Plain speaking, please

April 05, 1999|By Cal Thomas

PEOPLE concerned about whether their government can do the equivalent of bombing and chewing gum at the same time ought to be reassured by a couple of government memos that have recently come to my attention.

The Training and Career Development Division of the National Institutes of Health's Program Support Center is inviting employees to a May 4 "intensive three-hour workshop on a process proven to create documents that drive action and support strategic decision."

The purpose of the workshop is "to learn the six steps for meeting the president's plain language requirements." Maybe the program should start with the memo.

Productive writing

The language workshop is supposed to "boost productivity for both writers and readers; develop strategic thinking; ensure customer-focused documents; and demonstrate a commitment to quality."

Workshop graduates are assured they will be able to apply what they've learned immediately and so begin to carry out President Clinton's June 1, 1998, directive to simplify government language.

The cost is $199. For this attendees receive "a vest pocket guide to business writing; workbook with materials addressing plain language; a laminated wallet card containing Six Steps to Reader-Centered Writing and the focus sheet, and refreshments."

You have to wonder what has taken government so long to get around to communicating more effectively with its citizens. How do average people learn to write the language of the complicated tribe? Shouldn't those who composed the indecipherable Tax Code many of us are currently wading through be required to take this workshop?

Memo 2 concerns a Conference on Gender and Human Sexuality, scheduled for April 30 at the National Press Club in Washington. This gathering is sponsored by the Office of Research on Women's Health at NIH and the Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia University. The goal of the conference, says the memo, is to "provide an appreciation of gender differences in the basic physiology of sexual response and in the pathophysiology of sexual dysfunction." Basically it appears to be a "how to have better sex" get-together targeted to women.

The sponsors are Procter & Gamble and Pfizer, the latter best known for its development and (with the help of Bob Dole) marketing of the male potency drug Viagra. Unlike the class on better memo writing, the better sex course can be taken for credit. Want to guess which one will have the larger enrollment?

Is it possible that talking too much about sex has created a lot of our sexual dysfunction (or, as Mr. Dole would say, "ED")? Day and night, night and day, we are drowning in sex. The mystery is gone and, with it, the interest of many.

These government memos ought to be re-prioritized, as the unsimple might say. We need simpler language, but we urgently need simplified lifestyles, to make better use of the equal amount of time given to all so we can do more of what we know matters most. That would include sex.

Simple classes

The aphorism about teaching -- those who can, do; those who can't, teach -- might be applied to sex and even memo writing. If people would write the way they talk, they might be better understood. Why make it so complicated that you need a class to be simple?

Before "alternative lifestyles" and workdays of 10 hours or more, sex seemed simpler. Now it's complicated. Maybe it's to keep the teachers employed, the government big, and the bureaucrats happy.

I'll have more in a simplified memo.

Cal Thomas writes a syndicated column.

Pub Date: 4/05/99

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