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Saturday, April 20, 2019

FUCT or Phuced; the Justices Must Decide.

The Supreme Court's oral arguments in Iancu v Brunetti were fascinating as the justices tried to avoid saying the name of the trademark in question, F.U.C.T. A clothing company is trying to trademark that name as an appeal to a generation that doesn't have the same reaction to the word that older folks do. (I suspect the controversy will be good for them in any case.) The question before the court is whether the prohibition on federal registration of immoral or scandalous trademarks is invalid under the First Amendment.

To many the sound of that word is offensive. To simply see the word, I would argue, requires some effort on the part of the viewer to apply an offensive meaning, as in the case of "Phuct." Neither word has any intrinsic meaning and the offense, if there is any, comes from the individuals application of verbalization. What if the company decided to trademark the name Möse? Anyone seeing the word in an English-speaking country would go ho-hum whereas a German would be scandalized as it's probably the most offensive word in German, sort of like "charogne," in French. Offense is always determined by the person being offended who must chose whether to be offended or not. One can always decide not to be bothered and get on with things in which case the word will gradually lose its singular offensiveness.

The Lanham Act prohibits trademarking "immoral or scandalous" terms, a broad definition indeed and one subject to all sorts of interpretations. The issue of viewpoint discrimination was raised. For example, one might argue that the slogan "Make America Great Again" has now become thoroughly offensive to many people because of the viewpoint it represents. The government argued the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has previously defined scandalous as encompassing trademarks that are “shocking,” “offensive,” “disgraceful” and “disreputable,” but going forward they would interpret the statute more narrowly, limiting it to terms that are shocking or offensive because of their “mode of expression,” rather than the “ideas that are expressed.” Several justices thought that for the government to ask them to uphold a statute based on a "promise" of future narrow interpretation was asking a lot.

The government's position is that it wishes to "protect" people from materials they find offensive, a paternalistic attitude if there ever was one, and as a couple justices pointed out, a trademark doesn't have to be registered, and all sorts of "offensive" trademarks could be used without the government's formal registration. Not to mention that the PTO's interpretation of what is offensive changes over time making it difficult for any business to discern what might be acceptable now or later. Ironically FUCT is not a "dirty" word, but only becomes one when an illicit meaning is assigned to it.

Möse clothes, anyone?

Richard Dawkins Goes to Hell

So the famous atheist Richard Dawkins died and was greeted by Satan at the entrance to Hell. "Welcome," says the Devil. Your friends are all here, the pool is to the right, we have a great library, group discussion sessions, and be sure to let us know if there is something we can help with. Dawkins is a bit startled, but pleased. Then one of Satan's minions, announces, "Alert, alert, God will be here in about 5 minutes."

Satan quickly makes the alert announcement and all of a sudden flames shoot up in front of everything, screams are heard in the distance, and then God walks in. God asks how it's going. "Just great," replies Satan, lots of tormented souls here receiving their just punishments, pain, and suffering."

God says, "Terrific." and to St. Peter at his side, says, "OK, Pete, let's go send another hurricane to Haiti and a tornado to the Midwest and see if we can't kill a few more souls and get some more converts." He exits, the flames disappear, and the pool is again in sight. Dawkins, slightly flummoxed, asks Satan what that was all about. Satan replies, "Oh, God stops by every now and again just to make sure we are being horrible and tormenting souls, so we put on this show for him to keep him happy."

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Syntactically Vertiginous; a Fustian Essay

Now I love inkhornisms as much as the next and certainly enjoy sesquipedalian narratives, but this phrase in a review of Anna Burns books in the New York Review of Books (March 21, 2019) had me scratching my cerebellum. "The novel is carried by the extraordinary dynamism of middle sister’s voice, full of syntactically vertiginous constructions and new coinages such as “numbance” (for what happens to you when you are threatened sexually) or “earbashings” (of McSomebody’s verbal onslaughts)." I mean, WTF, does "syntactically vertiginous"? I suppose literally dizzyingly grammatical, but what does that mean? Fustian, perhaps?

So I threw on my librarian's smock and perused Google. Interestingly, that phrase was not unique. The first instance that showed up was, appropriately enough, from a paper in Dada/Surrealism, a translator's note about Dada/Surrealism ( No. 20 , 2015) "A Profession of Faith for the Alge Group" by Geo Bogza, a paper I will not read in this lifetime. The translator (from the Romanian) remarked,

The "Profession of Faith" may appear to be as grammatically and syntactically "vertiginous," to use Bogza's own description, as his theses. His vocabulary and rhetorical organization, however, are typical of learned Romanian in general and anything but the radical medium his "young wolves" ought to be feeding on. Bogza's uses strings of elegant variation (antiphrasis, litotes, antonomasia) and periphrases: "Ființe" (beings) for people, a poet's "prezență" (presence) for his role in public life, "adolescență" (adolescence) for youth or youthfulness and "apariție" (apparition, appearance) for a debut in print.1

That must have been hell to translate. No help there. (BTW, "litotes" means "understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary (as in "not a bad singer" or "not unhappy". )

Moving along, the next occurrence was from another book review, back in 1993:

The story is positively swollen with complexities, already difficult ideas expressed in syntactically vertiginous sentences.2

I'm beginning to get the picture at least. Not to belabor the point, another example was from a comment on a blog post in VQR: A National Journal of Literature and Discussion April 20, 2010).

You have an uncanny ability to render life’s little absurdities in crystalline prose, which is both supple and syntactically vertiginous at once.3

Now, aside from crystalline prose seemingly the antithesis of syntactically vertiginous being oxymoronic....

But enough, I am beginning to become a bit vertiginous, myself.


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

"No Collusion" as a Russian Sideshow

Trump's constant "no collusion" refrains, seen from a different perspective, would almost "prove" he is, perhaps unwittingly -- or not. helping the Russians in their campaign to diminish respect for American reliance and respect for democracy and government. The purpose of the Mueller investigation was to examine whether and how Russia might have interfered with the 2018 election. It has done so quite brilliantly and we now know the Russians did, in fact, utilize social media to foment discord and disrespect for our governmental institutions. That Trump encouraged that disrespect with his constant harping on "the swamp" in Washington, misogyny, hatred of any form of regulation, whipping up fear of alien invasion from the south, and general control of the news cycle though his manipulation of the media, might otherwise lead any observer to believe he was literally working for the Russians.

By focusing on the "no collusion found" refrain, not only does the Mueller report become relegated to the back-burner, the contents of that report become completely suspect. Lost in the Trump verbiage (which the GOP has swallowed hook, line, and sinker) are the indictments of 13 Russians and 3 Russian companies for meddling with the election. The Russians could not have asked for a better partner than Trump in their campaign to disrupt American Democracy and to destroy respect for its institutions.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Gods and Days

According to the Britannica, the Catholic Church has over 10,000 Saints who apparently can be prayed to and asked for special consideration or some such. Each also has a feast day, which according to my calculations means an average of 27 feast days for every day of the year. No wonder there is an obesity epidemic. Anyway, that's a lot of minor Gods (by definition a God is "a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes) and that number puts the Romans to shame. One sometimes wonders who's in charge.

In the U.S. we have a similar venerative days except we call them "national day of..." or "national week of..." or "national month of..." Some of these days/weeks/months are truly bizarre. Aside from today being April Fools Day, it's also National Sourdough Bread Day, and National One-Cent Day. This week is National Pooper-Scooper Week (I kid you not!) as well as National Orchid Male Cancer Awareness Week, and National Window Safety Week plus many more. As far as mponths, it's National Parkinson's Awareness Month as well as celebrating the following (to name but a few - there are many more for April): Straw Hat Month, Soft Pretzel Month, Records and Information Management Month, Safe Digging Month and Distracted Driving Awareness MOnth. It goes on and on. The shear number trivializes them all.

Personally, I think we need a national Holy Underwear Month. It would fit right in with St. Jude's festival. He's the patron saint of lost causes. Although he has some competition from St. Rita, "a saint of impossible cases. She is also the patron saint of sterility, abuse victims, loneliness, marriage difficulties, parenthood, widows, the sick, bodily ills, and wounds." Of xcourse, that makes her busier than hell.