Thursday, April 26, 2012

Yearning For Brass Gonads

What a nice month: news arrived at the beginning of April 2012 that Andrew Brainfart had breathed his last and then, after the middle of April, news arrived that Chuckles (Charles Colson) had died at 80 from complications associated with earlier brain surgery. What a twofer when a pair of nasty Dumbos breath their last. May many a Dumbo/Teabagger follow their example. David Greenberg gives Chuckles a fitting funeral oration. Mary Richards had a "Chuckles The Clown" moment on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." This blog now has a "Chuckles The Thug" moment. If there is a Hell, may Brainfart and Chuckles The Thug (and The Trickster) burn there forever. If this blogger has a wish, it is a (fair & balanced) yearning for "the balls of a brass monkey."

[x TNR]
In Remembrance Of A Lifelong Political Thug
By David Greenberg

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Almost thirty years ago, the Nixon revisionist Joan Hoff pronounced that Watergate was fast becoming a “dim and distant curiosity.” She couldn’t have been more wrong. Few people under the age of 50 are liable to get a reference to a “modified limited hang-out,” but Nixon’s gallery of White House horrors remains the benchmark against which presidential wrongdoing is measured. While anniversaries of lesser scandals like the Lewinsky affairs and even Iran-contra come and go with little attention from the news media, Watergate remembrances persist. One need only scan the obituary headlines in the New York Times:

October 8, 2011: “Kenneth H. Dahlberg, Link in the Watergate Chain, Dies at 94”

March 27, 2011: “Henry S. Ruth, Who Helped Lead Watergate Prosecution, Dies at 80.”

April 9, 2011: “Frank H. Strickler, Watergate Defense Lawyer, Dies at 92.”

“At death,” wrote Michael Schudson in his important 1992 book Watergate in American Memory, “everyone involved in Watergate is publicly marked by its shadow.”

And now, the other day: “Charles W. Colson, Watergate Felon Who Became Evangelical Leader, Dies at 80.”

Unlike Henry Ruth and Frank Strickler, Colson requires no introduction. Known to history as Nixon’s hatchet man, he was the ugliest of the Watergate thugs, the most shamelessly vicious—and also “viciously loyal,” in the words of no less than his own father. One colleague called him an “evil genius,” another called him “a cobra,” and Nixon said that he “would do anything. He’s got the balls of a brass monkey.” (Later, in his memoir, Nixon did not back away from this assessment: Colson’s “instinct for the political jugular and his ability to get things done made him a lightning rod for my own frustrations,” the former president wrote.) Colson himself agreed. He referred to himself as “the chief ass-kicker around the White House” and a “flag-waving, kick-’em-in-the-nuts, anti-press, anti-liberal Nixon fanatic.” In certain Republican circles, he made running over your own grandmother chic.

Colson’s role in the dozens of crimes that came to be known as Watergate cannot be overstated. He was involved in compiling the Enemies List—the roster of famous liberals targeted by Nixon for IRS audits and other forms of extralegal retaliation. He was connected to the unleashing of FBI agents upon CBS newsman Daniel Schorr, for a skeptical report on White House efforts to aid parochial schools—a Colson project. His fingerprints were everywhere: on the planned firebombing of the Brookings Institution; on the smear campaigns against Senator Ted Kennedy (when he was seen as Nixon’s likely 1972 opponent); on the efforts to paint Arthur Bremer, George Wallace’s would-be assassin, as a George McGovern supporter; on the burglary of whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office.

And of course he brought into the White House the former spy E. Howard Hunt, a fellow alumnus of Brown University, then famous as a CIA feeder school, to join the Plumbers’ Unit, the secret White House team designed to plug leaks via legal or illegal means. That brigade’s incompetence would of course result in the botched break-in at the Watergate building forty years ago, eventually bringing to light so many of Colson’s—and Nixon’s—dirty deeds.

Before entering prison, Colson found Jesus. For the rest of his life he made common cause with the religious right. There is no reason to think that Colson’s conversion was insincere or opportunistic, and I for one do not. But it should be noted that his clerical garb afforded him considerable material benefits. Washington influentials who might have been reluctant to forgive him now did so. The storyline of such a nasty man now finding God proved irresistible. They even helped him capitalize on his Watergate notoriety, giving him op-ed space to propound his views. Excepting Henry Kissinger, no Watergate villain ever enjoyed more column inches in the Washington Post.

But make no mistake, Colson remained a force for ill in public life. One tends to forget, amid the misty-eyed talk of his conversion, that the religious are no more moral or decent than the irreligious; belief in God does not track with ethical or legal behavior. In his “reformed” life, Colson was a steadfast ally of efforts to diminish the separation between church and state. Much of his energy was expended on that same nasty project he initiated under Nixon: trying to funnel public funds to religious organizations, notwithstanding the First Amendment.

As an adviser to George W. Bush, he prominently encouraged the president’s euphemistically named “faith-based” initiative and efforts like it. Sometimes these schemes were judged by courts to have run afoul of the Constitution. In 2006, an Iowa program linked to Colson’s Prison Fellowship organization was deemed illegal because it spent tax dollars on a program that afforded privileges to inmates who converted to evangelicalism. This, a federal judge ruled, was tantamount to establishing a state religion. Colson objected and appealed, but a higher court sustained the ruling.

In 2005, in a review of a hilariously bad Colson biography by Jonathan Aitken—a right-wing British politician, shamelessly revisionist Nixon biographer, and convicted felon who also subsequently found Jesus and claimed redemption—I noted that “while Colson’s motives might be less cynical now than they were under Nixon, the project of eroding the church-state wall is essentially the same. And while Colson’s current schemes surely don’t merit him more jail time, they hardly suggest a meaningfully changed man.”

I suggested further that, after Watergate, Colson—and Nixon, for that matter—never figured out that the true path to redemption would have been to retreat entirely from the public realm. A few of the Watergate rogues, such as Egil “Bud” Krogh and David Young, did just that. But Colson could not allow himself to forsake the limelight—the books, the TV shows, the advising of presidents, the fame, the money, the influence. Like Nixon, he was really seeking not a private redemption, but a public comeback.

For this, Colson’s supposedly meek-hearted gentle minions—spurred by a right-wing blog—hounded and harassed me, sending hate mail to my personal email account. I’ll surely get more for this. “Viciously loyal,” Colson’s father said. The thuggery lives on. Ω

[David Greenberg is an associate professor of Journalism and Media Studies and History at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and a contributing editor at The New Republic. His first book, Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (2003) won the Washington Monthly Annual Political Book Award, the American Journalism History Award and Columbia University’s Bancroft Dissertation Award. He is currently at work on a biography of Calvin Coolidge for the American Presidents Series. Greenberg has written for numerous scholarly and popular publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Foreign Affairs, The Journal of American History, Reviews in American History, and Daedalus. He is a regular contributor to the online magazine Slate, where he writes the "History Lesson" column and other occasional reviews and essays. Before pursuing his PhD, he served as Acting Editor and Managing Editor of The New Republic magazine and, early in his career, as the assistant to author Bob Woodward, on The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House (1994). Greenberg holds a BA in History from Yale University (Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude, 1990) and a PhD in History from Columbia University (2001).]

Copyright © 2012 The New Republic

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Does Walgreen's Sell A Remedy For Bangorrhea?

While scanning today's print-flood, this blogger found himself in The Land'O Duh! This past Monday's 'toon ended with The Newtron in the final panel and the most recent dropout from the Dumbo sweepstakes was whining about being bitten by a penguin with Sparky the Wonder Penguin in the background. Actually The Newtron was in St. Louis last week to speak to the NRA gun nuts and he made a campaign stop at the St. Louis Zoo. He was given special access to a pair of star inmates — two Magellanic penguins — and one of the critters bit The Newtron's finger! The last punctuation reminds the blogger to stop babbling about a killer penguin. Instead, this post offers a new word for your vocabulary — Bangorrhea. Be careful out there! If this is (fair & balanced) self-amusement, so be it.

[x Boston Fishwrap]
The Overuse Of Exclamation Points!
By Christopher Muther

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I can still remember the pact I made with a co-worker five years ago. We began to notice an alarming increase in the number of exclamation points crammed into e-mails and text messages. False enthusiasm was giving us a headache. The English language had taken enough of a beating, and there was no need for this kind of sucker punch. We would have no part of it.

The problem was that nearly every e-mail I received ended with an overzealous “Thanks!” E-mails and texts cheerfully chimed “Can’t wait to see you!,” and I recall more than a few “How are you!” e-mails. Since when did an exclamation point wrestle a helpless question mark into submission?

The co-worker and I agreed that we would not fall prey to the trend. But I’m now ashamed to admit that I’m just as guilty as those I once chided. I’ve become a serial exclamation pointer.

Before you judge me, Judy, hear me out. Without an omnipresent exclamation point, my electronic communication sounded as if it was written by a certain curmudgeonly and crusty green muppet who resides in a trash can. I could feel the shame creeping into my fingertips the first few times I started adding this faux emphasis to pleasantries. Now there is no turning back.

This exclamation epidemic has become so dire that there’s now a name for it — the very unpleasant slang bangorrhea. Urban Dictionary goes a step further by calling bangorrhea a “grammedical” condition. Even grammar snobs are fighting figurative infection.

“Even though I know better than to use stunt punctuation instead of thoughtful language, I often find my hand hesitating over the exclamation point,” confesses Martha Brockenbrough, author of Things That Make Us [Sic] and the founder of the blog the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. “Should I use one? Does it seem amateurish? Without it, does my e-mail sound bossy and abrupt?”

When is an exclamation point appropriate? Merriam-Webster defines it as “A mark ! used especially after an interjection or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling” or “a distinctive indication of major significance.”

Does “Thanks!” or “See you later!” fall under either of those definitions? Those of us who learned our grammar from the Saturday morning “Schoolhouse Rock’’ animated shorts may disagree. Allow me to quote from the 1974 song “Interjections!”

“Interjections (Hey!) show excitement (Yow!) or emotion (Ouch!)./ They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point,/ Or by comma when the feeling’s not as strong.”

These lessons were drilled into my brain between episodes of “Scooby-Doo.” By high school, I saw enough red ink on my research papers to know an exclamation point was for excitement only. But in the digital era, a sentence without an exclamation doesn’t pack the same wallop it once did.

At one time, the exclamation point indicated shouting (“Watch out Nancy Drew! That crook has a gun!”). Now shouting means a Kanye West-style caps lock Twitter diatribe. Exclamation points are no longer tough, they’ve been emasculated into sweet little blue birds delivering happy thoughts.

I’m not the first, and certainly not the last, to speak up about exclamation point abuse. Author Terry Pratchett famously said, “Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.” F. Scott Fitzgerald offered, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” Everyone from Mark Twain to Craig Ferguson has spoken out against this inhumane treatment of punctuation.

It would be easy to blame text-happy tweens for the exclamation point avalanche. I’m not one to point fingers, but I’m going to make an exception and point in the direction of David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. In 2008, they wrote a book called Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. It created a minor sensation, partially because the authors condoned the use of exclamation points.

“ ‘I’ll see you at the conference,’ is a simple statement of fact,” they wrote. “ ‘I’ll see you at the conference!’ lets your fellow conferee know that you’re excited and pleased about the event.”

A round of talk shows and cheeky feature stories followed. The exclamation point door was ajar, and now there may be no shutting it.

“In e-mail, I think that exclamation points serve some useful functions, because they can convey extra meaning in brief messages,” says Jean Berko Gleason, a Boston University psycholinguist. “They can mitigate the brusqueness of a brief reply by indicating the writer’s enthusiasm, sincerity, surprise — it all depends on the situation.”

Given that even academics are warming up to e-mails peppered with exclamation points, I feel like the dowager countess from “Downton Abbey.” I’m rolling my eyes at change and bemoaning crazy new things, such as electricity, weekends — and the overuse of exclamation points in e-mails.

Fortunately, I found a cranky kindred spirit in Jeff Rubin, the founder of National Punctuation Day. Mark your calendar, that holiday takes place on September 24.

“That particular punctuation mark conveys a very special message,” Rubin says. “More so than most punctuation marks. It’s overused in text messaging and e-mails. That’s mostly where you see it. If you go back 20 or 30 years before we had this stuff, I saw the same thing in handwritten letters. I have friends who used to write to me longhand and use 10 exclamation points.”

Author and former social media coach Judy Dunn ponders the same question that troubles me about the exclamation epidemic: “When you overuse it, it takes the power out of it. So what am I supposed to be excited about if it’s everywhere? If everything is exciting then nothing is exciting, because it’s all the same.”

Turns out, a lot of us are really excited about nothing.

Brockenbrough said a recent survey of her e-mail inbox found that 2,599 of the 3,756 e-mails included exclamation points. (In my inbox, I found I had more than 2,000 e-mails containing exclamation points.)

“That’s what the exclamation point has become,” she says. “The ambassador of good intentions.”

Because I realize there is no winning this fight, I’ve started to think of a compromise: A new punctuation mark. It should fall somewhere between a period and an exclamation point, and be reserved exclusively for e-mail. I’m not the only one who’s had this thought.

Also suggesting a new punctuation mark is Lera Boroditsky, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University who studies language and cognition. But in the meantime, she tries to soothe my exclamation-battered nerves by looking on the bright side.

“Let me give you an answer, and hopefully you’ll feel less offended by the exclamation point. People are using the written word in a much more conversational manner,” Boroditsky says. “What people do with written language is that they adapt it to meet their needs.”

Boroditsky tells me I should welcome this evolution, because the more communicative we are in e-mail and text messages, the better our emotions will be understood.

Following her advice, I’m going to embrace the exclamation point for just a sentence to make sure my feelings on the subject are not misunderstood.

I’m sick of exclamation point abuse!

Thanks, I feel much better now. Ω

[Christopher Muther covers style for The Boston Globe, including the local and national fashion scene, home decor, and social trends. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and has worked at the Globe since 2001.]

Copyright © 2012 The New York Times Company dba The Boston Globe

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves