Wednesday, January 24, 2007

When Metaphors Attack

This afternoon one of my distinguished office colleagues received an email from Greenpeace, responding to the President’s State of the Union remarks about global warming. In order to put us in the right state of mind to “TAKE ACTION” (Step 1: Donate to Greenpeace), the Rainbow Warriors head to the linguistic kitchen:

President Bush has let the issue of global warming simmer on the back burner of his presidency for 6 years. The scientific community and the rest of the world has heard the oven timer go off, but last night, President Bush continued to ignore the alarm as he served up a plateful of tepid solutions to a worldwide audience.

While the chef may finally have acknowledged the brewing problem, he failed to rescue the planet from the oven. His so-called solutions of “clean” coal and nuclear energy are a recipe for disaster. Well, we’re serving up a fresh new alternative to global warming with real solutions that don’t rely on nuclear energy or coal. Our plan would cut global CO2 emissions in the U.S. by almost 75% within the next 43 years. In fact, renewable energy and greater energy efficiency can deliver half of the world’s energy needs by 2050.

The President has failed to lead this country, or the world, on the issue of global warming. It’s up to Congress to pull us out of the global warming fire, and time is running out.

Hmmm…so global warming has been simmering on the back burner for six years, the timer has gone off, and Bush has served a plate of tepid solutions. Are those solutions from the global warming pot that’s been on the back burner, or someplace else? Also, if the earth is in the oven, what exactly is simmering on the stove? Wouldn’t global warming then be the oven itself? Or at least the heating element? Or perhaps even the insulation around the door? He also mentions the global warming fire – is that a grease fire somewhere on the range or is that a separate cooking fire, like over an open hearth, Colonial Williamsburg-style? Also, what does brewing have to do with any of this? I guess beer is carbonated, which is kind of a connection, but a pretty weak one.

Yes, I understand that global warming rhetoric is likely to be rife with thermal references. That, however, does not excuse writing a fundraising email which takes a litany of cooking-themed phrases and lumps them all together in a tortuous extended metaphor that makes NO FUCKING SENSE. This is wordsmithing worthy of Tom Friedman.

Is This Template Too Humble?

I'm just getting around to reading the January/February 2007 issue of The Atlantic (cover story: "Why Presidents Lie"), and what do I find but notice of a re-design of the magazine. In a short summary credited only to "The Editors," the thinking behind the new look is described:

The design of The Atlantic has always been so self-effacing, so quietly subordinate to the magazine's stories, essays, and poems, that it seems somehow out of keeping to draw your attention to the redesign in your hands. But it deserves an introduction. This new design, the result of more than a year's preparation, grew out of concerns expressed by our readers and staff that the layout seemed a little too humble.

Ah yes, that's what life is like once one has attained the lofty perch of Atlantic editor: you spend your days sifting through emails from readers complaining about how your magazine's layout is too humble.

I'm normally a big fan of the magazine, but what on earth is that even supposed to mean? That the design wasn't noticable enough? That it wasn't as good as the stories? That it was excellent but people didn't appreciate it? And really, as long as one is capable, is there really such a thing as being "too humble"?

Clearly, their 150th anniversary ("We published Nathaniel Hawthorne!") has rotted their brains, causing them acquire Severe Pretentious Publishing Syndrome. It usually strikes solely in New York, but publications based in Boston and/or DC have been known to suffer as well.