Category Archives: Politics

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Folly!

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Trump’s wall along our southern border is not your garden-variety folly.

One of the most oft-misquoted lines in English literature is the three-word escape clause “ignorance is bliss.” You’ve heard it often, probably when the speaker wants to brush off some awkward fact or rumor.

Readers of Lingua Franca know, of course, that this famous observation by Alexander Pope does not endorse ignorance.

Also it’s not Pope. It’s Thomas Gray, whose best-known poem is “Elegy Written in a Country Churc…

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The Total Tell

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in WashingtonI have totally been thinking about this word.

No, that’s not true. I have been thinking about many other things: midterm grades, spring allergies, whether to freeze half the massive pot of chili I cooked last night, how proud I am of my March-blooming orchid. But in informal parlance, totally simply supplies emphasis. It’s not normal for a person to spend much time mulling over a single adverb; the space it’s taking up in my brain is surprisingly large. Hence, totally; or, were I under 35, like,…

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Press Releases

Unusual_Views_of_Celebrated_Bridges_in_the_Provinces-Sesshuu_Tenmabashi

Hokusai’s view of Japan (Image via Wikimedia Commons). Wilde: No such country.

If you aren’t nauseated yet by the outpouring of lies from our elected officials and those that serve them, you’ve got a stronger stomach than I do or you’re not paying attention.

But what is a lie, after all?

Mark Twain gave currency to the bon mot that lies come in three flavors:  lies, damned lies, and statistics. Social scientists have been dining out on that one for a century now.

In his little dialogue “The De…

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On, and In, the Bubble

The_Boy_in_the_Plastic_BubbleContinuing on the subject of “>sports, March Madness, aka the Big Dance, aka the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, is nearly upon us, bringing to mind the subject of basketball catch phrases, buzzwords, and clichés. Each year, a new selection of these emerges. Most subside after a few seasons, while a few — such as go-to guy or buzzer-beater or knock down (a basket) from downtown — stick around for the long haul.

Some of these terms have an evident utility. A few years ago, announcers and pundit…

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Data Mining for Personally Targeted Politics

Brexit vote mapRegular Lingua Franca readers may recall that I am a skeptic about both machine intelligence and the dangers of computers invading our privacy. But do not imagine that I am dismissive of all developments in the fields bracketed under the misnomer “artificial intelligence”: Some of the claims made about what computers can do are true, even a little scary.

I know I mocked the pathetic artificial stupidity exhibited by the devices that purport to communicate linguistically with us. I dissed 2013-vi…

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Heart of Smartness

Du BoisSo you think you’re so smart?

Somewhere in one of his novels, David Lodge gave us the game of Humiliation. You know, the one where people who are supposed to have read everything (yes, I’m talking about you people in literature) have to admit to what they haven’t read.

Think Truth or Dare, the Doctoral Edition.

There are lots of Important Books that we don’t read. And I mean those of us in the Reading Business (don’t worry, I’ll run out of capital letters soon), whatever our fields. But th…

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The Enemy of the People Is … (Envelope, Please)

Enemy-artLANDINGrev2Many of us were startled by the president’s recent labeling of the free press as “the enemy of the American people.” Many felt a line had been crossed. But which line, and what it had to do with this particular choice of words, hasn’t been crystal clear. I want to pick it apart here to understand which alarm bells may be ringing and why.

The phrase itself is most recently associated with Stalinist Russia, where, as Nikita Khrushchev put it in his 1956 speech denouncing the term, it “was specif…

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My New Crush on the Dictionary

Trump_Bigly (1)I’m hooked. Merriam-Webster is the coolest thing on social media. In these dark times, where clickbait generally leads down a long tunnel into dystopia, the Twitter resurgence of a venerable dictionary is something to, well, tweet about.

First, there’s M-W’s political savvy. As NPR and other media organizations have observed, the nerdy group in Springfield, Mass., has been having a field day with the malapropisms of the current administration. Just last week, after the president spent part of hi…

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What if the President Couldn’t Read?

2E131CE400000578-3303860-image-m-27_1446654140207A rumor has been circulating about our new president’s level of literacy. First suggested (I think) in a blog post for The Times of Israel, the notion that the president not only doesn’t like to read but cannot read above the fifth-grade level of his campaign rhetoric has made the rounds of Samantha Bee, the Daily Kos and other left-wing opinion makers. I am not here to spread that rumor, but to ask what it might mean for our understanding of both this unusual president’s character and the fut…

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Will Rogers Said That. Except He Didn’t.

The other day, a friend forwarded to me an e-mail that had been forwarded to him and 17 other people. It had the look of having been been forwarded many, many times. Here’s how it started:

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 9.24.44 AM

It continued with more “gems:”

4. Never miss a good chance to shut up. 5. Always drink upstream from the herd. 6. If you find yourself in a hole, get smart &  STOP your digging immediately. 7. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back into your pocket. 8. There are three kinds of me…