Sunday, October 07, 2007

Suffer the children

Jon Stewart is very funny and very intelligent. I'm really just guessing about the "intelligent" part because I'm not that sure what intelligent means. But I'm pretty sure that he is very capable of considering data, identifying patterns and understanding logic to knowingly hold opinions and arguments to a high standard before he agrees with them.

And he's quite good with words. He shapes his jokes well and if I'm to believe Will Shortz he's quite good with the crosswords.

But he's made a few missssteps when he chooses to talk about grammar. A few years ago he gave a commencement address at his alma mater William and Mary where he said "We declared war on terror -- it's not even a noun, so, good luck." Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log called him on it back then. So here I can simply say that terror is definitely a noun.

Just last Thursday (4 October 2007) Stewart ridiculed George Bush for uttering the following lines:

"I wanted to share with you why I vetoed the bill this morning. Poor kids first. Secondly..."

(It all starts about 4 minutes into the clip.)

Jon rightly screeches to a halt on this one. "Wait a minute!" he demands "That's your whole first point? Poor kids? 'Here's why I vetoed the bill: poor kids first. Secondly...' No!"

I'm with him on this. I'm not sure what Bush even means with this line. Does he mean "first" as in his first reason is poor kids? Is he going to talk about poor kids first? Is he saying he's going to talk to poor kids first? Is he implying that he vetoed it because he's putting poor kids first? Is he just bumbling through a speech like we all do at times and does he over-apply his use of 'first' as we might all do with words at times? Probably. Would Bush's strategy and logic make sense even if his speeches were pristine? Not to me.

So Then Stewart adds the following request: "Throw me a verb! Give me a modifier! 'First: Ah those [bleep] poor kids'--something! Give me something!"

I'm guessing they bleeped over fucking as the modifier that Stewart thinks would make it a better argument. And of course the joke is that the argument wouldn't really be any better but at least it would be a fuller sentence. But a "modifier" (and by that I assume Stewart means an adjective since there's no verb to take a modifying adverb) isn't enough to make this a complete sentence.

And besides...wait -- poor is a modifier. Why does Stewart need a modifier if he has one already?

...probably because he wants to make the point that Bush's argument needs to go somewhere--anywhere. Well if Bush were to say 'Ah those f---ing poor kids' at least it'd be a forthright admission that he's willing to compromise the well-being of his fellow citizens by taking away more than just their civil rights.


  1. Just one more reason for me to dislike John Stewart, first. Secondly, I fucking hate that guy.

    I did see him in a documentary about crossword puzzles recently. I guess he must be good at them--and no doubt he is an intelligent guy to have become so successful in his field--but I bet Bush is a heck of a lot smarter.

  2. The most interesting part of this blog (just kidding, "blog post") was the hesitation around the word "intelligence." Let's talk more about that... in particular, is a large vocabulary indicative of greater intelligence, or not?

    For example, before I came to graduate school, I had never really heard the words ideology, palimpsest, and postcolonial, and now I have heard them and learned what they mean. I don't feel smarter for it, though.

    Consider the root of "sophisticated" in responding--if you want to--to this comment. And the difference between wisdom and persuasion.

  3. I also your resistance to "intelligence" was interesting.

    I'd define intelligence as one's capacity to perceive or understand any aspect of his environment. This definition provides for all kinds of intelligence: the ability to oberve and interpret motion, to make connections between pieces of information, to read body language, to differentiate between sounds, to evaluate and make judgments based on given criteria, etc., etc., etc. According to this definition, having a big vocabulary would make one smarter because it allows him to understand more of what other people are saying. Plus, that vocabulary provides a tool to express ideas more easily and accurately, which streamlines thinking.

    Of course, my definition also implies, all things being equal, that being color-blind makes one less intelligent. And of course color-blind people wouldn't like this, since we normally think of intelligence only in terms of abstract reasoning ability, which I think is far too narrow.

  4. I'm color-blind, but not "color" blind.

    I've taken issue for a while now with John Tesh's radio show title/tag line "Intelligence for Your Life." He does provide a lot of knowledge, but he does nothing to help us learn or apply that knowledge. I realize I'm drifting into Wisdom's territory, but I think intelligence has a lot to do with well adapted cognisence.

    I think Bush might be a heckuva lot smarter too, and that frightens me.


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