Wednesday, August 29, 2012



Now that that women are viewed, in the West anyway, as fully fledged – at the very least – members of the human race, linguistic conventions are clearly outdated. This, by the way, is not unique to English. Every known language deprecates and subsumes women. (See Robin Lakoff, Language and Women's Place, probably not available anywhere.) In fact, English, being one of the few genderless languages, is rather less guilty of perpetuating patriarchal hetero-normativity than the rest.

For this blog's mother tongue, the most egregious offense, aside from the obvious affronts presented by "history" and "women", is the dual-purposing of masculine pronouns, as they have always been used to refer to both men and people. Consequently, writers have been torturing both themselves and readers in circumlocutions tendentious, ungrammatical, or, frequently, both.

In a recent newspaper article about how GPS is changing, well, everything, one sentence referring to flying used "pilot ... she". As a practical matter, of course there are women pilots. Just not very many; statistically, the writer should have deferred to the masculine, and might well have done, except for the near-certainty of style sheets demanding a certain ratio of female pronouns.

Even James Taranto, who is the gold standard for direct, telegraphic, and economical writing, falls into this trap. In today's Best of the Web, regarding the GOP convention, he had this to say about Ann Romney's speech:
Which reminds us of something we found mildly vexing about last night's big speeches, namely the feminist pandering. Gov. Christie did it by using poor grammar: "Mitt Romney," he declared, "will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world's greatest health care system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor."

In English, masculine pronouns double as neutral ones. "An American citizen and his doctor" would have been the correct way of referring to a generic patient who could be of either sex. Make it ". . . her or his doctor" and you say the same thing, albeit with two excess words. But if you take Christie's words literally, ObamaCare is a problem only inasmuch as it harms women. The death panels can have at the guys.
I happily grant that my criticizing Mr. Taranto on his writing is scarcely less hubristic than diagnosing shortcomings in Ted William's swing. Nonetheless, he has this wrong, as do all the other scribblers agonizing over the repression inherent in the language.

I contend you can always, or close as darnnit, recast any sentence to avoid grinding women under the heel of grammatical repression. Hint: if the subject is inherently collective, it is also inherently plural.

Try this instead: "... putting those bureaucrats between American citizens and their doctors." Or, better yet, since, with regard to healthcare, companion animals are not yet the beneficiaries of government largesse, how about "... Americans and their doctors."

Try it, works every time.

Besides it will forestall, perhaps indefinitely, the imposition of s/he.

Oh, while I'm on a roll, we are beset by the clanking of gender neutrality right where it is least necessary. To wit, every article on "parenting" is written by women, about women. So, how about leaving us guys out of that cat-fight? "Mothering" is a perfectly good word.


No, wait ...

[rant back on]

The progenitors of "You've got mail" and "America's got talent" to name just two examples, should be rewarded with a sound whack upside the head with "Elements of Style".

No, you feckless, language trashing morons. "You have mail". "America has talent".

Yes, the former is no longer any more prominent in the lexicon than AOL, which is now much more closely associated with "Who?". But they are to blame for the spread of that particular grrrrammatical abomination.

As for the latter, a more thoroughly self-refuting statement would be difficult to find, even given time and alcohol.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Tick. Tock.

As of two weeks ago, Chez Skipper is an empty nest. Both the woman and man children are now at Washington State University.

For the last half year or so, if I stopped what I was doing, I could hear the ethereal pendulum of an invisible clock swinging remorselessly, slightly louder with each descent. Of course, time is marking off for all of us always, but some events, rubicons, whose approach is sufficiently obvious, particularly tune our ears to its relentless march.

When the other SWIPIAW and I headed for the airport, the rest of their lives, and ours, started.

As portentous as all that is, in all senses of the term, over the months my mind couldn't help but wander away from the universe's escapement mechanism. Frequently, it ended up in the financial morass we call higher education.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a collectivist. I'll leave that to those whose visions are without constraint. Yet I can't help but apply that collectivist term "fairness" to the ravenous monetary maw college educations have become: $26,000 per year, not including books, travel, or incidentals. It is worth noting that we picked WSU for its proximity and cost. It is the closest suitable college to Alaska that is only four times as expensive as it should be, instead of ten. And while the Skipper sprogs are no doubt exemplars of their kind, I don't doubt there are many every bit as meritorious, but whose choice of parental units was less fortunate. For them, even a decidedly middling college is either out of reach, or attainable only through the prospect of years laboring out from underneath debt.

The questions are, or at least should be, obvious. Colleges impart no more education now -- leaving aside for the moment the intrinsic value of what higher education pedagogy hurls from its podia -- yet the cost to purchase it has skyrocketed.

Consider a microcosm of the college experience, textbooks.

When it comes to economics, one the nice things about books is that once invented, they have scarcely changed, making the concept of inflation far easier to apply. Over the last forty years, without any adjustment, the number of dollars required to purchase a hard back book has roughly tripled. Over that same period, the unadjusted cost of college textbooks has increased over seven times. As for the wider picture, I'll bet the average college budget top line is an order of magnitude greater. Why?

Two reasons, probably. Just as the CRA created the housing bubble, government attempts to ameliorate unfairness have just made the problem worse. James Taranto has also theorized that court decisions eliminating aptitude tests with racially disparate outcomes has caused companies to look elsewhere for talent proxies: college diplomas have become de rigueur where they once were beside the point.

No matter. Despite being an admission against interest, the sooner this government fueled and fortified fleecing collapses, the better for all of us.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Enquiring Mind Wants to Know ...

A recent post at Volokh about consensus economic policies included this:

One: Eliminate the mortgage tax deduction, which lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. Gone. After all, big houses get bigger tax breaks, driving up prices for everyone. Why distort the housing market and subsidize people buying expensive houses?

There are really two issues here: market distortion and subsidy; it is the latter which puzzles me.

First, if it is a subsidy, who is subsidizing whom?

Second, why eliminate it only for homeowners, but not rentiers?

(Full disclosure: I am an owner/occupier.)