All of that is to say that I’m embarking on some commentary about language, and there will no doubt be an embarrassing and hilarious typo or two in the blog. If you feel the need to point it out, just don’t be a jerk about it, okay?
I don’t want to talk about typing and spelling, per se, today, but rather certain phenomenon about the way people perceive and use language that is often lumped in with spelling, grammar, et cetera.
What got me thinking about this was a particular short conversation on twitter this weekend. A person noted that their local Walmart had a huge banner up that said “The Fourth of July this year is Thursday July 4.” Which struck him as a particularly dumb thing to put on a banner. I pointed out that at more than one time in my life I have been in a conversation where another person asked, in all seriousness, “What date is the Fourth of July?” One of the people who has done that more than once is a relative—a relative who is known in the family for asking and doing things that are not well thought out, let’s say.
But it isn’t that the people who ask that question are ignorant or stupid—they are simply processing the language in a different way than some of us do. When someone like my online acquaintance or myself sees the phrase “Fourth of July” we process it mentally as “the day in July which comes immediately after the third and immediately preceeding the fifth.” Because we see the words and associate them with the individual and literal definitions of each word.
But for some people, the “Fourth of July” is not perceived as a string of words—it is processed as a single word. By which I mean, “Any of the sequences of one or more sounds or morphemes (intuitively recognized by native speakers as) constituting the basic units of meaningful speech” (to quote Oxford). Yes, it is written out and it originated as a string of three words, but these people encountered the phrase often enough in their earlier years, before they learned to spell, always together, so that their brain processed it as a single word, “forthuvjoolie” that in the United States refers to the holiday in the middle of summer during which we celebrate the Declaration of Independence by holding picnics and barbecues and eventually shooting off a bunch of fireworks.
And it doesn’t matter that the person has subsequently learned that the word which they think of as a single noun synonymous with “the Independence Day Holiday” is actually spelled “Fourth of July.” On their deepest level of understanding, they conceive of it as a single word.
There is also the complication that, well, sometimes, in certain circumstances, the “Fourth of July” holiday is observed on a day other than the fourth. Because of the Monday Holiday Act (and a lot of corporate policies), government offices and many businesses (including banks) will be closed for business on Monday the fifth or Monday the sixth if the holiday happens to fall on a Saturday or Sunday that year. Nobody moves the barbecues and fireworks to Monday when that happens, but there are other holidays that we observe on a Monday rather than the anniversary of their traditional date, and all of that can get conceptually tied up in people’s minds.
It is especially true if the person in question, like the relative I mentioned above, has come to expect people to correct her all the time because she misunderstands, misremembers, or just gets details mixed up. Especially when a portion of their lives was spent with an abusive parent, partner, et cetera. For someone like that, the question “What date is the Fourth of July?” has an element of defensiveness to it. There is an implied, “I know that I should know this, and please don’t bite my head off for asking what you think of as a stupid question. I just want to make certain I have it right.”
Because people aren’t computers. Our neurological system isn’t naturally compartmentalized. And we all have learned things in different ways both because our brains don’t all work exactly the same way, and because our experiences during formative years were not identical.
Think of it this way: a couple weeks ago I laughed really hard during a panel at the science fiction convention I was attending when a panelist, who has multiple graduate degrees and works in a language related field, mentioned how it wasn’t until his teen years that he realized that the word “rendezvous” that people used to mean a meeting at an appointed time and/or place was exactly the same word as the one he pronounced in his head as “ron-DEZZ-voys” which also meant to meet up. I laughed because that was one of those mistakes I made as a kid, too. Because I encountered the word in print and either inferred the meaning from the context, or if I did look it up in a dictionary, didn’t parse out the pronunciation notation.
Throw in a very slight tendency toward dyslexia, and I leave as an exercise for the reader to parse out why I ended up being laughed at in school one day when I talked about a character being “detter-minded.”
Another in my occasional posts of either news that broke after I finished the Friday Five post for the week, or with more information about news stories which I’ve linked to in the past.
First, the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. I’m trying to avoid linking to sites that name the gunman or his co-conspirators or show their pictures. I am angry at the news sites that have run stories about how he was a blond angel as a child, blah blah blah. Seriously, fuck those guys. Instead, Dead, injured or missing: Victims of Christchurch begin to be identified. It is heartbreaking, particularly when you see the pictures of the two youngest killed: a three-year-old and a four-year-old. I’m reminded of the time on some news show when Geraldo Rivera, of all people, got angry at another panelist for defending “some of the ideas” of the Oklahoma City Bomber. Geraldo mentioned the number of children who were killed in the daycare that was part of the building destroyed and said, “he was a baby-killer!”
Australia Re-Bans Homocon Milo Yiannopoulos Over NZ Comments. So, Milo the white supremacist who keeps trying to claim he can’t be a bigot because he only dates black guys, did a tour of speeches and rallies in Australia and racked up a huge debt by not paying for the police security at the rallies. At least one of the rallies turned violent. He announced another such tour in 2018, but then suddenly canceled (while various reporters had uncovered that his group had failed to pay deposits to venues on time, and news of his deepening debt spread). He was set to do another one this year, when the Department of Home Affairs recommended against granting him a visa, based on the violence, protests, and all those unpaid bills from the 2017 tour. But conservative members of parliament pressures the cabinet minister to grant a visa, anyway, and things were looking like another Milo crapstorm were going to happen… until Milo opened his mouth on social media last night, essentially agreeing with all the points of the Christchurch shooter’s published manifesto.
New Zealand shows willingness to curb guns after one, not 1,981 mass shootings. Imagine! A government taking action after a mass shooting! Why, oh why, has no one done that before?
FOX News Contributor Calls for Prosecution of Homocon MAGA Troll Jacob Wohl for Faking Death Threats Against Himself. Lock him up! This is hardly the first time that Wohl has made false reports and tried to profit from them while stirring up conspiracy theories. And while so far the police department that Wohl made the false report to hasn’t made a statement, the man whose photo was stolen by Wohl to create the fake account to send the death threat to himself, has retained Michael Avenatti, the former lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, to sue Wohl. I’m not a fan of the grandstanding Avenatti, but if anyone can keep attention on the false death threat issue, it’s him.
Speaking of slimy lying people: Trump Issues First Veto Of Presidency After House And Senate Vote To Block “Emergency” Wall Declaration. At least he actually did it correctly. When he sent out the tweet the night before consisting of the single word VETO in all caps, many of us wondered if he thought that’s how it works.
Meanwhile, MAGABomber To Plead Guilty. The guy who sent pipe bombs to critics of the alleged president has agreed to plead guilty to some of the charges, attempting to avoid a mandatory life sentence. We’ll find out what the deal is later this week.
I could comment more on all these horrible people, but it’s just been a depressing news week. So I think we need to end on a funny note. Stephen Colbert shows why it is so unbelievable at the First Lady would use a body double for public appearances. It’s quite amusing:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Trump and the Republicans have vowed to roll back protections for queer people, especially trans people. They’ve also vowed to fight efforts to raise the minimum wage, cut funding for health care, roll back work safety laws, and many other things which will result in an increase in injuries, financial stress, and preventable illnesses—ultimately leading to even more deaths.
Since Trump’s campaign gained momentum, there has been a slight increase in hate crimes. If the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom is any indication, there is going to be an even bigger increase in hate crimes now that certain people feel their views are validated by this vote. Oh, and the Republicans want to repeal hate crime laws and/or cut back on federal agencies tracking and investigation of hate crimes. So more people injured and yes, even killed.
I can keep going, but you should be getting the idea by now.
Stop saying that it’s going to be all right or that we’re going to get through this. Especially stop saying it if you are straight, cisgender, male, and/or white, because while maybe you will get through the next few years, you’re also not at risk to the same degree as many of the rest of us.
While we’re at it, if you’re one of the people lecturing others to remain calm, and not to place blame, and so forth? Again, stop. Just stop. Many of us are literally in danger of losing our livelihoods, various legal rights, and much more. We are allowed to blame people who have put us in this danger.
Some of us are in a fight for our lives, now. Yes, I fully intend to fight for my rights, but that means kicking up a fuss. That means confronting people. That means doing the opposite of calming down or making nice.
If you’re dismayed by this election; if you’re sitting there in shock because you can’t believe your fellow Americans can be this shortsighted, that they would embrace (or at least enable) hate? Welcome to our world.
As a queer man I’ve been feeling that dread, despair, and the knot of anxiety in my gut off and on my whole life. Not every moment. For example, just four years ago I was feeling the exact opposite when a majority of voters in my state voted for marriage equality. But that punch of bewildered injustice and a fundamental sense of vulnerability happens. It happened on June 12 this year as news of the mass shooting at a queer nightclub in Orlando spread across the world. It happens when legislatures pass and governors sign anti-queer laws and laws that ban queer rights ordinances and all the rest.
I wish I could tell you it gets better. I completely understand the impulse to tell each other that we’ll get through this, I do. I wish I didn’t know the facts that some of us actually won’t. I wish I could believe that if we just calm down and make nice that we’ll get through this and be better people for it.
Yes, if we stick together and hold each other and watch out for each other and fight with whatever tools we find we’re left with, some—maybe even most—who endure this will find new strength. But there is going to be a lot of pain and disappointment and loss along the way. Real loss.
I buried too many friends in the 80s and 90s because of homophobia and a smug indifference because “it’s just faggots” and “they brought it on themselves.” When Trump talks about losers, for instance, when he says that he prefers heroes who don’t get captured during war time he’s expressing that same hatred and indifference, just aimed at a wider audience. And if he and his followers can direct it at decorated veterans and the parents of soldiers killed in combat, that means they’ll just as soon direct it at you, too. Whoever you are.
I’m not offering comfort. I can’t, right now, even see the dim distant possibility of a glimmer of hope. And that’s saying something, because usually my optimism is almost pathological.
And I’m not asking for comfort. Neither am I asking to be left alone. I’m asking for a pledge that you will stand up against this, too. We can’t rely on hope. We must rely on each other.
It’s here. The day we’ve been dreading yet simultaneously wishing would arrive and just get it over with. That day is here. And I’ve already said more than I should about it.
So instead, here are some images that have been shared with me recently by various people that made me laugh.
Just silly gags that might not make you chuckle as much as I did, but I hope you at least smile at one of them.
Inside every joke is a kernel of truth.
Some truths are mundane, some uncomfortable, some surprising.
Some might be a little crude for some people. But as a friend recently observed, sex is always just a little bit ridiculous.
Some might surprise you.
And some aren’t jokes at all, simply truths that we all sort of wish didn’t need to be said, but are glad when we hear tham.
The Republican National Committee paid a lot of money to finance a legal challenge to the certified count, insisting that lots of illegal ballots had been counted. The case is famous for the result that after spending millions and sorting through all the voter rolls the Republicans did find exactly 4 illegally cast ballots: all four of them had been cast for Dino Rossi, because each of the illegal ballots had been cast by ex-convicts who had not had their right to vote restored2. Each of them had voted for Rossi because they are angry at Gregoire for (essentially) doing a very good job during her years in the state’s Justice Department.
In other words, the Republicans spent a lot of money proving their guy’s loss was worse than it appeared, and ironically revealed to the public that the Democratic candidate was perceived as much tougher on crime than the Republican, at least in the eyes of some criminals.
Throughout the next four years3 certain angry people in our state kept insisting that the election had been stolen by evil democratic minions in King County, mostly because they couldn’t understand that winning in the mostly populous county in the state by about 70% is going to beat winning in a bunch of the least populous counties by less than 60%. And boy, did I get an earful from some of my ultra-conservative relatives about all the “crooked liberals” in Seattle at the next several holiday gatherings.This is by far not the only time I’ve heard conservative people claim that when any election doesn’t go their way it’s because of ballot-stuffing in the cities. It’s hard for people to grasp the sheer scale of the differences in population density. Many counties in the U.S. have population densities of 1 or 2 people per square mile, while cities can reach densities of more than 50,000 per square mile (the New York City metropolitan area, for instance). It’s also hard to grasp the difference in ideology. People who live in rural areas are far more likely to vote Republican and otherwise support conservative politics. People who live in cities are far more likely to lean the other way. It’s not just that they’re leaning, it’s also how far they lean. You’re much more likely to find a majority of moderate conservatives in the suburbs than in small towns and unincorporated communities, for instance. And you’re much more likely to find the sorts of arch-conservatives who embrace the alt-right label those small towns and unincorporated communities4.
There are many reasons for this divide. One simple one is migration. People growing up in those communities who don’t feel as welcome are more likely to move to the city. People who feel out of place in their small towns who go to cities (usually to attend college or look for work) discover not that everyone in the city agrees with them, but they can find communities or social circles where their differences are accepted and affirmed, and decide not to go back. Those of us who are queer understand this quite well, though we aren’t the only ones.
Another difference is a natural consequence of the density. Living a city, it is impossible not to come into contact on a daily basis with people who are culturally, ethnically, religiously, and/or politically different than you. You interact with them, seeing that that are just people like yourself, merely with different experiences and beliefs. You learn to empathize with those perspectives. For a lot of us, it makes us more open to the other points of view than we may have been before.
This was all brought to mind recently when an acquaintance was freaking out a bit about this article: More Americans move to cities in past decade-Census. It wasn’t that he didn’t know that more of the population of the country lives in cities than in non-urban areas. What freaked him out was how many more do. He though it the city-country divide was something like 60-40. It’s not. It’s 80-20.
Let me repeat that: 80% of the U.S. populations lives in cities, suburbs, and large- and medium-sized towns. Only 20% live outside of those urban areas.
Some articles about this topic get confusing, because not everyone agrees on where the dividing line between urban dweller and not should be. The Census Bureau uses the following definitions:
- Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people;
- Urban Clusters (UCs) of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people;
- “Rural” encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area.
Some people want to quibble with that definition and divide the line differently. I’ve also seen some articles that include the urban clusters population in the rural, thus defining what most folks would agree is a quite large town as “rural.”
We also have a lot of misconceptions about how diverse communities are, racially and otherwise. This article talks a bit about that with some fun observations: ‘Normal America’ Is Not A Small Town Of White People.
There is also the phenomenon of entire states that are far more rural than others (and the source of the second map I linked): 2012: Nearly three out of ten Americans live in a rural area or a small city. But in most states, the percentage of rural residents is far greater.
Politicians of certain stripes are fond of talking about “real Americans” which is sometimes code for white, straight, and at least pseudo-Christian5. But it also often refers to people who live in small towns or on farms, with the implication that that makes up the majority of the population. Which gets us back to the reason many conservatives who don’t live in the largest cities think those cities are doing questionable things with ballot boxes. A lot of them don’t even understand that the majority of the population lives in cities. They think the urban dwellers are a minority somehow oppressing them.
It’s also why most of them don’t realize that their small communities are being subsidized by the taxes paid by city dwellers, not the other way around. But that’s a whole other can of worms.
1. Which could have been avoided, because there were several thousand voters in my county who cast write-in votes for a former County Executive whom Gregoire had defeated in the primary, not aware that the state Constitution specifically forbids write-in votes to be certified for a candidate who lost in the Primary.
2. In Washington state, if you have been convicted of a felony you lose your right to vote. After you have served your time, you may petition to have your voting rights restored. But you have to actually file and make a court appearance to do it.
3. Four years later in the Rossi-Gregoire rematch she won by a more decisive 53% to 47%.
4. Not that you don’t find very liberal people in small towns, nor very conservative ones in the heart of the city. There are always outliers everywhere.
5. By which I mean people who give lip service to being Christians, and get foaming at the mouth angry if someone objects to a Ten Commandments monument in a courthouse, but otherwise don’t act as if they understand a single word Jesus ever said.
I was too busy being flabbergasted that someone who was smart enough to operate a keyboard, was apparently an adult, had survived many years of having to defend their love of this strangely polarizing candy, had never realized that the little candies are essentially caricatures of kernals of corn (sweet corn, maize, et cetera). Seriously? How can you never at least ask, “Why is it called ‘candy corn’?”
Okay, to be fair, I realize that there are people who go through life without ever seeing seed corn or feed corn. They may have seen corn on the cob and actually eaten it, but otherwise the only time they’ve seen corn is processed corn kernels cut-off the cob by a machine, then canned or frozen before being cooked and served. And those cut kernels don’t look like a full kernal of corn. It’s similar to the time when I was talking to someone about popcorn and discovered that they had never realized that the seed in popcorn were actual dried corn, the same plant (though a different cultivar or subspecies) as is canned and sold as corn. Or the time that I had to explain to someone what the phrase “seed corn” meant—they had never known that the vegetable they were eating were actually the seeds of the corn plant!
I don’t know what it is about candy corn that gets some people up in arms. I’m not saying that I don’t understand that some people like it and some don’t. What I don’t understand is why some people dislike it so much that they make other people feel defensive about liking candy corn.
I don’t happen to be one of the great fans of the candy. I don’t dislike it, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. When I was a kid, I liked the color and the shininess of the candy. It probably helped that it was a seasonal thing that was only available around Halloween time. But I would gladly let me sister eat nearly all of it herself and not feel that I was losing out. Yes, that means one of my sisters is one of those people who absolutely adore candy corn.
I sometimes take comfort in that fact that people can get militant about something like candy. Because when I read about things like this: Hate group (World Congress of Families) looks to criminalize gays on global scale my initial reaction is a combination of fear and depression. Then I realize that a lot of their supporters are just being as irrational as the folks who hate on candy corn. Which isn’t to say that none of this hatred is real: Dallas Police Seek Public’s Help In Solving String of Brutal Anti-Gay Attacks or Trans Woman Run Over With SUV In Possible Hate Crime Is 17th Murdered This Year or Study finds LGBT people not reporting hate crimes because they happen so frequently.
The kind of irrationality that makes people trash others over candy is part of the reason that folks either stand by silently while nutjobs at the World Conference of Families spout off their hate, or why people can look at death and rape threats hurled about by GamerGaters and make the ridiculous claims that there are two sides to the argument.
Hint: if a group is resorting to death threats, rape threats, doxing, and bomb threats, that isn’t an argument. It is a crime. That “side” is the perpetrator. Period. The other “side” are victims. Period. If you claim that it is a “side” then you are an accessory after the fact to a crime. Period.
And you’re being ridiculous and childish. As childish as someone getting angry at people over a candy preference.
And it’s so silly. It isn’t like we’re talking about something truly important.
It’s a lot of fun.
It’s especially fun when our involvement in a particular enthusiasm is new. One of the reasons why is that when we first discover a new book or series or band that we really like, often most of our existing friends have never heard of it. And we may try to get them interested, and it doesn’t grab them quite the way it does us. And we may think that maybe this new thing isn’t as cool as we think it is, or maybe worry that we’re boring our friends. So if we then find some people who are as enthusiastic as we are about the new thing, we suddenly feel validated. “Yes! I’m not alone!”
But the sweet spot is where we have found a new thing, found new people who seem nice and like this new thing as much as we do, and where at least some of our closest friends also like this new thing as much as us. That’s a win-win-win!
Sometimes that triple-win can be misleading. Let me explain… Read More…
Today is World AIDS Day. Each year, I spend part of the day remembering people I have known who left this world too soon because of that disease.
So: Frank, Mike, Tim, David, Todd, Chet, Jim, Steve, Brian, Rick, Stacy, Phil, Mark, Michael, Jerry, Walt, Charles, Thomas, Mike, Richard, Bob, Mikey, James, Lisa, Todd, Kerry, Glen, and Jack. Some of you I didn’t know for very long. One of you was a relative. One of you was one of my best friends in high school.
I miss you all. It was a privilege to know you.
Michael Spectre has a piece at the New Yorker that everyone ought to read (not just gay people): WHAT YOUNG GAY MEN DON’T KNOW ABOUT AIDS.