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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, May 17, 2010

War on, Like, Terror and Stuff

By bert

Some situations need a word to describe them, and the English language can’t deliver the right one, so we purloin a foreign one to do the job. We’ve all heard “je ne sais quoi” applied or “schadenfraude” for example.

Here’s another situation in need of a term. It arises during some of those times when a right-wing pundit is attacking a strategic target. In these cases the attack rides on mangled facts and/or language that expose the ignorance of the pundit and so boomerangs back to self-inflict more damage on its source than on the intended recipient.

This is one example of what I am wrestling with. The famous Glenn Beck was months ago attacking the long-dead Margaret Sanger because she helped found Planned Parenthood. But Beck’s damaging zinger was that Sanger was among those in the early twentieth century who advocated eugenics, which is a reprehensible effort to improve the human race through promoting certain racial types or other characteristics and targeting those people deemed inferior.

Because bad people like the Nazis took the idea to an extreme, a cursory link between Sanger and eugenics might make her – and therefore Planned Parenthood, which is Beck’s strategic point – look bad. Poor Glenn though. He said on the air, more than once, that Sanger supported “genetics” when he meant “eugenics’.

Should we do another example of this situation without a name?

Take James T. Harris, the part-time right-wing talker on WTMJ (and now in Tucson too). Harris, who describes his product as “hip musings”, was trying during his show last Sunday to again mock Contessa Brewer of MSNBC and her comments on the failed attempt to bomb Times Square that occurred two weeks ago. Brewer said after a suspect was arrested that she had originally hoped the suspect did not have "ties to any kind of Islamic country."

Her point was that terror attacks perpetrated by Islamist radicals like those of Al Qaeda fertilize the fallacy widely held in the U.S. – which is first germinated in a widespread ignorance of the wider world -- that Muslims are murderers. And she was right.

Harris claimed on last Sunday’s show that Brewer and her statements are all wet because the suspect who was arrested was in fact “of Arab descent”.

In fact, as we all know by now, this suspect Faisal Shahzad is from Pakistan. That is a country kind of down there in South Asia, over on the other side of the old Persia from the distant Arabian peninsula. In Pakistan the national language is Urdu.

To spell it out more plainly: people from Pakistan are not correctly regarded as Arabs. They are among the millions in Africa, Asia , and the U.S. who are Muslim but not Arabs. (And many Arabs are not Muslim.)

So, as it turns out, Brewer would have been fulfilled if her wish had been that the perpetrator was not “of Arab descent”. And like Shahzad’s Nissan Pathfinder bomb, the verbal weapon that Harris attempted to inflict on Brewer instead just fizzled and made him look idiotic.

So what do you call what happened there? "Dumb-ruined attack" or "Oops, never mind moments"? I would suggest going south of the border for something better. In Mexico they have a word “pendejadas” that is a vulgarity but heard everywhere. The term describes the dumb things said by people in a way that mocks the people who said it.

Right now common usage has not watered down the crude punch of this Mexican slang enough to make it as commonplace as other foreign terms such as, say, "voilà". That’s unfortunate because your AM radio is producing pendejadas at an alarming rate.

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