Notes


footing
address: specific mentions
using pronouns
referring to the audience
using questions and directives
enacting conversational interaction
implicature
politeness
presence of markers that draw on shared expectations and knowledge

Edits


Edit, rearrange, and mark them up to highlight examples, add commentary, and reveal patterns. You're aiming for an analysis, so take the balcony stance, be neutral, fair, and complete - and use the concepts from Myers. Focus on what's happening in the text.

What you're watching for:

• What kind of markers are prevalent
• What patterns of use emerge
• How are the markers used
• How frequently
• The differences in kinds and use between the two samples


Shakespeare, The Bible, and America's Shift Into a Punitive Society
Arianna Huffington
Posted: 11/2/11 06:11 PM ET

I spent the weekend of the Great Ice Storm of 2011 in New Haven for Parents Weekend. In spite of the conditions, I had a great time, having the chance to spend time not only with my two daughters, but also with two of my all-time favorite professors: Professor (and extremely popular HuffPost blogger) David Bromwich, and Professor (and fellow Greek) John Geanakoplos.

There were two things we discussed that are still haunting me. One was a passage from Ron Suskind's Confidence Men, in which Paul Volcker questions whether Obama and his economic team are really serious about the financial crisis:

"They say they're for it, but their hearts are not in it." And this gap between word and deed, between stated intentions and so little action, made Volcker think of a phrase that he knew Summers sometimes used -- a couple of people had told him -- "that the important thing is just to be caught trying."

"Be caught trying." Is there a better description of the mindset of so many of our political leaders at this troubled moment in our nation's history? The fact that there's a crisis, and that people are hurting -- or at least that the people are angry -- has finally sunk in around official Washington. And everyone there wants to be caught trying to do something about it. But what the country, and especially the millions who are suffering, needs are leaders who will do more -- much more -- than just be caught trying.

There are, of course, dozens of ways to capture the misery millions in our country are going through every day -- depressing statistics on unemployment, poverty, declining educational opportunities, bankruptcies, etc., etc. But the stat that Professor Geanakoplos quoted while I was in New Haven took on even greater resonance when juxtaposed with the Summers line. By the end of the year, close to four million homes will have been repossessed since 2008 -- a number that could double before the crisis ends. When you consider how many people each home housed, those are truly devastating numbers.

When I thought of eight million families out on the street in conjunction with the belief that the important thing is to be caught trying, it occurred to me that you can now divide not just politicians, but everybody into two categories: those who are genuinely alarmed when they hear those kinds of statistics, who are overwhelmed with the feeling that we cannot let that level of suffering happen, and those whose main concern is being caught trying to seem concerned.

We all know what the difference between taking action and being caught trying looks like. If you saw a child drowning, your first thought wouldn't be, "I probably can't do anything to save him, but the important thing is just to be caught trying." No, you'd take action and dive in.

Same in politics. Remember Richard Clarke's memorable phrase about how he and others were running around with their "hair on fire" about the threat from al Qaeda in the summer of 2001? Well, there are not many political leaders in danger of burns to the head and face these days. Instead, we have a lot of politicians who have already accepted failure, and are laying a paper trail so they can later prove that they had been trying: "Don't be angry with me. As I stated on Meet the Press, I was 'very concerned' about unemployment and even introduced a worthless bill to that effect!"

This is not to say that changing things is easy and that there are simple solutions to the mess we are in. But if those in charge cared the way you care if someone you love is in danger -- when you get that shot of adrenaline that allows a parent to lift a car off her child and do things no one thought possible -- we would see an empathy spike that would lead to results now considered impossible.

When we're moved to act, we're capable of tapping into amazing ingenuity and creativity. And though we're not slaves to our leaders, the tone set by them matters. And instead of empathy, it's notable how much the tone of our political discourse has become about punishment. Instead of helping those suffering in this financial crisis, there's a substantial segment of the population that now believes they got what was coming to them.

Last month, Herman Cain put it very bluntly in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: "If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself. It is not a person's fault if they succeeded, it is a person's fault if they failed."

Two weeks later, asked about the statement in one of the GOP debates, Cain doubled down to cheers from the audience. Left unexplained is why -- if it's the fault of the unemployed that they're unemployed due to laziness or some form of low character -- there's been such an uptick of laziness since 2008. Hand in hand with this attitude is the idea that those who are doing well have only themselves to thank -- that they are simply smarter and harder working than those who have failed.

Elizabeth Warren, in one of her first days on the campaign trail, laid waste to that notion:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

This isn't just about helping those in need; this is about helping keep our society strong. When I was talking to John Geanakoplos, he spoke passionately about how important it is for our nation as a whole to come up with a program to help the millions of homeowners who are underwater with their mortgages. His point was that it would benefit not just those in danger of losing their homes, but the neighborhood that home is in and, ultimately, the entire economy. To explain, he cited that great economist William Shakespeare. As he wrote in The Merchant of Venice: "Though justice be thy plea, consider this, that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy; and that same prayer doth teach us to render the deeds of mercy."

And mercy is good for both the one who receives it -- and the one who grants it. This notion, of course, didn't originate with Shakespeare. It goes back to the book the Bard often drew upon: The Bible. And not just to the warm and fuzzy New Testament, but to the Old Testament -- the one people think of as the punitive, unforgiving one.

"Every seven years," it says in Nehemiah 10:31, "we will let our fields rest, and we will cancel all debts."

And Deuteronomy 15:1-2 instructs: "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord's release has been proclaimed."

More famously, in the New Testament, there's the Lord's Prayer, exhorting us to "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."

So, contrary to the tone being taken by most god-fearing GOP presidential candidates, the idea that our reaction to those who are suffering the effects of this crisis should be less punitive and more empathetic is not some hippy-dippy idea being brought back from the 1960s by Occupy Wall Street.

And, make no mistake, the government can do something about the crisis. In September, David Brooks wrote about the "absurd" idea of government many Americans have, that it "has the power to protect them from the consequences of their sins."

Their sins? Really? Brooks' argument was ably swatted down by Matt Yglesias:

That something along these lines has become something like the conventional wisdom in Washington is, to me, maddening. Here's a story about bus drivers in Clark County, Nevada getting laid off as a result of state/local budget woes. Are those soon-to-be-unemployed bus drivers really suffering for their sins? Is it really true that a federal government currently able to borrow money at a negative real interest rate can't do anything to protect them? The amazing thing about this crisis is the extent to which suffering and responsibility are completely out of proportion with one another.

Having the power to protect people and exercising that power are, of course, two very different things. Instead of Robert F. Kennedy's idea of dreaming of things that never were, and asking why not, we now have an administration that will, at the drop of a hat, list the reasons why not: Greece, China, the tsunami, the Republicans, the Blue Dog Democrats, etc., etc.

I'm not discounting those obstacles -- especially not the obstacle of an opposition party that has essentially become untethered from reality. But even without a congressional consensus, there is a great deal the White House can do to help struggling Americans -- especially those threatened with foreclosure. As Robert Kuttner put it: "Under the Dodd-Frank Act, they have a huge amount of executive power to press banks to give relief to people with underwater mortgages."

Though it's taken a long and very costly amount of time, the White House finally unrolled its "we can't wait" campaign on the president's swing through western states, announcing a series of unilateral measures designed to go around Congressional roadblocks. "I'm here to say to all of you," declared the president, "that we can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won't act, I will."

He then announced a change to the Home Affordable Refinance Program that would help more people refinance their home loans. But, although welcome, the tweak is not enough to deal with the magnitude of the problem we're facing. When HARP began in 2009, the goal was to save up to 5 million people from foreclosure. To date, it's helped less than 900,000. And the eligibility bar for taking advantage of the new rules is still set much too high. "In terms of its impact on the economy or the housing market, I don't think it will be very noticeable," said Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

But as John Geanakoplos has been saying again and again for the last three years, there will be no solution to the mortgage crisis unless we are willing to deal with principal, not just with interest. Yet, the regulator in charge of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which control and guarantee more than 70 percent of U.S. mortgages, remains opposed to allowing underwater homeowners to reduce the principal on their loan -- even as more banks and private mortgage insurers are allowing some measure of debt forgiveness. And although taxpayers have forked over $141 billion to bail out Fannie and Freddie, the White House claims it lacks the ability to force the mortgage firms to do the same.

So the question remains: will the president's new initiatives make a real difference -- or will they be just another marker that allows the White House to be caught trying?

The growing punitive tone of our national debate is not only inhumane, it undermines what needs to be done to turn around the economy for the sake of everyone -- including the 1 percent.

As we head into the thick of the 2012 race, let's be mindful of the chasm between truly trying to make things better and just trying to be caught trying.



Worthless grammar edicts from Harvard
April 29, 2010 @ 4:47 pm · Filed by Geoffrey K. Pullum under Usage advice

Greg Mankiw, the Harvard economics professor, maintains a blog for undergraduate economics students. On it, back in 2006, he placed a guide to good economics writing. And I fear that you may already have guessed what, with sinking heart, I correctly foresaw that I would find therein.

It's a mixed bag of recommendations that he provides, in a thoroughly random order that I will not follow. He has some anodyne recommendations about avoiding wordiness and blather — in fact he is rather repetitive and wordy on the topic of wordiness: in separate points (which I abbreviate and paraphrase here) he insists you should
•stay focused and cut anything irrelevant,
•keep sentences short and use short words,
•avoid unnecessary words,
•keep it simple,
•avoid jargon,
•use metaphors and anecdotes, and
•keep your writing personal.
There is surely some overlap in the first three or four of those.

He also has some genuine style-sheet proposals that I have no quarrel with because they are nothing to do with sentence construction: he wants his students to keep their writing self-contained (i.e., avoid forward as-I-will-show-later references, and references to other works; he recommends avoiding footnotes; and he warns against inventing new acronyms. This is fine with me: Greg is within his rights to dictate such formal aspects of his students' papers, just as a publisher will tell you whether or not to put journal titles in italics.

He cites three highly specific word peeves that he thinks are especially important (long run is a noun but long-run is an adjective; the same holds for short(-)run; saving is a flow but savings is a stock). This too seems like reasonable advice.

But he also gives some specific instructions (of a disappointingly familiar kind) to avoid certain perfectly ordinary constructions or devices. He says you should "Use adverbs sparingly" (everyone does; adverbs are not at all common compared to nouns and verbs), and then unwittingly repeats himself by warning against very (which is, of course, an adverb, so that has been covered), and repeats himself some more in a recommendation against certain modal adjuncts (he cites of course, clearly, and obviously).

He says "Positive statements are more persuasive than normative statements" without defining either positivity or normativity, and I admit I am not sure what he means; possibly he means you should try to say what is the case rather than what ought to be or can be the case, in which case he is advising against modal auxiliaries.

My heart began to sink when I found he advises against using the passive voice (expressing that instruction by saying "The passive voice is avoided by good writers' — I am assuming this is economist humor) — a long-standing, indeed tired, old theme (see here for discussion).

And ultimately (perhaps you guessed this was coming), he says:

Buy a copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Also, William Zinsser's On Writing Well. Read them—again and again and again.

Oh, dear. Again and again and again, American professors with absolutely no background in English grammar insist that their 21st-century college students should study this unpleasantly dogmatic little work, written by men born in the 19th century. But the dictats given in The Elements of Style range from the redundant to the insane. Anyone who read the book again and again and again, and took its edicts literally, would do disastrous damage to their writing.

Most of those who dip into it come out with some signs of a nervous cluelessness about grammar: they get edgy around adverbs and prepositions and instances of the verb be, without exactly knowing why they feel like that, or what they should do about it.

I am quite convinced that The Elements of Style harms students more than it helps them. Yet the Google search term {Strunk White "Elements of Style" site:harvard.edu} calls up nearly ninety hits. Replacing harvard.edu by mit.edu yields more, about 140. At Princeton it's 23. At Stanford it's about 95. The finest universities in America continue to insist that this awful little compilation of century-old peevery is an important accessory for today's literate student. It isn't. The difference between carrying around The Elements of Style in your backpack and carrying around a slide rule is that slide rules gave accurate answers. (I actually don't know much about Zinsser's book; I'm trying to obtain a copy, but it is apparently not published in the UK. What I do know is that he makes the outrageous claim that most adjectives are unnecessary. So I have my doubts about Zinsser too.)

Harvard econ students, rise up: ignore everything Greg Mankiw says about grammar and throw your copy of The Elements of Style away. I don't mean you should write wordy waffle or violate his style requirements; but I am saying that this nonsense about avoid the passive construction and staying away from adverbs is junk. Check out Greg's own writing if you don't believe me.

I couldn't summon enough interest or time to do more research than download the first paper on his Harvard website (a presidential address called "Spreading the Wealth Around: Reflections Inspired by Joe the Plumber"), and check for passives and adverbs. The first passive clause is in the second half of his title; the second is in the third sentence of the abstract ("how the tax system should be designed); the third paragraph of the main text has the next passive clause ("tax cuts signed into law by President Bush"); I won't go on. His third paragraph has the first adverb ("I fully expect the issue to remain at the center of political debate"), and the fourth paragraph brings a bunch more ("perhaps more important"; "slowly and steadily continue to rise"; "suddenly read Milton Friedman's book")… It is pointless to spend more time on this. Greg Mankiw can't tell how many passives or adverbs he is using. He uses them whenever he thinks they feel right. So should you.
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