Saturday, July 01, 2017

Devilish Details

Sometimes the devilish details are small but irksome.  Nevertheless they change or obscure meanings, and that always means something.

A little verbal sloppiness seems to intrude more often on Internet posts than they used to in print.  I wonder if this is part of some weird Internet ethic that says you can't have editors or editing.  There is this tradition now that every time a post is changed, the change has to be noted.  Why?  I edit posts for clarity any number of times. As I believe I should.

The esteemed Jonathan Chait is trenchant as usual in his column on the week's major revelation about the Russian connection.  But near the beginning there's this sentence:

That line of defense is likely to disappear now that The Wall Street Journal has reported that Peter Smith, a Republican opposition researcher who said he was working for Michael Flynn, colluded with Russian hackers to try to obtain stolen emails from Hillary Clinton.

But that Flynn "colluded with Russian hackers to try to obtain stolen emails from Hillary Clinton" is not what he meant--at least I don't think so. If I'm correct, they didn't try to obtain anything from Hillary Clinton.  They tried to obtain emails that were stolen from Hillary Clinton. There's a big difference, and while his meaning may be eventually clear in context, the sentence is needlessly confusing.  It stopped me cold anyway.  (And Chiat wasn't the only one to make this mistake.)

Or the group of moderate Republicans that issued an important statement on the R budget, as reported by Politico.  They concluded: “[A]bsent such a bipartisan, bicameral agreement, we are reticent to support any budget resolution on the House floor,” the letter reads.

"Reticent" is an odd word to use, since it usually means not inclined to speak.  While not speaking in favor of the resolution is part of the meaning, the more accurate word to describe what they mean is "reluctant."  They are reluctant to support the budget resolution.  That's plenty mealy-mouth for politicians without being bewildering as well.

But devilish details can also be quite big.  For instance, a lot of verbiage can obscure some important numbers.

In an eloquent column on the Republican healthcare proposals, Paul Krugman provides a broad if shocking understanding of the basic cruelty at the heart of Republican policy.  But several numbers he uses to make his case deserve to stand alone, especially as they are not usually included in stories about the Senate bill.

The numbers are these:

Percentage of tax cuts in this bill that will go to Americans with incomes of over $1 million:  40%

Percentage their income will rise due to these tax cuts: 2%

Estimate of the number of otherwise preventable deaths that will be caused by provisions of this bill:  200,000

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