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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Whoof! Our problems have all disappeared

Uploaded: Mar 2, 2021
We have no more "problems." They are now all gone. Instead, we only have “challenges.”

Yes, “New Speak,” as George Orwell once phrased it in “1984,” is alive and well in Palo Alto -- not only at City Hall but around the area.

It’s a lovely way of making us feel happy and virtuous.

Were things so simple! It’s as if merely changing a word or sentence can make us all feel better. Complaining is bad, we’re told, complimenting is good. We praise people, as in “Your hair looks nice today,” or “I like the socks you are wearing.” Socks?

The new way of speaking is to use more pleasant-sounding words, calling everything nice, or better yet, “great.” How are you feeling? Before the coronavirus hit, everyone always responded, “GREAT!”

New words are streaming across the country. We talk about “crime think” (thinking the wrong thing about some idea), and people who are “woke” (aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice), and “canceling culture” (getting rid a statues and symbols that once were thought to be appropriate at the time.

The word I really like was comedian Stephen Colbert’s creation: “truthiness,” when he referred to some presidential remarks.

New speak is also alive and well at City Hall. I watched Monday night’s council meeting, when more budget cuts were proposed, and there was a lot of subtle double speak. We weren’t talking about a budget deficit, instead it was a “budget realignment.” City employees weren’t being fired, the city instead was just “downsizing” and “not at full employee capacity.” The staff report to the council didn’t contain recommendations for actions, but – solutions! By the way, what was once reported as a necessary $7 million in cuts conveniently dwindled in size to $4.8 million. Thus, it is a “flexible” budget.

One council member said he was “not negative to a proposal,” meaning he was really positive. There were “gaps” in the budget, staff told the council. The gaps weren’t defined. I wonder if any of them would ever become a “hole.” But I guess that would probably be a politically incorrect word.

New council members have been told to be “nice” to staff, and to praise them after their reports. The council also knows “We must be civil.”

The budget was approved, with major and minor cuts to a potpourri of items -- like no travel, which will save the city a whopping $300,000 in the multi-million budget.

My conclusion: I think staff and council members are trying hard to predict and control the city’s budget during a very unpredictable coronavirus period, which affects sales, housing, hotels – and city income dramatically. I just think the new speak language that is being used is fun and funny.

And I certainly want us to be nice to each other, especially in these times when the country has become so divided and so many people have become mean. It’s wonderful to compliment others. But try to be sincere and not saccharine when you do.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Bob Ohlmann, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Mar 2, 2021 at 4:48 pm

Bob Ohlmann is a registered user.

Thanks again, Diana, for your thoughtful reflections and comments about our community.

You can help on a project to get the City to approve the use of the many City parklands, particularly near the Baylands, that have many parking lots that could accommodate many RVs or automobiles that house homeless who sleep in their vehicles, many along El Camino Real, in the Safe Parking program presently only permitted by religious institutions in Palo Alto. Who are the best councilmembers to approach for this effort?

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 2, 2021 at 5:06 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

We are living in a time where diverse opinions do not exist. If I disagree politely, I get blasted for being intolerant or perhaps something worse. Time was when discussion and debate were considered signs of intelligent society. Yes, you are completely right when you say we no longer have problems or differences. It is much too easy to call someone with whom you disagree a name and expect them to be in disagreement with you for ever as a result of that one particular opinion. Instead of looking for areas of common ground and agreement, it is much easier to cancel everything about them.

It is true for Palo Alto, it is true for the USA and it is true for the world. Nothing surprises me about what is happening at our City Council because they are just acting out what they have seen from elsewhere.

Today it is Dr. Zeuss books being canceled. Beware, who knows what we might be told tomorrow!

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Mar 3, 2021 at 8:31 am

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

The 'politi-speak' vernacular is quite understandable (if one is a politician or an aspiring office seeker).

By being vague/oblique/inconclusive...one cannot held accountable at a later date for any notable oversights and/or neglects on their part.

This has been going on since man first stood on top of a rock to address the tribe.

Posted by Common sense, a resident of another community,
on Mar 3, 2021 at 11:19 am

Common sense is a registered user.

"But try to be sincere and not saccharine. . ."

Good luck with that, in a saccharine national culture famously prone to euphemism. Labels change much easier than realities.

Where the plainest bulk red wine has long been labeled "Burgundy" and cheap grating cheese dubbed "Parmesan," so people grow up thinking those are the products mainly meant by those words. ("Real Parmesan cheese!" promises a DiGiorno frozen pizza with only US-made ingredients, implying a question of what could ever constitute "unreal" Parmesan.) Such US labeling, by the way, would be illegal in Europe, where regional names are honored. Europeans don't call their cheap wines "Napa Red" or industrially-made cheeses "Tillamook."

Some of what you brought up is just current word fads, which ebb and flow always. The 1960s accolade "cool" had long dropped from common use when kids rediscovered it in the 90s, unaware it was novel (or "cool") to them alone; then it diffused back to general use. ("Swell," "boss," "fab," or even "the bee's knees" too might cycle through again, any time.)

By the way, it's "Newspeak" (one word) in Orwell, and "cancel culture" in US today.

Posted by Hal Plotkin, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 3, 2021 at 11:21 am

Hal Plotkin is a registered user.

Thank you for another wonderfully insightful column, Diana. I smiled often as I read it. I too have noticed how language has evolved in our modern political culture, both locally and nationally. Many people, it seems, have discovered that they can "win" an argument before it starts if they control the words used to describe the argument. At the national level, my favorite example is the now ubiquitous use of the word "intelligence" as in: "Intelligence from the region indicates bombing is the only solution." Now, who can be against "intelligence?" If you disagree with "intelligence" you must be stupid, no? It would of course be more accurate to say: "Information from the region indicates bombing is the only solution" but that would invite a discussion on topics such as: who provided the information? How reliable is it? Is there conflicting information?, etc. But no such discussion takes place when "information" is presented as "intelligence." That usually ends conversations before they start. And yet, today most respected news publications and media routinely use the word "intelligence" when what they are really describing is "information" or often, more accurately, "claims that could be wrong." Likewise, in the tech world, the word "sharing" (as in "ride-sharing") now means "paying for services provided by people who work for firms that don't provide any benefits routinely provided to other workers, such as minimum wage, health care, or overtime pay." That is now "sharing!" So yes, these alterations of language can sometimes be quite funny, the laughs driven by the absurdity. But they are also, as you subtly note, a great danger to our society and to journalism itself which, back in our day, took great pride in calling a spade a spade. How I wish that were still the more common practice. I look forward to your next column!

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Mar 3, 2021 at 11:35 am

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

"Labels change much easier than realities."

So much for 'truth in advertising' and politicians (national or regional) should be the among the most distrusted in American society... at least among those with any common sense.

Lawyers are next in line.

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Mar 3, 2021 at 11:36 am

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

"Labels change much easier than realities."

So much for 'truth in advertising' and politicians (national or regional) should be the among the most distrusted in American society... at least among those with any common sense.

Lawyers are next in line to be distrusted.

Posted by jlanders, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 3, 2021 at 12:19 pm

jlanders is a registered user.

Diana, by focusing on word triviality you're missing the bigger picture with the City's upcoming fiscal budget. Last year's budget was a full speed run from a financial tsunami. We were forced to grab what we could and hope that things would return to normal soon.

This year, there's recognition that not all of us will immediately return to our regular lives. That's going to mean hard choices and sacrifice from everyone. Making tough decisions requires a steady hand and compassion for all those involved. This includes not only City employees and managers who will be asked to forgo raises and confront empty positions that will never be filled. It will also mean less for the hundreds of volunteers in Palo Alto who donate time and effort to make our City a special place to live and work.

Last year's budget process was horrible. Our young mayor was barely able to handle the monumental task. We're very fortunate to have a council and staff that are able to comport themselves with an understanding the gravity of the assignment before them.

Posted by That User Name is already, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 3, 2021 at 12:36 pm

That User Name is already is a registered user.

"Today it is Dr. Zeuss (sic) books being canceled."

Hmmmmm... how odd. I took a look, and there are many Seuss titles available online and at local bookstores. You remember bookstores, right?

Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 3, 2021 at 3:03 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

However, Diana's facts are wrong. They didn't say they are firing people because they aren't. They were very clear that they are eliminating positions that currently are not occupied by any staff. This does not require firing people. It is making use of attrition to downsize.

Posted by Rod Stephens, a resident of another community,
on Mar 4, 2021 at 7:42 am

Rod Stephens is a registered user.

"It's wonderful to compliment others. But try to be sincere..."

We are walking a thin line these days.

A colleague at work got written-up for complimenting a female co-worker on her appearance and he was being sincere.

I recall him saying something along the lines of, "God, you look hot today" and the rest is HR history.

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Mar 5, 2021 at 2:09 pm

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

@ rod stephens

Your account could have had two entirely different endings based on a couple of hypothetical considerations...

Had the recipient been enamored by (or physically attracted) to the guy paying the 'compliment', the matter probably would not have been written-up for HR disciplinary intervention.

Chances are, she was either repulsed or turned-off by this individual which resulted in the eventual outcome.

As Diana wrote, "It's wonderful to compliment others."

But sometimes a certain degree of discretion is recommended as not everyone appreciates a 'sincere' compliment.

Posted by avery james, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 5, 2021 at 2:40 pm

avery james is a registered user.

~rod stephens

*picturing an unkept computer geek who looks like Jack Black paying a 'sincere' compliment to a corporate executive reminiscent of Charlize Theron* ROFL

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