gender, language, other topics, politics

The Anomalous Society

In recent years, America has become an anomalous society, bereft of many of the social rules, explicit and especially implicit, that previously we lived by. That may sound good – liberating and innovative, free of the burdensome constraints that plagued our ancestors and slowed progress. But too much of a good thing is not always wonderful, and on occasion freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. The loss of our system of culturally based rules may even be responsible for part of the fix we are in.

 

The rules I am talking about here are not the explicit ones we recite to our children: Say Thank you. Put away your toys. Don’t make fun of other people. The rules I am talking about are the ones most adults used to figure out by themselves in the course of arriving at maturity, implicit assumptions about how to be human, how to be a person of gender, how to manage work, friendships, and intimacy, and many more. A great many of these are currently gone or contested. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Locker Room Banter 101

 

 

Last week, for reasons that remain unclear to me, Charlie Rose celebrated a Bannonfest: the Steve-‘n’-Charlie show ran from a brief teaser on his previous Friday show, to two segments of “60 Minutes” on Sunday, to the full hour of his Monday interview, to 15-20 minute segments over the remainder of that week. Though my appetite for Bannonalia barely achieves anorexia, I did catch the teaser, the “60 Minutes” gig, and a bit of the Monday interview, at which point nausea forced me into reruns of “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel.

 

To be truthful, I don’t recall very much of the Bannonade (senescence has its rewards). Rose, and many of the media savants (along with Steve himself) apparently consider Bannon the Trump Administration’s ranking intellectual (not too much competition).

 

But one brief moment, I think from the Monday segment, sticks in my mind, not to say craw. Rose was questioning Bannon about Trump’s misogyny, and brought up the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. Bannon smirked that it was “only locker-room banter.” “Locker-room banter?” said Charlie, and Bannon reiterated it. Rose thereupon dropped the topic, no doubt with a sigh of relief: His job was done, his duty to the ladies completed. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

How to Watch the Debates

 

 

It is useful to see the presidential debates as, above all, auditions for a role, and to see the debaters as actively auditioning for a desired role, and the other participants (moderator, commentators, and audience) as using debate performance to determine the performers’ suitability for the role they seek. Debating, like any other human communicative activity, has its rules and expectations, violations of which can and should be judged as evidence of a candidate’s suitability for the job. If you can’t manage to obey the relatively simple rules of the debate structure for a mere 90-odd minutes, there is reason to doubt whether you are ready or able to play the much harder role for which you are auditioning, for a whole four years. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

PRESTO CHANGE-O

 

 

The pundits have spoken, and spoken, and spoken: 2016 is an “unconventional” election: it is about “change” vs. the “status quo.” One candidate is the “change,” agent, and the other the representative of the “status quo.”

 

Thus far, I am in agreement.

 

But when they sort out which candidate is which, we part company. For the analysts, Trump is the “change” candidate, Clinton the “status quo.” But that’s backwards and upside down. If we correctly interpret “change” and “status quo,” Trump stands for the former, Clinton the latter. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

MAKING ME SICK

 

 

Look at the front page of today’s (September 13) New York Times. On the upper right, you will find two articles about Clinton’s health problems. On the inner pages where these articles are continued are three additional articles on the same topic.

 

Ordinarily, the placement of the first two articles, and the fact that there are five in all, might be occasioned by, say, the start of World War III or an authenticated Elvis sighting. But no: all are about one presidential candidate’s not especially serious health problem. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Health Matters – and Other Matters

 

  1. The D’s DID

 

Donald J. Trump and his current favorite sidekick, the redoubtable Rudy Giuliani, have morphed into experts on Hillary Clinton’s mental and physical health. How fortunate we are that one of our presidential candidates and his new BFF have so much medical expertise! Clinton, they tell us, doesn’t have the “physical or mental stamina” to fight ISIS, and therefore is unsuitable for the presidency.

 

As usual contemplating the Donald’s effusions, I find myself at a loss – so much nonsense, so little time! But a few things that stand out. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

The “Scandal” Scandal

 

OK, the results are in and the word is out: Clinton, while not “guilty” of a “crime” for which she could be prosecuted, nevertheless is deserving of, and has received, a “stinging rebuke” or a “severe scolding” from James Comey, head of the FBI, for her use of a personal e-mail server rather than the State Department’s server. The Republicans have weighed in, predictably, in turn castigating Comey for not castigating Clinton enough; the Donald has tweeted at length of her “crookedness”; a bit less predictably (maybe), the media is also weighing in to the same effect. Just consider the full-frontal headline in the hard-copy edition of the Paper of Record:

 

STERN REBUKE, BUT NO CHARGES, FOR CLINTON

 

The headline presupposes that “charges” would have been normal, and that the “rebuke” was deserved and appropriate, if minimal. The article, by Patrick Healy, begins:

 

Hillary Clinton may not be indicted on criminal charges over her handling of classified email, but the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, all but indicted her judgment and competence on Tuesday – two vital pillars of her presidential candidacy – and in the kinds of terms that would be politically devastating in a normal election year.

 

The silver lining for Mrs. Clinton is that this is not a normal election year.

 

The implication here is that Comey “all but indicted” all her judgment and competence, about everything, which his statement did not. (There is an issue, too, over the conflation of two senses of “indictment.”) But the overall point of this article, and the Times’s lead editorial, is that Clinton is guilty of severe malfeasance and lucky to have escaped the punishment she deserved; that the use of a personal email server by a Secretary of State is seriously bad behavior. But are either or both of these accusations true? And really, what is the whole “scandal” about? Continue reading

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language, other topics, politics

Cold Comforts, or None at All

 

It is comforting to think that Donald Trump is a nutcase who has given his mouth over to his egomania and just opens it up and lets whatever come out, without concern for the fact that he is destroying the Republican Party’s hopes for success in this year’s Presidential election, and perhaps forever. After all, he’s not a real Republican.

 

It is comforting to think that Bernie Sanders is a nutcase who has let egomania triumph over reason, refusing to get out of the race for the Democratic nomination and show some support for his rival, without concern for the fact that he is destroying the Democratic Party’s hopes for success in this year’s Presidential election, and perhaps forever. After all, he’s not a real Democrat.

 

Those are the comforting scenarios. But they might not reflect reality. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Going Negative

 

The media savants love numbers – it makes their work look like science. Among their favorites, often repeated, are the “negatives” of the leading presidential candidates. Commentators love to point out that this year, the two front-runners score higher negatives than their equivalents at any time in the past. For Trump, the stats are: positive 24%, negative 57%, for a total score of -33; for Clinton, positive 31%, negative 52%, overall -21.

 

Because the stats are reported side by side, it is easy to get the impression that the negative scores for the two candidates mean the same thing and were in response to the same kinds of behavior. Curiously, the media analysts never address that question – the negs simply are what they are: they show how unlikeable Trump and Clinton are, period.

 

But the two negativities are in fact very different in origin and meaning, and should be differently understood. Continue reading

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