Giving voice to the voiceless

I am mortified that no one else stepped in to do this job, but gratified that Devon Henry was there to do it. White contractors wouldn’t remove Confederate statues. So a Black man did it., by Gregory S. Schneider.

Henry’s mission as the man who finally drove the Confederates out of Richmond was nearly complete. He had a brief, blunt message that morning for the chilly workers as they prepared to do the unusual work that has become so familiar.

“It’s the last one,” he told them. “Let’s do it right and get out of here.”


Oh, dear Fox, yes: Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like.’

This is what is most disturbing about “I feel like”: The phrase cripples our range of expression and flattens the complex role that emotions do play in our reasoning. It turns emotion into a cudgel that smashes the distinction—and even in our relativistic age, there remains a distinction—between evidence out in the world and internal sentiments known only to each of us.

Towards an end to the killing

A leader from The Economist, noting the close vote in New Hampshire on renouncing capital punishment, and some surprisingly stern words arguing for its hasty demise.

…in a secular democracy a law of such gravity must have some compelling rational justification, which the death penalty does not.

* * *
…New Mexico, Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado and Washington stopped or suspended it. New Hampshire will try again. State by state, abolitionists will prevail. America is a nation founded on the principle that governments should not be trusted with too much power; that should include the power to strap people to a gurney and poison them.


Holy Fox! Alice Munro will receive the Nobel Prize in Literature!

In a statement from Penguin Random House, her publisher, Ms. Munro said that she was “amazed, and very grateful.”

She added, “I’m particularly glad that winning this award will please so many Canadians,” she said. “I’m happy, too, that this will bring more attention to Canadian writing.”


Something that you don’t hear top-drawer religious leaders say:

Given that many of you do not belong to the [faith], and others are not believers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence, to each one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God…. May God bless you.

Well, hardly ever.

And also with you, Holy Father.


Evgeny Morozov attacks what he calls solutionism:

an intellectual pathology that recognizes problems as problems based on just one criterion: whether they are “solvable” with a nice and clean technological solution at our disposal.

Morozov makes a strong case, and there’s little I can do but quote from the piece:

Solutionists err by assuming, rather than investigating, the problems they set out to tackle. Given Silicon Valley’s digital hammers, all problems start looking like nails, and all solutions like apps.

* * *

Whenever technology companies complain that our broken world must be fixed, our initial impulse should be to ask: how do we know our world is broken in exactly the same way that Silicon Valley claims it is? What if the engineers are wrong and frustration, inconsistency, forgetting, perhaps even partisanship, are the very features that allow us to morph into the complex social actors that we are?


Laurie Goodstein recaps the uneasy relations between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. My sympathies are with the American nuns, led by Sister Pat Farrell:

“We have a differing perspective on obedience,” Sister Farrell said. “Our understanding is that we need to continue to respond to the signs of the times, and the new questions and issues that arise in the complexities of modern life are not something we see as a threat.”

Some links: 52

Mitch Albom’s column in defense of NPR has been up for a few days, but it’s still worth a link.

If you really wanted to show a liberal bias to NPR, you could try to prove it by studying hundreds of its broadcasts. But studies take time and effort and they’re not as cool. Hiding a camera and playing “gotcha” is more fun.

Which is what [James] O’Keefe and crew do. Sorry, folks, the guy is no hero. Journalistically, he’s a coward. And I don’t get why NPR rolled over for his stunt.

Decimate clutter

Steve Offutt dares to challenge the security bollards that have popped up in the last decade all over the city like so many fruiting bodies of concrete fungus. They won’t work, and they’re anti-people.

By now, the totality of those barriers must cover scores of acres of valuable sidewalk real estate. They create an unwelcome atmosphere to pedestrians, forcing them to weave and sometimes wait for others to make room just to walk to and from their destinations. Most of them are unsightly at best and downright ugly at worst. They have degraded the open space and welcoming feel of virtually every outdoor space in the core of DC.

A little dig

Sly closing remark by Bill Poser at the end of a Language Log post about garbled entomology in a Customs and Border Protection press release (with my spelling correction):

The odd wording appears to have originated with Customs, in this press release. (Customs is now part of the “Department of Homeland Security” but I avoid using this name. Whenever I see it, I hear “Reichssicherheitshauptamt“.)

From the Director

A Warning:

There will be no gunfire in this production.
There will be no smoking of cigarettes during this production.
No strobe light will be used.
There will be no intermission.
There will be no strong language.

If you are looking for any of the above when attending the theatre, we are sorry to disappoint you. However, we do encourage you to remain.

What there WILL be before you on the stage is a celebration. It is a celebration of the very essence of what makes live theatre such an exciting and engaging art form. There will be two actors acting.

They will use no props. They will not change costumes. The set will not spin around them. They will use their considerable talents to create for you eight characters—both seen and unseen—as they relay one of the greatest ghost stories ever told.

Have I seduced you? Well. God be with you.

—Kathy Feininger, director’s notes to Round House Theatre’s production of The Turn of the Screw, January 1999

And yet… I must also note that this production was excellently, if minimally, designed, by a team of established talents in the D.C. theater community: Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden (scenic), Rosemary Pardee (costume), Ayun Fedorcha (lighting), and Tom McCarthy (sound).

But that’s just me

Arnold Zwickly produces two rants after my own heart. First:

Why are people so incompetent at finding e-addresses and web addresses? The hypothesis I’ve developed is that the InterWeb—the conglomeration of the Internet and the World Wide Web—makes people lazy and stupid. Here’s this amazing resource, which allows people to track down all sorts of arcane information within (at most) minutes, yet the users have come to expect that sites will be designed to offer them a single-click route to whatever they want. That’s just lazy. And they seem to have lost the ability to search things out for themselves. The InterWeb has made them stupid.

But, in a subsequent parenthesis, he backs off a bit. Give ’em hell, Arnold! Contrariwise, but making the same point: earlier this week I watched a training video (basically a spoken narration over screenshots of a developer writing code) that involved a side trip to a popular download site. We watched the coder-narrator type the name of the download site into a search box and then click through the search results. Oy vey! Bookmarks and URLs are your friends, people!

Next, Zwickly talks more moderately about the bleed-through of technical language into general use, and the repurposing of common words like normal and mass for technical purposes. He uses a favorite bête noire of mine as an example:

The fact is that ordinary language is pressed into service in a number of ways to provide technical vocabulary, which then has a very specialized meaning in certain contexts, and at the same time technical vocabulary “leaks out” into ordinary language. People get the general drift of the technical vocabulary, but (usually not knowing either the etymology OR the context of its technical use) do their best to interpret what they hear.

And they get a lot of it wrong, from the point of view of people in the technical fields. Epicenter obviously refers to a location (of an earthquake)—to, in some sense, the central point where the earthquake took place. Besides center, there’s an extra element epi-, which clearly must contribute something. So the epi- adds extra stuff, probably something emphatic: the epicenter is, people reason, the EXACT center. (Technically, it’s the location on the earth’s surface OVER the place where the earthquake event happened, underground.) Now, getting all enraged about the common-language use of epicenter for the central point of an event—it seems to be standard now—is just as silly as getting all enraged about the common-language use of vegetables to refer to tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplants, etc., all of which are technically fruits in one scheme of biological terminology.

I take his point, that it’s a question of degree. I don’t get bent about the proper use of fruit the way my agronomist ex probably does, but I haven’t given up on epicenter yet. When epi- changes its meaning from “upon” to “exactly,” something is lost: the ability to make sense of a related word like epidermis (“the layer above the dermis”) or epidemic (“a scourge upon the people”).

Tom Stoppard’s Henry says in Scene 5 of The Real Thing:

[Words are] innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so that if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more…. [Words] deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.