Every once in a while, when anti-immigrant sentiment is running high, Congress will revive the "English-only" debate, which was last a topic of national conversation during the 2006-2007 push for immigration reform. But the most recent attempt to make English the official language of the United States came out of the blue, the day before Congress's August recess. Led by Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on an English-only bill that would require all federal government communications—including voting materials—to be printed in English.
For several years, sociologists and demographers have been discussing a new socioeconomic division in this country: the widening family divide between the highly educated and everyone else. On one side are those who get at least a bachelor's degree—or wait even longer—before they marry and have children. On the other side are those without a college education who have children—early and often—and have a series of partners (with or without marriage) who may or may not be related to their children. In the second group, an unexpected pregnancy may interrupt the woman's education; sometimes she wasn't going on anyway.
I have more than my share of pet peeves about language usage, none greater than the ubiquity of the phrase "I could care less" when what people are actually trying to say is "I couldn't care less" (it's one thing to say something wrong, but something else entirely to say the opposite of what you're trying to say, for frack's sake). But whenever I'm feeling doctrinaire, I think of "February," and ask myself whether I really think anyone ought to be saying "Feb-ROO-air-ee." Then I get sad thinking about how in 50 years, we'll all be saying "nuke-yoo-lar" like a nation of George W. Bushes. The point is, pronunciation and usage are constantly evolving, and there's only so long you can hold out for what's correct against what's common.
Which brings me to "data." Although I agree with Kevin Drum about most things, I found out today that he and I have different ideas about this word:
Rabble-rouser and sex columnist Dan Savage has a corner of the gay blogosphere clutching its pearls over his use of the word "faggot" to describe members of GOProud, the gay Republican group that endorsed Mitt Romney last week:
I know what you're thinking. Here it is, National Poetry Month, and E.J. hasn't yet posted a single poem. Mea culpa. So here's a famous progressive poem by our current national poet laureate, Philip Levine, a poem that is still as heartbreaking as it ever was.
Watergate: A Novel. By Thomas Mallon, Pantheon Books, 448 pages, $26.95.
Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. By Ann Beattie, Scribner, 282 pages, $26.00.
This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters by yeggs with White House connections that provoked the Watergate scandal and led to Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as 37th president of the United States. It’s the kind of benchmark that leaves people who lived through those days facing two realizations, fused by the unwelcome recognition that we’re pretty old.
As an undergraduate student, in order to acquire financial aid, I agreed to take a special first-year seminar called The Creative Process. In the class, we discussed such questions as “What is art?” and, in more concrete form, “Why do we refer to the urinal in the bathroom as simply a place for waste when we call the urinal on the gallery wall a masterpiece?” Halfway through the semester, the professor, a 50-year-old woman with dyed-black, bobbed hair and a necklace that featured a grapefruit-size bust of Jack Skellington, instructed us to consume—to consume—the book Einstein’s Dreams, which, despite its name, was fiction. I did not have high expectations.
Isn’t that how wars start? Someone tells a story about what happened to them. Another person tells a different story. And so a fissure forms and widens. Fiction between ostensible allies leads to disasters. Honesty is the best policy.
On any given day in Washington, D.C., the city’s hotels teem with civic activity. Trade associations, lobbies, corporations seeking government contracts, lawyers looking to influence agency rules—all form a beehive of action. At last count, there were 12,200 registered lobbyists in Washington, according to opensecrets.org, and that doesn’t include the many thousands of corporate attorneys who are technically not lobbyists. Of the top-spending trade associations or issue organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads the list with a budget of more than $46 million. Only one quasi-liberal group, the AARP, is even in the top 20.
As long as we are speaking of cultures that have simmered in exile, let's turn to Tibetans, whose leaders have consulted with Jewish and Israeli leaders about what it takes to keep a diaspora culture alive. One of the answers: keep alive the language. Hebrew was essentially a language on ice, used primarily in religious services but not to communicate, rich with symbolism but lacking words for anything related to post-exile life—until early Zionists performed CPR and turned it into a living vehicle, actually spoken daily (usually very, very quickly and disputatiously) (#joking).
I've been thinking about the term "capitalism" since Frank Luntz, the renowned pollster, told Republicans to quit saying it. The Occupy Wall Street movement has turned "capitalism" into a dirty word, he said. If Republicans want to win in 2012, they'd better stop worrying and learn to love "economic freedom" instead.
I should have posted this poem in October. But since I'm on a football jag now, here's a famous poem about what young men are channeling when they play football. Written in 1964, it includes some offensive language from its era. But I love this poem and have known it by heart for decades.
In the Shreve High football stadium, I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville, And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood, And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel, Dreaming of heroes.
The tooth fairy visited our house recently, which made me remember the time—many years ago, when tooth redemption brought only a quarter—that the tooth fairy kept forgetting to claim the tooth under my pillow. After a week, I put a sign on my bedroom door: TOOTH STOP! The next morning, I had my quarter, and a signed note. The tooth fairy explained that he had an extraordinarily large territory that included the Indian Ocean, and apologized for having been delayed by recent monsoons. The note was signed “Prince Oberon.”
Urban Outfitters' formerly "Navajo" hipster panty. AP Photo/Matt York
Urban Outfitters, the retail mecca for once and future hipsters, recently scrubbed its website of all references to “Navajo.” What was once the “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask” is now the “Printed Fabric Wrapped Flask”; the “Navajo Hipster Panty” is now the “Printed Hipster Panty”; and so on. The items are still available for purchase, but they’ve all been renamed.