Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Say what you mean

Writing functions both as a spotlight and as a shield. It you want it to function as the former, it's important to strip out all ambiguity from your sentences, otherwise it's simply a waste of everyone's time.
Take Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's less-than-encouraging quotation this week about the financial markets:
"I do believe that the worst is likely to be behind us."

That came from a Wall Street Journal story, headlined: "Paulson Sees Financial Turmoil Abating." His quotation, however, says nothing of the sort. It's "likely." His quote says, to me, "maybe we're coming out of it; maybe not."
If he really means to say the financial turmoil is easing, he'd have said: "The worst is behind us."
It's unsettling--when so many of us are unsettled that we haven't hit bottom--that the secretary of the treasury is unsure.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Jury rig

There's nothing like the wide-open spaces in the mountains to give one a chance to improvise when needed. I spent this weekend with (left to right) my buddy, Pat, my son, Malcolm, and my brother, Kirk, fixing a major problem near our cabin in the Coast Range. You can see a newly graded road running across the creek and out of the picture. That's on our absentee neighbor's property, up the creek from our place. That road hasn't been graded--or used much--since the 1970s, and the creek's comings and goings over the succeeding decades has made the creek ford impossible. It's not an important road, so no biggie. But they graded it this spring, which is nice. Except when that grading rips through your water supply line buried under the road.
To make a long story short, I asked the guy to dig us a trench so we could fix the situation, but he hasn't been back up, so we had to act to get in water for the summer (our barrel is a quarter-mile hike upstream from here).
So we dug. And dug. It's gravel--not easily worked. We dug as much as we could, and then, to protect the PVC line, we hauled an old iron pipe down the creek to slide over the PVC section to protect it (while buried) from trucks rolling over.
It wasn't pretty, but it'll get the job done.
That's the definition of jury rigging (not to be confused with bribing jurors to help one's client).
While now used to describe anything that's makeshift or temporary, it originally was used to describe the replacement of mast and yards in case of damage.
In our case, jury rigging was more fun, as they say, than humans should be allowed to have while standing.


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