Editorial & Opinion

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Thousands Of Dictionaries Die In Tragic Vocabulary Explosion

[ Comments Off ]Posted on February 6, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

I went to the word doctor and he told me I needed a new Linguistic prescription, so I decided to stop procrasturbating and buy a new wiener filter.

What word lover wouldn’t LOVE a copy of
the OED? Well, me I guess. If it costs 1300
bucks and is obsolete by the time it ships.

Today I got an e-mail from a friend in which the word “empath” was used. The particular usage of the word in the e-mail highlighted something that I think about quite a bit, which is that the English language is probably more fun now than it’s ever been, even if we don’t know what we’re saying to each other. I’m referring of course to the fact that as the venerated Oxford English Dictonary dies slowly from self-inflicted wounds like including Homer Simpson’s DOH! in its pages, new words and axioms are appearing and disappearing so fast that on a regular basis, it can be hard to tell what someone is talking about. There have long been two basic schools of thought regarding how to go about defining words – in a nutshell, prescriptivists want to tell you how to use words, and descriptivists want to tell you how you are using words. It’s sort of like the difference between always adhering to the dictionary, versus being more willing to accept common usage. Which is why I’ve always found the existence of Common Usage Dictionaries to be a little problematic. In any case, neither of these schools of thought were of much use in addressing the word I mentioned at the outset. i.e.: empath. It presumably means someone who is empathic (or empathetic, if you prefer). But what does that really mean? If you take the word “empathetic” and its little friend “sympathetic”, you’ll find that the people who are most likely to be confident in their understanding of the two words’ meanings will in fact have the definitions reversed. Most educated people will say that empathy means that you can actually feel someone else’s feelings, while sympathy means that you can imagine how they feel. What do you think they mean? In point of fact, the word empathy was brought into usage in English in the 1880′s specifically to provide a word that describes a professional clinician’s need to maintain detachment while still truly understanding how a patient feels. See the yellow highlighted summary at the bottom of this page for further explanation. But that’s just two of probably hundreds (if not thousands) of commonly used words that are prone to misuse or open to debate. I’m surprised that they’re not on this Wikipedia List of English words with disputed usage. But those are slow-moving targets, much like the already-archaic term “politically correct” which enjoyed a mini-revival recently when hurled at Barack Obama by the Israeli press. But the real fun with the rapid evolution of our language is being driven by the internet, technology, and politics. In the case of the latter, GOP strategist Frank Luntz has brilliantly blazed new trails by understanding that it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. His book Words That Work outlines how he helped the Republican party win repeatedly simply by, for instance, telling you to think about “personalizing your retirement plans” instead of “worrying about Social Security” . And regarding the former two influences – the internet and technology – we not only have a complex new world of devices and the behaviors that they drive, we have an incredibly rapid way to share the words being created to describe them. There simply is no way that a team of academics arguing about what to include in the next Oxford English Dictionary (only $1300!) can remain useful to us; probably the closest thing we have to a useful dictionary are sites like Urban Dictionary. Which is both scary AND fun, in my opinion. I mean, while we may not need words like procrasturbation, we may need words like Dykeadelic, because who doesn’t know someone who isn’t? And futronym will come in handy when we need to manage all the retronyms we haven’t created yet. Below are a few of my favorite recent words. Feel free to share any good ones of your own. And if everything I’ve said here just sounds like noise to you, maybe you should run it through your Wiener filter. You should have no trouble finding one; they’ve been around since 1949.

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Am I A Racist, Sexist Bastard?

[ Comments Off ]Posted on January 26, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Apparently so. And if you’re American, there’s a good chance you are too, in ways you didn’t even realize.

Today I watched President Obama’s State of the Union address with a friend who – and for the record, this would ordinarily be irrelevant – happens to be black. The reason this fact is relevant in this case is because – as a result of talking about the address – we were both reminded of how racist we really are. I’ll explain why in a bit, but first, a little background. I’m in the demographic that largely comprises the teabaggers of America. I’m a white male over forty with a reasonable education who is not what you’d call affluent. However, I’m not one of these guys, and I’m generally about as color blind as a person can be. My most overt forms of racism are usually directed at “my own kind”, i.e. white male business people. Partly because they are often predictably sexist, and at least moderately judgmental based on race, if not in fact secretly racist. But also because over the last couple of decades much of my professional work has been with people from various cultures that are not white American. Specifically: Arab, Central European, and Asian. The basis of a lot of my jabs at white business men is the fact that so many of them frankly have no trust or honor whatsoever in their dealings, and always want some kind of contract. They’ll also never put up a fight when you offer to pay for lunch. To me, these are two harsh reflections on a person’s basic character. I pass on a lot of business because of this mentality, but I’m quite happy being a little reverse racist in my work life if it means not having to do business with people who will never trust me. One more piece of relevant background information is that I live in one of the most culturally diverse cities in America, and that is in fact the only thing I really like about this place. Because if I head about ten miles in any direction, I’ll literally be standing in a corn field. And if I head to the house nearest that corn field, the person who answers the door is likely to be in that teabagger demographic I mentioned earlier. So now that I’ve established my credentials as a card-carrying member of the United Colors of Benetton Generation, let me ask you – if you happen to have voted for Barack Obama – the question my friend asked me. And try to be really honest with yourself… If Obama had campaigned with all the same promises and in the same articulate manner, but had been a white man with a name like Bob Roberts, would you have voted for him? When my friend tabled this question, I jokingly put on a Scissor Gang Mafia pose and in my best Ali G voice said: “You only ask me that question ’cause I are black”. We had a little laugh, then I thought about it, and said “I guess not”. If the choice had been between some white guy spewing Obama’s rhetoric and Hillary Clinton, I probably would have voted for Hillary. Which I then realized makes me racist and sexist. I was voting for change, not a candidate, and change meant “not a white male”. I’ve had other interesting conversations that highlight some of the stealth racism that still exists in abundance in our lives; years ago I worked in a restaurant that had a very tight and family-like, culturally diverse staff. One evening someone started a series of questions that went something like “You’re walking down a city street late at night, and a white man in a business suit is walking toward you on the sidewalk. What do you do?” You then take the same scenario and put a black man in a suit, or a young white guy in a hoodie in it, and so on. You pretty quickly realize that no matter what race you are and how open-minded you think you are, you make a hell of a lot of decisions based on race. And unfortunately, this problem runs much, much deeper than any of us in America like to think. Although satire like Ali G or this Onion News parody (video also below) – in which a judge dictates that a white female teen murderer be tried as a 300 pound black man – can put a thin veneer of humor on the topic, the fact is that – running much deeper than the more obvious forms of racism in daily American life – there’s a vast and entrenched subculture that few are aware of, and fewer discuss. I’m referring of course to America’s racist criminal justice system. If you don’t think there’s still a profound race problem in America, read this piece (unfortunately on HuffPo) by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness . You may be shocked by the numbers, and her observations about how “Jim Crow” racial segregation laws have been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control, and how we haven’t ended the racial caste system in America; we’ve simply redesigned it. I’ve only skimmed the book, but Alexander’s thorough and academic examination of issues like how America’s “War On Drugs” appears to actually be an intentional tool for social stratification throws a lot of our correctional system and urban crime problems into an entirely new light. Read the rest of this entry »

Sarah Palin’s Political Hyperbole In The Crosshairs

[ Comments Off ]Posted on January 8, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

We don’t know yet if Sarah Palin’s political hit list inspired Jared Lee Loughner to shoot Gabrielle Giffords, but we do know that the only thing more full of logical fallacy than a Sarah Palin speech is the deranged ramblings of Loughner’s YouTube posts.

Okay liberals. Put on your indoor voices and your thinking caps. Sarah Palin did not issue orders for Jared Lee Loughner to shoot Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona today by putting Gifford’s name in the cross-hairs on her political hit list. If you take that stance, you’re resorting to the same deranged logical fallacies that both Loughner and Palin rely on; in Loughner’s case to presumably later justify his violent actions, in Palin’s case, to further her self-obsessed and delusional pursuit of political credibility. And don’t go getting all excited about how this is the end of Palin’s career; my only hope in the midst of this tragic event was that it might put a damper on the retarded and infantile rhetoric that infects American politics, and those hopes are quickly being dashed. If you look at both conservative and liberal blogs and their commenters today, you see the same old debates, only escalated to new levels. We don’t yet – and may never – know what Loughner’s motivation was, but it seems safe to say that in the current environment of irrationally polarized debate fueled by prominent figures like Palin calling for executions without trial , using rifle crosshairs to identify political opponents, and constantly posing with guns while fomenting rebellion, you’re going to see more events like the one that occurred today in Arizona. Unfortunately, that’s not what anyone’s talking about so far. Liberals are pointing fingers and creating direct causal connections where there are none, and tea party conservatives are rising in passionate defense of Palin. The weirdest of these two lots can be found on Palin’s Facebook page, where literally thousands of comments were posted today, with an alarming number of her supporters referring to her as “my Sarah”. No joke. If you haven’t taken the time to learn a little about Jared Lee Loughner, take a look at his YouTube account . Which links to another account which is probably also his. There are three videos with text and background music. They all utilize peculiar logical fallacies to talk about “controlling your currency”, the government “controlling grammar”, and weird rambling definitions of terrorism and brainwashing. He often refers to himself in the second person and the past tense, and makes very little useful sense. We’ve included the videos below, with a transcript from the first one, and his reading list, which is fairly predictable for a brainwashed, “Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory” style assassin, except that The Catcher in the Rye is mysteriously absent. We’ve also included Sarah Palin’s exhortations to violence, to demonstrate how much a deranged egomaniac in politics can come across like a deranged egomaniac who’s not in politics. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks & The Perilous Celebrity Of Julian Assange

[ 2 Comments ]Posted on December 24, 2010 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Friday, December 24th, 2010

In a world that seems more interested in personalities than possibilities, it’s hard to say which way Julian Assange’s fame will go, but WikiLeaks has at least inspired a movement amongst the digital natives. And Assange has been immortalized in silly Flash games.

Probably one of the most interesting things that happened this year is that in spite of the fact that an organization called Wikileaks helped release an appalling video that showed the US military killing innocent civilians and Reuters journalists, as well as thousands of diplomatic cables that exposed the vile and deceitful nature of international relations, in the end, what we’ve ended up talking about most is the narcissistic Australian hacktivist that headed the organization. And of course the fact that in spite of the recent repeal of the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, they’re pretty emphatic about the “don’t tell” concept. At least in the case of Bradley Manning, who remains in what many human rights organizations consider inhumane confinement. Admittedly – as the AP pointed out early on – “none of the revelations is particularly explosive” in the CableGate files. That is, until the exposed parties react, and the media broadcasts the reaction. And then, suddenly all of those “not explosive” revelations become matters that threaten the national security of virtually every nation on Earth. Which is interesting, because I’d be willing to bet that you can’t name even three or four of the key “revelations” in the documents. The Telegraph has a longer timeline of WikiLeaks releases here, and Salon has a roundup of the CableGate highlights here to refresh your memory. You’ll note that most of the CableGate “revelations” have to do with bruised egos, name-calling, and distrustful relationships in global politics, not Earth-shattering secrets. So why is this Julian Assange guy being painted as some kind of international terrorist? Because unlike conventional celebrity gossip, political celebrity gossip is attached to true greed for power, not just a greed for being liked, and can literally be a fight to the death. Which is why – as I’ve said before – let’s keep talking about Julian Assange. Maybe his celebrity will help bring a much needed jolt to journalistic methods, and truth will have some hope through “scientific journalism“. If you’ve only been following major media sources or partisan political bloggers for info, one of the more insightful pieces about Assange you’ll find is this one by Bruce Sterling, the novelist who wrote about Assange’s brand of “cypherpunk” decades ago, before this kind of activity was even technologically possible. And equally telling is Assange’s lawyers’ reaction to the Guardian’s leak of the details of the rape accusations against him. It remains to be seen if Assange can keep anything like an air of professional integrity intact as his unsavory celebrity continues, which it almost certainly will. A Swedish documentary called “WikiRebels” was recently made available on line (also below), and more details of his background will become more commonly known as the sensationalism ebbs a little and conventional news sources either need filler for stories or ways to distance themselves if the US government gets more ruthless in attempting to discredit or silence Assange. But for now, there’s at least a small international movement amongst the digital native generation that will keep the WikiLeaks vision alive, and not just the more volatile hacker groups that have attacked the websites of Visa, Amazon, Paypal, and others. Which, by the way, is considered by some to be a legitimate form of expressing dissent. And although rabid conservative bloggers are saying Obama dropped the ball by not shutting WikiLeaks down preemptively, many would say that Obama actually dropped the ball by not supporting the transparency he promised in his campaign. As is pointed out with humor in this Flash based game. And that is probably one of the surest signs one has achieved celebrity, to be immortalized in Flash games. Here’s another. Both are embedded below. What we need now is a WikiLeaks reality show to compete in Sarah Palin’s time slot.
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Obama Broadband Promises Eclipsed By Telecom Lobby Dollars

[ Comments Off ]Posted on December 20, 2010 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Monday, December 20th, 2010

The new FCC broadband proposal is being attacked on all sides. Except perhaps by the telecom corporations that will pay millions to define it.

If this page took a long time to load, it’s probably because the FCC’s network neutrality rules – first established on December 21, 2010 – have led to your ISP’s restriction of access to dissenting voices on the topic of whether or not they took the right course on that date. I jest of course, but the fact that there’s a full lunar eclipse on the solstice coinciding with the FCC’s announcement of the adoption of new guidelines for broadband providers adds a humorously foreboding quality to the event. So what’s the big deal about this decision? Well, in a nutshell, it’s about who “controls the internet”. The key issue being whether or not providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon should be able to throttle traffic they don’t like, and whether they can charge certain content providers more if they feel those providers are clogging their networks. It’s also about the rapidly emerging wireless broadband industry, and whether or not these two markets should be regulated in the same way, or regulated at all. So as a typical internet user, what should your stance on the topic be? Good luck figuring that one out for the moment. Net neutrality advocates like the Save The Internet coalition are rabidly against the current proposed guidelines and explain the complicated reasons why, while the Progressive Change Campaign Committee puts things in language more people can probably understand; they’re saying don’t let Comcast block Netflix or other online innovators for their own profit. That is probably one of the most succinct statements of the stance you might want to take on this topic. The fact is that there is so much lobby money at stake here that you can tentatively assume that the rabid voices, including (love him or hate him) Al Franken, are probably right on this one. The real problem is that as citizens we don’t really know all the current facts. While a lot of the FCC proposal drafts were more or less vetted by the big telecoms that they’re meant to regulate, we don’t get the same courtesy as citizens. And the reason you’ll hear a lot of logic-twisting doublespeak like Robert McDowell’s Net Neutrality Is A Threat to Internet Freedom is probably because while you and I sit here Facebooking, downloading movies, and Skyping our lives away, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable have collectively employed more than 60 lobby firms to make their message heard. And here’s a list of Democrats that have heard the corporate lobby message, so it’s obvious that this is not a partisan issue, or a genuine values issue, it’s a corporate interest issue. The bottom line is that if the broadband providers stay quiet on the topic, they’re probably pleased, and you and I are screwed. If you want to try and stay informed on the topic without all the extra politicians and media companies telling you what to think, there will be an Open Commission Meeting on Reboot.FCC.Gov on Tuesday morning. Of course if you’re one of the millions of Americans without broadband that we discussed back in March, you can’t watch. We’ll be back with more on this soon. That is, if we can still afford internet access.

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