Sunday, March 25, 2012

The 10 Worst Euphemisms

In itself there is nothing wrong with a perfectly good euphemism. As a matter of fact, when properly used, not only is it acceptable, but it can be down right commendable; "I really need to powder my nose", or, "That kid better watch out lest he fall on his patookus". There is no deception here- only the solemn recognition that some things aught to be talked about with a certain level of modesty. Nevertheless, there is also a diabolical form of euphemism, the kind which seeks to use pleasant language in order to cover up a not so pleasant reality. Below I have presented what I believe to be some of the most pernicious of these euphemisms, though I dare not underestimate the power of those soon to be invented. 

10. Issues

Inarguably, one of the least pernicious of the aforementioned euphemisms, this popular way of downplaying the problems (yes, it's OK to use the term) that some individual may encounter, has practically become ubiquitous. Somehow the fact that we have "issues" as opposed to "problems" is supposed to make everyone feel better. Johnny has "anger issues". Well, Johnny may for all we know have done something as typical as to pull Sally's pigtails. On the other hand, he may have flown into a rage and burned her house down. But why should we go around splitting hairs, right? The main thing we should focus on is preventing the child from recognizing that there is a distinct difference between the two actions (sarcasm intended).

9. Special Needs

I have no problem with using language that avoids (unnecessarily) stigmatizing children that possess psychological, emotional, or even developmental problems. But the term we use should in some way be evocative of the circumstances. The expression "special needs" leaves me completely in the dark as to the gravity of the situation. I understand that many individuals want to make the problem as innocuous sounding as possible, but should we make it so innocuous that no one has any idea what you are in fact talking about? For all we know the child may have a mild learning disability, or he may have Down Syndrome. Whatever the case, failure to call something by its name may in one sense soften the blow, but may in another simply exacerbate it. 

8. Inappropriate

I first started becoming aware of this euphemism in the late 1990s, when President Bill Clinton became embroiled in the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal. If you recall at the time the incident was described in the most gentle terms possible; "I/He had an inappropriate relationship with that woman, Miss Lewinsky". Since then it has made its way into the mainstream as a catchall for anything untoward that happens ("untoward" is also a euphemism, but I suppose in order to explain one sometimes you have to use one). Thus its usage may include (according to its recent etymological implications) anything from a bad joke told at the office, to engaging indecent behavior in the oval office. It might in one instance involve a woman wearing questionable attire to a funeral, and in another a woman committing a heinous murder. I think the purpose of using it is not so much to say that murder and adultery are fine, but rather to avoid using any terminology that implies a higher morality. If you call something wicked or evil- or even wrong- then you are attaching a supernatural significance to it. Somewhere along the line we have collectively agreed that it is better to feminize (or perhaps effeminize) our vocabulary, than it is to have a higher level of accountability.

7. Deferred Success

A few years back I read a story about a new approach to education in English schools. In an apparent attempt to safeguard the remarkably fragile psyche of children, schools decided to avoid using the term "F" to describe, well, failure. Replacing such an unconscionable word is the phrase "deferred success". And this conclusion is understandable... if you believe that a child's self-esteem is the cornerstone of their personal happiness. Simply put, tell them pretty lies, and they will most certainly be better for it. Yet what is so treacherous about this "lie", is that it robs both the one who succeeds and the one who fails. The one who receives an "A" is told their hard work is ultimately indistinguishable from the one who fails, and the one who fails is told that he can't fail even if he wants to. And even if he doesn't want to fail, he is equally robbed of the healthy shock (and perhaps clarity) that often arises when one sees how far they have fallen from academic grace. In a related story, a school board in the United States banned the use of red pens by teachers because apparently the mere sight of those blood red pens caused too many students to convulse with sorrow.

6. The Solace Room                   
My mother has served as a hospice volunteer for any number of years. Recently she told me a story that I think is quite indicative of where hospice is going. In the past decade or so, this important ministry has become increasingly secularized. Apart from its predictable penchant for introducing "New Age" ideas into its philosophy, it has gone even further, and determined that it is better to avoid any religious terminology rather than potentially exclude someone. Thus, instead of calling the room formerly known as a chapel a "chapel," they have chosen instead to call it the "solace room". What sort of solace inducing objects are in this room? I cannot say, but what I can assure you of is what is not in that room; namely the Bible. The question one might ask is what sort of solace can one find if you don't have anything like the Resurrection to hope in? The goal is to make everyone feel included, but all it ultimately serves to do is to allow everyone to feel mutually excluded from any real kind of comfort.

5. Friendly Fire, Ethnic Cleansing, and Mercy Killing

By placing these three together I am not necessarily suggesting an equivalence, but there is a similarity in that they all serve to down play the killing of another human being. Another thing they all have in common is that each one employs something virtuous alongside something that is not. For example, "friendly fire" refers to the accidental shooting of a military officer by another military officer on the same side. It would be too easy to point out that a bullet flying at someone could hardly be described, whatever the circumstances, as a "friendly" exchange. The second one, which obviously involves something far more sinister- though is nevertheless no less pleasant sounding- is the expression "ethnic cleansing." Ironically, it was a term used by the the media in the 1990s to describe the dispute in Yugoslavia between the Croatians and the Serbians, though it finds its origins in World War II. During the war, it was used by both parties as a means to describe their own respective attempts to expel and/or kill the opposing party. Indeed, it is a term that Hitler would have been proud of, for how could anyone oppose the idea of a little "spring cleaning"? And last of all, those great martyrs of assisted suicide, those bastions of mercy. Beware anyone who attributes virtue to their own personal actions. The humble man does not call himself a hero. However, this pillar of righteousness is ready to describe himself in the most glowing terms, even as he delivers the lethal injection (or whatever other form it takes) to his patient. Let us all pat ourselves on the back for saying, in essence, I love you so much I'm going to help kill you.

4. Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Health Services, Pro-Choice

Once again in this group each one contains something that is undeniably positive. In the first case, we have both a "plan" and a "parent", which are amiable enough ideas, until you realize that the name of this organization does precisely the opposite of what its title suggests. The primary function that Planned Parenthood serves is not to perform  mammograms, (they only provide referrals), but to provide abortions as well as contraception. And as we all know, none of those options facilitates parenthood; rather it facilitates its prevention. Perhaps the name "planned parentless" would be a better name. Secondly, reproductive health services are the very "services" that planned parenthood and some hospitals provide. Again, the name belies the actual function- for in this arena one is neither reproducing, nor are they receiving any treatments for a disease. Yes, in a small number of cases, birth control can be used for "health" reasons, but the primary function of these "services" is to;  a) fill a woman with artificial hormones (with numerous unhealthy side effects) and/or;  b) perform a violent operation on a woman wherein the fruit of her womb is dismembered. Even if you do not regard a fetus as a human being, it is difficult to argue that this procedure is "healthy" for a woman's body. And lastly, how could I omit that equally mind numbing phrase "pro-choice". I suppose it works like a placebo: if you tell yourself enough times that your position is something positive, then no matter how terrible it is, you might just convince yourself of the virtue in it. After all, who could deny the value of each individual being able to make their own decision on such matters, and what sort of tyrant would force a woman to allow their child to live? It's inhuman! Abortion is as American as apple pie. Incidentally, if a woman allowed her own child to get run over by a bus instead of attempting to save him/her, she would be called a heartless coward, but for some reason when she is driving her own bus it is all of sudden acceptable for her to throw her child under it.  

3. Selective Reduction

All of these euphemisms are an attempt to soften the blow of an unpleasant reality, but what is most interesting is just how many are related to the fate of the unborn. If none of these procedures are morally questionable, then why is the euphemist so afraid of calling a spade a spade? Why is he so sensitive to the point of using such measured vocabulary? Granted, there are some that have come out and said things like "I love abortion", but they are few and far between. In a sense, I am grateful for the honesty of the latter, because they are saying in essence, if we do not believe that a fetus is a "person", then why all this ambivalence over a glob of cells being destroyed? Call it beautiful, call it virtuous, call it love if you will! As it relates to this particular euphemism, there is not even a colorful attempt to make it sound positive. Rather, in this case, we have a more toned-down approach. In fact, when one hears these two words together, one is almost tempted to yawn, for how could such flavorless words have such significance? Who would have suspected that two such nondescript words could have such gruesome implications? Selective reduction is a term used to describe what happens when a woman is set to have multiple births, though chooses instead to "reduce" her litter, by aborting one or more of the fetuses. To me the phrase simply sounds like a dietary regimen, which, I would argue, is probably not far from what its author had in mind.

2. Blastocyst

This is technically not a euphemism because it is a biomedical term referring to a cluster of cells which compromises part of the cell mass in an embryo. The reason it appears on this list is due to the manner in which it was used in a Congressional hearing some years ago to justify embryonic stem cell research. In other words, they used a real scientific term, but in such a way that it was ultimately employed as a kind of comforting catch phrase. After all, who could argue with a little scientific research on a cluster of cells? What was missing was an honest description of how these cells are obtained. It would be like offering someone a blood transfusion, and failing to mention that you had to kill someone in order to obtain the blood. The truth is every time they perform this innocuous little procedure, they are in essence gutting a human embryo. What makes this term so effective is the fact that the word is so unpleasant. How could anyone feel any real compassion for something with the word cyst in its title?

1. Family Balancing

This is my top selection for worst euphemism because, frankly, it sounds like something too ridiculous to be true. The startling indifference to life and love that must accompany this so called "balancing" is remarkable even by eugenic standards. In recent years there has been something of an outcry leveled against India and China for their serial practice of aborting female children. For China in particular it is the result of their one child policy, but in either case this is done because it is more economically profitable to have a male child. In the West, we don't even have the poverty as an excuse, though we still find plenty of reasons to selectively abort. Of all the reasons for abortion this has to be the most callous. The sheer audacity of choosing to abort a child in order to properly "balance" the number of boys and girls in the household (most want one boy and one girl) is beyond words. Such a practice is something at once so decadent and heartless that it defies description. The only thing worse than the act itself is the efficient little title it is given. Indeed, it sounds more like a mother's practical approach to parenting or budgeting for the household, than an abortion procured, in essence, for cosmetic reasons.    

Honorable Mention: Just missing the list are two more mind numbing classics. The first is Gender Liberation, which is meant to imply, I suppose, that being a man or a woman (as opposed to androgynous) is a form of slavery. The second is the term Persistent Vegetative State, which suggests that if one is unfortunate enough to be in this state, they have all dignity of an eggplant.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why Catholics Are To Blame For The Birth Control Mandate

Ever since the department of Health and Human Services handed down its policy stating that all insurers (save for a few exceptions) must provide artificial birth control, many have decried it as an attack on religious freedom. Evangelicals and small government conservatives have joined Catholics in denouncing what they deem to be, not only a misguided approach to health care, but an assault on their conscience. But if Catholics want someone to blame, they need only look in the mirror.

The way birth control is talked about today, one might get the impression that the morality of it has never been in question. All the same, there was a time when even the feminists recognized it as a tool of male oppression rather than a vista for feminine freedom. However, at the turn of last century there was a slow, but noticeable shift, and activists like Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) took full advantage of it. Up until this time, the only situations in which birth control was even tacitly promoted was with respect to prostitution and poverty. Sanger agreed with this application, but she wanted to take it a step further. Not only did she see it as a remedy for the undesirables, but for all women who sought to liberate themselves from the "burden of fertility." In 1931, she received help from an unexpected source. During the Lambeth Conference, which meets every decade to discuss Church policy and doctrine in the Anglican church, there was a debate concerning birth control. The conference determined that, in spite of previous declarations to the contrary, birth control was morally permissible, and furthermore, married couples could avail themselves of the benefits if there was indeed a grave need for it. Some will point out that the conclusions of such Anglican "conferences" are non-binding in the Anglican Church (which makes me wonder why they meet in the first place). Even so, one can hardly dismiss the effect this must have had on the laity. Prior to this, no other Christian denomination had ever collectively made such a statement. However, that would soon change, and within a short period of time the rest of the mainline churches adopted similar policies.

By the early 1960s no church, save the Catholic Church, opposed the use of artificial birth control. Consequently, when "the pill" (notice that it is called "the pill", not a pill) was finally made available on the market it was viewed as a kind of catch-all cure for all of societies woes. Naively, even those with a decidedly more religious world-view believed that it could be used with the necessary restraint. What they didn't take into account were those people who would regard it as a means to jettison any responsibility for their sexual behavior. Some may regard these events as purely coincidental, but it is difficult to imagine how anyone could deny that the sexual revolution became possible only when the pill became available.

In the meantime, Catholics themselves were equally infected by this cultural shift. As a matter of fact, even priests, according to many accounts, were telling married couples that the church was soon to change her teaching. The Church hesitated, and in that moment of hesitation nobody waited (nor wanted to wait) for the final verdict. Consequently, by the time Pope Paul VI came out with the encyclical Humanae Vitae (a document which reaffirmed Church teaching on Birth Control), the proverbial horse was out of the barn. The Lambeth conference served as a foot in the door, and the advent of the pill- coupled with the "deer in the head lights" approach of the Church- ultimately served to open wide that very same barn door.

But Catholics are responsible for Catholics, just as each person is responsible for their own actions. And the truth is if Catholics (both clergy and lay people) had not simply followed the rest of society like a bunch of mindless lemmings, Obama would never have had the support to pull off such a heavy handed measure. Like a brilliant warrior (or at least a lucky one) he attacked religious liberty in the place where it was most vulnerable, and because many Catholics are so fundamentally indifferent to the Church's moral positions, he was able to sneak it by those drowsy guardians of the Faith. So why cannot the Church succumb on this particular issue and simply focus on the rest? Because the Church's teachings are so inextricably tied to the institutions she produces (and to one another), that you cannot take away one indispensable thread without the rest of it unraveling.

Indeed, it is more than a little ironic that the one Catholic teaching that everyone presumed was obsolete and irrelevant has become the deadly weapon utilized in an effort to attack the first amendment to the constitution. Yes, the one teaching that most Catholics assumed was inessential to their Faith has become the fundamental linchpin for this demolition project. So as Catholics and Catholic institutions face some difficult decisions in the coming years, we can only blame ourselves that the very institutions that bespeak freedom, dignity, and equality, have lost their freedom of choice in the name of "freedom of choice". We can only lament the tragic demise of the conscience clause in the Constitution because Catholics were too embarrassed to endure the shame and ridicule that would have accompanied a robust defense of it. Yet if this mandate is not reversed, it is not just Catholics that will pay, but everyone, liberal and conservative, protestant and atheist alike; no one will be exempt; "for the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."            


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Most Cheese-tacular Video of All Time

With all due respect to Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and Billy Squire's "Rock me Tonight", there is no music video since the dawn of MTV that even compares to this one. In order for a song/video to be adequately cheese-tacular it must be at once compelling and ridiculous. It must take itself far too seriously and use over-the-top imagery. To be truly cheese-tacular, a video should combine something that is incredibly difficult to capture: brilliant awfulness. Journey's Separate Ways embodies this sentiment like no other. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The 7 Most Annoying Bumper Sticker Slogans of the Past 20 Years

In a world of bumper sticker slogans, one occasionally runs across an amusing, if not thought-provoking, message. That said, it is far more common to see one that simply annoys you. Sure, it may not be the worst message in the world, but after seeing it a hundred or so times it becomes a little like that song that is overplayed on the radio (need I mention Hootie and the Blowfish?). The other problem is that it comes off as a bit of the old "hit and run" mentality. Because I am anonymous, I can yell anything at you I want, and I don't have to bother listening to your response. Hah! I have won an argument that I don't even have to defend, because my opponent has been reduced to silence... sort of.

7. Mean People Suck

Of all the bumper sticker non sequitors out there, this one takes the cake for being the most adolescent sounding. It reminds me of something a ten year old might say in response to a bully's mistreatment of fellow students. I mean, do we really need to place this on our car? It's about as a revelatory as saying that the color purple is "purpley." I feel as if they should also have a qualifying sticker beside that one saying; "...And Nice People Rule". Thank you oh great bard and master of the obvious!

6. Jesus Died For You

I understand perfectly well why people have religious bumper stickers. In fact if I had a bumper sticker myself I would probably purchase one that had something meaningful on it. However, as far as I can tell, this particular one communicates very little. Now I do not mean to suggest that Christ dying for the sins of humanity is meaningless; what I mean is that the format undermines the salience of the message. I can remember hearing this phrase like a mantra growing up, but what does it mean to simply state a formula over and over again without explaining its context? It is part of that drive-thru religious mentality that seeks to reduce salvation to a singular transaction. What makes this bumper sticker so irritating is that it gives off that air of superiority so often associated with fundamentalists. Even more off-putting, is the accusatory tone that it seems to suggest (though I cannot divine the intent of every driver). Jesus died for you! That is good to know, but last time I checked you too were in need of Redemption. Indeed, I am glad to know that you are saved, but is not presumption a common characteristic of the devil?

5. In Case of Rapture This Car Will Be Unmanned

Not altogether different from the previous, this one has even more temerity than the former. In essence, it is a boast, not in God (as St. Paul requested), but in one's own capacity to be assumed into heaven. It is a kind of latter day Protestant version of the Assumption. Moreover, the implication is that of thumbing your nose at those who are presumably "left behind". What, one might be tempted to ask, will lift these heavenly creatures up? Will it be God Almighty, or will it be their own inflated sense of self-satisfaction? Nevertheless, going to heaven is not enough for this individual- he has to remind others that while he is taken up, everyone else will be on notice for his wayward vehicle, because sadly they failed to believe in the infallibility of the Left Behind book series.

4. Got Milk?

Few slogans are as ubiquitous as this one. What is most cloying about this is the fact that it is not really clever at all. To this day, I am not precisely sure why I am supposed to find it witty. Got Milk? No, I don't "got milk", next. Adding insult to injury, many others have become so enamored by the add campaign that they have sought to put their own spin on it; Got Hamster? Got Soy? Got Monks? Got Originality? (I invented that last one). The problem stems from the fact that the original message is utterly inane, and so to multiply that inanity a thousand-fold is nothing short of madness. But do not let me discourage anyone from adorning their cars with one of those hilarious bumper stickers, for I am sure that whatever word one chooses to put alongside the word  "got" will be nothing short of brilliant.

3. Free Tibet

Most popular in the 1990s, this particular bumper sticker was all the rage among "stoners" and fans of the Beastie Boys. Somewhere else on that same bumper, you might also expect to find these sage words; "It's All Good". At any rate, I have nothing against the good people of Tibet. Indeed, I pray that they will one day be free from that oppressive regime (viz. China). My beef is with the hipsters who glom on to any fashion or fad in the hope of feeling at once relevant and generous. No doubt their "campaign" to free Tibet has raised considerable awareness. But one might be tempted to ask, what impact has it made? Are the Tibetans any freer than they were before this celebrity cause was initiated? And is anyone still advocating for them? This is part of the problem with turning a cause into a kind of cultural badge of honor. Once that initial enthusiasm wears off, you wind up throwing it on the ash heap of all the other trends and fashions that have come and gone over the years. I care very little that the Beastie Boys were at one time "relevant". I care even less that people in the west find Buddhism groovy. The truth is the good citizens of Tibet should be defended, but not because they are part of some cause, but because they are human beings.

2. Question Authority

There is also a similar one out there which says; "Question Everything." At any rate, both essentially amount to the same thing. I will not be daft and pretend that I don't understand where people are coming from when they make this statement. Read with a charitable eye this is saying that one should not just accept something without thinking critically about it. Absolutely, I would agree 100%. But this goes right to the heart of what's generally lacking from many of these back bumper formulations. They have no context! Unfortunately, I fear that many of the people who place them on their cars don't have any either. It is fine to say; "Question Authority", but what does that mean? Why are you questioning it? Is there any authority that is good? If you decide to reject that authority, what will you replace it with? If I had a bumper sticker on the theme of authority, I think I would have it say; "Question Anarchy". There is a profound shallowness in thinking that authority is intrinsically a wicked thing. There will always be an authority, the only real question is whether that authority is benevolent or wicked. That is the question we should be asking.  

1. Co-exist

Cut from the same cloth as the previous example, this slogan is probably the most ubiquitous of all. What exactly does "Co-exist" mean? Each letter of the word is not only a letter but a symbol representing either some philosophy, ideology, or religion. "C" represents the crescent of Islam, "O" represents the peace sign, "E" represents equality of the sexes, "X", the star of David, "I" "Wicca, "S" the Yin Yang of Taosim, and at the end an innocuous little plus sign meant to signify Christianity. There are all sorts of versions of this message, but for our purposes I will focus on this particular one. If I were to give this acronym a charitable read, I would say that it reveals a simple sentiment, "live and let live" (which is fine, as far as it goes). However, surprisingly enough, I did not just fall off the turnip truck yesterday, and thus have enough wits about me to know a sham peace when I see one. It is in some ways the perfect mantra for the world of wishful thinking. The problem with it is two-fold. First, what exactly does it mean to "co-exist"? Last time I checked, the both of us do exist, making our co-existence inevitable. So if that is your criteria... mission accomplished. Secondly,  I understand what it means to "tolerate" other human beings; I am even bright enough to understand that one of the rules of co-existence is that I may not unjustly take away the existence of another human being. But must I tolerate everything? Must I turn a blind eye when I see the Chinese abusing the Tibetans, or must I close my eyes when a jihadist is trying to blow up an American? The only way we can ever really hope for co-existence is not by pretending that we have no differences, or even by becoming some kind of existential eggplant. The only way that we can co-exist is if we embrace a religion that actually safeguards our conscience as opposed to attacking it, a religion that recognizes the value and worth of every human being regardless of their race or status. Until we can be intolerant enough of other ideologies that do not practice this, then we will never learn to "co-exist" at all. Ironically, those who have this bumper sticker are generally the ones who are least tolerant of Christianity, though they would do well to ask themselves where they got the idea of tolerance and respect in the first place.

Honorable Mention: You will know the success of a bumper sticker by its ability to provoke another driver to create a snarky riposte in response to it. One such example comes to us from  the understandably "Proud" parent of a straight "A" student. By all means put that "A" paper on the refrigerator for all to see, but putting it on your car just seems to reek of desperation. Another example of this bumper sticker back-and-forth comes in the form of a little fish, and the great battle that has ensued between the Darwinists and Christians. The original "Christian" fish was not a pretentious sign at all, but the subsequent spat has become a bit grating. Lastly, I have too add as a general group the many "pro-choice" bumper stickers out there. That is not say that I am a fan of all of those pro-life ones either, but only that some are more obnoxious than the rest; "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries" and "Keep your laws off my body". There is a particular hostility to its tone never becoming of one whom you have never met before. One might be tempted to ask such an individual if this is indeed the one message they intend to leave with the world.

Feel free to add your own.