Now that language maven William Safire has ascended to a higher state of existence, to exchange bon mots with the Great Lexicographer, who will police the abasement of English?
I am in a stupor, perhaps because I spent three hours late yesterday sitting in a 42-degree rain watching a meaningless and incompetently played college football game. But also because I spent some choice time this Sunday morning watching cable news and reading the Washington Post.
These are among the canaries in the coal mine of language, the harbingers of a slow lingering death of thought:
Upon every change of possession or roughly every two minutes, the football game was interrupted by “official timeouts” not charged against either team. These are understood to occur because the network broadcasting the game needs to sell commercial time. For decades, they have been known as “TV timeouts.” Fine. Yesterday, a what bills itself an outstanding national university, these stoppages of play were announced as “media timeouts.” Assuming “media” mean “mass media,” which presumably meant journalistic enterprises, I have to ask whether it was the Baltimore Sun that asked for the timeout? Or Sports Illustrated? Or www.turtle-soup.com? No, it was TV! Yes, it was a TV timeout. Why gild the lily with a stinkweed?
Why would a university with aspirations for becoming one of the top 10 public universities pay one of its highest salaries to an ungrammatical slob who says such things as “I don't think the teams we are playing are better than us.” Last year he belittled the American victims of a Second World War atrocity when he compared his team’s injury roll to the Bataan Death March.”
In this morning’s Washington Post sports section, it was written that “Washington Nationals high-priced prospect Stephen Strasburg reached 99 miles per hour with his first pitch.” How can you “reach” a point on the first attempt?
In the more serious section of the newspaper, I read an excerpt from a book co-authored by the legendary Bob Woodward, who has an unparalleled penchant for interviewing people just before they die and then printing their words when they cannot deny them is, wrote “ … Westmoreland is like the leader of a block of some 20 senators … ” The correct word has always been, and remains, “bloc” – defined by dictionary.com as:
1. a group of persons, businesses, etc., united for a particular purpose.
2. a group of legislators, usually of both major political parties, who vote together for some particular interest: the farm bloc.
It is one thing for Woodward, of whom it was said 36 years ago that he wrote English as if it were his second language, to misuse the language, but what about his book editors? What about the crack editors at the Washington Post?
On a lesser scale of idiocy, comes MSNBC’s weekend airhead, Alex “the Twit” Witt, who a few days ago informed viewers that Pakistan and Afghanistan have “a very superfluous border.” This morning, she told us that “Heene was greeted by a barrage of reporters.” A barrage denotes the frequency and intensity of something, as a barrage of artillery fire, and is not a group of fellow sensation-seeking journalists. A minute or two later she reported that Pacific Hurricane Rick “is scheduled to hit Baja California on Thursday.” This would be real meteorological news if you can schedule, rather than merely predict, landfall.
The Silence of the Cowards
That Washington Post excerpt containing the dying apologies of two of the “best and brightest” minds of the 1960s for their complicity in the continuing degradation of America’s national security, is a must-read for those too young to remember the Vietnam War, the single worst U.S. misadventure since Bush invaded the wrong country.
We are paying for Bush and paying for Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy’s malfeasance in the service of war criminal Lyndon Johnson. It was not McNamara’s and Bundy’s misjudgment that is to blame for the death of 57,000 American troops and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, it was their cowardice. They knew Vietnam was wrong from the beginning, they say they tried to tell LBJ, but they were more concerned with how to tell him rather than what to tell him, and they did not resign when that moral monster persisted in mass murder.
Their legacy is that, like Bush's, of making it impossible to fight any war with any moral clarity no matter what, which means the United States of America is a second- or third-rate power in decline. Thus, the actions of Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy and George W. Bush are not those of national leaders – they are the actions of traitors.