Quotulatiousness

January 17, 2018

Thirty-eight minutes in Hawaii

Filed under: Government, Media, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the false alarm in Hawaii:

Of course, an incident like this really takes several idiots lined up in a long row. Missile tests by North Korea have been making Hawaiian officials nervous lately about the archipelago’s exposed position in the mid-Pacific. The rhetoric being traded between dictator Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump is certainly not so easy to brush off in Hawaii, where plenty of living people have personal memories of Pearl Harbor.

U.S.-North Korean tension has, in recent months, been leading to a de-mothballing of old civil-defence measures in Hawaii, such as sirens and bomb shelters. It has also led, as we now know, to the updating of the traditional emergency broadcasting system. It can now reach out to your phone and fling you right out of your four-poster bed at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach.

For something that was “not a drill”, the mistaken smartphone message will have had a lot of the same effects. The most important thing that HEMA learned was that if you have the ability to electronically auto-terrorize everyone within a certain radius, you had better have some fast, equally automatic way of correcting an error. It took HEMA 38 minutes to send a second notice to smartphone users reading “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.” And, no, I’m not sure what the “Repeat” is doing there, either.

During those 38 minutes, thousands of Hawaiians and tourists had sent desperate farewells to loved ones — although some noticed that the outdoor sirens, which had just been tested last month, were not going off, and drew the correct conclusion. There is very little evidence of anything technically describable as “panic” happening in the state, despite the ubiquitous use of that word in Sunday headlines.

Jokes about poor interface design are being circulated in the aftermath of the Hawaiian incident, but the governor did specify that the person who made the “mistake” actually clicked through a second “are you sure you want to create traumatizing chaos for no reason?” confirmation message. HEMA also says it will require two separate people to confirm smartphone alerts in the future, which, if I can be forgiven a toe-dip into conspiratorial thinking, almost seems to hint at the possibility of some kind of awareness-raising prank.

Simon Phillips (L. Ritenour & M. Stern) – Smoke ‘n’ Mirrors, [drums only camera]

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

SimonBak90
Published on 28 Apr 2012

Another great DVD release featuring Simon Phillips on drums, called ‘Lee Ritenour & Mike Stern Live at the Blue Note Tokyo’. The DVD features two extra ‘drum cam chapters’ offering you a unique view of Simon playing the songs ‘Smoke ‘n’ Mirrors’ and ‘Big Neighborhood’.

Definitely a must have for the SP fans.

January 13, 2018

Actors and public morality

Filed under: History, Media, Religion, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonah Goldberg on the differences in the way actors were viewed historically and today:

It may be hard for some people to get the joke these days, but for most of human history, actors were considered low-class. They were akin to carnies, grifters, hookers, and other riffraff. In ancient Rome, actors were often slaves. In feudal Japan, Kabuki actors were sometimes available to the theatergoers as prostitutes — a practice not uncommon among theater troupes in the American Wild West.

In 17th century England, France, and America, theaters were widely considered dens of iniquity, turpitude, and crapulence. Under Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan dictatorship, the theaters were forced to close to improve moral hygiene. The Puritans of New England did likewise. A ban on theaters in Connecticut imposed in 1800 stayed on the books until 1952.

Partly out of a desire to develop a wartime economy, partly out of disdain for the grubbiness of the stage, the first Continental Congress in 1774 proclaimed, “We will, in our several stations, … discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of gaming, cock-fighting, exhibitions of shews [sic], plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments.”

[…]

The most recent Golden Globes ceremony has already been excoriated for being a veritable geyser of hypocritical effluvia, as the same crowd that not long ago bowed and scraped to serial harasser and accused rapist Harvey Weinstein, admitted child rapist Roman Polanski, and that modern Caligula, Bill Clinton, congratulated itself for its own moral superiority.

The interesting question is: Why have movie stars and other celebrities become an aristocracy of secular demigods? It seems to me an objective fact that virtually any other group of professionals plucked at random from the Statistical Abstract of the United States — nuclear engineers, plumbers, grocers, etc. — are more likely to model decent moral behavior in their everyday lives. Indeed, it is a bizarre inconsistency in the cartoonishly liberal ideology of Hollywood that the only super-rich people in America reflexively assumed to be morally superior are people who pretend to be other people for a living.

I think part of the answer has to do with the receding of religion from public life. As a culture, we’ve elevated “authenticity” to a new form of moral authority. We look to our feelings for guidance. Actors, as a class, are feelings merchants. While they may indeed be “out of touch” with the rest of America from time to time, actors are adept at being in touch with their feelings. And for some unfathomably stupid reason, we now think that puts us beneath them.

January 12, 2018

President Oprah?

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I didn’t watch the TV or movie awards show that Oprah used to launch her presidential campaign test balloon, but many others did. Those who watched it generally came away very impressed, based on mentions in my various social media feeds. Those who read it later include skeptics like Colby Cosh:

The Oprah for President boomlet didn’t last long, did it? Oprah Winfrey is somebody who has been discussed occasionally as a semi-serious presidential candidate since the early 1990s. The talk-show hostess accumulated so much cultural and financial capital so quickly, once she became a national television figure, that the thought has always been universal: if she really wanted to run, it is hard to see how she could be stopped.

Indeed, if the Americans elected her, she would undoubtedly turn out to have the same sort of presidential “pre-history” that Donald Trump did. People had been making “President Trump” jokes for ages, although we never noticed quite how many of those jokes there were until they all came true and weren’t jokes anymore.

On Sunday night, Oprah give an acceptance speech for a lifetime-achievement award at the Golden Globes, and people found it so stirring that it started a mini-wave of “Oprah 2020” references and remarks on social media. What was most interesting about the speech was not its intensity or its profundity, but the fact that it was, self-evidently, designed as a political candidate’s address.

[…]

If you would like a Hollywood liberal president, or any president other than the one the United States has, criticizing Oprah goes against your immediate partisan interests. (At least it probably does. Is anyone really too sure about the character of her personal core politics?) There is no sense denying it: if she did run, she probably could win. In 2016 we all got a stark lesson in just how much televisual familiarity, a large personal fortune, and control of media attention can accomplish in a presidential election.

And, of course, she has enormous charisma. Even those of us who think her influence on American culture has been baleful must acknowledge there is something magnificent and stately about her, and that she represents the American dream about as well as any individual human could. Financially, Donald Trump can only dream of having her track record — and, probably, her fortune.

It doesn’t mean she should be president. One almost suspects that the Oprah 2020 trial balloon might have enjoyed more success if it had been launched six months ago. Amid the tearful liberal trauma that followed the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the Most Qualified Presidential Candidate Of All Time, the despairing temptation to seek a television president even more familiar than Trump was bound to be more powerful. The passage of time, combined with Ms. Clinton’s obnoxious re-litigation of a strategically dumb campaign, may have helped blue America regain its senses. This is, I think, good news. And not just for the liberals.

January 10, 2018

Rowan Atkinson – Interview with Elton John

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

SlugBalancer
Published on 23 Mar 2009

Rowan Atkinson interviews Elton John at Hysteria 3 (1991)

January 8, 2018

Mark Steyn reviews Darkest Hour

Filed under: Britain, History, Media, Military, WW2 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The latest screen depiction of Winston Churchill gets the once-over from Mark Steyn:

Churchill tends to the Churchillian, which is to say the epic. Darkest Hour, by contrast, is very finely focused. Joe Wright, director, and Edward McCarten, writer, confine their two dark hours of screen time to a couple of critical weeks in May 1940, when Hitler’s invasion of Norway precipitated Neville Chamberlain’s retreat from Downing Street. Aside from some rather elaborately choreographed overhead shots and a lush grandiose score, Darkest Hour is filmed claustrophobically, too – in poky sitting rooms, Downing Street basements, attics, Westminster ante-rooms, and chilly lavatories; the lighting is crepuscular. The fate of the world is being determined, but we never glimpse the far horizons, only the dingy backrooms.

What happened that month was a showdown between the two principal contenders for the Prime Ministership, Mr Churchill and Lord Halifax. Stephen Dillane is excellent as Halifax, the vulpine cadaver looking down (in every sense) from the Commons gallery at Churchill’s turns at the dispatch box. Unfortunately, aside from skillful deployments of his inscrutable yet condescending eyebrows, he gets somewhat short shrift on screen, so as a Churchill vs Halifax cage match it never quite comes off – presumably because the third Viscount Halifax is entirely unknown in Hollywood. (“Third Viscount Halifax? Hey, let’s see what the first two gross before we commit to that…”)

This is a pity, because the two men were on opposite ends of the seesaw, and, capacious as Churchill’s own bottom is, most of the other players – the King, Chamberlain, the parliamentary party, defeatist generals, Dominion prime ministers around the globe – were inclined to park their own butts down Halifax’s end. On May 10th, the day Winston became PM, the Germans invaded Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Ten days later, Hitler’s army reached the Channel, and was within reach of throttling the 300,000-strong British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, and seizing the entire French fleet. In that dreadful month of May, Churchill wanted to fight on; Halifax preferred to use Mussolini’s “good offices” to sue for a “peace” that would leave Britain and its empire more or less “intact” – save for East Africa, Suez, Malta, Gibraltar and sundry other places that would have to be addressed, per the Italian ambassador in London, “as part of a general European settlement”.

In other words, we are at the great hinge moment of the twentieth century: Had Halifax prevailed, there would have been a neutered Berlin-friendly British Empire directly bordering America on the 49th parallel and all but directly the Soviet Union in Central Asia. There would have been no potential allies for Moscow in the event of war with Germany, thus incentivizing a successful conclusion in late 1940 to Molotov’s talks in Berlin to join the Axis; and no allies whatsoever for Washington, assuming Japan still felt the need to bomb Pearl Harbor the following year. Instead, Churchill prevailed – and Britain and its lion cubs fought on, playing for time until first the Soviets and then the Americans joined the war against Germany, Italy and Japan. That year in which the moth-eaten Britiish lion and its distant cubs stood alone is, more than any other single factor, the reason why the world as ordered these last seventy years exists at all.

[…]

As with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, one’s admiration for the film is tempered by a terrible profound sadness – for a people who “won the war, and lost their country anyway”. To anyone old enough to remember an England where one could “walk into any pub in the country and ask with perfect confidence if the major had been in”, the sense of loss can bring tears to the eye. Unlike Iron-Man 5 and Spider-Man 12 and Cardboard-Man 19 and Franchise-Man 37, this is the story of an actual, real-life superhero: You leave the theater with the cheers of the House ringing in your ears …and return to a world where quoting Churchill in his own land can get you arrested.

January 7, 2018

Give your butt a wake-up call with the latest from “Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-threatening, wallet-flensing empire of woo”

Filed under: Business, Health, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow views with alarm yet another potentially dangerous product from Goop:

Goop is Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-threatening, wallet-flensing empire of woo, home to smoothie dust, vulva steaming, rocks you keep in your vagina, and a raft of rebadged products that are literally identical to the garbage Alex Jones sells to low-information preppers.

Both Goop and Alex Jones are big on “detoxing,” an imaginary remedy that poses a very real health-risk, especially when it involves filling your asshole with coffee.

Coffee enemas are, of course, bullshit, whose history and present are rife with hucksters whose smooth patter is only matched by their depraved indifference for human life.

But as stupid as coffee enemas are, they’re even stupider when accomplished by means of Goop’s, $135 “Implant O’Rama,” manufactured by Implant O’Rama LLC. It’s a $135 glass jar with a couple silicon hoses attached to it.

January 5, 2018

Justin Trudeau’s PR team fumbles badly with Boyle photo-op

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Late last year, the Boyle family were “rescued” from the Taliban and the Prime Minister not only met with them, but allowed some photos to be taken that quickly made their way out onto social media. Now that Joshua Boyle has been arrested for a long list of offenses, the PM is looking very bad indeed, as Chris Selley points out:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Boyle family in Ottawa, 18 December.

The supposed geniuses surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are capable of some very strange decisions. Arranging a meeting with Joshua Boyle and his family after their release from Taliban captivity, and agreeing to the Boyles photographing the smiling encounter — Joshua later tweeted out some snaps — is certainly one of them.

Boyle was arrested Tuesday and charged with a raft of offences including sexual assault and unlawful confinement, concerning events beginning immediately after the family’s return to Canada in early October. Trudeau met the Boyles on Dec. 18. Now photos of Trudeau beaming with the accused are all over the news. If PMO procedures somehow didn’t flag the investigation, that’s a serious concern. If they did and the meeting happened anyway, it’s horrendous political risk management at the very least.

Indeed, these were hardly the first red flags. The PMO argues it would agree to such a meeting with any released hostages — a very stupid policy if it exists, because the Boyles aren’t quite any released hostages. When the Taliban nabbed Joshua and five-months-pregnant Caitlin Coleman in 2012, they were ostensibly “backpacking in Afghanistan.” The phrase dances off the tongue a bit like “scuba diving in Yemen” or “gastronomic tour of Somalia”: not inconceivable, but the Boyles will not have been surprised to learn that some in the U.S. intelligence community were suspicious. They reportedly refused an American military flight home over fears — perfectly reasonable ones, surely — that they might wind up stuck at Bagram Airfield.

But what the heck, let’s think the best of the Boyles. Sunny ways, etc. The best still involves the unpleasant matter of Joshua’s short-lived marriage to none other than Zaynab Khadr — daughter of the late Ahmed Khadr, the Egyptian-Canadian al-Qaida financier for whom Jean Chrétien famously went to bat when he was detained in Pakistan.

[…]

Unseriousness is a serious charge against Trudeau: big hat, staff photographer, few cattle. Another non-official photo released this week shows Trudeau and his Castro-worshiping brother Sacha in matching sweaters depicting the Last Supper attended by emojis, with the words Happy Birthday strung over top. In a rather over-the-top tweet, Conservative MP Candice Bergen accused the PM of “intolerance” and of “mocking Christianity” — and no question, many Canadians might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment lest it cause offence. (It was in private, of course, but it’s public now.) But many Canadians also might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment because he’s the leader of a G7 country, a serious person with a serious job that he’s taking seriously.

This touchy-feely cool-dad happy-go-lucky shtick has taken Trudeau a long, long way. I very much doubt it can take him any further. And I think the backlash, when it comes, could be legendary.

January 2, 2018

QotD: Political Correctness

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What is political correctness? As I see it, it is a predictable feature of the life cycle of modern revolutions, beginning with the French Revolution of 1789, which was inspired by the American Revolution of the prior decade but turned far more violent. A first generation of daring rebels overthrows a fossilized establishment and leaves the landscape littered with ruins. In the post-revolutionary era, the rebels begin to fight among themselves, which may lead to persecutions and assassinations. The victorious survivor then rules like the tyrants who were toppled in the first place. This is the phase of political correctness — when the vitality of the founding revolution is gone and when revolutionary principles have become merely slogans, verbal formulas enforced by apparatchiks, that is, party functionaries or administrators who kill great ideas by institutionalizing them.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech”, Heat Street, 2016-05-09.

January 1, 2018

Blog traffic in 2017

Filed under: Administrivia, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The annual statistics update on Quotulatiousness from January 1st through December 31st, 2017. The numbers will be a couple of thousand short of the full year, as I did the screen captures mid-morning on the 31st.

I stopped paying much attention to the blog stats years ago, but the jump in traffic from 2016 to 2017 is amazing! Going from a stable ~1.7 million visits per year to nearly 2.5 million last year is quite unexpected. That’s getting up toward the region where it might seem to make sense to try to monetize the blog … but I tried doing the Amazon affiliate thing earlier this year, and it generated exactly $0.00 in revenue for Amazon, and I got my full share of that revenue (as Jayne put it: “Let’s see, let me do the math: 10 per cent of nothing is, … (mumble) carry the zero …(mumble) … “)

December 28, 2017

QotD: The 1960s cultural revolution

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The entire political and cultural trajectory of the decades following World War II in the U.S. was a movement away from the repressions of the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union, when the House Un-American Activities Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives searched for signs of Communist subversion in every area of American life. A conspicuous target was the Hollywood film industry, where many liberals had indeed been drawn to the Communist Party in the 1930s, before the atrocities of the Stalinist regime were known. To fend off further federal investigation, the major studios blacklisted many actors, screenwriters, and directors, some of whom, like a favorite director of mine, Joseph Losey, fled the country to find work in Europe. Pete Seeger, the leader of the politicized folk music movement whose roots were in the social activism of Appalachian coal-miners in the 1930s, was banned from performing on network TV in the U.S. in the 1950s and ‘60s.

There were sporadic landmark victories for free speech in the literary realm. In 1957, local police raided the City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco and arrested the manager and owner, Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for selling an obscene book, Allen Ginsberg’s epic protest poem, Howl. After a long, highly publicized trial, Howl was declared not obscene, and the charges were dropped. The Grove Press publishing house, owned by Barney Rosset, played a heroic role in the battle against censorship in the U.S. In 1953, Grove Press began publishing affordable, accessible paperbacks of the voluminous banned works of the Marquis de Sade, a major thinker about sex and society at the close of the Enlightenment. In 1959, the Grove Press edition of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, then banned in the U.S., was confiscated as obscene by the U.S. Postal Service. Rosset sued and won the case on federal appeal. In 1961, the publication by Grove Press of another banned book, Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, Tropic of Cancer, led to 60 obscenity trials in the U.S. until in 1964 it was declared not obscene and its publication permitted.

One of the supreme symbols of newly militant free speech was Lenny Bruce, who with Mort Sahl transformed stand-up comedy from its innocuous vaudevillian roots into a medium of biting social and political commentary. Bruce’s flaunting of profanity and scatology in his improvisational onstage act led to his arrest for obscenity in San Francisco in 1961, in Chicago in 1962, and in New York in 1964, where he and Howard Solomon, owner of the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, were found guilty of obscenity and sentenced to jail. Two years later, while his conviction was still under appeal, Bruce died of a drug overdose at age 40.

This steady liberalizing trend was given huge impetus by the sexual revolution, which was launched in 1959 by the marketing of the first birth control pill. In Hollywood, the puritanical studio production code, which had been adopted in the early 1930s under pressure from conservative groups like the Legion of Decency and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was gradually breaking down and was finally abandoned by the late 1960s. The new standard of sexual expression was defined by European art films, with their sophisticated scripts and frank nudity. Pop music pushed against community norms: in 1956, Elvis Presley’s hip-swiveling gyrations were cut off by the TV camera as too sexual for the Ed Sullivan Show, which was then a national institution. As late as 1967, the Ed Sullivan Show was trying to censor the song lyrics of major bands like the Doors and the Rolling Stones, who were imitating the sexual explicitness of rural and urban African-American blues. (The Stones capitulated to Sullivan, but the Doors fought back — and were never invited on his show again.) Middle-class college students in the 1960s, including women, began freely using four-letter words that had rarely been heard in polite company, except briefly during the flapper fad of the 1920s. In the early 1970s, women for the first time boldly entered theaters showing pornography and helped make huge hits out of X-rated films like Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and The Devil in Miss Jones.

In short, free speech and free expression, no matter how offensive or shocking, were at the heart of the 1960s cultural revolution. Free speech was a primary weapon of the Left against the moralism and conformism of the Right.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech”, Heat Street, 2016-05-09.

December 25, 2017

Repost – “Fairytale of New York”

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Time:

“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.

December 24, 2017

The Dangerous Toys of Christmas: Debunked!

Filed under: Media, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

ReasonTV
Published on 22 Dec 2017

Author Lenore Skenazy says today’s holiday toys are so risk averse that there’s almost nothing left to warn about. But still, the warnings come every year from consumer groups.

——–

Are you sick of being warned about anything and everything when it comes to the holiday season?

Me too. That’s why I’m ready to throw an icicle at a group called World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH). Every year since 1973, they’ve published a paranoid list of the “10 Worst Toys” at Christmastime.

These warnings may have been necessary back in 1973 when companies were still selling toy ovens that could smelt ore and chemistry sets that could actually blow things up.

In fact, the toy world was littered with bad ideas — from the Cabbage Patch Kid dolls with mechanical jaws that chewed everything — including chunks of hair from kids’ heads — to lawn darts — sharp metal things you’d toss at your friends’ toes that caused over six thousand injuries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission eventually banned those items — and it’s hard to disagree with them — but today’s toys are so risk averse, so super safe, that there’s almost nothing left to warn about. But still the warnings fall like cookie crumbs onto Santa’s beard.

It is this zero tolerance for “risk” that WATCH and other consumer groups exploit every Christmas. Among its top 10 dangers this year are the popular fidget spinners.

Also on this year’s list is the Wonder Woman Battle Action Sword, which, the WATCH team says, encourages young children “to bear arms” — as if you get a Wonder Woman toy and immediately deploy to Yemen. They also say that the “rigid plastic sword blade has the potential to cause facial or other impact injuries.” Yeah … and so does a fork. In fact, so does a candy cane, if you suck it to a sharp point.

Even an innocent looking Disney-themed plush toy did not escape WATCH’s nannying notice. The group warns that the toy could be dangerous due to “fabric hats and bows that can detach, posing a choking hazard.”

That’s a lot of coulds, especially considering the Consumer Product Safety Commission notes on its website that it has had ZERO reports of injuries.

The Toy Association, which is an industry trade group, says WATCH’s dangerous toys list is “full of false claims that needlessly frighten parents and caregivers.”

It’s obvious that toys that explode and toys that are just plain dumb — a boomerang made out of razor blades — are bad. But if they only worked a little harder, I’ll bet WATCH could stop kids from playing with toys. Any toys. Ever.

You want a really great gift for the kids? How about they wake up Christmas morning, unwrap the giant package under the tree to find their very own product liability lawyer? Wind him up and watch him sue all the other toys. Hours of fun!

And when the kids get bored, they lock him in the toy chest, and go play with a great toy. A stick.

Written by Lenore Skenazy. Produced by Alexis Garcia and Paul Detrick. Camera by Jim Epstein, Alex Manning, and Paul Detrick.

December 23, 2017

The team behind “The Great War” to produce a Second World War video series

Filed under: History, Media, Military, WW2 — Tags: — Nicholas @ 05:00

Perhaps the single question Indy Neidell and the team at “The Great War” channel have been asked most frequently was whether they were planning to do a similar kind of week-by-week history on the Second World War. They have finally committed to doing so, although it will be a much bigger effort than what they’ve been doing so far. Here’s the Kickstarter intro video:

The funding effort is going well, as the latest update indicates:

Words as weapons, words as tools

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In City Journal, Howard Husock looks at the recent media fuss about certain words being “banned” by Trump or the Republicans:

A political tempest arose last week when the Washington Post reported that the Department of Health and Human Services had banned the use of certain words or phrases — “vulnerable,” “science-based,” and “entitlements,” among others — in official budget documents. National Affairs editor Yuval Levin debunked the story, though, finding instead that bureaucrats concerned about offending Republican budget overseers had, in fact, decided to censor themselves. If so, that suggests that the bureaucrats have been reading their George Orwell, who observed in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” that language is “an instrument which we shape for our own purposes”; they are sharp enough to realize that even neutral terms can constitute mini-arguments. Each of the terms in question — and a great many more — have been weaponized for use in political conflict.

“Vulnerable,” for example, is a substitute for “poor” or “low-income,” but it usually suggests that the person in question should not be considered in any way responsible for his or her situation, because social conditions that transcend individual action have stacked the deck adversely. “Science-based” is a pithy way to characterize the views of one’s political opponents as ignorant or superstitious. The belief that climate change will prove catastrophic is said to be science-based; any view that minimizes the risk constitutes “denial,” another noun that has become an argument. The widely used “entitlement” has also become an argument. The idea that all citizens are “entitled” to certain forms of financial support — checks for those above a certain age, health insurance for those below a certain income — implies no other way of seeing the situation. Those who would change the way entitlements are disbursed, then, are impinging on rights, not programs.

Other examples abound. “Disadvantaged” describes low-income children — while implying that other children are advantaged — and thus that the system is unfair and violates “social justice,” another loaded term. The “homeless,” by and large, are not living on the street but are often doubled up with friends or family; they don’t have their own home, in other words. But the word-picture painted by “homeless” is more powerful. The Right plays the same game. “Death tax” as a substitute for “estate tax,” for example, characterizes a debatable policy as an immoral absurdity.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress