Patterico's Pontifications

3/14/2009

Obama: Maybe the GOP Wants Me to Get Lost

Filed under: Obama — Patterico @ 10:34 pm

Sad. Very sad:

President Obama is joking that Republicans would like to see him get lost in the Amazon.

Obama made the crack Saturday in the Oval Office after a meeting with Brazil’s president.

Obama said he would like to visit Brazil and thinks he should visit Rio de Janeiro, where he understands the beaches are nice.

Then he said he would love a trip to the Amazon. He joked that he suspects the Republican Party would like to see him travel through the Amazon and maybe get lost for while.

These are very insightful comments that I am sure impressed the Brazilian president.

Also: sounds like someone is feeling sorry for himself.

Aw.

It’s a lonely job, isn’t it? So lonely.

Breitbart on Bill Maher

Filed under: General,Race — Patterico @ 9:56 pm

Via Dan Collins comes this Bill Maher segment featuring our friend Andrew Breitbart toughing it out on the Bill Maher show.

It takes balls to go into a hostile environment like that and defend conservative ideas — such as the concept that Clarence Thomas has the right to think the way he wants regardless of the color of his skin.

It’s a shame it takes courage to do that. But it does. Nice job by Andrew.

Should I Get a Kindle?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:54 pm

I was sort of down on the idea of getting a Kindle, but I saw a defense attorney who had one in court, and it looked pretty cool. He had a $20 case for it that made it feel like a book. You lift the cover and hold it like a book.

I see the major downsides as: 1) it’s very expensive; and 2) I like having physical books that my children can read in the future. As a child I spent hours and hours and hours poking around my parents’ bookshelves. I want my children to do the same.

I see the major upsides as: 1) when you travel (whether in a plane or just around town), you can carry many books in one small package; 2) you can instantly get a book you’re interested in; and 3) if you’re not worried about the lack of permanence, the books are cheaper.

Anyone have one? Any thoughts?

Parents Who Killed Their Children But Didn’t Mean To

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:01 pm

I have praised Gene Weingartner here in the past, and he’s truly one of the world’s great writers. Now via Balko comes a link to this awful, compelling story:

The charge in the courtroom was manslaughter, brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia. No significant facts were in dispute. Miles Harrison, 49, was an amiable person, a diligent businessman and a doting, conscientious father until the day last summer — beset by problems at work, making call after call on his cellphone — he forgot to drop his son, Chase, at day care. The toddler slowly sweltered to death, strapped into a car seat for nearly nine hours in an office parking lot in Herndon in the blistering heat of July.

It was an inexplicable, inexcusable mistake, but was it a crime? That was the question for a judge to decide.

At one point, during a recess, Harrison rose unsteadily to his feet, turned to leave the courtroom and saw, as if for the first time, that there were people witnessing his disgrace. The big man’s eyes lowered. He swayed a little until someone steadied him, and then he gasped out in a keening falsetto: “My poor baby!”

It’s a tragic story with an unbelievably human payoff at the end. Read it all.

What Words Mean

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:05 pm

This is an argument for speakers taking responsibility for making themselves clear.

On Saturday Night Live there was a great skit that went something like this. The safety chief for a nuclear reactor is retiring and giving instructions to a group of remaining employees. She says: “There’s really only one rule you have to remember. You can’t turn this dial too far to the right.” Then she leaves.

The remaining employees stand around for a few seconds. Then one of them goes to the dial and starts turning it all the way to the right.

Another one grabs the dial and says: “Didn’t you hear her? You can’t turn the dial too far to the right!” The first employee yells: “No, she said you can’t turn the dial too far to the right! You know, no matter how far you turn it, it can’t be too far!”

Like many Saturday Night Live sketches, it took a single funny premise and went on ten minutes too long. But it makes the point: sometimes people express themselves in an ambiguous or unclear way.

If I say something, and you don’t understand what I meant, is that your fault or mine?

Who bears the responsibility for clear communication?

I think the answer is clear. Communication is a two-way street. Listeners must try to divine the true intent of the speaker. Speakers must clearly communicate their intent if they wish to be understood.

Speech always must interpret speech. If speech is unclear, people often disagree on the correct interpretation. Some interpretations are reasonable and made in good faith, and some aren’t. When they aren’t, speakers and other listeners should tell the world why they aren’t.

When multiple interpretations are reasonable, we should favor the most reasonable interpretation offered by a reasonable listener honestly attempting to divine the speaker’s true intent. Ideally the listener will be armed with all necessary context, including (but not limited to) the author’s expression of his own intent.

I have stated this in the past in a more shorthand way: “Words should be interpreted the way a reasonable person would interpret them.” But that formulation is subject to misinterpretation, as it could be read to suggest that the speaker’s true intent is whatever a reasonable listener would divine it to be. The thing that I have learned from the intentionalists is that this is not so: words mean what the speaker intended, nothing more, nothing less. But when it comes to interpretation — when there are multiple reasonable interpretations of the speaker’s true intent — we have to decide which to favor.

You might think that all you have to do is to ask the speaker what he meant. But the speaker might be lying about what his intent was.

For example, the safety chief might have intended to tell people to turn the dial as far as possible to the right. But later, when it emerges that such an action caused a meltdown, the chief might lie and say she meant the opposite.

So we can’t uncritically accept the speaker’s statement about what he meant.

Again: when multiple interpretations are reasonable, we should favor the most reasonable interpretation offered by a reasonable listener honestly attempting to divine the speaker’s true intent.

Once you understand this, it’s harder to argue that you get to say what you want the way you want, without being open to criticism for reasonable misinterpretations of your intent.

In his Hot Air post, Jeff Goldstein said: “[I]t is a fact of language that once you surrender the grounds for meaning to those who would presume to determine your meaning for you, you are at their mercy.” I agree that a speaker’s meaning is what he meant. But unless we’re prepared to simply take the speaker’s word for what he meant, every time — and I showed above why we can’t (e.g. the speaker might lie) — then we have to recognize that the world’s interpretation of our words will sometimes be determined by others.

Listeners’ interpretations may be wrong — but we may not have given them insufficient clues to interpret our intent correctly. As long as our listeners’ misinterpretations are a reasonable, good faith effort to understand our meaning, our remedy for their failure to understand our meaning is not to complain — but to clarify.

If they continue to misinterpret even after we’ve clarified, that’s evidence of bad faith and unreasonableness on their part — and the fault now lies with them and not with us.

P.S. This post is about what words mean, and who bears the responsibility for clear communication. It does not mention the name of a prominent talk radio host, because it’s not necessary to the conversation — and indeed at this point it would be a distraction. These issues recur again and again in political debate, so the discussion is generally useful.

UPDATE: A commenter remembers the skit in question and corrects me on the precise joke:

Believe that was Ed Asner and the instruction was, “Remember, you can’t put too much water on a nuclear reactor.”

Sounds right to me.

UPDATE x2: See also here.

I Always See the Clown Nose on Jon Stewart

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:46 pm

For the life of me I’ll never understand why anyone takes Jon Stewart seriously. For some reason the country seems to be fascinated with this Comedy Central clown getting into an argument with Jim Cramer. (Video here at Hot Air if you’re interested.)

The Hot Air link reminds us of a golden oldie from Treacher that explains exactly why nobody should take Jon Stewart seriously, ever. Namely, he gets sanctimonious and lectures others — but if you try to call him on his own B.S., he wimps out with the line that he’s just a comedian:

I’ve been getting more and more annoyed with him trying to have it both ways, being an increasingly self-righteous advocate and yet deflecting criticism with “It’s just a comedy show!” . . . I don’t think he necessarily needs to choose between pundit and comedian. He can do both. Just maybe not in the same breath. It was maddening when he lectured those guys and they wanted to talk to him about it, and he kept going, “Wait, I’m just a comedian!” Clown nose off, clown nose on, clown nose off, clown nose on.

Treacher was discussing the famous exchange between him and Tucker Carlson — and indeed, that exchange is a perfect example of Stewart’s evasive maneuver. Watch how Stewart gives preachy lectures — every time Carlson moves in for the kill, showing that Stewart is guilty of the same nonsense — Stewart evades the argument by squealing: “But I’m just a comedian!”

STEWART: . . . .You are partisan, what do you call it, hacks.

CARLSON: Wait, Jon, let me tell you something valuable that I think we do that I’d like to see you…

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: Something valuable?

CARLSON: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: I would like to hear it.

CARLSON: And I’ll tell you.

When politicians come on…

STEWART: Yes.

CARLSON: . . . .I want to contrast our questions with some questions you asked John Kerry recently.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: … up on the screen.

STEWART: If you want to compare your show to a comedy show, you’re more than welcome to.

Clown nose on. Then he pontificates some more — clown nose off — until Carlson hits him again:

CARLSON: You have a chance to interview the Democratic nominee. You asked him questions such as — quote — “How are you holding up? Is it hard not to take the attacks personally?”

STEWART: Yes.

CARLSON: “Have you ever flip-flopped?” et cetera, et cetera.

STEWART: Yes.

CARLSON: Didn’t you feel like — you got the chance to interview the guy. Why not ask him a real question, instead of just suck up to him?

STEWART: Yes. “How are you holding up?” is a real suck-up. And I actually giving him a hot stone massage as we were doing it.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: It sounded that way. It did.

STEWART: You know, it’s interesting to hear you talk about my responsibility.

CARLSON: I felt the sparks between you.

STEWART: I didn’t realize that — and maybe this explains quite a bit.

CARLSON: No, the opportunity to…

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: … is that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity.

Clown nose on. Lather, rinse, repeat:

STEWART: It’s not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. And I will tell you why I know it.

CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you’re accusing us of partisan hackery?

STEWART: Absolutely.

CARLSON: You’ve got to be kidding me. He comes on and you…

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.

Clown nose on.

In the exchange with Cramer, Stewart didn’t even need to resort to this, because Cramer rolled over. But if Cramer had fought back, that would have been Stewart’s “out.” And he does a variant on it when he runs clips that are personally embarrassing to Cramer — but then when Cramer says he has personally called out CEOs, Stewart tells Cramer it’s not about him.

It’s possible for a comedian to have serious opinions, and Stewart is a smart guy, no doubt. He’s very clever and most people don’t notice that Clever Remark B and C contradict Clever Remark A.

But he’s also a wimp. He tries to be a political commentator, but if you call him on his own failings as a political commentator, he whines that he’s just a comedian.

Fine. You’re just a comedian. So when I look at you, you always have the clown nose on.

UPDATE: He’s being compared to Edward Murrow now? Jeez. That role is already taken by another clown named Olbermann.

By the way, this is the dodge the Sadly, No people always use. So I think of them as clowns as well.

Juror Discusses $12 Million Verdict on Twitter

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:07 am

Via Jules Crittenden comes an amusing link to an AP story titled Appeal says juror sent ‘tweets’ during $12.6M case.

What kind of “tweets” are we talking about? This kind:

So, Johnathan, what did you do today?” Oh, nothing really. I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else’s money!

Still, it sounds more scandalous than it really is:

A building materials company and its owner have appealed a $12.6 million verdict against them, alleging that a juror was posting related messages on Twitter.com while hearing the case.

The motion filed Thursday seeking a new trial claims the juror sent eight messages — or “tweets” — to the micro-blogging Web site via his cellular phone. One read in part: “oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they’ll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter.” . . . The motion filed by the lawyer for Russell Wright and his company, Stoam Holdings, alleges the juror researched the case and communicated with others outside the jury.

A closer look appears to reveal an appeal filed out of desperation by a company stretching for any way to overturn the verdict. This story has more details:

He’d researched being a juror online the night before. Not the specific case, but how to be a juror — he wanted to know what he could bring, he said.

He sent via message, “trying to learn about Jury duty for tomorrow, but all searches lead me to Suggestions for getting out of it, instead of rocking it.”

He sent a message when he arrived that morning just before 9 a.m.

“I guess Im early. Two Angry Men just won’t do.”

The appeal says these lines show he researched the case and came as a self-described “Angry Man.” Gimme a break. He was researching being a jury in the first quote, and making a play on words in the second quote.

Lawyers.

Still, that message — so flippant about the $12 million award. Doesn’t really inspire confidence, does it?

P.S. If you want to follow my Twitter feed, it’s here. But I won’t be sending messages from any jury trials . . .


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