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Monday, November 20, 2006

Committee work

Technical note:  sorry about the glitches!  We’re all set up now with the spiffy and very impressive Expression Engine 1.5.1.  It drives so quietly, and gets such good blog mileage!  But it took a while.  Thanks, Kurt!  And now back to your regularly scheduled Monday blogging:

Most of my committee work is (a) confidential and (b) too damn boring to describe anyway.  But this year I did get to serve on a committee I can blog about, because it was our task to bestow some public honors on people.  It’s the Public Language Committee of the National Council of Teachers of English, and last week, we gave out our annual Orwell and Doublespeak Awards

Here’s the text of the award announcement, which was read by committee member Linda Christensen this weekend at the annual NCTE convention (I couldn’t attend because I was at the AAUP national meeting instead):

The charge to the NCTE Public Language Award Committee is to select the recipients of the annual George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language and the Doublespeak Award. The 2006 committee was composed of:

Chair:  Michael Bérubé, Penn State University, University Park


Fred Barton, Michigan State University
Linda Christensen, Lewis & Clark College
Patricia Cordeiro, Rhode Island College
Gregory Jay, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Robert McRuer, George Washington University
Jacqueline Royster, Ohio State University
Michelle Tremmel, Iowa State University

The NCTE Orwell Award, established in 1975, recognizes writers who have made outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse.

This year’s Orwell Award calls attention to a searing and silence-breaking book that indicts the American medical profession of complicity with the forms of torture now routinely carried out in US detention facilities in Iraq, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Steven H. Miles’s Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror is well worthy of the Orwell Award.  In Oath Betrayed, Dr. Miles shows not only that American medical personnel have falsified death certificates for detainees killed by coercive interrogations, but also that American psychiatrists and psychologists, working in Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, have actually used detainees’ medical information to devise “physically and psychologically coercive interrogation plans” tailored to individual interrogations.

Such practices, as Dr. Miles argues, violate the American Medical Association’s strictures against the participation by medical personnel in torture; they violate the widespread international consensus, forged in the wake of the Holocaust, that doctors have no business aiding and facilitating gross human rights atrocities; they violate every moral precept associated with the practice of modern medicine.  For calling attention to these atrocities and reaffirming the importance of medical ethics under exceptionally repellent circumstances, the Committee gratefully offers this year’s George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language to Steven H. Miles, M.D.

The NCTE Doublespeak Award, established in 1974, is an ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered.

This year’s Doublespeak Award recognizes George W. Bush for the extraordinary speech he delivered in Jackson Square, New Orleans, on September 15, 2005.  After two weeks in which the Gulf Coast was devastated, first by Hurricane Katrina and floodwaters and then by an incompetent federal response, President Bush arrived in New Orleans for a series of emergency photo ops orchestrated to give the impression that something was being done, that somebody was in charge.  At one point, a team of firefighters, flown from Atlanta to Biloxi as disaster-relief reinforcements, was actually assigned to follow the President around as he walked through the area with his sleeves rolled up.

President Bush capped off his administration’s response to Katrina in a nationally televised speech in which he said:

“In the work of rebuilding, as many jobs as possible should go to the men and women who live in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama..  When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm. Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there’s also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.”

A week earlier, on September 8, the President had issued an executive order suspending the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, thereby allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage.

Perhaps most remarkably, the President’s speech included the words, “I also want to know all the facts about the government response to Hurricane Katrina.” The Doublespeak Award was created to recognize public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, and for his Jackson Square speech, we find George W. Bush a most worthy recipient for 2006.

Posted by Michael on 11/20 at 08:29 AM
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