Category Archives: Rhetoric

If true.

If true. If true. If true. In one way, certainly, it’s a fitting refrain for the America of 2017, with all its concessions to the conditional tense: alternative facts, siloed reality, a political moment that has summoned and witnessed a resurgence of the paranoid style. And yet it’s also an abdication—“moral cowardice,” the journalist Jamelle Bouie put it—and in that sense is part of a much longer story. If true is a reply, but it has in recent cases become more effectively a verb—a phrase of action, done to women, to remind them that they are doubted. If true used as a weapon. If true used as a mechanism to enforce the status quo. For years. For centuries. The woman says, This happened. The world says, If true.

–Megan Garber, Al Franken, That Photo, and Trusting the Women

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“Perhaps more importantly, I don’t have a desire to do it.”

via Vox.


Thoughts and Prayers

I look at it this way: I’m not going to effect a change in anyone’s condition by doing X, Y, or Z “take action” thing (from Oxford, as an academic theologian) right away. I can continue engaging in the political system, work with university life to underscore the devastating folly of uncontrolled gun ownership, and so on. But at this minute, in the face of such catastrophic evil, I can take an action that binds me closer in solidarity with many others around the globe, and that (in the faith by which I live) responds positively to a divine command and orients me toward a radically more benign state of affairs. So I pray.

I get the force of the “don’t pray, do something” admonition — but it relies for its force on the premise that prayer is “doing nothing” (a premise I don’t share), on the premise that I’m trading away a more effectual course of activity (when prayer and activism are not zero-sum alternatives), and on a general resentment of public figures who make much of theological platitudes without directing any of the executive or legislative authority they have toward ameliorating a situation. Is tweeting, “Don’t pray,” an improvement over tweeting, “I’m praying”?

–Fr. A.K.M. Adam, when asked about critiques to “thoughts and prayers” responses to tragedies by Vox‘s Tara Isabella Burton


White tears white tears

The most popular public forum at Reed is Facebook, where social tribes coalesce and where the most emotive and partisan views get the most attention. “Facebook conversations at Reed bring out the extreme aspects of political discourse on campus,” said Yuta, a sophomore who recently co-founded a student group, The Thinkery, “dedicated to critical and open discussion.”(The Atlantic used first names for students out of concern for online harassment.) Raphael, the founder of the Political Dissidents Club, warned incoming students over Facebook that “Reed’s culture can be stifling/suffocating and narrow minded.”

It can also be bullying. When the parent of a freshman rebuked RAR for derailing a lecture, a RAR supporter tagged the parent’s employer in a post. In mid-April, when students were studying for finals, a RAR leader grew frustrated that more supporters weren’t showing up to protest Hum 110. In a post viewable only to Reed students, the leader let loose:

To all the white & able(mentally/physically) who don’t come to sit-ins(ever, anymore, rarely): all i got is shade for you. [… If] you ain’t with me, then I will accept that you are against me. There’s 6 hums left, I best be seein all u phony ass white allies show-up. […] How you gonna be makin all ur white supremacy messes & not help clean-up your own community by coming and sitting for a frickin hour & still claim that you ain’t a laughin at a lynchin kinda white.

The RAR leader proceeded to call out at least 15 students by name. One named Patrick defended himself, saying in part, “I didn’t realize this was [your] opinion of me as a friend. … I will not give you my support simply because you are leading a noble cause.” The leader referred to that defense as “white supremacy.” Another leader used a vulgar insult, followed by “White tears white tears.”

Non-white students weren’t spared; a group of them agreed to “like” Patrick’s comment in a show of support. A RAR member demanded those “non-black pocs [people of color]” explain themselves, calling them “anti-black pos [pieces of shit].” Another member tried to get Patrick on track: “Hey man, everyone getting called out on here, me included, is getting a second chance tomorrow to wake up and make the right decision.”

–Chris Bodenner, The Surprising Revolt at the Most Liberal College in the Country


The convenience of right timing.

Being assaulted by a man who later acknowledged being gay confused me so much about my own sexuality because I connected my sexuality to being abused. It took years to rework that my sexuality was not borne out of pain. I was not gay because I was abused. 

Even though my abuser didn’t “come out” until many years after he assaulted me, Spacey’s response made me relive my entire interactions with my abuser and my own thinking on sexuality and abuse. I was a black boy who was already told that being gay was a problem; imagine adding on top of that the idea that my sexuality was connected to the abuse.

To be clear, Spacey knew exactly what he was doing by “coming out” in response to sexual assault allegations. I’ve never been a fan of the “right time” to come out, but we all know this happened as a way to distract from the real story while simultaneously offering a fake apology for maybe allegedly assaulting a teenager. I’m not allowing that.

I’m also not allowing for folks who don’t seem to understand why people are upset at the convenience of Spacey’s timing. His statement conflates molestation, sexuality and drunkenness in a way that will ultimately harm queer people who are merely attempting to live a free life.

–Preston Mitchum, Kevin Spacey and the Damage Done


Sayonaratron

Defeated it might be, but like victory, tron has many fathers. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one version comes from Scots, meaning “a weighing machine” or “the place where the tron was set up.” You can still visit the Tron Kirk in Edinburgh, where the salt tron once stood as a public beam for sizing up merchandise. In contemporary usage the term actually springs from ancient Greek, with the invention of the first vacuum tube or “kenotron” around 1904; its creator came up with the name by combining the Greek words for “empty” (keno) and “tool” (tron). Subsequently, the radiotron, thyratron, klystron, and rhumbatron went on to become vital components of the radio industry in the 1930s, while the resonant cavity magnetron was at the heart of every radar set in the Second World War. Don’t be deceived: These components bear scant relationship to elementary particles such as the electron, neutron, and positron, all of which really end in the suffix –on; their names are a red herring, akin to the old rumor that the Mustang car was named after the fighter aircraft and not the horse.

–David Munns, The ‘Tron’ Suffix and the Promise of Future Technology


Flake, out.

It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership. Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end. […]

If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so, and as a matter and duty of conscience, the notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters, the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided. […]

None of this is normal. And what do we, as United States senators, have to say about it? The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics. Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.

I have children and grandchildren to answer to. And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent. I’ve decided that I would better represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles. To that end, I’m announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019.[…]

Mr. President, the graveyard is full of indispensable men and women. None of us here is indispensable, nor were even the great figures of history who toiled at these very desks in this very chamber to shape the country that we’ve inherited. What is indispensable are the values that they consecrated in Philadelphia and in this place, values which have endured and will endure for so long as men and women wish to remain free. What is indispensable is what we do here in defense of those values. A political career does not mean much if we are complicit in undermining these values.

–Sen. Jeff Flake, announcing his retirement

If nobody coins the phrase “Flake out” as a synonym for a politcian ending his or her career in the mic-droppiest way possible by speaking the truth to power when his/her own party is running the show, they are really missing the boat.

UPDATE: I see that Twitter is already all over #FlakeOut. Social media really is good for something!