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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dangerous Analogies

Right now I'm reading "The Guns of August," which might be Barbara Tuchman's best-known book. It is about the onset of the First World War.

In it she speaks of a concept that a French military thinker tried to sell to his colleagues, and she says it went over the same as if Mistinguett were to be nominated for admission into the French Academy of Arts or some such.

It's easy to grasp Tuchman's point, but the analogy still suffers if you don't know who Mistinguett was. Though I didn't know, nothing was lost and maybe something was gained, because now I do know, and it only took the usual one tap on Google's brain.   She lived from 1875 to 1956, and she was a very famous French vaudeville singer and also known for her risque bits on stage and in her personal life.   Among other things, she's the one who had her legs insured for half a million.  I thought that was Jean Harlow, Mae West, Betty Grable, or somebody like them. But maybe they had theirs insured in dollars instead of francs.  So it looks like I missed out on Mistinguett by just a little, and now you are forwarned and forearmed, should this analogy next be sprung on you.

This shows, however, how dangerous analogies and allusions can be, in that the reader can be short-changed if he is not seriously up on things, and also not up for stopping what he's doing and doing the googling -- or if the analogy is past its day, like in 1924.

George Will, the usually wrong-headed conservative columnist (and what conservative columnist is not wrong-headed?), whose name should never otherwise be included in the same sentence with that of Barbara Tuchman, relied heavily on analogies and allusions like that, after he graduated from Yale and got a job pontificating and thus had unlimited opportunities to show off his recently gained erudition, which he did, profusely. He should be quite old now. I wonder if he has grown out of that yet?  Ha-ha.

But nowadays there is another political writer who outdoes Will in the overuse of that tempting literary device by a country mile. That is Angry Arab, of the celebrated Angry Arab News Service weblog, which I read every day because he is an interesting character, and it's also sometimes informative to find out what's vexing him now in the Arab world, and there are always ten or twelve of those, every day of the week, including Sundays. He uses analogies by the boatload and they are especially knotty to this American reader because they always refer to people with obscure Arabic names. I suspect these figures are unknown even to his Arabic readers most of the time, but it makes him look informed beyond all get-out, and that is the main thing.


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