Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Slash that Metaphor

"Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers."
George Orwell, from "Politics and the English Language" 1946

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Dog That Won't Stop Barking?

Coverage of Ukraine's Presidential election has focused more on runner-up Yulia Tymoshenko's insistence to fight on than it has on winner Victor Yanukovich and the future of the country.  Were Desultory Eclecticism a Ukrainian citizen, Ms. Tymoshenko would have lost by one fewer vote; still, all indications do point to a free, fair, transparent, and not very close loss.  House speaker and Yanukovich supporter Alexander Litvin rightly tells Ukraine's Newsweek-inspired Russian language weekly, Korrespondent, "The outcome is evident: the winner is Victor Yanukovich.  And this fact, I think, should be admitted by all, first in line being his rival Yulia Tymoshenko."  Litvin then adds, "She did not lose.  She really grew her place in politics"--this, fortunately, is incorrect.

Even before balloting began, Tymoshenko vowed to take any loss to the courts.  True to her word, Bloc Yulia deputy Alexander Turchinov has informed Korrespondent of the camp's readiness to "present concrete proof of vote falsification by international observers, journalists, and the public, and to hand it over to the courts."  Though they will almost certainly find a handful of irregularities in the Yanukovich-dominated East, these claims border on the absurd.

Tymoshenko has been characterized in both the Western and Ukrainian press as power hungry and unscrupulous.  Some coverage, like Foreign Policy's November hit-piece, read like Kremlin propaganda; however, much of the criticism is justified.  With Tymoshenko ensconced as Prime Minister until Yanukovich can maneuver the Rada into new elections, her committed party of "Ni!" will ensure that the new President temporarily fails to deliver on any of his campaign promises.  With solid support in the western oblasts, Tymoshenko will remain a shrill voice in Ukraine's political wrangling, but any obstructionist victories will likely prove pyrrhic, further isolating her from the majority of the country.

For all the talk of voter apathy, turnout for the final ballot topped 68%, with 4.36% braving the snow just to choose Option C: None of the Above.  Korrespondent provides a breakdown of the final vote.  The geographical divide is far more stark than the U.S. map of 2004, with only central oblasts Kirovograd and Poltava, and far-west Trans-Carpathia registering competitive results.  Desultory Eclecticism is reminded of the eminently sane prognostication of a disillusioned Orange nostalgist in Mikolaiv (Yanukovich: 71.53%) last month: "Michael, maybe the best thing would be for Yanukovich to win, so then everyone in the east can be as disappointed as we've been."

Tymoshenko and Yanukovich, along with former President Victor Yushchenko, have divided the Ukrainian electorate for the past six years.  Yushchenko is now less popular than George W. Bush; Tymoshenko is now a kicking-and-screaming Al Gore; the Hryvnia now stops at Yanukovich's desk.  Look for new faces Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Serhei Tihipko--the only pol who polls well nationwide--to be the top challengers to another unpopular President in 2015.