Saturday, July 31, 2004
One if by land
Today's New York Post describes the decidedly negative reaction of four Marines who were approached by Candidate Kerry yesterday in a Wendy's:
John Kerry's heavily hyped cross-country bus tour stumbled out of the blocks yesterday, as a group of Marines publicly dissed the Vietnam War hero in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Kerry was treating running mate Sen. John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, to a Wendy's lunch in Newburgh, N.Y., for their 27th wedding anniversary — an Edwards family tradition — when the candidate approached four Marines and asked them questions.
The Marines — two in uniform and two off-duty — were polite but curt while chatting with Kerry, answering most of his questions with a "yes, sir" or "no, sir."
But they turned downright nasty after the Massachusetts senator thanked them "for their service" and left.
"He imposed on us and I disagree with him coming over here shaking our hands," one Marine said, adding, "I'm 100 percent against [him]."
A sergeant with 10 years of service under his belt said, "I speak for all of us. We think that we are doing the right thing in Iraq," before saying he is to be deployed there in a few weeks and is "eager" to go and serve.
Thus does real life differ from showbiz. Those watching Kerry's convention this week might have come away with the impression that he's all for our nation's military, and it's all for him. Well, of course, some folks presently serving, or with distinguished military records from the past, indeed support him. But I believe that's the exception rather than the rule — and his party well knows it (viz. the Gore campaign's despicable and well-organized efforts to suppress military absentee votes in the 2000 election, another parallel to 1864 by the way).
So I wasn't at all surprised to read of this encounter. What actually struck me from the Post's story, however, was this snarky remark:
"Ninety-seven days [left in the campaign]; let's make it happen," Kerry told hundreds of bleary-eyed but upbeat supporters who showed up at a 7:30 a.m. rally on the shores of Boston Harbor — less than nine hours after Kerry finished his acceptance speech.
Kerry also employed Paul Revere's famed midnight run and imagery of Bunker Hill to bash President Bush over U.S. intelligence failures.
"These are the places where people dared to stand up and put their lives on the line — to take a risk — for something they believed in very deeply," Kerry said of the Boston neighborhood where he was speaking.
"One if by land, two if by sea, and the message was right. Come to think of it, they had better intelligence than we do today about what's going on," Kerry continued, drawing the loudest applause of the event.
Well, folks, there you have it! When and if our national intelligence apparatus can report that a foreign army is actually on American soil and en route to capture our political leaders and seize our means of self-defense, John Kerry will act firmly and decisively on that intelligence! I, for one, don't find this much of a comfort.
Dubya, Treebeard, and facing bullets from your country's enemies
I watched most of the evening coverage of the Democratic National Convention, and have read a fair amount of the punditry written about it, but frankly haven't had any reactions I thought original enough to merit posting here.
I was rather surprised to hear Barack Obama proudly announce that he was from the "Land of Lincoln!" and to hear Theresa Heinz Kerry quote Lincoln's first inaugural speech ("mystic chords of memory," "better angels of our nature"). There are indeed a number of parallels between the wartime elections of 2004 and 1860-1864, but the Dems are on the wrong side of those parallels in my view. Making the full comparison, however, would take more effort than I'm up to at the moment.
So what was I writing during the convention? Heh. I was trying to educate John Derbyshire, who writes for National Review Online and its group blog, The Corner, about the respective military records of George Walker Bush and John Forbes Kerry. Derb's first two posts on the topic were, I thought, factually mistaken in asserting that while Kerry had willingly sought out combat, Dubya had pulled strings to ensure he'd avoid it. So I was very gratified indeed when on Friday, in his third post on the subject, Mr. Derbyshire eventually reprinted, in considerable length, three key paragraphs from my second (typically long-winded) protesting email, which I'd sent him on the morning before Senator Kerry's acceptance speech:
RE: KERRY, GWB, VIETNAM [John Derbyshire]
Just one more from the tarpit. A reader in Houston urges me to correct my statement of yesterday: "We all know what happened when time came for George W. Bush to make his Vietnam decisions. His family, like 90 percent of well-connected elite families in America at that time, made a few phone calls & got him a stateside billet. This option was not open to most Americans."
Not so, says my reader: "The assertion that Dubya signed up for the Texas Air National Guard to avoid serving in Vietnam ... [is] simply untrue. It's untrue for the very simple -- objectively factual, easily verifiable -- reason that the TANG unit young Bush signed up for was indeed in hot combat in Southeast Asia's skies at the very moment he signed up for it, and Bush or anyone else joining that unit would reasonably have expected that its pilots would still be in hot combat over Southeast Asia as long as the war continued!
"As it turned out, that TANG unit was no longer in combat by the time Bush was trained to fly its planes. And so Bush didn't get shot at by his country's enemies. Rather, his unit intercepted and shadowed Russian aircraft (flying out of Cuba) that were routinely probing American airspace in the Gulf. World War III didn't break out, and no, Bush wasn't shot at by the Russians, and no, he can't now claim to have the combat experience that Kerry can claim. Yes, he'd be a more appealing candidate today if he could claim combat experience. He can't, and he's never tried to. But the explanation for that is not what you've claimed -- that is, that Bush used his connections to join a part of the armed forces which was guaranteed not to see combat."
"(Ironically, exactly the opposite thing happened to Senator Kerry. Joining the Navy, as he did, was unlikely to put him into hot combat, and indeed he saw none on the ship on which he served most of his time abroad. When he volunteered to join the Swift Boats, they weren't seeing hot combat either. It was only a change in their mission, after he'd volunteered for them, that resulted in his country's enemies shooting at him. And after four months and three bandaide wounds with the Swift Boats, he promptly got his ticket punched, collected his medals and his 8mm films of his dramatic re-enactments of his combat experiences, and headed back to a stateside post as an admiral's aid, and thence to an early discharge so he could run for Congress. The medals eventually went over a Capitol fence in a war protest; the 8mm footage will be onscreen at tonight's Democratic National Convention.)"
I hope this is correct. I can *absolutely guarantee*, though, from years of experience in this business, that within half an hour of this being posted I shall get some equally indignant, equally long, and equally self-assured e-mail from someone arguing an entirely different version of events. Since no-one is going to pay me to dig to the bottom of this, which would take weeks -- if it actually has a bottom, which after 35 years is by no means certain -- I present my reader's account as offered (though edited without prejudice), declare myself respectfully agnostic, and CLOSE THE SUBJECT.
The only edit of consequence was that Derb linked a research piece from Aerospaceweb.org rather than the post that I'd cited from blogger Bill Hobbs. I have no complaint about that change — both resources report the same facts, which isn't surprising because, as Mr. Derbyshire originally wrote, "Facts is facts" (if you bother to get them right).
And of course, Derb is quite correct to note that notwithstanding the objective, easily verifiable historical facts regarding young Dubya's willing embrace of the risk of being shot at by his country's enemies, his political enemies will continue to distort his military record and trot out the old AWOL meme.
Nevertheless, I'm well pleased to have been able to better publicize some of Dubya's history. I hope that perhaps a few readers of The Corner might have been bucked up a bit in their support for President Bush as a result, or at least that I've helped neutralize what the President's opponents might have exploited as an (unfair) criticism of him by someone who's normally one of his supporters. I disagree with Mr. Derbyshire on quite a few of the issues about which he regularly writes, but in this instance I credit him for hearing me out, doing some independent online research to verify what I was writing to him, and publishing the result.
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom lists "9 names for Ben & Jerry's Ted Kennedy tribute ice cream." My favorite — I'd buy a pint of this myself! — is No. 2, "Scotch Almond Neat, and no, I don’t want any goddamn water with it." (Hattip: VodkaPundit.)
Meantime, InstaPundit does a comparative taste test of Heinz Ketchup and W Ketchup. I reject Prof. Reyolds' political premise, though, that a preference for Heinz Ketchup correlates in any way to a preference for the Kedwards ticket. Remember, the brand name is from the ancestors of a deceased Republican senator from Pennsylvania; Teh-RAY-sah is just an immigrant-come-lately to the name (and fortune). Thus do I justify and reconcile my political and gustatory tastes, anyway.
Why didn't Bill tell John about Sandy's pants?
The Denver Post apparently aspires to emulate the New York Times in pumping out pro-Democratic Party spin — even if it means burying its own genuine international scoops. Today's article entitled "Clinton defends aid during Denver book stop; former president also takes a swipe at Bush" has already been dropped into the "more local news headlines" category on the Post's website.
The article leads with the standard spin questioning the timing of the disclosure of the ongoing investigation of former Clinton NSA Sandy Berger; then detours into a few paragraphs about nasty Dubya letting the multinational corporations lay waste to national forests; and only then reveals this genuinely astonishing and eminently newsworthy fact (italics mine):
Clinton said he has known about the federal probe of Berger's actions for several months, calling this week's news a "nonstory."
Even if one accepts at face value the claims by Berger and the Kerry campaign that Kerry only learned of the investigation this week — immediately prior to Berger's resignation as a Kerry senior foreign policy advisor — even though the investigation began last October, one has to wonder:
Why didn't Bill Clinton give John Kerry a heads-up on this affair?
I suspect the answer can be given in one word, and one date: Hillary 2008.
As part of the aforementioned spin, the Post also reports (ellipsis in original):
We were all laughing about it on the way over here," the former president said of the investigation into Samuel "Sandy" Berger on classified terrorism documents missing from the National Archives. "People who don't know him might find it hard to believe. But ... all of us who've been in his office have always found him buried beneath papers."
One wonders if Slick Willie and his droogs were only laughing about Sloppy Sandy's socks and pants — or if they were also giggling about the spectacle of Sen. Treebeard with egg on his face.
Finally, I just now got around to reading The New Yorker's July 25-issue article on Kerry's foreign policy philosophy — ironically entitled "Damage Control" — which masterfully attempts to make into a virtue the fact that, other than calling in the UN and the international community for help, Kerry hasn't got a plan for how to do the Iraq reconstruction differently or better than Dubya. The nearly-concealed admission includes this delicious and timely paragraph (italics mine):
Throughout the spring and early summer—with exposés of Bush’s rush to war stacking the best-seller lists, while the September 11th commission hearings filled television screens, alongside reports of rampant insurrection in Iraq and the irreparable disgrace of Americans torturing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison—Kerry seemed to be measuring out his comments on the war with deliberate reserve. “A few months ago,” Richard Holbrooke said to me, “I couldn’t go down the street in New York or Washington without people stopping me and asking, ‘Why isn’t he speaking out more clearly on Iraq?’” But Holbrooke, who is considered a leading contender for the post of Secretary of State in a Kerry Administration, thought that Kerry had just the right strategy. “We are in the throes of the greatest crisis since Vietnam and maybe even worse. Kerry has to allow events to unfold. But he should not be expected to lay out a plan significantly more detailed than he has, because it’s not necessary at this point. Everyone knows he would do it differently.” Sandy Berger, who was Bill Clinton’s national-security adviser and who is now advising Kerry, agreed, and he went further. “There are no silver bullets on Iraq,” he said. “So if people are waiting for John Kerry to say, ‘The answer is Rosebud,’ there is no Rosebud.”
Of course, if you've seen the end of Citizen Kane, you know what happened to "Rosebud." One wonders — why did that particular imagery pop into former NSA Berger's head? What has been crackling on the fires of the Berger Family furnace? And did it come from the National Archives via his socks?
Monday, July 19, 2004
"Yuh-huh"/"Uh-huh" versus "Nuh-uh"/"Uh-uh"
Linguist and guest blogger Neal Whitman, writing on The Volokh Conspiracy this week, wonders whether there's a generational correlation to explain those who say "yuh-huh" — instead of "uh-huh" — to mean "yes." He may be right. Although I'm a Buffy fan, I'm old (and perhaps tragically unhip) enough myself to be a consistent "uh-huh"-er — as (if I recall correctly) was my ex-wife (on those unfortunately-all-too-rare occasions when she was agreeing with me about something). I'll have to listen to my own kids to see which they tend to use.
Actually, this is something to which I've given considerable thought and study — professionally, although as a lawyer rather than as a linguist!
There are at least two variations on the negative version, too: "nuh-uh" and "uh-uh." In my experience, some people use both variations — with "nuh-uh" (often with the second syllable stressed) the more emphatic, and "uh-uh" (usually with both syllables equally stressed) the more casual.
With either set of variations, court reporters sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between the affirmative version and the negative version. Even if the court reporter hears and understands it correctly, there's sometimes ambiguity created in the way the court reporter transcribes what he or she has heard into the written transcript. "Mmm-hmmm" and its almost untranscribeable negative counterpart ("mph-mmm"?) are even harder to handle — although I suspect they have a whole section devoted to these sorts of "in- or semi-audible responses" in the court reporter school curriculum. (It is the rare but splendidly self-confident court reporter who will include in the transcript something like, "[Witness grunts affirmatively.]")
And even if the court reporter gets it absolutely right and transcribes accurately the noise the witness made, it's fairly plausible, and hence not uncommon, for a witness who wants to avoid being caught in a contradiction later to claim that the court reporter just got it wrong:
Naw, I actually said 'uh-huh,' but that court reporter girl, she just wrote down 'nuh-uh,' but I always meant 'yes,' no matter what it says there in that booklet you're reading from."
For these reasons, whether it's during pretrial examinations (depositions) or trial examinations, experienced trial lawyers often include among their "initial understandings" with the witness an explanation that the witness needs to try to avoid saying "uh-huh" or "huh-uh" or variations on those phrases. Even the most hostile witness has to agree with this request. But of course, it's asking a lot of any witness that he or she self-police his or her language to completely avoid these expressions.
Thus, especially during cross-examination of a hostile witness, when one is allowed (and usually ought) to ask "leading" questions (which try to elicit the witness' agreement with a pre-suggested answer), REALLY experienced trial lawyers have trained and conditioned themselves to ask — instantly, reflexively, automatically — "You're agreeing with me, is that correct?" — whenever they hear a witness answer a yes/no question with "uh-huh" (or "yuh-huh").
Especially when it's asked instantly, without even a beat's pause, even sloppy and inarticulate witnesses, and often very hostile ones as well, will almost always immediately answer this followup question with a single word — "Correct." And then not only has the lawyer ensured that the transcript will be unambiguous if any question should later arise about the witness' answer, but he or she has driven home again the concession or agreement just extracted — and subtly reinforced the subliminal message that "I, the righteous master advocate in this courtroom, have forced my adversary to acknowledge that I am correct yet again, because I already know what all the evidence is going to be, and I'm rarely if ever going to be surprised by it." Nor will one likely be met with an objection — "Asked and answered already!" or "Cumulative!" — since the questioner is not, technically, belaboring the point, but simply complying with all advocates' duty to try to promote a clear, clean record of the proceedings. To put it bluntly, "uh-huh" or "yuh-huh" — when properly exploited — can be the trial lawyer's friend!
If, by contrast, one gets a "nuh-uh" or an "uh-uh" from a hostile witness when one was expecting and hoping for a "yes" (or an "uh-huh" or a "yuh-huh"), it may sometimes be to the lawyer's (and his/her client's) advantage to leave that answer somewhat vague and unclear in the transcript.
There are other ways to make the clarification, and one sometimes has to use them when one is not allowed to lead (as when one is examining a friendly witness with a judge or opposing counsel who's being a stickler for evidentiary rules) — for example, the simple "Was that a 'yes' answer or a 'no' answer?" This lacks the element of witness control and the subliminal message to the jury, but does suffice to make sure the transcript is clear (when and if that's one's goal).
Sadly, however, I see lawyers every day who attempt to clear up these points in the record but who, through their own inarticulateness, end up only making things worse — usually by re-asking a variation of the question, oftentimes inserting a double-negative to boot:
Is it not the case that just now, when you answered "nuh-uh," you were saying that the traffic light had not turned green for the traffic headed north before you drove into the intersection?
Yes, this lawyer just sounded like the erudite and learned Rumpole of the Bailey. But whether the witness answers this question "yes," "no," "huh-uh," or "yuh-huh," no one can possibly be sure that the witness has correctly understood the question or that the listening audiance has correctly understood the witness' intended meaning. (Did that "yes" mean, "Yes, that is not the case"? or "Yes, the light had not turned green"? It could have been either!) Double-negatives are hard to avoid — but the phrase "is it not the case?" should simply be taken out and shot, repeatedly.