quarta-feira, 11 de fevereiro de 2009

lazy writing - when sorry is the last word

By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

Alex Rodriguez is interviewed by ESPN, 9 Feb
Baseball star Alex Rodriguez said sorry over steroid use from 2001 to 2003

This is really lazy of me but I have just read this article and am impressed by its clarity and precise insight. I too have little belief in the words of politicians or sports personalities, there is too much money at stake for both to be honest.

I cannot remember so many people from so many different backgrounds apologising for so much in such a concentrated period of time.

Here's the updated list: a row of Scottish bankers in a drab committee room of the UK House of Commons, in which the sultry air was filled with recrimination and apology in equal measure.

Then the spectacle of the formerly invincible Masters of the Margin, shuffling from Wall Street to the nation's capitol on their pilgrimage of penance.

If they hold scented oranges under their rumpled noses it is because they are being subjected to the ultimate hair-shirt: travel by commercial aircraft or, worse still, train. "Bash the Banker" week will end leaving all of us non-bankers feeling a bit better but just as poor and petrified.

In these miserable times, we normally turn to sport for some up-lift. But today, all we get are downcast eyes.

In this case the eyes are a watery blue-ish green, the opaque colour of a mill pond, the perfect hue for a heart-felt apology. They belong, of course, to Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod, the Yankees star - one of the highest-earning baseball players of all time, who has entered the Hall of Shame.

Just as the Bush era was defined by the notion that sorry was for wimps, the new era is defined by a manly gusto for apologia

He joins the long line of colleagues who scored history-making home runs with a little help from the pharmaceutical industry.

Then there was Carol Thatcher, daughter of the former British prime minister, who barely apologised for using a racial slur that - apart from being insensitive - also dated her more than she would have wanted. She had to go from the BBC One Show.

The master of ceremonies at BBC motoring show Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, went into apology overdrive for calling Prime Minister Gordon Brown something un-prime-ministerial. He survived - although he apologised only for the physical slurs, not for calling the prime minister stupid.

The Pope apologised - sort of - for rehabilitating a British bishop who declared on camera and from the pulpit that the Nazis' gas chambers were a big lie. Former Senator Tom Daschle apologised - of course - for not having paid all his taxes.


But the prize for the apologiser-in-chief goes to the man who, so far, actually seems to have rather little to apologise for. Perhaps he has just been totting up his apologies savings account for a rainy day.

Barack Obama, 10 Feb
Mr Obama has apologised for mistakes over some of his nominees for office

President Barack Obama, that master of verbal dexterity and living thesaurus, set the tone last week by going on five networks to apologise in seven different ways for the misdemeanours of his apologetic cabinet appointees and their fiscal befuddlement. He even stooped to the colloquial: "I screwed up."

Just as the Bush era was defined by the notion that sorry was for wimps, the new era is defined by a manly gusto for apologia. The bow has replaced the shrug. Smirks are so yesterday. Humble pie is the new sushi.

But, forgive me, as with all fads, things are beginning to get out of hand. We need to establish some ground rules. Otherwise, there will be a dreadful backlog of unprocessed apologies.

An apology needs to be delivered verbally, without hesitation, with full eye contact and clear enunciation.

Secondly, the word needs to be embedded in a full sentence that explains what is being apologised for. For example: "In the heat of the moment I made a remark about the prime minister's personal appearance for which, upon reflection, I apologise."

Thirdly, bankers should be required to add self-incriminating adverbs like "humbly", "sincerely" or "wholeheartedly" to their apologies.

They might also give some of the bonuses back or spend time doing community service. They could volunteer to apologise on behalf of others, roaming New York's Upper East Side in "apologia gangs".

Cancer of insincerity

We should measure public apologies with an apology-meter that works a bit like a lie detector. And why not have a game show called "It's your apology!" or - on cable television - "Say Sorry or Else!"

Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 4 Feb
The Pope has admitted a mistake in rehabilitating a controversial bishop

The possibilities are endless. And the risks are all too apparent: apology inflation, the cancer of insincerity.

We could be issuing apologies as easily as banks issued, well, sub-prime mortgages or credit cards. Then we would have to put all the bad apologies into a toxic fund. Let's not even go there.

But help is on the way from Italy. Knowing that apologies would become all the rage and the unmasking of sin a global sport, the Holy See has been quietly reintroducing the practice of indulgences.

In the words of the New York Times, they are "a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife".

Bishops have been told that they can start reissuing indulgences to the swelling army of sinners, who can earn them by good deeds or charitable contributions.

Sadly, welcome relief is diluted by complexity.

The rules of indulgences are about as complicated as America's securitised mortgages: there are plenary indulgences - which eliminate all your time in purgatory, until the next sin is committed - and partial indulgences, which wipe out only some days, weeks and months in purgatory according to a fiendishly complicated calculation.

At least you can no longer buy an indulgence over the counter. That was outlawed in 1567.

In any case the Roman Catholic Church is on to something. The market in apologies is booming. Indulgences are a way to wipe the slate clean and get the economy moving again.

So, where better to end today than by saying simply, unmistakably, to everyone who I have ever offended: sorry.

Matt Frei is the presenter of BBC World News America which airs every weekday on BBC News, BBC World News and BBC America (for viewers outside the UK only).

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