144 thoughts on “Touche

  1. He is certainly nicer than I would have been. In fact, when someone asked me what I thought I shared that I adore how patient he was. I would have said fish you and ended up at her level.

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  2. First, the dude’s classy and can write a good opinion piece.

    Second, from Media Matters, with the caveat that this is personally unconfirmed but I wouldn’t find it surprising…

    Last night, Ms. Coulter told Politicker.com that she’s not concerned about upsetting people, explaining: “The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it.”

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  3. Actually, John Franklin Stephens’ essays are penned by his father.

    You see, we are supposed to get the joke that it is only the dumb and shallow people who use a term that means dumb and shallow. My dad tells me that this is called “irony.”

    That is why I love being a Global Messenger. I work for days telling my dad what I want to talk about and he tries to write it down for me. Then we do it over and over until we have something that says what I mean. We wrote this letter the same way.

    Uh huh. “We.” Right.

    Read more: Using the word “retard” to describe me hurts – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/commented/ci_10351963#ixzz2AOPjW3jU
    Read The Denver Post’s Terms of Use of its content: http://www.denverpost.com/termsofuse

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        • No, Duck, we’re supposed to have a competition to see who can be the fastest to dismiss the idea that a “retard” could actually have meaningful thoughts and feelings about anything substantive.

          Obviously Tom’s allowed to discuss it–nobody’s deleted his classless post, have they? And by the same token that you think my comment means Tom’s not allowed to discuss it, your comment would suggest that nobody’s allowed to discuss Tom’s comment. Ironic, isn’t it?

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        • Reasons that focusing on the authorship is problematic:
          1- If the piece were written in the third person by the father about the son, the points would still stand. The mere notion that to be compared to people with mental or developmental disabilities is an insult is wrong. If you think we’re applauding the piece because, hey, that sped kid spelled his name right… you’re missing the point.
          2- It remains unclear how much of a hand in the final piece the father had. Accepting the young man at his word (and I have no reason not to), it seems his father served as no more than an editor and advisor.
          3- Fair or not, Tom’s role here is impacting people’s response. It presents as circling the wagons for partisan reasons. Tom and Coulter are on the same side, so any attempt to discredit her critic is fair game, such that instead of discussing the merits of using “retard” as Coulter did, we’re discussing who said what. It is obfuscation. (Note: I’m not necessarily saying these are Tom’s motives but that is how it appears, at least in part because of past behavior; I don’t think this is necessarily unfair, even if inaccurate. Tom has ample opportunity to clarify if necessary.)

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          • Tom and Coulter are on the same side, so any attempt to discredit her critic is fair game

            Has Rush started calling the kid a slut/prostitute/whore yet?

            If he does, it’s not partisan hackery. It’s his Toy Department-Lenny Bruce schtick.

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            • Let me ask you a question: what has the discussion become? Has anyone actually discussed the letter? There’s been a bit of a discussion about word usage below, but for the most part, no one’s discussing the issues. Why is that? Because I mentioned Scott and pointed out that Tom and DD were being Tom and DD? Or is it because two trolls hijacked the conversation? I don’t see anything wrong with pointing this out. If I singled out Scott unfairly, I apologize to him. If it’s any consolation, I don’t think Scott is a troll like the other two.

              This does, however, provide us with a launching point for talking about something more relevant to the discussion. Part of the problem with imbalances of power and privilege is that, every time we change the words we use to remove some of the influences of that imbalance, those with the power and the privilege will at first whine about how they don’t get to use certain words because people are just too sensitive, and then once the new way of talking about things is firmly encoded in the vernacular, they’ll just coopt the new language to make it reflect the imbalance again. So that the conversation is never really about the imbalance: instead of talking about the issues that those with disabilities face, the stigma and stereotypes with which they are limited and demeaned, we spend our time talking about the language that we use to talk about them. Power and privilege prevail again.

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              • Shorter version, trolling isn’t always harmless. Sometimes, it’s about maintaining one’s privilege. The best way to deal with it is to just point out that it’s trollery and move on to talk about the actual things that need talking about. So I just said, “Hey, look, trolls!” Now let’s talk about the letter.

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              • There is plenty of room to criticize both the “what” and the “how” of the aforementioned folks’ statements. But “slimy conservative” moves us even further from discussing the letter and takes us down the road to meta hell.

                The best way to fight privilege is to expose it and the harms it causes. Saying, “Ewwww… stinky privileged” folks is a far less effective option.

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              • we spend our time talking about the language that we use to talk about them.

                It’s almost like there’s a conscious attempt to construct a language so that it’s impossible to talk about certain aspects of reality. So disputes about reality will be viewed, in this language, as disputes about word meanings. And that’s why the discussion inevitably turns meta-linguistic.

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                    • I could dig around for the comment so you could read the context, but it’s not really worth it, is it? As I recall, tho, my response to Tom’s comment was that if we have different definitions of the words we’re using we’re not speaking the same language, so we’re net even disagreeing. I then proposed we agree to a shared definition so the discussion could proceed, and we could figure out where we agree or disagree. I think that was the last thing written.

                      {{Now I’m curious. I’ll try to track that thread down.}}

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                • Here is how I often see the conversation go:

                  “Let’s talk about society’s treatment of people with special needs.”
                  “You mean retards?”
                  “Retard is considered pejorative. The preferred term is “person with special needs.”
                  “THERE YOU GO AGAIN, TRYING TO CONTROL LANGUAGE!”
                  “Whatever. Fine. What do you think about society’s perception of people with special needs?”
                  “You mean retards?”
                  “Ugh!”

                  It also often goes like this…
                  “Let’s talk about society’s treatment of mentally retarded people.”
                  “THEY’RE PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, GODDAMNIT! WHY DO YOU HATE THEM?!?!”
                  “Calm down. Sorry. Okay. Special needs people…”
                  “PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS! PERSON FIRST! NAZI!”

                  I think there is a tendency to think that if you win the language battle, you automatically win the war.

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                  • I think there is a tendency to think that if you win the language battle, you automatically win the war.

                    I totally agree. At least for lots of people and many types of issues. There’s a tendency to think that redefining a word will win the argument. It equates words with symbols of political meaning rather than having linguistic meanings. It’s sophistry, of course (which is why it’s always so ironic when Tom accuses other people of engaging in sophistry and using words as bumper-sticker slogans).

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                  • “Here is how I often see the conversation go:

                    “Let’s talk about society’s treatment of people with special needs.”
                    “You mean retards?” “

                    And at this point you recognize that there’s a squirrel here, and despite every fiber of your being screaming for an instinctive lizard-brain pure-emotion response, you say “fine, whatever you want to call them. What do you think about the way society treats them?”

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                  • >I think there is a tendency to think that if you win the language battle, you automatically win the war.

                    I agree with this totally. Which is part of my problem with the fact that the R-word is what shoves cognitive disability into the public eye again and again.

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                • What bugs me is the desire to cling to a way of talking about things, for no apparent other than that talking about things that way maintains the current order of things. If certain words become too loaded with negative implications to be used to refer to groups of people without automatically bringing them bear, who does it harm to change the words we use?

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                  • Well, as Stillwater points out, it is the false conflation that conceding on linguistic grounds means conceding elsewhere.

                    I don’t talk about abortion much but when I do, I tend to roll my eyes at all the sophistry. Pro-Choice! Pro-Life! Anti-Choice! Pro-Abortion! Blah, blah, blah. Since I don’t really care about the terms myself (though I do realize the power that language does have), I’ll often go along with whatever language the person I’m talking with opts to use. The problem is, they tend to assume this means I’m accepting their entire position.

                    “You said anti-choice/pro-abortion! You agree with me!”
                    “ARGH!”

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                    • Oh I agree about the pro-choice, pro-life nonsense. It’s the old “framing” debate (not that old — it only really entered the public consciousness around 2003, but that’s “old” in the internet age). But here we’re talking less about “frames” that groups use to define themselves and their positions, and more about the labels used to refer to groups, often without their choice, becoming laden with the stereotypes that people use to disparage and even oppress those groups. So the only people who lose anything by ceasing to use those labels are the disparagers and oppressors.

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                    • I should note that it is often the case that the very same people who fight label changes designed to get rid of stereotypical implications are also the people who like to politicize everything in an “us vs. them” way, making it unsurprising should they treat discussions of political labels like “pro-choice” the same as they treat discussions about things like the n-word.

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                    • I think privilege most obviously rears its ugly head when folks refuse to allow others the necessary autonomy and empowerment to self-identify.

                      I’m sorry, but white folks don’t get to have a say in what black folks call themselves. And, yes, I extend this to the use of the n-word within that community. I’m reminded of an earlier conversation ’round these parts about whether or not Obama could accurately consider himself a black American which, given white people’s ugly history of determining who was and was not white and who was and was not black, was appalling.

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                    • And I think you’d be doing yourself a serious disservice to presume that you know the most respectful way for folks from another community and culture to address one another.

                      It’s be like looking at two Japanese folk bowing to greet one another and thinking, “What assholes… they didn’t even shake hands.” Or them looking at you greeting another American and thinking, “What assholes… they didn’t even bow.”

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        • Scott,

          It’s low class to imply that they were just written by his father, and that John Franklin Stephens didn’t actually have a hand in their writing. That’s what TVD’s “we” in parentheses implied.

          In other words, the implication–absent any evidence–is that John Franklin Stephens’ dad is a liar, and that John Franklin Stephens is not mentally capable of expressing his own thoughts and feelings sufficiently to participate in writing the letter.

          Whether TVD really meant that implication or whether he just never thought about it hardly matters.

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          • People tell us that copyright is meaningless, that intellectual property doesn’t exist, that attempting to levy criminal fines and punishment for unlawful copying is rank idiocy because nothing ever happens in a vacuum and you can’t claim sole credit for anything and you were always inspired by something else and blah, blah, blah.

            Unless, apparently, you have a congenital mental disorder, in which case it’s reprehensible to suggest that you might have had help with anything.

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            • Unless, apparently, you have a congenital mental disorder, in which case it’s reprehensible to suggest that you might have had help with anything.

              TVD didn’t suggest John Franklin Stephens had help writing the letter. He didn’t need to, since John Franklin Stephens had already openly explained that he received help in writing it.

              What TVD suggested was that John Franklin Stephens’ father did not have help writing the letter.

              You could hardly have gotten this more wrong if you had set out to do so intentionally.

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              • Personally, I don’t think it matters WHO wrote the letter. I’m more concerned with what the letter said. The letter beautifully demonstrated that there is much to admire about folks who struggle with handicaps and that association with them is far from an insult. I don’t care if Bill Gates penned it, frankly. That is why I selected the quote that I did to include in the post.

                Do I consider it particularly honorable to call into question John’s writings? No. Not at all. But it doesn’t get us anywhere getting into a dick swinging contest.

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          • “Whether TVD really meant that implication or whether he just never thought about it hardly matters.”

            I think it does. Substantially so, actually. Intent matters. So does impact. The impact might remain the same regardless of the intent. But the intent alters how we approach the person.

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            • I do think the Downs guy is clearly being used by his father, yes I do. I found no record of “them” raking President Obama over the coals for his “Special Olympics” crack on Leno.

              Since Coulter is such a highly partisan figure, dragging the Downs lobby into this at all was bad judgment and bad politics. The odds of the father being a gentleperson of the right are nil.

              The “Global” message is that Downs persons are full human beings, capable of far more than folks give them credit for. Propping them up as language police neither helps the cause nor is especially credible in this case. Downs persons patrolling the tweets of a professional humorist is not positive action, in fact it’s silly.

              That is all.

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              • I don’t think John is being propped up as a language police. I don’t think he is necessarily saying never use that word. I think he is saying, “You think it is an insult? I consider it a badge of honor.”

                It is much like the idea of people dealing with “accusations” of being gay, as if it was a crime. I’ve had folks think I was gay for a host of reasons. It never bothered me one iota because I don’t think there is anything wrong with being gay. If we don’t think there is something wrong with being “retarded”, we wouldn’t use that word as an insult. Coulter clearly thinks there is something wrong with being “retarded”. John stands in opposition to that, both in words and deeds.

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                • This!!!!!!!!

                  What Tom has missed, because he’s blinded by the political orientation of Coulter (so much so that he’s imputed a political orientation to Stephens’ dad which both means he can ignore the message and that Stephens’ dad is the only one who could have written this), is the friggin’ message that it’s time people with mental disabilities and people without them stand up and say, “You know what, saying I have a mental disability is not an insult! When you use it as such, you show your own ignorance.” Tom is showing his own ignorance in defense of ignorance.

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                • Kaz, if the battle against “retard” is a worthy one, JFS is the wrong agent for it.

                  And Coulter basically said nobody calls retards retards, so the REAL controversy, that of using the word for people like JFS, simply doesn’t exist. [“I would not use any word that was unkind to describe someone who has an actual handicap, mental or physical. I would not do that.”] This is a plastic issue—in my view clearly partisan and manipulative of JFS.

                  It diminishes his positive message, just as “his” diatribe against Tropic Thunder [“Never go full retard”] did.

                  You see, we are supposed to get the joke that it is only the dumb and shallow people who use a term that means dumb and shallow. My dad tells me that this is called “irony.”

                  Clearly JFS writes—his father writes him–as a naif, an innocent, a bit of a child. Which is probably accurate. because frankly, my dear, I think JFS the person’s are being manipulated here into a non-event that he’d be otherwise unaware of.

                  Leaving Ann Coulter out of it, my objection remains the same–the bit on Tropic Thunder was far too clever and sophistic to be anything but the work of the father.

                  http://jackbrennanperspectives.com/2012/10/25/if-only-i-could-write-like-this-man/

                  “Last, I get the joke — the irony — that only dumb and shallow people are using a term that means dumb and shallow. The problem is, it is only funny if you think a “retard” is someone dumb and shallow. I am not those things, but every time the term is used it tells young people that it is OK to think of me that way and to keep me on the outside.”

                  Sorry, I don’t buy it as the thought of the real JFS. YMMV, and fortunately, principled disagreement is still permitted hereabouts. Cheers.

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                  • I didn’t read the “Tropic Thunder” article, in part because I still have a lot of mixed feelings on that movie and in part because I was motivated because I thought JFS’s piece here had a particular saliency that resonated with me. I don’t know much about the young man beyond that.

                    Personally, I think Coulter was deliberately sticking her thumb in people’s eyes. I think she chose her language deliberately, not just to show her disdain for the target of her insult, but to flip off folks who she knew would take particular umbrage with the R-word. Coulter is a pest. You can take two approaches with pests, as far as I’m concerned: 1) Ignore them (AKA, Rose’s method); 2) A quick, well delivered swat (AKA JFS’s method). When we hem and haw over pests, burn our house down to chase them out, or pull our hair out over what to do… well, I think the pests just sit back and laugh.

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                    • The joke in Tropic Thunder is the same as my objection here: using Downs persons for personal self-aggrandizement. “Irony.”

                      As for language policing, I’m not a fan. Neither do I think Coulter was funny there–the ultimate crime for a humorist.

                      Without making any judgement on whether JFS’s father is in fact using his son in this way (it’s at least possible, and if so, I would also find it distasteful), there is nothing else here I really disagree with (and given other comments you’ve made in the past, I was frankly surprised that you seemed to be A-OK with what Coulter said.)

                      But why’d it take so long to state yr position so succinctly & clearly? It’s like you’re trying to make people craz…OOOHHHH.

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                    • I think it’s clear he does have doubts about whether the battle against the word “retard” is a worthy one. Look at how he approvingly quotes Ann Coulter on the use of the word–since it’s not actually ever used against someone with Downs’ syndrome (Coulter somehow is an authority on that), there’s no reason to be critical of its use against someone without Downs’ syndrome.

                      So in this thread so far we have TVD saying “The Downs person is being used by his dad in a battle against the word retard that’s probably not worth it because the word’s not actually being used offensively” Classy. Very classy.

                      Let’s see, in the last few months he’s at least bordered on racism (the Trayvon Martin case), been fairly explicitly sexist (on numerous occasions) and now he’s dissing the mentally disabled.
                      The League should be proud as hell to have this guy representing them.

                      And, no, I’m not going to stop pointing this out each time he acts this way. He is the worst person here and every time he engages in this kind of behavior my respect for the League diminishes.

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                    • James,

                      I’m trying to avoid going meta (at the current moment… not entirely) and I’m trying to avoid talking about the “who” instead focusing on the “what” and the “why”. That being said, I think this is one of the better critiques that can be put forward, if one were going to put one forward. I’m also not sure that it requires much more. I ask (though certainly do not demand) that you let this be and hope that enough folks are able to see these words.

                      Thanks.

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                    • And what is this “…if the battle…” stuff? Do you have any doubt about it?

                      Tom doesn’t view this as an issue about the rights, thoughts, feelings, inherent worth, equal status of Down’s Syndrome folks. He views it at a “battle” between ideologies where Down’s Syndrome folks are used to advance the “radical gay liberal agenda”. On his view, the folks with DS are just pawns in a game where cultural death is on the line.

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                    • “Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go against a person with Downs’ Syndrome when cultural death is on the line”!”

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              • I found no record of “them” raking President Obama over the coals for his “Special Olympics” crack

                The fact that Obama a) didn’t actually mean to be insulting with that crack, and b) retreated quickly from, and apologized for, it, versus the fact that Coulter A) meant to be insulting, and B) doubled down, none of that matters. Nope, all that matters is that someone didn’t criticize the less offensive Democrat as harshly as they criticized the more offensive Republican.

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                • But don’t you see, the vast liberal conspiracy is using the Down’s guy to further their own ends. They’re the ones treating him like a “thing”, or an “object”. Even the guy’s dad was in on it! {{/crazy conservative partisan acting like a thing, or an object to further his “cause”}}

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            • There’s privilege, either way. He either meant to disdain John Franklin Stephens, because he’s in a privileged enough position to do so, or he unconsciously disdained JFS because he doesn’t even recognize his own privilege.

              And we’re talking about a guy who’s had this kind of thing pointed out to him plenty of times before. It’s really hard at this point to sustain the belief there’s anything remotely innocent about these things he writes. At one time I think there was, going back to the old PL days and even in the earlier days here. But now that it’s been pointed out to him so often, I think he’s decided that he doesn’t actually want to try to become a more decent person, but he’s going to stick it to all the politically correct liberal do-gooders by consciously embracing all the nastiness embedded in privilege.

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                  • Not better or worse. Just different. And requiring a different approach.

                    I don’t know if the best approach to combating privilege and/or ignorance is shouting at a person, as tempting as it might be. I realize all other approaches may also fail with folks who are unwilling to be self-reflective, at which point minimizing the impact of their privileged ignorance is probably the best tack. I believe this can be best accomplished by focusing on others who might receive their message and offering them a counter message.

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                  • Still and JH,

                    “Isn’t that a two-part solution? Call out the privileged nonsense for what it is, then make a more compelling case?”

                    “It’s the same ol’ thing that has been noted here every time somebody says, “just ignore him.” We’re speaking to anyone who might have failed to recognize what he does.”

                    And I think that can ALL be accomplished without devolving into a round of personal insults, as tempting or even accurate as that may be. That is all I’m saying. Call out privilege when you see it. I sure intend to. Signal to others that you think what someone says is offensive and does not represent you or the rest of us at the LoOG, implicitly or explicitly as necessary. As said, I think James’ comment elsewhere does this perfectly and I said as much.

                    Tod,

                    I’m not sure how fair your response to James was. I’ll assume it was an attempt to defuse the situation with some humor but I think it can easily be read as blowing someone off on an issue that is clearly important to them. I don’t necessarily agree with the end James seeks, but I think it deserved a more full response or none at all.

                    And with that, I’m going to step back from refereeing unless it becomes so necessary that I must jump back in. Thanks to everyone for what has been largely a really productive dialogue and for honoring my requests.

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    • I’m not sure how much experience you have sharing space in this world with people with disabilities, Tom, but this is common practice. Not everyone is as lucky as you. Not everyone on earth can write, read, or articulate their thoughts without a little support. He said he needs to discuss his thoughts with his father and then his father will help him put his idea on paper. I do this every single day with people at work. Just because they have a little support to get their thoughts and feelings down on paper doesn’t make the feelings any less owned by that person. In fact, it’s more powerful than anything you labor to put up here at the league because this person takes the time to seek out assistance to communicate. They have to go the extra mile to share their feelings. You might consider how lucky you are to breath the same air as John, because he is clearly an awesome human being. And there are more people like John in your own backyard, Tom. I suggest you go make a new friend.

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      • Every athlete has a coach, every actor has a director, and every writer has an editor. We all need a little help to be the best we can be.

        The thing of it is… however it came to be, help or no help, John’s piece clearly conveyed his meaning and after reading it I knew what he was talking about, agree or disagree. Isn’t that the ultimate hallmark of a good writer?

        On the other hand, I often have no clue what the hell Tom is going on about or what point he’s really trying to make. His comment above is an example of that.

        So who’s the better writer?

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  4. I think it’s worth exploring how the word “retarded” and more so, “retard,” have come to be pejorative. Originally, describing someone as retarded was a PC advance over the older terms moron, idiot, and imbecile. And those terms had originally been used as clinical descriptors for various degrees of mental incapacity, with moron and imbecile being specifically coined for that purpose.

    It seems that quite simply a word becomes a pejorative when some people use it that way. There’s a group home for the severely mentally handicapped at the other end of my block. Just from mental habit from my youth, I think of them as being severely retarded. Is that really so horrible of me? Does it really improve our communication to use two long words where originally one shorter one sufficed when the conferred meaning is identical?

    Where Annie and people like her go wrong isn’t in using the word “retarded” per se. It’s in the use of it as an insult. I have no doubt that at some point in her career she has penned a screed decrying political correctness in speech. But the irony is that it’s precisely people like her that drive that sort of movement by using terms that were originally intended as neutral descriptors as pejoratives. Basically, they’re fucking it up for everybody. It’s getting to where I don’t even know what words are okay anymore. Crippled became handicapped became disabled becomes differently-abled and somewhere along the line I lost the sense that we’re talking about some dude in a wheel-chair.

    I used to know what the term “retarded” meant. Now thanks to people like Coulter we’re stuck with mentally handicapped (or disabled, or challenged, or differently abled or whatever the hell it is this week). And it’s a real loss for the language because not only is it a lot longer, cumbersome, and awkward, it’s also less definitively descriptive. Someone with dyslexia, or any one of a number of conditions described by Oliver Sacks in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat could be described as mentally challenged in a sense but that’s not the same as the meaning conferred by retarded.

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    • “Now thanks to people like Coulter we’re stuck with mentally handicapped (or disabled, or challenged, or differently abled or whatever the hell it is this week). ”

      I think this is the first time I’ve seen anyone blame Political Correct terminology on Ann Coulter.

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      • Pithy, but entirely unresponsive to what Rod wrote. It’s almost like you didn’t see this sentence: “but the irony is that it’s precisely people like her…”, which would itself be ironic, especially given your own ironic comment. There are so many layers of irony here I don’t know what is even going on anymore.

        But I would ask, as I did in the original thread of Rose’s post, exactly what argument you and TVD are making. I can only assume you think it’s the height of wit and civility to call people ‘retards’, because I have gotten no more nuanced sense than that out of it. It seems to me that you are so invested in defending ‘your side’ (however that’s defined) that it leads you to defending the indefensible; or at least the really crappy.

        Good comment, Rod.

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        • But I would ask, as I did in the original thread of Rose’s post, exactly what argument you and TVD are making. I can only assume you think it’s the height of wit and civility to call people ‘retards’, because I have gotten no more nuanced sense than that out of it. It seems to me that you are so invested in defending ‘your side’ (however that’s defined) that it leads you to defending the indefensible; or at least the really crappy.

          You weren’t here for the Rush threads, were you?

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      • I’ll go farther and blame a fair amount of political correctness on Frank Luntz. After all he’s the architect of Inheritance Tax >> Death Tax. And my personal favorite is the Fox News insistence on substituting Homicide Bomber for Suicide Bomber.

        I find that last particularly grating because “suicide bomber” conveyed important information that’s totally lost with “homicide bomber”. After all, isn’t any bomb meant to destroy property and, at least potentially, kill people? If you describe someone as a suicide bomber you’ve told me that this person is a) totally committed to the cause, and b) extremely difficult to stop. Hell, our own Air Force could be considered a bunch of homicide bombers. That doesn’t tell me anything.

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    • Rod,

      This is something I wonder about as well. The evolution of language, particularly with regards to the terminology we use to describe people, is really tricky. Retarded was once okay, even preferred! Than folks began to use it as a pejorative and it became one and it is frowned upon and a new preferred term has arisen. Odds are, that cycle will repeat. I already hear folks using “special” in pejorative ways. The reality is, we need to be better about accepting folks whom are different because, in reality, we are all different.

      I don’t know what the answer is. I certainly wouldn’t fault someone for using an outdated phrase which has acquired a meaning they are unaware of. There is a difference between someone who grew up using the phrase “retarded” as the preferred term continuing to us it naively and someone like Coulter deliberately using it as an insult.

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      • “Retarded” in its original sense means “slowed down,” as in “to retard the spark of an engine” or “the chemical reaction was retarded.” In that sense it clearly was a an effort to give a far less pejorative appellation than “idiot” and “moron.”

        I wonder if the effort to move beyond the descriptive use of “mentally retarded” came about because even that seemed a little too pejorative, or because it was too commonly used simply as a pejorative? If the latter, then–without intending any criticism of Rod–I wonder if a more awkward phrase like “mentally handicapped” might not be preferable just because it’s a lot harder to turn into a quick and easy insult that has emotional punch in part just because it works so damn well linguistically?

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        • This is an interesting point and one I had never considered (that the actual phonetics of the word ‘retard’ make it sound like an expletive) but I suspect that people (kids, especially) would just shorten or bastardize any other term until they got what they needed from it to keep the *concept itself* as an insult (so ‘mentally handicapped’ would become something like, “You ‘cap!”)

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          • glyph — absolutely. (O.k., I am officially ashamed of this, but it’s what happened…)

            In my elementary school the mentally handicapped kids were in a separate classroom which was called the “opportunity class.” So, my entire childhood, the insult word of choice for us sweet little children was “opp.” “You opp!” “Don’t be an opp!”

            Honestly, to this day, when that syllable is used in current terms — “black ops” or “ops manual” — my brain goes right back to the third grade.

            My public apology to the world.

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            • I definitely have heard ‘special’ and ‘short bus’ used in similar fashion. And don’t feel bad, I have even used the phrase ‘that’s retarded’ as a pejorative in fairly recent memory out of sheer force of habit (I may be older than you, and the things we say when we are kids, are like muscle memory); though it was to denigrate an action/concept, not person, and it was not communicated to any kind of wide audience.

              It would probably be best if I could banish the word from my personal vocabulary just out of common courtesy, so I don’t accidentally use the word in an audience who would consider it insulting.

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            • responding to my own post — I just thought of another local neologism (it probably wasn’t all that offensive, but illustrative of the same point).

              Those guys back in the 50’s who wore their hair slicked back to a “ducktail,” wore white T-shirts, black leather jackets, pointy Italian shoes with clips on the heels (Fonzie kind of dudes, only actually mean), were called “hoods” or “juvenile delinquents” by my parents. But in our town there was a diner called the “Strand Lunch” where these folks hung out. So our word, throughout my childhood, was “lunchers.” “Don’t buy those shoes, those are luncher shoes.” “Hey, let’s avoid that block…lunchers.” “He’s a real luncher.”

              I don’t know, maybe we had a “neologism spouter” in my home town. Where do these things come from?

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        • Yeah, I meant to add something about that aspect of it. Part of it has to do with the part of speech; noun vs. adjective. I’d say that “you fucking retard!” is a bit worse than “you’re fucking retarded!” but it’s a close call. The first implying that the person in question is defined by being retarded while the second can allow for being retarded as merely one of a number of traits. And we like our insult words short and hard-sounding with a preference for hard sibilants like “s”, “k”, and “t”. Nigger is an exception but only because it has something of an etymology, Negro >> nigra >> nigger.

          But more to your point, I would have to agree that it’s certainly harder to turn “developmentally challenged” into a playground insult than “retard” (though “X-challenged” has become something of a meme on its own). So in that regard I suppose I have to regretfully agree with you. Regretfully because I bemoan the loss of brevity and precision in language. It’s just irritating.

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        • There was a bit about this on my Facebook page, where one of my friends-of-friends saw “retarded” used in the scientific way and thought that since it was from the 50’s, the scientific word had changed. I’m not sure but I doubt it has.

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      • Count me as one of those who is personally irritated by these changes in the language that seem somewhat arbitrary. “Oriental” becomes “Asian” even though Asian does a much poorer job of defining what is being said. “Black” becomes “African American” – seven syllables replacing one, and yet I’m still “white.” “Gals” is an insult, but “guys” is o.k. Etc. Yes, these things irritate me personally.

        BUT, I’m all for ’em. When I hear people sneering about “political correctness,” what I’m really seeing is a society-wide urge to — are you ready for it — be polite to one another.

        At a nice sit-down white napkin dinner, they put out two forks. Because I need two forks? No. Isn’t one fork more efficient? Yes. But it’s just nicer, more polite, more refined to have two forks. Manners aren’t silly; and they are not unnecessary. Manners, politeness, politics, the art of speaking in a sane fashion and then listening politely as other people speak in a sane fashion isn’t just a weird add-on to our humanity. It is how we achieved our humanity.

        So, the new terms can get a bit arbitrary and even silly, but if it has the effect of lessening offense and increasing the communication comfort zone, I’m on board. Did I really lose all that much when they took away my god-given right to use the word “retard” or “oriental”? Really?

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        • When the occasional person makes reference to the “African-Americans” in Europe (not referring to tourists), I always wince.

          The intent was to use precise, almost medical, language… but, instead, people just noticed that “that’s what we say instead of ‘black'”. (Unaware that “black” was what we said instead of “colored” (unaware that “colored” was what we said instead of “negro” (you know what, I’ll just stop here))).

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          • I tend to giggle at folks referring to black French teens as “African-Americans”.

            It should also be noted that there are subtle distinctions within the phrases. Many Caribbean-Americans consider themselves black but not African-American. Of course, many of them won’t identify with either and will identify solely as Hispanic/Latino or, more often, by country of origin (e.g., David Ortiz identifying as Dominican). I’ve met some immigrants from African who’ll call themselves African but not African-American and never black.

            And someone somewhere will chime in with, “WHAT ABOUT CHARLIZE THERON!?!?!”

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        • I don’t disagree, Rex. The kind of political correctness in speech you’re referring to here is, as you say, meant to be kind. Who I’m really irritated at are the assholes that pollute the language in such a way as to make this sort of language manipulation necessary. Like Awesome Annie of the Fox Woods.

          And what I find particularly galling are the politically motivated, Luntz-style machinations I spoke of above.

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        • This is a great point, Rex. Thank you for making it.

          GENERALLY SPEAKING*, the goal of so-called “political correctness” is to encourage civility. Ideally, we would all have the time and comfort to say, “Hey, what do YOU prefer to be called?” Some folks prefer black; others bristle at it. And, again, intent matters so much. I’ve flubbed zounds of times, but if people sense you are being genuine, they’re far more forgiving.

          * I do think their is a certain subsection of the PC “movement” that is interested in more than just encouraging mindfulness, politeness, and the like. Some do seem interested in demonizing their opponents by jumping to the attack at any minor gaffe. This adversarial nature is part of what makes discussions like these devolve into some of what we’ve already seen here. There is a bit of chicken-and-egg as to which side “started” this crap but, really, let’s all just knock it off. If someone is offensive for offense’s sake, I see little reason to encourage it absent a broader commentary being made that CAN’T be made otherwise.

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        • “Gals” is an insult, but “guys” is o.k.

          But as a consequence, “guys” is becoming de-gendered. I hear my students use it in a gender-neutral fashion, and do the high school girls on my daughter’s swim team. I’m not sure just how aware they are that once upon a time it strictly meant men. I think on net that’s a good development (even if it’s a bit disconcerting that it always seems to be male-focused words that get de-gendered, and never the female-focused ones, which is its own weird bit of genderedness).

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        • me replying to me — because I thought of another. (special snowflake stuff) Actually, the one that bugs me the most is replacing “handicapped” with “disabled.”

          “Handicapped” means you have a disadvantage. “Disabled” means you can’t do it. I’m saving up all my angst on this issue for when I’m just a little older, and my body starts to really fall apart. I’m gonna be the cranky old guy in the wheelchair wing growling: “I’m not disabled, dagnabbit, I’m handicapped. So there!”

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          • rexnobus reminds me of a story….

            In grad school I was a TA for a Supreme Court simulations class. Each student had to play the role of counsel or an actual Supreme Court justice in an actual case that was to be heard that year. One student (caucasian) had something along the lines of cerebral palsy, so he was in a wheelchair and struggled to speak clearly–in a case involving possible discrimination he played the role of Clarence Thomas.

            He asked a question about the possible discriminatory effects of the law in question, and the counsel began very gingerly trying to explain why it wouldn’t affect someone who’s disabled, without sounding offensive or politically incorrect. The student playing Thomas interrupted him and yelled, “I..I’m no..o…t dis…abled, …. I…’m…. BLACK!”

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  5. Hey folks,

    We’re proceeding into the weeds a bit… nothing new for us here. While I appreciate the passionate dialoguing, let’s try to stick to the “what” and the “why” of what folks are saying and not the “who”. This is a hot button issue, not only because of the way the issue at hand touches many of us personally, but because there is obviously a flair of partisanship whenever someone like Coulter is involved. I think that is fair game as part of the “why” but let’s try to avoid the needless personal mudslinging that will make us all look the fool.

    Thanks.

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  6. I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing over “crazy” and “insane”. I don’t think I can get behind banning those words — they have a VERY long history of being used as is.

    What do others think?

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    • I struggle with that one as well. I used to think that was a bridge too far, but given society’s current struggles with even recognizing mental illness as a real “thing”, I try to avoid it if I can.

      Generally speaking, I don’t walk on eggshells. I’ll use what I think is right. If someone corrects me, I do my best to be more mindful, accepting that I’ll likely stumble along the way. I also realize individuals vary… one person might prefer Native American and another American Indian. I do my best to get to know individuals and try to demonstrate sincerity so that when I do flub, folks can see beyond it and correct supportingly.

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  7. If we as a society value intelligence, then clearly it is an insult to claim that someone displays lower-than-expected intelligence.

    To be honest I prefer “mentally challenged” because that more accurately describes the situation. Smart is as smart does. Someone with a particular combination of genetics and development that causes their brain to work differently–and, we shall say, in a manner that’s less suited to modern life–isn’t necessarily destined to act in a way we’d call dumb; it just takes more work for them not to. The same way that someone with a lighter skeleton and less muscle mass than average is going to have a harder time lifting heavy objects–and yet nobody’s suggesting that “weak” ought to be considered a bigoted term.

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    • “If we as a society value intelligence, then clearly it is an insult to claim that someone displays lower-than-expected intelligence.”

      This is an interesting argument but not one I can necessarily agree with. I think it creates a false dichotomy, with “intelligence as value” on one side and “lack of intelligence as insult” on the other.

      First, there is a degree to which intelligence is an immutable trait. One can improve it, but I firmly believe that much of our intellectual capacity/potential is controlled by our genes. This is particularly so in the case of people who suffer from handicaps. Someone with Down syndrome didn’t acquire it via laziness.

      Second, as first stated, I think there is a false dichotomy here. There are many things the presence of which we consider laudable and valuable and rightly so; there are others we might also attach that meaning to for less immediately obvious reasons. But, looking at them on the whole, we don’t necessarily subscribe that the lack of them is somehow worth of insult. We tend to value height; but we don’t necessarily consider it appropriate to insult short people.

      Again, the notion that being less intelligent, whatever the reason, is worthy of insult and the identification of such a trait is itself an insult is a troubling one.

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    • This reminded me of a passage from a book on insight meditation by Joseph Goldstein:

      When I was in India training with my teacher, Munindra-ji, I sat in on many of his interviews with yogis to watch how he taught. After some of the interviews, he would describe which meditation subjects were suitable for different individuals. Once he said, “Oh yes, this one is suitable for intelligent people, and this one for stupid people.” I had an immediate, strong reaction to this categorization. Because of a certain middle-class, Western conditioning, I was offended that anyone would be considered stupid.

      It was freeing to learn that for spiritual practice there is no preference regarding intelligence. Some people are intelligent, and others are not. According to the teaching, if you are intelligent you do one thing, and if you are dull you do another.

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  8. I don’t know anyone who says “differently abled.”

    We used “special” as an insult all the time when I was growing up. In addition to “retard” and “that is so retarded.”

    If I have power tomorrow, maybe I’ll post on Coulter’s response, which actually made zero sense.

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