October 8, 2002
“Chanticleer Calls”, an aperiodic newsletter for discriminating readers, thinkers, feelers, speakers, listeners, and cogitators.
HEMINGWAY ON GREAT WRITERS AND CRAP DETECTORS
In the course of preparing five presentations over the past month, I came across an interesting anecdote in the book, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, written by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner:
In the early 1960s, an interviewer was trying to get Ernest Hemingway to identify the characteristics required for a person to be a “great writer.” As the interviewer offered a list of various possibilities, Hemingway disparaged each in sequence.
Finally, frustrated, the interviewer asked, “Isn’t there any one essential ingredient that you can identify?” Hemingway replied, “Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.”
What do you think Hemingway meant by that?
Do you think he was referring to a person’s ability to detect the crap that’s “out there,” that’s going on in the worlds of politics, the media, international relations, domestic policies, interpersonal affairs, the educational system, professional athletics, college athletics, pop culture, et al?
Or, do you think he might have been referring to the self-generated crap that great writers can detect and dispense with, before it makes its way into a final draft?
Perhaps, as I suspect, both. So with a full awareness of the latter, but with a focus on the former, this issue of Chanticleer Calls looks at various manifestations of what I would label as “crap.”
And I award an appropriate item(s) in recognition of outstanding achievement in producing … you know.
DICK ARMEY IS NOT PULLING YOUR LEG-EY
First, the soon-to-retire House Majority Leader from North Texas, Dick Armey, was in the news for making remarks construed by some to be anti-Semitic. However, as I read his comments, my take is that his comments concerned the Jewish community only as a subset of his broader “Conservatives – GOOD! Liberals – BAD!” political stereotyping.
While in Florida on Septemer 20th, campaigning for congressional candidate Katherine Harris, Armey (according to the FWST) refered to “… two Jewish communities in America, liberal and conservative, and said the liberal one was made up of people of “shallow” intellect.”
The article continued: Armey repeated his frequent criticism of liberals that they are not “bright,” a position he has held since college. The majority leader believes that conservatives have a “deeper intellect because they question the consequences of government action.”
“Liberals are, in my estimation, just not bright people. They don’t think deeply; they don’t comprehend; they don’t understand. … They have a narrow educational base, as opposed to the hard sciences,” said Armey, who holds a doctorate in economics and was a professor at the University of North Texas in Denton.
He also stated, as reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “People with occupations in the arts, those are occupations of the heart,” Armey said. “They’re going to be liberals … because they want to feel good.”
But people with “occupations of the brain,” such as economists, engineers and scientists, have a deeper intellect and are therefore inclined to be conservatives, the paper (The Bradenton Herald) paraphrased him as saying.
- Pick the word that’s out of place among these three: ECONOMIST … ENGINEER … SCIENTIST
- That one practices an “occupation of the brain” does not necessarily imply that one actually practices the brain, as the House Majority Leader so vividly illustrates.
- Two questions from a general semantics perspective would’ve made for an interesting follow-up by the reporter: 1) “What do you mean?”; and 2) “How do you know?”
But, Representative Armey is not one to rest on his politically-dogmatic stereotypes. Even as a lame duck, he’s still out there swinging on the field of political retribution. Onto a House military construction appropriations bill, Armey tried unsuccessfully to attach an amendment “clearly marked” as an attempt to force Belo Corporation, which owns the Dallas Morning News, WFAA/Channel 8 television, and theDenton Record-Chronicle So this tacky amendment about media consolidation was tacked on to a military construction bill as Armey the Senior’s vain attempt to get back at Belo.
Lest there be any doubt as to the intention of the amendment, read the particulars as reported by the FWST:
“The amendment says that any media company that owns a network-affiliated TV station; a newspaper with a Sunday circulation of 750,000 or more that doesn’t have a competitor with a Sunday circulation exceeding 350,000; and a second daily newspaper with a Sunday circulation of 25,000 or less – all in the same market – would have to divest the smallest property.”
In other words, Armey wants to force Belo to sell ‘his’ hometown Denton Record-Chronicle.
Armey’s spokesman, Terry Holt, denied that political retribution was the motive. “Mr. Armey’s main concern is for the people in his constituency. He is sending a signal that we have to be vigilant when there is ony one outlet for information.”
I’d say that Representative Armey’s “signal” is received – as they say in the comm bizness – “5 by.”
So … 5 Rolls for the vigilant Representative!
A WORD ABOUT GENERAL SEMANTICS: Evaluate
Moving on to less messy topics … evaluate, within the context of general semantics, refers to our human neuro-physiological processes by which we experience, react to, and form judgments about the world around us. These evaluative processes produce our immediate and automatic reactions, as well as our more deliberate responses. These evaluational reactions may take the form of behaviors we recognize as ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’, talking, deciding, judging, concluding, interpreting, describing, etc. We ought to remember that our evaluation of ‘what happens’ is not the same as ‘what happens’ … we each will observe and evaluate ‘what happens’ differently, to some degree, from anyone else. We can talk about our evaluations as being appropriate to the facts of ‘what happens’ as we talk about a map being representative of a particular territory; the “map is not the territory,” but for it to be useful the map must appropriately reflect the structure of and relationships within the territory.
No matter whether our reactions and responses are labeled as “thoughts” or “feelings,” whether they are automatic or deliberate, in general semantics we refer to these as evaluations, or evaluative reactions. What we try to do by applying the various formulations and techniques of GS is to more fully develop our capabilities to delay our evaluations, to become more deliberate, less knee-jerk, more questioning, less know-it-all, thereby responding more appropriately to ‘what happens.’ And, we take responsibility for our own evaluations by remembering that we can qualify just about every one of our observations, assumptions, descriptions, ‘thoughts’ or ‘feelings’ with “to me.”
So, lest it go unsaid, I take full responsibility for my (and Chanticleer’s) evaluations with respect to the awarding of the aforementioned Rolls – based on what I’ve read and the information that’s available to me as of this date, I’ve made the evaluations and reached the conclusions that I have. I realize that your own evaluative mileage may vary.
A JEW AND A PALESTINIAN CO-EXIST ON A NON-VERBAL LEVEL
The Associated Press reported on September 23rd that Yasmin Abu Ramila, a 7-year old Palestinian girl, received a transplated kidney from Jonathan Jesner, a 19-year old Jewish seminary student from Scotland, who died from injuries sustained from a Palestinian suicide bombing on a bus in Tel Aviv the previous week.
Ari Jesner, the donor’s older brother, said the most important thing “is that life was given to another human being. I think it’s unimportant what religion, what nationality.”
So it would appear that there’s nothing physiological that would prevent Jews and Palestinians from, literally, living within each other …. as long as the words, and the bombs, don’t get in the way.
“YA (DON’T) GOTTA HAVE HEART”
Medieval metaphysical metaphorists will cringe, but the family of Tom Christerson in Central City, Kentucky, is elated that on September 13th (a Friday, no less), Christerson celebrated the one-year anniversary of his AbioCor artificial heart pump. The Associated Press’ Bruce Schreiner describes it as a “softball-sized pump, made of plastic and titanium, powered by batteries.”
Christerson is the last survivor of seven who received the mechanical pump; another recipient, James Quinn, died in August from a stroke after living 10 months with the AbioCor ‘heart’.
Perhaps it’s time to upgrade our vocabulary, and our attitudes, to reflect the 21st century instead of the 1st. We can talk about “courage” and “character” and “determination” and “desire” and all the other terms in the motivational speakers’ lexicon, but let’s NOT allocate those traits to the ancient notion of the “heart.”
In Tom Christerson’s case – literally – they ain’t there … but they’re ‘somewhere.’
MUM’S NOT THE WORD
Credit the Student Council at Arlington’s Martin High School with recognizing a symbol as a symbol and replacing it with another more appropriate symbol. Applying what they learned from Houston-area schools at a summer leadership conference, this year they initiated a change to a long-standing Homecoming tradition. As an alternative to the often-times excessive Homecoming mums, the Council sold “Miracle Mums” – modest “blue ribbon style” ‘mums’ for $25 each with proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (http://www.wish.org/) Next year they plan to offer the “Miracle Mums” exclusively.
The 17-year old vice president of the Student Council, Jeff Jeffrey, noted that the traditional mums, some of which have been custom-designed at costs upwards of $300, “have become obnoxious and distracting in class. They’ve become a status symbol, but we wanted to move beyond that.”
Good move, Jeff.
SIGNS SEEN ALONG THE ROAD
In Little Rock, Arkansas, there’s an exit for “Confederate Blvd.” Nothing earth-shaking about that, but I think it’s interesting that, given all the flaps over the past few years about the Confederate flag as a ‘negative’ symbol, there wouldn’t be similar flaps about having major thoroughfares named “Confederate.” Not that I’m trying to start anything, but I think it’s interesting that, apparently, for some people it’s easier to ‘see’ a flag as a symbol, whereas it’s harder to ‘see’ the ‘same’ word-symbol as a symbol.
In West Virginia, heading east on I-64 out of Morgantown, Exit 10 is for:
FAIR CHANCE ROAD
There’s a Negro Mountain in western Maryland. How did it gets its name? http://www.sailor.lib.md.us/docs/af_am/garr.html
A bumper sticker on an old car driving way too slow in the left lane during pre-afternoon rush hour in east Dallas: WE’RE PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN.
QUOTES I DIDN’T MAKE UP
Tarrant County (Fort Worth) will be testing new electronic voting machines during its early voting period. Democrat Martin Frost has already complained that the machines are “intimidating” and will cause “mass confusion.” (Actually, he said that before voting even started.)
But the quote is from his campaign manager, Lisa Turner, who explained: “The concern is that it’s a machine you’ve never seen. It is its own creature.”
In the Tarrant County race for District Attorney, Don Curry, campaign treasurer for 30-year incumbent Tim Curry (no relation to Don, and not the one from Rocky Horror Picture Show – so far as I know), responded to a question about the high levels of campaign spending due to the challenge by Democratic opponent Terri Moore, with this: “I don’t think the expenditures relate to whether or not the race is close.”
Don Curry … come on down and claim a Roll! Then, please … think about it again.
Two years ago, I wrote an article in which I attempted to explain various aspects of the general semantics notion of “abstracting,” specifically in terms of varying levels of abstractions in our language.
To speak in terms of lower levels of abstraction, one would talk ‘facts’ and descriptions such as what good reporters are supposed to do. Higher levels of abstraction would use very broad, generalized, non-descriptive terms such as politicians, propagandists and preachers use. I gave two examples, using the Elian Gonzalez incident.
On a lower level of abstraction, one could say: “It’s about a six-year old Cuban boy whose mother died while illegally migrating to the United States, and whose father now wants the boy to return to live with him in Cuba.”
On a higher level of abstraction, one might say: “It’s about a young freedom fighter fleeing the tyranny of an oppressive authoritarian state who provides a symbol of hope for all native Cubans yearning for the fall of a vicious totalitarian dictator.”
Blackie Sherrod, in his October 6th Dallas Morning News column, now quotes Sacramento Kings basketball star Chris Webber, who is suspected of having accepted over $250,000 from an over-zealous University of Michigan booster while he was still a student:
“This case is about a man who befriended kids like myself, preying on our naivete, our innocence, claiming he loved us and that he wanted to support us, but later wanting to cash in on that support we thought was free.”
Chris Webber – you get 5 Rolls to help wipe that naivete off your chin.