When names become adjectives

Some people have made such a contribution in one way or the other that their names pass into the language.  The Washington Post has an interesting feature that takes up some of these names and argues that the actual person was different from the adjective that their names became.  (At the link, you can link further to complete articles about each of these individuals.)

Mao was not a Maoist By Jung Chang

Chairman Mao extolled the “hard life” for hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. Yet, biographer Jung Chang explains, Mao enjoyed the choicest food, lived among 50 estates and earned millions in royalties from the books he forced the nation to read.

Clinton was not Clintonian By Jon Cowan and Matt Bennett

Is President Clinton Clintonian? It depends on what the meaning of “Clintonian” is. But Third Way’s Matt Bennett and Jonathan Cowan argue that the benign definition — having a willingness to take on party orthodoxies — is the one that will endure.

Rand was not Randian By Jennifer Burns

Rand wanted to live up to her novels’ heroes — men like Howard Roark and John Galt, who lived for their work and cared little for the opinions of others. So why, asks historian Jennifer Burns, was Rand heartbroken when reviewers didn’t like “Atlas Shrugged”?

Keynes was not Keynesian By Nicholas Wapshott

The term “Keynesian” has become a Washington insult — “shorthand for spendthrift, wasteful, debt-ridden, incontinent, elitist, socialist,” writes journalist Nicholas Wapshott. But the elegant British economist was none of the above.

Machiavelli was not Machiavellian By Miles Unger

“It is better to be feared than loved.” The author of “The Prince” offered cynical chestnuts such as this to 16th-century politicians. But biographer Miles Unger writes that Machiavelli was far from devious: He took in orphans, went to jail for his beliefs and died broke.

Queen Victoria was not Victorian By Kate Williams

The supposedly dour monarch who ruled England during the repressed Victorian era not only had nine children with her dashing young husband, but even flirted with the help after his death. Biographer Kate Williams offers a glimpse at the woman behind the frown.

Freud was not Freudian By Howard Markel

Freud demanded that his patients tell the truth about their most intimate experiences. But author Howard Markel says the inventor of psychoanalysis was never honest about his deepest, darkest secret: his addiction to cocaine.

Jefferson was not Jeffersonian By R.B. Bernstein

It’s hardly news that the founding father who wrote that “all men are created equal” owned slaves. But according to biographer R.B. Bernstein, this small-government enthusiast was not above big-government moves. Exhibit A: the Louisiana Purchase.

via What’s in a name … and what isn’t? – The Washington Post.

One could take issue with some of this.  (Believing in sexual propriety as Queen Victoria did does NOT mean being against sex in marriage!)  And I suspect that every person is far more complex than some single quality that might be attributed to them.  But still, this is a game that we might play.

I am currently engaged in an e-mail controversy over whether Marx was a Marxist.  Was Calvin a Calvinist?  Was Luther a Lutheran?

What other names could we scrutinize?

Economic purgatory

Here is a rather more optimistic assessment of the economy, based on the plans of America’s business executives.   I cite it, though, for the figure of speech in the final paragraph:

Washington policymakers are entering a crucial period for the nation’s stalling economy, starting with President Obama’s address to Congress about jobs on Thursday, but the fate of the recovery ultimately depends on decisions being made elsewhere: inside corporate America.

So far, business leaders have been standing firm, with senior executives making few revisions in the plans they had drawn up for expansion and hiring, according to interviews and a review of more than three dozen recent conference calls that executives have held with financial analysts. Even the wild swings on Wall Street during this cruel summer have not knocked executives off track.

But while companies are not undertaking new rounds of layoffs, hiring does not seem poised to take off. Executives speak of the same sluggish but steady job creation that has been underway for months continuing through the end of the year.

The cautious approach taken inside executive suites was also reflected in the grim jobs report from the Labor Department on Friday. While it showed that the nation’s job creation had ground to a halt in August, the private sector continued adding jobs slowly. After adjusting for workers on strike, mostly at Verizon, and employment cuts by government, the report revealed that private employers added the modest net sum of 62,000 jobs.

That result was consistent with the reflections of top executives, such Ronald L. Sargent, the chief executive of office-supply retailer Staples.

“I’m not an economist at all,” Sargent said in a conference call in mid-August with analysts to discuss quarterly earnings. “But from what I see, we have no chance at another recession. I think we’re probably more likely to stay in economic purgatory for a while longer, but I don’t have any worries about a double dip at this point.”

via Despite stock volatility, executives moving ahead with growth plans — for now – The Washington Post.

We are in economic purgatory!  We are being punished for our sins!  But we are still saved, eventually.   And government efforts to get us out are nothing but indulgences.  We can buy them, if it makes us feel better, but they don’t really work.  Can there be free forgiveness in the economics realm, or that just in the spiritual kingdom?

Your federal family

The term of choice for “government” at FEMA:  your “federal family.”

Don’t think of it as the federal government but as your “federal family.”

In a Category 4 torrent of official communications during the approach and aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has repeatedly used the phrase “federal family” when describing the Obama administration’s response to the storm.

The Obama administration didn’t invent the phrase but has taken it to new heights.

“Under the direction of President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano, the entire federal family is leaning forward to support our state, tribal and territorial partners along the East Coast,” a FEMA news release declared Friday as Irene churned toward landfall.

The G-word — “government” — has been nearly banished, with FEMA instead referring to federal, state and local “partners” as well as “offices” and “personnel.”

“’Government’ is such a dirty word right now,” says Florida State University communication professor Davis Houck. “Part of what the federal government does and any elected official does is change the terms of the language game into terms that are favorable to them.”

“Family” can evoke favorable thoughts of motherhood and security. But it can also conjure images of Big Brother and organized crime.

The phrase “federal family” has been used in connection with FEMA at least as far back as 1999.

Under President George W. Bush, FEMA officials sprinkled the alliterative euphemism into congressional testimony and statements. When former FEMA Director Michael Brown promised help to hurricane-battered Floridians in 2004, he vowed that “the federal family is dedicated to staying for as long as it takes.”

During the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore responded to 1999 flooding in Iowa by pledging that “the federal family is committed to providing the necessary resources to comfort every person and family devastated by this disaster and to help them return to their normal way of living as fast as possible.”

A Google search shows the phrase appearing 10 times on FEMA’s website during the Bush years. Since Obama took office, “federal family” has turned up 118 times on fema.gov, including 50 Irene-related references.

Among them: statements that the Obama administration “is committed to bringing all of the resources of the federal family to bear” for storm assistance and that “the entire federal family continues to lean forward to support the states in their ongoing response efforts.”

via FEMA’S use of term ‘federal family’ for government expands under Obama.

This would be a good time to read or re-read George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.

I believe in the “holy Catholic church” or “holy Christian church”?

The great Lutheran blogger Anthony Sacramone–remember Luther at the Movies?–goes from posting whole handfuls of entries a day at Strange Herring to going months without posting a thing (and now to keeping the public from reading it, for some reason).  But he sometimes puts something up at the First Things site.   He has a characteristically humorous, provocative, and instructive post there now:  What’s in a Name? Plenty. » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

After riffing on how Campus Crusade has changed its name to “Cru,” he complains about how his fellow Lutherans in the Missouri Synod and other confessional churches translate the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds as “I believe in the Holy Christian Church,” instead of the more direct rendition of the Latin, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church” like everybody else does (only sometimes with an asterix).

He does cite the fact that this comes from the German translation that predates even the Reformation, but he makes the case that today in English we should  show that we are “catholic” in the sense that we claim to be by using “catholic” like the rest of the universal church.   He points out that all kinds of sects and heretics claim to be “Christian.”  We need to affirm that we part of the historical universal Body of Christ, which is what “catholic” does.

In the course of the discussion, he gives some interesting biographical tidbits about his own spiritual pilgrimage  that I have always wondered about. But doesn’t he have a good point?  In the Athanasian Creed, which I’d be glad to confess every week, we do use “catholic.”   It’s a good word, like “evangelical,” and we shouldn’t cede it just to the Church of Rome.  Or are there reasons to change it?

The Common English Bible

A new Bible translation is now available, the Common English Bible.  Check out the website, which includes this comparison of passages from the new CEB and other translations:  Common English Bible – Compare Translations.

What agendas are evident in this translation?  What theology is at work in the word choices?  What can you say about the literary quality of the CEB?

HT: Matthew Cantirino

The Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect

Joe Carter, via a string of other blogs, quotes the late Michael Crichton’s 2002 essay “Why Speculate?”:

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

via The Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect « SeekerBlog.

Crichton surely overstated the case when he said that the media has no credibility and that it’s a waste of time to read the newspaper.  Sports scores are reported accurately, as far as I know, and events reported in the news did, one can assume, take place.   Still, the splendidly-named phenomenon described here does apply.  It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s critique of biographical interpretations of literature.  He said that when he reads biographical interpretations of his own works they are invariably wrong, by his first hand knowledge of his life; therefore, he is disinclined to accept biographical interpretations of other authors’ works.  Even here, when we post an article about some scientific discovery, readers who know something about the science explain how the reporters were getting it wrong.

Is there a way to get around this?  Should we trust certain publications or certain journalists more than others?  If bias is inevitable, should we just take in media with whose bias we agree?  Or should we counter our biases with media biased in the other direction?


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