January 18, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things

With five kids in the house (four who are talking, and that pretty much non-stop) I am constantly bombarded with odd requests, regaled with stories that go nowhere, and questioned like I am the lead suspect in a mass killing. It is overwhelming some days.

But every once in awhile it pays off with either a moment of amazing grace or absolute hilarity.

Logan (our four year old) was bent over our three month old daughter Savannah. As she cooed and looked up at him he said, "Hey Savannah. Do you see me?" Then as she turned to look at him he screeched at her, "Look into the eye of the tiger!"

As a fan of both Rocky and Survivor (the musical group) I couldn't be more proud.

January 12, 2010

Lunacy of Language (part 1)

I care about words. It's part of my job and who I am. I wouldn't be preaching if I didn't think that just the right word, delivered in the right way, at just the right time, can make a gigantic difference in someones life. So I pay attention to words and how we use them.

Which is why I am continually frustrated by how those in governmental authority use words. Words seem to no longer mean much beyond the political/rhetorical possibilities they provide. It is not that those in power or seeking power lie (although they sometimes do). It is that they are allowed to bend language to their own ends and are rarely called on the carpet for it. Somewhere Daniel Webster is weeping.

So let me start with a simple example: "Too big to fail." Read this from the New York times in 2008: “Some institutions really are too big to fail, and that’s the way it is,” said Douglas W. Elmendorf, a former Treasury and Federal Reserve Board economist who is now at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

This phrase has been used over the past year and a half by economists and politicians from various political leanings. In that parlance it means that some companies are so vital to the U.S. economy that they cannot be allowed to go under. For instance GM is just too big and important to allow it to crumble, so we must spend billions of dollars in taxpayer money to make sure it survives.

First, look at the language. It logically makes no sense. Can something honestly be "too big to fail". Does a fourth grade teacher turn in her grades and say, "You know, Jimmy didn't do the work, and he can't read, but he's just so large I can't fail him." If this were an actual truth, then there would be no show like "The Biggest Loser." Being big would be the goal in life. But logically we know this makes no sense. So the politicians and economists begin with an illogical statement. But it doesn't end there.

Once the illogical grammar is accepted, then the real insanity can begin as the phrase can now be used as "reasoning" for all sorts of stupidity. So a car company is "too big to fail". Using that logic means that if any business gets large enough, it doesn't have to worry about turning a profit, producing quality goods, or satisfying customers. It simply needs to be really big.

If "too big to fail" is true, then even if today I invent a means of beaming people from one place to another (think Star Trek) and pull it off in a way that is affordable for everyone, we would still need to support GM. Think of all the companies and businesses that have disappeared over time because something better came along. Imagine if we kept dragging them with us because they are "too big to fail." We would still have companies producing stagecoaches, milkmen running around every morning, and blacksmith shoppes.

And what about all the companies that are not too big to fail. Imagine trying to compete with a business that is much larger, has more resources, and can't lose. You could make a better product that people wanted more and was cheaper. All the "too big to fail" company would need to do is drop their price so low and drive you out of the market. They can do it because even if they lose so much money they should be bankrupt, the government will save them.

So in reality, "too big to fail" makes no sense. And that should be obvious. So it must be rhetoric to cover up the true motive for wanting to bail out these companies.
Why not just tell the truth? "We are afraid of the backlash of this many unionized workers losing their jobs," might be what some politicians are thinking. Or perhaps they just feel real sympathy for all the families who would be effected by the massive job losses that would come from the demise of a large company like GM.

Who knows what the real motives are. And we will never know as long as we allow those in authority to use this kind of language. Just give us the straight dope please.