Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Big Question: How Did Language Evolve? -- I

The other day, a philosopher I have known for many years and I got into a debate as to how languages evolved. His view is that we are the products of evolutionary processes (which I accept as true) and therefore we should expect to find evidence of some level of linguistic competence in other mammals, including especially apes (something I believe is problematic if pushed too far). The next day, I happened upon a item referring to a Bonobo's (one of the types of chimpanzees closest to humans genetically) having pulled a fire alarm because she was tired of waiting for her tenders let her outdoors. Perhaps I am being a bit dim, but it is difficult for me to see how the Bonobos' setting off a fire alarm is all that newsworthy since dogs evidence similar methods of communication when they want to be let in or let out of our homes (by scratching the door, barking at the door, ringing a bell attached to the door knob, as well as other dazzling tricks). What grabbed my attention is that in the original Associated Press story I found this remarkable claim:
Bonobos are one of the most human-like of the great apes and have sophisticated language skills.
Ah, "sophisticated language skills." Give me a break. Bonobos may have "sophisticated communication skills," but that is very far from saying that they have "sophisticated language skills."

This is a journalist's claim, not a scholar's claim but it illustrates the problem we face in discussing the evolution of language. We must first make clear that we are talking about language, not communication, something which clearly is possible in the absence of language. The problem with this is that some are willing to take damn near any signaling system found in nature as an instance of linguistic communication. Compare what Ula Hedeager says about language
Birdsong appears to have much in common with human language.
with what John Limber says
An organism uses human language if and only if it uses structures characteristic of those languages.
You will perhaps not be surprised to learn I side with Limber.

The fact is that human languages are extremely complex. I entered into the third class of linguistic students at MIT in 1963 and from then til now not only has no language been exhaustively described, linguists are not agreed as to how to go about describing sentence structure of languages. Empirically sound, mathematically based descriptions of language are very difficult to come by.

Nevertheless, some minimum requirements a putative language must satisfy can be established. It should, for instance, exhibit a capacity for dealing with what we call "grammatical relations." The most basic grammatical relations are those that hold between subjects and predicates and verbs and their objects. In English we have sentences like
1. John loves that girl.
2. That girl loves John.
3. That girl, John loves.
We have three sentences here containing the same words/symbols but three different word orders. We know that in any circumstance in which 1 is true, 3 will be true and from this we may conclude that they have the same conventional meaning despite the striking difference in word order, a difference that we use to signal secondary meaning (emphasis, perhaps). [It is not uncommon for a set of sentences with the same conventional meaning to vary in secondary meaning or significance -- in this case, the speaker implicates that this girl is the only one of a set of girls that John likes.] On the other hand, 1 can be true when 2 is false and because of that we must conclude that they differ in conventional meaning.

One can complicate this problem a bit by introducing pairs like
4. Barry told Sam that {John likes that girl}.
Here we have something closely resembling a sentence (number 1 above) being embedded inside another sentence. This device of embedding is one of the devices we exploit to create what Chomsky famously called "novel sentences." The braces here illustrate the fact that the sentences of human languages exhibit hierarchical structure. It is characteristic of humans using human languages that we routinely construct sentences neither we nor anyone else has ever uttered. I'm betting that there are a bunch of these novel sentences in this blog.

Even more interesting are cases of what are often called "unbounded dependencies." Observe that in sentence 5, no less than in 4, "which girl" is the object of the verb "likes."
5. Which girl did Barry tell Sam that {John likes e}?
I am using "e" to draw attention to this fact. This ability is a very exciting one, especially when one realizes that the limitations of humans to handle such phenomena have more to do with our short term memory limitations than our cognitive abilities. I think that most people would have little trouble handling a sentence like 6. in which "which girl" is still the object of "likes."
6. Which girl {did Barry tell Sam that {Susan thinks {John likes e}}}.
It is because of data like 6 that the dependency between "which girl" and "e" (the extraction site) that we say that this phenomenon is unbounded.

The question is whether Bonobos or other apes can handle such phenomena. No one has ever proved they can to my knowledge. And until they can prove this I will be disinclined to think that they have "sophisticated language skills." One of the problems with evaluating claims made about the language skills of apes is that researchers have sometimes exaggerated their abilities. I would recommend that one examine any such claims with a skeptical eye.

Every study I have ever read which has tried to compare ape language skills with human language skills has put the former at about the 2 to 3 year old levels. This is a nontrivial accomplishment but falls short of showing that these primates have anything like the competence of human adults or even 12 year old children. One of the problems in teaching primates language is that the ideal form of language to teach is ASL since their ability to make human language sounds is severely limited and it has proved to be difficult to teach them to sign in part because it involves "modeling" the signs by physically helping the primate to make the sign. Remarkably, I just found an Ohio State University web page discussing the teaching of sign language to infants as young as 9 months. It seems that human infants have sufficient motor skills to do some signing before they have the motor skills required to produce human speech. This is wild and crazy stuff.

Researchers seem to have had more success teaching apes to use of plastic chips as symbols for things or keys on a keyboard. Though it is just a PowerPoint summary type presentation, you may find Apes using sign- or symbol-based languages useful as a summary of efforts to teach primates language. If you can't load that set of pages, you may find this html page helpful.

Let us recall though that absence of evidence that primates have a language ability comparable to humans is not evidence of its absence. There are real problems involved in teaching primates language having to do with their physical limitations both in regard to producing sounds and making the manual gestures required for something like ASL. And there is Wittgenstein's claim that even if a lion could talk we couldn't understand it to deal with it. There is an interesting thread at the Philosophy Forum on this. I side with Tsunami's remark, which was the second item in the thread. A chimpanzee or bonobo simply may not care about the sorts of things we like to talk about. It likes food and to play and to do other primate things. The concept of "liking someone," essential to understanding sentences 1 through 6 may be so foreign to the world of the Chimpanzee or Bonobo that it could simply not understand it.

I'm going to stop here and collect your thoughts before proceeding. Besides this blog is already overlong. Next we will focus on what can be learned by my fairly ignorant self about the evolution of human and other primate's sound production devices and brains. As you will discover, I use writing as a stimulus to learning.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Language Games in Canada

In 1980 and 1995, residents of Quebec voted against creating a separate nation. This morning, the BBC News web site claims that
Canada's parliament has approved a government motion recognizing the people of mostly francophone Quebec as a nation within a united Canada.
This comes down linguistically to the parliament creating a nation that is not a nation. Indeed,
Constitutional experts say the motion carries no legal weight and would be unlikely to give Quebec separatists a lever to extract more political powers from Ottawa.
So, indeed, this would be a non-nation, nation. In fact, what it comes down to, as cabinet minister Michael Chong recognized, is a recognition of "ethnic nationalism".

In the U.S., we have a number of ethnic nations, most, if not all, being Amerindian in nature. But, citizens of the Navajo nation, for instance, have their own police force and legal system. To be a member of the bar of the Navajo nation one must have graduated from a normal law school and be a member of the bar association of one of the four US states within which the Navajo nation sits. In short, the "Navajo nation" is not a non-nation nation such as proposed for Quebec, but is a quasi-independent nation. Navajos are also full-fledged American citizens as they should be since their ancestors predate those of most others in the USA.

As is well-known, there are Indian tribes who have special fishing rights in various parts of the United States. In Minnesota, for instance, the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians won fishing rights in 1990 ceded by a 1837 treaty and works with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to set limits that preserves the fishery. Indian fishing rights issues in the Northwest have been widely publicized over the years.

Alongside fishing rights, Amerindians also have the right to set up casinos and, much to my surprise, there exists so many casinos in Oklahoma, my original home state, it must be difficult to avoid tripping over them. I observed that there are none in my home town of Enid, which is in the part of the state known as the Cherokee Strip. Normally, something like "Cherokee Strip" would be taken as referring to something that has some substantive association with Cherokees and it does -- all of them were run out of the area. While growing up there it never occurred to me how twisted White thinking must have been to continue to call their area of the state by the tribe that had been forcibly removed from it.

In many cases, it isn't really the Amerindians that create the casinos, but rather casino companies that do so on behalf of Amerindian tribes. In the last election in Rhode Island voters soundly rejected a casino proposed by Harrah's Entertainment to create a casino on behalf of some Indian group. The idea that non-Indians are exploiting (even if they are also helping) American Indians is a very familiar one.

So, in the USA, we have somewhat substantive nations present inside the nation as a whole. Canada seems not to be very different, except when it comes to Quebec. What the Canadian parliament is proposing to do is to call Quebec a nation even though the word "nation" would not have the conventional meaning it has in phrases like "the German nation" or in "the Navajo nation," which are themselves quite different. Indeed, it seems that the word "nation" as applied to Quebec would have no conventional meaning at all. It would be a totally empty expression semantically. Indeed, as PM Stephen Harper concedes, it is simply "a gesture to recognize Quebec's unique cultural heritage within Canada." Something like the single finger salute, perhaps?

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Celebrities and Racist Talk

First it was Mel Gibson with his drunken anti-Semitic remarks to police officers and now it is Michael Richards (aka "Kramer") and his anti-Black remarks. People ask me what I as a linguist feel about what this sort of talk means.

I am not sure I am qualified to say anything genuinely authoritative but I shall blog on and perhaps inspire some of you to comment. First, we may take as a given that what these men said didn't come from nowhere. Gibson did not pluck his statement that"The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" out of the air. He owns this statement.

We could sympathize with him and note that he was drunk. He was probably too drunk for the mechanisms we use to monitor and edit what we say to work properly. And, but this is just a wild ass guess, I suspect that once one has "crossed the line" and can't get back one is likely to continue along a self-destructive verbal path. Of course, if you are Mel Gibson, you may think you are ultimately bullet proof and can survive anything.

In my opinion, Gibson's statement that the Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world is very likely not to be a repetition of something he has heard someone say for it is difficult to imagine anyone saying such a thing since it is so transparently false. There were wars before there were Jews. I would submit that it was just the ugliest thing he could think of to say about Jews. About others he had things like this to say, according to the TMZ site linked to above.
The report says Gibson told the deputy, "You mother f****r. I'm going to f*** you.
I believe that the target in this case was a woman. But if not, the women out there can tell you that they are frequent targets of vile comments by men whether drunk or sober.

Michael Richards presents a different sort of case for it seems that he may not only have said some pretty ugly things about Blacks but has also said ugly things about Jews -- a real equal opportunity ranter. On a different page of the TMZ web site it is claimed that he said
"You f***ing Jew. You people are the cause of Jesus dying."
during a comedy routine when being interrupted. Now this statement is something that we have all heard. In fact, we heard just this sort of thing in connection with Gibson's Jesus movie. Whether Richards is stupid enough or sick enough to actually believe in the notion of collective Jewish guilt, I cannot say but in his Kramer role he didn't specialize in being intelligent. Maybe he was being himself on "Seinfeld." It is of interest that Jerry Seinfeld is Jewish. Wonder what he thinks.

Of course, Richards is more famous for his anti-Black rant. In general, he seems to have stuck to N-Bombs. The one really remarkable thing he said was
"Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f***ing fork up your ass."
Of this we can say that fifty years ago, we were on the cusp of the civil rights movement and any such forking would have been rather unlikely. Moreover, what happened to Blacks who were lynched was not an up-side down forking anyway. So, again, we have a claim, like Gibson's Jews and wars claim, that is well off the charts of credibility as claims. Richards does not claim he was drunk but does claim that he was in a rage due to his comedy routine being disturbed by cat calls. Once I was in a rage and said some things to my father that I would normally not have said so I think that "being in a rage" is a legitimate mental state and in such a state the monitors we use to block out socially unacceptable things may not be functional.

In my opinion, it is nearly impossible to grow up in America without some sort of subterranean negative thoughts about various groups whether one endorses these remakrs or not. I grew up virtually entirely insulated from the Black community in Enid, Oklahoma except for meeting the Blacks that worked for the family company. These men were treated the same way as White men by my Grandfather and Uncle. They had been elevated to positions of responsibility during WWII and were not replaced by White men who came back from the war. So that was a positive racial lesson. Once driving with my father, I used the N-word to refer to a kid walking down the street. My father gave me hell. While at Rice I participated in the Civil Rights movement. I have never used the N-word and have twice haranged White men in stores (hair cutting place and coffee shop) in the fairly racist city of Grove City, OH,, the closest town to where I live, for speaking ill of Blacks. I called them fools and other such things and stomped out. So, my public life has been pure. Nevertheless, I know that I harbor subterranean thoughts and feelings about Blacks that are less that pure of heart.

I have not come here to excuse Gibson or Richards. Most of us, I suspect, harbor subterranean negative feelings and thoughts toward groups different from us. I would include Blacks, of course, in this for no one can persuade me that Blacks typically do not have racist feelings about Whites. Some Blacks came out some years ago with a song and dance to the effect that they couldn't be racist since they were the victims of racism. That, of course, is bullshit. Indeed, the frequency of claims that this or that bad thing that has happened to a Black happened because of White racism proves that they harbor negative feelings and thoughts about Whites. Why else would they say such a thing?

In my opinion, we are all responsible for what we say whether we are drunk, in a rage, or highly drugged. How much blame should attach to what we say in those circumstances is for others to decide. Gibson got pilloried. Jews do not respond kindly to remarks like his. Richards is continuing to take heat. More important than statements that arise out of altered mental states such as drunkenness or rage or being stoned is what we do and say when not in a mentally altered state. I think racisms of all sorts may be the real "original sin" of human kind. We are biologically disposed to be suspicious of others and this disposition provides a welcome mat for the specific feelings and thoughts we acquire about others, usually when we are too young to know any better.

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Monday, November 13, 2006


The Borat phenomenon is sweeping the nation both despite and because of the extremely bad taste of the movie. Anyone who has not seen the nude wrestling scenes have missed the biggest sacrifice an actor (Sash Baron Cohen, not the fat dude, Ken Davitian) has ever made for his art. Coming out of the theater, what people were talking about was that scene. It makes all of us enjoy outrageous sophomoric humor despite our inclination not to do so. I almost didn't go to the movie since I had seen so many of its scenes but I did want to see the wrestling scene.

But what really interests me is how easily "regular folks" were taken in by Cohen's antics. I am, of course, assuming that most of the "regular folks" were not in on the joke in many of the scenes, including the one in which the wrestlers went into a room where a convention meeting was going on. In cases in which individuals are filmed he had to get release forms but not, I suspect, when large groups were involved, in part because it would be impossible. Right now, Cohen is being sued by the drunken frat kids he traveled with for a while because they were drunk when they signed it. This is not quite as bad as the Twinkie Defense but it is close. I suspect that thee young men find it difficult to get dates.

Cohen's ability, as Borat, to con people depends on their having had little personal familiarity with foreigners but having seen people living in very primitive circumstances Such people are likely to assume that that a foreigner may not know our customs and manners or level of technology. This will tend to make them more forgiving of errors in behavior that seem to be honest ones at the time. A second reason is that Americans who have had few interactions with foreigners tend to assume that people who do not speak English properly are a little stupid. I don't think Americans are alone in having that prejudice. A third reason that such people can easily be taken in by someone as gifted as Cohen is that they will expect substantive linguistic errors. So, if Borat is trying to excuse himself to "go to the bathroom" he may be assumed not to know the name of the room he wants to go to or the correct language to use to explain why he needs to go there.

Spoiler paragraph coming: The "dinner party" scene has a hilarious sequence of events in which he tries to excuse himself to "go to the bathroom" and uses some impolite ways of talking about it. That much he could easily get away with. He then returns dangling a little white semi-transparent sack with dark stuff in it. At that point, surely some would assume that he was pulling their legs but the movie continues with a woman in the "bathroom" with him explaining how to use the toilet. We will never know whether she was in on the joke or not, but I've known some fairly dim, very polite people in my life who could possibly be taken that far "down the garden path," as it is called.

Last Spoiler paragraph: Borat's encounter with Holy Rollers (Evangelicals who "act out verbally" by hopping about and speaking in tongues is particularly nice since he, for the most part, lets these people make fools out of themselves without too much exaggeration in behavior by Cohen. I say that in full ignorance of what actually happens when Holy Rollers get together but stories I have heard made what went on seem credible.

Cohen has used interactions not only with ordinary folks (watch his HBO show "Da Ali G" if you can) as well as some very prominent persons such as James Baker, who will shortly tell W how to get us out of Iraq. Of course he can't con such people for long but what he does get is funny. Clearly, there needs to be a separate genre for his sort of humor -- I suggest it be called "train wreck humor" for Cohen creates little and even some quite big train wrecks wherever he goes.

The linguistic moral to this story is don't assume that foreigners are stupid simply because they don't know English well. I should add to that that one should not assume that they are culturally backward except in very rare cases such as encountering Tarzan in a jungle.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Political Labels as Epithets

Now that our six year national nightmare looks like it will turn into something more like a two year bad dream, the badness of which will depend upon how well George Bush responds to negotiating with a Democratic Congress, I turn in this blog to talk about political labels with spirits buoyed by the Democratic victories. My guess is that Bush will play nice for a few months and then turn into a petulant child.

As I said in my last blog, I got off my lazy rear end and worked for two days on the campaign in Ohio. I was actually misled by my recruiter into thinking that I would be working for Democratic Senate and House candidates, I found when I got there that I was working instead for a PAC devoted to promoting a rise in the minimum wage in Ohio. I was a bit bummed out by that since it seemed like a penny ante game and I wanted to be a high roller. I was told that the lists we were working with consisted of "progressive" and "independent" voters and after a short while, it occurred to me that anyone on my lists I could talk into going to the polls to vote for a minimum wage increase would likely also vote for Democratic candidates. Sometimes I am a little slow, it seems.

Though a rise in the minimum wage is a low profile issue with little sex appeal, it seems that working people very much favor it and will come to the polls to support it much as the religious right comes to the polls so they can vote for bans on gay marriage. Every one of the state issues supporting a rise won this year and I believe that more than half of the states have minimum wages higher than the nationally mandated level. One of the first bills to come out of the new Democratic Congress will be one that raises the national minimum wage.

The PAC I worked for consistently used the term "Progressive" to characterize who they were, not the term "Liberal." This was alien to an old guy like me who grew up with "Liberal,." "Moderate" or "Independent", and "Conservative" as the labels of choice. That put me in mind of the linguistic issues involved in our current political vernacular.

The term "Liberal" has successfully been turned into an epithet by Republicans, with most Republicans screaming "Tax and Spend Liberal"in every election like windup dolls, knowing that that had become an effective device for smearing their political opponents. Why did that work? The answer lies to some degree in the actions Liberals took while in power over a number of years going back to the administration of FDR. But that alone would, I think, be insufficient to turn "Liberal" into an effective epithet. Conservatives have done a lot of bad, unpopular things over the years (Nixon and Watergate, Reagan and Bush 41 and Iran-Contra, and Bush 43 and the rampant corruption that brought down a large number of Republicans in this last election) but Democrats have never been able to turn "Conservative" into an epithet. "Right-Winger," Yes; "Conservative," No.

The word "conservative" has primarily positive connotations. Even Liberals are in support of conserving our natural resources. Retired Liberals would normally, I think, tell their financial advisers that they want to conserve as much of their capital as they can. The Webster's on line dictionary provides the following as "definitions" of "conservatism":
a: disposition in politics to preserve what is established
b : a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt changeNowhere
in this definition is the notion of preserving natural resources but that was once part of the backbone of the Republican Party but abandoned on the first or second day of the Bush Administration when he refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Because of these positive or, at least, non-negative associations, it is virtually impossible to convert the term "conservative" into an epithet.

The word "liberal" is rather different. The Webster dictionary just referred to mentions the following in its characterization of "liberal":
2 a : marked by generosity : OPENHANDED [a liberal giver]
b : given or provided in a generous and openhanded way [a liberal meal]
3 obsolete : lacking moral restraint : LICENTIOUS
4 : not literal or strict : LOOSE [a liberal translation]
5 : BROAD-MINDED; especially : not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional formsAs
one goes through these properties, it is easy to see how they could work to support turning the label "Liberal" into something quite negative.

The use of "Progressive" by those who work for the political action committee supporting the rise in the minimum wage seemed odd to me initially and then it struck me that the word is inherently positive. There are no negative connotations associated with it, at least in my mind. As a result, expect the Democratic House and Senate members to consistently call the program Nancy Pelosi plans to push in the First 100 Hours to drain the "Republican Swamp" as being "Progressive."

The last election was seen as a repudiation of the Republican Party. A fairer assessment is that it was a repudiation of Bush's Neo-Con Administration, an administration that promoted the interests of big business over those of the citizenry as a whole (tax cuts for the rich, relaxation of clean air and water regulations, no-bid contracts in Iraq for companies like Halliburton (the Texas company which swallowed Brown and Root, the Texas construction company Johnson used in Vietnam), etc.), did nothing to check the rampant corruption in the Republican party, pushed an aggressive foreign policy that put us in two wars, only one of which had any merit, and alienated almost all of the rest of the world. A third of the Religious Right voted Democratic according to one television report I watched because the Republican candidate in their district or state was associated with one scandal or another.

The label "Neo-Con" will live in infamy, I believe. Whether or not any Neo-Cons ever used the term to refer to themselves, Bush, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Pearle (former Chairman of the Defense Policy Board) and the rest might as well have it branded to their heads. It is ugly-sounding and is therefore an appropriate label for Neo-Con policies.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

I am in Despair

As I said in a recent blog, if you do not live in a state with competitive political races, count yourself as lucky, at least in the respect that you do not have to sit through the incredibly nasty commercials that we are seeing in Central Ohio both for the US Senate and House races but also for state offices. My morning paper confirms one of the reasons for this -- the Republicans are running scared and when this is true they run shockingly nasty political commercials that if not full of falsehoods, routinely, if not always shade the truth. To compound the problem, the Democrats have quit assuming that the people are too smart to fall for that tactic since we have proved over and over that we are not that smart, and they have run some pretty nasty ads themselves.

The Democratic ads on races for the Senate and House associate the Republicans with Bush and, when it is credible, with former Congressman Foley. The incumbent Republican House member from my district listed Foley as one of her closest friends in the House. Whoops! Does that make her into an ogre or an ineffective member of the House? No. But Democrats don't really care, just as Republicans don't care if their smears have anything to do with the suitability of the Democratic candidate, such as a locally infamous "Willie Horton" style association of a Democratic state senate candidate with a scary looking Black man even though the candidate has never had any dealings with this man whatsoever.

Our free alternative newspaper, The Other Paper, has a story on a Republican mudslinger who is working on behalf of Ohio state candidates who laments that he gets bashed not only by the opponents of the candidates he creates his mudslinging ads for but also gets bashed by the candidates themselves for creating these negative ads.

It seems that politicians just don't trust the American people to evaluate the relative merits of candidates in some rational way. Of course, no one wants to sit through a boring debate for a state senate seat and no one can learn much from a 30 second positive political ad. If the medium is TV and the time constraint is 30 seconds, the only rational thing to do is create an association of something negative (a scary looking Black man, for instance, or a male Congressman who likes young male pages) with one's opponent. It doesn't hurt to try to create positive associations with oneself as well. In fact, after running hosts of negative ads against her Democratic opponent, Congresswoman Deborah Pryce has gone a little bit positive.

If months of negative ads followed by a weekend of positive ads works with us, then we deserve the political campaigns we get. Just as we deserve the TV shows we get and movies we get. If we buy it, they will provide it, whatever "it" is. The American people who voted for Bush and are now pissed off at Bush ought to look in a mirror and curse themselves. They are the problem.

So, I am in such despair at our politics that I simply cannot work up much enthusiasm for blogging. Who we elect matters too much for us to sit idly by and not fight against the politicians who have given us Iraq and massive deficits. Accordingly, I will spend Monday and Tuesday trying to get out the vote for Democratic candidates. This is the first time I have been active politically since Clinton ran against the first Bush. Before that, it was when Johnson ran against Goldwater. No wonder I have gotten so many "leaders" I have no respect for. Over some 50 years in which I have been politically aware, I will have worked exactly 4 days for my candidates.

I shall conclude by noting that Deborah Pryce's opponent has just run a negative ad against her with Pryce depicted in an unflattering black and white picture (not a hard thing to come up with) and negative, albeit true claims in an effort to convince voters that Pryce will give us "the same old same old" followed by a color photo of a smiling Mary Jo Killroy combined with the claim that she will help change things in Washington. Hey, it works for me.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Kerry's Joke

A month or so ago, John Kerry, asked [by Jon Stewart, I think] why he didn't respond to all the "swift boat" attacks against him, he indicated that he thought the American people would see through all of that. That would make him "Dumber" of "Dumb and Dumber," with the majority of Americans being "Dumb." [Is that a botched joke?] After all, all he had to do was point out that Bush and Cheney were draft dodgers and he was not, with Bush using a kind of influence to get into the Guard not available to the average "Joe". Indeed, were the Guard a real option back when Bush joined up, something like 100% of potential draftees would have followed his lead since only about 6,000 National Guardsmen went to Vietnam. Kerry replied that he would would greet dirty attacks head on. This time he did, but a little too obliquely for my linguistic taste.

The current brouhaha resulted from Kerry's making what he later called a "botched" joke. The joke was (taken from the BBC):
"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well."

He added: "If you don't you get stuck in Iraq."
What this botched joke does is imply that Mr. Kerry believes either that our troops aren't smart or didn't apply themselves in school. Of course, anyone who thinks he would actually assert that is either a Republican and evil or stupid, or, more likely, both.

Kerry's defense was that he simply made a "botched joke." That, I think, is what happened, given the language of what he said and knowing that he definitely did not mean to say that our troops are stupid [because he isn't that stupid]. What I think we have here is a man who isn't very facile in the use of language.

What was really funny was Bush saying
"The members of the United States military are plenty smart and they are plenty brave and the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology,"
Given the well-known principle that "it takes one to know one," I would say that Bush is disqualified by that principle from saying that our troops are plenty smart.

I happened to catch Kerry's press conference live and I liked seeing him project some anger. Too bad he didn't do that when he was running against Bush. In his PC, among other things, he said
It disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks who've never worn the uniform of our country are willing to lie about those who did.
The problem is that he didn't actually name these hacks. I wish he had.

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