March 27, 2005

Bill Clinton has a blog

[Or maybe he doesn't -- several people have written in to suggest that this is a fake. That probably makes more sense than the hypothesis that Bill Clinton would really write as frankly as he seems to in the entries I discuss. And surely the real Bill Clinton has a staffer who could correct his punctuation...]

It's called BILL CLINTON DAILY DIARY, subtitled "In-depth analysis of current events, personal stories and humor". It's been around since last summer, but I never noticed it before now. The few recent entries I've read are interesting and surprisingly frank, especially the March 25 entry on Rafiq Hariri and Lebanon, which comes straight out and says:

I’m certain Bashar Assad ordered the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, but in international affairs you can’t do anything without proof. I’m certain the international investigation will find proof linking Bashar Assad to the murder of my friend Rafiq Hariri.

The reason I’m so confident is the fact that it took the FBI years to find the culprits, who had blown up the plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, but they found them and linked them to the Libyan government. And when the investigation succeeds, there will be hell to pay for Assad.

He explains about Assad's multiple recent mistakes, and ends this way:

Finally, Bashar Assad doesn’t seem to understand how serious this administration is about dealing with rogue states and state sponsors of terrorism. Let me clarify this. Syria is not the objective, it’s a barrier on the road to Iran.

What he means by this is that

Regime change in Iran isn’t easy. [...] Invading Iran is out of the question. Bombing Iran is possible, but won’t have the intended result. The only avenue left is to mortally wound the regime in Iran by cutting off its tentacles.

The first one is Hizballah in Lebanon, the second one is the Syrian regime.

I was going to call this an astonishly frank threat, but really, it's not a threat, it's a promise. I haven't seen any coverage of this in the mainstream media, an omission that would surprise me if my expectations were higher. [...and if the source were non-fraudulent.]

Anyhow, this is Language Log, and so it's about time to get to the linguistic part. "Bill Clinton" writes clearly and well, but he has an odd thing for extra commas. He adds commas (sometimes) before but not after relative clauses (which should have either no commas or two), before but not after (some) appositives and adverbs (where likewise there should be either none or two), and between (some) subjects and verb phrases. We've seen one of the extra relative clause commas already, in a case where the relative clause is apparently "integrated" rather than "supplementary", and therefore should have no preceding comma:

The reason I’m so confident is the fact that it took the FBI years to find the culprits, who had blown up the plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, but they found them and linked them to the Libyan government.

Here are some of the other extra commas in the March 25 entry:

It also clearly says that Bashar Assad, during a meeting threatened to harm Rafiq Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt if they stood in his way. [or maybe this one needs a second comma after "meeting"?]

Bashar Assad made the mistake of thinking we, Americans didn’t care about Lebanon. [appositive]

Most Americans have neighbors, who descend from families, who came from Lebanon. [two integrated relative clauses]

For instance, one of the most respected journalists in Washington, Helen Thomas has Lebanese ancestry. [appositive]

Even France, whose president Chirac was a friend and business partner of Rafiq Hariri has made it clear this situation has to be dealt with. [supplementary relative clause that should have a second comma]

One, we destroy their nuclear facilities or two we bring down the regime, which wants them. [integrated relative clause, should have no comma]

Iran is a big country, with a lot of money, because of its oil and gas reserves and has a population of about seventy million people, most of them young and of military age. [adverbial prepositional phrase -- here again a second comma would also work, but before-but-not-after seems wrong]

Syria, which is a poor country with only about 15 million inhabitants will be hit hard. [suppplementary relative clause that should have a second comma]

In the entry for March 22, "Bill" recommends Errol Flynn's autobiography My Wicked Wicked Ways. The recommendation is probably more effective for being hedged: "I probably shouldn’t recommend it to you, but I’m not going to lie, it was probably one of the most amusing books I’ve ever read in my life." Thanks to amazon's "search inside the book" feature, it's easy to figure out what's behind "Bill's" ambivalence. On the second page, Flynn explains why he ran away from home at the age of seven:

I played regularly -- or irregularly -- with a little girl next door named Nerida. One day we exhausted the interest in bush rangers, which is the Australian equivalent of cowboys and Indians.

She proposed that we play house, husband and wife. She prepared mud pies. I pretended to eat them. The inevitable happened. We went under the porch of Nerida's house and played more seriously at husband and wife.

"I'll show you mine and you show me yours," I said. She was game.

Nerida's mother nabbed us red-fingered, and she promptly told my mother. I got a hell of a shellacking.

I wondered why I should get whaled so, while Nerida, who was older, got off with a You-mustn't-do-that, darling.

My mother not only lambasted me, but said, "Now you shall tell your father yourself!"

I dreaded having to do this. It was an afternoon terrible with anticipation, till my father came home. Then, whether from fear or stubbornness, I wouldn't open my mouth.

Mother yelled, "Go on! Tell him what you did, you dirty little brute! Go on! Don't stand there! Tell your father what you were doing!"

My father, who was sympathetic, said, "Now, Marelle, he will tell me in his own time."

"He will not! He will tell you now!"

She flew at me again. I screamed. He stepped in. He was never any match for her, either in words or action, and Mother followed through with a torrent of invective.

This is no place for me, I decided. I'd leave home, get a job.


Recently my mother wrote a letter descriptive of that incident, remarking, "He ran away from home when he was about seven and we suffered agonies of anxiety for three days and nights. He was found miles away where he went and offered himself for work at a dairy farm. He asked only five shillings a week as wages, saying that would do him, as he 'never intended to marry'."

That tells it.

I never have married. I have been tied up with women in one legal situation after another called marriage, but they somehow break up.

In the same entry, "Bill" confesses that he lied repeatedly to reporters. About his favorite songs, that is:

It’s a strange thing, being a politician. When I was running for office journalists asked me what my favorite song was. I couldn’t tell them the truth. My favorite song is “Be my Baby” by the Ronettes. Obviously I couldn’t say that, because it’s too romantic. So I decided to say it was “Don’t stop thinking about Tomorrow” by Fleetwood Mac.

It was the right thing to do at the time. You’re a politician, you’re telling voters you are going to change politics as they know it, so what better theme song than “Don’t stop thinking about Tomorrow”? It was perfect for the campaign.

I do like Fleetwood Mac. Most baby boomers do. If I’m right their album “Rumors” is still the best selling album in the United States. Their best song though, is, you will agree and you will know I’m being honest with you, their best song is “Tell me Lies”. Am I right or not? I couldn’t use “Tell me Lies” as my theme song during my presidential campaign.

As he explains, those little white lies sometimes have consequences:

I can’t tell you how many times I had to listen to some saxophone player play “Don’t stop thinking about Tomorrow” when I was president. It wasn’t fifty or a hundred times, not just here in the US, but also overseas. I never liked the song, but after all the times I was forced to listen to it, I genuinely dislike the song, but that’s my own fault. I was the one, who told them I liked it. [emphasis added]

There's that extra comma again.


Posted by Mark Liberman at March 27, 2005 12:03 AM