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When Trouble Knocks on Your Door

Posted by Howard Denson on July 21, 2017 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

I spent decades relaying tips to colleagues who were under fire . . . and eventually learned to say up front, “I’m not a rescuer. All I can do is help you organize your thoughts and speak to you honestly.”

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Tip #1: Never ever write anything in anger. Your angry words will do more harm than good.

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Tip #2: Never write anything that is false. Those higher up the chain of command may get away with fibbing here and there, but you don’t have that luxury. One demonstrably false statement from you undercuts your position.

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Tip #3: Write something and set it aside. Very likely it doesn’t have to go out today.

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Tip #4: Get someone you trust to read what you’ve written to see if you have said what you need to say.

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Tip #5: Be a model employee as much as you are capable of being. No one of us is an angel, but we can avoid stabbing ourselves in our own backs.

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Tip #6: If an evaluation has zinged you for A, B, C, then focus your efforts on resolving those problems.

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I helped one colleague from another campus respond to a 12-point complaint from his supervisor. The dispute went on for a couple of years before the colleague resigned an hour before the board would vote on his termination. When the dust settled, I re-read my copy of the administrator's 12-point complaint. Each point was on target, as I might have known if I had been working on the same campus with him. I had not understood that my colleague wanted to be thrown out. He was tired of the job, but he didn’t have the spark to simply resign and move on. Now, I open any confidential chit-chat with this question: “Do you really want to keep this job . . . or are you just doing it for the money?”

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Tip #7: If a supervisor has gone off the reservation (e.g., by claiming that 90% of students in a class should pass), bring the assertion to the attention of, say, a faculty senate or members of a department. Discuss it with an apologetic and respectful tone and do not use the name of the supervisor. At some point, the chain of command should recognize that the supervisor’s assertion is silly and unsupportable.

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Tip #8: Keep the problem out of the social media. In my collection of essays in the Wild-Eyed Moderate series, I discuss the parable of the chickens. If chickens (your friends and colleagues) see blood, they will peck the spot until the chicken is fatally wounded. (What? Your buddies are more than just chickens? No, they aren’t. Trust me.)

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Tip #9: Keep a chronology of disputes and have a series of folders devoted to aspects of the dispute. If you have a meeting with someone, immediately write a “memo to myself” (as they were termed during John Dean’s Watergate testimony...James Comey has a different name for them, but they serve the same purpose.)

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The memos will accomplish two things:

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First, they will provide a record of what occurred, and, if necessary, the chronology will help an attorney or yourself at any in-house or state hearing.

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Second, the memo process will force you to think about what you are saying and doing.

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Tip #10: “It’s not fair” isn’t a defense. Most people in the private sector may be fired without much cause. Adjuncts and annual contract teachers don’t have any rights other than the right to finish a contract. Their contracts contain loopholes large enough to drive semis through, with management being in the semi.

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Tip #11: When you protest a practice, you may not help yourself, but you may make it easier for another person down the road.

 


Ruminations of a Florida cowboy philosopher

Posted by Howard Denson on April 3, 2017 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (3)


By HOWARD DENSON

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The boss has told us that we can’t argue politics in the bunkhouse any more. The latest fracas began when One-Eye Indiana said that supporters of our current president are prone to violence, whereupon Crazy Lipschitz of Waco beat the crap out him with a branding iron.

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So I can’t pitch my ideas out any more and have to punch them into the laptop.

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NO, NO, NO! -- When we talk about deporting (i.e., expelling) unwanted individuals, we must look at the Ancient Greeks and their system of ostracism. Since we have a population of 310-311 million (or whatever), the vote in favor of expelling must be higher. Ostracism would expel somebody from the polis for ten years. During that time, others would have to leave the person’s property and family alone. They could ostracize the corrupt (as with Themistocles--think LBJ) or the virtuous (Aristides the Just). Why the latter? His very virtue could cause a civil disturbance, etc.

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Since Hillary and the Donald received in the neighborhood of 60 million votes, I suggest the ostracism figure be higher, say, 30 or 40 million.

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Now . . . I am a reasonable person so there is another approach: the one used with Socrates.

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Here a jury of 500 men tried him on charges of being impious and corrupting the minds of the youth. Certainly the Donald is guilty of both charges, particularly the corruption angle (and not just the youth).

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His jury should consist of 250 supporters of Hillary and Bernie and 250 supporters who voted for the Great Fizzle Himself.

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Start the voting . . . and someone mix up a batch of hemlock.

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FORGET TO SIGN EXECUTIVE ORDER? – The reporters calling out questions got under the skin of the Great Fizzle Himself, so he left a signing ceremony for an executive order without signing the order.

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Any other President and his staff would have had someone repeatedly announce, “This is a signing of an Executive Order, not a press conference.” If questions persisted, the prez could say, over and over, “No comments. Save them for a press conference. . . no comment,” etc.

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However, when you and your staff are incompetent nincompoops, then . . .

**

LONG JOURNEY & MILES TO GO – Today I finished the very rough first draft of THE MICHELANGELO OF MARSAY. It will be about the size (though certainly not the quality) of THE GREAT GATSBY. It began in the first person point of view back in December 2002. After 700 words, it switched over to 3rd person point of view. During January-February 2003, it grew to 9,000 words . . . and hit a wall. In a few months in 2007, it crept up to fewer than 12,000 words. And it sat there for ten years.

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Two months ago, I added an interesting character, and, damned if things didn’t explode. The word count is now almost 55,500.

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When polished, will the final draft be more like Twain-Hemingway-Faulkner?

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No, always Twain, of course, but maybe more Fannie Flagg and William Saroyan.

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A BUMPKIN ON TV -- Cherish the moment. It isn’t often that you get to reveal yourself as a total idgit on nationwide TV. This happened to a rube who couldn’t figure out what President Obama was up to when 9/11 occurred. On a scale of 1-10 (dumb to dumbest), this guy’s an 11.

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WILL RUSSIAN HACKERS CORRUPT THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE TO SWING ELECTIONS? -- The U.S. Electoral College is already corrupt and it has failed to work properly in 40 percent of elections from 2000 to 2016. It has given us a gerrymandered result on two recent elections. If foreign agents, such as the KGB, the Russian kleptocrats, and the mob, wish to influence our elections, they can focus on the key states in the E.C. They apparently did this and helped to elect the Great Fizzle Himself, not particularly because they were so enamored with him (the jury is still out), but because they could throw off the democratic republican results in our country.

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Such strategies can be used against Democrats or Republicans, so it serves all Americans well for protections to be put in place.

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I won’t suggest any retaliatory actions since, if implemented, our government should be in a position to be as nonchalant as a house cat with a single yellow feather barely sticking out of its mouth.

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Instead, let’s put our emphasis on using the popular vote as the standard for electing our president. Although Hillary was subjected to slime attacks from the Ersatz House Committee on Benghazi, she was regularly bombarded with outrageous slimeball attacks from the old Soviet regions (even being accused of cannibalism, if you can believe it). However, despite all that, she still won more than 2.8 MILLION votes than the Great Fizzle Himself did.

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The Founding Fathers didn’t anticipate our having such a mess on our hands, since they worried about one candidate declaring himself king or the followers of another candidate chopping off heads right and left as they were doing in France.

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The 25th Amendment even has deficiencies. If Trump were forced to resign, we’d still have President Pence, who may also be up to his neck in trouble. Ditto for Speaker Ryan. It is not an option for Hillary to be appointed as VP under Pence and then for him to resign. It would be the right thing to do, but no political party is capable of such selfless behavior.

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A President Pence, however, could appoint a Mitt Romney or John McCain and then resign with the veep taking over the presidency.

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Is all that going to happen? Of course not, we’re going to have the same old same-old until we are convinced we have died and are in a Jean Paul Sartre play. Our torment will go on and on, and a fool in the corner will be busy tweeting ‘SO SAD, SO BAD.’

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OF INTEREST TO GRAMMARIANS -- If you are not a grammarian, then go away (so says the Forensic Grammarian).

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In Latin and other languages, word order doesn’t matter because the endings or forms of nouns and pronouns will tell you whether something is a subject, a possessive, an indirect object, a direct object, etc.

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In English, word order matters. Consequently, it is fairly rare to come across a sentence that will have this order: Direct object (DO), verb, and subject.

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Behold and lo, I was reading one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and came across these two lines:

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“I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks.”

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In the second line, “roses” is the DO, “see” the verb, and “I” the subject.

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What? You say, “Big whoop?” Dammit, I told you not to read the posting if you weren’t a grammarian. Go to the board and write twenty-five times, “I will not pretend to be a grammarian.”

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Grumble, grumble, grrrr.

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HATE DONALD NO MATTER WHAT HE DOES? – That’s what the Great Fizzle Himself is telling people, but, no, Donald, it’s not a matter of whatever you do or have done.

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It’s because of you and your character. As a Dem, I don’t hate Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, or a dozen other potential GOP leaders.

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You, Donald, are simply an icky human being. You are uninformed and convinced you know everything. You are a prime example of “hubris,” and the U.S. deserves better.

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AH WELL -- Another one bites the dust. In my hometown, I generally preferred to go to K-Mart rather than Walmart. Now the choices in a small town decline even more. Belks is probably still at the mall, along with J. C. Penney. The town has lost its only theatre, due no doubt to competition from cable and red box rentals. Still certain flicks are meant to be seen on a big screen.

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City fathers even sold the trousers off the statue of the Confederate soldier on the town square. He’s pathetic up there with his raggedy underwear.

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NO NO NO -- I couldn’t vote for Chelsea Clinton . . . not until she has, say, posed nude for Playboy or Penthouse . . . been married three times . . . run a fraudulent university scheme . . . gotten tied up with the Russian mob . . . and forgotten the positive things she learned from her mum (her father might help her with the “babe” stuff). After all that, yes, maybe I could be ready for a left of center Trumpeeta.

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CLEVER, DEVIOUS, & USING CHAOS? -- Some talking heads have been saying that the Great Fizzle Himself is using a clever strategy and a devious one (adapted from Putin’s playbook). He is using chaos to create a smokescreen to hide his more serious problems.

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I beg to object.

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The Fizzle is neither clever nor devious, and he is creating chaos simply because he is egotistical and inept. He has four bankruptcies to show that he doesn’t manage all that well.

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Moreover, he comes to the presidency thinking that he is smarter than anyone else. Past presidents who wound up unexpectedly in the office realized their own deficiencies and often made certain that they had people around who could fill in wherever they were deficient.

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“Know thyself” was a slogan on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece, but the Temple of Trump would have a slogan saying, “I Know More Than Generals,” “I Know More than Members of Congress,” and “I Know More than Everyone.”

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When he comes across as farcical (think Keystone Cops or The Three Stooges), we must keep in mind that he cannot be parodied. The ultimate joke begins and ends as a joke. Alex Baldwin, therefore, simply imitates what the Ultimate Fool does. Can you do a parody of the Three Stooges or the Keystone Cops? Nope, they too begin and end as jokes, as does the Great Fizzle Himself.

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So sad for America, so bad for America.

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MAKING & DOING ASSIGNMENTS -- As a teacher of college composition for nearly four decades full time, let me wade into this controversy: First, when an instructor makes an assignment, the student’s first reaction is often to find reasons not to do it. Some will even exert more effort getting out of assignments than actually doing the assignments would have cost.

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There are many, many valid approaches to college assignments. One teacher has x-number of in-class writing days. You show up on a particular day, and Teach has put either a single topic on the board . . . or three topics (choose one). There is some value (not much actually) to the approach. It guarantees that the product turned in will be substandard.

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Another approach is to announce each topic (or topics) beforehand, and the students may show up and write spontaneously or simply rewrite a draft they wrote at home. The product turned in will be better than the one only written in class.

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I eventually went to giving out a list of, say, twenty topics, and the students could choose which ones they wanted to write. I tried to personalize them so that I wasn’t getting stuff reworked from Wikipedia. (A weasel will try to get around the topics. For example, one term, my “Problems of” topic came in as “Problems of Being a Clerical Assistant and a Single Mother at FSCJ.” The next term, her significant other tried unsuccessfully to palm the paper off as his. Grrrrr.)

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One required topic was the New York Times paper. (If they wanted to go to the main Jacksonville library or to the University of North Florida library, they could use microfilm of other newspapers.)

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Students would go to the NYT microfilm (and later to the online NYT) to look up issues of the NYT on the day they were born. Let’s say it was April 1, 1999. Then they’d have to look up the NYT on April 1 in one of the 9-years of the 19th Century: 1859, 1869, 1879, 1888, or 1899. Then they would choose another 9-year in the 20th or 21st century, say, 1969 or 2009. They would have to choose an area of focus: crimes, deaths by accidents, even obituaries, sports, entertainment (TV and movies in 1999 and radio, movies, and the stage in 1939), or advertisements.

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They generally learned that people were wicked or careless in the 19th Century just as much as they were in the 20th and 21st Century.

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The NYT assignment helped them to organize since I wanted five items from each year for 15 items total, plus a minimum of 1,500 words. (They usually wound up writing 2,000 to 2,300 words.

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Especially when a college or university has discovered a new fad to impose upon its students, teachers don’t like to acknowledge that assignments similar to the ones that I make or the Iowa teacher made are journeymen writing. It will be rare for papers to really be worth reading a month or a year after a term has ended.

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Oh, when I asked each class to fill out an anonymous feedback sheet about what changes to make in the course for the next term, they all wanted the NYT assignment to be dropped.

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Never.

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RANT AND RAVE – People often fuss about the average salaries of college football coaches compared to the pay of teachers or profs. . . or, in this case, about CEO’s and entertainers (or sports figures).

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What they overlook is the transitory nature of jobs, especially the jobs of athletic coaches. They are here; if they don’t win (enough), they are gone. Sean Penn may earn $20 million, but the average actors / singers/ etc. usually have to have day jobs to make a living.

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Moreover, the superstars have Time working against them. The problem with CEO pay is two- or three-fold: The corporate ethos has jacked up their compensation to ungodly heights. $1 million is a pittance for CEOs of ATT, etc.

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Often they are paid, say, 500 times more than their average worker (which isn’t the case in other industrialized nations).

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Even worse, they are often journeymen MBAs (at least) who neither created their respective companies nor know how to make anything themselves. They may leave after only a few months with platinum parachutes and no doubt believing they were worth every cent they received . . . unlike their lazy workers.

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HB 11 & ALL THAT -- Every legislative session has its share of nonsense bills. HB11 for the 2017 session in Florida falls into this category when it says it wants members to pay for representation. Members of each union, of course, already pay dues, so, if a union membership is, say, 65% of the bargaining group, then they all pay for the dues. Moreover, since members generally use payroll deductions, the administrations know which employees are members of the union.

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In theory, it is illegal for the employer to discriminate against the union membership.

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If the lawmakers want to force the remaining 35% of employees to pay dues, it really doesn’t accomplish anything. They were “no” votes likely . . . or they voted “yes” and chose to get a free ride.

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PALM PROPHECY -- I went to a palmist and she looked at my hands and announced I would live to be 76. Damn, she’s good.

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CHOOSE YOUR ENEMIES CAREFULLY -- for you will become like them. Decades ago, I learned that line was attributed to humorist-actor Robert Benchley. (Try to trace it today, and your sources will credit everybody.) Maureen Dowd has an excellent column about why DT has gone down the toilet. He’s been played . . . he’s not as smart as Reagan . . . he’s got creeps around him.

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Oh, Crazy Lipschitz of Waco got fired again. The boss claimed a highway patrolman pulled him over on some trumped up charge, and Crazy went berserk and took the branding iron to the boss. This time it was red hot.

--30--

Looking to Future Presidential Elections?

Posted by Howard Denson on October 14, 2016 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)


 

By HOWARD DENSON

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The 2015-16 election cycle has been one of the silliest in modern history. It may be that, with Facebook, Twitter, and similar tools, we will have a new norm: all outrageous illogic, shouting matches of lie against lie, etc. If so, that does not mean we will have a better country. What we have at present is a sick nation. Those with negative intentions immerse us in a warped perspective about who we are and where we are going.

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All parties like to cry, “This is the most important election in our country’s history.” Often it’s not since what they mean is, “This is the current election.”

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The U.S. would have done all right if Tom Dewey had defeated Truman in 1948 . . . if Adlai Stevenson had defeated Ike . . . if Nixon had defeated JFK . . . and so on.

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When we have a healthy country, either party’s candidate has been a reasonable person who could plot the country on a sensible course.

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They certainly had their crazies in past years, with 1948 being outstanding. It featured Strom Thurmond heading the Dixiecrats with racism to surpass what we have seen today.

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Talking heads like to compare this election to 1964’s, when Barry Goldwater was the GOP standard bearer. That, of course, is way off base. Barry knew he wasn’t going to win and described himself as a kamikaze pilot since there was no way the country could go from JFK up to November 1963, LBJ from November until the election a year later, and then the swearing in of Goldwater in January 1965. Three presidents in that short of time? Not going to happen.

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If it mattered (and it didn’t), Goldwater erred in answering a reporter’s question about how atomic bombs could be used in Southeast Asia. Barry, an Air Force general in the reserves, gave a reasonable answer from a military college standpoint of discussion of tactics and strategy . . . and suddenly ads were showing bombs going off while a little girl picked flowers. Barry was a gentleman and totally non-partisan in his civilian capacities. As a C.B. operator, he could carry on cordial conversations with an FDR liberal  (a friend’s liberal father had regularly conversations with him).

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In 1968, an A-bomb advocate might have been George Wallace’s running mate, General Curtis LeMay, who headed the massive bombings of Japanese cities during World War II.

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As I argue that we cannot continue doing what we’re doing, I’m not opening the door to a First Amendment Gestapo, but we do have to stand upright the figure of Sanity and Truth. The 1960 debates provided a standard. The Democrats and Republicans had different perspectives about what facts meant, but they were closer together than what we have witnessed for months now.

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So . . .

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Step #1 in making America sane again is to promote truth and accuracy. That means all parties need to participate in truth-vetting. The goal is to exclude candidates who lie 80-90 percent of the time.

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We are all paranoid, so a NON-PARTISAN fact-checking group should be established and set up rules that will be followed by all candidates from major and minor parties.

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100% Truth is unlikely since some positions are simply matters of perspective. A good example here is the difference between pro- and anti-abortion. Each side will argue that their position is correct. However, if one side argues that abortion is increasing in the U.S., while statistics say it is decreasing, then a flag could be thrown.

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In addition, we will have some issues concerning which we can't measure the accuracy or truth index. Climate change may fall into this area. A truth index may deflect arguments about the accuracy of climate change toward the reality of states having to cope with rising coastal waters, loss of wetlands, increased floods, etc.

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A Scrooge McNutt may revel in his billions and back a candidate who has a truth index of 10%. He may get the candidate of his choice to use fiery but reckless rhetoric.

 “Never in the history of our country have we seen such tyranny and injustice!” That doesn’t jibe with what occurred before, during, and after the Civil War.

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Let's say that we will NOT respect nor acknowledge a candidate who is lying more than, say, 20-30% of the time. That doesn’t set the bar very high, but it allows wiggle room for matters that may be simply individuals’ opinions.

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If a candidate has a truth index of 50-60%, then he or she is penalized. It won't matter if Scrooge McNutt is backing him to the hilt. The parties could be encouraged to deny him or her funds for any campaigns. If the parties refuse to do so, then the candidates certainly could be ruled ineligible to participate in any debates between the major party candidates.

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The truth index might result in, say, only two individuals on the stage for a party debate. Lincoln and Douglas, and JFK and Nixon, proved that two candidates can provide a fine debate. To cut out the childish interruptions that we are seeing too much of, the debate organizers might borrow an approach from the Golden Age of Quiz Shows. Candidate A is in his or her isolation chamber and speaks for two minutes on a topic. The mike is then turned off, and Candidate B gets to speak uninterrupted for two minutes from inside an isolation chamber.

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For the final debates before the November election, candidates from the minor parties would fill out the debate platform. It shouldn’t matter that they had support from only three to eight percent of the electorate. If their Truth Index were high enough, it would entitle them to a podium on the stage.

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Will the suggestions work?

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Of course not.


What will happen then?


For starters, pieces like this will be written asking what rough beast, its hour come around at last, creeps toward Washington to be born.

--30--

 

Who has destroyed the GOP?

Posted by Howard Denson on August 12, 2016 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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First off, I don’t think the Republican Party is dead as a national force. It has a powerful hold on governorships and state legislatures. Pundits may want to blame the national demise on Little Donald, but it’s more complicated than that.

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Let’s list some GOPers of the 20th Century: Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie (a businessman), Thomas Dewey, Robert Taft, Ike, Nixon, Rockefeller, Ford, Reagan, Dirksen, Howard Baker, Jim Baker, and so on. They had solid credentials. The Great Depression was beyond Hoover’s ability to handle (and some would argue that FDR didn’t really eradicate it until WW2 came along), but his business and public service background suggested he would be an ideal president. Except for holdouts like Barry Goldwater, Republicans in the Sixties helped pass the Civil Rights Act, while the Southern Democrats of the day were the party of “hell, no, suh.”

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Then something happened. In my stomping grounds, we had a Congressman named John Buchanan, who was a moderate conservative. The far right put up an opponent and threw him out of office. (He swung to the left and became a leader in the People for the American Way.)

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Moving forward to more recent times, we have the Tea Party movement. If a GOPer was in office and displeasing them, they primaried his sorry ass and often defeated him. That put the fear of defeat into incumbents. Many moderates chose to decline to run for re-election, and the far right prevailed even more.

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When the GOP nominated Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, the far right claimed they lost because they weren’t conservative enough. If they just had a “real conservative” on the ballot, they said they would have won. This brings up my principle (and I’m sure others have stated it, too) that the far right and far left have serious problems counting. Each end of the spectrum thinks that 15% support merits a gold medal for first place. It doesn’t.

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Moreover, the far right, having decided to become the party of “no,” has burned bridges with other possible constituent groups. They reject compromise as demeaning their high principles. As a result, they reject the path to winning national elections.

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The far right also has a problem because of its dominance in state houses and governorships. If the State of Florida is a mess, they can’t logically blame it on the Democrats. They have controlled both houses and the governor’s office. If something’s broken, it’s their fault. Kansas has been a respectably conservative state until recent years when Gov. Brownback made it into an experimental lab for right-wingers. Their policies have ruined the state’s finances, and the voters are beginning to realize that they must have a change of direction.

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Little Donald has shaken up the political dynamics and deserves some credit in that area. However, his nomination has proved a disaster. His supporters are whistling by the graveyard telling themselves how he could still win, if this and if that.

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The primary system will need to be re-examined. I question the wisdom of open primaries, despite the cries from independents for additional primaries to be open. Instead, I recommend that only Republicans vote for GOP candidates, only Democrats for Dem candidates, and so on. Independents need to take a different approach: either join one of the two major parties or form a (pick a name) American Progressive Party, the Tea Party, or whatever.

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In an ideal world, we should shorten the campaign time, but the First Amendment would kick in. If someone wishes to start campaigning for office for 2020 or 2024, the Constitution permits it. The GOP needs to explore if it really needs to subject itself to a plethora of debates. These end up smearing and butchering the field to such an extent that unity is almost impossible.

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A political joke during the second half of the last century was Harold Stassen, a perpetual candidate. However, go to Wikipedia or another source and read up on Stassen. He had solid credentials, was sane, and could have been a good-to-adequate president.

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Unfortunately, today’s jokes aren’t all that funny.

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--30--

 

 

Can Campuses produce good writers or is it a lost cause?

Posted by Howard Denson on July 18, 2016 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (1)

By HOWARD DENSON

 

When I was a student more than a half-century ago, my profs would occasionally grumble, “No really good writing or books come from newspapers.” Of course, that assertion wasn’t true since newspapers and magazines have produced many fine writers. Just to name a few, we have Dickens, Twain, Stephen Crane, Ambrose Bierce, Hemingway, and others.

 

In one respect, the publications didn’t produce the writers. Instead, the writers used various newspapers and magazines as their publishing venue.

 

The print media can infuse writers with many good habits. They teach the importance of a deadline. Reporters learn to tune out distractions and knock out the copy. Reporters learn the importance of the five W’s and the H. You use these specifics in news, but also in fiction and nonfiction.

 

These media can also handicap writers with several bad habits. A steady diet of routine police reports, sewage contract discussions at a city/county council, etc. will not help writers to develop their own voices. New Journalism came along, thanks to Tom Wolfe and others, and relieved the voiceless problem a bit.

 

Writers can also find that they are expected to produce “one take” (page) stories about most topics, and, when the one-take approach is applied to nonfiction narratives or stories, writers may have trouble getting a handle on a subject.

 

The other extreme occurs when a reporters are having to produce verbiage without the benefit of stories and photographs from the wire. A weekly paper, for example, may have as its minimum size 12 tabloid pages, and, if advertising is practically non-existent that week, the reporters may struggle to fill the pages without using a house ad (a full page saying something like “The Bugtussle Bugle blows its horn every Thursday to give you the news and best buys in Lake Algae” ).

 

One of the “hither and yon” items in this issue refers to an opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Noah Berlatsky declares that no one should be surprised if much scholarly writing continues to be mediocre and confused. He is the editor of the online journal, The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-48.

 

In the 1920s, Henry Watson Fowler attacked the problem of shoddy writing with his Dictionary of Modern English Usage. An ally in this fight was George Orwell, who produced “Politics and the English Language” twenty years later. Both of these complain about convoluted passages similar to those that drew Berlatsky’s wrath.

 

In the 1950s, Malcolm Cowley concentrated on bad academic writing in “Sociological Habit Patterns in Linguistic Transmogrification.” Cowley noted that a poet friend had gone for a degree in sociology, but he sent this zinger to his friend: “You have such a fine sense of the poet's craft . . . that you shouldn't have allowed the sociologists to seduce you into writing their professional slang — or at least that's my judgmental response to your role selection.”

 

At a get-together later, the poet confessed: “I knew my dissertation was badly written, but I had to get my degree. If I had written it in English, Professor Blank . . . would have rejected it. He would have said it was merely belletristic.”

 

Cowley’s friend had learned that he had to absorb the Academic Power Dialect if he wanted to succeed on campus with a doctorate and a possible tenure-track position.

 

Some realistic cynics will complain that 95 percent of what we write as students isn’t worth reading a day, year, or decade later. Prodigies, such as Milton, Keats, Capote, and others, will be exceptions, but the rule holds for everyone else, including this scribbler. For decades, students hadn’t gotten a handle on English itself, despite the best efforts of mean old Miz McGillicuddy. Lately, they have been writing with their thumbs, in phrases, and auto-correct on and suggesting outlandish possibilities or auto-correct off and letting us see the natural creature that is homo ungrammatical.

 

The students evolve, improve their natural writing here and there, and absorb the Academic Power Dialect to an increasing degree. Finally, some will have mastered the Academic Power Dialect, and they will fly over hurdles and through mazes until they reach their degrees.

 

Problems may arise when they scratch the urge to write seriously and enter contests or send off submissions to magazines. Too often, their entries or submissions don’t soar but nosedive into the ground.

 

What could the problems be? First, in much of journalism and almost all of the Academic Writing Arena, the writing is distanced from the action. Second, the Academic standard can, and usually does, deaden the prose.

 

Orwell save six suggestions for improving one’s writing:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

You will notice that the most valuable of Orwell’s rules is the last one. Also keep in mind that, with his educational background, he had a vocabulary better than the average bear. He might end up using a longer word than you and I would have selected. Indeed, since a Brit of his generation knew Latin, French, and German, you expect to see a Latin phrase creep into his essays. It’s like Bubba of Abilene telling his buddies “adios,” not even thinking of it being Spanish.

 

Is there hope for the future?

 

Absolutely not.

 

First, no one is teaching grammar.

 

Second, most higher education faculty don’t know grammar anyway.

 

Third, they argue, “Studies show there is no correlation between good grammar and fine writing.” They don’t want to address the matter that much bad writing correlates quite well with bad grammar.

 

Fourth, they won’t utilize the computer-assisted lessons that can help writers to address their specific errors. A typical student does not need to go through all of the grammar lessons: on agreement, proper case, misplaced modifiers, incorrect punctuation, etc. We have the technology to identifying the respective areas of weakness of Marcia and then Kevin. But the system doesn’t follow through.

 

What do the high ed experts rely on?

 

Osmosis. Yes, yes, that mainly applies to plants, but communications departments often figure that if they arrange their smaller plants in close proximity to the larger plants (the students and then the teachers, you see), the wee plants will absorb what they need: the Academic Power Dialect . . . and maybe some chlorophyll for a breath with the freshness of spring.

 

In fifty years, will things improve? Nope. We’ll hear the same basic complaints, and some curmudgeon will write a piece similar to this one. Someone please say, "Denson told you so back in 2016."

--30--

Inept or arrogant?

Posted by Howard Denson on June 24, 2016 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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I have been following presidential politics since I was in the first grade in Vidalia, Georgia. I remember walking toward home from school with fellow students and coming to a telephone poll with posters on them for Harry S. Truman, Thomas Dewey, and perhaps Strom Thurmond.

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It was our ritual to snatch down Truman’s poster and, to my shame years later, spit on it. I was for the man with the moustache, even though Dewey looked a bit too much like a villain in a cowboy movie.

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I was relieved to hear that my parents were voting for Dewey and that Mammy and Pappy, my maternal grandparents in North Alabama, were voting for him. (My grandfather’s family of Stephensons were pro-Unionists, not 20th Century Johnny Come Latelys.)

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Though too young by far to vote in the Fifties, I favored Dwight Eisenhower but thought that the Democrats’ Adlai Stevenson was a good man. (After all, it was close to Pappy’s name.)

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By 1960, I was still a little too young to vote, but my heart and mind belonged to Ike’s Vice President, Richard Nixon. That guy from Massachusetts seemed handsome enough, but he sounded weird. He won, of course, and I had to admit that he handled himself well in press conferences.

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During these years, I immersed myself in books and novels about politics: Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Allen Drury’s Washington novels (beginning with Advice and Consent and its sequels), and many more. I regularly read The National Review, especially liking Buckley, Jeffrey Hart, and James J. Kilpatrick. The essays of Gore Vidal, plus the pieces in England’s Punch, were also fun to read. I also began reading biographies of The Great Villains, including Benedict Arnold, the impeached Andrew Johnson, Adolf Hitler, Captain Bligh of The Bounty, Judas Iscariot (Sholem Asch’s novel The Nazarene had a center section called “The Gospel According to Judas Iscariot”), and, of course, the outlaws of the Old West and the gangsters of the Thirties.

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The biographies of the villains had this quality in common: so often the bad guys were not all that much different from normal people. Sometimes, in certain ways, at least, they were exceptional. For instance, the mercurial Benedict Arnold was as brave a soldier as you could want. In English history, it was common for a general on one side to switch his allegiance, but it didn’t work out all that well for General Arnold in the New World.

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Captain Bligh may be viewed in part as the Crown’s enforcer. The lay-abouts in his crew on The Bounty wanted to stay in the islands where there was plenty of women and adult beverages. Bligh disagreed, and the mutiny occurred. The mutineers put Bligh and his loyal men into a launch, and Bligh used his amazing navigation and leadership skills to get the men to Timor, about 4,160 miles away.

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Details from the biographies stick. Everyone likes to quote this line from Hitler: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it often enough, it will be believed.” The adage fits the 2016 campaign season in America.

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Any reader of Mein Kampf could see that he wasn’t planning a pastoral romp and family picnics for Germany’s Jews. Yet wise commentators in the Thirties said that he really didn’t mean those alarming parts. After all, they argued, he’s inspired his people and reduced unemployment. And then madness descended in the Third Reich . . . or did it? Alan Bullock in Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952) noted that Hitler’s last will and testament was not the frothing of a mad man, but essentially what he had written in Mein Kampf.

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Moral? Sometimes if a candidate or a public figure says something outrageous, it is prudent to assume the worse and take precautions.

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As H. L. Mencken said, America doesn’t so much have a proletariat and a bourgeoisie as it has a “booboisie” due to the number of boobs in the country. (No, he wasn’t discussing mammary glands.)

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Albert Einstein echoes Mencken’s sentiments: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

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The opposite of men (usually) committed to the dark side as opposed to positive leaders and candidates causes one to look for a blueprint for political success. You find tips in formal biographies of our better presidents and such solid leaders as Franklin, Hamilton, Webster, Clay, and others.

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You also find practical advice in Stephen Shadegg’s How to Win an Election: The Art of Political Victory (1964). His next book explained why Goldwater lost so miserably against Johnson. A manual from 1964, of course, needs to be brought up to date, with the internet refinements developed by Obama’s team.

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Hillary and other candidates have emulated Obama’s battle plans.

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At the other end of the political spectrum, Saul Alinsky was giving battle plans to social activists (and candidates) in Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals.

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In the fiction of Drury and others, a recurrent theme emerged: When a politico unexpectedly rises to the presidency, he will rise to the occasion.

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This belief was based on Harry Truman’s sudden elevation to our top office. “Oh, my God, he’s no FDR . . . He’s not going to be able to handle it . . . We’re in trouble!” When Nixon resigned, the country may have worried about Jerry Ford’s ability to be president. “The clever Nixon didn’t do so well, so maybe plain ol’ Jerry will be adequate.”

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So let’s re-examine the theme above: Candidates who are closest to the office of president should be impressing us, perhaps amazing us, with their ability to rise to the occasion.

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Today, we often fail to detect this dynamic improvement in candidates. First, they speak from party talking points and dare not diverge from party canon lest they be excommunicated. Second, when they do deviate, as Rubio did when he tried to cope with the immigration crisis, they backtrack to satisfy “the base.” Of course, it doesn’t work.

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Curiouser and curiouser, despite his campaign success, Donald Trump is the odd man out in many ways.

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It is axiomatic for critics to compare him to Adolf Hitler, but that really doesn’t work that well. For all of Hitler’s faults and transgressions, he was an excellent orator. Like Churchill and other leaders of the period, he would stand in front of mirrors and film himself in order to test out the expressions and gestures that would enable him to move the masses.

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Hitler (in Europe) and Huey P. Long (in America) were the first truly modern campaigners, effectively using microphones, planes, and loud-speakers atop cars and trucks to reach the voters.

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Like a quiz-show host, Trump has mastered the art of bombast and exploding catchphrases in every other sentence. He hasn’t mastered the art of schmooze, a long and intimate conversation, for what he says lacks coherence. It has the brainpower of a drive-time radio personality. Intellectually, he “sneezes” the catchphrases.

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His defenders argue that the whole campaign is designed to throw out the rules of the Washington insiders. A wall that Mexico will pay for? Mexicans as rapists? Excluding Muslims? Viewing women as mere T&A’s? And the rest?

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Trump is saying things that you would never catch coming out of the public mouths of Nixon, Rockefeller, Goldwater, Dirksen, Baker, and hundreds of others.

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Is it because Trump is untrained? Or because he suffers from hubris, the belief that he can say any damned thing he wants to?

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Once more: Sometimes if a candidate or a public figure says something outrageous, it is prudent to assume the worse and take precautions.

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--30--

Now for something different--your gender

Posted by Howard Denson on May 11, 2016 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

We have had politicians and state legislators go bat-guano whacko because of which restrooms that individuals choose to use.

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On the right, they thump their Bibles and pull their hair about our society going to hell in a hand-cart. On the left, they thump their copies of Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal work, How to Exist without God if You Have Wine and Potato Chips . . . and they rail at the pig-ignorance of the right.

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Since I fancy myself as a Wild-Eyed Moderate, it is to be expected that I’d have something that left and right fail to mention.

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First, let’s look at the gender changes a/k/a transgender individuals a/k/a (and not respectable) “trannies.” When I was a kid, I never thought of that as an option. In fact, the major surprises in my teens and twenties were these:

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• The putting into orbit of a satellite, Sputnik.

• The assassination of a modern U.S. president.

• Deaths of family members, especially Pappy, my maternal grandfather.

• The bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and the killing of four little girls.

• Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s first human-to-human heart transplant, in South Africa.

• George William Jorgensen Jr.’s operation that made “him” into a “her” known as Christine Jorgensen.

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Major events and currents often lacked shock value. The atomic bomb explosions, for example, filled the screen at the movie house whenever a news reel was on, and I loved the fireworks. Rock ’n’ roll pushed onto the scene with Bill Haley and the Comets. Then came Elvis in consciousness. In retrospect, blacks in the South were being shocked by horrors and mistreatment, while we whites managed to delude ourselves that things weren’t so bad (until the 1963 church bombing).

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As a child, I saw nothing wrong with a town having water fountains for whites and for colored. Both of them gave water. I did worry about what black people did for restrooms when they went downtown in Jasper, Vidalia, Marianna, and Pensacola. Rarely did I see any separate restroom facilities (or perhaps I didn’t know where to look).

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As a child, I didn’t think anything about gender. I figured it was better to be male. It came as a shock that males might like other males romantically and that females might like other females.

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The Christine Jorgensen switcheroo didn’t really sink into my consciousness until the early Sixties, so I didn’t sit around sipping tea and wondering what would make a male want to become a female or vice versa.

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In the 1970s in Jacksonville, Channel 4 did a major documentary for the time about sex change operations, and, before the decade was over, one of my family members was beginning to explore this whole matter of sexuality.

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During that decade, one of my students (on the roll with a feminine name) dressed as a male, and, when I was later taking “plus 30” graduate courses at the University of North Florida, I saw the student again, now functioning as a male, apparently after any operation.

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Time passes, and a sibling announced that he wanted to have a sex change operation. Since I had gone through decades of being the wise (and frustrated) older brother (to no effect), I had learned to mind my own business as much as possible. I went on the record of being against the operation, and, when the sibling persisted, I told him it was his life and his decision.

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I am instinctively against unnecessary operations, whether for plastic surgery or whatever. Things can go wrong. In the late Seventies, I read of a man who was having an operation in the vicinity of the genitals. The surgeon nicked the penis, gangrene set in, and it had to be amputated. Then he went to an attorney. They filed suit, and the man won a mere $5,000. The poor sucker encountered an incompetent surgeon and then an incompetent attorney. See what can go wrong?

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I learned, however, that surgeons in sex-change procedures don’t tell the client, “Hop up on the table, and we’ll fix that for you quick as a flash.”

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Instead, the prospective patient has to go through counseling and a period of living as a male or female (depending on the direction), usually taking hormone therapy. During this year, they would be using the restrooms of the destination gender.

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Their driver’s licenses, meanwhile, will still identify them as their sex of origin.

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State legislators and bureaucrats have no business trying to legislate the oral, anal, or vaginal habits of citizens. Nonetheless, they have rolled out their loose cannons and want to fire bathroom referees into the fray.

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That puts the persons transitioning from one gender to another between a rock and hard place. If they try to do what the best medical and psychological minds recommend, they end up thumbing their noses at legislators.

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Clearly, to keep them off a police blotter, states should authorize a card similar to a handicapped person’s permit. If challenged, the transitioner can show the card and at least avoid being taken down to the station.

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Americans really don’t believe that we should mind our own business . . . or to be more accurate they want you and me to mind our business while they boss everyone else around. They like being vocal and, lately as reflected by the Best of One American Political Party, being as offensive as possible.

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My sibling was working at a fast-food franchise. Co-workers (and managers?) were calling her a “pervert” until she eventually quit the job.

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Such loud mouths threaten heart-patients (with stickers) who park in Handicapped spaces. The loud mouths call out a person going into a women’s restroom for being a male. Not only is she embarrassed, but she has to show ID.

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You wouldn’t believe it from such rhetoric as that, but the transgendered people aren’t focused on being sexual predators. They are trying to get right with themselves. When they use the restroom, they wish to get in and out as quickly as you and I would.

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After all, sexual predators are mostly male heterosexuals, sometimes manly coaches of college football teams, deacons or youth leaders, sometimes members or Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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What worries me in this discussion is that we may be giving a “get out of jail” card to the truly dangerous sexual predators (nearly all male). “What am I doing in the girls’ restroom? Oh, I’m going to become one.” Would a Transition Card be sufficient to head off that?

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To close, let me go back to the brother who made a trip to Bangkok and came back a sister. She had the operation when she was fifty-seven. That meant her body had been bombarded by testosterone for nearly six decades (an earlier transition is recommended, in case you’re wondering). The years after the operation (before she died at age seventy) were her happiest years.

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The sibling appears in my dreams several times a year, always as the brother, and my grandmother and her daughters appear, always in their prime.

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MORAL? We don’t have to control everything that people do.

--30--

 

Ruminations while waiting for your long-johns to dry

Posted by Howard Denson on May 8, 2016 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

It’s bad enough falling in the crick when your hoss stumbles, but it’s really bad when you’ve got to wait for your long-johns and britches to dry. You get to thinking about stuff.

**

The united party wins the presidency— Indiana One-Eye had the bunk TV on the channel with the political talking heads. They were analyzing the political scene, and one of them said, “The winning party is always the one’s that unified.”

That’s often the case, but not always. Let’s explore the validity of the political axiom by going back 1932. The GOP was in shambles because of the Great Depression, and it was all being blamed on President Herbert Hoover, who had been in office for about seven months when the bottom fell out.

No Republican seriously challenged Hoover, but he lost convincingly to New York Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who prevailed again in 1936 against Alf Landon (a wipe-out).

The 1940 election occurred on the eve of World War II (for the U.S.), when FDR defeated Wendell Wilkie (and then gave him some bipartisan assignments to do during the war).

The next election in 1944 featured (a very sick) FDR beating Thomas Dewey with Harry S. Truman succeeding a few months later.

That brings us to 1948, when the Dems were splintered and seemingly shattered: The Progressives were going with former VP Henry Wallace; the Dixiecrats went with Strom Thurmond because of HST’s racial reforms. That left Harry facing sure defeat to Tom Dewey . . . except Harry whistle-stopped his way across the country and pulled out a victory.

Both parties lacked key dissent in 1952 and 1956, when Ike headed the ticket for the GOP and Adlai Stevenson for the Dems. The 1960 election was really close, but JFK managed to defeat Nixon and the GOP.

Enter Dallas 1963, and it hits the fan.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater never had a chance since the country would not put up with having a third different president in a year and a few months. The right shoved aside the Rockefeller-Scranton-Nixon crowd and got their pre-ideal candidate up front. Ronald Reagan was around, but he wasn’t the force to be reckoned with as he would become later.

In 1968, Nixon stepped forward as a major figure in the GOP, almost an elder statesman by then, and campaigned against the very split Democrats. The adage about a split party really is based on this election.

Democrats had an unpopular war and a war-time president to blame it on. Some hoped Robert Kennedy would lead them to victory, but an assassin intervened. Sen. Eugene McCarthy had the support of peaceniks, whereas Vice President Hubert Humphrey had the support of LBJ. It just didn’t work. At the end, the popular vote was close.

I won’t go through the other elections, but I remember trying to decide whether to vote for my natural Republican choice or the other party’s candidate:

Should it be Ford or Carter in ’76? Both were good men, and the country would be in good hands regardless of who won.

Should it be Carter or Reagan in ’80? Hmm, Carter’s had some bad luck, Reagan had been governor of a major state, so the country would be in good hands either way.

Reagan or Mondale in ’84? I opted for Mondale because of the S&L scandals. The GOP seemed (and seems) to be interested only in protecting what would later be called banksters.

Going into the 2016 election, I go back to the question raised in earlier elections: Will we be choosing between two major candidates, each competent enough to lead the country (although we may disagree with some of the policies implemented)? Are there any warning bells that we should heed?

Indiana One-Eye went to a Trump rally not far from the ranch. The Man didn’t appear, and Indiana One-Eye’s still cleaning off his boots.

**

Silver linings – A state legislator was arguing that the silver lining of rape is any pregnancy that might result. That great insight sparks consideration of other silver linings.

Bank robbery: Individuals get to put money back into the economy as they purchase cars, jewelry, etc.

Murder: Individuals often clear the gene pool of people who go into dangerous places.

Assault: Individuals get to go to the hospital where their general condition is evaluated along with their wounds being treated.

Plane crashes: Such events aerate the ground and prepare it for seeds.

Losing elections: Individuals who are idiots get to be returned to the routines of their former lives.

**

Huckabee’s an idgit, of course – Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee argues that a 10-year-old rape victim should be forced to have the baby.

Here’s another suggestion (and, yes, it is medically feasible):

Remove the fetus and attach it to the gut of the rapist, forcing him to provide nutrients, etc. At the nine-month point, if he’s been a good boy, have a C-section to remove the baby.

**

Kudos to Will Ferrell for bailing on the “Reagan” dramedy/farce/whatever. -- It’s not the fault of the patient who gets dementia or Alzheimer’s, so a “comedy” about an elderly president not knowing he’s president is in questionable taste. One Tinseltown commentator sees doom and gloom if such political correctness is imposed upon movies. That is baloney, of course. We will still have comedies that are like “Dave” and then tasteless things like “Porky’s.”

Other ideas for T-towners to feed to their laugh machine: Maybe Will Ferrell can do Helen Keller in drag and do blind jokes like in “Clue.” Or have JFK survive the assassination, sort of and have a “Weekend at Camp David” flick.

**

Andy Jackson & all that – Some lamented Andy Jackson’s removal from the front of the $20 bill. I am no fan of Andrew Jackson, but he had an impact on my stomping grounds: Alabama, Pensacola to Jacksonville, etc. In fact, he is a character in my upcoming historical novel “McGregor and the Lost Tribe.” I wondered what would have happened if just one tribe escaped the Southeastern purge endorsed by AJ. McGregor, a Scottish SOB, despises Jackson (who also had a Scottish background). In the Indian wars, the “white sticks” (peace party) fought with the whites against the “red sticks.” After the red sticks were defeated, the white sticks became chopped liver and were banished to Indian territory. In a recent book, James Webb discussed the contributions to the world by the Scots, and it’s an impressive who’s who of the greats of the 17-20th centuries. Jackson was capable of giving his constituents what they wanted: Indian land, especially with the gold around Dahlonega, Georgia, and Arbachoochee, Alabama (near Heflin).

**

Excuse me -- One of the partisan pieces was going on about the different positions of Bernie and Hillary regarding taxes on sodas. One solution is for the soda companies to REDUCE the amount of sugar in their drinks. (U.S. drinks have more sugar than the Cokes and Pepsis sold in Europe.)

Simply going to diet sodas won’t work because of the terrible effect of diet sodas. I speak with sad experience for I drank so much sodas with artificial sweeteners that I developed artificial diabetes. I felt like a fool when I had to pretend to take an insulin shot three times a day. Eventually, the gag was ruined when I actually did develop diabetes and (yes, indeed) am down to a shot of T-something (I’m a whiz on drugs’ names) and two or more shots of Humalog. What to do about the proposed tax? My position in one word: Burp. (Excuse me again.)

**

Okay, the long-johns and britches are almost dry. I can wear them if I sprinkle on lots of baby powder.

--30--

 

NEARER, BY GOD, TO 'THE'

Posted by Howard Denson on April 1, 2016 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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It gives me a nice warm glow whenever Americans use a particular word from the Old Frisian tongue. Old Frisian comes from a language generally spoken in the Low Countries and Germany, and it intermingled with English to produce some Anglo-Frisian words.

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One word from Old Frisian that we use most often is the article “the,” and it and other words have figured in some major style wars.

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When I was a flunky journalist, “the” featured in one of the style wars of the Sixties, and the struggle is probably still going on. At one time, we would write, or edit, copy that said, “The funeral service for Magnus P. ‘Bubba’ Parker, 75, will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Crankshaw Baptist Church, with Gustafson and Mayhew Funeral Home officiating.”

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News writing should be tight, so the word went out that the sentence could open simply with “Funeral service.” Then someone noted that a funeral is a service so “service” could be omitted: “The funeral for….” Another inspired tightener observed, “Hold the phone! We don’t need the ‘the’ and can just open with ‘Funeral for….” Things ratcheted up even more when the editing pencil slashed through “held.” Now the sentence said, “Funeral for…will be at 11 a.m.” Things were all right, God was in His Heaven, and we were tight with Jesus, Moses, and Noah Webster.

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Except. . .

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Someone noticed that “the service will be conducted by Rev. Jimmy-Bob-Sammy-Clyde Ferguson.” A frown indicated a serious omission: A “the” should go BEFORE the “Rev.” Someone argued (incorrectly, despite claims by traditionalists) that “Rev.” or “Reverend” is not a title. It really is.

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Stylebooks often make valid points about wordiness in our phrases: We climb a ladder and don’t need to say we climb up the ladder. We could climb down the ladder, but “descended” would almost work as well. With each redundancy edited out, we come nearer to the perfection of the simple declarative sentence.

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Practically everyone in journalism and other types of serious writing will jump on “that.” Editors and writer prefer “He said he would be on time” to “he said that he would be on time.”

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I went through a long period of zapping each “that,” but eventually I backed off a little. First, some words appear in a sentence to help the cadence of the language. Our sentences are often iambic or perhaps trochaic (or mixtures of the two, with a smidgen of the anapest and dactylic). That means we may write or say, “I think that I will go to town to pay a parking fine,” which is mainly the weak-strong of iambics. A more serious problem can occur when a writer omits each “that” when a speaker has, say, three things to emphasize. With each “that” included, we easily follow the parallelism. When two or more of the “that’s” are scratched out, the reader may get lost and decide to quit reading.

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Back in the 1800s, newspapers and magazines were far more verbose than they are today. Back then, citizens could tolerate a church sermon of one or two hours, a short story of 17,000 words, and dense paragraphs in newspapers that didn’t give readers a chance to come up for air. When the telegraph came in about 1850, the newspapers were charged for each word from their out-of-town correspondents, so word count mattered. The telegraph also helped in the evolution of the inverted pyramid structure of most news stories: The reporter put the most important facts at the beginning, with each subsequent paragraph being of lesser importance. If the telegraph line went down, the receiving telegrapher may have gotten enough copy for the newspaper to use.

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Newspapers often had idiosyncratic spelling styles. In the Sixties, they referred to “employe” instead of “employee.” The Birmingham News reporters and copy editors knew to find another expression if a women’s club was having “a Coke party.” The publisher wasn’t worrying about the coming linguistic dominance of cocaine but of folks buying Coca-Cola instead of the Royal Crown Cola whose stock he owned. In the Big Bend of Florida, then editor Malcolm Johnson and city editor Mike Beaudoin insisted that, if a Tallahassee Democrat story referred to the coin-operated musical boxes in cafes, they should be called “jook” boxes because that term grew out of the patois of turpentine harvesters (most of them African American).

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When The News ran “Dear Abby,” we had to change the Chicago syndicate’s spelling of “thru” and “altho” to the regular spellings. I believe they have since abandoned the spelling reform.

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We find Noah Webster was instrumental in ridding American English of such U.K. features as “-our” words (preferring “flavor,” “glamor,” and “honor”;). If words ended in “-re,” Noah recommended “center” and “theater” instead. He wanted “tung” to refer to that big thing in our mouths, but Americans stuck out their tongues at that. The simplification movement continued in the 1870s (not to mention attempts even being made today) when the American Philological Society advocated such spellings as “ar,” “giv,” “hav,” “liv,” “tho,” “thru,” “gard,” “indefinit,” and “wisht.” “Catalog,” however, has caught on.

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Although grammar-checking features with word processing programs are mainly a dangerous waste of time, especially for people who don’t know their grammar, the spell-checking features are affecting our spelling. It is surprising when major w.p. programs flag “freelance” as a misspelling. It causes some individuals to write “I have been a free lancer since 2004.” We could complain about auto-corrections of smart-phones, except these really aren’t writing instruments.

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The spellcheckers do seem to flag (or autocorrect) many words that may have double consonants: “Travelling” may lose out to the single-l version. Overall, this trend is moving in a positive direction.

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Back to the “the” problem: Someone learning English as a second (or tenth) language may ask us native-born experts, “When do you put ‘the’ before a word?” Of course, we experts have probably never thought about it. We will say, “I am going downtown,” but “I don’t like what they are doing to the downtown.” One is a direction; the other, a specific site.

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The Brits say, “He was taken to hospital,” whereas we have him taken to “the hospital.” The British actors generally do American accents better than our actors do British ones. Even so, a Brit may be portraying Chester Hawkins from Indiana, and the character will be chewing gum as he says, “Maylene babe, your brother slipped on a bar of soap and has been taken to hospital.” The missing “the” signals a breakdown in the accent (although the scriptwriter may have been more at fault).

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Let’s end with this: When you flip through a good dictionary and look up the origin of the word “lady,” you find it has gone through several transformations. In the original language, it was a compound referring to a “woman” and “kneads dough.”

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Now, you supply the punchline.

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-30-

 

Extremism in Campaigns of 1964 and 2016

Posted by Howard Denson on March 17, 2016 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

 By HOWARD DENSON

It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction today for columnists and media talking-heads to compare the 2016 election to that of 1964, when Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater was the eventual nominee.

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As a youngster back then with mental “I Like Ike” bumperstickers in my psyche, along with “OK, Dick Will Have to Do,” I had to reconcile myself to the possibility of Goldwater being the GOP nominee.

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When I was covering a segregationist rally in a cowfield south of Bessemer in 1963, one speaker spat out, “Don’t put your trust in Barry Goldwasser [his family’s original name]. He’s a Jew and a conscientious member of the Communist Party.”

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As Theodore White noted in The Making of the President 1964, President Kennedy and Barry were friends, and JFK was looking forward to debating him, but Dallas intervened in 1963, leading to the swearing in of Lyndon Johnson.

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Goldwater knew that the country would not go for having a third new president in so short a time (fourteen months). Even so, the Republican right, especially the energized Young Republicans, persisted, eventually saying, “We’ll draft the S.O.B. anyway.”

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Goldwater took on the hopeless task and said he felt like a kamikaze pilot when the Goldwater-William Miller ticket went down in flames as it won only seven states. (I was a political wonk and hadn’t heard of U.S. Rep. William Miller of New York. He eventually did an American Express commercial playing on his anonymity.)

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During the ’64 campaign, Goldwater had one line in particular that he liked, perhaps thinking it was similar to JFK’s “Ask not what” line: “…[E]xtremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And… moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

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As catchy as the line was, it opened the door to mischief and ignored the Greeks’ golden rule of “moderation in all things.”

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During that campaign, the Democrats had the famous commercial in which a little girl is picking flowers. . .and then an atom bomb goes off, suggesting that Goldwater had set the stage for such a travesty.

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Goldwater said, “We would have lost even if Abraham Lincoln had come back and campaigned with us.”

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Ironically, when the election was over, Johnson expanded the Vietnam war, put a half-million troops on the ground over there, and dropped more bombs than were dropped during World War II. (Rule of thumb: If you are dropping a bomb, it should hit something of military significance.) Another ad could have shown a Vietnamese girl picking flowers when she is consumed by napalm.

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Differences between then and now? Goldwater was decent and blunt-speaking (like Harry Truman). He was a general in the Air Force Reserve and knew proper military protocol. He came from a merchant background and understood how capitalism was supposed to work. As a ham radio operator, he communicated with people from all walks of life.

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A slogan back then was “In your heart, you know he’s right.” Unfortunately, a President Goldwater would have stood in the way of some needed reforms, but the slogan could at least say, “Overall, he was right in his heart.”

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(A shorter version of this discussion appeared in The Florida Times-Union on March 17, 2016.)

 


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