Category Archives: Words

The fury directed toward migrants actually looks like ‘hate’

The "Two-Minutes Hate" in Orwell's 1984...

The “Two-Minutes Hate” in Orwell’s 1984…

A lot of the more strident folk on the left like to classify people with whom they disagree as “haters.” To disagree with them is to “hate.”

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to be called a bigot. To see a human fetus as having moral value and a claim upon our consciences, for instance, can be classified as “hating women.” Which might be great for eliciting contributions from some quarters, but not so great for increasing understanding across the gulf of disagreement.

If we’re to have civil conversations in our society, conversations with some hope of leading toward synthesis, toward solutions, “hate” is a word we need to be careful with.

But in recent days, that word has seemed more and more like precisely the right one to explain the way some of our fellow citizens regard what is going on down on our border.

What we’re seeing now, and what we’re hearing from the people who defend Trump’s actions, pretty much does seem to be… hatred.

How else to label the FURY these people direct at poor folk trying to come here for a better life?

I’ve been marveling over this for years. I guess it was the early 2000s when we started seeing this surge of anger toward people who came here to pick crops, do back-breaking construction, or work in the stench of a chicken-processing plant.

Then came the dehumanizing rhetoric — words such as “animals” and “infest” — and the jaw-dropping rationalizations: If they don’t like having their children torn from their arms, they should have thought of that before they tried to come here…

It’s the ANGER that amazes me. The folks who say those things are furious, apoplectic that these people from the South cross a line in the desert without the proper paperwork. What is it about that bureaucratic lapse, that misdemeanor committed by some migrants, that stirs such anger?

And I’m not even getting into the fact that this attitude goes beyond illegality, and has increasingly taken the form of wanting to decrease legal immigration.

I don’t know where the anger comes from. But the more I see of it, the more it seems to qualify as hatred…

The ghost of Tom Wolfe in New Yorker editor’s early work

I just sort of ran across this by accident the other day, and enjoyed discovering it.

I was thinking about Daniel Patrick Mohnihan, someone I admired greatly. And for whatever reason, I was thinking about stories I used to hear about his drinking. So I Googled it.

And I ran across this profile from 1986. It mentions rumors of drinking, but only in passing. That’s not why I’m sharing it. I’m sharing it because I thought, wow, here was a journalist who was even more impressed with Tom Wolfe than I was. The piece begins:

Has teevee land ever seen a man so tickled as Daniel Patrick Moynihan?DanielPatrickMoynihan

As he describes the plight of the American family to Phil Donahue, the senator’s knees lock and his shoe tips wag. His bushy brows hump up like two millipedes on a twig, then ascend to his thatchy forelock. When the audience applauds him, Moynihan applauds back. And as the clapping flattens into a roar, his mouth goes pursy, forming a fleshy Irish rose.

His daughter Maura — late of Harvard and the rock group the Same — has seen the look before. “Dad’s mouth gets like that when he’s happy,” she says.

After the show, Moynihan lumbers toward the elevator. He is a towering sight — 6 feet 4 inches — and surprisingly trim. He is one of those men whose waggy midlife jowls make them seem far heavier than they are.

“Saddle up, children!” he yells tinnily, and the entourage shuffles over to meet him. There is something antique, something mythological about Moynihan. The theater he has become — the herky-jerky Anglo-speech, the bow tie slightly askew, the tweedy caps and professorial rambles — they all make him seem vaguely not there, a figure not of the present but of an unreal history, an American Edmund Burke taking dominion on the Hill….

So who was this writer who so ably impersonated the Cool-Write King himself?

Well, it was David Remnick, who has been editor of The New Yorker for the past 20 years, back during his Washington Post days.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and thought I would share…

You can be ‘bold,’ OR you can be ‘conservative.’ Choose.

Just caught Catherine Templeton’s latest ad. At the end, she says:

It’s time for a governor as bold and conservative as the people of South Carolina.

Um… you can’t be both of those things at the same time. You can be bold if you choose. Or you can be conservative instead. You have to choose.

Otherwise, words have no meaning. And who wants to live in a world like that?

“Bold and conservative” is as nonsensical as, well, “conservative buzzsaw.” Again, you can be one of those things, but not both…

Cath

Another message from ‘Conservative outsider and Republican gubernatorial candidate Cath…’ oh, never mind!

long name

Yeah, I know I’ve written about this before, more than once. But they keep doing it, so I’m going to keep pointing out how ridiculous it is.

The more I see her campaign refer to her, over and over and over again, without deviation, without letup, as “Conservative outsider and Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton,” the more I marvel at their apparently limitless tolerance for tedium.

You’d think that at some point someone writing one of these releases would just get fed up with the monotony and say, “The hell with this! I’m not going to keep people in suspense! I’m just going to go ahead and tell the reader who I’m talking about!”

You have to wonder, is this mind-numbing tactic that her campaign just will… not… drop, even in the face of withering satire from the likes of my good buddy Robert Ariail, something that will work against their ability to build name recognition? Will voters who might have chosen her get frustrated and give up in the booth after perusing the ballot and being unable to find anywhere a name that begins “Conservative outsider and Republican gubernatorial candidate…?”

SCTempletonAriailW

What does it say about me that I didn’t know what ‘idiot’ meant?

idiot word cloud

I love discovering things about words. I love it the way… well, probably the way some of y’all like football. I get a rush out of it, and I can’t stop talking about it.

The discovery I made this morning is a big one, full of meaning, a discovery that sends tentacles of understanding into a lot of things that matter to me. It ranks up there among my most exciting word finds ever, right alongside when I learned the word “esoteric” in high school. (For years I had wanted a word for that concept, and I finally had one. I confess I overused it for some time after that.)

This morning, I learned what “idiot” means. Or rather, what it meant originally, which for me tends to be the same thing.

I can’t believe I didn’t know this before. I feel like such an… well, you know….

I learned it from TV, of all places. At the very end of the fourth and last installment of the documentary mini-series “Bobby Kennedy for President,” which I was watching while working out on the elliptical this morning. At the very end, Kennedy aide William J. Arnone says:

One thing that Robert Kennedy taught me, Robert Kennedy would say, ‘The word, “idiot” in Greek, you know what it means? “One who is not involved in politics.”‘ But he instilled in me that you must be involved in politics. Must, must, must. You cannot be on the sidelines.

I thought, wow — that’s just too good to be true. But it isn’t. That’s what it meant to the ancient Athenians. A person who wrapped himself in the personal, the private, and turned his back on politics and the community was called an “idiot.” Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Idiot is a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτηςidiōtēs (“person lacking professional skill”, “a private citizen”, “individual”), from ἴδιοςidios (“private”, “one’s own”).[1] In ancient Greece, people who were not capable of engaging in the public sphere were considered “idiotes”, in contrast to the public citizen, or “polites”[2]. In Latin the word idiota (“ordinary person, layman”) preceded the Late Latin meaning “uneducated or ignorant person”.[3] Its modern meaning and form dates back to Middle English around the year 1300, from the Old French idiote (“uneducated or ignorant person”). The related word idiocy dates to 1487 and may have been analogously modeled on the words prophet[4] and prophecy.[5][6] The word has cognates in many other languages.

An idiot in Athenian democracy was someone who was characterized by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private—as opposed to public—affairs.[7] Idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.[7] In Athenian democracy, idiots were born and citizens were made through education (although citizenship was also largely hereditary). “Idiot” originally referred to a “layman, person lacking professional skill”. Declining to take part in public life, such as democratic government of the polis (city state), was considered dishonorable. “Idiots” were seen as having bad judgment in public and political matters. Over time, the term “idiot” shifted away from its original connotation of selfishness and came to refer to individuals with overall bad judgment–individuals who are “stupid“. According to the Bauer-Danker Lexicon, the noun ίδιωτής in ancient Greek meant “civilian” (ref Josephus Bell 2 178), “private citizen” (ref sb 3924 9 25), “private soldier as opposed to officer,” (Polybius 1.69), “relatively unskilled, not clever,” (Herodotus 2,81 and 7 199).[8] The military connotation in Bauer’s definition stems from the fact that ancient Greek armies in the time of total war mobilized all male citizens (to the age of 50) to fight, and many of these citizens tended to fight poorly and ignorantly.

Wow. My whole life, I have tried to learn and become one of the polites, and to urge others to do the same — with mixed success on both counts. Often I’ve done so overtly, such as when I set out my dichotomy about the contrast between people who see themselves as consumers and those who see themselves as citizens. Sometimes it’s less overt, but I’m always arguing that one of the first things a person must learn as a member of a community is how we are all inescapably connected. (Not that we should be, but that we are. And politics is what we do in light of that fact.) To me, becoming a fully realized, worthwhile human being is to a great extent about understanding and embracing that connection, becoming a fully mature member of a community and seeking ways to make community interactions more positively effective.

All this time, all these words, and I didn’t know until today that a person who pursued the opposite of that was, from the dawn of Western civilization, called an “idiot.” Right up until the late 19th century, when it started to mean a person of very low intelligence.

By the way, in researching this, I found this piece, which led this way:

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, respondents were asked what word immediately came to mind when they thought of Donald Trump: The No. 1 response was “idiot.” This was followed by “incompetent,” “liar,” “leader,” “unqualified,” and finally, in sixth place, “president.” Superlatives like “great” and a few unprintable descriptives came further down on the list. But let us focus on the first.

Contemporary uses of the word “idiot” usually highlight a subject’s lack of intelligence, ignorance, foolishness or buffoonery. The word’s etymological roots, however, going back to ancient Greece, suggest that, in the case of the president, it may be even more apropos than it might first seem….

And of course, the original sense of the word speaks to the objection I have to Trump. He is a man who spent the first 70 years of his life pursuing his own private interests and satisfying his own appetites. Almost everything about the ways he violates presidential, political and moral norms arises from that utter inexperience in, and disdain for, civic life. He has shown a sort of idiot savant (to use the word a different way) flair for a certain kind of politics, but it arises from a lifetime of avid self-promotion, and therefore arises from his pursuit of private rather than public benefit. (In Star Wars terms, you might say the Dark Side of politics is strong with this one.)

This is fascinating. So much more can be said about it, but I’ll stop now and share this much with you…

What kind of person wants to elect a ‘buzzsaw?’ And would those who do please stop voting?

buzzsaw

Catherine Templeton makes me wonder about a lot of things:

  • What makes her think anyone would want to vote for someone who calls herself a “buzzsaw” — whose entire public persona is about being as destructive as possible?
  • Is she right that there are people out there who want to do that? (I fear she is.)
  • What is wrong with such people? Are they just nihilists — do they simply want to “blow s__t up?” Do they really, truly not want to see people they vote for accomplish anything positive at all — just rend and destroy?
  • Could people who want that please take a break from voting? Because I think they’re why we have a lot of the problems we have in this country. Ever since we started electing people to run government whose main message was that they HATE government, things have been on a downward slide.
  • When the Toby Maguire version of “Spider-Man” came along, people understood that a character who called himself “Bonesaw” was a character to be avoided. “Buzzsaw” isn’t that far off in terms of imagery (just less anatomical). What has happened to people’s common sense since then?
  • Oh, and must we even get into the fairly obvious fact that the words “conservative” and “buzzsaw” do not go together? That phrase is a contradiction in terms. Conservative people wish to conserve, not destroy.
  • Why would any normal person — and presumably we still have some normal people voting, without whom an electoral victory is difficult — want to vote for a candidate who has opted to run as the kind of candidate who appeals primarily to people who want to elect a “buzzsaw?” In other words, doesn’t getting the votes of the “buzzsaw” voters negate your chances of getting anyone else’s vote? Let’s hope so…

Nikki Haley is now the grownup in the room

An image from Nikki Haley's Twitter feed...

An image from Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed…

I got a call this morning from E.J. Dionne in Washington, wanting to talk about Nikki Haley. I don’t know whether I said anything intelligible or not. I remember rambling about how she has held a series of jobs (including the current one) for which she was woefully unqualified, but has grown in office.

Which of course is nothing new, and I’m far from the only person to have said it. Once, late in her first term as governor, a senior member of her administration said, “She’s really grown in office.” Then he said, “And if you tell anybody I said that, I’ll f___ing come to your house and kill you.” So, you know, I’m not using his name.

But back to the present day… Nikki still has a tendency to get a tad defensive, as with her comment yesterday that “I don’t get confused.”

But that’s a defensiveness I can endorse. She fights her corner, stating her case in matter-of-fact terms. Also, she’s increasingly likely to be the one who’s right on the policy. Which is why her side of this is playing well.

It’s certainly far more mature than some of her petulant Facebook posts in her first term as governor.

So yeah, she’s grown.

And I don’t think I’m saying that just because the White House tends to look so childish by comparison…

If Templeton would stop ranting and posturing for just a moment…

jasper-site-plan

… she might be able to contribute to a serious discussion about important issues. Maybe.

For instance, she might have been able to say something enlightening about the Jasper port, somewhere in the 1,190 words of this release, if she’d made the slightest effort. I would have found that helpful, because I feel like I’ve been out of the loop on the topic for the last few years. In fact, I’m not sure if the drawing above, which I found on this blog, is current and accurate.

Instead, we got another full broadside of unfocused fulmination, painting a picture of a world that consists of two kinds of people: Catherine Templeton, and the rest of the human race, which is all worthless and corrupt:

CATHERINE TEMPLETON RIPS POLITICS AND CORRUPTION AT PORTS
Outlines Plan for Stopping Public Corruption in South Carolina

(COLUMBIA, S.C.)  Proven conservative outsider and Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton brought back her buzz saw on Tuesday, this time to rip the corruption and politics surrounding the building of the Jasper Ocean Terminal in the Lowcountry. In addition, Templeton outlined her plan for more broadly ending corruption in state government.

In part of her ongoing series of events addressing different issues in the 2018 campaign, Templeton outlined her plan at a news conference in Hardeeville with Mayor Harry Williams and Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka.

“When I worked for Governor Haley, I earned the reputation as a buzz saw because I cut spending, cut the size of government, and cut regulations… When I went back to the private sector, the Port of Charleston asked me to do there what I had done in government, but there was a big difference. The Port of Charleston didn’t want any change at all.” said Templeton.

Templeton said she exposed corrupt contracts between the Port of Charleston and the Columbia-based consulting firm of Richard Quinn and was fired as a result.

“I released corrupt state contracts to the public showing money flowing from the Port of Charleston to pay the Quinns –  the political consultants who have been on Henry McMaster’s payroll for decades,” said Templeton. “As long as the Port of Charleston is a political arm of the corruption in Columbia, the Jasper Port will never get built.” 

Though not in attendance, Senator Tom Davis of Beaufort also weighed-in. “The SC Ports Authority took a position against an appropriation for Jasper port permitting when the budget was considered by the House, and as a result no funding for it was included in the budget passed by that chamber,” said David. “However, based on my discussions with Sen. Hugh Leatherman, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, it is my expectation that a $2 million appropriation for Jasper port permitting will be included in the Senate’s version of the budget, and I will submit a budget proviso to that effect for consideration by the Finance Committee when it meets later today. Simply put, money in this year’s budget is oxygen the Jasper port needs to survive.

During Templeton’s time as the head of two state agencies, Templeton fought big labor and won, stopped the Obama Administration from killing South Carolina jobs, called out corruption at the Port of Charleston, and fired entrenched state bureaucrats on the taxpayers’ payroll. She is equally committed to stamping out Columbia’s culture of corruption.

“Corruption is actually costing you money – daily. The power to run your light switch costs more because of lobbyists, your safety and time are sacrificed on the roads because of self-dealing, and now the very future and economic prosperity of this entire region is being postponed. Why? Because the Port of Charleston paid Henry McMaster’s political consultants almost $3M to make commercials and give him board advice. Now the Port of Charleston want $5M from the Jasper Port’s permitting budget because they are out of money.  Which do you think is more important – using the money to pay Henry’s political consultants or permitting a port for the people of this state that will be a national economic driver?” Templeton asked.

As governor, Catherine will:

Pass a Term Limits Law

  • Enact term limits for all legislators to end Columbia’s culture of corruption and force those who make the laws to return home and live under the laws they created.

“It’s time state legislators live under the same laws they create for the rest of us,” Templeton said. “What’s good enough for us should be good enough for lawmakers, too. The first step in creating legislative accountability is establishing term limits. When someone seeks public office, they must realize it is about service, not self dealing.”    

Accept No Salary

  • Return the governor’s paycheck to the people.

“I’m running for governor to serve the people’s interests,” Templeton explained.  “That’s why I will not take a salary while I’m serving as governor. I’ll return that money where it rightfully belongs – to the taxpayers who pay it.”

Close the Revolving Door of Corruption

  • Crack down on politics as usual by imposing stiffer criminal penalties and significant jail time for those who secretly lobby government.
  • Enact a lifetime ban on gubernatorial staff becoming lobbyists.
  • Enact a lifetime ban on legislators becoming lobbyists.
  • Enact a lifetime ban on all executive branch employees becoming lobbyists.
  • Ban lobbying by any taxpayer-funded organizations.
  • Ban lawyer-legislators from voting on the judges they argue before.

“We must stop politics as usual in Columbia by shutting the revolving door where people go from public service to lucrative lobbying,” Templeton vowed. “I’ll do that by imposing stiffer criminal penalties for those who secretly lobby government. I’ll follow that up by enacting lifetime bans on gubernatorial staff, legislators and executive branch employees becoming lobbyists. I’ll also ban lobbying by any taxpayer-funded organization and stop lawyer-legislators from voting on the judges they argue before. These steps will make sure public employees become public servants once more.”

End Pay-to-Play Politics

  • Prohibit legislators from taking state contracts for themselves or their families.
  • Prohibit all state officials from appointing relatives to public boards, commissions, and posts.
  • Ban family members of elected officials from doing business with state government to end corrupt conflicts of interest.
  • Ban publicly subsidized utility companies from making political contributions to politicians who authorize their funding.

“If we elect you to protect our money – you can’t have any of it for yourself or your family.  I will act swiftly to end the shameful practice of pay-to-play once and for all,” Templeton said.  “We’ll do it by prohibiting legislators and their families from taking state contracts; prohibiting all state officials from appointing relatives to public boards, commissions and posts; and banning publicly subsidized utility companies from making political contributions to politicians who authorize their funding.”

Empower the Ethics Commission to Enforce Ethics Laws:

  • Require all candidates for public office to give the Ethics Commission real-time access to their campaign accounts.
  • Direct accrued interest from campaign accounts to the Ethics Commission to fund the hiring of more staff for increased enforcement of ethics laws.

“The Ethics Commission should be more than the paper tiger it currently is,” Templeton explained. “I’ll make sure it’s empowered to adequately enforce ethics laws.  I’ll do that by   requiring all candidates for public office to give the Ethics Commission real-time access to their campaign accounts to ensure full compliance with ethics laws; and directing accrued interest from campaign accounts to the Ethics Commission to fund the hiring of more staff for increased enforcement of ethics laws.”

Ensure Greater Transparency

  • Require the legislature to comply with Freedom of Information request and remove the legislative exemption.  The people’s work should be conducted in the sunlight.

“The people’s work should be conducted in the sunlight. I will establish greater transparency by requiring the legislature to comply with Freedom of Information requests” Templeton said.” 

Templeton will continue to discuss her positions on a variety of issues that are important to South Carolinians in the coming weeks.

###

The only passage in all of that that communicated anything about what’s going on with the Jasper Port was the digression about something Tom Davis had said. From that, I gathered that the Jasper Port is a much-needed project that has suffered from the grabbiness of the Ports Authority, and that a $2 million appropriation promised by Sen. Leatherman is a good thing. Which is rather remarkable — that Tom Davis would be pleased that Hugh Leatherman wants to spend millions on something is a pretty good-sized miracle.

But I remain confused what that paragraph has to do with the rest of the release, and whether it is meant to suggest that Davis supports her candidacy. So while I appreciate the perspective from Tom, I’m left even more confused.

Ms. Templeton could have explained what is happening on this issue, right now, and set out what she thinks should happen in the future. That would have been helpful. Instead, we just get the usual overheated rhetoric as she slashes up, down, left and right in her bid to represent herself as the only possible cure to unmitigated, universal, but often ill-defined corruption that is eating the vitals of South Carolina.

We just get these quick hot bursts of rhetorical fire here, there and in every direction:

  • I almost didn’t read the release because it started out exactly the same as her other releases: “Proven conservative outsider and Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton…” And by the time I get to her name, I’m always tired and ready to move on.
  • “When I worked for Governor Haley, I earned the reputation as a buzz saw…” Oh, cut me a freaking break, would you? Yeah, you’re a real terror, and a joy to have around…
  • “When I went back to the private sector, the Port of Charleston asked me to do there what I had done in government, but there was a big difference. The Port of Charleston didn’t want any change at all.” Which was it? They wanted you to do what you claimed you had done in government, or they didn’t want you to do that? Also, this is interesting: Are you saying the private sector is less friendly to your hard-eyed efficiency than government?
  • “Templeton said she exposed corrupt contracts between the Port of Charleston and the Columbia-based consulting firm of Richard Quinn and was fired as a result…” the Quinns being “the political consultants who have been on Henry McMaster’s payroll for decades…” OK, now we see where you’re going with this, but still waiting to understand the relationship to the Jasper facility.
  • “During Templeton’s time as the head of two state agencies, Templeton fought big labor and won, stopped the Obama Administration from killing South Carolina jobs, called out corruption at the Port of Charleston, and fired entrenched state bureaucrats on the taxpayers’ payroll. She is equally committed to stamping out Columbia’s culture of corruption. Corruption is actually costing you money – daily. The power to run your light switch costs more because of lobbyists, your safety and time are sacrificed on the roads because of self-dealing, and now the very future and economic prosperity of this entire region is being postponed.” Boy, that’s a lot of different topics you just threw at us, none of them really explained, and I’m still waiting to see the relationship between them and the topic at hand.
  • “Why? Because the Port of Charleston paid Henry McMaster’s political consultants almost $3M to make commercials and give him board advice.” OK, so I think we’re on board with the idea that the Authority wasted money on the Quinns, even though the relationship to all that other stuff — like, say, that awful, wicked Obama fellow — is still a little fuzzy.
  • “Now the Port of Charleston want $5M from the Jasper Port’s permitting budget because they are out of money.  Which do you think is more important – using the money to pay Henry’s political consultants or permitting a port for the people of this state that will be a national economic driver?” Now you’ve lost me again. I haven’t seen any indication that this is a choice in front of us at the moment. There’s a fallacy there that probably has a fancy name, but I don’t know what it is.

I think she’s trying to communicate that the Port of Charleston wouldn’t be trying to hurt the more worthy Jasper Port if it hadn’t wasted money in the past. But that could be expressed more clearly if she didn’t have so many other agendas cluttering up her explanation.

What follows that is a bunch of populist buzz phrases about how she’s gonna clean up this town:

  • “Pass a Term Limits Law…” No, thanks. Anyway, can a governor do that? Won’t you need help? Who do think is going to want to help you, since you’ve lashed out at everyone you’ve mentioned… except Tom Davis?
  • “It’s time state legislators live under the same laws they create for the rest of us.” Which, you know, they do already. The idea that they don’t is some sort of populist fantasy.
  • “Accept No Salary.” Yeah, you know what? Don’t do me any favors. I’ll settle for a governor who accepts the modest salary provided — and earns it.
  • “We must stop politics as usual in Columbia by shutting the revolving door…” I was thinking she might cram one or two more cliches into that sentence, but I think she was getting tired by this point.

Anyway, toward the end she settled down long enough to say two things that made sense:

  • “Empower the Ethics Commission to Enforce Ethics Laws”
  • “Ensure Greater Transparency”

Yeah, I’m with you on those. But man, we sure did have to get through a lot of ranting to get to them. And, well… these are good ideas in general, and don’t really have a direct connection to the Jasper Port issue…

Death to emoji! Rage against the death of the word!

This has engendered a certain amount of discussion on social media, so I thought I’d share it here as well:

Of course, I meant “emoji,” because I wasn’t just talking about faces. I had thought “emoji” was just the cutesy shortening of “emoticon” — and my purpose was to wage war on cutesiness — but Wikipedia said not to confuse them.emoji

“Emoticons” are just the hypersimplistic, stylized representations of human facial expressions. And while I don’t much like them, they don’t irritate me the way other tiny images placed in Tweets and texts in place of words do. Things like slices of pizza and party hats and such…

Years ago, I read an article about how Umberto Eco — the semiotician who is best known as the author of The Name of the Rose — was predicting the advent of a post-literate society. This was a couple of decades ago, long before emojis. I seem to remember him talking about the Medieval days when, say, a pub called “The Fox and Hound” would mark itself with images of those animals instead of words, since the proprietor knew most prospective patrons would be illiterate.

Eco predicted we were headed back toward that darkness.

Lately, we hear regularly about the post-literate world that’s coming into being. Increasingly, our devices respond to voice and facial recognition more than typed input.

Well, I’m not going to sit still for the dying of the word. I’m going to rage, rage against it…

download (1)

 

Memphis knows how to throw a party (or something) for St. Pat

catechismNo doubt some will cite this as evidence that my Ménière’s has reached the point at which I need a hearing aid.

But in my defense, my wife was out in the hallway when she said this, and I was in the bathroom with the exhaust fan running — although the door, I admit, was open.

Anyway, she had come upstairs to tell me that her youngest brother was on his way to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Memphis (my wife’s family, the Phelans, are real Irish Catholics, not pretenders like me), and that he had told her something alarming about that parade.

She said the people on the floats throw catechisms to the crowd.

At least, I thought that’s what she said. I considered it a bit odd — most such parades aren’t that, shall we say, holy — but nevertheless arguably appropriate, since St. Patrick converted the heathen Irish to Christianity.

Then my wife said something odder. She said she thought that sounded “dangerous.” I reflected that maybe so, if they were hardbacks. But they could throw paperbacks, and maybe there are some abridged, pocket-sized versions…

Then she said other things that made me wonder. I asked her to repeat the first thing she’d said.cabbage

This time, I thought she said they were throwing “catechists,” and that did sound dangerous. If you go throwing people, religious education teachers, off of floats, someone could get hurt.

But something about this version sounded even more suspicious, so I finally asked her directly whether she had indeed said they were throwing catechisms or catechists.

She roared with laughter at this point (which frankly I don’t think is the kindest way to deal with my affliction). She had been saying, “cabbages.” They were throwing cabbages from the floats.

Yeah, OK. That could be dangerous.

You can stop laughing now…

Look out! What's that they're throwing? The St. Patrick's Day parade on Beale Street.

Look out! What’s that they’re throwing? The St. Patrick’s Day parade on Beale Street.

OK, now THIS is gun ignorance

Pay attention: a "shotgun" is a GUN that fires SHOT...

Pay attention: a “shotgun” is a GUN that fires SHOT…

This was in The Washington Post this morning:

On an icy Monday morning in February 2004, Jon Romano was hunched in a bathroom stall on the third floor of his high school outside of Albany, N.Y., tapping out a text message to his few friends.

“I’m in school with shot gun,” he wrote, the New York Times would later report. “Get out.”

Clad in a long black leather coat, the 16-year-old then washed his hands, picked up a brand-new Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, and stepped into a hallway at Columbia High School. He fired two blasts before Assistant Principal John Sawchuk tackled the 6-foot-2, 230-pound teenager. As the two struggled, a third shot ripped from the gun, hitting the legs of a special-education teacher named Michael Bennett. Although bullets came close enough to graze a student’s baseball cap, no one else was hit. There were no fatalities….

Whoa! Where did “bullets” come from? I can save you the trouble — nowhere in the story is there a mention of any weapon that fires them. He just had a shotgun.

Some of my gun-hip friends like to complain about gun-control advocates not knowing the difference between a “clip” and a “magazine.” But when they get that pedantic, they lose me. My whole life, I’ve heard magazines — particularly the little ones used with semiautomatic pistols — referred to as “clips.” And what do most people call the thing you use with an AK-47? I don’t recall hearing it referred to as a “banana magazine.” So you should give people some wiggle-room on that one. “Clip” may usually be wrong, but it’s not that embarrassingly wrong. So lighten up, Francis.

Kyle Swenson

Kyle Swenson

But this? This seems to be willful ignorance. It’s painful. It’s the ultimate. It shows a complete lack of a clue as to what a shotgun is (hint for those who actually don’t know: It’s a gun that fires shot, in most, but not all, circumstances). I had to look up the reporter who wrote that, Kyle Swenson. His bio says that before joining the Post just last year, “he covered South Florida for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.”

South Florida must have gotten a lot more peaceful since the “Miami Vice” days, for someone to cover it without learning anything about firearms.

And where was his editor?

Pick out the Trump quote about Billy Graham

Trump twitter

Chris Cillizza posted this:

Here are five from well-known Republican politicians. See if you can pick out the one from President Donald Trump:

1. “Dr. Graham was a counselor to presidents, a pastor to the masses, and most of all — a loving, caring, husband, father, and grandfather. May he Rest In Peace.”

2. “We send our deepest condolences to the Graham family. Billy Graham’s ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Thank you Billy Graham. God bless you.”

3. “I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man. I was privileged to have him as a personal friend.”

4. “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”

5. “Billy Graham lifted eyes toward heaven and instilled heaven’s values in hearts. The world mourns this man of character, this man of God.”

Not much of a challenge, is it? You just pick the one that reads like it came from a child who’s trying to sound grownup but not succeeding. Or perhaps from someone whose first language is not English, and who knows next to nothing about religion or Western culture in general.

The others, the ones that sound like they came from articulate grownups, are from Lindsey Graham, Mike Pence, former George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

Liberal friends, here’s an example of left-leaning irrationality

Some of my liberal friends here are constantly on my case for what they call my “false equivalence.” They believe they are not contributing to the careening, irrational polarization of our era — it’s the extremists on the other side who are entirely to blame.

Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat

Which, of course, isn’t true. Yep, the Republicans (or a lot of them) have been getting weirder and weirder in recent years, but  there are plenty of people on the left who are happy to keep pushing them away.

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times wrote a provocative column a day or two back. Basically the thrust of it was this: As objectionable as Stephen Miller is, maybe he needs to be at the table if a viable immigration compromise is to be reached. For years, we’ve tried fashioning a comprehensive solution without the nativists at the table, and nothing has passed. Maybe it’s time to try something else.

He concludes, “But a bargain that actually reflects the shape of public opinion, not just the elite consensus, can only happen with someone like Stephen Miller at the table.”

This sent a lot of people ’round the bend, causing Douthat to spend much of the next few hours answering critics on Twitter. Some engaged what he actually wrote. But here’s what Salon said:

In case that Tweet embed doesn’t show you what I’m seeing (a frequent problem I’ve noticed), the headline of the Salon piece is “To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration,” and the subhed is “A New York Times columnist praises the whites-only rhetoric of Stephen Miller.”

I responded to that Tweet by saying, “That’s not what he wrote and it’s not what he meant. He was WRONG, but he didn’t commit the evil of which you accuse him…”

The closest Douthat comes to “praising” Miller is when, after nothing that about a third of Americans, like Miller “want immigration reduced,” he writes this:

And there are various reasonable grounds on which one might favor a reduction. The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is near a record high, and increased diversity and the distrust it sows have clearly put stresses on our politics. There are questions about how fast the recent wave of low-skilled immigrants is assimilating, evidence that constant new immigration makes it harder for earlier arrivals to advance, and reasons to think that a native working class gripped by social crisis might benefit from a little less wage competition for a while. California, the model for a high-immigration future, is prosperous and dynamic — but also increasingly stratified by race, with the same inequality-measuring Gini coefficient as Honduras….

But that is immediately followed by this:

With that said, illegal immigration has slowed over the last decade, and immigration’s potential economic and humanitarian benefits are still considerable. And it’s also clear that many immigration restrictionists are influenced by simple bigotry — with the president’s recent excrement-related remarks a noteworthy illustration.

This bigotry, from the point of view of many immigration advocates, justifies excluding real restrictionists from the negotiating table…

… which leads to Douthat’s point that doing so hasn’t worked; maybe actually negotiating with these people could.

I read that as damning Miller with something harsher than faint “praise.”

Overall, I consider Miller and what he wants to do beyond the pale, because of the ugly nativism that animates the anti-immigrant position (and yes, in this case we’re talking anti-immigrant, not just anti-illegal immigrant). What he wants to achieve shouldn’t be dignified with serious consideration.

But it doesn’t make you a racist or a fan of racism to suggest that he should be let into the conversation.

And saying, in no uncertain terms, that it does is itself an example of the kind of extremism that’s driven our country apart.

How many Nikki Haleys ARE there?

multiple nikki

Aaarrrggghhh!

I’m reacting to this:

Not everyone was a fan of the Grammy Awards segment where celebrities read passages of the controversial best seller “Fire and Fury.”

One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration and took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

No, it wasn’t President Donald Trump.

It was his Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Shortly after the segment, which included an appearance by Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Haley shared her disdain with the segment on social media

Their?” To voice their displeasure?

Yeah, got it — you were trying to avoid a gender-specific pronoun to generate brief suspense as to who it was. But since you assumed that readers would assume it was Trump, you sort of called extra attention to the question of gender with that jarring “their.” You might as well have added parenthetically, “It’s not a he!”

You could just as easily have written, “One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration and took to Twitter to voice displeasure,” period. Or better yet, to fix another problem, “One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration who took to Twitter to voice displeasure.”

See how easy that was — and how much better than creating a universe in which there are multiple Nikki Haleys?

Latest Templeton releases have a déjà vu quality

Templeton 1

Apparently, Catherine Templeton has changed her name.

It’s now “Conservative Outsider Catherine Templeton.” I know this because headlines on releases from her campaign start out that way. (Or at least, two in row did. One more, and we’ll call it a trend and send it to Lifestyles.)

Which is weird. I mean, once you say all that mouthful, you’re about out of room for a normal headline, and you still haven’t gotten to a verb.

Consequently, when I see a release from her, I think I’m seeing the same one — but no, eventually I get to a word that’s different. It just takes patience.

Actually, I just looked again and realized the part that doesn’t vary a whit is longer than I initially thought. With these two examples, the release starts “Conservative Outsider Catherine Templeton Issues Statement” before it gets to a single word that varies.

This is an odd communication style. Usually, writers of releases seek to engage your attention way sooner. But the campaign seems to have decided that positioning her as “Conservative Outsider” is more important than actually saying something — more important even than her name.

Maybe going forward, they could abbreviate it to something like “ConOut Templeton…,” in the interest of moving things along and getting to the point.

 

Templeton 3

Jim Clyburn just called me an extremist (which says a lot about Washington)

Bud, get ready to duck, because this has to do with abortion, at least tangentially. In fact, I’ve got another couple of post ideas that do the same. You might want to sit these out, since it bugs you when the topic comes up.

Anyway, yesterday James Clyburn sent me this personal note, with my name on it and everything — so I’m taking it personally (a little, anyway):

Brad –

45 years ago, the Supreme Court handed down one of their most powerful decisions in Roe v Wade, codifying a woman’s right to access a legal abortion in the United States.

You’d think that would have settled the matter — but extremists have been trying to strip women of this basic reproductive right ever since….

So basically, since I’m opposed to this absolute right that allows highly interested individuals to make decisions about whether other individuals live or die unilaterally, without due process, much less appeal, I’m an extremist. Instead of, you know, a believer in the rule of law who wants the unborn to have the same shot at survival that a murderer gets. (And yeah, I’m opposed to capital punishment, too. That’s part of what “pro-life” means.)James Clyburn

But never mind me, and never mind abortion. This is not about me. It’s not even about Jim Clyburn. It’s about the fact that this is the way people in both parties in Washington speak about people who disagree with them.

Lord knows the Republicans do it. And this is one of the ways that Democrats do it. They appeal to their hyperpartisan bases by using language that delegitimizes people who disagree.

I try not to do this (I may fail, but I try). You know why? Because I have lots of friends — earnest, thoughtful people — who disagree with me on this issue. For the most part, I avoid talking with them about this. But when we do discuss it, I try to be respectful.

And you know what? I’ll bet that in a one-on-one conversation with a constituent, Jim Clyburn would try to do the same.

But not in press releases and other political speech. You know why? Because these days, Democrats and Republicans only speak to their own sides. And those other people are personae non gratae, and not worthy of consideration…

 

William Butler Yeats: ‘The Leaders of the Crowd’

by George Charles Beresford, sepia-toned platinotype, 15 July 1911As you know, there’s probably no poem I like to cite more, as political commentary, than W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”

I’m hardly alone in that; the piece is irresistible. Few statements better describe the basic problem of our politics over the last quarter-century than “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”

Even better is this description of something I’ve noted and lamented in many contexts, regarding many issues:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Time and again, I’ve noticed that the people who want to rend and tear and destroy, the people with the very worst ideas, are indefatigable, while sensible people — being sensible people — are too seldom willing to resist as strenuously and as long as they ought.

Recently, I ran across another Yeats poem that I don’t recall having read before. If anything, its political commentary seems more focused on our particular moment, from the perspective of 1921. It’s called “The Leaders of the Crowd.” Here it is:

THEY must to keep their certainty accuse
All that are different of a base intent;
Pull down established honour; hawk for news
Whatever their loose fantasy invent
And murmur it with bated breath, as though
The abounding gutter had been Helicon
Or calumny a song. How can they know
Truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone,
And there alone, that have no Solitude?
So the crowd come they care not what may come.
They have loud music, hope every day renewed
And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.

It’s all there: the rejection of fact and wisdom, the inventions of loose fancy, the pulling down of established honour, the calumny aimed at those who are different.

We’ve seen a rough beast go slouching toward Washington, and we’ve seen him arrive.

Anyway, the death of Dolores O’Riordan this week put me in mind of Yeats, so here’s something to listen to…

Graham should be more specific about what he heard

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

Since some Republicans, after a day or two of thinking about it, started claiming Trump didn’t really say “s___hole” (hilariously, one of the lines of defense has been to claim he really said “s___house“) it’s refreshing that Lindsey Graham has stuck to his original version of the story, as Andy Shain reports:

Trouble is, his original story remains vague and indirect. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too — to call the president out for his racist assertions without quite, you know, calling him out.

We know from colleague Tim Scott that Graham told him the media reports of what Trump said were “basically correct.”

And Graham has made sure that we know that he gave Trump a piece of his mind in response to, you know, whatever he said:

When Trump made the incendiary remark, Graham spoke up, telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”

“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say ‘I’m an American,’ what does that mean?” Graham said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one’s religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.

“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added. “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s what you’re willing to do once you get here.”…

Agreed, senator. But since people are standing up and saying Trump didn’t say what he said, it would be helpful if you’d be the truthteller and give us a precise account of what you heard.

As the late Howard Baker might have said, What did the president say, and how did he say it?

Yes, Trump violated this blog’s standards today

Yesterday, Trump welcomed the prime minister of Norway which, as he explained today, is NOT a "s__thole country." I'll bet she's relieved to know that.

Yesterday, Trump welcomed the prime minister of Norway which, as he explained today, is NOT a “s__thole country.” I’ll bet she’s relieved to know that.

I’ve been so busy today doing actual work, I didn’t know what Bryan was talking about when he texted, “Would the president’s comment today violate your blog’s civility standard? Assume he was posting under his own name.”

So I went and looked, and the answer is “yes,” of course it would. It also poses a problem to newspapers across the country that normally don’t allow such language to foul their pages. The Gray Lady, The New York Times, refused to use it in a headline. The breaking bulletin on their site said ” Using vulgar language, President Trump said the U.S. should welcome immigrants from Norway, not places like Haiti or Africa.” And the headline after you get to the story said “Trump Alarms Lawmakers With Disparaging Words for Haiti and Africa.”

But the president of the United States said it, and it’s a newspaper’s job to report, so they held their noses and quoted him directly in the body of the story:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and African countries, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Mr. Trump’s remarks left members of Congress attending the meeting in the Cabinet Room alarmed and mystified. They were there discussing an emerging bipartisan deal to give legal status to immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity without authorization to discuss the explosive proceedings of the private meeting.

When Mr. Trump heard that Haitians were among those who would benefit, he asked if they could be left out of the plan, according to the people familiar with the conversation, asking, “Why do we want people from Haiti here?”…

So I just violated my own policy, which is not to allow words that are unsuitable in a family newspaper. I didn’t like doing it. But then, I don’t like having this crude ignoramus as president of the United States, and stuff like this is one of the reasons why.

Being less prim, The Washington Post went ahead and used the word in their headline, since the word itself was half the story. That’s defensible, perhaps even laudable in these crass times in which we live.

The Guardian used it in the headline, but the Brits are less puritanical about words than we are.

The State used it in the headline, but good luck finding the story on the website — it’s not on the home page. (The Post and The Guardian are both leading with the story.)

Oh, the words I’ve wasted!

Hannah presents her young son Samuel to the priest Eli. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Hannah presents her young son Samuel to the priest Eli. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Today’s first reading on the Catholic liturgical calendar is from 1 Samuel, chapter 3. It gets me every time I read this part at the end:

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba
came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD.

Imagine that. If I were offered a super power, I might choose that one — that no word of mine would be without effect. Good effect, worthwhile effect. Effect that is pleasing to God.

But as it happens, I’ve wasted thousands upon thousands. And although one gets to utter many, many words in a lifetime on this Earth, the supply is not infinite.

I hang my head at the thought of all those wasted ones…