Sunday, March 27, 2016

Election Rhetoric

There are books and even college courses in logic, argumentation, and the art of debate. But there are some techniques you probably won’t find in the schoolbooks, and this being a political year, we can look forward to seeing them. We certainly have in the past.
Some candidates will quote an opponent’s words or voting record selectively, or hint obliquely at scandals not proven, or use vocabulary with connotations known to the speaker’s followers.
But those are the sophisticated models. There are two that dispense with that kind of finesse and allow a debater to make his point without having to tap dance around the truth, because truth doesn’t enter into it. They’re pretty simple when you break them down, but it takes a practiced liar, a politician, or a corporate CEO to make them work.
One does depend on close timing, so it’s not always practicable, but it’s effective when you can manage it. Just as the debate closes, especially a time-limited one on television, you tell a whopper. The screen fades, the credits roll, the commercial starts, and your opponent is left with his mouth open but no way to refute the lie. 
The other one, you tell the lie in the first sentence, and then keep talking fast, loud, and long. You brush aside any attempt at question or correction, even if there’s a moderator ostensibly guiding the discussion. By the time your opponent gets a chance to answer, the original lie is buried under so much conversation it’s hard to get it back into focus to address it.
Against a persistent questioner it might not work well, but against someone inclined toward civility, for whom interrupting would be rude, it’s no contest. Your opponent writes notes to himself, rehearsing the stinging rejoinder he'll give when it's his turn to speak. But when he finally gets that chance, even though  he knows there was a pony back there at the beginning, he won’t be able to move enough verbal manure to uncover it for the audience in the time left.
Are there recognized gambits in debate, as in chess? I haven’t heard of any, but these deserve some recognition. Prevaricator’s Checkmate. Lie to Square One.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Middle of March and I suddenly discover I’ve put up the same post twice in succession in February:  the 21st and the 28th.  
Was I especially busy the week between? If I was I can’t point to any significant accomplishments. No, it’s pure forgetfulness, and that can be ominous at certain times of life if you’re inclined to worry about your health.
Luckily, I’m not. With a clinic on-site and a medical group tracking everything about you -- by computer, now -- it’s easy to slip into a mindset of constant self-examination. You’re handed the notice for your next appointment as you exit the office from the visit just completed. In effect, your health is under constant surveillance. This was a great comfort for me when my mother was 101, but I don’t like it for myself. You keep looking for things, you’re liable to find them.
As for memory, I get mixed messages from my brain. Working with words all my life, it’s worrying not to be able to call up a word when I need it. It’ll hang there just out of reach, and of course the harder I try the further it will slip away. It’s like a cat; the more you reach for one the further away it moves, staying just beyond your fingers. The saving of it is that once I relax and stop trying, it will come of itself (the word and the cat).
Surprisingly, I find if I concentrate I can recall things like names and events from pretty far back. There’s real satisfaction in calling up the name of an old acquaintance out of the mists, although it usually happens when you start wondering if he or she is still with us. 
Anyway, I’m chalking up the February lapse to momentary carelessness, neglect of routine. I usually mark posts as used at publication, and I guess something must have distracted me when it was time to mark this one.
On the other hand, I’m not going back further than February looking for trouble. Forget that.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Age Switch

Through all my school years I was always the youngest in my group. There were six of us at the core of a group of hard-thinking, drawling high school dudes you could find smoking cigarettes in the balcony of one of the local movie houses any Friday night.
It was only a matter of four months from the next-youngest’s birthday, his July to my November, but in that gap I could claim to be nominally a whole year younger than my peers. Later, at work. I was often younger than many of  my co-workers.   It created a particular mindset.
I don’t remember it happening, but somewhere along the line the poles reversed and I became the oldest in almost any group. (I have to say “almost” because when you live in a senior community as I do now there’s always someone older. Almost always.)
The fascinating thing is that the mindset persists. I don’t feel older than people younger than I am. True, some of their vocabulary and all of their digital-speak is a foreign language, but get beyond that and we can communicate just fine. A single case is anecdotal, though; some scientist ought to do a study on it. Follow the junior members of groups from high school onward to see if that early experience colors their outlook in later life. Maybe do the same thing for the oldest; see if it works in reverse.  
There may be something there akin to the relationships of siblings. I’ve read where there’s a “middle child syndrome.” The middle child often feels ignored; the firstborn’s place is secure and the youngest in the family gets the attention. You can’t pick your spot in that case, but is there an opportunity here to do some social engineering? Make sure your child, especially if a middle child, joins a group in which everyone is older than he or she is? Not disproportionately older; a few months is all it takes.
If it’s still working for me after this many years, maybe there’s something to it.       It doesn’t change things at home -- you’re still in the middle -- but out in the world, you’re the youngest. Even when  you’re old. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Cat on the Desk

Squiggly is sunbathing under my desk lamp. In the process he’s also scattering a stack of my paperwork, which I’ll have to reshuffle afterward. But he looks so dam’ comfortable.
He’s stretched out, all 24-plus inches of him, face up, resting on the back of his neck; his forepaws crossed left over right, his hind legs paralelled. The tail, another 13 or so inches, is curled between the desk clock and the computer speaker. The lamp lightens his long gray fur and makes his ears translucent. Apparently he’s dreaming, because he twitches, and judging from the action of his feet, he’s dreaming he’s running.
Sadly, that’s the only running he does or is likely to get to do. He’s a house cat.     He doesn’t get any further outdoors than the short footpath leading to our apartment door and the flower bed in front of the patio wall. He occasionally gets to pounce at a tiny lizard that lives there but, old and out of practice, he never catches it.
From what we were able to learn at the shelter, he was probably a house cat before, and the evidence certainly points that way. He had made it to age 13 when we adopted him, and I doubt many feral cats would have survived that long and in the good shape he was in.
 Last year, though, he was diagnosed with diabetes and I had to give him insulin shots. He took them with no indication that he even felt them, and at times I wasn’t sure I was getting the needle through all the fur. I guess I must have done it right in spite of myself  because the vet  declared him in remission.
 Does that count as one of his allotted nine? I wonder if he used up any before we got to know him.
- - - - -
That was September. I guess you don’t want to count your chickens if you’re dealing with diabetes, because in January Squiggly started to show the symptoms again. The vet confirmed them, so it’s back to the insulin shots.

I see lots of advertising for diabetes treatments on TV, and the humans there always come out of it enjoying bicycle rides or picnicking on the grass with smiling beaus. Not sure what the equivalent would be for a cat, but I’m hoping that’s how it’ll turn out.