Category Archives: Politics

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Who’s Entitled?

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Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the GI Bill in 1944

 

A word I’ve been thinking about recently is entitlement, a term that has played a role in the vigorous and painful American conversation about rights.

This past week has seen the federal government announce — with certainty but hardly with clarity — the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Then Secretary of Education DeVos announced her department’s intention to rethink Title IX.

Both issues — the protection of thousand…

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I Am Not Resilient

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Following close on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, as Hurricane Irma leaves devastation in her wake that now awaits Hurricane Jose, more than a few of us are talking about the relationship of climate change and extreme weather events.

Oops. My bad. I meant to write, “More than a few of us are talking about the relationship of resilience and extreme weather events.” There. All fixed.

Or is it? As Slate’s Henry Grabar noted in March, resilience has become the term of choice in a political atmosphe…

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A Philosopher-Grammarian Gets Something Right

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I have often excoriated the useless traditional definitions of the “parts of speech” presupposed by all usage manuals and dictionaries (see my “Being a Noun,” “Being a Verb,” “Being an Adjective,” etc.). I seldom praise popular grammar books; too many of them are unredeemed horse dung from cover to cover. But I am not implacable: I did have a kind word or two here for Edward D. Johnson’s treatment of the passive. Today I want to make a positive remark about a grammar book by a fine philosopher.

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Spelling, Agin

a863d50f236278b5_trump_poster_1024x1024Farhad Manjoo is of the mind that mockery of Donald Trump’s spelling mistakes exhibits elitism. It’s a vexed question that I’ve addressed once before in this forum. There’s no doubt that making fun of people for frequent spelling mistakes, not to mention numerous typos, can prove to be an unkind jab at a dyslexic person, or a crass implication that poor spelling equates to stupidity. It is also true that an exceptionally bright, well-read person can be a lousy speller, often because of one of …

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Crash or Accident?

If, like me and millions of other Americans, you used the Waze navigation app for your Labor Day holiday driving, you probably encountered somewhere along the way a screen like this one:

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Last year, that screen would have been different. Rather than notifying the user of a crash, the word would have been accident.

The change is due in large part to the efforts of Jeff Larason, a former Boston traffic reporter who’s now the director of highway safety for Massachusetts. For about four years, he an…

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Plain Talk About Public Murder

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What is the point of classifying public mass murders as being (or not being) “terrorism” or “terror related,” as opposed to simply criminal? Why should some maniacs and assassins be accorded the honor of promotion to a higher grade of homicide? There is no generally accepted definition of terrorism, so why are such terminological distinctions even attempted when news about public slaughter is breaking?

The fashion for “lone wolf” low-tech killing sprees in public places came to the pleasant por…

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Sheetcaking: Seriously?

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Tina Fey [Image via YouTube]

 

This past Sunday afternoon, my wife took time to follow the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for “The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.” The result was indeed the best chocolate sheetcake I’ve ever had.

But it wasn’t just a culinary event. It also fed our vocabulary — yet another political word for this turbulent year.

What does cake have to do with politics? The instigator, Tina Fey, explained it on the evening of Thursday, August 17, on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.

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‘Alt’ Alternatives

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What a world of difference lies between adopting your own moniker and having one thrust upon you. I had never heard the term alt-left before the president used it in his third iteration of comments on the horrific events in Charlottesville, Va. Figuring out what he meant wasn’t exactly rocket science: Just as the alt-right is not really some alternative to right-wing positions but rather an extreme, purist force on the right, so the alt-left would be considered an extreme and purist form of lef…

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Getting Oriented

Alan Klim, Creative Commons

The beginning of term: orientation. It’s the first exposure to life at college, an induction into campus culture, the downloading of rules and regulations, and for some a festival of celebratory distractions.

Whatever shape it takes on your campus, orientation is, to use the name we give to the very last event of a college education, a commencement.

It’s also a moment to confront our obligations.

Like a series of inoculations before a journey to a remote somewhere, or…

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Why a Ham Sandwich?

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When my brother and I were teenagers, we liked to practice non sequiturs, irrelevant statements that seemed to beggar any attempt at response. One of our favorites was “My father drives with both feet.” (This happened to be true, to the detriment of our car’s brakes.) Another was “I had a ham sandwich for lunch.” For reasons that elude me now, we found it hilarious to lob these tiny verbal grenades into conversations, particularly with elders.

The ham sandwich has made a recent appearance, than…