Thursday, July 17, 2003

Rocks, Papers, Glass Houses 

If our every thought born of anger or frustration was suddenly put to paper and made a part of the public record, any number of those private musings could be labeled as less than generous in spirit. For some (count me in), reflecting on those thoughts can often leave a sense of embarrassment and thankfully, supreme gratitude that our tongue saw fit to ignore the mind’s prodding.

So why the storm over the thoughts contained in the private diary of Harry S. Truman? According to newspaper reports, Truman's writing shows a man quite perturbed at what took to be yet another special interest request that could affect American foreign policy. The messenger was Henry Morganthau - not a Truman favorite to begin with - and at the time a post war world was spinning in a violent vortex of change. Two years earlier Truman had used atomic weapons to end the war in the Pacific and was highly conscious of avoiding situations that might bring that horror back into play.

In this case, he ranted over Morganthau’s request to intercede with the British over a boatload of Jewish refugees attempting to gain entry into Palestine. Part of that rant includes an absurd statement comparing the Jews treatment of minorities to Stalin and Hitler’s treatment of Jews; it is irrational, ugly and angry. Truman's darker side wrote these thoughts in an informal journal. Yet, rather than manifest his anger in the form of a policy decision, he left it in ink to dry and continued to work toward a Jewish homeland. Truman’s record vis-à-vis Israel is nothing if not the very underpinning of Israel’s success as a nation state.

What has not been brought to the public's attention is that Truman was in a volatile and intense process to broker a Jewish homeland. Many members of his administration opposed the idea, citing irreparable damage to Arab relations and further tensions in Cold War relations.

If anything, this discovery should be trumpeted as an example of principle over egoism. Truman demonstrated a remarkable discipline in not allowing his frustration and a moment of irrationalism to dictate his overall course of action.

The human spirit is capable of creating hope and destroying it in the same stroke. A perverseness in us seeks to satisfy our insecurities by finding fault with those who appear to be our betters. We are especially triumphant when it’s discovered that their feet were made of the same brittle clay as ours.

Truman is now labeled an anti-Semite, yet his actions prove to be anything but the case. We can all rest comfortably tonight knowing how much better we are than Harry.

You see, we didn’t get caught with our thoughts down.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Holy Justice, Patman!!!! 

An abiding truth in American public life is that if an elected official isn’t making a monkey of himself, you can always count on an unelected demagogue to take up the slack. While the politicians are taking oxygen after several weeks of huffing and puffing and trying to blow the Supreme Court down, the spiritual leader of the Christian Right and former presidential candidate, Pat Robertson, has stepped in to heave more hot air in the direction of Texas v. Lawrence.

Mr. Robertson has divined that we are in danger of losing our freedom and liberty and it has nothing to do with Patriot Acts 1 & 2, Al-Queda, Saddam Hussein or the nuke nut in Pyongyang . Robertson is convinced the same God that struck down the World Trade Center and put a hole in the Pentagon to punish us for our wicked ways is similarly inclined over the immoral rulings of SCOTUS.

His solution; "Operation Supreme Court Freedom", an all out assault to influence the Judge of Judges to inspire certain unclean justices (identified only by their infirmities or age) to abandon their seats in favor of Robertson approved appointees. Thus, saving us from God’s wrath and subjecting us to John Ashcroft's.

All of which proves that if you have enough money, are the son of a former Senator, and hold enormous power over elected officials, you can mouth just about anything that the voices in your head convey to you and remain straight-jacket free. But psychosis aside, let’s take a quick look at Pat’s arguments on their own merits and since he chief concern is morality and his delivery vehicle is rhetoric, let’s keep score on how moral or how rhetorical they happen to be.

1) Robertson cites Thomas Jefferson’s warning about the potential undue powers of the Supreme Court, “the tyranny of an oligarchy." Thomas Jefferson was dead on about oligarchies; he was a member of the one that created the framework of this nation. He was witness to one that wantonly spilled blood in the streets of Paris. Robertson is a member of an oligarchy of unelected, rich influencers of the Republican Party. “Judge not lest ye be judged”

Rhetoric 1 Morality 0

2) "Just think, five unelected men and women who serve for life can change the moral fabric of our nation and take away the protections which our elected legislators have wisely put in place."

Just think Pat, if the unelected Supreme Court hadn't ruled in as it did in Brown v. Board of Education, we might still be living in an immoral separate, but equal nation. (Ring Trent Lott on this one) By the way, in all of recorded time, the words "wisely" and "elected leaders" have never been used in the same sentence. It must be a miracle.

Rhetoric 2 Morality 0

3) "We can have a court that no longer legislates from the bench the wishes of The New York Times and The Washington Post, but which will earnestly seek to interpret the Constitution as it is written and to give meaning to the centuries of moral standards which have undergirded (sic) this wonderful country called the United States of America."

I’m not certain what centuries he is referring to when he speaks to “moral standards”. Maybe it’s the centuries when many of his fellow Christians used the Bible to support slavery, manifest destiny, segregation, anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism.

I'm not sure if Pat knows this, but in fin de siecle 1800’s, the word "earnest" was a popular euphemism for homosexual. Watch out, you might get what you pray for.

Rhetoric 2 Morality 0

As you can see this is getting out of hand and I’m invoking the 5 run rule. Rhetoric wins 5-0 and morality is once again overwhelmed by the true believers.

Next week, Rhetoric takes on Morality once more, this time featuring Osama Bin Laden, who believes God is angry at everybody and who needs a Supreme Court when you’ve got Sharia?

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Got Like? 

I’m having a curmudgeon moment and I blame it on the Beast. The Beast is every where; there is no refuge from its ugliness. And no, I’m talking about the two guys from American Idol.

The Beast in question is the word “like”, the unintended simile, a part of everyday conversation you can't avoid if you want to remain in contact with the species (there's a thought).

The origin of this monster is the San Fernando Valley, where the vapid colloquialisms known as Valley Girl Speak invaded the nation’s lexicon in the 80's. But just as in every bad horror movie where the creature refuses to die, certain elements of Valley nomenclature have resisted extinction and insidiously contaminated the general population.

If you think I’m just hearing things, try this experiment: talk to as many people as possible in two hours time. Count the occurences the word "like" is used to modify a phrase. Don't go to the mall or any store where a 20-30 year old man or woman might be working. That's not shooting fish in a barrel, that's using C-4 in an aquarium.

WARNING: Take a calculator and don't be afraid to ask your conversation partner to slow down if you have a tough time counting.

I’ll bet Brittany Spears virginity (huh, she’s not?) you will hear more “likes” than you’d get from a Vietnamese hooker charging by the minute. (Just to clear up the record, I have no firsthand knowledge of Vietnamese hookers; someone told me.)

What is so confounding about this abuse of “like” is that it renders anything it modifies as non-existent. Try on the following statements.

“It’s like my 5th flight in two days!”*

OK, is it really your 5th flight in two days? Or does it remind you of five flights you once took in a 48 hour time span? If the present experience only serves to remind you of five flights in two days, what is it about your current experience that mirrors the five flights in two days?

“He’s like having breakfast with his parents.”**

Who are the people “he” is having breakfast with that they remind you of his parents? Is he having breakfast at all; or he is at home suffering a depression similar to the ones he used to have when breakfasting with his parents?

Ultimately we are left not knowing what kind of experience these speakers have had, only what past experience they have been reminded of by the current occasion.

Yet, it’s a perfect construct for our times. Quick, easy, cheap and doesn’t strain the brain. Why take the time or energy to intentionally equivocate when it’s so easy to, like, leave your audience confused, you know?

*Actual quote taken from SF GATE Web site, 7/10/03 re: airline passenger interview on security measures.

**Overheard at Santa Monica beach, spoken by person wearing a UCLA Law School T-Shirt.

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