Sunday, October 28, 2018

October 27, 2018
There is a long tradition of  endorsement of candidates by newspapers; The Seattle  Times is no exception.  It is, perhaps, a bit more smug about its wisdom in such matters than some. The Times editorial page advised us on October 21 that it is time to vote, and “The editorial board is here to help.”  The implication is that the board sees political issues more clearly than most voters.  One of the endorsements puts that in doubt: the choice of Dino Rossi, Republican, over Kim Schrier, Democrat, for Congress in the Eighth District.
This is not an ordinary election; the country is in danger from an incompetent, unstable President, who is aided and abetted by the Republican Congress.  The Times is not entirely unaware of the problem. “We have frequently expressed grave concerns in editorials about President Donald Trump’s divisiveness and policies on everything from immigration to tariffs to environmental rollbacks.”  That’s too mild a critique, but it shows some perception.  However, the board then negated its insight: “But Congress needs more people like Rossi, a pragmatic lawmaker with a demonstrated record of working across the aisle with Democrats for solutions that work for the greater good.” 
Even assuming the description of Rossi’s record to be accurate, their choice makes no sense.  What is needed is a Democratic House which will exercise some control over the resentful, vindictive adolescent in the White House.  The editorial board is dimly aware of that as well — “Schrier embodies the national effort to take back Congress from the Republicans as a check on the president” —  but isn’t able to see the logic in that position.
In defending its choice, the Times resorts to the everyone’s-to-blame excuse: “Yes, Trump needs to be checked. But the fighting and the divisiveness has led to a hopelessly dysfunctional Congress, where people fight over issues, not push for solutions.”  It takes a remarkable level of self-deception to suggest that resisting bad policies is divisiveness, that issues don’t matter, that somehow the GOP Congress would be reasonable if only asked nicely, that voting for a Republican is going to lead to checking Trump.
Voting a straight— Democratic — ticket may seem unsophisticated, but this is a year when it is the only responsible choice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

October 23, 2018
     The Kavanaugh hearings provided another illustration, as if one were needed, of the  fact that one-party, authoritarian rule need not be conducted by smart, clever people.  The hearings demonstrated Kavanaugh’s emotional unfitness and political bias and raised serious questions about prior behavior, but lost him no Republican votes.  The FBI investigation was a farce, too brief to be helpful; many records regarding his government service were withheld.   He was going to be confirmed no matter how bad he or the process looked.  None of that took much intelligence.
     Senator Grassley, in complaining that not everyone agreed with the Party’s choice, revealed that he isn’t altogether sure what is meant by the expression “the fix is in.”  Referring to Democrats’ opposition to Kavanaugh, he  declared that “the fix was in from the beginning.” Apparently he meant that their opposition had formed early.  Resisting a nomination hardly is “fixing” it. 
     However, the restructuring of the Court was, indeed, fixed.  Republicans were determined to have a reactionary Justice; to that end they refused to consider Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, and rushed to confirm Kavanaugh.  The fix definitely was in, and confused rhetoric by one of the fixers won’t change that.  Semantic diversion wasn’t the most notable aspect of the performance by Senate Republicans regarding the nomination.  Consider the hypocrisy.  After declining even to hold hearings on Merrick Garland in 2016, and after serious questions were raised regarding Kavanaugh’s suitability, they pretended shock at the opposition by Democrats and women’s groups, accusing the latter of being paid performers.  They even had the wimpish gall to complain of being harassed.
     Donald Trump, the leader of a Party increasingly trending in the direction of authoritarianism is, to put it kindly, not very intelligent.  In more normal times, that would be a disadvantage.  Nor so now.  “In the right-wing bubble, where ignorance in service of tribalism is no sin, Trump faces no ridicule or serious opposition.”[55]1 
     The tendency of Republicans to stretch the truth in aid of their agenda is based on the assumption that the voters are ignorant.  That explains Mitch McConnell’s claim that the cure for the budget deficit is “entitlement reform, and we’re talking about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid;” he assumes that no one will remember the massive tax cut. 
     That tendency is exacerbated by the example of their leader.  Trump has left behind mere disregard for facts, such as evidence of human sources of global warming.  Recently he’s gone into all-out fantasy mode, accusing Democrats of planning to give cars to illegal immigrants, claiming that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” have joined the refugee caravan in Mexico, and citing non-existent riots in sanctuary cities.
     Trump clearly has neither shame nor any principle other than self-aggrandizement.  It’s sad, to say nothing of dangerous, that a grand old party has adopted the same character.  

55. ignorance-and-reveals-his-cowardice/?utm_term=.277cf6b551dd

Sunday, October 7, 2018

October 6, 2018

        Oh, why can't the English learn to —
        set a good example to people whose
        English is painful to your ears?
        The Scots and the Irish leave you close to tears.
        There even are places where English completely disappears.
        — In America, they haven't used it for years! [51]
    If he were among us today, Henry Higgins would be even more appalled at the state of American English.  Slang always has been used, but once it knew its place and wasn’t the standard language of people who should speak and write well, such as journalists and authors.  
    The internet, not surprisingly, is a major source of the decline.  Now on many web sites a failure is a fail, an indication is a tell, a question is an ask, an appearance or situation is a look.   The Daily Beast informed us that “CIA Analyst Turned Candidate Fears She’ll Get Doxxed Next.”  That word refers, apparently, to “the practice of revealing another person’s personal information on the Internet.” [52]  “Monica Lewinsky to Talk Bill Clinton Affair in New Series.” Presumably she will talk about it.  The New York Times was doubly in the new style with this announcement: “New read: This October, learn how to talk money.”
    “Narc” no longer is merely a noun referring to a drug-enforcement officer; now it’s a verb, as in “a hotline with which to narc on their neighbors.”  The new definition: “The act of turning someone into law enforcement or authority figures” not, apparently, limited to drug issues.
    Publications, like the Times, which should know better are not immune; the New York Review of Books listed an article entitled “The Priesthood of the Big Crazy” and, on NYR Daily, one captioned “The Flynn Tapes: a New Tell.”
    One of the benefits, if it can be so termed, of making up words is that they are undefined, so may be used in different and contradictory senses.  Take “woke” as an example.  The Washington Post headlined a story about Colin Kaepernick and shoes thus: “Nike isn’t trying to be ‘woke.’ It’s trying to sell shoes,” and in the body of the article observed, “But my sneakers, ultimately, cannot be woke. They’re just fabric.”  The Urban Dictionary tells us: “Being Woke means being aware. . . Knowing what[‘]s going on in the community.”  However, the word may be used derisively, as we’ll see below. 
    Crude language is more common; here’s an example from a political campaign email: “Mike DeWine[‘s] lying about Rich’s record of standing up for women really pisses me off.”  (The bad word there didn’t pass my spell-checker; it’s so behind the times).
    Creators of crossword puzzles use slang, or attempt to be clever in clues and answers such as:
        clue                                   answer [53]
        swell                                       fab
        many a time suck                app
        lay about? no, u-turn          act
        gimme a break                      yeesh
    A recent book, which is a strong critique of Trump and contemporary Republicans — and contains a few insightful criticisms of Democrats — is, unfortunately, also an extended display of the decline of language.  Everything Trump Touches Dies, by Rick Wilson, is subtitled A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever.  That discloses the viewpoint, which is distinctive and significant: the author is a committed conservative who has helped to elect Republicans, so his opinion of Trump is free of any liberal bias.  I found the book interesting and useful but annoying to read.
    The basic style is breezy and slangy; some of the slang seems made up on the spot, but some mirrors the internet style.  Few things merely are stated; they are dressed up in rhetorical flourishes which become tiresome.  Here’s an illustrative sentence: “From Masters of the Trump Universe to disgraced, unemployed, and unemployable laughingstock is a bad look on anyone, but the personnel meat-grinder of this White House has those of us on the outside looking at them with a weapons-grade case of schadenfreude.” “Look” is used there in the internet mode, and again here:  “It turned out that Kelly’s account was itself a lie. It wasn’t a good look.”
    Wilson also follows the trend in the use of “tell”:  “It should have been a tell that some of the values our military holds dear today. . . . got lost somewhere along the way in the belly of the Trump beast.”     
    Inventive grammar abounds.  Regarding the Trump base: “it’s almost a moral imperative to slap the stupid out of them.” An adjective masquerades as a noun.  Regarding political attacks: “the Clintons . . . are a magnet for this kind of cray”  Apparently cray means crazy; an invented adjective is used as a noun.  Wandering parts of speech is another internet-English characteristic.
    We return to “woke”: “Hannity’s populist woke workin’ man shtick rings a bit hollow. . . .;”  Of the various definitions of “woke,” this appears to fit: “A person who pretends to be of greater intelligence than he or she in fact is.”  
    Here’s a mystery: “Breitbart had long relied on  . . sweet, sweet chunks of quan from Robert Mercer . . .” I couldn’t get a clue from the Urban Dictionary; none of its definitions of “quan” make any sense here.
    Although it would be difficult to stand out in this medley, one theme does: the repeated use of crude language. “His first budget was received even by many of Trump’s fans in Congress with the same delight as one might experience on finding a turd in a punchbowl.”  “It was an early tell for Washington observers that the Trump White House was going to turn into a five-alarm shitshow. . . .”  Sexual innuendo is one of Wilson’s favorite attack modes.  I won’t give any examples as they all refer to known individuals who, whatever their demerits, don’t deserve repetition of his comments.
    Oddly, the author offers, with no sense of irony, comments on others’ diction and grammar:  “Trumpism exists in the shallow end of the rhetorical pool.”  ”Trump’s raging, vulgarian, insult-comic shtick wore thin. . . .”  “The Word-Finder Republicans aren’t making arguments; they’re just venting, pecking like chickens for tiny fragments of snark, hoping to sound witty without possessing even he slightest wit.”
    True, Mr. Wilson does not rely exclusively on slang and faux-words.  Every now and then, he offers an elegant, sometimes obscure, word or foreign phrase, such as risible, semiotics, Sisyphean, ichor, Ancien RĂ©gime, mirabile dictu and sine qua non.  He refers to Hobbes and quotes Kant.  Most of the book, though, features the cutely coarse style, which he employs even in describing himself: “Hell, if you’ve ever seen me on television, you know that I’m an equal opportunity asshole who doesn’t mind mixing it up.”  That stance, he seems to think, is the way politics always has been.  “This tradition of hot rhetoric in politics stretches back to the founding Fathers, who could name-call, smear, and drop ye olde oppo like champions.” [54]  (“Oppo” here may mean opposition research). 
    Politics is combative, and rough language isn’t anything new, but this goes a bit far.  A reader might be excused for dismissing this book as not worthy of notice as commentary.  It is notable, though, as a 311-page contribution to the debasement of political discourse and of language in general.


51. My Fair Lady, “Why Can’t the English”

52. All definitions here of pseudo-speech are from the Urban Dictionary,                                           

53. From The Seattle Times

54. p.91
Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day