February 24, 2004

You cannot wrestle a dove

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 1:19 am

One downside of this last weekend is that, for some reason, it was Bad Vibes Weekend in the western United States. I was in a perfectly good mood, and so was Lauren, but around us human society was falling apart. The woman next to me on my first flight complained the whole time, I saw a spat between server and served in the food court at SFO during my layover, and I got yelled at for no good reason by a jerky fellow customer at a Portland record store–I was browsing the CD rack near him, and he said, without looking at me, “Go look somewhere else.” I figured he was talking to someone he knew, so didn’t respond; he fixed me with an incredulous look and said, angrily, “Did you hear what I said?” I stammered about how I had the right to browse too, he snapped that he was there first, I said I could wait, and it ended with us both staring angrily at the CDs in front of us. To my credit, I didn’t walk away, but looking back now I would probably pay about $150 for the chance to give him a humiliating put-down. I think I’ve settled on “I don’t care how many people you manage at Taco Bell, it’s Saturday today.” (Or I’d pay $30 for “Fuck you, prick.”)

Bad Vibes Weekend started on my cab ride to John Wayne Airport. The driver had the Sean Hannity show on the radio, and Hannity was talking about how certain it is that Bush is going to get re-elected. “When we come back,” he said, “we’ll talk to a Republican strategist who literally created an earthquake in Georgia.” Misuse of “literally” is a pet peeve of mine, so I made some lame English major joke about it. The cab driver chuckled and then said, “I tell you, I cannot wait for this election.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Because George Bush is going to win in a landslide,” he said. Which I expected, so I wasn’t perturbed. I asked him what he liked about Bush, and a conversation followed.

Look: when leftists talk to right-wingers, they inevitably describe the right-wingers’ side of the conversation as a “tirade.” (Or a “harangue.”) I recognize that. That said, this was a tirade. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, though I couldn’t–he started with “a president who doesn’t believe in appeasement” and made it to “less taxes,” “less government meddling in our lives,” and “fighting the terrorists” before I was able to say anything. (I did mention that some of Bush’s terrorist-fighting seemed to involve a lot of meddling in our lives; he responded, in so many words, that he was okay with that kind of meddling.) It was also that a lot of what he said were clearly stock phrases he had heard elsewhere. I know this because I’ve heard those phrases before–often from Bush himself–and because the cabbie repeated them, verbatim, at different points in the conversation. They included “the U.N. is nothing more than a worthless debating society” (how I wish he was wrong) and “John Kerry has a more left-wing voting record than Ted Kennedy” (how I wish he was right). At one point he even called his cab “the No-Spin Cab, the O’Reilly Cab.” My “spin” was to argue that the “coalition of 37 nations in Iraq” was made up of a lot of countries like El Salvador and Ukraine which were really providing only moral support, if that.

I don’t mean to set up a “dumb conservative cabbie, smart liberal grad student” dichotomy here. He had a lot of facts on hand, I could have argued my case better, and anyway it’s not like all of my opinions are arrived at through my own careful independent research. But I’ll tell you one thing he had that I don’t: absolute confidence in his convictions. He pointed out that it was hypocritical for Democrats, many of whom voted to authorize the invasion, to oppose Bush in Iraq when they had not objected to Clinton in Kosovo and Serbia. I told him that he was right, but that I don’t vote on party lines and so I don’t let those Democrats off the hook. And anyway, I said, he had to admit that the Republican party suffers from similar hypocrisy since– “No. No sir,” he said. He honest-to-God argued that the Democratic Party is an evil, treacherous institution, opposed by the true force of good, the Republican Party. “I’m talking facts here,” he said more than once. “These are just the facts, it doesn’t matter what you think about them.”

Oh God, George Bush can’t win this November. He can’t. I’m talking facts here.



  1. I used to be a little annoyed at the “misuse” of literally too, but it turns out, it’s not really misuse anymore. Example: in the sentence “we received literally no help from the government,” when you look at it, there is no contrast between something literal and something figurative. The word is only there for emphasis. People, usually subconsciously, have taken this emphasis and used it in sentences like the one you described. And that’s the way it’s going these days. I saw an A’s game in which the announcer said “Tejada literally carried his team on his shoulders last year,” and later said “his bat shattered into literally hundreds of pieces.” So it’s clear he knows what literally is supposed to mean, because the bat really did spray pieces all over the place; so he’s not dumb, and knows the difference. It’s a language change that is currently happening.

    Comment by Bret — February 24, 2004 @ 9:33 am

  2. We’ve talked about this before, and I think what I’ve said in those cases is that, while I know I can’t stem the tide of a language change, it annoys me. I’m not someone who’s bothered by all changes in language, just unnecessary ones. For instance, I don’t mind that “hopefully” has come to mean “it is to be hoped that” rather than “in a hopeful way,” because we don’t have one word that means “it is to be hoped that”. But we already have words to express what “literally” is coming to mean–“really,” “definitely,” etc.–so the change is unnecessary.

    Factoid: When Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, one newspaper criticized it, saying that Lincoln “has literally come out the small end of his own horn.” So this isn’t a recent problem, I guess.

    Comment by Tom — February 24, 2004 @ 11:47 am

  3. Well… deeming things ‘necessary’ is a tough one. It might have been unnecessary to make ‘access’ into a verb, and yet there we have it (we had ‘gain access to,’ which was fine). Grocery stores seem to have “15 items or less” in their express lanes, because the distinction between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ isn’t really necessary (proven by the fact that the opposite, ‘more,’ works both ways: ‘more water’ and ‘more monkeys’ as opposed to ‘less water’ and ‘fewer monkeys’). But, it bothers a lot of people.

    However, I am not immune to language pet peeves – I’ve got plenty of my own. Them’s the breaks.

    Comment by Bret — February 24, 2004 @ 4:06 pm


    Comment by not-drew — February 26, 2004 @ 2:06 am

  5. okay not really. good show, old chaps, I’ll see YOU on the small end of my horn.

    Comment by not-drew — February 26, 2004 @ 2:07 am

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