Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Gentle “Sheesh!”

Even the better writers sometimes goof.

Today it’s the turn of Thomas L Friedman in The New York Times with this bit lifted from today’s column on Iraq:

We overpaid in lives, in the wounded, in tarnished values, in dollars and in the lost focus on America’s development. Iraqis, of course, paid dearly as well.

Now the column is, of course, about America’s involvement and what we, and the world, can hope for in the future; but to use the cavalier of course makes Friedman seem a tad dismissive of the terrible times inflicted upon the Iraqis in our name.

“Of course” is just too casual and clich├ęd to be used in such a serious matter.


Trust, but verify. (And that means edit yourself, Tom.)

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Oh, Dave!

Most people just want somebody who can articulate their hatreds…”

Interesting clause, eh wot, Dear Gentle Readers? It flows from the virtual pen of David Brooks this morning in his column posted in the New York Times.

While one hates to nit-pick, it seems quite unlikely that most people are in want of an articulate mean guy (or gal) to give voice to innermost disdain.

Edit yourself, Sir. Otherwise you write something which diverts the attention of a reader from your point.


Trust, but verify.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Define “huge”

The National Law Journal has a great headline: Hips will be huge next year.

Of course, it isn’t really about pant-size, but it’s a hoot anyway!

Bravo, head writer!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011


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“Tolstoy wrote…” is an opening phrase you might hear a few times in your life. As soon as you do, Dear Gentle Reader, you might pause in your listening to think, “Really?  Are you certain.”

Here are a couple of quotes from a French workbook:

“Elle a pris une decision.” (Sorry, you’ll have to imagine the accent over the e in decision.) The workbook then translates that sentence into 1) She made a decision; 2) She has made a decision; and 3) She did make a decision.

“Elle faisait..” can mean “She was doing…”, “She used to do…”, or “She did…”

Context matters; and context is a word which encompasses quite a lot, including, but not limited to the mores of the times—both of the time of the original writing and the time of the translation.

Much thought and subjective decision-making go into translations. So much so that we should be careful about placing too much confidence in what a translator finally presents.

And the more important the translated material might be to our individual and collective lives, the more cautious we should be.

For instance, religious writings should be treated with much caution. (Surely you saw that coming.)

Trust, but verify; or, in this case, read it in the original before you accept it totally.

Good luck with that.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Another war lost

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting lead story today, with a fascinating headline: “Jail bars are no barrier to drug traffic” (print edition). It’s a fascinating read which brings up many questions. For instance, how is it that a guard whose divorces eat up “70%” of his salary stays on the job? (A recent attempt by LAPD to monitor certain officers’ bank accounts met with howls of protest.) Or, how is it that a 19-year-old was assigned to guard hardened drug criminals? (He’s served a 180 day sentence for providing drugs to an inmate.)

Fans of crime stories, though, should not be surprised that guards provide drugs to prisoners. Without that device of corrupt prison workers, writers would be stuck.

For now, it is obvious to everyone but those making a profit off of it (including, but not limited to, DEA bureaucrats and drug cartels) that we’ve lost the war on drugs. Really! We have.  If law enforcement is part of the problem, what chance to we have?  So it’s time to declare victory and turn the fight over to the United Corporations of America, you know, the folks who really run the country. It won’t take them long to get things right.

If we legalize the drug industry, we will obtain some worthwhile benefits.  We will save money wasted on armaments; we will gain some needed tax revenue through the controlled sale of drugs; we will be able to regulate the drug industry; we will cut down on deaths caused by impure street drugs; and we will have a boatload of money to double down on anti-drug education.

Once Wall Street gets its hands on the business, everyone, especially those people in Central and South America whose lives are in jeopardy every day this senseless War on Drugs lasts.

It is more intelligent than what we’re doing now.

And Juan can get back to growing coffee beans.

Trust, but verify.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sap, indeed

David Brooks, over at The New York Times, has unloaded on President Obama.

Brooks claims to have been “a sap” for believing just about anything Mr. Obama has said over the past 2 1/2 years because of the specifics in the President’s new plan to cut some taxes and raise some others.

But Mr. Brooks’ sappiness really becomes obvious when, towards the end of his column he writes: “at least Republicans respect Americans enough to tell us what they really think.”

Oh, Dave, Dave, Dave.

If you believe Republicans respect the average American, you’re such a sap.

Trust, but verify.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

2nd step in reading

The current brouhaha regarding the Doonesbury comic strip is a good example of distraction as a metaphor for sleight of hand.

The strip is being censored in a few newspapers for its political content. At least that’s alleged reason.

If you look at the strips in question, though, it’s easy to see that Gary Trudeau isn’t being critical of Sarah Palin so much as he’s taking some shots at Fox News and the sort of newspapery being touted as journalism by right wing news outlets.

The panels quote from Joe McGinnis’s new book, to be sure, but the punch lines are aimed directly at the journalist who’s reading the book and then spinning the quoted material in absurd terms. He is the object of ridicule, not the former 1/2 governor (see the distraction?).

The sleight of hand comes in when the censoring newspapers allege it’s the political content which merits the removal of the strip, but actually those newspapers don’t want the public to think about what the comic journalist is doing. That might call too much attention to what the papers, themselves, are doing in reporting the political news.

It’s time for the English teachers of the world to point out to their students that calling words is only the first step in reading. The second step is thinking about the content of those words.

If there were more thought in the reading process, we’d’ve learned long ago that individual politicians are transitory, but institutions are more permanent. And there’s more danger to a flawed journalism institution than there is in a single pol.

Trust, but verify. 


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Sunday, August 21, 2011

School Days

It’s that time of year again—the imminent commencement of K-12 conventional schooling. It’s also that time of year for the usual words of caution and wisdom from edu-nerds pontificating in various newspapers and newsmagazines.

And, as usual, the focus will be on teachers, facilities, administrations and education measurements coming out of New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota and No Child Left Behind.

And, as usual, there will be little attention given to the role played by parents, even though parents are doubtless just as important in a child’s education as any other factor under public scrutiny.

It isn’t easy being a parent. It certainly isn’t easy being a parent in this very complex society of ours.

If the society is to continue to evolve in such a way that provides a “better” living for its members, we need to focus more energy and resources on supporting the parent component of educating the young—and that might well start with a class on child-rearing responsibilities, maybe in middle school.  Lesson 1:  Don’t even think about having a child unless you’re ready to commit for the 18-year-long haul.

The state of California requires a license before a person can work as a manicurist; the state of California does not require any sort of training for rearing a child.

How much sense does that make?

Read, if you must, the editorials and commentaries about what is needed to fix our “failing” schools. If they don’t mention parents, ignore them.

Trust, but verify.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Plop, Plop

How annoying it is when writers become so lazy that they debase the language along with their ideas.  For instance:

Ross Douthat, discussing the current Weiner foolishness, writes “In the sad case of Representative Anthony Weiner’s virtual adultery, the Internet era’s defining vice has been thrown into sharp relief. It isn’t lust or smut or infidelity, though online life encourages all three. It’s a desperate, adolescent narcissism.”

What is “desperate” about Mr. Weiner’s alleged adolescent narcissism? And just how does Mr. Douthat justify adolescent and narcissism? Has there been a diagnosis? Why can’t adults play without being labeled adolescent?  (And what could be more narcissistic than putting your writing out there for the edification of others?)

(Full disclosure:  I purchased my first convertible in 1986 at the age of 48. A colleague chuckled at my “attempt to recapture my youth.” Huh? Aren’t adults able to enjoy the pleasure of a top down ride? Who wrote those rules?)

Then there’s the recent epiphany of David Mamet into a right wing devotee of she-who-will-not-be-named, and labels NPR “National Palestinian Radio.”

Stupid, unsupported, yea unsupportable phrases indicate a lazy mind. Do they also indicate lazy editors as well as writers?

I cry bovine droppings on this sloppy writing.

Trust, but verify.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Pish and Piffle

Sometimes Andrew Sullivan is exasperating.

Take this item in today’s Daily Dish: Bronski’s Beat.

It contains these lines:

It has always seemed chilling to me that gay leftists - when pushed to say what they really believe - want to keep gays in some sort of glorious, oppressed, marginalized position, until the majority agrees with the gay left's view of human nature, and revolutionizes straight society as well. This will never happen (and in my view, shouldn't).

Until then, the gay left focuses on demonizing those gays who argue for those who want to belong to their own families as equals, serve their country or commit to one another for life. In this, in my view, the gay left mirrors the Christianist right: they insist that otherness define the minority, even though most members of that minority are born and grow up in the heart of the American family, in all its variations, and of American culture, in all its permutations. No one should be marginalized for seeking otherness. But we are fighting for it to be a choice, not a fate.

All of that because some guy named Bronski wrote a book.

I don’t know Bronski; I don’t care about Bronski; I wish him well, as I would any stranger.

Sullivan, on the other hand (whom I also don’t know except through his writing) is part of my support system—OK, he doesn’t know that nor would he care much. And I find it galling that he would take the words of one, or two or even a hundred of such writers as Bronski and call him/them “the gay left.”

No one in my cohort of friends and acquaintances fits the description of Sullivan’s “the gay left,” but virtually every one of them is gay and/or a politically left person.

Sullivan trips up on his own style when in the first paragraph he uses “gay leftist.” Usually he reserves the suffix “-ist” for such as the odious Christian extremist (Christianist) or the odious Moslem extremist (Islamist).

By the second para he has forgotten that he’s writing about extremists and has omitted the suffix. Which brings me and my friends and acquaintances into the mix. We don’t belong there.

Significant writing error, that omission.

Do you suppose he’ll apologize, Dear Gentle Reader(s)?

Even when reading Sullivan (he will go over the top on occasion), the admonition applies:

Trust, but verify.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Are you…

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On NPR this morning a host asked, “Are you spiritual?”

What does that mean?  What, specifically, does spiritual  mean in that context?

Physically we aren’t spiritual. It’s corporal all the way, baby!

Does one believe in spirits? How can we?

One responds to a situation with emotion and then one might think about that particular emotion, questioning its genesis and its function.

The many degrees of sadness might somehow be emotionally akin to a contemplation which we might commonly call “spiritual.”  So, too, though, can be degrees of joy, elation.

But does that make us spiritual?

What is the “spirit” of America?  Why are cheerleaders sometimes called Spirit Teams?

Do you cogitate?

Do you believe in ghosts?

Are you spiritual?

I have emotional responses, some of which make me feel as though I had transcended something; I don’t call that spiritual.

Trust, but verify.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011


There isn’t much from David Frum with which I agree; this quote, lifted from Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, is one.

Writing about the Gingrich-vs-Ryan-Medicare-suggestion kerfuffle, Frum pens:

[T]he American public will not accept this kind of reform and will smash any politician who tries to force it upon them. There are ways to reduce the fiscal burden of Medicare, but telling seniors to buy their own damn healthcare is not going to be one of them. I wish it were somebody other than the Kenyan-anticolonialism-sharia law candidate making that argument, but it’s an important argument from any source.

Of course this proposal of Ryan’s is right wing social engineering. How can anyone not see that?

For once in his strange little life, Gingrich gets it right and has to apologize. Where’s the justice?

And I’m loving it.

Trust, but verify.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Any man’s death diminishes me.

At this particular moment in time, as we digest the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden, Dear Gentle Reader(s), we might take a cue from President Obama as to the appropriate behavior for us all. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, “Inside the White House, aides said Obama's mood was not celebratory when told of Bin Laden's death, but rather was ‘sober and serious.’"

On the surface, the cheering crowds in New York City and outside the White House had just cause for celebration. Mr. Bin Laden certainly was cold-blooded and cruel in his capacity as the leader of al Qaeda, and he well deserved the ultimate punishment at the hands of American servicemen and in the name of the American people.

Regardless, Mr. Obama’s sobriety and seriousness are the appropriate tones for the occasion.  As John Donne wrote in Meditation XVII, “…any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…”

Especially in circumstances such as this, we are diminished. The act of killing another human being surely stems from a failure of some sort on the part of us humans.

Somewhere in the rearing of a child who grows to become a murderer there was a lesson untaught, a lesson unlearned. Most people are not murderers—lessons taught, lessons learned. These lessons are part of every social contract.

Until we have discovered the key to unlocking the secrets of whatever causes motivations to kill, our sense of satisfaction at the time of exaction of justice ought to be tempered with, at least, a soupcon of sobriety.

Trust, but verify.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SCOTUS and the First

Here’s the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Here’re some quotes from Snyder v Phelps:

Speech deals with matters of public concern when it can “be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community,” Connick, supra, at 146, or when it “is a subject of legitimate news 7 Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011) Opinion of the Court interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public,”

The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to broad issues of interest to society at large, rather than matters of “purely private concern.” Dun & Bradstreet, supra, at 759. The placards read “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fag Troops,” “Semper Fi Fags,” “God Hates Fags,” “Maryland Taliban,”“Fags Doom Nations,” “Not Blessed Just Cursed,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.” App.3781–3787. While these messages may fall short of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight—the political and moral conduct of the UnitedStates and its citizens, the fate of our Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy—are matters of public import. The signs certainly convey Westboro’s position on those issues, in a manner designed, unlike the private speech in Dun & Bradstreet, to reach as broad a public audience as possible. And even if a few of the signs—such as “You’re Going to Hell” and “God Hates You”—were viewed as containing messages related to Matthew Snyder or the Snyders specifically, that would not change the fact that the overall thrust and dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstration spoke to broader public issues.

And here’s my problem with the Supreme Court’s decision in reversing the judgment against Phelps and his Westboro Baptist church:  Content of those signs.  Since Phelps and his family base their protests entirely on passages from the Christian Bible, haven’t the Supreme Court 8 given a nudge to establishing the Judeo-Christian religion as the official religion of the United States; or at least given substance to using a biblical citation as justification in a court case?

How, for instance, can the current cases involving same-sex marriages prevail against the religious onslaught found in every one of the arguments against such marriages in light of this decision? It certainly seems as though by giving carte blanche to Phelps and his congregation and including the biblical interpretations as protected speech the Court has done damage to the establishment clause, if not to the free exercise clause.

Where does Phelps’ free exercise end and my freedom of association and inherent right to privacy begin?

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Monday, February 14, 2011

What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Knights of Columbus?

Between Opus Dei and the Masons and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Which organization really is a threat to our way of life?

Just askin’.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Right Wing Interpretation

If you ever needed an example, Dear Gentle Reader(s), of the disingenuousness of far-right propagandists, seek no further.  Thanks to The Daily Dish, we get this from The Drudge Report:

Drudge Falsehood

“Military coup?”  Not a “People’s coup?”

No credit the the men and women and children in the streets?


Trust, but verify.  (And you really need to verify the Drudge Report!)

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Um…Mr. Friedman…

In today’s New York Times, Tom Friedman discusses the unrest afflicting the Middle East.  In it we find this paragraph:

The Arab world has 100 million young people today between the ages of 15 and 29, many of them males who do not have the education to get a good job, buy an apartment and get married. That is trouble. Add in rising food prices, and the diffusion of Twitter, Facebook and texting, which finally gives them a voice to talk back to their leaders and directly to each other, and you have a very powerful change engine.

Much has been made of the part played in the uprisings by Twitter and Facebook.  A question arises, though:  If there are no jobs and rising food prices, who’s able to pay for access to Twitter and Facebook?

We see pictures of stones.  We do not see pictures of people tweeting; nor do we see pictures of people taking pictures—as we did in the Iranian uprising in 2009.

Clarification, Mr. Friedman?

Trust, but verify.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Best phrasing of the day…

Here’s the opening para of Bob Herbert’s piece in today’s New York Times:

By all means, condemn the hateful rhetoric that has poured so much poison into our political discourse. The crazies don’t kill in a vacuum, and the vilest of our political leaders and commentators deserve to be called to account for their demagoguery and the danger that comes with it.

Here’s a nominee for best phrasing:  “The crazies don’t kill in a vacuum.”

There are a lot of commentaries holding that the rhetoric of the right wing cannot be proven to have been related to the shooting in Tucson last Saturday.  See, for instance, David Brooks in the same issue of the Times.

Point taken…if you’re looking for specific, direct-line relativity.

Herbert, though, takes the argument; there is no social vacuum in today’s world.

Trust, but verify.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

It’s a start

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Here, Dear Gentle Reader(s), is a link to a UND website which contains a statement by an Egyptian Muslim leader repudiating the efforts of certain Islamic extremists to use the Koran to justify killing.

Salient point:

There is no religion worthy of the name that does not regard as one of its highest values the sanctity of human life. Islam is no exception to this rule. Indeed, God has made this unequivocal in the Quran by emphasizing the gravity of the universal prohibition against murder, saying of the one who takes even one life that “it is as if he has killed all mankind.” Islam views murder as both a crime punishable by law in this world and as major sin punishable in the Afterlife as well. Prophet Mohammad said, “The first cases to be decided among the people on the Day of Judgment will be those of blood-shed.”

The Islam that we were taught in our youth is a religion that calls for peace and mercy.  The first prophetic saying that is taught to a student of Islam is, “Those who show mercy are shown mercy by the All-Merciful. Show mercy to those who are on earth and the One in the heavens will show mercy to you.” What we have learnt about Islam has been taken from the clear, pristine, and scholarly understanding of the Quran, “O people we have created you from a single male and female and divided you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

Terrorism, therefore, cannot be the outcome of any proper understanding of religion. It is rather a manifestation of the immorality of people with cruel hearts, arrogant souls, and warped logic. It is thus with great sadness and outrage that we witness the emergence of this disease in our nation with the recent bombing outside a church in Alexandria that killed tens of Egyptian citizens. There is no doubt that such barbarism needs to be denounced in the strongest of terms, and opposed at every turn.

We need more of this sort of discussion.

Trust, but verify.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Gaydar Humming…mmmmmmmmmmmmm

Um, Dear Gentle Reader(s), this teapot tempest about the Navy officer and his politically-incorrect videos is indicative of not very much, isn’t it?

It’s astonishing to watch one of them as presented by the website of the Virginian Pilot*, but only in the sense of “Huh?”

Even a few years back, when these videos were made, we had evidence of the omnipresence of private information available through the internet.  How could Honors have not known these vids would come back to, er, bite him on the ass?

Besides, I’m not nearly so offended by fag and faggot.  Black men call each other nigger all the time—at least they do on certain tv shows and in certain movies.  Why should I be offended when a man, who most certainly has a strong marriage and enough offspring to crew a small boat, sets my gaydar off?

Let him keep his command, I say.  He’ll do more good than harm after this exposure.

Trust, but verify.

*Thanks to the paper for posting three videos.

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