Blow by blow?

中国日报网 2015-09-22 10:37



Blow by blow?

Reader question:

Please explain “a blow-by-blow account of a debate on the House Floor”. What does “blow-by-blow” mean?

My comments:

This is a description of a fist fight between United States Congressmen when they argue over important issues on the House Floor – floor, as in dance floor, is where the action happens.

I’m kidding. No, not all Congressional debates come to blows.

Not all of them at any rate.

But anyway, “blow” is the word for a hit or strike on your opponent using your fist. If you hit him hard, you’ve struck a blow, as they say.

Blow by blow, therefore, means hit after hit, one strike after another.

Blow by blow, you see, is a term originating in the game of boxing, in which two players or fighters as they’re called exchange blows until one of them ends up on the floor or canvas, unable to get up. If no-one can knock the other out, as they say, then the boxer who’s deemed to have landed the hardest or a greater number of blows wins the contest.

A blow-by-blow account of a boxing match is, therefore, a detailed description of what happened on the canvas or in the ring, as pros say. In other words, every hit (or miss, for that matter) is recorded.

All you need is tune in to a live boxing match and you’ll understand all about it. Usually there’re two announcers reporting on the match. One, who seems to be talking all the time, is the blow-by-blow announcer. His job is to describe the match in minute detail, that is, blow by blow or play by play as it is called in other sports such as basketball. Every play, or action, is described, nothing missing.

The other announcer, by the way, is called a color commentator. He does color commentary. His words, usually given during breaks or when there’s little action in the ring, adds “color” to the commentary. The color commentator is usually an expert who used to play the game. He adds “color” by sharing his rich experience and telling anecdotes.

Anyway, now you know that a blow-by-blow account of a debate on the House Floor means – nothing more than a detailed description of what Congressmen have said and talked about. Here, blow-by-by is merely a metaphor. No real punches are thrown.

Which is a pity because, I mean, when a political debate ends up in a fist fight, that’ll at the very least make leaders of nations, at least some nations, look livelier and more exciting to watch on TV.

I’m sure no real harm would be done, either. Politicians in some countries have been reported to have got physical with their foes, but no-one has been seriously hurt. No surprise there. Politicians cannot fight (except perhaps Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines House Representatives).

Again, I’m kidding. You see, on second thought, watching old men exchange blows while discussing matter of national importance isn’t my idea of excitement at all.

So let’s banish the idea and move on to media examples of blow-by-blow:

1. Scour, if you will, today’s Wall Street Journal opinion page to see if there is any mention of how one of the Journal’s lead stories on Monday, “Business Fends Off Tax Hit,” conclusively proves that Obama administration policies resemble nothing close to socialism. You will scour in vain. The silence is deafening.

Funny — you’d think there would be more cheering. The Journal’s Neil King Jr. and Elizabeth Williamson make a pretty definitive case that Obama has abandoned one of the planks of his campaign, his proposal to “end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.”

Specifically, the Obama administration had hoped to raise $200 billion by ending the tax break that “allows American multinationals to defer paying taxes on revenues earned abroad until companies repatriate them.” The WSJ article is a blow-by-blow description of how big business rallied its forces to oppose closing the tax-deferral loophole and, apparently, won the battle.

- Obama backs off on big business,, October 13, 2009.

2. President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank financial reform law in July 2010, hailing it as an overhaul to prevent the kind of crisis that hit the world economy in 2008 and one of the signature achievements of his first term. Almost three years later, much of the big stuff the law calls for is on hold, under legal and legislative assault, or still working its way through the regulatory intestines. According to a law firm that tracks the legislation, only 38 percent of the 398 Dodd-Frank rules have been imposed, while regulators haven’t yet publicly put forward versions of almost a third of them.

Is this the face of success? A new book, “Act of Congress,” by Robert Kaiser, an associate editor and senior correspondent for The Washington Post, gives that question a qualified yes. “The story of Dodd-Frank does demonstrate that Congress still can work,” he writes, “and it shows how, but only in extreme circumstances.”

To a Beltway expert such as Kaiser, that a dysfunctional and hyperpartisan Congress passed such a sweeping bill constitutes a small miracle. He concludes that “the big banks and Wall Street institutions never gave up trying to shape the bill to serve their interests, but that they had little success.” As former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, whose name is on the bill, says: “Money is influential [in Congress], but votes will kick money’s ass any time they come up against each other. . . . Public opinion drove that bill.” At another point, Frank declares, “The big banks got nothing.”

Kaiser’s account reminds you of those fairy tales that end with the wedding and don’t follow up to see how the prince and princess’s married life turns out. “Act of Congress” doesn’t cover what happened after the law’s enactment. In large part because of the ongoing, messy aftermath, many students of finance don’t see Dodd-Frank as much of a triumph at all. In the wake of this generation’s worst global financial and economic crisis, Congress passed the bare minimum of what was necessary. Dodd-Frank did not restructure the financial industry. It did not remake the financial regulatory architecture. Instead, the law tinkered around the edges, increasing regulation for this, expanding the power for that. Congress left much of the toil to financial regulators with limited resources. Troublingly, this has given the banks another opportunity, out of the public eye, to wrest exemptions that emasculate the rules.

Kaiser’s book is roughly divided into two parts. The first covers how the House version of the law, shepherded by Frank, came to be; the second half covers the work of then-Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.) in his chamber. The legislation is both men’s capstone achievement, and both left Congress after it was passed.

The author has delivered a blow-by-blow account of the tawdry compromises, Republican intractability and factional fighting within the Democratic Party that went into making the law. Congress comes across as the nation’s grandfather: antiquated, inconsistent, as slow-moving as it is dull-witted.

- ‘Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t’ by Robert G. Kaiser,, May 10, 2013.

3. On December 6, Christie’s will offer a remarkable artifact from World War II: an original, detailed post-battle damage assessment of the Japan attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that launched World War II.

This detailed, hand-drawn map of Pearl Harbor was prepared by Lt. Commander Mitsuo Fuchida (1902-1976), in the weeks following the devastating attack. An experienced pilot, Fuchida was chosen to lead the hundreds of carrier-based bombers and torpedo planes that attacked the American Navy’s Pacific Fleet on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, killing 2,300 Americans, wounding 1,200, and destroying much of the U.S. Pacific fleet at anchor there. The next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war, and memorably termed December 8, “a day that will live in infamy.”

It was Fuchida, flying with the first wave attackers, who gave the famous radio signal “Tora! Tora! Tora!” to confirm to his commanders that complete surprise had been obtained. This map was employed in Fuchida’s briefing of the Emperor on December 26, 1941, according to his autobiography, For That One Day. As Fuchida later recalled, “standing directly across from His Majesty, I unfolded the layout in front of him and, pointing with my finger at the relevant places on the battlefield diagram, gave a blow-by-blow description of our battle achievements against the enemy ships....” (Fuchida, p. 109)

The detailed map, drawn in bright colors, measures 31 by 23 inches. It carries a bold warning (in Japanese): “Top Secret.” The names, sizes and locations of the vessels under attack are carefully charted, as are the number of bomb and torpedo strikes. The English translations in red are also in Fuchida’s hand.

News of the attack shocked and galvanized Americans under the slogan, “Remember Pearl Harbor!” Japan’s bold gamble “gave the average American a cause he could understand and believe worth fighting for,” according to historian Gordon W. Prange, who interviewed Fuchida on June 29, 1947, and is a foremost historian of the event. The map is offered for sale by the Malcolm S. Forbes Collection. It was formerly owned by Gordon Prange (1910-1980).

- Christie’s offers original map of Pearl Harbor attack, prepared by Japan's lead pilot,, December 8, 2014.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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