What we read while turning down the Donald Trump debate…
What we read while being constantly reminded to never forget…
What we read while returning from our covert mission overseas…
Tim: You know what bothers me? People adding ‘-gate’ to the end of every scandal. Like this ‘Spygate’ thing. It doesn’t make sense. Watergate was a place–not a scandal about water.
Tim: It’s like how we add ‘–oholic’ to the ends of things we’re addicted to, even though ‘-oholic’ is not a suffix.
Me: You’re right. Gateoholicgate is really quite the scandal.
—Conversation circa 2007
Like most fans of language, I find many of the linguistic phenomena of the last few years to be nonsensical, stupid, meaningless, and annoying. This was, basically, how I felt about the ‘-gate’ suffix we now habitually attach to every scandal. Since Tim and I first discussed this problem, we have seen Climategate, Troopergate, Kanyegate, Tigergate, Cablegate, and even something called “Sexy Photo Gate.” In fact, the suffix is now so common that it is attached to things that pass through the news cycle so quickly that they barely qualify as scandals.
My objections stemmed mainly from the historical inaccuracy of the source. As Tim said in the epigraph, the original “-gate” scandal, Watergate, was not a scandal about water, as the current usage would imply. More importantly, though, comparing Richard Nixon’s high crimes and conspiratorial nefariousness with a pop star who exposed her breast on television struck me as a false equivalency. Indeed, it was a brilliant political stroke by William Safire, who initially popularized the usage, at least in part to help dilute the impact of the crimes of his former boss. Continue reading »
Should there be a mosque anywhere near here?
In discussions of religious pluralism—like the one going on about the “Ground Zero mosque”—I always find myself in an odd position. I’m generally a fan of diversity and tolerance, but I absolutely hate religion. So even though I risk aligning myself with irrational, hate-mongering bigots like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, I still essentially agree with them: I don’t think that there should be a mosque near Ground Zero.
Now, I should clarify that I also agree that this is a local issue, and that the government should not restrict the rights of Muslims to practice their religion. With that said, most of the plan’s opponents have acknowledged this, and maintained that even though the Cordoba House (or Park 51, or whatever it’s officially called now) can be built, that doesn’t mean it should. After all, the Nazis were allowed to march through Skokie, but that doesn’t mean they ought to have. By the same logic, just because the developer is allowed to build a mosque doesn’t mean that any clear-thinking individual ought to approve of the decision.
Similarly, the fact that the Cordoba House isn’t actually at Ground Zero is germane, but not decisive. It’s foolish to pretend that proximity doesn’t matter. The location, specifically how near it is to Ground Zero, was a key selling point for the group that bought the site—they wanted a site for moderate Muslims to “push back against the extremists.” If the mosque is close enough to make such a point, then it is close enough to draw criticisms of being insensitive.
Nevertheless, the main argument in favor of allowing the mosque is more principled. Put simply, it is that the moderates behind the plan for the mosque (or Islamic community center) should not be conflated with the extremists who perpetrated the attacks of September 11th. The moderates are not to blame for the actions of the terrorists. Continue reading »
Thus far, our retrospective on the 2000s has focused mainly on “trivial” pop culture issues: things like what books we liked, which movies were good, whose album was the best, what sports team was the most memorable, etc. We’ve completely ignored things like 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the recession. Part of this is merely out of prudence: We like to show restraint in areas that seem to require some expertise. It’s also been out of charity: Unlike Mark Antony, we come to praise the Aughts, not to bury them, so focusing on the darker aspects of the Aughts is beyond our stated purpose.
Any look at this decade, though, would feel horribly insufficient without a look at the presidency of George W. Bush. Like no other single individual, President Bush defined the Aughts. Indeed, Bush may have defined the Aughts more than anyone has defined a decade since Julius Caesar—his global impact is that wide.
At this point, though, criticizing Bush is kind of like setting fire to an already beaten and bloodied horse carcass. After all, the failures of Bush are common knowledge by now, right? Continue reading »