Category Archives: history

A statesman speaks

When you’re a reporter covering Congress, you listen to an awful lot of speeches. Many of these breathless bulletins concern vital issues like National Cub Scout Month and the renaming of post offices. Speeches can be pompous, sanctimonious, badly reasoned, highly partisan, dull, hypocritical, long-winded, or all of the above. They’re sometimes thoughtful or heartfelt. Once in a while they can be truly memorable.

I can count on about half of one hand the great speeches I heard in my six years of reporting on the Hill, but one was given by Senator John McCain, who was just diagnosed with brain cancer. It came in 1995, during a late-night debate on a resolution of support for the deployment of U.S. troops to Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the former Yugoslavia. Their mission was to support the peace accords that had just ended a bloody, sometimes genocidal war.

Most Republicans strongly opposed President Clinton’s decision to put American boots on that ground. As McCain’s address made clear, he did too. But he believed that once the decision was made — even by a Democrat — Congress had a duty to stand behind the troops. He was also determined that the operation must not become another Vietnam.

I don’t agree with a lot of what McCain has done since. I didn’t vote for him for president. But what he said that night has stuck in my mind because of its depth of emotion, honesty, sincerity, and sheer eloquence. His words weren’t canned rhetoric or talking points; they were drawn from life and hard experience. When comparing Bosnia to Vietnam, the former prisoner of war spoke with unfiltered anger and sorrow, but also with pride.

I was once on the other end of the relationship between the military and their civilian commanders. I served with brave men who were sent by our leaders into a calamity–a war we would not win. We were ill used by our political leaders then. We were ill used by many of our senior commanders. I saw good men lose their lives, lives that were just squandered for a lost cause that the dying believed in, but that many of the living did not. Their cause was honor, their own and their country’s. And they found their honor in their answer, not their summons. I will never forget that. Never. Never.

He accepted responsibility for backing a mission that might cost American lives. I know what I am doing. I know that by supporting this deployment, if not the decision, I must share in the blame if it ends disastrously

He admitted feeling conflicted and anguished but concluded the United States can’t withdraw from the world, as the current president seems determined to do. We cannot leave the world alone. For the world will not leave us alone.

So I will support this mission, with grave concern and more than a little sadness. I will support my President. I will, I believe, support my country and the men and women we have asked to defend us. I give my full support, whatever my concerns. And I accept, fully, the consequences of what I do here today. I ask my colleagues to do so as well.

This is the kind of language we rarely hear in the Capitol, let alone on Twitter. The full text is below, with the quotes above and some other portions highlighted.


Mr. (Senate) President, like all other Senators who have spoken today, I wish this debate were not necessary. I agree with those Senators who have said that they would not have undertaken the commitment made by the President of the United States to deploy American ground forces to Bosnia to implement the tenuous peace that now exists there. But that is no longer the central question of our deliberations this evening. The President did so commit and our obligation now goes beyond expressing our disagreement with that decision.

Many of us did disagree, as is abundantly evident by the number of Senators who support the resolution offered by Senators Hutchison, Inhofe, Nickles, and others, yet we all recognize that the President has the authority to make that decision.

The troops are going to Bosnia, and any prospect that Congress could prevent that deployment disappeared in the overwhelming vote in opposition to prohibiting funding for the deployment, the only constitutional means we have to reverse the President’s decision.

Our troops are going to Bosnia. Congress should do everything in our power to ensure that our mission is truly clear, limited, and achievable; that it has the greatest for success with the least risk to the lives of our young men and women. That is our responsibility, as much as the President’s.

The resolution that the majority leader and I have offered does not ask Senators to support the  decision to deploy. It asks that you support the deployment after the decision had been made. It asks you further to condition your support on some important commitments by the President which I will discuss in a moment.

I intend to give that support, and I commend the majority leader for exercising extraordinary leadership in trying to influence both the nature and security of our mission Bosnia as well as the outcome of the peace process there, to which we have made such a profound commitment.

I believe Senator Dole has significantly helped to improve both the security of our forces and the likelihood that the cause they have been asked to serve–peace in Bosnia–will endure beyond the year our forces will be stationed in that troubled country.

He has accomplished these important objectives by securing assurances from the administration that our soldiers will only be expected to perform those tasks for which they are trained, and will not be ill-used in nation-building exercises. Moreover, he has secured the strong commitment from the President that the United States will lead efforts to establish a stable, military balance in Bosnia which is the only undertaking that can be realistically expected to secure a lasting cease-fire there. Those commitments were well worth our efforts, and, again, I am grateful to the distinguished majority leader for his honorable and effective statesmanship in this effort.

Mr. President, what we should all strive to avoid is giving anyone–anyone–in Bosnia the idea that the American people and their elected representatives are so opposed to this deployment that the least provocation–violent provocation–will force the President to withdraw our forces. I do not want a single terrorist, a single Mujaheddin or Bosnian Serb sniper to think that by killing an American, they can incite a political uproar in America that will compel the President to bring our troops home.

That is my first reason for supporting this deployment. I want our enemies to know that America–not just the American force in Bosnia–but all Americans are in deadly earnest about this deployment. Attacks on the safety of those troops should, and I believe will, be met with a disproportionate response. That response will not include abandoning the mission. We must begin now to impress upon all parties in Bosnia that any assault on the security of our soldiers would amount to nothing more than an act of folly on the part of the assailant.

Mr. President, opponents of the President’s decision often claim that there is no vital United   States security interest in Bosnia that would justify the risk of American lives to defend. I have long agreed that there was no such interest. But there is now. There are the lives of 20,000 Americans to defend. And anyone who thinks they can achieve their own political ends by threatening our troops should be forcefully disabused of that notion, and should not be encouraged in their action by the misperception that the American people and the U.S. Congress are not united in steadfast support of our troops, their safety, and the mission they are now obligated to undertake.

There are other important American interests involved in this deployment. All the parties to the Dayton agreement have stated unequivocally that should the United States renege on its commitment, the peace will collapse and hostilities will resume. We will then watch Bosnians suffer again the mass murder and atrocities that have repulsed all people of decency and compassion.

Moreover, Mr. President, abjuring our commitment now would do considerable damage to NATO, the most successful defensive alliance in history. Many Americans may wonder why we need to be concerned about NATO in the wake of the Soviet Unions’s collapse. But, Mr. President, the world still holds many dangers for our security, and our enemies are far less predictable than they once were. We will need our friends in the future, as much as they need us now.

Lastly, Mr. President, I want to talk about the relationship between the Nation’s credibility and the credibility of its chief executive. In an earlier statement on this question, I asked my Republican colleagues to place as high a premium on this President’s credibility abroad, as they would place on a Republican President’s.

  I asked this because the reliability of the President’s word is of enormous strategic value to the American people. The President’s voice is the voice of America. When the world loses faith in the commitments of our President, all Americans are less safe–and somewhere down the line American vital interests and American lives will be lost.

The credibility and authority of the President of the United States, and the security of American soldiers, compel our support of their deployment. They are vital interests worth defending whatever our current political differences may be with the President.

Again, by supporting the deployment, I do not confer my approval of the decision to deploy. As I have already stated, I would not have committed American ground forces to this mission, had that decision been up to me. But the decision has been made, by the only American elected to make such decisions–the President of the United States. And I have construed my responsibility in these circumstances as requiring my support for efforts to maximize the prospects for success of the mission and minimize its obvious risks.

My support, and the support I urge my colleagues to give this deployment by voting for the resolution before us, has been characterized by the media as grudging. Fair enough. But let me be clear, I do not want to feed the cynicism of the public–or any members of our free press who might succumb to cynicism from time to time–should they conclude that by our resolution, and our votes preceding this one, that we are trying to avoid speaking clearly in support or opposition, and evade any responsibility for our own actions. I know what I am doing. I know that by supporting this deployment, if not the decision, I must share in the blame if it ends disastrously. I will accept that responsibility–not happily, but honestly, just as Senators who supported the prohibition on funding for the deployment would have had to accept the blame for the problems that would have occurred if they had been successful in preventing the deployment.

  The President will be accountable to the families of any American soldier who dies in service to his country in Bosnia. He will have to answer for their loss. But so will I. I fully accept that in my support of the deployment, and my efforts to influence its conduct and its termination, I incur this obligation.

Beyond offering expressions of sorrow and regret, we will have to tell those families that they bear their terrible loss for the sake of the country. Nothing–absolutely nothing–is harder than that. Just contemplating such a responsibility makes me heartsick.

  This may be the hardest vote I have cast as a Member of Congress. It may be the hardest vote I will ever cast. To send young men and women into such evident danger is an awful responsibility. I don’t envy the President. Nor do I envy the Senate.

  I was once on the other end of the relationship between the military and their civilian commanders. I served with brave men who were sent by our leaders into a calamity–a war we would not win. We were ill used by our political leaders then. We were ill used by many of our senior commanders. I saw good men lose their lives, lives that were just squandered for a lost cause that the dying believed in, but that many of the living did not. Their cause was honor, their own and their country’s. And they found their honor in their answer, not their summons. I will never forget that. Never. Never.

  If I have any private oath that I have tried to abide by in my public service it is that I would never ask Americans to serve in missions where success was not defined, the commitment to achieve it uncertain, and its object of less value than its price.

  I pray today that I have kept my oath. I will pray so every night for as long as this mission lasts. I wish the people of Bosnia peace. I wish them peace because they deserve that blessing, but even more importantly because the lives of many fine young Americans have been ransomed to that peace. I know that these Americans will perform magnificently, under very difficult circumstances, to secure the objectives of their mission. They will reflect, as they always do, great credit on themselves and on the United States, as they seek again to secure the peace and security in which another people may secure their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  Mr. President, I learned about duty, its costs and its honor, from friends who did not come home with me to the country we loved so dearly, and from friends who overcame adversity with far more courage and grace than I possessed. I have tried to see my duty in this question as they would have me see it.

In the difficult decision–and it is difficult for reasons greater and more honorable than political advantage or disadvantage–our sense of duty may lead us to different conclusions. I respect all of my colleagues for seeking to discharge their solemn responsibilities in this matter after careful deliberation and with honest reasoning.

But I want to make one last point to those Americans–and I do not include any of my colleagues in this category–who oppose this deployment and this resolution because they resent the costs of America’s leadership in the world. The burdens that are imposed on the United States are greater than the burdens borne by any other nation. There is no use bemoaning that fact or vainly trying to avoid its reality. This reality will be so for as long as we remain the greatest nation on earth. When we arrive at the moment when less is expected from our leadership by the rest of the world, then we will have arrived at the moment of our decline. We should accept that burden with courage. We cannot withdraw from the world into our prosperity and comfort and hope to keep those blessings. We cannot leave the world alone. For the world will not leave us alone.

  So I will support this mission, with grave concern and more than a little sadness. I will support my President. I will, I believe, support my country and the men and women we have asked to defend us. I give my full support, whatever my concerns. And I accept, fully, the consequences of what I do her today. I ask my colleagues to do so as well.

I ask all Senators to support the Dole resolution, irrespective of their views over the policy that brought our soldiers to Bosnia. I ask for your vote as an expression of support for the American soldiers who, summoned to duty in Bosnia, will find their honor and ours in their answer. I ask for your vote to help reduce the threats to their welfare, and increase the chances that the cause for which they risk so much may succeed, and endure long after they have come home to a grateful nation.

And I ask God to bless the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who will render their Nation this great service; to bless the President; to bless the Congress; and to bless the United States. We are all in great need of His benevolence today.

(text from the Congressional Record)

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Moving on

On the road from Birmingham to the beach there’s a town called Lockhart a mile or so north of the Florida state line. In the early 1900s, it was home to a rich pine forest and what was then the biggest lumber mill in the country. Today the only thing a visitor might notice is the Confederate flag on a tall pole just off the highway, with a plaque to inform visitors about “Lincoln’s Tax War.”

This nonsense is part of the campaign by various troglodytes to cover up the fact that the Civil War was brought upon us by slavery. If your beliefs fall anywhere within this dark corner and you’re not willing to consider my side, go away. (PS: All comments are moderated.)

I wouldn’t be writing about this if I hadn’t recently learned about the Confederate Catechism,  which the bigots use to justify themselves. The booklet blames Lincoln and the anti-slavery forces for starting the war and rejecting what the booklet claims was the South’s legal right to secede. Though it’s still circulating, this little pile of crud was written back in 1929 by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, son of President John Tyler — and as I’ve just found out, a man with whom I share ancestors. His mother, Julia Gardiner, came from one of the families on my father’s side.

The connection goes back to at least the 1700s and I’m not descended from the Tylers. Still, it can really kill your day when a name from your family tree is associated with such an odious piece of history. Even more disheartening is that the war is a century and a half in the past, yet we’re still shouting and sometimes shedding blood over the issues at its core. Hatred and ignorance are values passed down through generations.

It helps to remember that our collective legacy also includes some great, inspiring stories. This year marks the bicentennial of one of those events: the founding of the Erie Canal, which the Swans traveled when they moved west in 1848. They took a canal boat or “packet” from Rome, New York to Buffalo, then went on through the Great Lakes to Illinois aboard a sailing ship.

My great-grandfather Adin Swan, then a young man of thirteen, recounted the journey to my grandfather. He in turn told it to my uncle, and my aunt left it written down for me. Though it was probably embellished over the years, it’s still vivid. These are excerpts:

Tomb of Adin and Achsah Swan

The long days on the packet got to be boring, but when the boat was close to shore, my brothers and I would hop ashore…We would look for wild onions for mother to use in cooking and found many berries, especially the wild strawberries.

We caught wild turkeys and at night after building a campfire on the land, mother would roast the turkeys on a spit across a fire pit for all of us to enjoy. These towns where we stopped each night were called “belt cities.”

At long last and after two weeks, our packet docked at Buffalo and we had our first glimpse of one of the beautiful Great Lakes. It was the Erie…I stood looking at this lake, the largest and bluest I had ever seen!

I remember that on Lake Huron we had a terrific wind develop. The wind howled in the ship’s rigging and the snap of the sails could be heard even below deck.

As we neared Green Bay we saw many Indians, for here were gathered many of the tribes of the Algonquins, among them the Potawatomi…At last our ship sailed into Fort Dearborn at the mouth of the Chicago River.

I wouldn’t be here if not for the pioneer spirit and courage of my ancestors, the vision of the canal’s founders, and the sweat of the workers, many of them Irish immigrants, who dug it out of the wilderness. No matter how dire things seem today, these people overcame struggles we can barely imagine. Let’s hope that when our descendants look back on us, they’ll find we overcame the ugliness in our history, and our present.

Our roots and their keepers

Another box to look through as we declutter. This one sat in the basement, out of sight and definitely out of mind, since we moved in 14 years ago. The weight tells me it’s either very important or something once important, now useless.

Inside is a magnificent old family history book, 1,315 pages long, published in 1883 by an ancestor of my father and given to him, according to the inscription in the flyleaf, at Christmas in 1937. I’ve seen this before, but also in the box is an envelope containing two sheets of paper that I never read or even knew existed: “Will of Adin Swan of Rome, N.Y.”

It’s a transcription of the original document, probably typed up by my Aunt Rowena, the family historian. It reads like a typical will: Considering the uncertainty of this mortal life and being of sound mind and memory, Blessed be Almighty God for the same, do make and publish this my last will and testament. But when I saw the name Adin Swan, my heart beat faster as I sat there staring at the papers, trying to fully absorb what I was holding in my hands. For these are the last known words of a man who fought in the Revolution.

According to Ro’s research, Adin joined the Continental Army at the age of 14 and spent most of his service in Rhode Island. Like many people in those times, he had a large family: I give to my oldest son George Swan and Philander Swan and William Swan and Alonzo Swan and Edwin A. Swan and to their heirs forever all my real and personal estate…and the furniture that my wife Martha leaves at her decease is to be equally divided between my daughters Polly Brainard and Ann Mosely and Palmire Rudd.

Twenty years after Adin’s death in 1842, his grandsons, George Swan’s sons, would join the Union Army and one would die in Louisiana. My own grandfather, Hoyt Swan, was born in 1879, just fourteen years after the Civil War ended. Now I sit here in 2016, reading First I give and bequeath unto my loving wife Martha Swan during her widowhood…

Thanks to Ro, who took the time to find, copy and file away the will, Adin and the early life of our still young country are no longer remote or abstract, but close and very real. Blessed are the genealogists, the librarians like my amazing wife, the archivists, and all of those who preserve our collective heart and soul, from inaugural addresses to postcards, cassette tapes, and floppy discs. (If you don’t know what cassettes and floppies are, ask your parents. They’re really not as clueless as you think.)

In this hyperactive, here-one-second-and-gone-the-next digital age, the tasks of preservation and organization must be harder than ever. I’m certainly not vain enough to think anyone will be reading this blog in 174 years, the age of Adin’s will. But I hope we leave something tangible, so if humankind is still around in 2190, someone whose world we can only dream about will still have the thrill of opening the envelope.

Will of Adin Swan.

 

Stuff and sense

Braun 1960s desk fan

My dad used to sell these. It still works, too!

Luggage tags from the 1996 presidential campaign. Cub Scout insignia from the early 1960s. An extremely cool-looking desk fan from the same era (pictured at right). CDs I’ve forgotten buying by bands I no longer know why I liked. 40th-birthday banners. Socks that are old enough to drink and vote.

These are just some of the things I’ve found as my wife and I begin, in earnest and with a vengeance, to declutter our home. And boy, have I got clutter.

A pair of AR-710 speakers (great treble, good bass, but big and heavy). Nesting dolls from the flea market in Moscow, plus others from Kiev, Ukraine, and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Trophies from playground chess tournaments. A framed Patti Smith concert poster from 1978.

We’re really not rattus keepeverythingus (pack rats) and are definitely not materialistic, having been raised by parents who lived through the Depression with the philosophy, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Even today, when considering a purchase, I remember my mother’s frugality and her way of getting the maximum use out of everything (which is why I still have those socks).

But we’re not spring chickens either, and as we age, we unavoidably acquire stuff. We also have the material (as well as the spiritual) things that come from our parents, grandparents, and beyond. It adds up.

Hillary and Bill Clinton nesting dolls

From Moscow in the 1990s. Probably worth more now.

Two boxes of files from my last job, which I may never touch again. A 1972 Kalamazoo Civic Youth Theatre program for “Kiss Me, Kate,” featuring Dave Swan as Harrison Howell. A box of very old photos of ancestors who I can’t identify.

Of course, a lot of this carries memories and other emotional attachments, from our families or from important moments in our own lives. But what about letters my mother saved, from people I knew only slightly or not at all, and who are now long dead? Or my dad’s World War II Army discharge papers, which she kept in a safe deposit box forty years after the war just in case I ever needed them?

Twenty-six boxes of books, not counting three or four I’ve already given to the library. A few milk crates full of vinyl LPs, most of which I’ve either replaced with digital tracks or stopped caring about. $1.29 in pennies.

I know perfectly well I’ve got too many books, especially those freakin’ heavy hardcovers, yet the thought of not having them there on the shelf is a bit disconcerting. The same thing goes for all the CDs that are now on our own personal cloud. And what if one of my relatives ever wants to look at those letters?

I can see how this syndrome can cross the line into madness. But there’s something good at the end of the tunnel: an uncrowded home, with more room for the things that matter, like people, sunlight, and laughter.

All these “old” things also remind me of how lucky I’ve been, how far I’ve traveled, and all the wonderful friends I’ve encountered along the way. The “junk” reawakens parts of my soul and girds me for whatever lies ahead. Now: does anybody want to buy a few dozen or a few hundred really cool LPs?

One of the vintage "New Yorker" covers my mother saved (and I'm keeping).

One of the vintage “New Yorker” covers my mother saved (and I’m keeping).

Modern his’m

Just when I was getting over the onslaught of online clickbait and the AARP’s advice on how to be a hunka hunka burnin’ geezer, now I’ve gotten a blast of wonderful free advice on the meaning of male. Trust those faithful guardians of truth at the New York Times to come out with 27 Ways to Be a Modern Man.

This actually looks like a half-serious article, at least for a certain subset of Times readers and the men who are trying to get into their pants. I don’t have the space or the fortitude to analyze all 27 of these commandments, so let’s just break down a few. Starting with # 1:

“When the modern man buys shoes for his spouse, he doesn’t have to ask her sister for the size. And he knows which brands run big or small.” Red flag. What modern, postmodern, premodern or prehistoric man with a brain bigger than a cashew nut would even DREAM of buying shoes for a spouse?

This isn’t sexism. This isn’t stereotyping. This is just a fact. I asked my own spouse if she’d like me to shop for shoes for her. She replied, “Only if the next thing you shop for is a divorce.”

“The modern man buys only regular colas, like Coke or Dr Pepper. If you walk into his house looking for a Mountain Dew, he’ll show you the door.” Who says a Dew is any less “regular” than a Pepper? That regrettable but real anti-Southern streak at the Times strikes again. Why, down here in Georgia where we’re jest rednecks, rednecks, who don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground, we’uns don’t drink nothin’ but Dew! Guess that’s why we ain’t got no teeth! Which is good ‘cuz we ain’t got no indoor plumbin’ neither!

“The modern man uses the proper names for things. For example, he’ll say “helicopter,” not “chopper” like some gauche simpleton.” So in a situation that even the most modern of men is likely to face sometimes, where the F-word is called for, his response would be, “Fornicate you”?

“The modern man makes sure the dishes on the rack have dried completely before putting them away.” Fair enough, but does MM also wash the dishes or still leave that to MW, who probably also cooked the food the dishes were used for?

“The modern man has thought seriously about buying a shoehorn.” Has he also thought about spending his money on shoes that fit?

“The modern man still ambles half-naked down his driveway each morning to scoop up a crisp newspaper.” O-kay. He’s not only a potential (if accidental) flasher, but he still clings to old ways for no apparent reason. Very modern, that!

Parts of this manifesto do have merit, including “The modern man won’t blow 10 minutes of his life looking for the best parking spot. He finds a reasonable one and puts his car between the lines.” And definitely “The modern man buys fresh flowers more to surprise his wife than to say he is sorry.” That’s the truth, boys: flowers never hurt a relationship and you don’t need a reason to be nice.

You also don’t need to believe everything you read in that “crisp newspaper.” So for all of our sakes, please ignore #2: “The modern man never lets other people know when his confidence has sunk. He acts as if everything is going swimmingly until it is.” Sounds like a modern man at Lehman Brothers in 2008, or on the bridge of the Titanic.

Stuporcize me

I’m full. No, make that stuffed. Satiated. Saturated. Gorged. Bursting. My body is aching and my mind is foggier than Beijing on a bad air day. I can almost feel the grease pushing out through my pores. My entire system is sneering and snarking at me: “Are you kidding me? Have you no sense of decency, sir? You’re WAY too old for this!”

Does it sound like I inhaled an early Thanksgiving feast? Not quite. What’s got me at the moment is the mental equivalent of junk food: the Internet.

I know this isn’t exactly news. But since I retired and have been on my own time and my own PC all day instead of being on the clock and an employer’s machine, I’ve realized just how amazingly distracting the virtual world has become. Not just Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., but the so-called clickbait that inhabits the bottom, the sides, every spare inch of every frickin’ page.

This stuff didn’t even exist in the medieval, primeval days of the Internet (2000 or so, if anybody can recall that far back). Here are a few examples, harvested in the course of about ten minutes, with a bit of analysis:

Emergency Botox! Kim Zolciak Calls Kim Kardashian’s Doctor for the Botox She “Desperately Needed” – Boy, this one should’ve knocked the Pope off the front pages.

30 Signs Your Relationship Is Over – 30? If you need more than two or three, you’re really a couple wontons short of a combo platter.

15 Dumbest U.S. Presidents Ranked by IQ – Uh, we didn’t even know the IQ existed when several of these guys – Buchanan, Harrison, Jackson etc – were in office.

If This Squid Spots You, Swim For Your Life – OK, but unless said squid can find his way up the DeKalb County, GA water system and into my shower, I won’t lose too much sleep.

These Celebrities Have Scars In The Most Unusual Places – So do I, namely on the darkest, most twisted and tragic corners of my poetic soul. Reminds me of the classic Mothers of Invention tune, “What’s The Ugliest Part of Your Body?” (Answer: Your mind!)

We Were Shocked That The Cameraman Was Still Rolling – How many wardrobe malfunctions does one person, even your average dopey male with the reflexes of Pavlov’s pooch where nekkid female types are concerned, need to see in a lifetime?

I fear that when I die and am trying to reach the next life, I’ll be presented with a giant, cosmic pie chart that shows how much time I spent doing various things on Earth, and “Helping others” will be a smaller slice than “Reading about Sharon Stone.” So from now on, enough! The only “clickbait” I’ll take will be this advice from John Prine:

“Blow up your TV, throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus, on your own”
– “Spanish Pipedream”

Uncle Grumpy’s new friend

What do we all want most? (No, not that; this is strictly a G-rated post, “G” for Grumpy.) We want the whole world to agree with us and acknowledge how brilliant we are! So with no humility or irony whatsoever, I present that the fine folks at The New York Times are in flat-out straight-shootin’ snyc with Uncle G on the use and misuse of the King’s English, as shown by this item from Sunday’s doorstop:* “Baffled by Office Buzzwords.”

Yes, buzzwords! These critters aren’t exactly a new problem. There are countless lists, articles, games, classes, books, and probably nuclear death rays devoted to their eradication. But like reality TV shows, new apps, and Republican presidential candidates, no matter how obnoxious, useless, or hilarious they are, they just keep multiplying!

Case in point: The writer of the Times article says her boss told her he’d have to schedule her “bilateral.” Her what? Is he asking her out for a lunch of clams or are those “biavalves”?** Does he mean her bilateral intranodular torsal left lower ligamenture, which can only be repaired by Tommy James surgery, where you stand on the hospital roof in your gown belting out “Mony Mony”?

Sorry, I digress.*** A “bilateral” is simply a one-on-one meeting. Another current b-word for this type of event is “touchpoint,” which, if I were the female employee with a male boss, would send me scurrying to the EEO office. But “meeting,” of course, is far too simple and lacking in syllables.

This use of “bilateral” is also a case of “nounifying” a perfectly good word into a mutated form of its innocent prior self. They’ve already verbified “leverage” and “impact” past the point of recognition. Your favorite words could be next!

Q: Can you use “bilateral” correctly in a sentence?

A: “They had us in third and 37 but ole Billy Bob, he faked ’em out of their Calvin Kleins and got the ball to Bobby Bill bilateral, and Bobby, he done run plumb through ’em like a Weed Whacker through Aunt Sister’s fescue.”

Q: What’s wrong with this sentence, which comes from an ad for a shoe accessory called the ‘Grasswalker’? “Flexible transparent strips that adhere to the bottom of your favorite stiletto’s or thicker high heels to keep them from sinking into the grass!”

A: “Flexible transparent” is actually the name of a folk music ensemble. Either that or it’s the new dictionary listing for Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner.

Q: Last but not least, can you comment on this sentence, the last two words in particular? “That night, the emergency was a mother­less minke whale calf, just weeks old, beached off a backwater of Assawoman Bay.”

A: Not a chance.

*A daily newspaper of such length and heft that it could prop open a door, break the unwary reader’s foot if dropped on same, or spill said reader out of his hammock.
**Yes.
***Not a buzzword. Very useful, and more succinct than “I just kind of rambled all over the page.”