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"As the subject matter becomes scarier we use language to comfort that uneasy notion that something is seriously amiss. 'Greenhouse gasses' has a much more benign feel to it than 'air pollution' or 'carbon dioxide...'"

mr. grant's rant
war of words


I had to laugh when, while drinking a bottle of "premium" water I read the news brief in US News & World Report that Monica Lewinsky is trying to reacquire the now infamous blue smock housing a splotch of ex-President Bubba’s Big Mac™ infused money shot. I wasn’t laughing at the absurdity of Ms. Lewinsky’s desire to reacquire the said garment for reasons that only she can comprehend from the Independent Council, but rather at the coy description that the magazine used to describe the soiled piece of attire. "Naughty Stains" is what they called them.

Stains that are "naughty!"

Oh thanks so much for the sudden sense of decorum. I mean the whole obscene episode taught my fourth grader more about specific sexual terminology than a cargo ship of rum-loaded sailors. "Naughty stains?" Surely you jest?

Why the sudden squeamishness? After all, the ever-vigilant media paired up with the Independent Council and spared no one the graphic and messy details over the seemingly endless period of time it took to humiliate a President, a political party and most of the Nation. All the while providing endless amusement to vengeful conservatives and the rest of the befuddled world. The famous blue dress was described in great detail as housing "ejaculate matter" the result of improper "sexual conduct" which included "the act of fellatio" and "penetration of the vagina with a cigar." Try as I may, I can’t remember Kenneth Starr referring to Bubba’s hydrogenated spill as a "naughty stain."

The friendly new G-rated phrase does shed some light on an interesting modern phenomenon – that being the way that language is twisted, turned and manipulated in order to frame a particular reality. Clearly the "naughty stains" reference in US News is nothing more than harmless hypocrisy when you come right down to it. But the calculating use of semantics to either soften or make more harsh an issue or stance is so commonplace these days that we hardly pay it a bit of attention. And that seems inherently dangerous.

When Bill Clinton stated that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman," (meaning, as we are all now so painfully aware, Ms. Lewinsky) he lied to us. And as to what degree that lie was mitigated by circumstance, and towards what conclusion that lie had to do with his ability to lead the nation is irrelevant in this reflection. Bubba lied, and when he was caught in that lie the issue became the actual semantic meaning of the phrase "sexual relations." Many expensive and sharply dressed lawyers were brought in to determine just what the words "sexual relations" connotated; and whether the phrase included activities like oral sex administered from under the Oval Office’s desk and the utilization of hand-rolled Cuban Churchills as dildos. It became a war of words, one that eclipsed the actual truth of the matter.

That "truth" being: Bubba "lied."

Seeing as we've concerned ourselves with the truth about organic emissions, in a recent case here in Oregon involving a research hospital, said institution was accused by a resident doctor of multiple instances of animal cruelty. Among the more alarming allegations: The "shocking of a monkey’s testicles to cause ejaculation." This certainly doesn’t sound humane, or even like good science. Nevertheless, a smooth talking defender of the institution’s animal handling practices’ responded that the monkey’s genitals were not "shocked," but rather, "electrically stimulated to facilitate sperm collection." I’m no scientist, but seems like by either definition the poor primate had his privates hooked-up and volts were delivered. The delivery of volts via wires or a prod is known as a "shock."

Now, I have friends who are real life perverts, and none of them have ever mentioned utilizing electrical shock delivery devices for "stimulation" while getting off. If there was anything "stimulating" to be gained from electrocuting one’s nards, every form of filthy miscreant would be taking a cattle-prod or bark-control collar to their packages. This is not happening, and I’m fairly confident in stating that the monkeys are not enjoying the experience. So let’s dispense with the BS and call it what it is, okay?

As the subject matter becomes scarier we use language to comfort that uneasy notion that something is seriously amiss. "Greenhouse gasses" has a much more benign feel to it than "air pollution" or "carbon dioxide. And yet both phrases symbolize one of the most serious threats to human existence in our times. But by golly, it makes me sleep better to think of them as those little "greenhouse gasses…"

If we catch a computer technician collecting and distributing sensitive information to hostile international powers, that person is referred to as a "spy." If we send our own agent into the infrastructure of a hostile international power to collect and return with sensitive information that person is defined as "gathering intelligence." If we build a complex missile and keep it, it is considered a useful item for "defense." If we sell it to a hostile international power it is magically transformed into a "weapon of destruction."

Were I to strap you down on a table and inject you with a poison that collapsed your lungs which made you bark like a sick dog, I would have committed a despicable "crime" called "murder." When a Federal correction officer with the approval of a Nation straps me on a similar table and injects me with the same poisonous chemicals to punish my violent act, he has served "justice" by carrying out an "execution."

This is all very easy to follow. Trust me.

After Timothy McVeigh "declared war" on the government; and in one of the most heinous acts of terrorism in history, killed 168 innocent people in Oklahoma City, he referred to the victims as "collateral damage." This brought cries of moral outrage from all corners of the Nation. How could anyone be so callous and arrogant to refer to the victims this way? It’s so obviously derogative to label the loss of life with such a cavalier, unfeeling term. Yet, when innocent civilians were killed in Baghdad, as the US "declared war" on Iraq a decade ago, the term "collateral damage" seemed to outrage the collective nation little if at all. Differing motives and circumstances to be sure, but the outcome’s nevertheless the same. Shouldn’t our outrage over the loss of life carry over to people of other cultures? Isn’t the term "collateral damage" an unforgivable insult in no matter what context it is used when describing the loss of innocent lives?

Don’t the words sound different when you’re on the receiving end?

So I think about words, and how they are utilized. I think about them each time I read an article or watch some self-important blow-hard spouting off on the tube. I prefer to base my decisions, be they ethical, political, philosophical or otherwise on reality, not some sanctimonious rhetorical white-wash that aims to make repugnant concepts seem somehow more palatable. I prefer to think of the premeditated taking of any human life as "murder," and then gauge the ethical implications of whether or not "murder" can ever be justified.

This wordplay isn’t about real communication anymore…it’s a ritual of persuasion. The real war of words isn’t about politics or religion or business – it simply the way that tactics of manipulation and outright dishonesty have become an accepted component of our contemporary dialogue. Social commentators wonder aloud why we are such a nation of cynics. Yet that cynicism is inevitable in an environment where you simply cannot trust information in any form; where language becomes an end to a means – to sell a product, idea or dogmatic principle; where communication becomes an unending struggle between differing points of view.

But now I’m afraid that you’ll have to excuse me. I need to go install new "Stimulation Absorbers" on my truck.

--mr.grant

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