Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Today, Professor John McWhorter Asks, "What's Not To Like?"

Today, we consider a four-letter word that is like obscene or profane, except to a some grumpy grammarians. Take a look at today's essay and see if you get the italicized joke. If this is (Fair & balanced) applied linguistics, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
The Evolution Of "Like"
By John McWhorter

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In our mouths or in print, in villages or in cities, in buildings or in caves, a language doesn’t sit still. It can’t. Language change has preceded apace even in places known for preserving a language in amber. You may have heard that Icelanders can still read the ancient sagas written almost a thousand years ago in Old Norse. It is true that written Icelandic is quite similar to Old Norse, but the spoken language is quite different—Old Norse speakers would sound a tad extraterrestrial to modern Icelanders. There have been assorted changes in the grammar, but language has moved on, on that distant isle as everywhere else.

It’s under this view of language—as something becoming rather than being, a film rather than a photo, in motion rather than at rest—that we should consider the way young people use (drum roll, please) like. So deeply reviled, so hard on the ears of so many, so new, and with such an air of the unfinished, of insecurity and even dimness, the new like is hard to, well, love. But it takes on a different aspect when you consider it within this context of language being ever-evolving.

First, let’s take like in just its traditional, accepted forms. Even in its dictionary definition, like is the product of stark changes in meaning that no one would ever guess. To an Old English speaker, the word that later became like was the word for, of all things, “body.” The word was lic, and lic was part of a word, gelic, that meant “with the body,” as in “with the body of,” which was a way of saying “similar to”—as in like. Gelic over time shortened to just lic, which became like. Of course, there were no days when these changes happened abruptly and became official. It was just that, step by step, the syllable lic, which to an Old English speaker meant “body,” came to mean, when uttered by people centuries later, “similar to”—and life went on.

Like has become a piece of grammar: It is the source of the suffix -ly. To the extent that slowly means “in a slow fashion,” as in “with the quality of slowness,” it is easy (and correct) to imagine that slowly began as “slow-like,” with like gradually wearing away into a -ly suffix. That historical process is especially clear in that there are still people who, colloquially, say slow-like, angry-like. Technically, like yielded two suffixes, because -ly is also used with adjectives, as in portly and saintly. Again, the pathway from saint-like to saint-ly is not hard to perceive.

Like has become a part of compounds. Likewise began as like plus a word, wise, which was different from the one meaning “smart when either a child or getting old.” This other wise meant “manner”: Likewise meant “similar in manner.” This wise disappeared as a word on its own, and so now we think of it as a suffix, as in clockwise and stepwise. But we still have likeminded, where we can easily perceive minded as having independent meaning. Dictionaries tell us it’s pronounced “like-MINE-did,” but I, for one, say “LIKE- minded” and have heard many others do so.

Therefore, like is ever so much more than some isolated thing clinically described in a dictionary with a definition like “(preposition) ‘having the same characteristics or qualities as; similar to.’” Think of a cold, limp, slimy squid splayed wet on a cutting board, its lifeless tentacles dribbling in coils, about to be sliced into calamari rings—in comparison to the brutally fleet, remorseless, dynamic creatures squid are when alive underwater—like as “(preposition) ...” is wet on a cutting board.

There is a lot more to it: It swims, as it were. What we are seeing in like’s transformations today are just the latest chapters in a story that began with an ancient word that was supposed to mean “body.”

Because we think of like as meaning “akin to” or “similar to,” kids decorating every sentence or two with it seems like overuse. After all, how often should a coherently minded person need to note that something is similar to something rather than just being that something? The new like, then, is associated with hesitation. It is common to label the newer generations as harboring a fear of venturing a definite statement.

That analysis seems especially appropriate in that this usage of like first reached the national consciousness with its usage by Beatniks in the 1950s, as in, “Like, wow!” We associate the Beatniks, as a prelude to the counterculture with their free-ranging aesthetic and recreational sensibilities, with relativism. Part of the essence of the Beatnik was a reluctance to be judgmental of anyone but those who would dare to (1) be judgmental themselves or (2) openly abuse others. However, the Beatniks were also associated with a certain griminess—why would others imitate them?— upon which it bears mentioning that the genealogy of the modern like traces farther back. Ordinary people, too, have long been using like as an appendage to indicate similarity with a trace of hesitation. The “slow-like” kind of usage is a continuation of this, and Saul Bellow has thoroughly un- Beatnik characters in his novels of the 1950s use like in a way we would expect a decade or two later. “That’s the right clue and may do me some good. Something very big. Truth, like,” says Tommy Wilhelm in 1956’s Seize the Day, a character raised in the 1910s and ’20s, long before anyone had ever heard of a Beatnik. Bellow also has Henderson in Henderson the Rain King use like this way. Both Wilhelm and Henderson are tortured, galumphing char-acters riddled with uncertainty, but hippies they are not.

So today’s like did not spring mysteriously from a crowd on the margins of unusual mind-set and then somehow jump the rails from them into the general population. The seeds of the modern like lay among ordinary people; the Beatniks may not even have played a significant role in what happened later. The point is that like transformed from something occasional into something more regular. Fade out, fade in: recently I heard a lad of roughly sixteen chatting with a friend about something that had happened the weekend before, and his utterance was—this is as close to verbatim as I can get: So we got there and we thought we were going to have the room to ourselves and it turned out that like a family had booked it already. So we’re standing there and there were like grandparents and like grandkids and aunts and uncles all over the place. Anyone who has listened to American English over the past several decades will agree that this is thoroughly typical like usage.

The problem with the hesitation analysis is that this was a thoroughly confident speaker. He told this story with zest, vividness, and joy. What, after all, would occasion hesitation in spelling out that a family was holding an event in a room? It’s real-life usage of this kind—to linguists it is data, just like climate patterns are to meteorologists—that suggests that the idea of like as the linguistic equivalent to slumped shoulders is off.

Understandably so, of course—the meaning of like suggests that people are claiming that everything is “like” itself rather than itself. But as we have seen, words’ meanings change, and not just because someone invents a portable listening device and gives it a name composed of words that used to be applied to something else (Walkman), but because even the language of people stranded in a cave where life never changed would be under constant transformation. Like is a word, and so we’d expect it to develop new meanings: the only question, as always, is which one? So is it that young people are strangely overusing the like from the dictionary, or might it be that like has birthed a child with a different function altogether? When one alternative involves saddling entire generations of people, of an awesome array of circumstances across a vast nation, with a mysteriously potent inferiority complex, the other possibility beckons as worthy of engagement.

In that light, what has happened to like is that it has morphed into a modal marker—actually, one that functions as a protean indicator of the human mind at work in conversation. There are actually two modal marker likes—that is, to be fluent in modern American English is to have subconsciously internalized not one but two instances of grammar involving like.

Let’s start with So we’re standing there and there were like grandparents and like grandkids and aunts and uncles all over the place. That sentence, upon examination, is more than just what the words mean in isolation plus a bizarre squirt of slouchy little likes. Like grandparents and like grandkids means, when we break down what this teenager was actually trying to communicate, that given the circumstances, you might think it strange that an entire family popped up in this space we expected to be empty for our use, but in fact, it really was a whole family. In that, we have, for one, factuality—“no, really, I mean a family.” The original meaning of like applies in that one is saying “You may think I mean something like a couple and their son, but I mean something like a whole brood.”

And in that, note that there is also at the same time an acknowledgment of counterexpectation. The new like acknowledges unspoken objection while underlining one’s own point (the factuality). Like grandparents translates here as “There were, despite what you might think, actually grandparents.” Another example: I opened the door and it was, like, her! certainly doesn’t mean “Duhhhh, I suppose it’s okay for me to identify the person as her . . .” Vagueness is hardly the issue here. That sentence is uttered to mean “As we all know, I would have expected her father, the next-door neighbor, or some other person, or maybe a phone call or e-mail from her, but instead it was, actually, her.” Factuality and counterexpectation in one package, again. It may seem that I am freighting the little word with a bit much, but consider: It was, like, her! That sentence has a very precise meaning, despite the fact that because of its sociological associations with the young, to many it carries a whiff of Bubble Yum, peanut butter, or marijuana.

We could call that version of like “reinforcing like.” Then there is a second new like, which is closer to what people tend to think of all its new uses: it is indeed a hedge. However, that alone doesn’t do it justice: we miss that the hedge is just plain nice, something that has further implications for how we place this like in a linguistic sense. This is, like, the only way to make it work does not mean “Duhhhh, I guess this seems like the way to make it work.” A person says this in a context in which the news is unwelcome to the hearer, and this was either mentioned before or, just as likely, is unstatedly obvious. The like acknowledges—imagine even a little curtsey—the discomfort. It softens the blow—that is, eases—by swathing the statement in the garb of hypotheticality that the basic meaning of like lends. Something “like” x is less threatening than x itself; to phrase things as if x were only “like,” x is thus like offering a glass of water, a compress, or a warm little blanket. An equivalent is “Let’s take our pill now,” said by someone who is not, themselves, about to take the pill along with the poor sick person. The sick one knows it, too, but the phrasing with “we” is a soothing action, acknowledging that taking pills can be a bit of a drag.

Note that while this new like cushions a blow, the blow does get delivered. Rather than being a weak gesture, the new like can be seen as gentle but firm. The main point is that it is part of the linguistic system, not something merely littering it up. It isn’t surprising that a word meaning “similar to” morphs into a word that quietly allows us to avoid being bumptious, via courteously addressing its likeness rather than the thing itself, via considering it rather than addressing it. Just as uptalk sounds like a question but isn’t, like sounds like a mere shirk of certainty but isn’t.

Like LOL, like, entrenched in all kinds of sentences, used subconsciously, and difficult to parse the real meaning of without careful consideration, has all the hallmarks of a piece of grammar—specifically, in the pragmatic department, modal wing. One thing making it especially clear that the new like is not just a tic of heedless, underconfident youth is that many of the people who started using it in the new way in the 1970s are now middle-aged. People’s sense of how they talk tends to differ from the reality, and the person of a certain age who claims never to use like “that way” as often as not, like, does—and often. As I write, a sentence such as There were like grandparents and like grandkids in there is as likely to be spoken by a forty-something as by a teenager or a college student. Just listen around the next time you’re standing in a line, watching a talk show, or possibly even listening to yourself.

Then, the two likes I have mentioned must be distinguished from yet a third usage, the quotative like—as in “And she was like, ‘I didn’t even invite him.’ ” This is yet another way that like has become grammar. The meaning “similar to” is as natural a source here as it was for -ly: mimicking people’s utterances is talking similarly to, as in “like,” them. Few of the like-haters distinguish this like from the other new usages, since all are associated with young people and verbal slackerdom. But the third new like doesn’t do the jobs the others do: there is nothing hesitational or even polite about quotative like, much less especially forceful à la the reinforcing like. It is a thoroughly straightforward way of quoting a person, often followed by a verbatim mimicry complete with gestures. That’s worlds away from This is, like, the only way to make it work or There were like grandkids in there. Thus the modern American English speaker has mastered not just two, but actually three different new usages of like. ###

[Today's essay was adapted from John McWhorter's latest book — Words on the Move: Why English Won’t—and Can’t—Sit Still (Like, Literally) [2016]. McWhorter is an Associate Professor in the English and Comparative Literature department of Columbia University and a contributing editor to The New Republic. McWhorter was educated at Rutgers University, BA (French).; New York University, MA (American Studies).; and Stanford University, PhD (Lingistics). See other works by John McWhorter here.]

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Today, This Blog Takes The Low Road

Unfortunately, this blogger must take issue with the loose conflation of obscenity and profanity in today's essay. The terms are NOT identical. One is not the other. Obscenity (a specialty of today's author) includes the subject of his recent book. Reference to male bovine excrement with the b-word is obscene, not profane. Profanity, as used in the essay, is the catch-all term for dirty words when profane speech actually is limited to words that are irreverent or not respectful of sacred matters, especially invoking a deity. To clarify: BS is obscene and GD is profane. End of lecture. If this is a (fair & balanced) impulse for proper usage, so be it.

[x Boston Fishwrap]
Slang — Language At Our Most Human
By Mark Peters

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Slang is probably as old as human language, though the first slang dictionaries only started popping up in the 16th century. But nothing has been a boon for slang lexicography like the digital age, as the searchability of newspaper databases has allowed the past to be explored like never before.

For fans of English at its rawest, the recent arrival of the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang is a major event. It’s also a reminder that slang — for all its sleaze and attitude — is just as susceptible to careful research as anything else.

British lexicographer and author Jonathan Green’s GDoS is the largest slang dictionary in the world, collecting terms from the United States, England, Australia, and everywhere else English is the dominant language. GDoS, like the Oxford English Dictionary, is a historical dictionary. This type of dictionary provides a lot more than definitions, etymology, and pronunciation notes: Historical dictionaries trace the evolution of terms over time. Since the best fossil evidence of word change is quotations, historical dictionaries are full of them, allowing readers to see how words function in the wild. A regular dictionary is a little like snapshots taken of zoo animals. A historical dictionary is more like footage from a hidden camera in the jungle or ocean.

This example-based approach is also the opposite of user-generated dictionaries such as Urban Dictionary. All major dictionaries crowdsource. But when there’s no editing or fact-checking, you get an entertaining product that’s far from a reliable source on what words are actually being used. Dictionaries such as Urban Dictionary are a good source of nonce words — words coined for a single occasion that haven’t caught on — but one-offs aren’t the kind of lexical fish lexicographers usually want to catch.

Ironically, the biggest boon to cutting-edge lexical research is the existence of an older medium: the newspaper. Green, who has published numerous books about language and been working on GDoS since 1993, cites the increased availability of newspaper databases as the biggest transformation of his research in the past five years: “And what you find is . . . that things are older than we believed.” Just as a fossil discovered in Greenland this August pushed the earliest sign of life on Earth back to 3.7 billion years ago, lexicographers are constantly learning that words are older than they thought. In the word biz, finding a new earliest example is called antedating.

An extraordinary case involves the word “dis” in the sense of an insult: “He dissed me!” Green had assumed the term originated among African-Americans in the 1980s. However, that theory was disproved by an example from 1905 in Australia of all places. Green located this surprising use in the Perth Sun Times: “When a journalistic rival tries to ‘dis’ you / And to prejudice you in the public’s eyes.” Rather than suggesting a hidden Australian influence on African-American vernacular, this finding is more of a testament to the latent potential of “dis” to detach from words such as “disparage” and “disrespect.” Oddly, Australia is also the home of another surprising earliest use: “Selfie” was spotted there in an Australian message board in 2002, well before it became a ubiquitous part of the lexicon of narcissism.

Some discoveries are far quirkier, involving whole groups of words that, if not for extraordinary circumstances, would have been destined to be lost. Green explains, “In the UK, for instance, you’ll get some anonymous bloke (or so I assume) in, say, 1815 who has spotted tramps wandering through his small town, and has taken it upon himself not only to quiz them about their vocabulary — which is of course largely slang — but also persuaded the editor of the local paper to run one or even a series of pieces laying it all out. He’ll never publish a dictionary, never write again, but there it is, and half of the stuff has never been in print before. Stumbling upon a few of these has been a joy.”

That joy is well-known to Indiana University professor Michael Adams — author of Slang: The People’s Poetry (2009) and the recent In Praise of Profanity (2016) — who feels work such as GDoS, through its many discoveries, gives a fuller sense of our collective history: “I like to hear English represented by many voices. . . . GDoS introduces us to voices excluded in many cases from other dictionaries.”

Those voices are often a challenge to conventional values or even laws. The first slang dictionaries were collections of the language of criminals meant to inform the unwary, and slang topics still tend to be taboo or at least lowbrow. Good taste, manners, and other nonscientific ideas have often imposed censorship on dictionaries — even the OED didn’t publish an entry on the f-word until 1972. But slang dictionaries have a license to be naughty: Readers expect to read all the filth and slurs that lexical prudes would cover up and euphemize. Playing off counterculture, Green sees slang as an inevitable “counterlanguage” and says “that subversion can be achieved through shock — one cannot deny a streak of the gross for gross’s sake — but also through wit and inventiveness.”

Speaking of gross and inventive language, it’s hard not to notice that slang dictionaries, including GDoS, are full of profanity and plays on profanity such as the euphemisms “mother-hugger” and “mothersomething.” Adams, having written books on both profanity and slang, is an expert on the slippery difference between the two. For Adams, profanity is “the riskiest slang” and has a particular utility: “If suddenly it starts storming and your backpack falls into a puddle as you collide with a bicyclist while a bird poops on you, only profanity or a euphemism for profanity — which you can’t have without profanity — will express your existential frustration.” Damn it, he’s right.

Slang tied to social groups but untethered by convention is language at its most raw and real. That realness, full of rude creativity, is why so many delight in learning slang, which Green says catches us “at our most human.” We’re lucky to not be dog’s meat or fried bread (two older terms for “dead”) at a time when so much real language can be easily unearthed, shared, and enjoyed. ###

[Mark Peters is a columnist at McSweeney's with the "Best Joke Ever" column. He is the author of the Bullshit: A Lexicon (2015). Peters received a BA (English) from SUNY-Fredonia and a PhD (English) from SUNY-Buffalo.]

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Today, Tom Tomorrow Unveils A New Public Speaking Format: A Soliloquy Within A Colloquy

The opening panel shows Sparky The Wonder Penguin on the left and a stolid heavyweight white guy in a red ball cap on the right. The white guy offers the latest mantra of the winning side in 2016 by complaining about protesters who refused to accept defeat. Sparky responds with the equivalent of "Not so fast, my overweight friend." Then, in ensuing panels leading to the final panel, the loyal supporter stares blankly at Sparky throughout the Wonder Penguin's enumeration of the horrors of the winning side: racism, misogyny, blatant lying, perversion of patriotism, yada yada yada. In the final panel, the white guy threatens Sparky with deportation to Antactica and closes the discussion with the pressing need to go and harass the staff of the nearest Starbuck's because it's a thing the red-hatted loons do because it's the thing they do. If this is a (fair & balanced) exhibition of asshattery, so be it.

[x TMW]
The Great Divide
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Q: What's More Common Than Apple Pie? A: Not Violence — It's White Racism!!!

The Neo-Nazi scum have been rising to the surface of the pond since November 8th. Next will come the recreation of Kristallnacht. After that, we will have Undocumented Persons Relocation Canps with signs over the entrance gates: Work Sets You Free (in English, not German). Of course, the ovens in the camps can generate electricity for all-white neighboring communities. If this is a (fair & balanced) reason to go and vomit, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
White-Collar Supremacy
By Kelly J. Baker

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Richard B. Spencer is one of the main figures of the alt-right movement, a former doctoral student from Duke whose movement supports the creation of “an ethno-state” for white Europeans and “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” The Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old, a kind of professional racist in khakis”; a recent Los Angeles Times profile ran with a photo of him in sunglasses and a black shirt, looking more like a hipster academic than a Klansman.

This sort of image makeover is a big part of the alt-right’s game. They want to convince the media that they are a “new form” of white nationalism that we’ve never seen before: clean-cut, intellectual, far removed from the unpolished white supremacists of the past. But the alt-right is not as new as we might think. In fact, efforts to dress up white supremacy in ideas and middle-class respectability have been around since the first organized movements emerged in the late 19th century — and once again, people are falling for it.

Part of the problem is a lack of historical awareness. When white supremacist organizations crop up in tellings of American history, they appear and recede from the story quickly, a footnote about racism to be overlooked, not a central component of the American story. Hence, the alt-right appears novel only if we ignore the continuum of “intellectual” white supremacy from which it emerged: scientific racism in the 19sup>th and early 20sup>th centuries, the national Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, and the Citizens Councils of the 1950s and ’60s.

While the first Klan emerged among Confederate Veterans in the post-Reconstruction South, by the end of the 19th century some white supremacists had begun to move into more respectable circles by using science and Darwinism to explain their views. These ideas had proponents across the country, from Southern Bourbons to Boston Brahmins concerned with influxes of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.

Madison Grant, a lawyer, eugenicist and the author of The Passing of the Great Race (1916, 2012), wrote that the American “stock” would be jeopardized by these particular European immigrants. Grant established the idea of a superior Nordic race, claiming that immigrants from England, Scotland and the Netherlands founded America, a Nordic nation.

His book became one of the most popular works on scientific racism to originate in the United States; in The Great Gatsby (2015), F. Scott Fitzgerald reflected the way the ideas of Grant and other scientific racists worked their way into mainstream thought. “Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard?” Tom Buchanan asks, in a thinly masked allusion to Grant. “It’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

The book went through multiple printings and translations into different languages. Adolf Hitler relied on Grant’s ideas about the supremacy of the Nordic race to support sterilization and horrendous medical experiments. He called the book “my bible.”

Middle-class white supremacy had another wave of popularity in the 1920s, when the second Klan, which had a nationwide following, drew on the ideas of Grant and others to sell white supremacy to both the rural and urban middle classes. It printed newspapers and books, held seminars as well as rallies, and even tried to establish a Klan university in Indiana.

Along with drumming up racial fears, the 1920s Klan relied on scientific and theological racism in The Imperial Night-Hawk, its national newspaper. Writing for the paper in 1923, a Louisiana Klansman and minister, W. C. Wright, outlined the Klan’s intellectual position on white supremacy, in which white people were “the leading race,” America was “a white man’s country, discovered, dedicated, settled, defended, and developed by white men,” and the distinctions between the races were scientific and divinely created.

The 1950s saw another surge of “respectable” racism, this time in the form of the Citizens Councils, founded in Mississippi by Robert B. Patterson in response to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Rather than the vigilantism and terrorism of the 1950s and ’60s Klan, the councils relied on more middle-class methods of opposing civil rights: boycotting black-owned businesses and denying mortgages to black people. The sociologist Charles M. Payne describes them as “pursuing the agenda of the Klan with the demeanor of the Rotary Club.”

While it might seem newsworthy that today’s alt-right members wear suits and profess academic-sounding racism, they are an extension of these previous white supremacist movements, dressed up in 21st-century lingo, social media and fashion. We ignore that continuity at our peril: Focusing on their respectability overlooks their racism, but more pressingly, by convincing ourselves that they are taking a new, mainstream turn, it makes white supremacy appear normal and acceptable.

The alt-right is not an example of white supremacy marching toward the mainstream; this has always been the case. It is an example how white supremacy went from an unarguable fact of American culture to a debatable and offensive reality. That’s not novel; it’s American history. ###

[Kelly J. Baker is the author of Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (2011). She received a BA summa cum laude (American and Florida studies as well as a PhD (religion) from Florida State University.]

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Roll Over Roll Over William E. B. Du Bois — The Problem Of The 21st Century Still Is The Color Line

Identity, Identity, Identity — A Rose By Any Other Name Would Stink Of White Racism. The white voters of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin have saddled all of us with a mentally unbalanced moron who will become POTUS 45. Bismarck's aphorism will be no more — a Supreme Being will no longer have a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America. If this is a (fair & balanced) grim prognosis, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
The Identity Politics Of Whiteness
By Laila Lalami

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Three years ago, I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1995, 1999) to my daughter. She smiled as she heard about Huck’s mischief, his jokes, his dress-up games, but it was his relationship with the runaway slave Jim that intrigued her most. Huck and Jim travel together as Jim seeks his freedom; at times, Huck wrestles with his decision to help. In the end, Tom Sawyer concocts an elaborate scheme for Jim’s release.

When we finished the book, my daughter had a question: Why didn’t Tom just tell Jim the truth — that Miss Watson had already freed him in her will? She is not alone in asking; scholars have long debated this issue. One answer lies in white identity, which needs black identity in order to define itself, and therefore cannot exist without it.

“Identity” is a vexing word. It is racial or sexual or national or religious or all those things at once. Sometimes it is proudly claimed, other times hidden or denied. But the word is almost never applied to whiteness. Racial identity is taken to be exclusive to people of color: When we speak about race, it is in connection with African-Americans or Latinos or Asians or Native People or some other group that has been designated a minority. “White” is seen as the default, the absence of race. In school curriculums, one month is reserved for the study of black history, while the rest of the year is just plain history; people will tell you they are fans of black or Latin music, but few will claim they love white music.

This year’s election has disturbed that silence. The president-elect earned the votes of a majority of white people while running a campaign that explicitly and consistently appealed to white identity and anxiety. At the heart of this anxiety is white people’s increasing awareness that they will become a statistical minority in this country within a generation. The paradox is that they have no language to speak about their own identity. “White” is a category that has afforded them an evasion from race, rather than an opportunity to confront it.

In his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump regularly tied America’s problems to others. Immigration must be reformed, he told us, to stop the rapists and drug dealers coming here from Mexico. Terrorism could be stopped by banning Muslims from entering the country. The big banks would not be held in check by his opponent, whose picture he tweeted alongside a Star of David. The only people that the president-elect never faulted for anything were whites. These people he spoke of not as an indistinguishable mass but as a multitude of individuals, victims of a system that was increasingly rigged against them.

A common refrain in the days after the election was “Not all his voters are racist.” But this will not do, because those voters chose a candidate who promised them relief from their problems at the expense of other races. They may claim innocence now, but it seems to me that when a leading chapter of the Ku Klux Klan announces plans to hold a victory parade for the president-elect, the time for innocence is long past.

Racism is a necessary explanation for what happened on November 8, but it is not a sufficient one. Last February, when the subject of racial identity came up at the Democratic primary debate in Milwaukee, the moderator Gwen Ifill surprised many viewers by asking about white voters: “By the middle of this century, the nation is going to be majority nonwhite,” she said. “Our public schools are already there. If working-class white Americans are about to be outnumbered, are already underemployed in many cases, and one study found they are dying sooner, don’t they have a reason to be resentful?”

Hillary Clinton said she was concerned about every community, including white communities “where we are seeing an increase in alcoholism, addiction, earlier deaths.” She said she planned to revitalize what she called “coal country” and explore spending more in communities with persistent generational poverty. Senator Bernie Sanders took a different view: “We can talk about it as a racial issue,” he said. “But it is a general economic issue.” Workers of all races, he said, have been hurt by trade deals like Nafta. “We need to start paying attention to the needs of working families in this country.”

This resonated with me: I, too, come from the working class, and from the significant portion of it that is not white. Neither of my parents went to college. Still, they managed to put their children through school and buy a home — a life that, for many in the working class, is impossible now. Nine months after that debate, we have found out exactly how much attention we should have been paying such families. The same white working-class voters who re-elected Obama four years ago did not cast their ballots for Clinton this year. These voters suffer from economic disadvantages even as they enjoy racial advantages. But it is impossible for them to notice these racial advantages if they live in rural areas where everyone around them is white. What they perceive instead is the cruel sense of being forgotten by the political class and condescended to by the cultural one.

While poor white voters are being scrutinized now, less attention has been paid to voters who are white and rich. White voters flocked to Trump by a wide margin, and he won a majority of voters who earn more than $50,000 a year, despite their relative economic safety. A majority of white women chose him, too, even though more than a dozen women have accused him of sexual assault. No, the top issue that drove Trump’s voters to the polls was not the economy — more voters concerned about that went to Clinton. It was immigration, an issue on which we’ve abandoned serious debate and become engulfed in sensational stories about rapists crossing the southern border or the pending imposition of Shariah law in the Midwest.

If whiteness is no longer the default and is to be treated as an identity — even, soon, a “minority” — then perhaps it is time white people considered the disadvantages of being a race. The next time a white man bombs an abortion clinic or goes on a shooting rampage on a college campus, white people might have to be lectured on religious tolerance and called upon to denounce the violent extremists in their midst. The opioid epidemic in today’s white communities could be treated the way we once treated the crack epidemic in black ones — not as a failure of the government to take care of its people but as a failure of the race. The fact that this has not happened, nor is it likely to, only serves as evidence that white Americans can still escape race.

Much has been made about privilege in this election. I will readily admit to many privileges. I have employer-provided health care. I live in a nice suburb. I am not dependent on government benefits. But I am also an immigrant and a person of color and a Muslim. On the night of the election, I was away from my family. Speaking to them on the phone, I could hear the terror in my daughter’s voice as the returns came in. The next morning, her friends at school, most of them Asian or Jewish or Hispanic, were in tears. My daughter called on the phone. “He can’t make us leave, right?” she asked. “We’re citizens.”

My husband and I did our best to quiet her fears. No, we said. He cannot make us leave. But every time I have thought about this conversation — and I have thought about it dozens of times, in my sleepless nights since the election — I have felt less certain. For all the privileges I can pass on to my daughter, there is one I cannot: whiteness. ###

[Laila Lalami is a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside and the author of three novels: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2006), Secret Son (2009), and The Moor’s Account (2014). She is the recipient of a British Council Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship. Lalami received a BA (English language and literature) from the Universite Mohammed-V in Morocco, an MA (linguistics) from the University College of the University of London, and a PhD (linguistics) from the University of Southern California.]

Copyright © 2016 The New York Times Company

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Friday, November 25, 2016

As Molly Would Often Say To Fibber: 'Tain't Funny, McGee

Like most narcissists, Il Douche is humorless: he doesn't laugh at jokes told by others and he cannot tell a joke himself. Nor does he realize that He.Is.A.Joke. Smiles and laughter will be in short supply in the White House after January 20, 2017. In the meantime, Eags provides a nice review of presidential humor over the years. The POTUS 44 wonders what he will do in the two years before his younger daughter graduates from Sidwell Friends School in DC. This blogger suggests that the POTUS 44 consider stand up comedy rouytine at DC Improv. After all, the new administration will provide comedy bits galore. Hell, if a reality TV star can become POTUS, why can't a former POTUS do stand up? If this is a (fair & balanced) attempt to remedy the lack of humor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
A Farewell To The Comedian In Chief
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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Obama Roasts Trump (2011 White House Correspondents Dinner)

I miss him already. Miss his steady rationality, his I-got-this mien, the eight years without a hint of personal scandal. And not to be overlooked, I miss the wit of Barack Obama. No president has had a better comic sensibility.

Let’s face it: we’re going to need to laugh to get through the presidency of Donald Trump and the Monster’s Ball of his administration. Trump can’t tell a joke, nor can he take one. He was graceless and unfunny at the Al Smith dinner last month, getting booed for his boorishness. And he was petulant and petty with his tweet after a “Saturday Night Live” skit had him asking Siri about the Islamic State.

Thankfully, jokes at the expense of the highest office in the land are fully protected by the Constitution. But jokes coming from the occupant of that office are rare, and rarely funny. Obama is the exception.

Anyone can write a joke. Few can deliver one. Obama has great timing, and a sense of self-deprecation honed over years of making fun of his name and his ears.

Here’s a highlight reel to call upon during the coming White House humor drought:

While being interviewed for a post-presidency job not long ago, an employer played by Stephen Colbert was skeptical that Obama had any useful skills. “I did win the Nobel Peace Prize,” said the president.

“Oh, what was that for?”

“To be honest, I don’t know,” said Obama.

You would think that having your legitimacy challenged would make you Nixonian dark or Trumpian enraged. For Obama, the birther nonsense has given him some of his best material. So there he was in a video for the 2016 White House Correspondents Dinner, waiting in line at the department of motor vehicles to get a driver’s license.

“You’re going to need a birth certificate,” says the clerk. Obama pulls one from his pocket. “It’s real,” he deadpans. Another video showed him getting retirement tips from former House Speaker John Boehner. Obama looked at the bright side: “I can wear those mom jeans again.”

Appearing on “Between Two Ferns,” the mock cable show with Zach Galifianakis, Obama was asked, “What’s it like to be the last black president?” POTUS didn’t blink. “What’s it like for this to be the last time you’ll ever talk to a president?”

Trump sends out angry tweets demanding apologies, and cyberbullying his many enemies. Obama used Twitter to comment on an unusual recipe for guacamole in The New York Times. “Not buying peas in the guac,” he wrote, a bipartisan conclusion.

The secret source of humor is not joy, Mark Twain said, but sorrow. And in looking back at the presidents who could tell a joke, you see people surrounded by tragedy. Obama may have found some of his inspiration from the man who held the union together at its darkest time, Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln’s best-known comic line came during a debate, when he was accused of being two-faced. “Honestly, “ he said, “if I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

Teddy Roosevelt, who lost his wife and his mother on the same day, was a buoyant prankster and joke-teller, and probably the only president to skinny dip in the Potomac. His progressive agenda was often stymied in the Senate. TR returned the fire. “When they call the roll,” he said, “the senators do not know whether to announce present or not guilty.”

His fifth cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, loved a good joke, and not just while mixing drinks during his regular White House cocktail hour. At the depth of the Great Depression, in signing legislation that loosened the worst grip of Prohibition, he said, “this would be a good time for a beer.”

Harry Truman gave us the line about how to find a friend in Washington — “Get a dog.” John F. Kennedy parried concern about his wealthy father buying the election with a telegram he read for the press: “Dear Jack: don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide. Love, Dad.”

Ronald Reagan, who learned to glide through public life on a carpet of soft humor, had this famous quip to his wife after being shot: “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

Obama’s humor is droll, with a bite. He noted that Dick Cheney said he was the worst president of his lifetime. “Which is interesting, because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.”

The 44th president is leaving office with soaring approval ratings, or as he put it: “The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide my major.”

In Greece last week, after touring the timeless monuments of an ancient civilization, Obama was pestered with questions about the fate of the planet when he hands the office over to Trump. He offered some reassuring words, echoing Yogi Berra. “I always say that the only thing that is the end of world is the end of the world.” ###

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Today, This Blog Gives Thanks For The NY FIshwrap's Blowhard

The Thanksgiving essay in today's NY Fishwrap Op-Ed section blows hard and true. The invective is withering and unforgiving.Bluntly said, Il Douche is E-V-I-L and a greater threat to this nation than all of the world's terrorists combined. There is not a good word to said about Him or the minions who voted for Him. If this is (fair & balanced) genuine patriotism, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along
By The Blowhard (Charles M. Blow)

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Donald Trump schlepped across town on Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists, and reporters at the paper.

As The Times reported, Trump actually seemed to soften some of his positions:

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But he should never have said that he was going to do that in the first place.

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t encourage the military to use torture. But he should never have said that he would do that in the first place.

He said that he would have an “open mind” on climate change. But that should always have been his position.

You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

As I read the transcript and then listened to the audio, the slime factor was overwhelming.

After a campaign of bashing The Times relentlessly, in the face of the actual journalists, he tempered his whining with flattery.

At one point he said:

“I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”

He ended the meeting by saying:

“I will say, The Times is, it’s a great, great American jewel. A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along well.”

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: NEVER [emphasis supplied].

You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.

You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushrooms in a marsh.

You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.

I am not easily duped by dopes.

I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth.

It’s not that I don’t believe that people can change and grow. They can. But real growth comes from the accepting of responsibility and repenting of culpability. Expedient reversal isn’t growth; it’s gross.

So let me say this on Thanksgiving: I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.

I’m thankful that I have the endurance and can assume a posture that will never allow what you represent to ever be seen as everyday and ordinary.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful. ###

[Charles M. Blow is The New York Times's visual Op-Ed columnist. His column appears every other Saturday. Blow joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and quickly became the paper's graphics director, a position he held for nine years. In that role, he led The Times to a best of show award from the Society of News Design for The Times's information graphics coverage of 9/11, the first time the award had been given for graphics coverage. He also led the paper to its first two best in show awards from the Malofiej International Infographics Summit for work that included coverage of the Iraq war. Charles Blow went on to become the paper's Design Director for News before leaving in 2006 to become the Art Director of National Geographic magazine. Before coming to The Times, Blow had been a graphic artist at The Detroit News. Blow received a BA (mass communication, magna cum laude) from Grambling State University.]

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