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Strictly Speaking

I Mean... You Know?

I MEAN... YOU KNOW

I have strayed from single words to common expressions, or combinations of words that appear in speech with such frequency that they have become virtually obligatory to entering the conversation, a prerequisite to acceptance. These expressions are the equivalent of passwords provided to guards at a military encampment in order to gain safe access to the shelter of the camp, its food, and its commanders.

Time to think.

Why start with “I mean” unless one’s normal pattern of conversing is to say things that are unmeant, and thereby insincere. And yet to begin with “I mean” communicates the possibility that any utterance made without the introductory words, “I mean” must be taken as insincere, and that unless prefixed by “I mean” the individual is speaking insincerely. And yet again, since the purpose of language is to communicate intended meanings, the use of “I mean” merely creates a larger suspicion that the speaker sometimes, if opening without this parenthetic bookend, is prevaricating, or being insincere.

Yet “I mean” is at best uneconomical. Junk phrase. Tribal noise.

As a more economic alternative, why not just say what you mean without prefix?
After what is claimed to be meant is uttered, there comes the closing bookend, “you know?" Not offered as a genuine interrogative, which would require a pause expecting a response, “you know” is often thrown down more like a gauntlet, as if to challenge the audience to disagree, or as a means of asserting that no other conclusion is possible from the assertions bookended between “I mean” and “you know.”

“You know,” could be better acquitted as respectful conversation if it were used the way that the Japanese use the same phrase in their speech. In Japanese it is slipped in at the end of a train of thought as, “You know?” Then there is, after and during eye contact, waiting for the listener to nod or shake their head. Disagreement is possible. The course of conversation can be diverted, or a point returned to with Richard Feynman’s famous, “How well do you know that fact?” Or, “Isn’t it equally true that...”

Here’s the distinction. The purpose of tribal noise is concealment, to melt in and be accepted. The purpose of language is communication and exchange of ideas. Progress depends upon the understanding of words with well grounded meaning, or interpretations that leap cultural hurdles to clarify parochial similes. An example of this latter intent would be the United Nations interpreter who made the English phrase “Like carrying coal to Newcastle,” into the Arab equivalent, “Like carrying sand to the Sahara.” She did not translate, word-for-word, but her choice better communicated the intentions of the English delegates to Arab ears. She did not add either “I mean,” or “you know.” The pace of simultaneous translation does not afford the luxury of meaningless excess.  Read More 
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Crimes Against Humanity

CRIMES (against humanity)

Now here’s a lexicographic hot potato if ever there was one. Like the green revolution and sustainability, it has managed to gather caché in nearly nation in the world, depending on whether it was victimizing or victimized. While victimizing, crimes against humanity are glossed over as patriotic, heroic actions, or inevitable mistakes in the fog of war. But when victimized, a nation pays eternal homage to the words of George Santayana at the entrance to Auschwitz, “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”

Crimes against humanity break down along both cultural and national lines, the outcome, as often, depending on the country. At Nuremberg the Allied Forces, sans the Soviet Union, tried certain high ranking Nazis as war criminals and left some of them swinging lifeless at the end of a rope. Had there been videophones among the executioners, their podcasts would have gone viral on You Tube.

The Soviets, who made no distinctions between German combatants and Nazi Party members, wreaked a terrible revenge on all German POWs, exiling them to Siberia. Incongruously, the triumphant United States conducted no war trials against the Japanese, despite the mass murder of the Batan Death March, the torture and execution of America POWs in camps, and the genocidal extermination of Nationalist Chinese in Nanking.

Either someone did not think of the Japanese as human, or the U.S. acted to deflect the accusation of its own crimes against humanity after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which more civilians than military were killed.

Inside nations, some still cling to playing God, despite God’s Biblical warning in the Book of Romans: “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord; I shall repay.” In all industrialized countries other than the United States in the so-called free world, capital punishment is regarded as the state lowering itself to the offense that the convict has committed.

Ironically, in America the Beautiful, state sanctioned killing or a murderer is regarded as a form of deterrent (studies show it is not). In God-loving U.S.A., modern humans still howl for vengeance as loudly as their primate ancestors.

The United States Supreme Court once ruled that execution was “cruel and unusual punishment.” Not only that, but prosecutions seeking the death penalty are, according to journalist Stanley Cohen, more expensive to the state than a plea bargain leading to life imprisonment without parole.

Beyond that, as Project Innocence has shown repeatedly by using DNA evidence, persons originally convicted beyond a reasonable doubt were in fact not guilty. Ergo, the system pretending healthy skepticism has reached its verdict by some other process, probably fear, repulsion, outrage and suspicion. Bringing us to another line from the Bible, this one from the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not kill.” Not “Thou shalt not kill unless the son of a bitch is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” or even if he (or sometimes she) confesses.

Unless society sets the example by avoiding lethal violence, it, too becomes a mass murderer, committing crimes against humanity as coolly, regularly, and unapologetically as the Nazis did against the Jews. But then, as Condoleeza Rice said of the secret prisons and torture at Abu Ghraib, “I was all legal.” This was the same defense offered by attorneys for the Nazi defendants at Nuremberg. Maybe tort is a cognate of torture.  Read More 
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