Posted tagged ‘Language’

Did Anyone Actually See David Broder’s Body?

May 4, 2011

[This is a cross post from Balloon Juice, where it prompted quite a discussion and, this morning, this response from mistermix.  I’m going to tag back later in the day, (promises, promises) but for now, here’s where all this started.  (P.S.  Sorry for not getting this up here at the same time as over at BJ, as is my usual custom.  As happenes, work intervened.]

David Broder is dead, or so they say.

I’m telling you he’s undead, and like the Jack the Ripper figure in that Star Trek episode, seems to be infecting the previously sane.

Exhibit A:

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Here’s Josh Marshall, Josh Freaking Marshall, earlier today:

As a more general matter it’s important to recognize that torture could easily have produced the key information. It just seems not to have in this case. You can be doctrinaire in opposing torture without being doctrinaire in assuming that it can’t produce any good intelligence, which would be foolish.

Here’s Senator Feinstein, speaking to the particular, as reported in Josh’s own Talking Points Memo:

“To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a wide-ranging press conference.

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Moreover, Feinstein added, nothing about the sequence of events that culminated in Sunday’s raid vindicates the Bush-era techniques, nor their use of black sites — secret prisons, operated by the CIA.

“Absolutely not, I do not,” Feinstein said. “I happen to know a good deal about how those interrogations were conducted, and in my view nothing justifies the kind of procedures that were used.”

And as for the general claim, that “torture could easily have produced the key information,” here’s the lede to that very story, written by Brian Beutler:

More and more evidence suggests a key piece of intelligence — the first link in the chain of information that led U.S. intelligence officials to Osama bin Laden — wasn’t tortured out of its source. And, indeed, that torture actually failed to produce it.

If Marshall wants to argue that torture is a valuable tool for intelligence gather, let him make the case.  I don’t actually think he does, of course.  But his bland suggestion that it might be so reeks of both-sides-now-ism.

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Combine that with the hippy-bashing use of the word “doctrinaire” — as in hide-bound, close-minded, and inflexible — to describe the properties of opposition to torture, and you have a bit of even handed applause for the right’s conventional wisdom that Mr. Broder himself would have admired.

Marshall is better than this bit of overly fast punditry…but in some sense that’s the point.  It shows how easy it is to slip into Broderism, into the habits of sloppy thinking, or simple refusal to think, even for people who’ve made a career of bullshit detection.

Eternal vigilance, peeps.

Image:  Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime, 1808

Just a bit of mild snark to start off what augers to be a depressing week: According to NPR, physicists go fishing ediThtion.

December 14, 2009

I always get into trouble with these, but I’m an editor’s son, so I can’t help myself.

From this piece at NPR.org on the long-looked-for restart of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern:

“Everybody’s so jazzed that the machine’s actually working,” says Zach Marshall, a graduate student on a detector called Atlas. “But we’re all just waiting with baited breath, because it’s been so close so many times,” he says.

Now I  know that English usage changes and that we move with the times/practice and all that, but breath is baited only in certain, unpleasant-to-visualize circumstances.

The proper spelling of this word/phrase is bated breath, which, as this brief etymology by Michael Quinion describes, has a very distinguished pedigree.  First found in written English in the mouth of Shylock, speaking to Antonio in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, it has persisted as a sport of the still-common verb, to abate.

The misspelling NPR commits is becoming increasingly standard, however, and as Quinion suggests, that way lies linguistic change, however much curmudgeons like my mother’s son may protest.

But c’mon:  I have this vision of poor, ill-transcribed Mr. Marshall, standing before his NPR interviewer, night crawlers dangling from his mouth, trout gaping at the proffered meal.

(And on that theme, enjoy this bit of doggerel taken from “Clever Cruel Cat” by Geoffrey Taylor, and brought to light (to me) by Quinion:

Sally, having swallowed cheese,

Directs down holes the scented breeze,

Enticing thus with baited breath

Nice mice to an untimely death.

Image:  Carel de Moor, “Angler,” c. 1700.