September 3, 2013

Making the Ruling Person’s English gender-neutral.

There are no fishermen left in Washington State. They are all now fishers. There are no longer any firemen, only firefighters. The state’s clergymen have been banished to make room for a genderless clergy. All of the college freshmen have gone on to become sophomores and will be replaced by a new crop of first-year students. And none of them practice penmanship anymore, only handwriting.

It’s all part of a grand Utopian scheme of Washington’s starry-eyed efforts to banish gendered language from the state’s constitution and official documents. Tellingly, certain phrases have been left unaltered. You can still call a conman a conman, and a manhole will remain a manhole. And the word seaman will remain the exclusive domain of man.

Washington is now the fourth state (after Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois) to mandate gender-neutral language in its official documents. The state’s Office of the Code Reviser will keep its 40 employees busy as they pore over an estimated 40,000 sex-specific legal references at taxpayer expense in their attempt to diligently un-gender them.

“This was a much larger effort than I had envisioned,” Welles told Reuters. “Mankind means man and woman….There’s no good reason for keeping our legal terms anachronistic and with words that do not respect our current contemporary times,” she/he/it said.

“Words matter,” commented Liz Watson of the National Women’s Law Center regarding Washington’s move to neuter its legal jargon. “This is important in changing hearts and minds,” and we all know that changing hearts and minds is far more important than, oh, balancing the budget, lowering taxes, or easing unemployment.

Sociolinguists Crispin Thurlow is enthusiastic about the new law, possibly because they keep sociolinguists named Crispin Thurlow employed in what are by any objective measure nonessential jobs.

“Changing words can change what we think about the world around us,” Thurlow says. “These tiny moments accrue and become big movements.”

That’s the problem with tiny moments. Unless you stop them immediately, they blossom into big movements.
But the movement’s been growing for decades in the halls of academia and the corridors of power. “You can get people to change their language,” claims Amy Sheldon, a professor from the University of Minnesota. “It doesn’t automatically change whether people are acting sexistly and non-sexistly.”

Dear Amy—you can try to get people to “change their language” until dream-catchers magically emerge, but you’ll only get me to use the word “sexistly” when you pry it from my cold, dead lips.

The website to Sarah Lawrence College—which, if I’m not mistaken, was named after a (do I dare say this?) woman—offers Gender Neutral Language Guidelines that provide a frightening glimpse into the latter-day tendencies to get everything backward. Their handy how-to manual accepts the term gendered as a verb, as if sexual dimorphism is a diaphanous social construct and one actually has to inject gender into the language, yet it frowns upon “transgendered” in favor of “transgender,” as if to imply that these poor creatures were born that way.

MIT offers a guide for removing the word man from everything except, oh but of course, the word manslaughter.

The American Psychological Association, which seems acutely afflicted with the mental disorders peculiar to modern ‘isms, offers Guidelines to Reduce Bias in Language and, because it’s absolutely and undeniably necessary, methods for Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Language.

Movements are afoot to de-gender The Bible, the entire English language, and every language known to mankind—sorry, I meant every language known to humanity.

A German university even switched all masculine-generic language over to the female form.

Where will it end? Will Manhattan become Personhattan? Will MENSA morph into PERSONSA? Will we have to hire gender-indeterminate scriveners to alter Lincoln’s Epersoncipation Proclamation?

But alas, this is all part of progress. None of this is insane or trivial or reflective of people who are so hopelessly sheltered, they’d scream at the sight of their own gender-neutral shadow.

Still, I suppose it’s only fair to expect that, at any given point in history, language should reflect the times. The problem is . . . we live in far too interesting times. 

August 18, 2013

Thanks, for the memory.

Under law it should have been an offence punishable by life imprisonment and flagellation with hard oatcakes* to bring shame and humiliation on Scotland’s finest son.

Thankfully, Sean Connery did this to himself 30 years ago when he stepped onto the set in Ireland of Zardoz, John Boorman's deranged sci-fi adventure which required the former James Bond to exchange his tuxedo for a pair of fisherman's waders and a bright red rubber nappy. 

Until recently I had managed to expunge this image from my mind, unfortunately all it took was spotting these Glitter Peep Toe Ankle Boots - five words that should not run together unless you are Miss Piggy or a tutu wearing hippo.

*(Samuel Johnson referred, disparagingly, to this staple diet in his dictionary definition for oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people. Lord Elibank was said by Sir Walter Scott to have retorted; Yes, and where else will you see such horses and such men?

July 27, 2013

Is there a pill for that?

Do you ever wonder why we take a turn for the worse? What are the inciting moments, the turning points, and the thing that makes us embrace behaviour that only a handful of years earlier was unthinkable?

First-they deny it happened as reported.
Next-they admit it happened but insisted it was exaggerated.
Finally-they ‘fess-up’.  It wasn’t exaggerated or taken out of context but’s no big deal.

What a week. I think back at the headlines of the week in sports. In track and field, once the noblest of sports, the Jamaicans and Americans have been caught red-handed swimming in drugs. I always believed that Jamaica was one big drug factory, but libel laws prevent me from naming names. I needed no research. All one had to do is look at these so-called stars’ physiques. Eight years from now we’ll know how many of them were cheating. My guess is all of them. Send the gold medals back now, boys and girls the postal rates will only go up.

Turkish football clubs have been caught fixing matches and have been given a reprieve. Thank you, Sepp Blatter.

The Tour de France is over, and being a gambler I’d bet there isn’t a single biker who’s clean, but proving it is another thing altogether.

And Stuart Broad nicked it but refused to walk. That’s cricket, now.

At the same time I’d bet the farm there wasn’t a single foreign substance taken by the men, women (oops pardon, persons) and horses with whom I just finished a game of cross-country racing. What a marvelous occasion that was.

What a bloody shame there isn’t a pill ... 
well you get my drift.

June 24, 2013

A short Grim(m’s) fairy tale.

Many years ago one of my godchildren gave me a watch for Christmas.  Recently I wore it in the water. Once it was waterproof. No more. I took it to a little watch repair shop. The watch, new, was inexpensive. The repairman said it would cost $75 to fix.

I left it with the repairman-no charge-so he could repair and resell it and bought an inexpensive Timex. Great watch.  How do I know?  People hate it.

Alas, the strap on the Timex was chewed up by the Wiener dog. I took it to be replaced. There in the case was my old watch. Fixed. On sale. $25…
…I bought it.  

May 23, 2013

I’m so over this, and this, and this, and that, and '☋'

Only Langella and Clint Eastwood look good in a cape. The rest of us look as if we are on our way back home from electroconvulsive shock therapy. Brains now addled by 3000 volts of electricity, the trustees have acquiesced and released the bindings from our tad tight strait jackets.

Do you like unicorns? The color pink? Then I'm sure the cult of the cupcake has become a modus vivendi for you. They are pretty and they are oh so tasty but wake up and smell the cupcake you run the risk of being considered nauseatingly sweet. This in turn puts you at risk of being chased along the street by your sickened friends whose exhausted gag reflexes has driven them to wield a giant needle loaded with insulin. Let us harken to a world BC (before cupcakes).  Macaroons be warned: you are headed down the same rocky road to perdition.

Oh dear, unless you are Joan Collins in her Dynasty era or living life through an opium soaked haze and require a sheath of netting and froth to detract from a pallor last seen when the Black Death was rife, please eschew the fascinator. Any woman, who has to purchase a quality in order to possess it, then, attach it to her head, may as well walk naked down the street wearing a sandwich board. 

“We saw your boobs…” Well, we did, do! Our latter day well corseted Venuses are rarely seen without their well cantilevered bosoms spilling from a gown like hastily formed hillocks of vanilla Playdoh. Ripe of body, they have sashayed centre stage into our consciousness and allowed us all to wolf down dessert without guilt. But, ouch those engorged globes look positively painful, someone stick a pin in those balloons. There is also the small matter of decorum to be considered.  Really?

Great weekend friends on the other side of the herring pond.

May 7, 2013

The Ebony Tower.

We met by accident. The first time I saw her she instantly reminded me of a woman in a fresco at the Palazzo Ducale di Mantova.  Hence the allusion to The Ebony Tower.  She was telling the waiter in her fluent but accented French that he had got it wrong, again. She turned to me, for no reason other than I was at the next table, and asked if I knew how to mix a drink. I could try, and I did, and she was delighted.  Her tipple, as she put it, was red vermouth, un Martini rouge, with a very precise proportion of soda-water and ice: ice first, then the vermouth, then the bubbly. She decided she liked me because I got the mix just right for her.

Madame was old when I met her. She married late in life and had been, even so, a widow much longer than she had been a wife. The table scraps of her personal biography that she fed me every once in a while didn’t make a feast, perhaps a casse-croûte and a slim one at best, but it was an interesting life she had led. An army brat from Oklahoma, daughter of a perdurable colonel who amazingly managed to dodge retirement in the face of the army’s up-or-out version of the Peter Principle, she had nothing to tell me about the time after she left college—I think without bothering to graduate—until she met her husband when she must have been near forty. Then it got good.

He was a diplomat, and either someone at le Quai d’Orsay really didn’t like him or he was a born adventurer, but he was posted to Vietnam, several countries on the verge of riot and dissolution in Africa and, as a treat, Bulgaria or Albania, but not both. Madame loved it. As an ambassador, he always had enough of a budget to live well, which in those countries at those times was not difficult, and not far shy of splendid: good wine always materialized, servants were abundant, grateful for the work, and did not steal more than decency permitted, and the European works of art that came on the market were definitely not forgeries—he evidently had the eye of a connoisseur and the heart of a detective—and could be had for practically nothing with nothing by way of provenance either.

Best of all, as far as I could understand the stories, there was really nothing to do in these posts save passing the time with the other European diplomats, their hangers-on, and the occasional transient ex-pat, who may or may not have been a spy or a crook, but could always tell a story or sell something cheap to earn a meal and a free flop for a week or two. Considering newspapers arrived two or three months late if at all, radio was BBC on shortwave or nothing at all, and local news was nothing at all minus a great deal, visitors were bundled right into the bosom of the community and tended to stay. The cagey ones were able to figure out how to arrive at a diplomat’s new posting after a decent interval and start the process all over again.

Why not? Everyone came out on top, which is even better than everyone being above average. It was like frontier life, but instead of the tales around the campfire or singing around the piano in the parlor, there were complicated narratives, sexual and political intrigues, a fair amount of gambling for petty stakes which had a way of mounting up, and best of all dressing for dinner. With a longish siesta in the afternoon in all these sweaty boon dock posts, it was possible to sit down to dinner, with silver, china, crystal, and servants in uniform, all the guests dressed to the nines, including jewelry, around eleven in the evening. Samuel Beckett said that all days are the same, except the last day, which is shorter. They did Beckett one better. Dinner at eleven meant going to bed after five or six in the morning, and waking up just after noon in time for a light lunch in the heat and, a little later, a siesta. Short, sweet, days, in an ebony tower.

It was a lovely, fun-house-mirror of a moveable feast that had passed by. No one was ever going to see it again. But she did not seem to care about that, only that her mirror was smashed when he died of a heart attack while on leave in Paris. So she stayed.  This is when I first got to mix her a drink.

Even then, it was clear, if I bothered to think about it but tried not to, that he had died with his boots on, that the broadsword of history had clobbered that—what was it?—early post-colonialist or pre-post-modernist moment not long after his heart called it a day, but slowly, by a thousand cuts, with bits and pieces falling off the wagon, the paint chipping, the windows breaking, until there was nothing left but a pile of scrap by the side of the unpaved road. If Madame knew this—of course, she had to—it had no place in her recollections.  And good for her.

Better to be sociable tell stories and to listen to stories from me and her other admirers who would arrive and depart as erratically as I.  She came leaning on her cane the table was ready for her drink and a chair waiting. The coming and the going, however slow and difficult, were le prix d’entrée for her, just like travel on dirt roads and by rubber-band airplanes once upon a time.

I was called away.  When I returned I went by the café and asked for Madame.  I learned that she had not been around for a long time.  No one even knew where she lived. The waiter shrugged and asked me if I wanted to drink to her memory, on the house. I declined.

April 3, 2013

An Intrusion of Tiaras.

The 2013 Almanach de Gotha has arrived and not a moment to soon because in the past year I have encountered more fake tiaras flitting about than there are grifters.

I squarely place the blame with Uptown Downstairs Abbey Beyoncé (have I got this right?) and the blatant fantasizing of the life of the British uppers classes.

Psst, a scoop.  I am convinced that Julian Fellowes is planning to kill off the entire cast!  Yes, all of them: upstairs, downstairs, the whole lot. I'm not a bit surprised.  For this will only rival “The Oscars”, 1929–present 85 seasons and counting, as longest running show.  At the end of which EVERYBODY will want to become the Kennedy's of Yorkshire.  

Gothaists hide your tiaras. 

“The Stately Homes of England,
How beautiful they stand,
To prove the upper classes
Have still the upper hand;
Though the fact that they have to be rebuilt
And frequently mortgaged to the hilt
Is inclined to take the gilt
Off the gingerbread,
And certainly damps the fun
Of the eldest son-
But still we won't be beaten,
We'll scrimp and scrape and save,
The playing fields of Eton
Have made us frightfully brave-
And though if the Van Dycks have to go
And we pawn the Bechstein Grand,
We'll stand
By the Stately Homes of England…”

lyrics by Noel Coward


March 11, 2013

Proletarian Panache.

What has happened to looking good? Honestly! Before my trip I was excited although there were red warning signs.  Hillary Clinton announced she only wanted to; " …sleep, have fun and relax ... I am sick of having it all."

At the airports every man dressed in black nondescript baggy pants, quilted jackets and yes baseball caps. (Is every guy over 30 losing his hair?) Ms Edna warned me that Los Angelitos are indeed depressed and into "survivor mode" and don't want to dress up for much of anything. I understand "understatement" but truly "the look" borderlines ... SLOB!!!

Is this from restraint and fear or simply lazy and disgusted. I witnessed it first hand at the restaurants. The restaurant was regal but the patrons were not! Most guys arrived without a decent jacket, in jeans and big open shirts worn outside their pants. They were practically donning flip flops. The women looked "overcompensating" in the Kardashian signature band aid-spandex- micro-mini dresses displaying very large asses and rub-a-dub thighs. What is wrong with this picture?    

A fashion editor explained to me that celebrities are responsible for setting the visual bar so low. It seems that most of them have decided to "dress down" — a kind of reverse snobbery.  Call it "Dirt Bag Chic." Is the message "Love me, love my dishevelment, and I am one with you?"

We have Brad Pitt showing up looking well, unprepossessing.   Who cares about his strong jaw and low body fat!  Suck it up Brad, you think Chanel paid you a gazillion dollars to make those ridiculous adds because they loved your performance in "Money ball”?  Go home, do the whole shower and shave thing and have one of your two-dozen children iron an outfit for you. You do not run with a biker gang. Get over it.


But now almost every guy looks like a homeless person with four-day-old beard growth and even scraggly neck hair. Is the "Wolverine" thing really such a turn on? This whole look is not some relapsed punk trend. It is simply a mess. And it is epidemic.

In a five star hotel on Sunday the men and women and children all looked like the street garbage bags. They were bunked out on the floor and couches dressed in layers of duffel bags.  And forget visuals impressions at any given airport or plane cabin.   

I can imagine poor Bill Cunningham really having a tough time of it doing his infamous street photography. 

On  a fashion side note ... Balenciaga! appointed 28-year-old Alexander Wang as their creative director. He is known to have made 60 million dollars designing "high end" T-shirts and sweats.  The New York Times called the announcement "The democratization of fashion which leads to a gradual decline of luxury." 

And they reported some fashion industry moguls seeing it as "... the watering down of creativity in fashion." 

I'll say!! 

Now that the new luxury is no luxury and everyone is dressing in their pajamas it all seems so, nothing.

Okay so we can forget about "dressing to the nines ..." but how about looking "presentable?"  I'm all for understated chic but does it have to look so disgusting? Obviously it is a sign of a new cultural low.   Obviously as more people end up dressing in comfy T-shirts, sweats and lounge wear as their daily garb, so goes our personal self regard. It's become a big "Why Bother." 

Sadly,  we've all gone visually unconscious.

Which leaves me to sing Paul Simon's plea, once again, "where have you gone Cary Grant—I turn my lonely eyes to YOU."

February 18, 2013

"Where have you gone Papa Ratzinger -

the world turns its lonely eyes to YOU ..."


We have turned our hungry minds to the renunciation of the papacy by Pope Benedict XVI. Not only is the MSM uncharacteristically obsessed with the story more so than your average Catholic-in-the-pew-a-couple-of-times-a-year.

I know that when it comes to Catholicism the New York Times is unlikely to Get Religion. But the story that hit the Times’ website yesterday contained twaddle so egregious it just made me go… Oh dear oh dear, not again.

I’m looking at the Vatican Memo from Rachel Donadio headlined What Do You Call a Retired Pope? And Is He Still Infallible?

I’ll admit to joining the speculation on the first question. My own Downton-overload response would be Dowager Pontiff, because I think that even in retirement Papa Ratzinger might have some choice Maggie Smith like pronouncements to share. On the second question, however, to which Ms Donadio devotes most of the two-page memo, there’s just one answer.


No matter how profound or witty, no Dowager Pontiff’s pronouncements would be infallible. And that’s nowhere near the conundrum the article makes it out to be.

In transforming an office with an aura of divinity into something far more human, Benedict’s decision has sent shock waves through the Vatican hierarchy, who next month will elect his successor. But it has also puzzled the faithful and scholars, who wonder how a pope can be infallible one day and fallible again the next — and whether that might undermine the authority of church teaching.

Benedict stunned the world last week when he said that he would retire on Feb. 28, a decision he said he had made “in full liberty and for the good of the church.” Even as the Vatican has tried to play down the confusion, saying that Canon Law provides for a clear transfer of power if a pope resigns, the implications of Benedict’s act remain unclear.

“What is the status of an ex-pope?” asked Ken Pennington, a professor of ecclesiastical and legal history at the Catholic University of America in Washington. “We have no rules about that at all. What is his title? What are his powers? Does he lose infallibility?”

Not quite sure why Professor Pennington has his knickers in a twist. The answer (clear to anyone with the vaguest grasp of ecclesiastical history, or common sense) is that infallibility resides in the office, not the man. Can’t quite imagine why that’s so difficult to understand. An ex-president is no longer the Commander in Chief, and does not retain executive powers. The ecclesiogical parallels are not exact, but close enough.

Ms Donadio actually includes (or more accurately, buries) the correct, non-puzzling answer to the Pennington Quandary in the next paragraph but one.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has repeatedly said that Canon Law ensures the infallibility of Benedict’s successor, and that once he retires, Benedict will no longer have the authority to promulgate dogma.

But apparently that’s not juicy enough to fill two pages of whatiffery in what, long ago, was an actual newspaper. (You know, one in which reporters answered the whoiffery, whatiffery, wheniffery, whereiffery, and whyiffery themselves before deadline, most of the time by interviewing people who actually had a clue.) Nope, back we go to Professor Pennington’s theological angst.

Still, many remain puzzled by the larger implications. “From a theological point of view, how can a person be considered to be infallible and not be infallible anymore?” Mr. Pennington asked.

And we get more wish fulfillment from Eamon Duffy, a Cambridge historian. Duffy, who is shocked, shocked I tell you that the pope seems to have defied a 150-year-old tradition of acting in the person of Christ (hello, 150 years? try as long as there’s been a papacy), which Duffy seems to think makes Catholics worship the pope as a deity (say what?), is sure that this “taboo-breaking” move will undermine the Church’s teaching authority forever:

That the supreme pontiff can pass authority to his successor at retirement rather than death inevitably introduces more ambiguity to the authority of church doctrine, some scholars say, since it calls into question the authority of the pontiff who promulgated that doctrine. “Benedict actually by resigning has introduced some cracks into that infallibility. It’s bound to relativize doctrine,” Mr. MacCullough said.

No. The only thing it’s bound to do is make academics break out crapwords like relativize.

But it’s not just academics. Italian journalists, Ms Donadio finds, are also really worried about HOW THE FAITHFUL WILL KNOW WHAT’S WHAT. She says “experts and prelates are worried,” but cites no nail biting members of the hierarchy.

Although the Vatican has tried to play down concerns, experts and prelates worry what it will mean to have two popes alive at the same time, and both living inside the Vatican.

“It’s completely uncharted waters,” said Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican expert for the Turin daily La Stampa and Vatican Insider. “They say they’re calm about it, but it’s not easy to say what the role of the new pope will be. Will the new pope be able to create new decisions that go against those of Benedict? It’s a question.”

Yeah. A question of How clueless can you get? The answer to Tornielli’s question, btw, is Yes, a new pope will be able to issue statements and preside over synods and councils that may produce doctrinal reflections that run counter to those of Pope Benedict XVI, but that hypothetical is true in every papal transition. Hello.
And then there’s the Pope v Pope Steel Cage Title Belt Match scenario, on which the benighted Professor Pennington has (of course) an opinion:  Others say that if he were to leave the Vatican, having the former pope in a different city might lead to more confusion, if the faithful perceived him to preside in a different center of power, and made pilgrimages to see him.

Assuming Benedict stays at the Vatican, as has been announced, “I can imagine these unhappy Catholics going to the old pope and saying, ‘What do you think about that?’ ” Mr. Pennington said. “I think that this would raise serious issues of where authority and where infallibility and where the truth in the church lies.”

The silliness here is that those interviewed, for the most part, have absolutely no understanding of the magisterial process of defining doctrine, or of how the papacy works. They think Catholics are a bunch of pope worshipers who believe magic comes with the little red shoes. (That wasn’t even true for Dorothy.) They think we’re going so be so confused if a new pope makes up a whole lotta new doctrines while the old one is still camping out in the Vatican backyard. (As indeed we would be, if that impossibility were to occur. Popes don’t make up doctrine, and the truth is the truth from age to age.)

There’d have been no story, but here’s what I or any Catholic (expert or prelate or ordinary sinner) would have replied to the questions:
Cardinal Ratzinger.
And NO.

January 28, 2013

Off to see the Wizards.

Tonto where are my ruby slippers?

Happy New Year, and with pleasantries thus dispensed, let us get started...

The United States Congress works in wondrous ways. Each congressperson is entitled to sit on two committees. In earlier times they called that a make work project, but today it has become as fixed as faith, much like universal health care for legislators. With 435 Congressional members that makes for a lot of make work projects, for even congressmen come with a bell curve of aptitude. Some dumb, some dumber, with an odd gift to mankind thrown in every generation or two. In their infinite wisdom, once upon a time, congressional leadership created a committee to shelter their (what would be a polite name?) in one place, The Houses’ Science, Space and Technology Committee.

A (what would be a polite name?) Congressman, a member of the Science, Space and Technology committee, Todd Akin, had been much in the news for his views on legitimate rape and female reproductivity. Todd claims a doctor told him so. The doctor, Congressman Paul Broun MD from Georgia is a fellow Science, Space and Technology member.

At a campaign meeting at the Liberty Baptist Church of Hartwell, Georgia,  Congressman Broun MD had this to say,  "God's word is true, I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior."

Alright, alright, stop it already and let us give thanks congressmen Broun and Akin are only formulating  national policy.