Sir: I write to protest the increasing prevalence of irony, and even outright sarcasm, on the Internet. If people will not say what they mean, how are we to know whether they mean what they say? Indeed, I might almost go so far as to say that some of the statements on the World-Wide Web might be construed as exaggeration. Although I do not believe it myself, I have even heard some readers complain of understatement in some of the darker corners of the Web.
It must be the relative anonymity of Internet communication that encourages such dishonesty, since obviously no one would ever dream of being dishonest in real life. But is that dishonesty really necessary? Whatever idea you wish to express, there must be a million billion ways to say it. The English language, after all, has one or two synonyms in its arsenal.
I call for a National Board of Review, similar to the one that, in earlier and better times, reviewed movies for objectionable content, to review all comments, blog posts, and instant messages on the Internet. Such a board would be authorized specifically to root out sarcasm, exaggeration, and understatement; but I see no reason to limit the extent of its powers, since obviously no government body charged with prior censorship would ever abuse its authority. Countless millions of lives are at stake here, and surely the minimal effort of reading all the electronic communications in the world is a small price to pay for our security.
Xenophon M. Kranck,
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On the subject of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, reader Mike Weatherford writes:
I’m currently reading Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia. Excellent book, well-written, and not dull. It’s a miracle that anything got done with such a collection of political hotheads. That the final document has served us so well for so long is a tribute to their tenacity and vision.
Dr. Boli agrees that our current Constitution is a tribute to the tenacity of the hotheads in Philadelphia. He has always suspected that delegates finally succeeded in coming to agreement on both the Declaration of Independence and, eleven years later, the Constitution because both assemblies were held in Philadelphia in the summer. A summer in Philadelphia makes any compromise seem preferable to spending another day in Philadelphia; the beastly heat would eventually wear down the most intransigent sectionalist. It can hardly be coincidence that, when the time came to pick a permanent national capital, the founders of our nation settled on the one site where the summer climate was even worse. Dr. Boli believes that much reform could be accomplished simply by prohibiting air conditioning in both houses of Congress.
As for our founders’ vision, at last count 27 serious errors in the original Constitution have been discovered and corrected. Furthermore, at least one of those corrections was itself a serious error.
Dr. Boli believes, in fact, that the great strength of our Constitution is its lack of vision, or even principle. Delegates committed to democracy would have insisted that the president be elected by the people. Delegates committed to aristocracy would have insisted that the president be chosen by the Senate. Delegates committed to getting out of Philadelphia before their brains melted into their collars were willing to accept the positively lunatic compromise that the people should vote for a number of electors more or less proportional to the populations of their states, but giving slightly more influence to the smaller states, and then those electors should meet and vote for the president. They did not accept it because anyone was happy about that idea, but because no one was more unhappy about it than he was about being stuck in Philadelphia in the summer.
Any number of other nations have imposed perfectly rational constitutions on their people, and the end result has always been a descent into tyranny and massacre. We grudgingly accepted a bundle of half-baked compromises that no sane person could enthusiastically embrace, and we have toddled along pretty well with it for a while now.
On this day in 1787, delegates from the thirteen states assembled in Philadelphia with the ostensible purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. In reality, their secret intention was to replace the existing government altogether with a completely new constitution. The convention, which straggled on into the middle of September, still holds the record as the longest and dullest coup d’état in history.
The Duck Hollow University Department of Applied Speculative Research recently distributed a long survey in order to answer the two related questions “How well informed are American citizens?” and “How willing are American citizens to waste their time filling out long surveys?” Among the more interesting and suggestive results:
To the question “Who is Barack Obama?” 19% of respondents answered “George W. Bush” and 27% answered “The Battle of Camifex Ferry.”
Asked to point out the Straits of Magellan on a map, more than 52% of respondents went over to the coffee machine instead.
37% of respondents identified Islam as “a spice used in Thai curry.”
More than 8% of respondents were unable to identify Kathleen Merrigan as the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, even when presented with a photograph.
61% of respondents believed that global warming is caused by evolution.
Respondents were asked to name their U.S. representatives, but evidently they misunderstood the question, as their responses were unprintable.