Thursday, April 23, 2009

Would You Like a G & T to go with that Twist of Logic?

Here's a five-fer of real-live gems, all heard this week:

(1) I can't believe the MPs on base pulled me over for speeding AGAIN. I mean, those guys are just on such a power trip!

Why is it that any time anyone in any position of authority enforces any rule of any kind, the person against whom it's being enforced resorts back to this most entry-level version of Psychoanalysis. Even kids do it from a young age: "I can't believe our substitute teacher just told us to sit down and be quiet. I mean, this guy is like so totally on a power trip!"

The irony, of course, is that most rules exist to protect us from ourselves -- if these crazy MPs didn't enforce the speed limit, we'd continue to lose servicemembers at a rate higher than that from the Global War on Terror...oops, Cliff, I meant to say "Overseas Contingency Operation." Still, the "power trip" line falls on the original-trenchant matrix somewhere just to the southwest of "The best thing about the Super Bowl is the commercials." I don't think people will ever stop saying it, but I'll challenge it where I can.

(2) I totally saw you the other day and you didn't say hi.

This sentence could be the basis for a 100-level Logic course -- with some brand new syntax, some subject-object transposition, or just a quick nod towards common sense, people might someday just stop saying this. But I won't hold my breath. I've heard this many times before and will no doubt hear it again. The bottom line, of course, is that you seeing me doesn't mean I saw you, and since you've already confirmed that you were the seer, your lack of a "hi" or other greeting makes you the ignorer, so therein lies the irony.

(3) Whoa! You're actually still around...I thought you'd fallen off the face of the Earth. (to someone you haven't seen in a while).

Someone I used to see all the time at the SUBASE gym said this to me on Tuesday morning as we passed each other at the door -- me on the way in, him on the way out.

Here's why it doesn't make any sense: If you haven't seen someone in a while, that means they haven't seen you, either. That could be based on something very simple, like your command changing its mandatory PT time. Everything comes back to perspective -- calling someone out on falling away or being distant is totally legit if the person has become hard to reach via phone calls or e-mails. Now, even though this particular comment came from an innocuous, neutral place, this kind of stuff is often used to put people on the defensive and it's not really logical.

If you haven't seen someone in a while, the absolute best five words you could ever say are these: "It's great to see you." In fact, I serendipitously ran into Kad Barma (author of Choosing a Soundtrack, conveniently linked to your right) last night at the Village Smokehouse during the Bruins game and these were his words -- short, sweet, to the point, and without any judgment -- explicit or implied -- about anyone's fault for any lapsed time.

Another way to do it might be "it's been a while," which lacks the positive connotation of the previous one but still uses a neutral, no-fault passive voice, which is way better than the "What's wrong with you?" tone that people often use when they perceive some sort of absence.

(4) Any covering of being called out for sarcasm or negativity with the old standby "I was just kidding!"

If someone starts a sentence with "So, an [insert name of animal] walks into a bar" chances are they are telling a joke. Hopefully it's funny, but at the very least they're surely kidding. However, walking into someone's office and making a bunch of unsolicited insults isn't when that person or a third party calls you out on it, using the old "I was kidding" crutch doesn't work. Think about it: if someone punches you in the face but then tells you not to lose sight that it was really all just in jest, that might not be so easy to do from your convalescent bed.

(5) Any governmental attempt to rename 'terrorism' with a more neutral sort of euphemism like 'man-made disaster.'

The reason this makes so little sense is that it becomes hard to distinguish what's REALLY going on when you have to distort the language like this. It's like what Fox News has done with suicide bomber -- by banning the expression, you've just made it harder to determine what's happened when you report the news. A 'man-made disaster' could happen if a wrecking ball operator directs his equipment in the wrong direction and accidentally destroys a part of a building. I would also consider a juvenile prank like No. 2 in a urinal as a "man-made disaster." Neither qualify as terrorism, however, which is pretty handily definable as violence or the threat of violence against civilian targets for the purpose of promoting a political aim.

Even if you disagree with that specific definition of terrorism, you could still fall back on the old Potter Stewart-ism about knowing it when you see it.


C R Krieger said...

That was one of them...

Regards  —  Cliff

The New Englander said...


Good catch..I clicked somewhere and posted accidentally...all five are up now, though..


Matt said...

I have to say in re: to #4 -- the ARTICLE THREE was the most abused thing in high school. And it still persists today! It is also one of the easiest ways to be passive aggressive...

The New Englander said...


Roger and good copy on the passive-aggressiveness. In the end, who am I to really say when someone is "kidding" or "not kidding" but the simple way to look at it is that people whose company I value tend not to act that way, so at the end of the day, whether someone is unbearably obnoxious trumps whether it meets their definition of 'sense of humor.'