words but the power of one word. As writers it we should be cognizant of the words we choose in our own writing. But we aren’t or we choose not to be. In the realm of published media, I’d argue it’s the choose-not-to-be category. Huffington Post, Fox, MSNBC, CNN all have an agenda to drive. Where this agenda comes from is usually clouded in conspiracy, but there’s a clear agenda. Sadly, many readers and viewers are blinded by that agenda. We hate corporations. We love unions. We hate the 1%. Hence, we’ll say that UPS is a “heartless” company and our followers will agree. What a wonderful way to continue to divide and conquer.

Maybe it is time that we have a truly unbiased, truly “fair and balanced” (sorry FOX, you can’t claim this), source of news where the bias is obvious. There is none.

Those of you who cannot read the bias in the Huffington Post (or FOX, CNN, MSNBC) article, and see it in their delay of reporting all the facts of the issue, welcome to the Church of the Blind. Services are being held daily. They will provide you with the liturgy. Don’t think for yourself. Just rinse and repeat.

 

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On Doublespeak: Words Are Our New Great Divider

What ever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.– Buddha

It is just a word. A simple one really. It comes from the old French word destreit meaning “straits.” And at one point in time it was synonymous with American ingenuity and prosperity. Now, it has become a strange focal point for two political camps who have now taken semantics into the dark, vile recesses of American political discourse.

Detroit.

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How can one word invoke such confusion? Well, if you read all the comments of posters on the left and the right, it is really all about doublespeak. You know, “downsizing” not firing. “Gone to meet their maker” not died. “Detroit” is now in the lexicon of what is is.

On the one hand, the right argues that when Obama said, on 13 October 2012, that “We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt” he meant the city of Detroit. Seems logical to assume that since he did mention Toledo and Chicago later in the address. Here’s a link to some funny right wing comments from The Blaze the home of some right-wing thinking.

However, the left is claiming that the word “Detroit” was a metaphor? parallel? simile? for the auto industry. When the President said “We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt” he meant GM and Chrysler. Here’s a link to Media Matters (“A non-profit progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the media”) on the subject.

So, which is it? Did Obama mean Detroit the city or Detroit the automaker? Well, this is where our media, our politicians, and our own handlers (those people we chose to follow in the media be they movie stars, musicians, athletes, bloggers [yep, like me], or journalists) prefer us to remain, stuck on one word.

Honestly, I can see it both ways. Like I said in my intro, Detroit was synonymous with the auto industry. No, Detroit itself didn’t build cars, but our largest manufactures called it home. And, Detroit is a city. It is a city facing and urban blight, mass-emmigration, and now bankruptcy. I also think this was a clever way for the President to handle the situation. If he came out and said “We will not let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt” he has put the onus on his administration to see to it that those two companies succeed. If they fail, then his opposition has words to damage him with. But by saying “Detroit” he’s created a cleaver doublespeak that leaves him relatively undamaged in the eyes of his constituents (go the to Media Matters link to see that evidence), and gives him leverage in any assault from the opposition.

However, there was a flaw in his speech; a flaw that seems to be going unnoticed by all the message board hounds, bloggers, journalists, and talking heads. If you go back to his speech, it would appear that the President did mean the city of Detroit, and for that matter, every city in America.

More than a million jobs across the country were on the line – and not just auto jobs, but the jobs of teachers, small business owners, and everyone in communities that depend on this great American industry.

“And everyone in communities that depend on this great American industry.” By saving the auto industry with his bailouts, the President was, in turn, saving our communities, our cities, our jobs. Without these secondary jobs where would the tax support for our communities come from? Our communities would go be the way of Stockton, CA, San Bernadino, CA, and now Detroit, MI. Obama wasn’t going to let either GM or Detroit go bankrupt.

This is not to cast Detroit’s bankruptcy at Obama’s doorstep. Detroit needs to own its bankruptcy like it owned being the center of American auto-making for decades. But, the President needs to own his own words, also. Detroit is Detroit. It was an auto-manufacturing city, but it is still just a city. A broke one. (See… more doublespeak!).

No matter. The left will say that Obama meant GM and the right will try to lay Detroit’s bankruptcy at the President’s doorstep. Either way, words are becoming more and more politically divisive each day.

The language of friendship is not words but meanings. –Henry David Thoreau

California Adopts Texting As Its Official Language

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Sacramento–Trying to put to rest any further controversy over what language is the official language in the state, California legislators unanimously agreed to adopt Texting as California’s official language. “With this landmark bill we will be able to forever resolve our language issue here in California,” said state Senator William Brewster (D-37th District). The bill was heralded as a landmark piece of legislation by both Democrats and Republicans. “California has always been at the forefront of progressivism,” John Crackstone (R-11th District) lauded. “English is an ever-evolving language and it is moving into a new realm driven by technology. But we cannot deny our hispanic heritage and our open door to migrants from many nations. However, California has worked through its issues in the past, and we are moving into a brave new world of language.”

When pressed, state legislators also admitted that the move to Texting as the official language would benefit the cash strapped state. “By moving all California’s students to Texting, we can claim three million more ELL students. This would mean billions in federal aid that the state can move into other programs,” Brewster said. Of course, Brewster conceded, that both state Democrats and Republicans have their own desires for the influx of cash.

Mary Martin, a community organizer in Oakland, where, in the late 1990s the Oakland school district found itself wrapped in a firestorm over teaching Ebonics in the classroom, praised the state’s decision. “Anything that gets more money into our neighborhoods is a good thing. Most of our minority students struggle with English, however, they are very adept with texting. Making this our standard language will benefit the state for years to come. Our minority students are always at a disadvantage when it comes to No Child Left Behind. Now, by moving to texting, we level the playing field for our minority students.”

And it isn’t just community organizers and lawmakers who have found common ground. Elizabeth Tilley, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association, said that the English teachers in the state were overjoyed. “English teachers shouldn’t have to teach grammar rules. There are too many, which number in the hundreds. Whom can remember all those rules?” she said. Teachers were overjoyed that they could spend more time discussing how their students feel about words and emotions.

Language and today

One aspect of living in the middle isn’t just that I wallow in the misery of each side of the political aisle, but also is love listening to the language that these people spew from their mouths.

Here is this today’s phrase: Failure is not an option.

There was a time when the idea of failure wasn’t an issue. There was not some social phobia surrounding the idea of defeat.

For all you word sleuths, just a quick recap–No, “Failure is not an option” was not really said by Gene Kranz during the Apollo 13 mission. When interviewed for the movie, Kranz remarked that when something bad happens, mission control looks at all the options and failure was just not one of them. The script writers left the meeting with the tagline for the movie, and the rest is history.

Some of the greatest people in our collective history accepted failure. They admitted that it would happen. They counted on it, if only to improve them.

I always tried to turn every disaster into opportunity.

John D. Rockefeller

 

Failure is simply the opportunity to try again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford

 

I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas Edison

As a historian, one of my favorite failures is Abraham Lincoln.

Much has been written about his failures prior to his ascension to the presidency. (Abraham Lincoln Library’s suggested books) He failed in business and on multiple attempts at political office.

My favorite failure of Lincoln’s was his inability to manage his army during the Civil War.

He ran through seven generals before he found the one who would end the war.

I like to think that when Lincoln said,

My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure

He was speaking of one of his generals–the quote above is attributed to Lincoln, but when it was said is unknown.

One thing that he did say was

If General McClellan isn’t going to use his army, I’d like to borrow it for a time

In his own snide way, Lincoln was both admitting his own failure and McClellan’s.

no-failure-zone2We’ve come a long way from the time when men like Lincoln and Edison relished in the world of failure.

There once was a time when “failure is not an option” meant that a person would fail, learn, and succeed. Today, the phrase has been altered. The words remained the same. The speaking of it hasn’t changed. But, the nuance chose a different tone.

Looking around at the society we now live in, failure is not an option means that no one is allowed to fail.

  1. Education: The new norm is that no one student is given a zero for anything. Didn’t do the work? Fine, we’ll give you a fifty percent. No one is allowed to fail. Kids with minimal skills are passed on to the next grade, where, of course, they will not fail–conversely, they will not learn, either.
  2. Real Estate: Right now, the American government is busy bailing out everyone who was dumb, ignorant, or just plain greedy enough to get swept up by the “flipping” houses hobby of the late nineties. Didn’t have the income for a four-hundred-thousand dollar house? Underwater? That’s okay. The government won’t let you fail!
  3. GM, et al: Too Big To Fail.
  4. Government: I don’t care what side of the political aisle you sit on, I’m going to call a spade a frickin’ spade–The government is failing us. But, no one can be a failure. So, we put up with them.
  5. Parenting: Like it or not, we are an enabling society. One of the huge pitfalls in this new parenting–where parents are their children’s friends–is that we shelter the little darlings from failure. Everyone gets a trophy. Everyone gets a blue ribbon. There is no more first place. Everyone gets to be on the team; everyone plays varsity. If something goes “wrong” in our children’s lives, parents come to the rescue.

As the adults in this world bicker about how to improve the future, we neglect the fact that we are damning it.

Somewhere in our collective past, we changed the meaning.

Failure is not an option.

I’d like to think it is.