Monday, March 31, 2008

The Strangeness of the Times

(Far be it from me to criticize grammar, syntax or anything relating to proficiency in the use of the English language. I am aware of my own weaknesses in this area. My complaints below are more conceptual than grammatical)

As a recent subscriber to the NY Times, I continue to be amused and disturbed by the nature of the headlines and reports this paper generates. This evening on the NY Times website a prominent headline reads "Iraq Seems Calmer After Cleric Halts Fighting."

Although in recent years opinion polls and perception have come to dominate news headlines, one still yearns for some level of certitude from a publication with the prestige of the Times. Does Iraq "seem" calm or is it in fact calm. Has violence really subsided or has the killing just gone in doors or maybe the Times reporters happened to be in the wrong place at just the right time.

The problem with the use of the verb "seems" in relation to a word like "calm" is that there is a kind of logical contradiction here. Calmness is a matter of relativity and subjectivity - and therefore it must be impossible for something to seem calm without being so. One might get the impression from this article that there has been a lull in hostilities; that tomorrow morning fighting might again escalate. However, calmness would still be an apt description for this moment in time. Why is it necessary to say that the situation "seems" calm?

Consider the following headline - "New Thai Eatery Seems to Serve Mouth-watering Spring Rolls." Does this make logical sense? How about next weeks possible headline? - “Iraqi Streets Seem More Violent After Government Crack Down?”

This has more to do with the political and ideological orientation of the Times than the situation in Iraq. There are many ways that this positive news could have been reported. However, the Times, as usual chose to promote a sense of failure and uncertainty with the very first line of this article.

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