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These Colors Don’t Run

August 31, 2016 2 comments

This week, according to sludgebait website Awful Announcing, “Everyone Is Losing Their [sic] Minds Over Colin Kaepernick.” During a preseason NFL game, television cameras caught the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback sitting during the traditional pregame playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick addressed the subject in a postgame interview:

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His team promptly issued the following statement:

The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.

Kaepernick’s former teammate, Alex Boone, also was quick to react, and his critical comments reflected those of many who were displeased with Kaepernick’s display:

You should have some f—ing respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom. We’re out here playing a game, making millions of dollars. People are losing their life, and you don’t have the common courtesy to do that. That just drove me nuts. . . . There’s a time and a place. Show some respect.

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I haven’t been alive every year America, or its flag, has, but I have the following senses: 1) the American flag long has been a symbol of great reverence for the nation’s military, for obvious reasons; 2) the flag was not always the exclusive symbolic property of any particular political or social faction, however; 3) as it had during prior times of national crisis, the flag’s symbolic energy increased during the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks; and 4) during that time, and as the nation’s response to those attacks eventually became a matter of partisan and public controversy, the flag, as a symbol, traveled with that response and its proponents such that, in the following years, many wore or displayed the flag as a symbolic endorsement of the growing War on Terror and the political and military leaders of that war, to the exclusion of other people and groups, including those who questioned or opposed those actions.

The American flag belongs to all Americans, however, including those who want to fly it in support of a particular political regime; those who want to fly it in opposition to a particular political regime, as a reminder of values for which it stands that they feel that regime is disregarding; those who want to reject it; those who want to burn it; those who want to ignore it; and anyone else.

Kaepernick’s protest raises serious and immediate practical concerns. The discourse his protest initiated also highlighted the reality that many view the flag and other national symbols as the exclusive property of some, but not all. That is worrisome, but it also provides an opportunity to examine and reverse the trajectory of the flag as a captured, proprietary national symbol.

Wave that flag
Wave it wide and high
Summertime done
Come and gone
My oh my

Categories: Current, Discourse, Politics, Sports

The Face of a Memorial

May 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Yesterday was Memorial Day. The legacy and cost of wars as public policy decisions can be told in gruesomely sterile bar graphs. It is relatively easy to discuss and analyze an issue by aggregating the participants and then slicing and dicing them in the pursuit of answers and pseudo-conclusions. War merits inspection on an n=1 basis as well. Even though that sort of inspection is difficult and expensive, and even though its results are not readily translated into things like bar graphs and statistical tables, it remains necessary. This is particularly so given the sense that our armed forces draw their volunteers from increasingly narrow demographic subsets. Considering the individual soldier, even (perhaps especially) if she is not personally known to the considerer, is worthwhile and valuable.

Individualized humans can communicate messages to other humans that statistical humans cannot, and, in the course of placing at risk human lives, regard of the former ought at least to compliment analysis of the latter.

Categories: Compassion, Discourse, Politics

Extreme Hatred

December 31, 2015 Leave a comment

Thompson-Nixon

As we conclude the leftover days of 2015, the nemontemi, preferably with a hopeful eye toward genuine positivity in the new year, a brief pause to remember the muse that is true hatred, a personal distaste that comes from a passionate place of deep emotion. Inspired therefrom can be words so effective, smoldering slow burns punctuated by efficiently biting lashes, true rants, that they are– in something that is apart from and rises above schadenfreude– enjoyable and even beneficial as a result.

One of the great personal feuds of the twentieth century to produce such literary output belonged to Hunter S. Thompson, vis-à-vis Richard M. Nixon. Thompson’s hatred of Nixon generated an entire book, one of Thompson’s best. When the thirty-seventh American president died, Thompson’s obituary, entitled “He Was a Crook,” evidences a true sense of personal loss. It begins:

MEMO FROM THE NATIONAL AFFAIRS DESK DATE: MAY 1, 1994 FROM: DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON SUBJECT: THE DEATH OF RICHARD NIXON: NOTES ON THE PASSING OF AN AMERICAN MONSTER…. HE WAS A LIAR AND A QUITTER, AND HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN BURIED AT SEA…. BUT HE WAS, AFTER ALL, THE PRESIDENT.

“And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”

—Revelation 18:2

Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it.

The full program is available here.

Best wishes for safe passage into 2016.

Categories: Discourse, Language, Politics

It is Time to Believe Again

August 4, 2015 3 comments

Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).

To write many words here would defeat the purpose of this post, which is to highlight the expansion in our popular discourse of both the use of extreme descriptors and their likely associated increasing application to mundane subjects. I am not a brilliant sociologist, so I am not sure exactly why everything is so incredibly incredible these days, although I suspect some of the concepts surrounding the notion of the attention economy (e.g., our increasingly-difficult-to-satisfy need for other people to pay attention to us) may be helpful in answering that question.

Whether this is happening, though, is a more readily answerable question, I think. While the NSA still isn’t releasing searchable transcripts for all of our written and verbal conversations, we do have some proxies. One is the Google Ngram viewer, which allows a variety of queries from the text of all of the books Google has scanned into its system. Another is Chronicle, which allows similar searches of the text of the New York Times. Some results from both sources:

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These are incredible times indeed.

Please feel free to share the results of your own queries and suggest your own hypotheses or explanations in the comment section below.

Categories: Current, Discourse, Language

“The prettiest place on Earth was Baltimore at night”

April 30, 2015 1 comment

Eight months later, another American city is undertaking physical confrontation of questions sometimes forcefully presented that, distilled, are fundamentally straightforward. Answering them has proven challenging, however.

The binary nature of many of the relationships and interactions at issue can lead to both clarity and confusion. This remains a time for asking questions (and seeking answers to those questions), rather than drawing conclusions:

It is an open American wound in one of our great American cities, and any attempt to conscribe some “lesson” to be learned, some overarching A-to-B “The More You Know” takeaway is an insult to the density of the situation both in Baltimore and the rest of the country. (The president’s response Tuesday on this was telling; he actually apologized for giving such a long answer.) Life is impossibly confounding, from every angle — the best you can do is just try to have empathy for every individual human being and admit that none of us can truly know anything. I can’t boil it down to any conceivable essence without losing its bottomless complexity, and neither can you. Distrust those who try. They are attempting to sell you something.

At the risk of losing this site’s sponsoring advertisers, I will press on just a little further in order to note the following:

Justice demands that participants in the riots are identified, arrested, and charged with whatever crimes they committed. Their unjustifiable violence endangered innocents, destroyed businesses, and harmed the economic future of largely black neighborhoods; they earned the frustrated contempt of Baltimore’s mayor and members of its clergy and strengthened the hand of the public-safety unions that are the biggest obstacles to vital policing reforms.

But a subset of Baltimore police officers has spent years engaged in lawbreaking every bit as flagrant as any teen jumping up and down on a squad car, however invisible it is to CNN. And their unpunished crimes have done more damage to Baltimore than Monday’s riots. Justice also requires that those cops be identified and charged, but few are demanding as much because their brutality mostly goes un-televised. Powerless folks are typically the only witnesses to their thuggery. For too long, the police have gotten away with assaults and even worse. The benefit of the doubt conferred by their uniforms is no longer defensible.

(Hyperlink added.)

There exists a binary relationship between the law and the citizenry as well. In practice, the making of the former ought to reflect the– perhaps aspirational– values of the latter. The enactment of laws enshrining principles of equality is no small feat, a fact to which older generations can attest. Yet, as the exceeding of boiling points in Ferguson and Baltimore within the past year reveal, the still greater challenge remains the actual living under and abiding by those governing principles of equality.

For some, recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore come as revelations that fundamental power, class, and race conflicts persist in this country. (For many others, of course, knowledge of the reality of these conflicts did not come recently.) These protests and related events do not represent a step backward, though, because their underlying drivers are not new, and because the effort to carry out enacted policies of equality and justice comes as a natural and subsequent step following the enactment of those policies.

At this time, however, many questions remain.

Getting a Better Grip on Guns in Airports

February 27, 2015 1 comment

Last month, the digitally minded folks at FiveThirtyEight set out to answer a simple question: How many guns has the United States Transportation Administration confiscated at each U.S. airport? The TSA gave them the answer, in terms of both loaded and unloaded guns confiscated per airport. FiveThirtyEight presented this data as a list of airports, ranked in descending order by total guns confiscated. They then drew some general conclusions from the data, as presented (e.g., “Airports in Texas and Florida dominate the list” and “Do a quick gun-check the next time you’re about to head to the airport, it’ll save us all a lot of time”).

The brief critique of FiveThirtyEight’s post is that the site has added nothing to the understanding of this subject, beyond doing what, presumably, anyone else could do– request the data from TSA and list it in a simple chart– and no more. (Indeed, numerous news sites posted similar reports around the same time.)

Upon almost immediate reflection, it should be of negligible surprise that the airports that appear atop the list– Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix, both Houston airports, and Denver– are among the most heavily utilized airports in the country. Keeping in mind that, in general, the passengers from whom TSA is confiscating guns at a given airport are on flights originating from that airport, the painfully obvious question of actual value to this conversation is, at which airports did TSA confiscate a disproportionate number of guns relative to the number of passengers at that particular airport? With more than a little help from some friends, including readers Mitch and Rusty, the answer to that question follows.   Read more…

Categories: Discourse, Information

The Wall Street Journal Journal for January 16, 2015

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment

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Stock spiked up out of the gate this morning, reacting to overnight news of a legal détente between two liquidity trading firms. The sharp upswing stalled and eventually vanished as the market digested new uncertainty in the mammalian employment and licensure sectors. Traders soon erased the losses of the morning, and nearly the week, however, mounting a breathless climb in fitting tribute to a fallen brand, ending the day up over two-hundred points.

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Stocks end 5-day losing streak: Dow gains about 200

Categories: Current, Discourse, Information