Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Linguistic Annoyances


I’m hearing that a lot lately. If I tell a waiter or waitress my menu selection (s)he’ll say, “Perfect.” Talking to a with a technical support person or medical professional, I’ll identify myself by phone number or birthdate and hear: “Perfect.” How can my name or birthdate be perfect?

And then there’s “Yeah, no” to begin a response to a statement or a question. The first few times I heard “Yeah, no” I was thinking the respondent is confused or ambivalent, but after hearing them again and again I’m thinking maybe they’re a kind of preface designed to avoid giving offense to the interrogator — a way to keep one’s foot in the door so as to be able to backtrack if necessary and declaring from the start that you could go either way on the question.

Another trendy phrase is “having said that” or “that said,” which seems to be a signal that what follows builds upon whatever has been expressed. It leaves me thinking: “I know you just said that; I heard it.” Maybe it’s a clue that the speaker is about to go off in a different direction. Maybe it’s just superfluous, or a way to collect one’s thoughts before going on — a substitute for “ahhh…” which might sound foolish if repeated too many times. Or, that said, maybe the speaker thinks the phrase makes him sound cool and intelligent because he’s heard it used by others he considers cool and intelligent.

For years now I’ve been hearing “He signed off on it,” to mean “He approved it,” but the juxtaposition of opposite prepositions feels incongruous. “On” follows immediately after “Off” and disturbs my linguistic instincts. One can “sign on” to something, meaning to join with it, but to “sign off” would mean to quit. Those meanings are extant and have been for most of my lifetime so to hear “sign off on” for so long now is bothersome — almost as bad as beginning a response with “Yeah, no.”

And, lately “nuance” is being overused, especially when employed to describe a person when it was formerly limited to things like artistic performances or physical works of art. A synonym would be “subtle.” Now it’s used by progressives to disparage the president, as in: “Trump lacks nuance,” a condescending strategy to portray him as thick-headed and unable to recognize subtle shades of meaning that progressives and their ilk all perceive.

The tired expression “thinking outside the box” is finally in decline whereas “thrown under the bus” is still is wide use. I complained about the latter in a 2011 column in which I tried in vain to figure out where it originated. I’m learning to tolerate it though because it’s clearly not going away. I’ve stopped wondering: why a bus? Why not under a subway car or a truck? And, no more do I try to imagine what throwing someone under a bus would actually look like.

Many of us are careful to be fashionable in what we wear, drive, listen to, and say. There was a time I adhered to fashion trends like these but it was brief and long ago. As verification that I don’t any longer, one of my daughters sent me a Fathers’ Day card last year with a caricature of a geeky-looking man under which was written:

“Dad, your refusal to care who thinks you’re cool used to puzzle me.” (open card) “Now it inspires me!” 

At Whole Foods in Portland, Maine last week were men in various combinations of skinny jeans, man buns, facial metal, skin graffiti, and other trappings of millennial progressivism. They considered those accoutrements vital to their identities and I felt sorry for them, especially the older ones who hadn’t grown beyond all that. I like the multi-grain sandwich bread the store bakes on site every day, and it’s the only thing I buy there so I was in and out quickly. Had I stayed longer I might have heard samples of leftist language trends currently in fashion. 

For example, progressives have assigned new connotations to the familiar word “woke.” So far I’ve only encountered it in writing but were I to hang out at left-wing gathering places like Whole Foods I would probably hear it spoken. The new meaning has only figurative reference to sleeping or waking up; contextual clues indicate it’s a gauge of political consciousness. Merriamwebster.com confirms that, declaring: “‘Woke’ is increasingly used as a byword for social awareness… a slang term that is easing into the mainstream from some varieties of a dialect called African American Vernacular English (sometimes called AAVE).”

Also included was a caution from a New York Times writer that use of the word by white people would invoke charges of cultural appropriation — a definite linguistic/fashion/PC faux pas.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Left & Right Show January 24, 2018

Gino and I argue about DACA, Sh**hole countries, evidence for FBI and DOJ corruption in the 2016 election. Gino compares Trump to Hitler and calls him racist. Gino claims Trump didn't pay taxes for twenty years. I ask for evidence to support that claim.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Left And Right Show January 10th

Still no evidence of Russian/Trump collusion after more than a year. Comey hurt the Hillary campaign with his July 6th press conference claims Gino. I disagree strenuously. Will public schools ban "best friends" as exclusionary? Center For American Progress tips hand -- openly states it supports illegal immigrants because they'll vote Democrat. Steve Bannon is designated a loser. We discuss Fire and Fury.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Division Dynamics

Some call him the most divisive president ever. Some say he’s also the worst while others say he’s the best. He’s been in the White House a year now. Will he serve out the four-year term for which he was elected? Not if Trump-haters have their way. They’ve been looking to prevent that since before he was inaugurated.

Even his supporters acknowledge his numerous and obvious flaws, but will overlook them so long as he fulfills his campaign promises. Many expected his narcissism to subside but, alas, it has not, nor is it likely to. President Trump has suffered the most relentlessly negative media coverage in living memory, perhaps of all time, but it hasn’t diminished his opinion of himself. Even former President Carter remarked: “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about. I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”

According to Justice Antonin Scalia's friend, Brian Garner, “Scalia thought it was most refreshing to have a candidate who was pretty much unfiltered and utterly frank.” That’s a summation of Trump upon which both his supporters and detractors will agree. Scalia may have liked him as a candidate, but whether he’d have liked Trump to be elected we’ll never know because he died ten months before election day. One of Trump’s first actions as president was to nominate a Supreme Court justice as much like Scalia as possible.

Hoping to cripple him or remove him, Trump-haters focused at first on alleged collusion between Trump and Vladimir Putin to win the election. That comprised the bulk of media coverage ever since he defeated Hillary Clinton even though no evidence has emerged to support it after intense investigation by the FBI, several congressional committees, and a special prosecutor for over a year. The only evidence of Russian collusion found so far has involved the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton Campaign, but Trump-haters are not inclined to follow those threads.

Collusion allegations have thus faded. To get rid of Trump, detractors are searching for other means. The special prosecutor isn’t limited to Russian election collusion; he can investigate anything he chooses, and he is. The special prosecutor who went after President Clinton two decades ago was appointed to investigate a shady Arkansas real estate deal called Whitewater, but instead probed not only sexual harassment but consensual sexual escapades as well. When Clinton lied about those under oath, he was impeached. Something similar could happen to President Trump.

As President Carter pointed out, some detractors claim he’s deranged and would invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him. That’s never been attempted and would be a long shot at best. So now what? Mainstream media are currently in high dudgeon about allegations that Trump used the S-word to describe El Salvador, Haiti, and some African countries while negotiating immigration policy with Democrats. Accusing the president of saying sh** isn’t going to outrage many people so media are claiming the president is “racist.” Though not so in El Salvador, most people in Haiti and African countries are black. Therefore, calling them “sh**hole countries” is tantamount to racism, they insist. It’s a stretch, but mainstream media are riding it for as much mileage as it will bring them.

During a visit by the prime minister of Norway, Trump is said to have asked why we can’t have more immigrants from that country. Because most people in Norway are white, media continued piling up their “Trump is racist” coverage. Locally, Maine’s Portland Press Herald editorialized:

“This was the white nationalist vision of America that was promoted by Trump and his disgraced adviser Steve Bannon in the campaign. It is a view of America that was embraced by some large numbers of voters, who cheered Trump’s vision of a fortress America, where dark-skinned immigrants were kept out by a great wall.”

Really? Trump and Bannon “promoted a white nationalist vision of America”? Their slogan was “America First” and that’s certainly nationalist, but where and when did either of them ever say anything about skin color? Trump organized a lot of rallies and made a lot of speeches. Can the Press Herald cite anything he said to support its claim? The paper has promoted the “Russia/Trump collusion” story for a year without evidence. Now it has jumped to accusations of “white nationalism” without evidence as well. 

Is Trump dividing America, or did America’s divisions exist before he was elected? What might those divisions have been? Left vs right? Class divisions? Coastal elites vs heartland? College-educated vs non-college-indoctrinated? All of them? Was Trump elected because of those divisions? Whatever divisions there were, they’ve widened considerably since the election, but who is driving the wedge? Trump supporters or Trump haters?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dilly Dilly!

Sir Brad is ready to begin the Pit of Misery tour

Wild Card Weekend was wonderful. It was much too cold to go outside Saturday and Sunday here in Maine, but there were two football games between high-level teams to watch both days. What’s not to like? Next weekend will be similar: two games Saturday — including one with the hometown Patriots at Gillette Stadium — and two more on Sunday. Tremendous athletes at the top of their abilities will compete and I’m a football fan again.

Readers of this column know I’m a political junkie, studying the latest developments for at least two hours every day. I watch Sunday morning political programs on at least two networks, but when afternoon comes I don’t want any more politics. I want to watch football. This season, however, politics creeped into the game during the national anthem and that put a damper on Sunday afternoons for millions of us. It wasn’t good for the teams as they saw lots of empty stadium seats. It wasn’t good for TV networks or the NFL either because they lost viewers. I kept watching Patriots games but some of the shine had gone.

Mainstream media gave national anthem sit-downs and kneel-downs plenty of attention at first. Then it all backfired after President Trump weighed in and accused players of lacking patriotism. Many fans agreed and voted with their feet by staying away from games. They voted with their remotes by refusing to tune in at home on their TVs. Revenue declined. After that, media stopped their political coverage by refusing to film the playing of the national anthem before gametime. Politics went out the exits. Football fields went back to being exclusively athletic arenas and politics didn’t make the playoffs. Hurray for that.

When my family was young there wasn’t time to watch football, but by the Tom Brady era our nest had emptied and suddenly there was time. I could again experience total immersion in a sea of testosterone. Football is a male world and I hadn’t realized how much I missed it. Don’t misunderstand; I love women. I’ve been sleeping next to one for almost forty-seven years. I have a mother, four sisters, three daughters, two granddaughters and love them all. I also spent thirty-six years in education — a female-dominated profession. Even our two family dogs were females. Can I be forgiven if sometimes I prefer the exclusive company of men? Too bad if I can’t.

It’s not just the football that I enjoy. Televised games are full of commercials aimed at men too. They’re mostly ads for pick-up trucks and beer and some are very funny. In one, various people bring gifts of Bud Light beer to a medieval king, who thanks them by saying, “Dilly dilly!” Others present raise their bottles in toast and repeat: “Dilly-dilly!” Then, an unfortunate fellow puts some mead before the king, who is displeased. The king looks at him and says: “Please follow Sir Brad. He is going to give you a private tour of the pit of misery.” As the king’s torturer, Sir Brad, drags the poor guy away, others hold up their beers in toast, chanting: “Pit of misery! Dilly dilly!

The commercial doesn’t sound funny in the least, right? But somehow it is. There’s no explanation beyond that it probably reminds men of ridiculous things they’ve done and laughed about while drinking beer together. It’s 21st century code for, “Eat, drink, and be merry!” It’s completely unserious and beckons others to join the mirth. If “dilly dilly” has any real meaning, nobody can find it.

So what’s the purpose of football? What’s the point of eleven men carrying, throwing, catching, and kicking an oblong piece of inflated leather a hundred yards down a field while eleven other strong, swift men try to stop them? It’s a guy thing, like war without the killing. It satisfies something in the male psyche, but it’s not unrestrained violence. It has rules all participants must obey or be penalized, even ordered to leave the field. Players are judged by their physical ability which is remarkable, their mental acuity under pressure, their teamwork, perseverance, and heart.

And there’s nothing new in all this. The earliest Olympic Games in the 8th century BC were exclusively for men as I learned when visiting the site in 2014. Married women were banned both from competition and from viewing as well, but “maidens” were allowed. Why that distinction was made our guide didn’t say. Perhaps the “maidens” were an ancient equivalent of today’s cheerleaders. Perhaps it was because the men competed while oiled and naked, but then homosexuality was widespread in ancient Greece by some accounts. Maybe it was that.

Whatever the reasons for men wishing to spend time away from women once in a while, they go back a long way. It may have become politically incorrect in the 21st century, but it’s not going away.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Limits of History

Everyone has a history. A birth certificate proves my existence since 4/7/1951. My town of Lovell, Maine was incorporated in 1800. Some settlers prior to 1800 kept diaries. Indians lived here but they didn’t record much. European colonists wrote of who and what they saw when they arrived but not until about four hundred years ago in these parts. Darby Field came through Fryeburg in 1642 and described Pequawket (or Pigwacket) — the Indian village existing there at the time. Everything before then is prehistoric by definition. Earliest human records anywhere go back only five thousand years. We consult archaeologists for anything earlier.

Other Abenaki subclassifications 

They tell us people have been around here for about eleven thousand years, maybe longer. No artifacts that old have been found in Lovell or Fryeburg yet but probably will be someday. To the west, a beautiful spearpoint from that era was picked up near the scenic overlook in Intervale, NH around 1888. To the east artifacts approximately that old were discovered near the Lewiston/Auburn airport in the 1980s. To the north, even older artifacts were discovered near Lake Aziscohos in Maine, and to the south near the Ossipee River in NH.

The only professional archaeological dig so far conducted in Fryeburg was six-day effort in July, 2009 by Arthur Spiess and his team from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Results of that have not yet been published, but the site is thought to be from what’s called the Woodland Period. That goes back only three thousand years at most, and what was found is probably younger than that. It was only two miles from my house as the crow flies and some of my students participated.

Some of the John Gray collection

Amateurs have collected artifacts in the Fryeburg area over the years including Eve Barbour, Benjamin Newman, John Gray, and others. The queen of them all, however, was the late Helen Leadbeater of Fryeburg Village. Her studies and explorations seem to have been her principal occupation for over twenty years from the 1950s to the 1970s. When I retired from teaching in 2011, Helen’s son, Arizona Zipper, gave me access to both her artifacts and her records. With the assistance of Fryeburg’s Diana Bell, I spent three weeks photographing her extensive collection while Diana scanned her maps, notes, and journals.

Helen Leadbeater

Helen not only collected, she read everything available on Indians in Maine and New Hampshire, especially those along the Saco River. If she heard about a find, she chased it down and either verified it or debunked it. She got permission from private landowners to explore their property. She kept extensive notes and drew very good maps. Many of her thousands of artifacts are individually labelled and she sketched them as well.

She was especially knowledgeable of ceramics, which go back three thousand years in the Upper Saco River Valley. She published an article on her local ceramic research in the Maine Archaeological Society Journal. She reassembled an entire pot from fragments she found in Fryeburg and donated it to the Maine State Museum (MSM) in Augusta where it remains on display. Another of my former students, Bill Rombola, published a description of all her artifacts in the same journal while he was attending the University of Southern Maine. Senior archaeologists in both Maine and New Hampshire came to Fryeburg to see her collection. So did two other professional archaeologists with whom I’ve spoken. They told me they hope it’s eventually donated to the Maine State Museum.

Mike Gramly, a former director there, especially coveted one of Helen’s artifacts called a “banner stone,” because the MSM doesn’t have one. Trouble is, the piece was found just over the state line in Center Conway. It’s a curious piece with a hole in the middle and wings on the sides and resembles a wing nut. They’re found all over the country and sometimes called “butterfly stones.” It’s function is thought to be as a weight for a spear thrower called an atl-atl — a device, probably wooden, that would give the thrower leverage to throw a spear further and with more force. Other archaeologists dispute this use of the curious bannerstone and claim it must serve some other purpose. 

When time permits, I explore some of the sites Helen identified, but few are plowed and harrowed anymore so surface collecting isn’t possible. She and Eve Barbour would dig but I won’t — not since someone explained to me that, if I did, I’d be obligated to do more. I’d have to have a hypothesis. I’d have to use tedious archaeological technique allowing only the use of a trowel and screen in small test pits, and I’d have to publish my results. All this would require time I do not have, so ethics require that I leave it all in the ground for those who do.