Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Howlin' Wind

Walk out the door a skeleton
red bud branches naked
staring me in the face
their iridescent sunniness
a shock against
the Brillo sky so
rudely rubbing me
the wrong way I'm thinking
no singing to myself
Dylan's a hard rain's gonna
fall whipping into snow gloppy
glory luminous and driven

Monday, October 27, 2008

Say the Word . . .

Remember the Beatles song that had the lyrics "say the word love"? Although I didn't know it at the time, the song was arranged as a Gospel tune (perhaps faux Gospel would be a more apt description). In these waning days of the almost-eternal U.S. presidential election, we now hear several variations on this chorus (i.e., mantra); one of them is "say the word socialism." Hearing the word socialism, we are supposed to make a face of horror, like Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone," scream, grab our wallet or purse, reach for a weapon of minor destruction (rifle or pistol), and call 911, not necessarily in that order. When we hear socialism, we are supposed to conjure up sepia tone images from newsreels of the Stasi and East Germany and the color gray (spelled g-r-e-y in the welfare state of the U.K. until Margaret Thatcher "cleaned things up" -- so goes the neocon mythology) or listless mine workers or assembly line drones or alcoholic couch potatoes living in cement blocks or Quonset huts or Swedes sitting around, well, looking blond and bored. Of course, if you mean distribution of wealth, a more genteel term, you have the uber-capitalist Adam Smith (no relation to Anna Nicole Smith, that I know of) backing you up as well as the entire history of the Internal Revenue Service code. You can look it up. No, the word socialism is pink-baiting, meant to scare, meant to bring fears of The Other (although Those Others in, say, European socialist countries did not start this mess), meant to thump one's capitalist chest. Well, um, comrades, the words capitalist and socialist -- whatever they said in the textbooks or dictionaries -- just got a rewrite inthe last several weeks. They mean zero, zilch, in traditional terms, unless you are pressing an emotional hot button. They mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Unless you are into good, old-fashioned political propaganda (but at least admit it and then enjoy the ride).

Oh, we have a word for that button-pressing: demagoguery. (I learned the word, long ago, from William F. Buckley, Jr., the recently deceased high priest of American conservatism.)

While we're on the subject, Catholic voters are hereby reminded that popes have repeatedly warned of the dangers of pure capitalism or pure socialism. That's my point: they don't exist. Except in Utopia. And I remind you that Utopia, as expressed in Thomas More's wonderful satire, is Greek for "nowhere."

There are some other choruses that we are tirelessly hearing. One of them is "lower taxes." It is trite. Do I want more money in my pockets? Of course I do! After all, I live in highly taxed New York State. Is our money wasted? Yes. Are there "earmarks"? Indeed. And everyone loves the bacon when it comes to their district. Then Congress is doing a great job! But I ask you: where is the end of that arc? No taxes? none? All money kept by solipsistic me me me me? People in California may recall Proposition 13 about 30 years ago. They got lower taxes. Then they cried because the library was closed two days a week or because health care was not available at a public hospital or the DMV was closed every other day, et cetera ad nauseam.

Now, "Say the word endum," um, sort of like addendum, but not quite.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


pinkwash -- v. To smear one with false allegations of "socialism" (at a time when a so-called conservative president is presiding over the largest government intervention since FDR's efforts during the Great Depression, when Republicans even opposed the idea of Social Security as a "socialist" move).


yellowwashing -- n. Impugning (i.e., pissing on) or questioning the motives, integrity, bravery, courage, loyalty, or patriotism of a political opponent because the opponent's views differ from yours.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I learned a new word at an environmental conference last week:


It's a delicious combination of green and whitewashing (and brainwashing, come to think of it).

According to Wikipedia, here are the Six Sins of Greenwashing:

In December 2007, environmental marketing company TerraChoice gained national press coverage for releasing a study called "The Six Sins of Greenwashing," which found that 99% of 1,018 common consumer products randomly surveyed for the study were guilty of greenwashing.

According to the study, the six sins of greenwashing are:

  • Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: e.g. “Energy-efficient” electronics that contain hazardous materials.
  • Sin of No Proof: e.g. Shampoos claiming to be “certified organic,” but with no verifiable certification.
  • Sin of Vagueness: e.g. Products claiming to be 100% natural when many naturally-occurring substances are hazardous, like arsenic and formaldehyde (see appeal to nature).
  • Sin of Irrelevance: e.g. Products claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago.
  • Sin of Fibbing: e.g. Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, Energy Star or Green Seal.
  • Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: e.g. Organic cigarettes or “environmentally friendly” pesticides.
Being a bit of a wordsmith, I ask you, what would these words mean:






Oh, I have ideas percolating. Oh yeah.

Sometimes, though, it is best to let imaginations play, which would be spectrumwashing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

To Womb It May Concern

Peace begins

in the Womb.

I saw that on a bumpersticker today.

We like our philosophy or theology simple in America, simple enough to fit on a bumpersticker or a T-shirt. I can't complain about that. I've written a peer-reviewed technical paper touting the wisdom of simple messages for complex material.

Peace begins in the womb. (Why the uppercase W? Is it a subliminal message from W, the Prez? Is it saying that that anatomical part has higher grammatical ranking than, say, the heart, the penis, or the elbow? Is womb uppercased as a proper noun per order of some feminist manifesto?)

I suspect the message is trying to make a comment regarding the abortion vs. pro-choice debate. (I happen to oppose abortion and don't know anyone who expresses gleeful support of that act. I also happen to recognize we live in a pluralistic society. In passing, let me add that pro-life, for me, also means opposition to the death penalty and support of a myriad of social programs to nurture life [human life, that is], once it is on this earth, programs that are often opposed by the "lower-my-taxes-I-hate-government-except-when-convenient-to-me-me-me-so-called-conservative crowd.)

Anyway, back to "peace begins in the womb."

Does it?

Does this refer to playing Bach for fetuses? (Feti? Is there such a word?) Or the nap time of people-to-be in utero?

And, honestly, doesn't peace really end in the womb?

Come on. Was anything ever more peaceful than those days, those good ol' days back in the womb?

After all, that's why we humans invented the fetal position.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Word Counts, Revisited

I take back what I said about words in the previous post. Sort of.

Words count. But so does counting words.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, counts words and analyzes what the array of our words and their number say about us, whether we are lying, what our motives are, whether our relationships are changing, other patterns, et cetera, ad infinitum.

When I was an English teacher, I loathed when students would pencil in their running tally of words in their assigned writing. They'd pencil in pesky little numerals above their text -- text that usually consisted of What The Teacher Wants To Hear. Yawn. And I told them I loathed that practice because they were paying more attention to the number of words than the content of the words. They'd say, "Mr. K, how long does the assignment have to be?"

"I don't know; as long as it's good," and they'd howl.

Who knew the kids were inadvertently on to something?

Click on the link here for the article in today's Science Times; fascinating.

Plus, check out Wordwatchers, Dr. Pennebaker's intriguing website that provides dispassionate and sober critiques comparing word use by, yes, of course, McCain and Obama (and the other candidates).

So, now, this blog has explored the linguistic gamut, From Um to Eternity.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Cost of Wording

In the economy, we hear about the "cost of living." A raise might even be termed a COLA, or "cost of living adjustment."

What about blogging?

Some blogs rely on imagery or videos or photos; most use words. What if we had to pay for each word (or each character) our fingers tapped out on the keyboard? Already some pilot programs are being tested to limit Internet use, mostly to thwart hoggish e-behavior.

My point is this: in a reversal of the days of Charles Dickens or Henry James, when some authors were paid by the word and were encouraged to serialize and to write more more more, what if we all had to pay for each word?

How measured would we become? How carefully would we choose our words? Would we use the editor's scalpel or even the handy hatchet? Would haiku become the coin of the realm, the currency of choice in a deflated market of post-logorrheic excess?

Watching the financial world turn upside down, I scratched my metaphorical head and wondered what would happen if such tumult applied to the blogosphere.

And now we return to our usual unusual programming.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Avoid Brain Brownout

More studies support my crusade, um, campaign, against multitasking.

As reported on NPR, a study by Dr. David Meyer of the University of Michigan is among the latest.

He says that multitasking causes something like brownout in the brain and harms performance and is addictive and will give you warts (well, he said some of that).

I've been telling you folks.

Now help the struggling economy and go out and buy one of my Age Quod Agis products, but not while doing something else.

p.s. For those who forgot, "age quod agis" is a Latin phrase that means "do what you are doing." Thank you. See, shameless capitalism still exists in this age of bailouts. (I wish they'd bail me out; it would cost way less than a billion or two, give or take.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

May Day, or Whatchamacallit

Calling from Brooklyn, a dear old friend of mine said to me last night, "This [referring to the financial mess] could make the Depression look like the Feast of San Gennaro." I laughed robustly because it was such a great line -- which we both hope turns out not to be prophetic. Speaking of feasts, it's more like May Day! May Day! Well, October 4 was (and still is) the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. He's an apt model: a spoiled rich kid who gave it all away and devoted his life to God and others. And found joy in poverty. Picture a hot shot on Wall Street or Hollywood celeb who discovers the emptiness of it all. Something like that. He may be remembered most as a kind of Dr. Dolittle, but the statue of him in your garden stands for so much more. In my teens I thoroughly enjoyed the novelization of his life by Nikos Kazantzakis. Don't you just love that name? I do. Incidentally, the epitaph on his tombstone reads: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

. . . and miles to go

My 1999 Ford Contour turned 100,000 miles yesterday. (Turned. Is that the term?) I was disappointed to have discovered this milestone event after the fact, 4 miles after the fact. Thinking back, the landmark moment would have been while I was on the highway, so it would have been risky to stop on the interstate and mark the occasion. I am not sure why it matters. I have with other cars pulled over and paused to celebrate or otherwise observe the event. I'd say, "Kids, wow, look at all those nines become zeros! Cool!" (They'd feign interest, or not, and continue with their electronic game or reading or music listening or dazing out the window.) Or with yet other vehicles I'd set off firecrackers, hire strippers, and shake Pepsi bottles as faux champagne for the gala numerical bonanza.

Yes, one is wise to ask why it matters at all to me. Why should one configuration of digits matter more than any other?

Of course, carried to its logical extenson, that question would also apply to birthdays, anniversaries, et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseam for just about any human endeavor.

It would be so zen-like to say "This Is This" and be at peace with it, be it the numerical commemoration of birth, death, gain, or loss.

Anyway, I figure it is now less than (fewer than?) 10,000 mles before I encounter the exquisite beauty of 111,111.1 miles showing up on the odometer, assuming both I and the car roll that far.

Age quod agis.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Straight to the Heart

Aiming for the heart of the problem, the so-called rescue or bailout or whatever bill has some curious features.

This, just noted by Michael S. Rosenwald of The Washington Post:

"From the Not Making This Up Department: The bill also repeals a 39-cent excise tax on wooden arrows for children."

As Casey Stengel used to say (purportedly), "You could look it up."

Maybe this should be called the Glass-Stengel Act in honor of him and transparency.