Language and Ideas

LanguageThe other day I saw a post from my friend Dora the Explora in which her husband misspelled a word on the shopping list and it got me thinking about the importance of language in communication. We use words to express ideas and those words have particular dictionary meaning but also personal meaning. What happens when there is a disconnect between these two meanings?

Let’s say you’re giving a lecture to a group of people about the Hindenburg tragedy of 1937. You correctly use the world “Dirigible” and no one has any idea what you are talking about. You spend valuable minutes of the lecture explaining the meaning of the word. Later you decided to use the word “Blimp” as it is more commonly understood and generally derives the same meaning within the context of your lecture.

I think it’s obvious which of the two scenarios is technically correct but the real question becomes which one is better for the particular situation?

There are two arguments. One argument says that you merely have to get across your idea which is the point of all communication. This argument says that text speech common among tweeters and cell phone users is perfectly acceptable if the audience gets the message. If I had written “SMS language” instead of “text speech” above would you have known what I was talking about? This argument applies to the written word as well. In particular, if my friend wrote the shopping list with the correctly spelled word would her husband have brought home the wrong item or nothing at all in his confusion?

The second argument insists that grammatical correctness is essential to properly conveying the message. If I say “Blimp” instead of “Dirigible” the people in the audience who know the difference between the two will have the wrong idea and those who don’t will use the mistaken word as a synonym for the correct word thus spreading misinformation. Also, when my friend’s husband gets to the store the label on the shelf is going to have the correctly spelled word which might lead to confusion.

Isn’t language fun?

So, what’s the answer? As usual, I’m not going to simply state a bunch of facts and leave it at that. You may have noticed that I tend to have an opinion and I’m not particularly shy about sharing it.

I think we should go for grammatical correctness as much as possible because anything else can lead to confusion. The ideas you express might be misunderstood if you use an incorrectly defined word. I think the person giving the lecture on the Hindenburg tragedy should learn from the first lesson and incorporate the meaning of the word dirigible into the lecture from then on out. The more accurate we are with our words the less chance there is of misunderstanding. And misunderstanding causes more trouble in the world than just about anything else!

If you want to see an example of the havoc a misinterpreted message can do, go here.

I am open to SMS language for words like with, w/, brb (be right back), lol (laugh out loud), 2moro (tomorrow), although they do lose meaning when the person reading the message doesn’t know them. Generally, words like this are more akin to abbreviations and acronyms/initialisms than ill defined mistakes.

Here is a great list of words that are commonly misused. Check them out and see if you use invalid (not illegal) words!

Tom Liberman

Teaser – Anti-Trust Laws

Anti-trustAfter my Crony Capitalism post a little while ago several fellow Libertarians posted comments in support but mentioned that they didn’t think the government had the ability to create a level playing field through regulation. That this field was created by competition itself.

Tomorrow I’ll share one group of situations where I think federal oversight, in the way of broad regulations, is sometimes necessary in order to have a free market. Why I think unfettered capitalism doesn’t work without a modicum of government oversight.

I’ve got my bunker all prepared for a blast back from Libertarians!

Stay tuned and see you tomorrow!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

We the People

The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Great SealIn 1912 an amendment to the Constitution of the United States proposed that Senators be directly elected by the population of each state rather than be appointed by the legislatures of said states. It was ratified within a year by 31 of the 48 states and became law on May 31, 1913.

In my experience I find that most people are unaware of a time when Senators were not directly elected so I’m going to go back in time and try to explain the original concept of the Founding Fathers.

Put on your time travel hats and come with me on a journey … journey … journey.

During the Philadelphia or Constitutional Convention the founding fathers gathered to write the new constitution. There were a number of factions each with their own plan but one of the main issues rested on how officials to the new government would get their jobs. I’m going to generalize here pretty broadly and I’d suggest a perusal of the article for better details.

Anti-federalist largely wanted there to be one representative per state so as each state would have equal power and the federal government would be weaker. Federalists largely wanted direct, proportional elections so that larger states had more power and the federal government would be stronger. They ended up with the Connecticut Compromise. Direct, proportional election of the House of Representatives, two Senators per state appointed by state legislatures, and an executive elected by the Electoral College.

The effect of this was as follows: The house of representatives with their two year terms were beholden to the people of their states, more subject to the whims of the moment, and the larger states had significantly more say. The senators with their six year term were beholden directly to the state representatives and not the people of the state which gave state legislatures, big and small, an equal say in federal policies.

The reasons suggested for the new amendment were that some senators engaged in direct and indirect bribery of state legislatures to get their job. Also, when a state failed to elect a senator because of gridlock the senate went unfilled.

These reasons gained so much momentum that 31 state legislatures proposed making the change. This galvanized the federal government into proposing the amendment before the states themselves engaged in a “runaway convention” and took matters into their own hands.

In my opinion the federal government was correct to propose the change at the time because it was the will of the state legislatures and their ratification of the amendment demonstrates this fact. However, we’ve had a hundred years to see its effect and it is time we reexamine an amendment as has been done before.

Its effect has been profound and I’ll site one dramatic example. In 1994 the Republican Party took control of the Senate with 52 of the 100 seats. Had the 17th amendment not been passed Democrats would have had a filibuster-proof super-majority of 70 seats.

Now, as to the less dramatic effects of the new amendment. Essentially the Senators are no longer beholden to the state legislature and that removes power from the states. Some argue that it also helped pave the way for special interest groups and lobbyist to influence the now unburdened Senators. Essentially lobbyist used to focus on their own state legislatures but now gather in ever growing flocks in Washington D.C. Before lobbyist had to spread their attention to multiple people in each state legislature but now only have to influence two senators.

Now, as to my opinion, finally.

I think the weakening of state power has only increased the corruption that was largely the motivator in making the change in the first place. Certainly there was corruption in the Senate appointment process but that corruption has simply gone up the ladder to the federal level while at the same time depriving states of their primary weapon in this great Union. As individual states lose their power, and the federal government gains it, the concentration of power draws in more and more corruption. As the federal government becomes directly responsible to the people and not the state legislatures we slide towards democracy rather than representative republic. I detail why this is a bad thing here.

I’m not suggesting that repealing the 17th amendment will fix the woes of the country but I think it’s one step necessary in the process.

Like, Tweet, Comment, Stumble, Digg, and otherwise spread the word if you think this post might be of interest to your friends and family. As always, feel free to disagree in the comments!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Clint Eastwood – Advertising – Politics

Clint EastwoodLike many people in this country, I watched the Super Bowl this Sunday. Great game. What I want to discuss today is the Clint Eastwood commercial.

To get in the mood you might want to listen to this or this.

First a little background about Mr. Eastwood. His politics are a mix of ideas that appears largely Libertarian and he has supported both Republicans, John McCain, and Democrats over the years.

When the commercial started I thought to myself, “Oh no, a stupid political ad that tries to pull all the notions of patriotism into support of one politician or another.” As the commercial went on … and on … I began to realize this was more of a heartfelt appeal to put our differences aside and do what is in the best interest of the country. From what I know about Mr. Eastwood; if he says he meant that, then I believe him. I was inclined to believe it before Mr. Eastwood was forced to issue explanations.

Parse that, Mr. Eastwood was forced to issue an explanations because he sent out a message of hope trying to bring the United States together. Forced to issue an explanation! Does that tell you something is wrong with our political process?

Now, I do realize at its heart the commercial was an advertisement for Chrysler and, because it has us all talking, it certainly did its job. But, let’s leave that aside and talk about the political thinking, rather than critical thinking, that seems to drive this country today.

One political pundit, who is now dead to me, was “personally offended” by the commercial. Personally offended by an appeal to come together and make the country better? Personally offended by something that had nothing to do with this person. I’m personally offended when my mother tells me I come across as a know-it-all (she might be right). I’m personally offended when I’m compared to Miles Raymond in Sideways (there might just be some truth to that). I’m not personally offended when someone criticizes Ron Paul. I might disagree with the criticsm but I’m not personally offended. It’s not about me and I don’t have such a colossal ego that I think everything is about me (just most things).

This was a commercial about getting together, working together, overcoming adversity, making your community, the country, the world, a better place. Mr. Eastwood, I salute you, sir.

The voters today, and I’m going to talk about the blame the voters have in this problem tomorrow, seem largely to judge the merit of an idea based on the “D” or “R” in front of the name of the person making the proposal. Is that you? Do you not bother to think about the issue once you hear who is talking? Do you vote for the party and not the person? Do you let other people tell you who to vote for and against?

Are you one of those people who finds it easier to vote by party affiliation rather than spend time critically examining the candidates?

If so, I have one suggestion:

Stop voting. You’re hurting this great country.

Share, Like, Comment, Stumble, Tweet, and all the rest of you think someone you know might find this interesting. Tell me if you disagree!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist