Man Without Qualities

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Complete And Utter Herr Doktorprofessor II: Parsing The Gibberish

Sage advice is provided by Helpguide, a project of The Rotary Club of Santa Monica and Center for Healthy Aging, on that worthy organization's website:

If you find you are continuing to feel depressed or anxious to the extent that these feelings are interfering with your work or personal life, consult a mental health specialist for assistance.

Surely, truer words were never written. Of course, such considerations - even for a rather public man such as Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman - are not open to the public! As this passage indicates with obvious assurance, one's mental health has a profound determinative effect on one's personal life. And the concern for our personal lives rises to its absolute zenith where a mental health issue is so profound as to affect actual sanity.

"Sanity" - such a brutal, legalistic word! The sensitive mental health specialist would no sooner use such a term than refer to a patient experiencing a serious deterioration in mental health as having, say, "squash rot." But linguistic facts are linguistic facts: To suggest serious deterioriation in the mental health of another in common parlance is the same as "questioning his sanity." It is a commonplace in our shared culture that such "questioning" is not to be done lightly. Yes, in America people everywhere and in all walks of life agree that one's personal life includes one's mental health matters - especially one's very sanity.

Yes, in America people everywhere and in all walks of life agree on that - except, apparently, Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman, who does not agree to judge by this passage from his most recent "column:"

Mr. Blitzer now says he was talking about remarks made on his own program by a National Security Council spokesman, Jim Wilkinson. But Mr. Wilkinson's remarks are hard to construe as raising questions about Mr. Clarke's personal life. Instead, Mr. Wilkinson seems to have questioned Mr. Clarke's sanity.

Given the above commonplace understandings and usages, what's the big deal? Mr. Blitzer's original comment was informal and made to another CNN reporter, John King, quite clearly just to prompt King to report what King had himself discovered. The Blitzer comment Herr Doktorprofessor parses so closely doesn't even employ correct English syntax:

[Richard Clarke] wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they don't know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president.

So Mr. Blitzer said only that he had heard that the Administration was suggesting that there are some weird aspects in Mr. Clarke's life, not Mr. Clarke's personal life. Indeed, it's easy to read Mr. Blitzer's comment as starting with a halting reference to Mr. Clarke's "personal life" but correcting that reference midsentence to the more general "life." One's sanity (as Herr Doktorprofessor puts it) is surely part of one's life - so Mr. Blitzer can't be chastised on that front.

I think Herr Doktorprofessor and his editors knew all that. Which may be why, for all the "insinuendo," he never actually gets down to characterizing CNN's "goof" (if there were a "goof" at all) as a sinister White House plot, or actually claiming that the Bush administration somehow "got" to CNN. Instead, except for his rant against Mr. Blitzer not making Mr. Wilkinson apologize, Herr Doktorprofessor collapses completely into incoherent gibberish, lashing out at Mr. Blitzer, the White House, CNN and media source policy and Wilkinson. Maybe even Tyler or his dad. It's so hard to tell through all the sound and fury.

More important news: I saw Tyler's appearance on the Letterman show last night. He seems to be a poised, healthy, happy kid and read a nice letter he had received from the President. Mr. Letterman was very sweet to Tyler, who confirmed that he found the Letterman video clip "hysterical" (a literary device, of course) and that he is a big fan of Mr. Bush. A happy ending for Tyler.

On the other hand, it appears that Herr Doktorprofessor's heart will go on in the wake of his own titanic effort.

MORE: From Maguire.

Read Herr Doktorprofessor's actual, exact language. He says a lot less than he at first seems to say.

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