Thinking in Jargon

4f1fb9ceI rarely write about politics here.

Why bother?

It only devolves into tribal chest thumping.

But today, I will delve into the heart of it and write about Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz.

He is a Democrat which neither pleases nor displeases me. What bothers me is that he is a bureaucrat.

Listening to him speak is a painful reminder of every wasted day spent struggling to stay awake through a schedule of seemingly endless four hour meetings.

The guy speaks in jargon.

Sure, every field has its vernacular, which is good because jargon is nothing more than verbal short hand. It is a way of compressing language among those who share specialized knowledge.

When used well, it shortens and sharpens the conversation, but when used poorly, jargon become nothing less than a buffet of word salad.

While Minneapolis was burning, our Governor spoke of being “in consultation with partners to deploy assets in mission specific tactics”.

And on and on and on, it went.

It got worse as the riots got worse.

But the language of bureaucrats does not bother me. I am used to it and well practiced in the art of sleeping with my eyes open.

What troubles me is that bureaucrats not only speak like that, they think like that. The dark side of jargon filled speech is jargon filled thinking which result not just in a word-salad of meaningless phrases but a smorgasbord of meaningless actions and empty gestures.

For week after week, our Governor and our Department of Health blinded themselves with an epidemiological model that was written over-night by two grad students at the University of Minnesota.

In the words of Governor Walz, it told them how to “twist the knob” and “turn the dial” of executive orders to control the spread of covid.

However, for week after week, the model produced projections that were constantly wrong and failed to address the obvious: the folly of stuffing nursing homes and long-term care facilities with covid-positive patients.

But while the model spoke fantasy, the data spoke harsh reality.

It screamed what to do and what not to do.

And the result was that more people died from covid in Minnesota nursing homes and long-term care facilities than the total number of those who died from covid in Wisconsin, a comparable state.

I lost an aunt to that folly.

When a well seasoned and respected local television reporter brought this up, he became persona non grata at the press conferences.

I am sure the governor thinks he is doing the right thing and seems to be a decent fellow – but when one’s mind is muddled with group-think and jargon, the results are inevitable.


Author: Almost Iowa

52 thoughts on “Thinking in Jargon”

  1. I spent my share of time in corporate America, and couldn’t help but notice the higher up the chain things went the more political they got, and the more political they got the thicker the BS got. Bureaucratic jargon is just BS wearing a tuxedo. All the better to obfuscate the fact they were faking their way through everything.

    My condolences on your Aunt.

  2. We just finished watching Grant on the history channel. We are still living out the failure of Reconstruction. And wondering why it comes back to bite us in a big way every 10 or so years. And hobbles us everyday. Given the way we have dealt with covid it makes me think a similar thing may happen there too. Now lets get out there and open our economy… oops this opening thing might not be happening the way we want it to happen. Sorry about the loss of your aunt Greg.

    1. I grew up in the age of red-lining. For those who do not know what that is, think of a red box on a map hanging on a realtor’s wall. If you are black, you could only live inside the box, if white you had to live outside. No realtor or landlord would violate the line.

      But here is the thing, inside that line, despite the prejudice and utter lack of opportunity, almost all families had two parents, kids did okay in schools and the houses were relatively kept up – then came the 1970’s, drugs, crime, illegitimacy and rest is history.

  3. I’m very, very sorry about your Aunt. My prayers and condolences to you and your family. As for the politicians, on both sides, I don’t even know what to say anymore.

    1. Hey thanks. the sad part was watching the service on Facebook. As for politicians, I have met some really great ones, genuinely wonderful people – but they are long gone.

  4. I am so sorry about your aunt! Why in the world our leaders didn’t realize that nursing homes and assisted living facilities would be hot beds for this disease and didn’t respond accordingly is beyond me. All those hospital wards that were cleared out for the overwhelming number of Covid patients that never actually came could have been used to house nursing home residents that had the disease. The stimulus money could have been used to hire additional staff in homes, so there weren’t quite so many caretakers going from room to room, spreading the virus. We could have, and should have, done better. Our focus was on the wrong thing, and look where that got us.
    As for the jargon, I agree….it’s gone from annoying to dangerous, because no one has the nerve to speak the truth anymore. This sort of thing is why I am not, and never will be, a socialist. Big companies are bad enough. Big government running absolutely everything will be worse than we can even imagine.

    1. My grand-daughter works in our small town nursing home. One of her co-workers tested positive for covid and was sent home for two weeks without pay. No problem there – but she should be paid, however another of her co-workers Instagramed a photo with her driving to The Cities. This other girl then returned to work and lied about spending time with a covid positive person.

      Thankfully, my grand-daughter reported her and management took action.

      Of course this raised troubling questions – but nursing-homes and long-term care facilities depend on relatively low paid staff and that is a problem.

      1. Sorry, I just saw this reply. (My computer is slow on wordpress comments sometimes.) And I agree that the low-pay at nursing homes is a huge part of the problem. I’m so glad your granddaughter did the right thing…who knows how many others could have been infected?

  5. Sadly they ALL do this. Even the ones whose policies I generally agree with.
    When it’s not jargon it’s talking points, usually while avoiding giving a direct answer to a simple direct question.
    I don’t know when it became the standard acceptable way for politicians to address the people they’re supposed to be representing, but the older I get the more it infuriates me.

    1. A friend of mine made an interesting point about talking in tongues, he noted that the apostles spoke in a language that everyone could understand but when the fundamentalist do it no one can understand them. The same with talking points. A talking point is a simple well communicated phrase that conveys a point of view. Bureaucratic jargon conveys little and few people can understand it.

  6. I was musing last night that we’ve been in this exact spot before – social justice riots, space flight, corruption in government. But until I read your comment here about the Hong Kong Flu, I did not realize that the world was experiencing a flu pandemic at the time, too.

    I am sorry to hear about your Aunt, and also to learn about your daughter living so close to the rioting. To be so immediately affected by the frightening things going on, I’d be frustrated and angered by so-called leaders spewing empty words just so they can tell themselves, “There, I’ve done my job.”

    Be safe, Greg.

    1. To be so immediately affected by the frightening things going on

      Keep in mind that I worked for the Minneapolis Police for ten years – not as a cop, but as an IT guy.

  7. I don’t doubt there is plenty of finger-pointing to go around, but violence is never the answer. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings couldn’t prevent the 1968 Detroit riots and I’m certain political jargon from your governor comes nowhere near King’s eloquence. None of this bodes well for the future of this country aside from the fact we’ve been through the fire many times and somehow we’re still here.

    My condolences on the loss of your aunt. The situation in care facilities is too sad for words.

    1. Non-violence works for both sides. I recall an event during the Maggie Thatcher era in Britain when the police confronted a mob of soccer hooligans by locking arms and singing Auld Lang Syne while swaying to the rhythm of the tune. The mob loved it and joined in.

  8. One of the problems with leaving the solution of Covid-15 up to 50 different states was that we ended up with 50 different levels of ability in dealing with the problem. I’m all for local solutions to local problems but when the problem is national in scope, it calls for timely, clear leadership based on the best information available.

    1. There is a great Dilbert quote that goes something to the effect of “one should centralize all that is decentralized and decentralize all that is centralized”

  9. I couldn’t bring myself to hit ‘like’, but it is good writing and relevant points about a couple of very serious issues. I wish I had something to offer besides condolences on the loss of your Aunt and prayers that we all survive the virus and now the riots. We are living through a time in our history that most of us could never have imagined and the politicians in charge clearly don’t know how to respond to. Stay safe, and I will be thinking of your daughter and the other folks mentioned here who are living close to the epicenter.

    1. “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. – Mark Twain”

      We have been here before. Remember the riots of 1968? Most people our age do, but do you also remember that this was during the Hong Kong Flu pandemic? That flu killed between one million and four million worldwide.

  10. Excellent observation, Greg. The governor of New York did the same. Filled nursing homes with the sick which then became nursing homes of the dead. Our leaders have let us down there is no question. These riots are a symptom of frustration. The sad thing is as more people riot and break the law more incidences will occur that will justify further rioting in the minds of the rioters. I lived through the Detroit riots and I can tell you that riots only take the attention from the real issues of justice and liberty for all. Good job.

    1. Yeah, Cuomo did the same thing Walz did. But hey, this pandemic was way beyond their ability to cope. So people make mistakes. What bothers me is that neither one will admit it and their stubbornness cost a lot of needless suffering.

      Detroit? Did it ever recover from the riots?

      1. The downtown area has been a mess ever since. I guess there was a recovery of sorts but basically Detroit has been the victim of bad leadership since those times.

  11. What bothers me more than the Democratic Governor’s jargon was that “when a well seasoned and respected reporter brought this up, he became persona non grate at the press conferences.” This is no more to be excused than the Republican President doing the same thing (and worse) at his press conferences.

    If the Democrats don’t wish to be seen as hypocrites, they can’t call out Trump for his conduct and then emulate it.

    1. I never watch the network news, there is just no information to be gotten there. Trump and the Washington Press Corps just play “gotcha” theater. KSTP’s Tim Hauser is a great reporter and an actual journalist. His questions were well-researched and informative. The governor and health department’s response to his question was – word-salad and obfuscation.

  12. Yours is one of the best apolitical, non-hysterical responses I’ve read. The inadequacies of state and federal leadership when faced with both the pandemic and the current pandemonium are as obvious as the linkage between the two. Setting aside for a moment those with legitimate grievances and those with particular agendae, there’s no question that some of those wreaking havoc on the nation’s cities are taking advantage of events for a weird sort of jailbreak. As one of my friends observed, “There goes the lockdown.”

    1. There once was a term that has gone out of style: “Wilding” It spoke to a gang of youth going wild; a sort of cross between Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies that addresses the simple, addictive exhilaration of unbridled violence. I believe you spent some time in Liberia? If so, given the incalculable sadness there, you know well of what I speak.

      1. Indeed. While I escaped violence myself, when I returned for the second time, between the coup and the civil war, the changes in the society wrought by the violence of the coup itself, and the development of a youthful, non-official ‘paramilitary’ was both obvious and somewhat nerve-wracking. It’s ironic that I gained some insight into the Black experience in this country by being a white minority there.

        1. The scary thing is, violence stimulates pleasure centers in the brain. It works the same way as drugs or sex and can be addictive. It is why brawlers brawl and mobs rage. It is also a tendency you want to avoid when hiring police officers.

  13. Taken as intended, but still very sad. Along with the jargon is the statistics. We’re now measuring deaths by the tens of thousands. Individual deaths are meaningless. Except when it’s your aunt, your neighbor, or your friend.

  14. My mother-in-law just broke a hip – hoping she doesn’t have to go to a care facility because, like you said, those can be dangerous right now.

    I hope your governor wises up, maybe finds a touch of compassion amidst the jargon.

    1. Nursing homes are especially vulnerable.

      I don’t doubt that Governor Walz is a compassionate man, but compassion does not trump competence, though some think it should.

  15. I have attended many of those same long and useless four hour meetings, Greg. I often wonder why there is so much nonsensical time wasting in our world where people just talk a lot and very few outcomes are achieved. This is as relevant in politics as it is in business. I hope things improve in your state soon.

    1. Years ago, I was detailed to the University of Minnesota to install a system. I figured the work would take about 20 hours. Foolish me. First came the Steering Committee, then the Stakeholders Group. Knowing a bit of how they functioned, I suggested a Working Group consisting only of myself. Hours later, I was out of there.

      About a year later my boss handed me an email from The Steering Committee who requested a report on my progress. They had been meeting weekly and had grown from 10 to 25 members.

      “What should I do?” I asked.

      “Ignore them,” she said, “it will take another year for them to get back.”

  16. You’re right that guy, and many like him, talk in jargon. Or sound bites, as I tend to think of such rubbish-y language. I’m too straightforward to ever respect someone like Walz. I’m sorry for your loss. My condolences on your aunt.

    1. My aunt was 96 and suffered from advanced Alzheimers, so death came with mercy, but many in her facility were younger and more vibrant.

  17. Such a terrifying time for your state, and the country. I truly fear for our humanity.
    And when I think of politicians these days, from both parties, I think of Nero…. fiddling while Rome burned.
    My thoughts are with you and your family.

    1. Ancient Byzantium, present day Istanbul, had a large track where the city hosted chariot races. The stadium was called The Hippodrome and held 50,000. (Think NASCAR) The fans were just as rabid as WWF wrestling fans. They divided themselves along team loyalty lines into “The Greens” and “The Blues” and every once in awhile had city wide riots where tens of thousands were killed.

      Gosh, if humanity can survive that. 🙂

  18. Not being an American it would be unwise for me to make comments about your Tim Walz – and anyway you probably don’t encourage the swearing on this blog that I needs would have to use. A well thought out perspective thanks Greg.

    1. My hope is that my readers do not take this as a political jab – but as a comment on the style of governing and the traps that people fall into with their thinking.

      1. I think I took it the way you intended – and in fact the examples of the jargon you quoted I copied and pasted to share!

  19. I was afraid of that. Our son and family live in St. Paul. They’re neighborhood was being watched by National Guard helicopters last night, and they were warned to having nothing to burn or use as weapons in their yards, alley, etc. They probably didn’t sleep last night.

    1. I hope they are okay. My daughter lives in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis, mere blocks from the epicenter of the rioting. She is not sleeping either.

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