Daily Archives: 02 Jan 2015

Gender-Neutral Pronouns Solved!

PronounsIt has always bothered me that we don’t have gender-neutral pronouns. People have tried with things like “ner” or “heir” or some such. Personally, I’ve always liked “it.” What’s the big deal? We are all its, after all. What is with humans that they mind being referred to in the abstract as “it”? But using “it” in this way just makes me seem like a freak, and I have more than enough freak cred. So some number of years ago, I just gave up. I decided that English was a language where the masculine was the neuter. I wasn’t happy about this but this struck me as the least terrible solution to the problem.

One thing I most definitely don’t like is the use of gender-neutral plural pronouns. “Someone entered the room; in the darkness, I could tell they were dressed in a gorilla costume.” What nonsense that is! It makes me long for my preferred “it” solution. Not only do we get a plural pronoun, but we are forced to conjugate the verb incorrectly. If anything could make me flee to Veracruz and take up Spanish full time, it is this approach to the English language.

An even worse solution is to use both genders. I’ll admit, there are times when this actually works just fine. But we end up with problems. Consider: “First, he or she should find his or her seat and then alert his or her friends via text that he or she has arrived.” And then there is the whole question of which gender should go first. Why is it always the male? Hmm?!

This brings us to the standard solution to this problem. People who think about this kind of thing have decided that the best thing to do when dealing with a neuter situation is to alternate. The first time a neuter is needed, use the male. The second time, use the female. And so on. It still leaves us with the decision of which gender to start with, but I guess that’s okay.

My problem with this is that it is a burden. I did not become a writer so I could do accounting. And since most of what I write is short, I would have to remember from article to article what gender I last used. It is a mess. In all things grammatical, I try to make my life simple and the alternating solution does just the opposite.

There is one solution that I very much like. We could just make the neuter female. Our society is so male-focused that a good step toward a more just society would be to make all our genderless examples be women. It would be a good thing for young people to be constantly reminded woman are at least the equal of men. And if it ever got out of hand, we could go back to making the neuter male. The problem is that just as with “it,” I don’t think I can do this on my own. Freak cred and all. But if anyone is starting a movement, sign me up.

Over the past few months, I have come up with a solution. It is a modification of the alternation method. But instead of alternating between instances, I am going to alternate between years. So starting on the first of this year, I switched to the neuter female as you can see in my article, The Worst American Addiction. This means that odd numbered years are female and even numbered years are male. But the great thing is that it doesn’t matter. I’ve only picked female because it is a new year and I was using male before that. The system would work best if people randomly picked their years so that any given reader would see a natural diversity of undetermined genders.

But there is another good aspect of my system. It makes the English language universe better and more egalitarian regardless of what anyone else does. However, the truth is that I don’t especially care. This system is designed to make me feel better. Because this whole subject really bugs me and has bugged me for decades. This decision will remove a small amount of anxiety from my life. But I hope the reader appreciates it — whoever she may be.

The Worst American Addiction

Ice Cream SundaeThere is a kind of addiction in the United States that is destroying it. It isn’t new. In fact, it has been around for so long, it is invisible. It is the addiction of superiority. If you watch the right kind of television, you will see it everywhere. My favorite example is the court show. I find these shows deeply disturbing. In fact, I find them so disturbing that I’ve come up with a theory — probably wrong — to make them more palatable. I believe friends get together and pretend to sue each other to make a little cash and to get their faces on the television. But clearly, if most viewers thought this, they would not watch. Indeed, even with my theory, I find the shows repellent.

The way the shows work is by stimulating endorphins that make the viewer feel superior. “At least I don’t sleep with my best friend’s husband and then steal her television set!” Oh, can you feel that flood of endorphins?! That feels good. And I’m all for that! Please, my fellow humans: be happy. It’s a good thing to do. All I ask is that you superiority junkies admit that you do have an addiction and that you aren’t any different from a random heroin addict who gets her endorphins more directly.

I see the people watching the court shows and Fox News as being minor addicts. The major addicts design their entire lives around their addictions. For example, they will never drink alcohol because it is a drug. But what they are really doing is stimulating their endorphins because they feel superior to the person who drinks to stimulate her endorphins. These same people will tend toward “healthy” food (how ever that might be defined this week) and against tasty food. There is really no end to the ways that a superiority addiction may manifest itself. People might hoard money or they might vote against their political interests.

From the outside, we may see the hardcore superiority addict as a sad person. But I suspect that is wrong. Your average heroin addict may seem sad on the outside but with her brain swimming in synthetic endorphins, she is very likely happy as one of the happiest clams. So we shouldn’t feel sorry for the superiority fiend. But just the same, we should not be codependent. If she wants to feel good about herself because she eats better and drinks better and votes better than the rest of us, that’s her right. But we needn’t buy into that delusion.

In a perfect world, such superiority addicts would quickly disappear. Our reactions to them would make it clear that their ascetic lifestyles were just a way of getting high. So when a ascetic and a glutton are both offered a delicious piece of chocolate cake, the glutton’s acceptance of the cake is exactly the same as the ascetic’s refusal. And if the ascetic’s real motivation (endorphins from a sense of superiority) were widely recognized (and, hopefully, mocked), the ascetic would take the cake. Because being addicted to a feeling of superiority is a great weakness.

Choose the cake!

Afterword

I’m not that found of chocolate myself. I mean, I’ll eat it. I’ll eat just about anything that is sweet. I’ve even been getting into coconut because it is combined with lots of sugar. But don’t get the wrong idea about me. Most people think I’m a sugar addict, but I actually like fatty foods a lot more. Of course, after a great fatty meal, nothing is so great as a sugary dessert. Or better: a sugary, fatty dessert. Ice cream sundae!

Dem and Rep Economic Policy Not Equally Bad

Matt YglesiasThe usually great Matt Yglesias engaged in a bit of false equivalence earlier this week, The Problem With Now More Than Ever Politics. That doesn’t mean that he’s completely wrong, but it’s still a bit annoying. He noted that in response to stagnating working class wages, the two parties have new policy ideas. And those policy ideas are — Surprise! — exactly what they’ve always been. The Republicans want to decrease regulation and “reform” the tax code. The Democrats want to invest in infrastructure and education. There are a few problems here. One is that although that is pretty much the only thing that the Republicans want to do, the Democrats actually believe in a whole lot more. But let’s leave that aside for now and look at these programs.

The basic idea behind the Republican policies is that it will help the economy grow. That’s debatable. But what if it did cause the economy to grow? As Yglesias pointed out, the economy has grown over the last several decades. And all that growth has gone to the rich. There is no reason to think that even more growth would be better shared. In fact, if the Republicans have their way, it will not be shared. Their ideas about reducing regulations go right along with their ideas for tort “reform” — the idea is to let the rich do whatever they want and then when they harm working people to disallow any kind of just judicial settlement. So the Republican plan has nothing to do with improving the lot of the working class. It is disingenuous to suggest that it does.

The idea behind the Democratic policies is the long refuted idea that economic inequality is all about education and “opportunity.” But at least it is a good faith effort to respond to the problem at hand. Well, maybe “good faith” is a going too far. The reason that politicians push the whole “education is the source of inequality” canard is because it doesn’t threaten the power elite. Nonetheless, spending on education and infrastructure will make a positive impact on income inequality. But Yglesias is right: it isn’t the best route.

Yglesias’ main point is the one he’s been making for years: if you want to get the poor out of poverty, give them money. It’s such an obvious insight that it seems silly when stated so bluntly. He provided a graph of poverty rates in most of the advanced economies and it shows that poverty without government interference is roughly the same level across the board. But post-tax-and-transfer poverty in Sweden is less than a third what it is in the US, even though pre-tax-and-transfer poverty is actually slightly higher in Sweden.

But which party is it that wants to cut food stamps and other kind of aid to the poor? Which party is it that wants to make sure that even the poorest people pay some federal income tax so they have skin in the game? Which party is it that has slashed taxes on the rich and still thinks they are taxed too high? Oh, that’s right: the Republican Party! They are also against raising the minimum wage and in many cases in favor of eliminating it altogether. The Democratic Party is broadly in favor of raising the minimum wage. If Washington were controlled by the Democrats, the minimum wage would be raised. Since the Republicans control Congress, we know that the minimum wage will not be increased.

Yglesias noted that there are ideas that are “out of the box” — although the ideas listed in the original article are mostly pathetic. The good ideas for reducing income inequality are almost exclusively liberal ideas. How about a financial transaction tax? How about a guaranteed minimum income? How about a higher inflation target? But all these ideas are anathema to the Republican Party because they don’t fit into the only two categories of acceptable policy: lower taxes on the rich and fewer regulations that affect the rich.

The mainstream Democrats may only offer weak tea for addressing our most important economic problems, but Republicans only offer poison: policies that will make the problem worse. Matt Yglesias knows this. But he’s trying to maintain a certain amount of centrist credibility. But history will scoff at the centrists who tried to find balance in modern American economic policy.

Mario Cuomo and Democratic Party Meaning

Mario CuomoAlready, in his obituaries, he is being remembered more as a poet than as a politician, as a phenomenon more than a man. Poets are useful, even in politics. Phenomena can be beautiful. But the marginalization of Mario Cuomo was a deliberate political act, a bipartisan one, truth be told. It was a way to shuffle what he stood for off into decorous irrelevance. The people who sidelined Mario Cuomo from our national discussion did not include Ronald Reagan. It was Bill Clinton who did that and, sadly, Mario Cuomo himself, who, by the end of it, was so politically feeble that he lost to an unremarkable hack like George Pataki. Now Mario Cuomo is dead, and George Pataki is (seriously) contemplating a run for president of the United States. Now Mario Cuomo is dead, and his absence from our national discussion is being used in some quarters as a cautionary tale to the rising progressive movement within the Democratic party. The same forces that worked to marginalize him will be brought to bear at some point against Elizabeth Warren… You can count on that. Now Mario Cuomo is dead, and that seems like little more than confirmation of something we all suspected for decades.

—Charlie Pierce
Mario Cuomo, RIP

Roger Miller

Roger MillerOn this day in 1936, the great songwriter and performer Roger Miller was born. It is best to consider him a songwriter. He was amazingly prolific and although I like his casual singing style, there is nothing especially notable about it. It did, however, go well with his songs. But it is his writing that really shines. He did a whole lot with very little. His songs are rarely more than I-IV-V numbers, but as has been shown for centuries, much can be done for that. Miller created very smooth and memorable melodies.

If it weren’t for one song, I probably wouldn’t be writing about him. That wouldn’t take anything away from him as a talent. He was a superb songwriter. He not only wrote a number of hit songs for himself, he did so for a number of other artists as well. That’s partly because he got his start as a songwriter, but that was also true of him later. And today, he’s come back into favor. What’s not to like?

The one song that really sets him apart, however, is also his biggest hit, “King of the Road.” It’s like On the Road in two minutes with far more to say. It’s interesting that that a song from 1964 that hearkens back to the Great Depression is probably as relevant today as ever. Except, of course, it is hard to have such a good attitude these days. Things are getting worse now and pretty much no one pays union dues. Instead, they’re on food stamps.

Happy birthday Roger Miller!