September, 2012

Convention Coverage

September 9th, 2012

If you visit this site regularly, you know I despair over the decline of the English language. The public servants we hire to do our bidding pay a lot of lip service to education, but invariably that means mathematics, science, and technology. Those things are indeed important, but I have two observations.

First, not everyone is born with an inherent capacity to excel in one of those fields. I, for one, was not born with an inherent capacity to excel in… Oh, hell. I can’t even grasp the fundamentals of any of those fields. To paraphrase Somerville and Ross, I subscribe to Irish math, where two-plus-two may equal three or five or nothing whatsoever. Science tends to smell bad. And I have learned when I flip the switch the light will come on, usually, so how much more technology do I need?

Second, it makes no difference how brilliant you may be at math or science or technology, or how earth shattering your discoveries: if you can’t communicate them effectively and accurately, you might just as well have spent the time on the sofa watching reality TV. And the very schools that specialize in teaching communication, all those journalism schools that are supposed to attract the brightest and the best, are failing miserably. Case in point: the coverage of the recent conventions.

Did you watch the conventions? If you didn’t, you have my sympathy because you missed some high theater in both parties. It is well known that a politician cannot move his lips without spouting lies faster than water comes out of the Trevi Fountain, and that’s fine. They know they lie, you know they lie, everybody knows they lie, so nobody believes anything a politician says. But it’s the description of those lies, the words used to describe them by the brightest and best of the mainstream press, that bothers me.

gaffe is either a social blunder or an instance of clumsy stupidity. When Joe Biden tells a senator who is confined to a wheelchair to stand up and wave to the audience, that’s a gaffe.

Misspeak, a verb, means to speak or pronounce incorrectly, or to fail to convey one’s intended meaning with one’s words. When Mitt Romney, speaking of America, says he wants to “…make sure this company deals with its challenges…” he misspoke.

To “twist the facts” or “twist the truth” means to change a fact, by omission or inference, so that it is no longer entirely true. When (fill in the name of any speaker in either party) says (fill in any speech or any portion of any speech by any speaker in either party), that’s twisting the facts.

But why does the press insist on using these euphemisms when they are clearly inappropriate and inaccurate? When Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida congresswoman and Democratic National Committee chair, denies making a specific statement and accuses a conservative newspaper of “misquoting” her, when the reporter in question has the recording of the statement, that is not a gaffe. It is, however, mind-bogglingly dumb. When she goes on television and accuses Republicans who support voter ID laws of wanting to “…literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws…” and then appears on television a day later and denies making that statement, she hasn’t misspoken. On the other hand, she has demonstrated monumental stupidity. And when she deliberately misquotes the Los Angeles Times on Romney’s stance regarding abortion, that’s not just twisting the facts. That’s moronic.

There are other fine old English words for all of those things: lies; mendacity; falsehood; untruth; prevarication; whopper (informal); gross, flagrant, shameless, barefaced bullshit (informal).

See what I mean? I never heard or read any of those words in the convention coverage of either party. English is dying.

Rifles and Pistols and Guns, Oh My!

September 4th, 2012




Oh, ho!

 I received a snarky email from someone in response to the blog where I mentioned I make my living testing firearms. It was not the most articulate email I have ever gotten, but the implication seemed to be either that I liked guns because I am a lonely little man, or that I am a lonely little man because I like guns.

I assume that by “little” he or she means psychologically or intellectually little, since physically I am right in the middle of the pack. (Literally. When I boxed, I boxed as a middleweight.)

Psychologically, I am also pretty much in the middle of the pack. I’ve had my share of troubles (notably PTSD and its handmaiden, Depression) but I don’t hear voices, I’ve never been taken to outer space by little green men, and I don’t believe I’m really Marie Antoinette or a polar bear or anything, so I don’t think I’m in immediate need of a room with soft walls.

A lot of teachers over the years told me I was intellectually negligible (this was usually accompanied by a hearty whack on the side of my head, remedial teaching being a trifle more primitive in those days and those countries) but as I have managed to make my way in the wide world using whatever wits I do have, without ever having to resort to manual labor at minimum wage, here too I would say I’m staggering along in the middle of the pack.


But what really intrigued me about the email was the implication that, if you like firearms, there must, by definition, be something wrong with you. Wow. Those who dance are thought mad by those who don’t hear the music. Putting aside Olympic and other competitive shooters who enjoy using their unique skills to get a projectile from point A to point B (sort of like throwing a football or baseball or basketball), and putting aside the artists who love creating works of functional art using wood and steel as their canvases (sort of like the people who build and restore vintage cars or motorcycles or boats), what reasons might one have for liking guns?

I shan’t enter into any discussion here about need, or personal rights, but why might I like firearms?

For the same reasons Olympic shooters do. I may not have their skills, but just as they enjoy exercising a certain skill set and achieving certain goals, so do I. In my shotgun case I have saved those little patches you get for shooting a straight set of twenty-five. There are embarrassingly few of them, but I’m proud of the ones I do have, and I derived great enjoyment and relaxation from the process of earning them. I have never done any competitive pistol or rifle shooting, but I get great pleasure and relaxation from those activities too. And pride, when I shoot well.

I like fine guns for the same reason that people go to watch regattas or concours d’elegance. I have zero interest in building, restoring, owning, or even driving an antique car, but I can’t look at an immaculate old Duesenberg or a Jaguar Mark IV or practically any pre-war Mercedes or Packard without a gasp of delight. You may be terrified of water, but how can anyone with a soul not be thrilled by the sight of a brigantine under full sail, or a gaff-rigged ketch heeling in the wind? London “best” shotguns, exquisite rifles built by American custom makers on classic and greatly re-worked actions and capable of fantastic degrees of accuracy, those may be things I can never even dream of owning, but I can appreciate the skill, the artistry, the lifetime of commitment that goes into creating such things. It’s like looking at a great handmade watch, something by Patek Philippe, or Breguet or Audemars Piguet; you are looking a piece of exquisite working art that is also capable of performing extraordinarily accurate tasks. And when I am lucky enough to have someone like Joe Smithson, Ryan Breeding, Pat Holehan, Hill Country Rifles, or Kilimanjaro send me one of their works of art to test, I am profoundly grateful.

And if anyone reading this is a financial bracket that allows them to own a Patek Philippe or Breguet or Audemars Piguet, how would you like to adopt a nice middle-aged man?


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