Friday, July 24, 2009

Muphry’s Law and Sarah Palin's resignation letter

As an Irishman I know Murphy’s Law only too well. I have often been bitten by it and occasionally made bitter by it. The law says that if anything can go wrong, it surely will - and usually at the worst possible moment. Yet Murphy has to be admired as an unbending issuer of Rhadamanthine justice who cautions you to be wary that a serious snafu is always just an ill-timed moment away.

Yesterday I found Murphy's literary cousin has a similar rule. Called Muphry’s Law, it states that if you are going to correct someone’s grammar you will undoubtably foul up the correction. This post is another attempt at breaking that important rule.

I learned about Muphry in the comments of a wonderful article in the Punch. "Mind your language if you’re making a parse at me" was a “lucethought” from JJJ journalist and news reader Lucy Carter. Carter described herself as a rarity amongst her peers: “a 22 year old who adores a well constructed sentence.” In "mind your language" she tells the story about how her flirting with a barista went off the rails when she automatically corrected his grammar.

Because as she ruefully admitted, "nothing says 'we should go out' like a grammar check".

Amusing, but Carter was making a serious point. She was discussing our education system - a subject the state of NSW is making laws to stop you talking about. Carter doesn’t think there is anything wrong in the way newer-style education forces people to examining theme within literary works. But she says the loss of grammar in the curriculum means that she cannot “parse” sentences like her mother could. What Carter was realising was that grammar is a useful tool for deconstruction.

This was amply demonstrated by the article's comments thread. The first commenter “Allan Cox” (who missed a good opportunity to legitimately use the misnomer “frist”) said the article had restored his faith in “gen-yer’s” but also suggested this group were more analytical than they were letting on – particularly when it came to money.

The second commenter was BD. It was BD who enlightened me about “Muphry’s Law": anybody who writes about poor grammar will inevitably make at least one grammatical error. BD sternly picked apart several mistakes in Carter’s copy and gave the mark “must do better”. But BD had not thought through the concept.

The third commenter, The Punch’s own Tory Maguire, pointed out the pot-kettle moment when she mentioned BD's own mispelling of the “fist letter of University”. Maguire was smart enough herself to keep her fist out of her mouth - she posted just one sentence which was gramatically correct. Muphry’s magic ended temporarily. It would appear again in later comments.

Because Muphry, it seems, is an unavoidable consequence of large-scale correction. Take the case of Vanity Fair's story about Sarah Palin’s Alaskan governor resignation speech. The magazine used a high-powered team of the magazine’s executive literary editor and representatives of the research and copy departments to unpick the speech line by rambling line. The trio took to the task with gusto and red, green and blue pens scrawled hundreds of corrections. It was great editing work. My only quibble was the resulting pictures weren’t easy to read and Vanity Fair did not provide a cleaned up version (presumably that was Palin's job).

Oddly enough, Palin may have taken notice. Another report what she actually said had some (but not all) of Vanity Fair's corrections.

But I wanted to see the finished article and felt compelled to write out my own post-Vanity Fair version of the farewell speech. I found just one Vanity Muphry (marked with 'sic') but there may be others. It almost certainly has fresh Muphry-ness introduced by me.

Yet Muphry or no, the communications question is: is this remashed version still identifiable as Palin's speech?


Thank you all for coming here today to Lake Lucille. You are a source of inspiration for my family and me. And I’m thankful that Todd flew in last night from commercial fishing grounds in Bristol Bay to stand by my side as always.

It is the eve of our celebration as a nation a time to remember those souls who sacrificed selflessly so that we might live in freedom. From the shores of Maine to Texas and California, to the tip of Barrow, we live in peace because 233 years ago so many brave men and women fought for something far greater than themselves, and so many continue to fight for us today. Therefore I say God bless our military on this eve of Independence Day.

People who know me know that except for God and family, nothing is more important to me than our beloved Alaska. Serving her people is the greatest honour I can imagine. I want Alaskans to grasp what can be in store for our state. We were purchased as a territory because a member of President Andrew Johnson’s cabinet, William H. Seward, heard of this great land’s hoard of vast riches and beauty and recognised its strategic placement on the globe. He boldly looked to the future but later endured ridicule and mockery for his vision. His adversaries called his great dream "Seward's Folly".

Seward however, secured Alaska realising that Alaska could help secure the United States.

Alaska is strategic as a crossroads of the world and a gatekeeper of the continent. Seward and other early visionaries saw that Alaska would play a key role in America’s destiny.

That destiny includes developing the natural resources of the land, its wildlife and minerals, its oil and gas.

Serving this important state is a humbling responsibility. I trust you know me by now, I promised four years ago I would show independence and put an end to politics as usual. My administration's accomplishments speak for themselves.

We created a Petroleum Systems Integrity Office to oversee safe development. We held the line on Point Thomson. And now with our co-operation you’re seeing drilling up there for oil and gas.

[Alaska Gas Inducement Act] AGIA, the gasline project was a massive and bi-partisan victory. The vote was 58 to 1. Like many other projects of its kind, this one is very competitive perhaps the largest private sector energy project ever achieved in this state.

[Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share] ACES, another bi-partisan effort is working as intended to work and industry is publicly acknowledging its success. Alaskans will no longer be taken advantage of. ACES provides incentives for new exploration and development. It also provides for new jobs unlike the system under a monopolised North Slope Oil Basin.

We ushered in bi-partisan ethics reform and we slowed the rate of government growth. We worked with the Legislature to save billions of dollars for our future. I made no new lobbyist friends with my hundreds of millions of dollars in budget vetoes. Living beyond our means today spells chaos for tomorrow.

We took the dairy business away from the government and put it back into the hands of the private-sector where it belongs. We provided support for education. We finally filled long-vacant public safety positions, including the doubling of Police academy recruits. We built a sub-cabinet to deal with climate change. We took heat from special interests for what I believe are our biologically sound practices to deal with wildlife management and predator control.

We broke ground on the state’s new prison.

We eliminated such luxuries for government employees such as jets, chefs and personal entourages. The lieutenant governor and I said no to pay raises. For our success in this first term I am proud to take credit for hiring the right people. Our goal was to achieve a gasline project, more fair oil and gas valuation, and ethics reform in four years. Thanks to our group’s astounding work ethic, we are well on the way in just two. I wish you would hear more from the media about your state’s progress and how we tackle the special interests and bodies that would stymie our state and force the heavy hand of federal government into our communities.

I have taken criticism for exercising my veto when I knew it was the right thing to do but I’m convinced it is better than being popular. I felt that some of those special interest dollars would harm not only Alaska but also America. I turned down those dollars because they would add to the obscene national debt we're forcing on our children because of today's big Government spending. It is not just immoral, it doesn't even make economic sense.

Our Department of Law protected state’s [sic] rights. In just the last two weeks U.S. Supreme Court reversals came down against the liberal Ninth Circuit, deciding in our state's favor over the last two weeks.

You don't hear much of the good stuff in the press and some say things changed for me on August 29 last year, the day John McCain tapped me to be his running-mate. It was an honour to be his running mate. It was an honour to stand beside a true American hero. But I say others changed and let me elaborate on that for a minute.
Political operatives descended on Alaska digging for dirt. The ethics law I championed became their weapon of choice. Over the past nine months I've been accused of all sorts of frivolous ethics violations from holding a fish in a photograph to wearing a jacket with the logo of my husband’s snow-making sponsor on it while answering reporters' questions. Most of these ethics complaints have been dismissed. We won but it cost us. The State has wasted thousands of hours of your time and shelled out nearly 200,000 of your dollars to respond these attacks. That’s money that won’t be going to fund teachers or troopers or safer roads. Because of this politics of personal destruction Todd and I are looking at more than half a million dollars in legal bills to set the record straight.

And what about the people who brought up these silly accusations? It doesn't cost them a dime so they're not going to stop spending the public’s money in this game. It's insane. My staff and I spend most of our day dealing with this stuff instead of working for our state.

If I have learned one thing, it’s that life is about choices. You can choose to engage in things that tear people down, or build people up. I choose to work very hard to build up this state and our great country.

Life is too short to waste time and resources. Though it may be tempting to listen to those who tell you to stay in line and shut up but that's the quitter's way out. I think one big problem in our country today is apathy and I refuse to just hunker down and go with the flow. We’re fishermen so we know only dead fish go with the flow. Productive people know where to put their efforts and how to utilize precious time. There is such a need now to build up our state and fight for our country. I'll work hard for those who believe in free enterprise, smaller government, and strong national security, who want to support our troops and protect our freedom.

I will support others who willing to serve in or out of office inside or outside of Alaska. I don't care what party they belong to.

But I won't do it from the governor's desk. So for the sake of my family, I have chosen not to seek re-election as governor.

As I thought about this announcement, I also thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks. Many politicians travel around the state and other states, maybe even go overseas on international trade missions. But then I thought, that's wrong just to hit the road and draw a paycheck. I’m not going to put Alaskans through that.

I am not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual. I promised you that four years ago and I meant it. It's not what is best for Alaska.

Therefore I’ve decided it's best to transfer the authority of governor to Lieutenant Governor Parnell so that this administration, with its positive agenda and its accomplishments can continue without interruption to achieve administrative and legislative success.

We know we can effect positive change outside government at this moment in time and actually make a difference for our priorities. So we will, for Alaskans and for Americans.

Let me apply an analogy that seems comfortable to me and that’s basketball. You’d be naïve if you didn't see a full-court press picking away right now. A good point guard drives through that full court press, protecting the ball, keeping her eye on the basket. She knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win. That is what I'm doing - keeping an eye on the ball that represents sound priorities. Those include energy independence, smaller government, and national security. And I know that it's time to pass the ball for victory.

I have given you my reasons candidly. My last day won't be for another few weeks so the transition will be smooth. In fact, we will look forward to swearing in Sean Parnell up there in Fairbanks at the conclusion of our governor's picnic at the end of the month.

I don’t want to disappoint anyone with my decision so all I can do is ask you to trust me.

Maybe some Alaskans don't mind wasting public dollars and state time but I do. I cannot allow all that time and money go to waste just so I can hold the title of Governor. Some people are going to question the timing. Let me just say that this decision has been in the works for a while and only comes after much prayer and consideration.

I polled the most important people in my life - my kids – and they were unanimous. I asked them do you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all our children's future from outside the governor's office. It was four yeses and one "hell yeah!" That "hell yeah" sealed it.

For the kids, their approval had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother, Trig, mocked by mean-spirited adults. I only wish folks could understand how much we learn so much from someone like Trig. I know he needs me, but I need him even more. The world needs more Trigs.

My decision was fortified by my trip to Kosovo and Landstuhl, to visit our wounded soldiers overseas. We can all learn from our selfless troops. They're bold and they don't give up, and they know that life is short so they choose not to waste time. They choose to serve something greater than self and to build up our great country. These troops are where the worthy causes in this world can be found today. And that is where our public resources should be spent, instead of wasteful political bloodsport.

We’ve got to put first things first. For me, that means Alaska. It hurts to make this choice but I am doing what's best for Alaska. My parents have a little magnet on their refrigerator that says "don't explain: your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe you anyway." But I have chosen to give you my reasons. I’ve had my fill of usual.

I’m taking my fight for what’s right for Alaska in a new direction. However, I don't want to dissuade any Alaskan from entering politics after seeing the real climate change that began last August. We need hardworking, average Americans fighting for what's right. And I will support you because you can effect change, just as I can, too, outside the political arena.

We need more people who will respect our Constitution, resist big government takeover and protect individual rights, who will have the good sense to know when conditions drastically change and who will pass the ball when it's time so that the right team can win! That is what I'm doing here today.

Remember, Alaska, America is more than ever looking north to the future. God bless you. You have my heart. We’re all going to be in the capable hands of our lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell. Lieutenant General Craig Campbell will assume the role of lieutenant governor. And I promise you that I will be standing by, ready to assist. We have a strong, positive agenda for Alaska.

Take the words often attributed to General MacArthur, "We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction."

Again I say thank you, and God bless you, Alaska.

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