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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, February 23, 2013 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“Orwell season has led me back to his famous essay 'Politics and the English Language,' first published in 1946. It is written with enviable clarity. But is it true? Orwell argues that 'the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words.'

“I suspect the opposite is now true. When politicians or corporate front men have to bridge a gap between what they are saying and what they know to be true, their preferred technique is to convey authenticity by speaking with misleading simplicity. The ubiquitous injunction 'Let's be clear,' followed by a list of five bogus bullet-points, is a much more common refuge than the Latinate diction and Byzantine sentence structure that Orwell deplored.

“We live in a self-consciously plain-spoken political era. But Orwell's advice, ironically, has not elevated the substance of debate; it has merely helped the political class to avoid the subject more skilfully. The art of spin is not (quite) supplanting truth with lies. It aspires to replace awkward complexities with catchy simplicity. Successful spin does not leave the effect of skilful persuasiveness; it creates the impression of unavoidable common sense. Hence the artifice becomes invisible – just as a truly charming person is considered nice rather than 'charming.'”

– From “Don't be beguiled by Orwell” at newstatesman .com

A quiz

When is the most chocolate candy sold, in the week leading up to Valentine's Day, Halloween or Easter?

Wisdom of the ages

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” – George Washington

Current wisdom

“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl.” – Danica Patrick, after she won the Daytona 500 pole, becoming the first woman to secure the top spot for any race in NASCAR's premier circuit.

Quiz answer

The week leading up to Halloween, with 90 million pounds sold. Easter comes in second with 71 million pounds. Valentine's week is third with only 48 million pounds.

Snob words

satrap (SEY-trap). N. – a subordinate ruler, often a despotic one, as in: “The editorial writer knew he would get no information from the politician's satrap, better known as an administrative assistant.”

Today in history

On this date in 1455 Johannes Gutenberg printed his first book, the Bible (estimated date); nice little tome if only we'd use it.

Now you know

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is the only known moon to have a substantial atmosphere, which is 370 miles deep, 10 times thicker than Earth’s atmosphere.