“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master. That’s all.” — Lewis Carroll
Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine presented required reading for every civics, law, social studies and poly sci student from junior high on up. And every American, dammit!
Reporter Emily Bazelon’s piece about the conservative reactionary/retro US Supreme Court was quite disquieting. Just this past Monday, the Supremes agreed to hear another case seeking to destroy Obamacare.
Conservatives have long sought a rationale for their retro ideas, that the US Constitution is set in cement and cannot change with the times — save for anytime there are five votes to do just that. They use buzzwords like “originalism”, “original intent of the framers” and “textualism” to mask their political prejudices. The late Justice Antonin Scalia became the principal purveyor of this perversion with basically a Webster’s Dictionary approach to jurisprudence: Look up the words and that’s your decision.
Pseudo-scholars even started looking back at what words meant in the 18th Century. Big mistake. Brigham Young University, according to Bazelon, just uploaded a database which shows that “bear arms” almost exclusively applied to the militia (today’s National Guard) back when George Washington walked. This destroys the NRA screed that the Second Amendment allows everyone to own a machine gun or a bazooka.
I will love watching Clarence and his billygoats gruff break their Humpties on this — five Homotextual Males. Please quote The Barbwire when you cast the aspersion.
Bazelon’s report will be linked to the expanded web edition of this column at NevadaLabor.com/ Read. Please.
SHAKESPEARE & MILTON WITH A TOUCH OF YODA. My greatest teacher, the late Pulitizer Prize-winning US Poet Laureate Philip Levine, taught me that each language’s poetry template is set by its epic poem. Italians have Dante’s “The Inferno,” while mad dogs and Englishmen have John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”
The latter was written in iambic pentameter, as was most of Shakespeare’s work (or that of his ingenious ghostwriter). Think Pentagon, which means five-sided, for the latter part; ten beats to the line in five-phrase pairs and you have pentameter.
Sometimes, perhaps once in our lives, we can perpetrate acceptable art as easily as water falling off a rock. That happened to me last week.
I get lots of mail, often from people with rather strident views. One correspondent keeps telling me I’m going to hell unless I see the light and repent. This person is certain that the Lord will vindicate and smite his/her myriad oppressors. This person is also a serious born-again Christian.
I ventured a one line reply: “More Old Testament than New appear you.”
It hit me later. My attempt to enlighten the benighted was a perfect if not necessarily profound line of iambic pentameter. First take. No edits. Put it on my tombstone.
The New Testament brought the rise of the Almighty and Merciful God (the age of Pisces) from the previous Age of of Taurus (Baal), the Almighty and Terrible God.
Jesus of Nazareth once deftly deflected a setup by stating that he came to change not one jot or tittle of the Old Testament (Hebrew law). In fact, he carried forward the tradition of the golden rule which had dawned in China 600 years before. (See former nun Karen Armstrong’s “The Great Transformation,” c. 500 pages, Knopf, 2006)
Perhaps the now-dawned Age of Aquarius will be gentler to this monster mannunkind. (Props to e.e. cummings.)
The greatest line of iambic pentameter was sent to me last year by Nevada’s greatest journalist, Dennis Myers.
Dying of tuberculosis at 25 and considering himself a failure, the great romantic poet John Keats wrote his own inscription: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”
Shakespeare and Milton never hammered better wordsmithing.
CITY HALL HIJINX. I made two presentations before the Reno City Council last Wednesday after Mayor Hillary Schieve honored me to lead the pledge of allegiance. I was first before the body with the Chantal Coalition to accept a proclamation regarding National Eating Disorder Week. In my second time up, I supported Councilmembers Neoma Jardon and Devon Reese’s contribution to the Reno-Sparks NAACP Health and Environment Symposium.
In my 50 years in Reno, I had never been more proud, largely because of all the citizens who had spoken ahead of me about issues important to them. I complimented the councillors who had sought office with the wind in their faces as a recession looms: “You know that,” said I.
I backed up senior citizens concerned about parks and recreation fee increases, the bitter fruits of chronic corporate welfare addiction by local governments. I referred all present and the TV audience to the NevadaLabor.com corporate welfare archives for chapter and verse, especially the world class work of Dennis Myers.
I concluded by noting that ex-Tribunite Myers will be the first journalist inducted in the César Chávez Nevada Labor Hall of Fame on March 31. A bit of a wave went thru the council chamber when I said that, all the way to the chair. Dennis devoted his life to Nevada and touched many lives in his seven decades hereabouts. Gotta hunch March 31 is going to be one helluva pentameteriffic evening.
Be well. Raise hell. Esté bien. Haga infierno.
Andrew Barbano is a 51-year Nevadan, executive producer of Nevada’s annual March 31 César Chávez Day celebration, editor of NevadaLabor.com and ChantalCoalition.org/ He serves as first vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his comments are strictly his own. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.