Monday, 14 December 2015

How Politicians Tell the Truth

One good reason for learning at least the elements of grammar, logic, maths and science is that, thus armed, one is less likely to be fooled by politicians, whose speciality is saying something that is, technically or literally, just about true, but which they can be reasonably confident will be misunderstood by most of the public, who will think the politician has done something wonderful when he has in fact done something dreadful or nothing at all.

This morning, for instance, VOA told us that President Obama has ‘Shrunk the rate of acceleration of carbon emissions.’ Now leaving aside the curiously mixed metaphor, par for the course among populist radio announcers, what does this actually mean? Is he farting less? Well, let us allow that here President Obama is a synecdoche for American Industry. Does it mean that American Industry is now emitting less carbon, that is to say, carbon monoxide and dioxide, than it was before Obama was elected? No, it doesn’t say that. Does it mean then that carbon emissions are at least not increasing? No, nor that. Does it mean that the yearly, or daily, increase (say, 20% more each day) is not itself increasing? No; that, staying with the curious notion of ‘acceleration’ in an attempt to understand what he is said to have done, is merely the speed with which carbon emissions are increasing daily. Does it mean, then, that at least it’s a steady speed of increase, that there is no acceleration? (say, 20% more today than yesterday, but 40% more tomorrow than today.) No, it doesn’t even mean that. It means, if anything, merely that the rate of acceleration (the acceleration of the acceleration, if you can handle that) is not increasing. To carry the strange metaphor a little further, Obama (or American Industry) has not taken his foot off the accelerator, has not even kept the accelerator in the same place, is indeed continuing to push the accelerator towards the floor. BUT (Gosh, three cheers) he’s not actually pushing it down any faster or harder than he was before. We are supposed to congratulate him?

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