gender, language, other topics, politics

One or Two (Actually, Three) Things I Have Learned Since 11/8/2016

Now that the 2018 midterm elections are over, it is time to assess what American voters have learned since 2016. Here are three things that I have learned.


  1. Misogyny is stronger than most of us would like to think, or used to believe. It has shown up in many forms, from many people we might have thought to be beyond it. But the culture is no more post-misogynistic in 2018 than it was post-racial in 2012.


It was most obvious in Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald J. Trump, and was equally manifest in subsequent interpretations of the election’s outcome. We saw it in voters’ and pundits’ outrage at Clinton’s use of a private email server (particularly when contrasted with pundits’ and voters’ lack of response to the information, in a recent New York Times front page article, that the president has been using an insecure cell phone that is known to be under Russian and Chinese surveillance, and further that the president is aware of this fact and doesn’t care). In Clinton’s case, FBI chief James Comey expressed great indignation and public opinion swung strongly against Clinton: even usually rational sources condemned her use of the server as possibly “criminal,” or “treasonous,” despite no evidence that any emails Clinton had sent on that server had been compromised. My assumption is that, very rationally, the Secretary of State (who traveled extensively) found it easier to use the private server on her travels and thus do all aspects of her job more efficiently. But the cry persists to this day: “Lock her up!” Continue reading

other topics, politics

Aha and Snort



A thought just struck me. If I’m right, it would explain a lot.


You know how handwriting experts say that a person’s signature basically remains the same throughout life? Well then, take a look at Donald Trump’s signature on one of the documents pictured on page 1 (hard-copy) of the New York Times’s blockbuster story of October 3 about Trump’s ill-gotten gains, the document headed SUNNYSIDE TOWERS APTS. COMPANY. It’s a pretty normal, if somewhat childish signature – small, rounded, perfectly legible. While the document in the photomontage is undated, it seems to have been created many years ago, while Trump’s father and brother were still alive.


Then check out any of the many examples of Trump’s current signature – the one he displays on a bill after he has signed it: huge (the caps at least 1” high), thick, very angular. It looks nothing at all like the older one.


How can we explain the discrepancy? Continue reading

gender, language, politics

Judge Kavanaugh Cuts the Gordian Knot


In the process of conquering the world, Alexander the Great came to the town of Gordium. In that town was a piece of rope entangled in an intricate knot. Whoever unraveled the knot, according to legend, would rule the world. Many had tried, and all had failed. Nor had anyone ever ruled the world.


Alexander contemplated the knot and his options. He fiddled with the knot but got nowhere. Then he drew his sword, sliced the knot apart, and went on to rule the world.


This legend is usually told as a justification of a bravura style of leadership. Wannabe leaders try conventional solutions to problems and fail. The natural leader scorns those, thinks outside the envelope, and rightly rules.


In his second hearing, on September 27, Brett Kavanaugh demonstrated Alexandrian leadership style, with considerable success . But just as Alexander’s impetuousness (and drinking habits) led to his early death, it may yet transpire that the bravura style may not work in Judge Kavanaugh’s long-term interests. You might, as many have noted, see a hearing of this kind as a job interview. You could also see it as an audition, in which a candidate demonstrates his possession of the skills he would need to successfully perform the job for which he is applying. Then the employer has to ask: does this candidate’s behavior demonstrate what I am looking for? Continue reading

language, politics

Reading Trump


Many of the usual experts confess that they don’t get Trump: despite their repeated attempts to make sense of him, and despite the authority and expertise they bring to the task, he won’t make sense; his behavior, especially his communicative behavior, simply doesn’t work by the rules.


Their problem lies in their background, which limits their understanding and expectations. Most political experts have been educated as political scientists and/or politicians, historians, or economists. That background provides them with expectations that have worked well in understanding other presidents: they assume that their subject’s behavior has underlying it a rational strategy for the short and long-term; and they further assume that people in positions of power and influence act according to their belief (correct or not) that the strategy will bring long-term benefits to their nation. So experts see politicians as rational actors whose moves are predictable and explicable.


But Trump is another story, a narrative the plot of which the pundits, try as they may, cannot follow. They cannot read him. He is Greek to them, but would be Navaho to Aristotle. Again and again, he goes out of his way to insult people that others in his position would be trying to humor or befriend. His insults tend toward the crude, infantile, and personal. Kim Jong-Un is “Little Rocketman.” Germany under Angela Merkel has become a client state of Russia. Europe has lost its culture (Trump gets a twofer here, smacking both Europe and Islam). Theresa May is too dumb to take his advice. NATO is a bunch of cheaters. Continue reading

language, other topics, politics

The Weaponization of Free Speech



There are only two kinds of people who reliably cannot interpret figurative language as such, confusing metaphor or hyperbole with literal sense. They are schizophrenics and, apparently, political conservatives.


It has long been a basis of psychiatric diagnosis to ask a subject to interpret a proverb. If they interpret it literally, that tends to favor a diagnosis of schizophrenia. “A rolling stone gathers no moss” is a favorite. A literal interpretation would consist of an explanation of how moss grows more easily on stationary objects. A “normal” interpretation makes use of metaphor: someone who has put down no roots and has no connections to others will not be saddled with responsibilities, and/or will not amass property or meaningful relationships. Continue reading


The Trump-Putin Summit


I admit to some puzzlement about the Trump-Putin summit scheduled for July 12.


For one thing: why (really) are they having one? Usually a summit takes place between adversaries in an attempt to mitigate a negative relationship. But Trump and Putin are BFFs: what is there to mitigate?


And why has there been so little discussion about it from the White House – when you consider the amount of advance puffery about the Trump-Kim meeting? And why was this meeting arranged so hastily? Continue reading

language, politics

Trump Talk – And How to Talk Back to It


The major problem with Donald Trump’s use of language is not so much what he literally says, but with what his utterances reveal about who and what he really is.


Here is my thought on this question: Trump is the Antichrist and his discourse can only be properly understood from that perspective. Remember: I am a linguistic scientist so I know about arcana of this kind.


The notion of the Antichrist is one of the murkiest, yet scariest and therefore most potent, narratives comprising the discourse of Christianity. There are several versions of the story: where he comes from, what role he plays, and how his existence fits into the larger understanding of Christianity.

Continue reading

gender, language, other topics, politics

Should Bill Clinton Apologize?


Apologies are some of the hardest speech acts, both intellectually and interactionally.


They are intellectually difficult because it’s often hard to know whether an apology is owed, to whom, and in what form; and interactionally hard because making an apology puts the maker in a one-down position to the person apologized to, and a full apology requires the apologizer to make, explicitly or tacitly, a number of self-destructive statements: I was wrong; I did harm to you; I need your forgiveness. So making an apology always entails a loss of power.


Hence apologies take many forms, direct and indirect, explicit or hinted at, depending on the seriousness of the misdeed and the power relationship between the parties. Continue reading

gender, politics

Who’s a Feminist?


In a recent New York Times op-ed, Jessica Valenti discusses the reluctance of many feminists to support the nomination of Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA, and Fox’s choice of Suzanne Scott as the network’s chief executive. She examines the criticism by Republicans of those feminists, using the argument that feminism means supporting all women, any woman, no matter what else she may be or not be. Valenti gets it right – feminism does not mean, “I’m for the woman, any woman, right or wrong,” but rather, it supports anyone of any gender who supports equality. In that respect, Valenti notes, Haspel and Scott are not in any sense “feminist” icons.


But the Republican critique is even more noxious than Valenti shows. First, it’s just another example of the Republican determination to co-opt liberal values: now they’re declaring themselves the best feminists of all, the only feminists properly equipped to comment on the feminism of others. “Irony” hardly describes it: Republicans are precisely the people who have opposed every feminist position, at least since the 1960s: equal pay for equal work, Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act (not to mention the Civil Rights Act as a whole), and – the cherry on the sundae – reproductive rights. This is the party itching to destroy Planned Parenthood, and thereby dooming millions of women to disease and death. Republican “feminists” adopt one of the principal oppressive roles of men: to claim ownership of the language, denying other women the right to make their own meanings. Continue reading