Times In Which The Mundane Is Spectacularly Radical

Let’s say I write an article in which I assert that the mid-day sky is actually bright scarlet red in color.

You might respond “You’re just Mitch Berg. You’re a conservative, so you always think stupid things”. That response is half, maybe 3/4 true – but doesn’t say anything about the color of the sky. What it does is say “your argument is false because of who you are”. The term is “Argumentum ad Hominem” – latin for “arguing against the man”, rather than the facts the Man presented. It’s a logical fallacy. Who I am has no bearing on the facts I present, right or wrong.

You might then respond “You don’t have a degree in meteorology – how would you know anything about the sky?” That’s also true – I’m not a meteorologist. But it doesn’t address the facts presented, but rather my credentials. It’s called an “Appeal to Authority”, and it’s another logical fallacy. One’s credentials might lend authority to a statement – but not truth or falsity, all by themselves.

You could try another tack, something like “you are an idiot”. That’d be called an “Appeal to Ridicule”. Again – I might be actually an idiot, but it doesn’t address my factual assertion in any way. It’s…yep, another logical fallacy.

Maybe you could dig back on Twitter, and find some example of me saying “the sky is blue”, and post a before-and-after saying “Hah! You’re being inconsistent!”. That’s called the “Argumentum Tu Quoque” – focusing on the fact that one has changed their mind on a subject, rather than the facts at hand – which is a really dumb one; the fact that I was a Democrat growing up, for example, doesn’t make me less a conservative today (or vice versa for someone else).

You could go on the offensive, and claim that if I believe the sky is scarlet with “Sooooo, what you’re saying is you want old people to die”. That’s called a “Straw Man Argument” – trying to make someone defend an argument they never made. I said the sky was scarlet – nothing about Grandma at all.

You could write “the sky is blue, because as I noted above, the sky is blue”. That’s called “Begging the Question” – perhaps the most mis-used phrase in the quasi-educated dialect of English, which people usually use to refer to “asking a question again”. It means “using your conclusion as proof of your conclusion”.

Or – here’s a radical thought, you could post a picture of a bright blue, or dull gray, sky and tell the world “Look! The sky above is blue! It’s not even a little bit scarlet!”. That would address the actual facts of my assertion that the sky was bright scarlet.

And the technical term for that is “a factual argument”.

I’m writing this not because I’m trying to go all Jordan Peterson on you, but because our society would be a lot stronger, smarter and BS-proof if more people learned how to make a logical argument, and to spot and call out an illogical one.

“That’s just NPR!” or “That’s just National Review” or “that info came from people allied with “the swamp”” and many other arguments…aren’t really arguments at all. They are illogical deflections.

Not to go all Walt Kowalski, but there was a time people had to learn this stuff. And there are times I think, reading social media, that learning the basics of, if not logic, at least spotting gross illogic and not being illogical, should be required before people can vote…

much less post on Facebook or Twitter.

And if I’m ever appointed king, or otherwise become a benevolent strongman…

(Careful, kids – in some quarters, particularly academia, the above is very un-PC. It’s what we used to call Samizdat. )

This post was originally run on May 11 2020. I’m re-running it because, well, it seems appropriate.

Shot In The Dark: Today’s News, Two Years Ago (Again)

The Babylon Bee – America’s most accurate source of news – defines “Karen”, who is sort of the anti-“Rosie The Riveter” of the current crisis.

Watch carefully. Anything look/sound familiar?

“Karen’s” hairdo – it’s “ELCA Hair“.

If you read Shot In The Dark, you’re years ahead of the hoi-polloi.

Fair Warning

I can listen to people scrape their fingernails on chalkboards (kids, ask your parents) all day long.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t sounds and words that make my teeth hurt and make me nauseous.

My example I have always hated the word “Document”, and all its uses and derivatives. Document? Documentation? Documentary? All of them. The only exception is the sentence “I just watched someone who overused the word ‘document’ get eaten by mice”.

My worst boss ever was a (I’m not making this up) near-functional illiterate QA manager to whom the company’s benighted tech writers had to report. And she once described the tech writers’ job as to “document the documentation in the documents”. It wasn’t *that* episode, or the fact that she advocated changing the job title to “Documentalist”, that made her the worst boss ever – oh, Lord, no – but it put a cherry on top of the crap sundae that was that job.

Which is one of the reasons I tune out the radio when impeachment talk comes up Part of it is because Adam Schiff justifies retroactive bullying – but largely because if I hear another smug, sanctimonious voice saying “documents documents documents documents documents…” again I’m going to kick a puppy.

Chanting Points Memo: Let’s Make A List, 2020 Edition

I noted the other day that “progressives” seem to have only read-only memory; once they get a point in their heads, regardless of veracity or logic, it just stays there.

It has literally gotten to the point where the politicians and pundits of Big Left don’t even bother trying to convince people with any basis in fact or critical thinking skills; their entire message is repeating Big Lies often and loudly enough to convince the invincibly ignorant and browbeat the underinformed and insecure.

The mission today: add to the list. What are the lies, one line at a time, that Big Left gets the ignorant and the authoritarian to believe?

I’ll start below – but leave more in the comments.

  • “Trump’s election was illegitimate!”
  • “We’ve got more ‘gun violence’ now than ever before!”
  • “The ‘Republican War on Women’”
  • There are 57 genders
  • America is a racist nation
  • America is an antisemitic nation
  • America’s past is a uniquely terrible thing
  • Trump supported neo-Nazis at Charlottesville
  • Socialism lifts people from poverty; the free market does not
  • Obamacare benefitted more people than it harmed
  • Slavery in America was uniquely more terrible than slavery elsewhere
  • “Nixon won because all the racists came over to the GOP, and stayed”
  • “Nobody’s coming for your guns!”
  • Boys and girls are identical in every way.
  • “White privilege”, rather than class privilege, is a suffocating force in society. 
  • “We’ve got twelve years to solve manmade global warming!”
  • “Increasing public school funding directly benefits The Children!”
  • Racism is in America’s very cultural DNA
  • Religious faith is ignorance – it has nothing to do with meaning, merely a crutch for the intellectually vacant. 
  • Blacks are more likely to be shot by police than whites
  • Voter ID = “Voter Suppression”.
  • The Second Amendment was intended to defend slavery 
  • Rape culture dominates colleges – 1 in 5 women at colleges are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted
  • Women are paid 3/4 as much as men for the same work
  • “Children! In cages! It’s Trump’s fault!”
  • LIfe only begins when the baby emerges from the birth canal.  
  • “90% of the people want “universal” background checks on guns!”
  • “Abortion is about womens’ health!”
  • “Trump attacked women!”

UPDATE 12/18: Adding reader comments. 

  • Trump trying to appeal to black voters is voter suppression!
  • “There’s evidence that Trump has committed crimes!”
  • “Impeachment is a serious inquiry into Presidential abuse of power.”
  • “We must remove Trump to preserve Constitutional norms.”
  • The “Scandal free Obama administration.”
  • “Jimmy Carter was a good president.”
  • Social spending is “an investment”
  • Immigrants are a benefit to society (as a blanket statement)
  • Gay marriage is all about love.  Not politics. 
  • School choice hurts poor people
  • Trump had sex with “Stormy Daniels.”
  • Trump paid Daniels hush money, Daniels did not blackmail Trump
  • There is 97% scientific consensus on global warming
  • All of our problems can be solved by raising taxes on the wealthy
  • That’s not who we are!
  • We’re on the right side of history
  • “If ________ saves the life of just one child” then some usurpation, oppression or indignity is “worth it”. 

What else? 

Please respond in the comments.   

Responses that are not direct answers to the question – i.e. Democrat chanting points – will be removed. 

For Joe Biden

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

It’s too confusing to keep track of all the different ways that liberals impugn conservatives. And the words don’t mean the same thing each time they’re used; the meaning shifts depending on the user, the victim, the situation.
I would prefer that liberals adopt one general-purpose word to use for everyone and everything they don’t like. How about “poop?”  Short, easy for Joe Biden to remember, think how much fun the debates would become.
You’re a poop. No you’re a big poop. You’re the biggest poop. Yeah, well your ideas are poop. Your mother is a poop.  Fun!
Joe Doakes

Orwel posited that the eventual goal of “Ingsoc” was to reduce all language to “duckspeak” – semiliterate grunts that put guardrails on the limits of human thought.

This fits right in.

March Of The Strawmen

Over the weekened, I listened to “It’s Been a Minute” with Sam Sanders – one of NPR’s many mad grabs for virtue-seeking relevance – and I heard a bit that simultaneously nauseated and thrilled me.

It’s at about 17:00 into this week’s broadcast.

But don’t worry – I listened to it, so you don’t have to.

Big Left is finding it necessary to rescue, reclaim and rehabilitate the word “Intersectionality”.

I thought about transcribing some quotes – but I’ll just leave it to y’all.

Because this is the sound of Big Left launching a counter-counter-attack in the culture war and the Battle for the Language.

What’s Spanish For “Hack”?

I love languages. I speak three of ’em passably enough not to get made as a Yank, and can order a drink, pay a tab or find a bathroom in a bunch more. If I could learn more full-time, I would. I’m a linguistics geek.

I’m probably an outlier among Americans at large – we’re a big mostly monolingual country, so most Americans don’t need to learn another language.

But the word “hatchet job” means the same thing in an amazing number of languages. That occurred to me while reading this, well, hatchet job from the WaPo, claiming that about half of Republicans get annoyed hearing other languages. According to Pew:

47 percent of such Republicans say it would bother them “some” or “a lot” to “hear people speak a language other than English in a public place.” Eighteen percent of white Democrats said they would be similarly bothered.
Aside from politics, age and education are the major predictors of linguistic discomfort. Eighteen percent of whites younger than 30 said they would be bothered by a foreign language being spoken, compared with 43 percent in the 50-to-64 age group, and 45 percent among those 65 and older.
Among all racial groups, whites (34 percent) are most likely to be bothered hearing foreign languages, followed by blacks (25 percent), Asians (24 percent) and Hispanics (13 percent). Among Americans overall, 70 percent put their level of unease at “not much” or “not at all.”

And this article is kinda hatchet-y. 

For starters, it doesn’t say *why* “half of white Republicans” have that reaction. Oh, the WaPo knows what it *wants* people to think – that’s why they included the utterly unrelated “High profile confrontations”. Racists!

And yet of those Republicans, the vast majority reported being “bothered” only a little bit – which doesn’t seem like it’d be a byproduct of hatred. It doesn’t go into motivations. 

I’m to postulate the vast majority of that isn’t racism, but people in a largely monolingual culture reacting to being excluded. Remember the question – they’re reacting to hearing people “speak a language other than English in a public place.” Language is an excluder; it’s a private club. It’s why my grandma never spoke her native Norwegian unless she was among fellow native speakers; it’s why I don’t talk in German or Norwegian in meetings with mostly Anglo co-workers. It’s kind of rude. 

The reaction is hardly limited to Americans, much less “white Republicans”. Check out how the French react to groups of Americans talking English sometime. 

I’m gonna strongly suspect most of the result comes from social annoyance rather than bigotry or provincialism. 

Men hva vet jeg?

The Moody Boor Stood Bloodily Aloof

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

This winter, the news media ran stories about ice dams causing damage to the roof.  How do you pronounce the word “roof?”  Why don’t all -oo- words sound alike?  Try this sentence:
While the goofy cook chewed a root and doodled in a book on the roof, a pooch looked at a boot and woofed as a kook took good food out the door.
No wonder foreigners have such a hard time with English.

True. English is tough enough to plough through, though, without that.

From Now On, You Will Pronounce My Name In My Ancestral Norwegian, To My Satisfaction, Or Be Called A Bigot

If I had a nickel for every stranger that’s pronounced my name “MIchelle” or “Michael”, I would have enough money to not need to interact with strangers at all anymore.

It seems I’ve hit the intersectional lottery.

Or maybe not.

Because mispronouncing peoples’ names isn’t a matter of trying to wrap one’s tongue around a word from a completely different language, with all the inevitable pitfalls

Oh, no.  Like everything one does, and everything one does not do,  h it’s apparently racist. 

 Zuheera Ali and Keya Roy talk to author Ijeoma Oluo and each other about their experiences living in the United States with “difficult” names. They also talk to Rita Kohli, a professor at University of California, Riverside who has done research on the effects of mispronouncing names on students of color.

Aaaaaaaand…:

Spoiler: This practice of mispronouncing names isn’t just embarrassing. It has a long and racist history.

Of course, it’s not complete cultural sensitivity to Jerzy Szczepanski or Solveig Hjelle or even Euan Braithwaite’s names we’re talking about, here.

And if you happen to listen to the podcast at the link – apparently from a program to train young public radio drones – you may reach the same observation I did; that millennials of a certain ideological persuasion collect grievances the same way the seem to love collecting psychological and medical diagnoses; the same way the used to collect Pokemon cards.  The same way their grandparents collected fishing stories.

So anyone who doesn’t pronounce my name “BAIR-g” is a bigot.

By the way, that’s the Norwegian “BAIR-g”, not the German/Yiddish “BEHR-g”. 

Why Does Governor Walz Hate The Environment And Want Rural Minnesotans To Die Flaming Deaths?

Governor Walz provides the service for which Big Environmental paid good money.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Enbridge pipeline would replace hundreds / thousands of derailment-prone tanker cars and crash-able «trucks that currently transit populated areas and sensitive environments with a pipeline that will be gallon-for-gallon vastly safer for both people and the ecology; Walz knows who he’s working for.

Arguably the bigger crime? The twaddle he plopped out there to justify “his” decision.

I’ll add some emphasis:

Gov. Tim Walz will continue pursuing a court appeal started by his predecessor that could block Enbridge from building a controversial $2.6 billion oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.
Under former Gov. Mark Dayton, the Commerce Department appealed the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) decision to allow Enbridge to build the pipeline, a replacement for its aging and corroding Line 3. Last month, the Walz administration said it would review the appeal.
“By continuing that process, our administration will raise the Department of Commerce’s concerns to the court in hopes of gaining further clarity for all involved,” Walz said in a statement. “As I often say, projects like these don’t only need a building permit to go forward, they also need a social permit. Our administration has met with groups on all sides of this issue, and Minnesotans deserve clarity.”

“Social permit”.

That is two steps from fluent Duckspeak.

Following it up with a platitude like “Minnesotans deserve clarity” adds rhetorical insult to Orwellian injury.

Governor Walz; your leash is showing.

Remember: The Democrats Are The Party Of “Science”

Democrat (what else?) California (where else?) state assembly committee chairbeing  bans the use of gender-specific pronouns:

[California State Senator and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Hannah-Beth Jackson] said that new committee rules recognize California’s designation of “non-binary” as a gender. The words “he and she” will now become “what my grammar teacher would have had a heart attack over,” the senator said. The committee will use the word “they” instead, because it is gender-neutral, Jackson said.
“Basically, that’s the primary reforms and revisions to the committee rules,” she said.

Jackson also said that as the chair, she will now be known as “they,” to keep in line with “the spirit of gender neutrality for the rules of this committee.”
“So, the world is a different place. My grammar teacher’s long gone and we won’t be hearing from her,” Jackson said.

Wait.

Back up.

What was that?

She then corrected her use of the word “her.”

Of course she did.

The Rhetorical Equivalent Of The Moral Equivalent Of War

Why is it that the party that claims to eschew war (while getting us into most of the wars we’ve had since 1900) can’t keep its mitts off of militaristic rhetoric?

Big Left’s “Green New Deal” is, like nearly every gigantistic utopian Big Left enterprise since the Wilson Administration, the “moral equivalent of war” – requiring the nation to organize its economy along military lines, albeit without saying the “M” word.

Jonah Goldberg:

…the important point is that ever since philosopher William James coined the phrase the “moral equivalent of war,” American liberalism has been recycling the same basic idea: The country needs to be unified and organized as if we are at war, but not to fight a literal battle. The attraction stems from what John Dewey called “the social possibilities of war” — the ability to reorganize and unify society according to the schemes of planners and experts.
This was the through line of 20th-century liberalism, and now 21st-century liberalism, too. Wilson’s war socialism, FDR’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, Jimmy Carter’s declaration that the energy crisis was a “moral equivalent of war,” and Barack Obama’s “new foundation for growth,” with his Thomas Friedman-inspired talk about “Sputnik moments”: It’s all the same idea gussied up as something new.
Another irony: The militaristic organization of the domestic economy is a hallmark of nationalist movements. But nationalism is a dirty word among liberals today.
Instead, they name-check a thoroughly nationalistic enterprise, the New Deal, and slap the word “Green” in front of it as if it were a fresh coat of paint.

If it got out that migrants mocked and taunted intersectional theory, I’d guess Big Left would appropriate the idea of a border wall, too.

Culture Police Blotter

While smoking the happy weed is the latest libertarian distraction, the term “Marijuana” is suddenly on the outs:

Today “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used more or less interchangeably in the industry, but a vocal contingent prefers the less historically fraught “cannabis”. At a time of intense interest in past injustices, some say “marijuana” is a racist word that should fall out of use.\

Bu then, by that same token, isn’t smoking ganja (I’m swtiching  to appropriating Jamaican culture, thanks) itself appropriative?    Aren’t all those lilywhite honky weed activists stealing the recreation of all those Mexican immigrants and black jazz musicians?

And as long as we’re going to start policing the language for appropriation – shouldn’t we scupper the word “Jazz”?  Originally a New Orleans black term for the horizontal mambo, it was originally adopted by white critics to disparate “negro” music.

Isn’t it time for a more complete linguistic housecleaning?

Staggering Genius

Dante’s Divine Comedy was one of the great works of Western literature – a key building block in the intellectual tradition of the West.

This update, re-imagining Dante’s nine circles of Hell as applied to linguistic offenses, may actually be better.

Circle two – regarding the eternal, infernal debate over the “Oxford Comma”, is a good example:

Second Circle:
The Serial Comma

One half of this circle is populated by souls who are cursed to make arguments that nobody cares about except their own mothers, howling gorgons and the infernal mistresses of hell. The other half are cursed to make arguments that nobody cares about except their own mothers, howling gorgons, and the infernal mistresses of hell. The difference between these two situations seems to matter a lot to both halves. Neither side will listen to you when you suggest that they could avoid this level entirely.

Circle ten; those who circulate memes on social media about how putting two spaces after a period is “wrong”.

Inflammation

Back in the eighties, in a conversation with a “progressive” of the time, I called “BS” on her use of the term “Holocaust” to describe…

…welfare reform.

It was a pattern thirty years ago.  Today, given the newliy-broad use of the term “white supremacy”, it’s turned into utter depenDence: berg

The term was popularized by academic race theory, where it seems to have largely replaced previous terms of art like “institutional racism” or “systemic racism.” Now it is migrating out of the ivory tower and into everyday discourse, puzzling the millions of Americans who are used to an older, narrower meaning.

It’s all in the marketing:

It’s easy to see why writers and academics find the term appealing. “Institutional racism” conjures up images of beige-carpeted offices and rows of desks; “systemic racism” sounds like some sort of plumbing problem. “White supremacy,” on the other hand, packs a visceral punch that commands the reader’s attention. Because they’re describing something that needs attention, it’s useful to have a phrase that does the job.

Of course, there’s the little matter of crying wolf:

Nonetheless, using “white supremacy” this way is a mistake. It leads to confusion in the national conversation, because opposing sides are using a critical term in very different ways. It hampers our ability to discuss the phenomenon that the anti-racists actually want to discuss. And ultimately, if we continue to use it this way, it will lose the very emotional resonance that made it an appealing substitute for more clinical terms.

The whole thing is worth a read.

And some concerted pushback.

As The Orcs Breach The Final Wall

I love the English language.

I earn a living in the world of business.

I hate what business has done to the language with the heat of a billion suns.

And it’s not getting better.  The decline is accelerating.  Lucy Kellaway has been documenting the decline for decades – and is finding that the worst offenders are prospering from their crimes against clear, concise language:

Howard Schultz is a champion in the bullshit space. The Starbucks executive chairman has provided me with more material for columns than any other executive alive or dead. Yet he is still at it, and still out-doing himself. Earlier this year, he announced that the new Starbucks Roasteries were “delivering an immersive, ultra-premium, coffee-forward experience”.

In this ultra-premium, jargon-forward twaddle, the only acceptable word is “an”. Mr Schultz has brewed up a blend of old and new jargon, the fashionable and the workaday, adding a special topping of his own. “Delivering” and “experience” are grim but not new. “Ultra-premium” is needless word inflation. “Immersive” is fashionable, though ill-advised if you are talking about scalding liquids. The innovation is “coffee-forward”. Sounds fantastic, but what is it?

And it serves their purpose:

Over the years, Mr Schultz has consistently proved just how bad language serves business people well. So when an analyst asks if you are going to acquire anything, you can either say no, which is a bit too bald and clear, or you can say 34 words instead, as he did a few years ago: “I would say that we have enough to digest in the near-term, and there’s nothing candidly in our sightline that would suggest that we’re involved in engaging anything that we’re going to acquire.”

Bingo. The audience will be so bored, you will never get called to account.

50,000 foot view?  It is what it is.