Fer F*ck’s Sake, America — They’re Just WORDS!

George Bernard Shaw put it this way — ‘The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.”

Not that every Brit is Shakespeare — that would be a slight over-statement — but regardless of how profane they are by nature most Brits are a hell of a lot better at using the language to express themselves; it’s a subtle thing — having to do with not only word choices but just a general facility with the language itself.  Britain’s is a more literary culture by nature and history.  On the surface, its obsessions seem fuddy-duddy & Old World.  Colonial even.  And British culture is all those things — for better and worse.

One of the better cultural obsessions is the language.  Brits are no match for the French when it comes to compulsive defensiveness regarding their language — the French have ‘L’Acadamie Francaise’ overseeing the language, literally allowing or not allowing (the most usual outcome) new words in.  English (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) has 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 ‘obscure’ words in more limited use.  French, by comparison, has 100,000 words — roughly half as many.  But (this is significant), each French word has an average of 3 definitions!  Words are less descriptive by nature and more (my French professor at Vassar put it) “analytical”.

English literally grows every year as new words are added or coined.  French doesn’t do that.  Instead of inventing new words (or bringing foreign words into its vocabulary), it adds definitions or puts old words together to form a kind of French Language Pretzel.  Even so — the French are simply proud of their language and see it as part of their cultural bulwark.  That pride translates into not just a love for the language but an overall sense that how they say things is part of who they are — as individuals and as a culture.

Boy, was that long-winded.

The point is — The French and the English (among others) are far more connected to their languages than Americans are to English.  We almost seem to speak English for lack of anything else to speak.  Consequently, we Americans always seem more at odds with English than at peace with it.  It’s more an obstacle to expressing ourselves than a tool.

If George Carlin had been English, he would never have conceived of ‘The 7 Dirty Words’.  It wouldn’t have been on his radar.  Yes, true, you couldn’t say any of those words on the BBC either, but it wasn’t because they quaked at the sound of them as we seem to.  Even in public spaces, words that shock Americans get aired regularly.  The broadcast moratorium on them is decorum and not the threat of legal action.

Here in America though, those words are always an issue.  An example — I refrain from using the word ‘F*ck’ here on this blog.  In order to be part of any possible ad revenue stream (such as there is one), one has to avoid using certain words.  The title of this blog puts me in a hazy zone of quasi-acceptability.  For all our ‘freedom of speech’, Americans sure seem intimidated by certain words.

And that’s the point (finally!)

Americans are intimidated by their own language.  It goes beyond ‘swear words’.  To a degree our sensitivity to oppressive words (the ‘n-word’, ‘kike’ (being a Jew, I get to use the word — how it is), et cetera is appropriate; it recognizes how certain words become weaponized.  Those words are always aimed at specific groups — they are weaponized — and need to be seen as weapons.

We’re not talking about those words.  It’s like comparing sex and  rape.  Not the same things as similar as they are in form.

Americans — being less comfortable and at home with their own language — have a terrible habit of using English to obscure truth rather than reveal it.  Want to know what I mean?  Listen to anyone in Congress yak away for 30 seconds.  On average, they’ll use about 50 words when 10 would have sufficed.  All those extra words add fog to the mix and not clarity.

When a Mitch McConnell is forced to answer questions, Mitch is a master at using words to completely misrepresent what he’s really saying.  He gets away with it easily because so few Americans — including and especially our news media — are comfortable enough with the language to blow past its chaff to get to its wheat.  If, after Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan or Devin Nunes or Jim Jordan or Mike Pence or (especially) Donald Trump overtly lied to the public the media called their lies ‘LIES’ as opposed to ‘other points of view’ — we would begin to strip these people of their power to misuse and abuse the language.

Our cultural discomfort with sex-related words flows straight from the repressive religious prigs — the Pilgrims — who came here less for religious freedom than because their religion was just plain wacky — and the Church of England wanted them gone.  It seems to be a constant among humans:  intense religious feelings and sexual repression are soul mates.  They go together like peanut butter and jelly, yin and yang, republicans and corruption.

This twisted unease with sexuality expresses itself in perverse ways.  I think I ‘got it’ about American culture when I was a kid.  I don’t mean that certain words and images were ‘restricted’ — I mean that those restrictions were symptoms of a deeper, darker dysfunction.  A vivid memory from my youth:  I’m in high school — a huge Kurt Vonnegut reader.  ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ is a seminal book in my development.

Back then, the media stone age, there were 3 networks:  ABC, CBS, NBC.  That’s it.  On the night in question, CBS is running the last night of its multi-night mini-series ‘HELTER SKELTER’ — the story of the Mansion Family and the Tate-LaBianca murders.  NBC counter-programmed the premier broadcast run of the film version of ‘Slaughterhouse Five’.  Two ‘events’.

I didn’t care about ‘Helter Skelter’.  I cared about ‘Slaughterhouse Five’.  But I did flip back and forth a little — because the last part of ‘Helter Skelter’ is the most compelling:  the murders themselves.  Here’s where it got weird — and where we, as a culture, revealed ourselves.

On CBS, if one watched, one could experience a dramatized but nonetheless horrifying version of an actual event — murder, bloodshed, unspeakable cruelty.

On NBC, if one watched, one experienced a profound anti-war movie that spoke directly to the human condition.  I am absolutely not making a judgement about one story good, one story bad.  Both were excellent, valid stories that needed to be told.  But one revealed the very worst of us and one wanted to speak to the best in us.

At the end of ‘Slaughterhouse Five’, Billy Pilgrim, the hero (he’s ‘unstuck in time’ — able to travel between various moments in his own life including his own birth and death) visits a time in his life when he’s a ‘prisoner’ in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore.  There, he’s been put into a comfortable enclosure that he shares with a well known adult performer Montana Wildhack; the two are meant to breed — which they do.

While ‘Helter Skelter’ climaxes with chaos and mayhem, ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ climaxes with Billy Pilgrim imagining a terrible war crime — the Allied bombing of Dresden, German during WWII — being reversed:  the firestorm goes out as the bombs that caused them fly back up into the Allied bombers that dropped them.  The coda to this vision is Billy Pilgrim and Montana Wildhack in their enclosure — Montana having just given birth to their baby.

Montana puts the baby to her breast and feeds it.  She breast-feeds her baby (a hopeful symbol — feeding the future).  But, because the shot involved actress Valerie Perine’s naked breast, it had to be CUT.

So — on CBS:  murder and mayhem in horrifying (but valid) detaili.

On NBC:  Breastfeeding babies is verboten.

That, right there, sums us up.  It sums up our culture.  It sums up our attitude toward language.  You can describe in all the detail you want on the American public airwaves ways to kill people.

Don’t you DARE however, describe all the ways you’d like to LOVE people.

What the f*ck is the word for ‘that’?

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Americans Need To Kick Their Addiction to BABY TALK

All over America, talking heads are swooning. Rashida Tlaib — one of the new Democratic Reps — called Donald Trump out for being the mofo he is. You’d think she’d called him a traitor. That would have been a far dirtier word…

Understand — by ‘baby talk’ I do not mean anything remotely ‘gaa-gaa-goo-goo’.  I mean Americans need to speak like grown-ups when speaking about grown-up subjects.  Like Racism.  Or Bigotry.  Or Treason.

But Americans — the talking head class anyway — have a terrible habit of baby-talking everything — of talking down to the audience as if the Cold Hard Facts would be more than our tender snowflakey white sensibilities could handle.  That may be true for the Snowflakes in the audience but the rest of us have a few scars and welts on us — that cured us of any possible baby talk addiction.

Using the word ‘wee-wee’ in place of, say, ‘penis’ is dubious practice with a 5 year old.  Right off the bat it sets certain words apart.  These are dangerous words.  The subtext travels right along with the word as it burrows into our minds.  The culture’s discomfort becomes our discomfort.

Hello, ‘baby talk’.

The epitome is comics having to work ‘clean’ when on broadcast television.  The baby talk gets laughs — uncomfortable laughs — because it sets off all the alarm bells baby talk is meant to set off:  We’re talking about something we shouldn’t… we’re not ‘adult’ enough.

Yeesh!  When someone lies to you — they’re not dissembling or hedging or ‘yes-but-ing’, they’re lying.

Let’s start there.

It is unconscionable that it took so long for a few of the MSM to call Donald Trump out on his lies.  Now — if only they could do it to his face.  Sometimes, just the refusal to say something — to speak the truth (especially to the world’s biggest man-baby of all time) is the baseline equivalent of Baby Talk.

The first time or two, no doubt — Donald Trump will bristle and react like he’s just been zapped in the bloated orange nutsack.  But then he’ll adapt to it.  He’ll say:  “Yeah — I’m lying.  What of it?”  He’ll expect us to shrug and say nothing.

Or — he’ll expect us to baby talk him — as everyone does.

Historically, Trump can’t deal with being opposite smart people.  They make him feel every bit as inadequate as he actually is.  Adult talk is not only anathema to Trump — it’s his kryptonite.  Adult talk – focused Adult talk – is to Donald Trump what salt is to a slug.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s try it out…

American Culture Has A White-Christian-Male Bias & It Needs To Go

How many guilty Catholic priests does it take to screw in a light bulb?  Better question — How many guilty Catholic priests (guilty of SCREWING children) does it take before a Culture opens its damned eyes?

That blind spot isn’t the Catholic Church’s alone.  The man who sexually assaulted me worked for a synagogue.  Jews do it too.  And Protestants and Muslims.  I suspect other religions do it, too but I’m not too well-versed in their cultures; I know from Abrahamic religions — they all flow from the same toxic male bias.  The religious elements are all really just ‘overlays’ of male self-aggrandizement.  If you really, really look at them, Abrahamic religions have a nasty habit of making its male believers believe not so much ‘in’ a god as that ‘THEY THEMSELVES’ are gods.

They are not made in Yahweh’s image (Yahweh’s his name, god is his job description), Yahweh is made in theirs.

When you start out — deep down — thinking YOU are ‘the gods’ — and if YOU have control of the Culture (made much easier when you tell everyone that YOU and YOU alone can communicate with ‘the gods’) — things like ‘bias’ just sort of flow naturally.  Like toxic waste from a turd factory.

What we Americans need to grasp is that we begin every conversation or debate about who we are with a heavy bias that distorts our image.  We are NOT that thing the Culture insists we are.  We are not predominantly White-Christian-Male — and never were.

But, when you jealously guard the means to tell stories to the widest possible audience, you risk fooling yourself first and foremost.

White-Christian-Male Culture wants us all to believe their excrement smells like roses.  It doesn’t.  They know better than anyone.

They’ve stacked the deck best they can to keep hold of their Ivory Tower.  Problem is, they’re surrounded — by the rest of us.  We need to overtake them — remove them from their tower and then remove their tower, too.  It all needs to go.

It will start — shortly — with our votes.

Dear Main Stream Media – No, Both Sides DON’T Do It

I’m dying to know.  Which class is it in America’s Journalism Schools that’s confusing everyone?  Which class is instructing American Journalists that if you can’t write anything else, fall back on ‘Well, both sides do it…!’?

Whichever class it is, it’s screwing up American Journalism to the point where American Journalism is HELPING undermine the Republic.  ‘Both sides do it’ is literally blinding them to the larger — and far, FAR more  important — story.

‘Both Sides Do It’ Journalism accepts that a man stealing a loaf of bread because he’s hungry is the same as an industrialist stealing billions from the commonweal.  Yes — both men are thieves.  BOTH SIDES DO IT.

But there’s a difference of scale between them, yeah?  Stealing a loaf of bread and stealing billions are both thievery but aside from that abstract fact, there’s not an iota of similarity.  And while you could say ‘BOTH SIDES DO IT’ — it doesn’t exactly capture ‘The Truth’.  In fact, it perverts the Truth.

That’s what ‘Both Sides Do It’ instantly eschews: Scale… Proportion… Context.  It’s a headline that doesn’t actually match the story.

As we head toward an election that will absolutely decide this country’s fate, the American News Media is taking ‘Both Sides Do It’ Journalism to bold new heights.

Today’s ‘It’ — Enthusiasm.  Both sides have enthusiasm.  Yes, they do.  But the ‘nature’ of that enthusiasm — that’s actually the story.  People who want to restrict rights have one sort of ‘enthusiasm’ and people whose rights are about to be restricted — they experience a whole ‘other’ kind of ‘enthusiasm’.  Theirs is existential.  The other is merely cruel and mired in fear of the ‘other’.  It’s Lizard Brain thinking (as it were).

When you report them as being the same — it distorts everything about the story.  It screws with the Truth.  It’s not far enough away to be dismissed out of hand, but it’s close enough to blur reality in peoples’ minds.  Damage done.

When you approach every story already fixated on the false narrative that whatever crime one side does, the other is matching it step for step.  The most painful example remains every time a ‘serious’ news media outlet hosts a panel discussion about Climate Change and they invite a Climate Change Denier to sit in on the panel.

Television — this is not a revelation — is a mostly visual medium.  How you see things is key to how you perceive them.  When a news outlet splits a screen 50-50, the inherent message is “These Two Sides Are Equal” (by the same token if they squeezed those screens to represent reality — perhaps that would be a genius way to faithfully represent how arguments compare).  When a Climate Scientist shares a 50-50 screen with a Denier — the two are given equal weight, as are their arguments.  Science gets diminished while bullshit gains credibility.  That can’t possibly end well.

But that, too, is part of ‘Both Sides Do It’.  It slides easily into false narratives because it starts from such a distorted place.  Once False Narratives get launched, they take on a life of their own.  The Truth gets harder to discern from all the bullshit surrounding it.

After a while — as we have now — American Journalists start out from a ‘Both Sides Do It’ perspective.  They fail to see any sort of proportionality.  A candidate who equivocates about a senate vote becomes the same as a candidate who lies about raping someone. They both failed to tell the Truth.  BOTH SIDES DO IT.

No, American News Media — Both Sides DO NOT DO IT.

Both sides DO NOT regularly cheat to win elections.

Both sides DO NOT do not disenfranchise and suppress voters.

Both sides DO NOT ‘knowingly’ accept money from FOREIGN DONORS!

Both sides DO NOT lie with such shocking impunity.

Both sides DO NOT so clearly serve the needs of their White, Wealthy, Christian, Male donors at the expense of every other American.

Both sides DO NOT declare Culture War on other Americans.

Both sides DO NOT commit TREASON to hold onto power.

Both sides do not do it.  Period.

 

I Grew Up In The Holocaust’s Shadow

I grew up in the 1960’s in a mostly upper middle class Jewish suburb in northwest Baltimore.  Pikesville was so predominantly Jewish that the area — and its Junior & Senior High Schools — were known as ‘Kikesville’, get it?

World War II ended 14 years before I was born.  By the time I started attending Hebrew School (beginning when I was 6) , the War was 20 years in the World’s rear view mirror.  Most of the War’s visible impacts were long gone.  But the scars — they were all still fresh for lots of people.  Jews, for instance.

The generation that had been alive during this atrocity now had to inform the next generation that this thing had happened.  They needed to tell us because even though the true horror was over, a new ideal had been born from the ashes falling over places like Auschwitz and Dachau and Buchenwald and Treblinka.  Jews would never ever go like lambs to the slaughter again.  That began with KNOWING that it happened and could always happen again.

It began early — knowing.  Keep in mind — these monsters killed children with not an iota of conscience.  It became important for Jewish children to understand that they could never be completely safe in this world.  You need to have that notion instilled early.  If you don’t learn it early enough, you’ll be surprised or disappointed or crushed when someone you care about or who you thought cared about you turns out to be one of them: A Jew-Hater.

Expect to be hated.  Have a plan — either to calm the situation down or run for the border — already in mind.

NYT2010100712284619C

The image that first got inside my head was this one.  Jews being arrested in the Warsaw Ghetto, sometime in April or May 1943.  I saw that kid with his arms up — his terrified eyes screaming ‘What’d we do?  Why us?’  Ironically — though a number of people in this iconic photo have been identified — along with their fate — the boy in the middle — the boy who kind of epitomized how I identified as a Jew — THAT boy’s fate is unknown.

Like a lot of young Jews my age, I identified with that boy.  He was me.

The Warsaw Ghetto — as terrible a place as it was — also was the site of the biggest (not the only) active Jewish Resistance.  From January to April 1943, the Germans were fired on and killed when they entered the Ghetto.  They fired back, of course — in the end, they wiped the Ghetto off the map —

Warsaw_Ghetto_destroyed_by_Germans,_1945

That’s what’s left of the Warsaw Ghetto — 1945.  400,000 Jews were transported out.  The Germans killed 35,000 Jews while starvation and disease killed 83,000.

The Will to Fight Back was born in that place.

When I see people like THIS in America — I know where it leads.

What’s truly horrifying — I absolutely believed as I was growing up that my parents and my community were nuts for shoving the Holocaust down our throats.  The World my generation was going to re-imagine would never allow such a thing to happen in the future.  There’s a reason we don’t let stupid children run things: they’re stupid.  And they’re children.

It truly hurts sto see swastikas here and know it’s not an anomaly.  It’s who this country is and always has been.

Lesson keeps getting learned:  Don’t get too comfortable here.  Don’t get too comfortable anywhere…

You live in a shadow.

Our Retail Politics Are Killing Democracy

In theory anyway, Democracy’s simple:  In self-government, the majority of the people get to call the shots.  It’s understood that the majority is made up of a multiplicity of views because it includes so much of the citizenry.

“What do the citizens want?”  That’s the first question.  But it needs to be accompanied by ‘But, what do the citizens KNOW — do they understand what they want in its proper context?’  A citizenry yearning for Unicorns and Jetpacks for all might be a little too hopeful for their own good.  We count on our elected representatives — we expect their perspective to be better than ours,  In order to do their jobs representing us, they simply need to know more of the nuts and bolts details about how we run things.

Can we assume they went into that line of work because they liked it — and thought themselves good at it?

Some people go into politics for genuinely altruistic reasons.  Yeah, sure — everyone wants to ‘make things better’.  The question’s always ‘for whom?’  Guys like Beto O’Rourke — you can hear it in their voices and see it in the way they practice politics: He’s in it because he actually cares — about people, about the commonweal — about the whole notion of what ‘America’ is supposed to be.

Ironically, Beto’s opponent Ted Cruz is the cynical opposite.  Ted thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us — and knows better.  He doesn’t know better what WE need — but he knows damned well what HE needs — and what those giving him money need.  Ted Cruz is ‘clearer’ than an Upper Thetan Scientologist on that.

American Retail Politics isn’t about doing what’s best for anyone.  It isn’t about believing in anything other than getting more votes (however you need to accomplish that end).  It is, by its nature, an exercise in anti-democratic cynicism.  And yet — every two years (on a national level), we demonstrate to the world how little we value actual Democracy and how much we value money.

Our media loves the horse race.  They ADORE it.  They see it through the most narrow Horse Race-y lens.  A zero-sum game where one group of Americans wins while another loses.  Then they wonder — after crowing about winners and losers — whey Americans are perpetually at each others’ throats.  Elections don’t take place in vacuums.  This one certainly isn’t.

Yet the News Media wants to tell THIS story as if it’s happening in a world where the President of the United States — and his political party — aren’t TRAITORS.  When indictments drop — whenever they drop — the News Media will act as if the crime started to be committed AT THAT MOMENT.

No — all the time the News Media behaved as if this was Normal World, a CRIME was being committed — right in front of them.  They even asked some of the perps questions — and got lied to.  The TRUTH didn’t matter, the ‘correct answer’ did.

It’s the ‘correct answer’ that drives Retail Politics.  It ain’t about what anyone believes.  It’s about the getting and keeping of power.

That’s NOT how Democracy works.

We are living inside PROOF that THIS — what we’re living in — is how Democracy dies.