January 2012 Archives

SNL? Who Needs It? We've Got The GOP Primaries!

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The ol' Bloviator has been accused more than once of going to bed with the chickens, but truth be told, he frequently is already prone and dreaming that somehow Herschel Walker has regained his eligibility before most of the yard fowl have even started to yawn. This means that he is not exactly a regular viewer of "Saturday Night Live," a fact that is occasionally a source of regret, though less so right now than usual. After all, who needs SNL when the ongoing Republican presidential primaries present an epic, ongoing, comic reality so hilariously absurd in and of itself that it all but defies parody?

 My favorite part of the whole process came way back when, apparently confusing the effects of Viagra with feelings of patriotism, Newton Leroy Gingrich sought to blame his intense love of country for his record of marital infidelities. In the interest of time and space, though, let's just pick up with the Iowa caucuses, where the object is to entice the most people  to cram into Moose Lodges and school cafeterias across the state and cluster beneath a banner or placard bearing the candidate's name. Typically, the winner attracts fewer folks than are likely to turn up for a Vanderbilt home game, and in this year's Iowa follies, Mitt Romney was initially awarded the victory by virtue of scraping together a crew that was thought to exceed Rick Santorum's turnout by just eight more or less warm bodies. This was considered a strong showing by Santorum at the time, although sources told the OB that the thing might have been a dead heat at that point had Marge Kachinkis of Garden Grove (pop. 232) simply checked the expiration date on the Chicken -of-the-Sea can before serving her traditional pre-caucus tuna and noodles to her husband Herb and three other couples. This group's affinity for that nice young fellow from Pennsylvania was stronger than horseradish, but, alas, they were unable to have their heads counted and their stomachs pumped at the same time. Unfortunately, it seems, the OB's information was about as out of date as Marge's tuna. The real story now seems to revolve around a badly scorched tally sheet recently plucked from the ashes of the Sageville (pop. 289) Volunteer Fire Hall, which had burned to the ground just a few hours after the last thoroughly Caucasoid caucusers abandoned the premises. At any rate, according to the revised count (and much to the delight of Marge, Herb and their former friends), Mr. Santorum actually prevailed in Iowa with a veritable landslide plurality  of thirty-four. In a bit of outrageous spin-meistering truly worthy of old Newt, Romney, who had hailed his earlier mis-proclaimed eight-person triumph in Iowa as a tremendous victory, was quick to declare his thirty-four-body shortfall "a virtual tie."

Romney had been leading in New Hampshire polls even before the initial Iowa miscount came in, but after his altogether foreseen triumph right in his own backyard, the pundit kingdom was nonetheless abuzz with talk that a victory in South Carolina, where he appeared to be leading by a fairly significant margin, would be practically tantamount to capturing the nomination. To say that the final few days of campaigning in South Carolina went horribly wrong for the Mittster is akin to saying that the Titanic encountered some misfortune on its maiden voyage. Not only was he stripped of his Iowa prize, but even as he waffled in the face of persistent badgering to disclose his personal finances, he succumbed briefly to an attack of what may yet prove to be terminal candor, letting it slip that his tax rate was typically in the 15 percent range (in other words, less than half that of his gardener's) because most of his income arose from investments whose proceeds were taxed as capital gains, save, of course, for "not very much," say $374,000 or so, that he earned in speaking fees. This incident immediately evoked the tin-eared Romney's offer back in Iowa to bet Rick Perry $10,000 on Americans' opinion on a healthcare issue. Needless to say, subsequent revelations that some of his investments might be sunning themselves in a cozy Cayman Islands tax shelter or two didn't do him a lot of good either. Still, as the January 21 balloting approached, the Republican aspirant who appeared to be in the hottest water was none other than old nine-lived Newt himself, for some thirty-six hours before the polls were to open, ABC was scheduled to run an interview with the second of Newt's jilted spouses, Marianne, whose revelations, it was said in hushed tones, held the potential to derail his roller coaster of a campaign in one swell foop. This was bad news indeed for Newt, who seemed to have found his "voice" at last, coyly deriding Barack Obama as "the food-stamp president" while pounding Romney as a born-on-third-base, preppy elitist, and generally making Romney's job-cutting spree at Bain Capital the bane of poor Mitt's existence. In fact, the online political oddsmaker "Intrade" showed Gingrich's prospects for victory in the Palmetto state soar from 6 percent on January 18 to 66 percent two days later. Still, Ms. G #2's revelation that America's horniest super-patriot had asked her for an "open marriage"--so as to continue his torrid trysta with Callista, the woman who is now Ms. G #3--would surely be the ruination of anyone seeking votes in a state that was home not only to rigidly fundamentalist Bob Jones University but to a whole bevy of other Bible-beating, fire-baptized, penniless holocaustals. Sound as it seemed, however, such thinking failed to take proper account of just how loathsome the prospect of Mitt Romney as the nominee apparently is to the great majority of South Carolina Repubs. Thus it was that our poor little rich guy fell from 35 percent support in a January 16 survey to 28 percent of the actual vote on January 21, while over the same span Newt-the-Outrageous jumped from 21 percent in the earlier poll to 40 percent at the actual polls. South Carolinians, it seemed, went for Newt's strategy of attacking the media for daring to report on his transgression. As to the transgression itself, it was expected that women voters in South Carolina would be especially put off by it, but in the true southern fashion, the actual gender gap in voting was negligible, as exit polls showed Gingrich with 38 percent of the female vote as opposed to 42 percent of the male vote. The best guess here is that many South Carolina women actually thought an "open marriage" was one in which they might be free to express an occasional opinion or two, and although their husbands found the idea a dubious one at best, they decided to humor the girls, knowing all the while that such a notion would never really catch on in their state. Speaking of open marriages, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, whose rumored history of surrendering to the temptations of the flesh herself has earned her the unflattering sotto voce sobriquet "Nookie" in some quarters, also took it on the chin after giving her heartiest endorsement to Mitt.

This lesson from the Palmetto State was not lost on the former governor of the sunshine State, Jeb Bush, who remains popular and apparently plans to stay that way by withholding an anticipated endorsement of Romney and declaring himself neutral. As the Florida fray beckons, the situation seems reminiscent of the sad tale of the little boy who was so ugly that his mama had to hang a pork chop around his neck to get the dogs to play with him. In this case, the question becoming clearer every day is whether Mitt Romney has enough money to buy himself the Republican nomination or perhaps even whether in fact there is enough money out there anywhere to buy it for him. On the other hand, it is certain enough that considerable cash is also being invested in trying to keep him off the ticket. Surely nothing in the whole silly business is more laughable in its hypocrisy than the preference of the evangelical Protestant right for a serial bed-hopper and sleazy, self-aggrandizing con artist recently and conveniently converted to Roman Catholicism over a tee-totaling, one-woman man who actually appears to practice what his faith preaches. Despite this obviously photo-shopped picture of him and his wife, Ann, Mitt Romney has declined thus far to reveal whether he wears the "temple garment'" otherwise known as Mormonism's "magic underwear."

mormon_underwear.jpg


Meanwhile, although reports that Newt actually ripped off the left side of this image seem to indicate that he has no interest whatsoever in what kind of drawers Mitt prefers, the fact that he keeps the right side in his wallet is, to say the least, a bit troubling to his handlers.

PS.  This Just In!  Cobbloviate's crack investigative team has just uncovered some suggestive evidence that the only issue on which Newt might be bipartisan is his decidedly non-Mormon preference in women's underdrawers.

Don't You Dare Dangle Your Participle!

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                       "Traveling through Georgia, the devastation overwhelmed a
                      Yankee journalist."


Every time the ol' Bloviator encounters a sentence such as the above, be it in a student paper or (gasp!) the New York Times, he realizes that historians of American education will one day mark the widespread abandonment of the practice of diagramming sentences as a major milestone along its path to decline. Even a hurried, rudimentary attempt to decline the sentence above would have demonstrated that, as written, it had devastation rather than the journalist doing the traveling.


croppedsentence (5).jpg

 

 

In other words, as the saltier grammarians might put it, the writer had let his participle dangle where it didn't belong and in doing so had mangled the meaning of the sentence into absurdity.

To offer but one additional example, courtesy of
Slate
, of the potential benefits of sentence diagramming, had there been some coercive measure sufficiently horrible and threatening to force her to diagram one of her sentences, Sarah Palin might have actually seen what a god-awful mess they were. For instance,

It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where--where do they go?

would look like this: :

palin diagram comp .jpg

On a broader scale, the practice of breaking sentences down into an organizational schematic--think about dissecting a frog absent the upchuck factor--was a vital step in the process of teaching students not just how the parts of speech function within the sentence but how sentences were to be constructed so that the writer or speaker's meaning was clearly and correctly conveyed. Admittedly, it was a tedious, time-consuming task for students to perform and for teachers to grade, and it also required not just an understanding of the parts of speech themselves but a disciplined faith in the importance of using them properly. Hence, as we moved into the post-structural age, in which all forms of communication were valued equally and self-serving clich├ęs such as "thinking outside the box" conveniently devalued many of the traditionally most challenging aspects of the teaching and learning process, critics of diagramming began to ask "Why do we place such a great emphasis on diagramming? I remember it being a great source of frustration for me in school. And I don't want to pass that on to my children."

God forbid that we subject our little darlings to anything that might prove challenging, and therefore frustrating, to them--and, ultimately, us. Besides, reasoned another skeptic, "If the goal is communication, why does the student have to know that what he is saying is a noun or verb, etc. . . . If a student can properly write a sentence, why does he have to know all of the parts of that sentence? I just don't get it."

That this argument actually came from "an engineer and a teacher" renders it all the more distressing. Based on this logic, why worry about how a cantilevered bridge actually works so long as you know what one looks like? Why dissect a frog so long as the student can tell live ones from dead ones and understands that their legs taste damn good fried? For that matter, why should a pilot have to understand the intricate mechanics of his plane so long as he knows which levers to pull and buttons to push?

It was clearly easier on all concerned to jettison the old-fashioned and cumbersome process of breaking sentences down into visual models and proceed with vigor to the more subjective, loosey-goosey exercise of reading Tom Sawyer or David Copperfield. The justification here was that someone (no one seems to know exactly who) once declared that "the great writers of this world do not become great writers by diagramming sentences, but rather by reading good books, using their writing tools and practicing their writing."

It is true enough that some largely self-taught writers of the current generation say that they honed their skills by reading tons of great literature and trying to emulate it in their own writing until they found their own "voice." This might be true, but who is to say that their appreciation of the literary giants might not have been considerably richer and ultimately more instructive had they come to their task with a fuller understanding of the mechanics by which it was produced. Moreover, I'm not buying into the notion that most of the great writers we're talking about here were bereft of any experience in sentence diagramming. Take for example, Gertrude Stein, who once insisted, "I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences." I really don't know if I'd go quite that far, Gertie, but I do know that a lot of writers in the late nineteenth and even early twentieth centuries had experiences with diagramming sentences, not just in English but in Latin, German, and other languages as well.

For that matter, one need only examine the literary precision in the writing of many everyday folk in that bygone era to see evidence of some hard-core training in word usage and sentence structure. From that perspective, letters to the editor from that era are frequently far more grammatically felicitous than anything written by most professional journalists or editors today. Take, for example, this February 14, 1896, missive to the Marion County [Ga.] Patriot from Ms. OB's rather modestly educated great-grandfather, Rev. Thomas R. McMichael:

Mr. Editor, These are perilous times. . . . It seems that our country is becoming the boasted asylum of the oppressed of all lands. Our doors have been thrown open and men of every clime have been invited to come and partake of our bounty and share in our glory and they have not been slow to accept the invitation. Thousands are flocking to our shores, bringing with them every type and phase of character, and every conceivable habit of life and shade of political and religious opinion. . . . Thus we have a similarly heterogeneous population of very nearly every nationality and tongue, of every color, from lily white to ebony--of every degree and form of vicious ignorance, of every type and grade of English, French and German infidelity, intermixed and overlapped with the exuberant vices of our fast American life.

Once you get over being shaken by the decidedly contemporary ring of the sentiments expressed, ask yourself if you typically find such views expressed with nearly such organizational care and grammatical precision today. The good Rev. may have been a nativist, but as his numerous published sermons also attest, at least he was a literate one, and I'm guessing that he would be more than a little pleased to learn what a first-rate editor his great-granddaughter turned out to be. Though he would seem to have little in common with the superbly educated Bowdoin College Phi Beta Kappa Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rev. Tom would surely have seconded Hawthorne's observation that


hawthorne comp crop.jpg


 


 

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