Friday, April 08, 2005

Cheering the Cancellation of CHEERS

While perusing today's New York Times editorial (re: the need for Democrats to choose their battles carefully when challenging Bush appointees), this particular paragraph leapt from the screen:
"Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida are threatening to stall Mr. Johnson's confirmation [to head the EPA] unless he promises to end a suspended Florida study in which families would be paid to allow researchers to study the effects of pesticides on their children - a macabre investigation co-sponsored by the American Chemistry Council. The idea that the E.P.A. would pay families to continue exposing their children to potentially dangerous chemicals is on its face outrageous - and made worse by the study's ghoulish acronym, Cheers, for Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study. But the study has already been stopped, pending a review. It would have been a good sign of independence if Mr. Johnson had called a complete halt, but there seems little likelihood that the study will ever be revived. This seems like a weak reason to stop a Senate vote."

CHEERS, indeed. Details on the recently cancelled program here. Apparently, participants were to be awarded "study T-shirts" and even (I'm not making this up) a"study Bib for your baby".

Yeesh. Talk about a particularly ill-named acronym designed to disguise the actual substance of the program. It called to mind some other famous, irony-laden moments of the Bush administration's use of language. Two favorite examples:

(1) The "Clear Skies" Initiative - "Compared to current law, the Clear Skies plan would allow three times more toxic mercury emissions, 50 percent more sulfur emissions, and hundreds of thousands more tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides. It would also delay cleaning up this pollution by up to a decade compared to current law and force residents of heavily-polluted areas to wait years longer for clean air compared to the existing Clean Air Act." - National Resources Defence Council)

(2) "Healthy Forests" Legislation - "We have to cut the nation's forests to save them. That seems to be the Bush administration's rationale for its misnamed Healthy Forests Initiative, now before the Senate. The measure grants the U.S. Forest Service and private loggers virtual free rein to saw down trees on 10 million acres -- no environmental review needed. It also lets them bulldoze roads into areas long set aside for possible designation as wilderness." -L.A. Times)

And, of course, who can forget the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, or Leave No Child Behind, or the USA PATRIOT Act - bonus points to people who knew that this last one was actually an acronym as well! It's true: "This Act may be cited as the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001" - what was it that Orwell said about the use of language in politics? Oh yeah:
"The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible." - 1984

But perhaps the quote of the day belongs to Oxford's Lewis Carroll, from Through the Looking Glass (Chapter 6 - just before Humpty has a go at translating Jabberwocky):

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' "

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,' " Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that’s all."

[UPDATE - here's some more information on the program, not quite as objectionable as the New York Times editorial seems to indicate, but still smells rather unsavoury and ill-conceived as an experiment. And that acronym!! Also found word of this on the Kos front page. If you are prepared to sift through the comments, you'll find good argument back and forth amidst the hyperbole.]


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