Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for April 4th, 2007

To rebuke or not to rebuke

Posted by metaphorical on 4 April 2007

It was a tough headline to write. The NY Times went with “Justices Say E.P.A. Has Power to Act on Harmful Gases,” which got the story right. The Baltimore Sun went with “Justices rebuke Bush on climate,” which also got it right, but quite differently.

The basic story is simple enough. To quote the always-great (and in this case aptly-named), Linda Greenhouse in the Times,

In one of its most important environmental decisions in years, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases in automobile emissions. The court further ruled that the agency could not sidestep its authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change unless it could provide a scientific basis for its refusal.

The complication was this:

The 5-to-4 decision was a strong rebuke to the Bush administration, which has maintained that it does not have the right to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases under the Clean Air Act, and that even if it did, it would not use the authority. The ruling does not force the environmental agency to regulate auto emissions, but it would almost certainly face further legal action if it failed to do so.

Unsurprisingly, this nuance was lost on FOX News, which went with “Split Supreme Court Orders EPA to Act on Greenhouse Gases.” The word “split” is a nice touch, reminding us that Fox, like Chief Justice Roberts doesn’t exactly have clear grasp on reality. (In an editorial yesterday, the Times noted that “The decision was unnervingly close, and some of the arguments in the dissent, written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., were cause for concern — especially his comments about the “complexities” of the science of climate change, which is too close for comfort to the administration’s party line.”)

(Note that it didn’t take long for even Greenhouse to hit the “rebuke” button—para#2. The AP also went that way on the headline: “High court rebukes Bush on car pollution.”)

NPR highlighted conflict while avoiding “rebuke”: “Justices Thwart Bush Team on Environmental Policy”

Many simply ignored the complexity and presumed the EPA will eventually take action. For example, Nature magazine had “Car emissions are EPA’s problem.” Red Herring went with the completely neutral “US Environmental Agency Can Limit CO2.”

Finally, there were the usual plays on words, such as BusinessWeek, which wrote “Court Turns Up the Heat on Global Warming” and Washington Post, with a fairly lame “The Supreme Court Trawl on Global Warming.” (That’s just not a verb I’d use in a headline.)

Me, I’m looking forward to the stories that frame this as a victory for the sane EPA long-term staffers against the political appointee nutjobs, a conflict we’ve seen in any number of other agencies, including, of course, the recent Attorneygate. But that is, as they say in the newspaper game, a second-day story.

As a footnote, I just want to note that the estimable Greenhouse might be the last reporter at the Times to know that “none” is a singular pronoun. In a separate story, “Supreme Court Denies Guantánamo Appeal,” she wrote:

The men have all been held at Guantánamo Bay for more than five years, and none has been charged with a crime.

On the editorial page, on the other hand, on the very same day,, “Finding Doomsday Asteroids” had:

The space agency estimates that there are some 1,100 near-Earth objects whose diameters exceed six-tenths of a mile, big enough to destroy a medium-sized state and kick up enough dust to affect global climate and crop production. The survey has already identified more than 700 of them. None are on a path to collide with Earth.

Shame on the the op-ed editors, double-shame on the Times. If you’re going to be wrong, at least be consistently wrong. Oh, but wait: a quick check of the bookshelf shows their own published style manual advocates inconsistency. From The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, p.142:

Construe as a plural unless it is desired to emphasize the idea of not one or no one—and then it is often better to use not one or no one instead of none.

Bleh. Inconsistency and a passive construction. It’s like getting a bonus bleh.

Posted in journalism, politics, technology, Times-watch | 1 Comment »

There are 9990 roads to heaven

Posted by metaphorical on 4 April 2007

Calvin: Yesterday dad went out to buy a hardcover novel. He said he wanted to read something long, rich, and thought-provoking for a change… Then he said he was going to buy the book with cash, so nobody could trace the purchase to him and exploit his interests for commercial purposes.

Hobbes: Your dad’s going into the future kicking and screaming, isn’t he?

Calvin: What if he’s turning into some kind of subversive?

Exponential change means everything up to now doesn’t count.
— Rick Rashid

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change.
   — Vice President Dan Quayle, 5/22/89

Sometime today, this blog will have been viewed for the 10,000 time, according to the limited statistics that WordPress maintains. That’s not a lot in blog terms, but it’s only been around for five months (and with its current frequency of posting, four). That’s still not a lot in terms of being one of the big kids, but the big kids aren’t entirely distinguishable from the knee-jerk polarized opinion-machines that were the reason some people leave the cable news channels and enter the blogverse to escape. (Chris over at Creek Running North had a very nice post earlier this week that explored the idea that when it comes to blogging, “If you’re a thoughtful writer who tends to write longer essays then you’re at a disadvantage.”)

This blog’s best days are also its high-comment days; there’s no escaping the conclusion that, like all written work, it’s a cooperative venture between writers and readers.

In that spirit, I’m going to try something new. My nephew, who has been commenting under the name digglahhh (he needs to figure out if he’s keeping that name for the long haul, and if so, at some point he has to explain it to me and the other old fogies) and wrote one post (“Hip hop just died this morning”) will become a contributing editor, as we would say in publishing, blogging once a week on the weekend. Among other things, he can make up for some serious deficiencies I have on the sports and entertainment front, looking that them through the lenses of politics, technology, and, especially, language.

As Alfred North Whitehead once said, “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change
and to preserve change amid order.” (The quote that heads this post, by the way, is from the movie Red Sorghum.)

So, once again, thanks in advance for the 10,000th birthday, especially Claire, Mambo/Swanny, Athena, Hannah, Kevin, Andrew, Tigtog, CMD, David, and other regular readers in places like Shanghai; Palo Alto; Piscataway, N.J.; Nashua, N.H.; and Kbenhavn, Staden Kobenhavn, Denmark; who I don’t know except as locations in SiteMeter.

Posted in language | 7 Comments »