The New Republic's John McWhorter doesn't worry about public cursing:
Language is all about creeping numbness, jokes wearing thin, feeling devolving into gesture. Terrible once meant truly horrific. The will we use to mark the future once meant that you quite robustly “willed” to do something, but diluted into just indicating that sometime you would.
Hence a burnt steak as terrible, a good movie as awesome, trivial terms like shopaholic based on the glum source alcoholic, and just as naturally, we now have snowpocalypses, and even what we process as irresponsibly casual usages of Holocaust. Profanity is hardly immune to this inexorable weakening, and as such, what we process as a peculiar encroachment of curse words into the public sphere is actually a matter of the words ceasing to be curses in any coherent sense.
Of course, there are societies where certain words remain forbidden for millennia, when a societal taboo exerts a block upon the natural process of dilution. Taboos once kept English curse words truly profane, but the cult of authenticity key to modern Western identity has vastly weakened those taboos. Hence in recent decades, the grand old four-letter words and their ilk have been swept into the vanillafication hopper.
When Bono said fucking brilliant at the Golden Globes ceremony in 2004 or Melissa Leo said fucking easy, they were using the word as a rendition of very that carries an extra component of lowest-common-denominator, incontestable genuineness. In all languages, there are ways of striking that note: Others in English include using -in’ rather than -ing or eliding subject pronouns in phrases like Hope so rather than I hope so. Fucking brilliant today urgingly connotes, whether or not we would put it in so many words, that something gratifies in a way that we all can empathize with, gosh darn it, despite possible quibbles as to whether it should be brilliant—the implied quibble in Bono case for example being the questionable artistic value of the award in question.
Via Sullivan, a Japanese coast guard vessel climbs up the tsunami—and stays there, because it's a tsunami, not an ocean wave:
Sitting in the lounge at Boston's airport, I have to ask them what crime we all committed to deserve the punishment they're inflicting. They're playing a Muzak version of "My Heart Will Go On" (from the movie Titanic).
It's like drowning in rancid honey. Blah.
Tom Lehrer joked once that all the trouble in the world made him "feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis." Leonid Rogozov had appendicitis once...at the Soviet Antarctic base...and he was the only surgeon there:
Operating mostly by feeling around, Rogozov worked for an hour and 45 minutes, cutting himself open and removing the appendix. The men he'd chosen as assistants watched as the "calm and focused" doctor completed the operation, resting every five minutes for a few seconds as he battled vertigo and weakness.
"I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders -- after all, it's showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch. The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time -- I try to work surely. Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. Suddenly it flashed through my mind: there are more injuries here and I didn't notice them ... I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. Finally, here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst..."
Reading crap like that reminds me why (a) I never went into medicine and (b) why I never went into the wilderness without a cell phone.
Oh, the outcome? "Two weeks later, he was back on regular duty. He died at the age of 66 in St. Petersburg in 2000."
Four weeks ago, someone stole my Kindle at the bar in the Stamford, Conn., Marriott. I noticed the theft within a few seconds, because the Kindle was no more than 10 cm from my left elbow one moment and missing the next. Less than a minute after the theft I'd notified the bartender, everyone around me, hotel security, and the concierge. Less than five minutes after that I'd gone up to my room and deregistered the device, then reported it stolen to Amazon.
Whereupon I returned to the bar and announced that I couldn't wait for whoever had stolen it to turn it on so that Amazon could track them.
Of course Amazon can't track a stolen Kindle any better than someone could track a stolen cell phone (without GPS), and for the same reasons. And of course they wouldn't bother, because it's a very small larceny.
I just got off the phone with the hotel's director of security, and wouldn't you know, someone turned it in last week to lost and found. Or found it somewhere. Or discovered it abandoned in a room. Only the Shadow knows.
I hope whoever borrowed it enjoyed all my books. I can't wait to see which ones the schmuck read.
I would feel a lot happier about getting it returned to me if (a) someone hadn't stolen it from, essentially, my person or (b) the idiot had turned it in before I bought a new one. Not only am I out the $185 replacement cost, but also I'm out the three hours (including an hour at the Stamford P.D. filling out a report) I've spent on this issue.
That said, I do appreciate the security director offering to overnight it back to me. That was decent of her.
The Economist ran a good story last week analyzing the pros and cons of federalism:
Why is the tie between federalism and democracy so awkward? In most federations the units have formally equal status, regardless of population, so voters in small units fare better. Thus the 544,270 residents of Wyoming have two senators—the same as the 37m people of California. In Australia the 507,600 people of Tasmania have the same weight in the upper house as the 7m who live in New South Wales. In rich, consensus-based democracies, such anomalies are often accepted. They may be seen as an inevitable legacy of the past; when political units have freely come together, as the 13 original American colonies did, they keep their status as building blocks of the union. But the perverse electoral system of the European Parliament (to which the 1.2m voters of Northern Ireland elect three members, whereas 500,000 Greek-Cypriot voters send six) cannot claim the veneer of age. After a scolding over its democratic deficiencies from Germany’s constitutional court, the Euro-legislature has commissioned a study of federal systems, and the associated electoral quirks, all over the world.
They also ran a bit on IKEA's inconsistencies worth reading:
Critics grumble that its set-up minimises tax and disclosure, handsomely rewards the Kamprad family and makes IKEA immune to a takeover. The parent for IKEA Group, which controls 284 stores in 26 countries, is Ingka Holding, a private Dutch-registered company. Ingka Holding, in turn, belongs entirely to Stichting Ingka Foundation, a Dutch-registered, tax-exempt, non-profit-making entity, which was given Mr Kamprad’s IKEA shares in 1982. A five-person executive committee, chaired by Mr Kamprad, runs the foundation.
The IKEA trademark and concept is owned by Inter IKEA Systems, another private Dutch company. Its parent company is Inter IKEA Holding, registered in Luxembourg. For years the owners of Inter IKEA Holding remained hidden from view and IKEA refused to identify them.
In January a Swedish documentary revealed that Interogo, a Liechtenstein foundation controlled by the Kamprad family, owns Inter IKEA Holding, which earns its money from the franchise agreements Inter IKEA Systems has with each IKEA store. These are lucrative: IKEA says that all franchisees pay 3% of sales as a royalty. The IKEA Group is the biggest franchisee; other franchisees run the remaining 35 stores, mainly in the Middle East and Asia. One store in the Netherlands is run directly by Inter IKEA Systems.
These kinds of stories make me happy to spend $3 a week on the newspaper. I just wish it would arrive Fridays or Saturdays, so I can read them on time. It's no fun to get home from a business trip on Thursday to find last week's Economist in the mailbox.
Because of a barrage of comment spam, I've temporarily killed the comment feature of The Daily Parker. These things usually pass in a couple of days. Management apologizes for the inconvenience.