Day 287: We still can’t fix stupid, but now we’re not even trying

It’s Day 287 of 15 Days to Flatten the Curve and Day 47 of a 21-day statewide curfew.

And it’s the last day for Richard Michael DeWine to veto SB 175, Ohio’s “stand your ground” bill, before it becomes law. Tick-tock-twit.

Deb and I are well.

The 117th Congress was sworn-in yesterday. The joint session was opened with a prayer given by a Missouri congressman, a black Democrat (natch, natch) who happens to be a Methodist minister. His invocation managed to tread not only into politics but pantheism, which has triggered some folks. It was the way he ended the prayer, however, that’s got everyone (with a brain) spitting out their coffee:

“Amen — and a-woman.”

What we have here is a tortured appeal to gender identity and a very special kind of stupid. Let’s review.

The word “amen” traces to the Hebrew אָמֵן (āmēn). It’s an acknowledgement of truth, an expression of agreement or certainty, loosely “so be it” or “it is so.” The word is neither masculine nor feminine — but the second syllable does sound like the plural of the English “man,” doesn’t it?

That kind of idiocy should hurt, but it’s the way these people operate.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this, of course, and I’m reminded of a couple of other examples — both in the world of politics, oddly enough, and both involving Democrats. The more recent one happened in 1999 in Washington, DC, when a city staffer used (properly) the word “niggardly” during a meeting.

It’s an Old English word that means “cheap,” or “miserly.” Ebenezer Scrooge was niggardly. It shares no etymological kinship with the Old English neger or the Latin niger, both of which mean “black.”

But because the first two syllables sound like a latter-day racial slur, there were complaints and the staffer was forced to resign — until, that is, someone told DC’s (black) mayor that the objections were based on ignorance of the English language. He tried offering the departed (white, gay) staffer another position in city government.

As I recall, the offer was declined.

Then there’s Florida’s legendary 1950 U.S. Senate primary battle between Claude Pepper and George Smathers. As the tale is told, Smathers would dazzle uneducated rural voters with doublespeak like this:

“Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.”

Whether or not the story is apocryphal is beside the point. Everything Smathers said about Pepper may have been true, and all of it was innocuous — but to the ignorant, those big words sure sounded like stuff they weren’t supposed to vote for.

Smathers won, by the way.

The congressman-minister who yesterday tried to slap sexism on an old Hebrew word should be exposed for the con artist he is. He’ll never get the humiliation he so richly deserves, though, because politicians will never run short of stupid people who vote.

There’s little doubt that I’m a Word Guy, but numbers — if they’re applied honestly and critically — fascinate me, because they can direct a shaft of useful light on other facts. Like the stat I mentioned yesterday — nearly four in ten Americans detect a foul odor emanating from the 2020 presidential election. That’s significant.

Or this one — FBI records, corroborated by industry data, show that firearms sales are up over 90% compared to a year ago. Apparently few Americans really believe Daffy and Chuckles when they claim that they don’t want to confiscate your guns.

Some interesting numbers have emerged around the release of WuFlu vaccines, which are being made available first to health-care workers. But in Ohio, for example, it’s being reported that 60% of those workers are declining the shot(s). In New York City and Los Angeles, an estimated 50% of front-liners have balked. Ditto Texas, where 29% of nurses are reluctant. Other cities and states have reported refusal rates as high as 70%. This is encouraging, at least to me, and it bears watching.

Speaking of WuFlu, we always hear about how the US has twice the cases (20,636,663) and half again the deaths (351,580) of any other country (India and Brazil, respectively, are second). That’s according to Johns Hopkins, which also reports a US case-fatality rate of 1.7% — and that puts America solidly mid-pack, and ahead of many other developed countries.

So numbers are cool. Numbers are objective. Numbers can useful. But here’s a pro tip: Numbers don’t prove anything.

Every number needs context. A number — even an actual, factual, immutable number — is nothing by itself. It’s merely a bit of information.

In related news, numbers can be misused. Take that Johns Hopkins case-fatality stat of 1.7% — doesn’t that mean that the US has a 98.3% WuFlu recovery rate?

Nope. Not every single one of the 20,636,663 current cases will recover. It’s fine to use those numbers to make an observation, but it’d be dishonest to draw a conclusion.

If the case you’re making relies on statistics, you’ve already lost the damned argument.”

Also, if you’re one of those clear-headed Americans who believes that a great many of the deaths attributed to WuFlu weren’t caused by this coronavirus, realize that the case-fatality rate could be even lower — and, naturally, the number of cases would be lower, too. But we’ll never know.

Back when I was coaching people on communicating effectively, I always said that if the case you’re making relies on statistics, you’ve already lost the damned argument. That’s still true — numbers can be supportive, but they’re never persuasive.

And that’s why I’m a Word Guy.

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

(Header image: Our second morning waking up in the Bumper Bunker, 7am, Hocking County, July.)

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