It’s All Klingon to Me

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On August 4, Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, submitted with visible contempt to questioning by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). As reported,

Blackburn asked whether he thinks the content derived from Hunter [Biden]’s laptop, reportedly part of the federal investigation, is “Russian disinformation.”

Wray replied: “You’re asking about an ongoing investigation that I expect our folks to pursue aggressively and I just can’t comment on.”

When asked whether the FBI has the laptop in its possession, Wray said, “Again, I can’t discuss that, an ongoing investigation.”

Wray curtailed congressional questioning, smilingly telling the senators, “I had a flight that I’m supposed to be high-tailing it to outta here, and I had understood that we were going to be done at 1:30.” He did not disclose that he was hightailing it (on a Thursday) for a weekend pleasure trip, in a government-paid private plane.

But about the other things he didn’t disclose — it’s no secret that the FBI seized Hunter Biden’s laptop in 2019. It’s no secret that the contents of the laptop, which fortunately were copied before the seizure, or no one would know a thing about them except that they were a mere conspiracy theory, were not made up by Russians. So what would be the point of Wray’s refusal to answer Blackburn’s questions? How would any investigation be imperiled by any answer he could conceivably give? His only point seems to have been to confirm the FBI’s right to be called the Secret Police. But that, as we know, would be ridiculous.

People constantly wonder whether Biden could possibly mean what he says, if only because of his stupendous accomplishments in the field of cheap and obvious lies.


Many utterances of our official culture are obscure in another way: they are intended to convey some kind of meaning — to declare it loudly — yet no one can tell what it is. “No one has ever wondered,” said Hunter Biden’s dad on July 15, really pushing the envelope, “did I mean what I say.” The more you look at that comment, the more mysterious it gets. People constantly wonder whether Biden could possibly mean what he says, if only because of his stupendous accomplishments in the field of cheap and obvious lies. Running for president in 1988, he plagiarized a long account of his own life. Before that, there was the plagiarism that almost got him kicked out of law school, followed by his claims that he graduated in the top half of his class (actual ranking, 76th out of 85) and his even more ridiculously false claims about the rest of his academic record. Then there were his weird fictions about someone named Corn Pop, about being a coal miner, about driving an 18-wheeler, about having predicted the 9/11 attack, about traveling 17,000 miles with President Xi, about never ever discussing his son’s business affairs with him, and about being arrested in South Africa when he went to see Nelson Mandela. That’s a small sample. Biden said, “I exaggerate when I’m angry, but I’ve never gone around telling people things that aren’t true about me.” That was also a lie. Since he knows that everyone knows about his lies, and everyone must be wondering how he can tell so many of them, he must have intended something other than the literal meaning when he said, “No one has ever wondered did I mean what I say.” But what could it be?

To understand what somebody means, we need to know what he’s talking about. I believe that almost anyone who objected to the Supreme Court’s abortion decision would be able to meet this test of meaning better than Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Harvard), who wrote, in a fundraising letter,

I’ll just say this: As a former law professor, if I were to grade the legal argument that was presented for overturning Roe v. Wade, it would get an F. This opinion basically cites a bunch of folks from the 1700s and says, “Boy, that’s the way we want to go.” To a time when aristocrats ran the world. When the only people who had voices were white men. When slavery was a way to make money.

When I read this, I thought she must be talking about the Constitution (“the 1700s,” etc.). But context is against that interpretation; Warren simultaneously issued a statement denouncing the Court for “stripping away the constitutional right to an abortion.” Certainly she could not be appealing to a document written by the same “bunch of folks” whom she thinks it’s stupid even to cite. As a former law professor, she certainly could not mean that ideas, or legal documents, are discredited because they originated in “a time when” . . . whatever. And as an intellectual, fond of using American history — as here — to justify her views, she could not be referring to 18th-century America when she described a land run by aristocrats, a land where there were no intelligent and vocal women, a land where the existence of slavery determined the content of every document produced in it.

No, she could not be talking about the Constitution. So, senator, at long last, what are you talking about? Let me know. I’ll publish your answer.

At least half the things that government and the media say can be interpreted without reference to any of the words actually included.


Sometimes we have a fair idea of what people are talking about, but their words are so contrary to common sense that we can’t believe they mean what they appear to be saying. In a press conference on May 27, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas declared, “Anyone who shoots anyone else has a mental health challenge, period.” Perfectly clear, right? But wait. Abbott, an advocate of gun rights, knows that people are often shot by other people who are trying, quite rationally, to protect themselves. As a relatively sane human being, he also presumably knows that many people use guns as a perfectly rational, though morally flawed, way of running a business. Again, he must have meant something different from what he said, and to him I extend the same invitation that I just extended to Senator Warren.

Maybe I should invite San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins too. She was appointed by the mayor when Chesa Boudin, a leftist too preening even for the queen city of preeners, was heaved out in a recall. But Jenkins doesn’t sound like much fun. This is the way she writes:

Today, I made difficult, but important changes to my management team and staff that will help advance my vision to restore a sense of safety in San Francisco by holding serious and repeat offenders accountable and implementing smart criminal justice reforms.

If you fell asleep before you reached the end of those 41 interminable words, you missed your chance to marvel at the word she uses to describe the reforms she’s advertising. The word is smart. You know what that means, right? Well, maybe you don’t. Notice the setup. It’s boxes within boxes. She’s not actually doing anything, she’s making changes that will help advance a vision that will restore a sense . . . Eventually she gets to reforms, a remarkably opaque word, with the opacity that annihilates thought. If something is labeled a reform, you’re expected to conclude that it’s good. That’s what it “means.” If you insist on knowing what reforms, and why they are good, you’ll have a struggle on your hands.

Jenkins is willing to throw you an adjective. The adjective is smart. It will tell you everything you need to know. Well, maybe not.

Q. So, Mr. Wilson, what is Wilson E-Z Fix-It going to do to repair my car?
A. Well ma’am, we’re gonna implement some smart repairs.
Q. Not dumb repairs?
A. No, smart repairs!

I don’t know whether Jenkins is a master of opacity or just its victim, but conversing with her must be a nightmare.

So, senator, at long last, what are you talking about? Let me know. I’ll publish your answer.


Here’s another person I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with — Lawrence Tabak, dentist and acting director of the National Institutes of Health. On May 11 Dr. Tabak was questioned by Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) about the withdrawal from public view of Chinese data on the early genomic sequences of the covid virus. She was trying to find out why the NIH had done this and whether anyone could still see the data.

“There’s no question that the communication that we had about the sequence archive — Sequence Read Archive — could have been improved. I freely admit that,” Tabek said. “If I may, the archive never deleted the sequence, it just did not make it available for interrogation.”

Interrogation? What does that mean?

Herrera Beutler didn’t pause to decipher it; she kept trying to get him to say whether anyone could still see the data, a matter about which he said certain things that led her to ask, “OK, so researchers can apply to the NIH and get the information from you?” To which he replied:

In the way that it was originally eliminated from public view, it was withdrawn, and that’s the most difficult for people to access. The error that was made, and we found this out after a review of all of our processes, was it should have been suppressed. The distinction being that if it’s withdrawn, it is kept archivally on a tape drive — old technology, but that’s how it’s done. But when it is withdrawn, it can still be accessed by accession number, and so researchers are able to access that information.

So there! You got your answer.

The following thought won’t help anybody interpret Dr. Tabak’s remarks — you can’t expect miracles — but there are some sequences of words that you can’t figure out until you cease to care what the words mean. When a president says, “Read my lips: no new taxes!” — as all of them do, in various accents — it’s a waste of time to worry about the meanings of “no,” or “new,” or “taxes.” The true significance is, “Your taxes are going up.” In the same way, what does it mean, what does it really mean, that the latest enormous dump of government spending is named the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022? It means that prices are going up. That’s what it means. At least half the things that government and “the media” say can be interpreted without reference to any of the words actually included. There’s no point in puzzling over the meaning of community standards, inclusiveness, state of the art policing, our democracy, and so forth. After tussling with the operative words, you find that what they “mean” is “arbitrary rules,” “keeping out everybody you don’t like,” “mega-violence,” and “authoritarian rule.”

Consider how many times Joe Biden interrupts his ooze of words by saying “not a joke” and “I’m not joking.”


On the other hand, sometimes what you need to do is interpret words literally. The other day I heard on the radio that a local businesswoman wished the city or the police or someone would do something to help her, because her store was filling with “people struggling with mental health.” I know she was hunting for an acceptable euphemism, but the words she used were literally true. That’s what they’re doing: they’re struggling with mental health, as if it were the plague, or the Spanish influenza; and so far, they’re winning.

On May 22, Jared Bernstein, “a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers,” i.e., hack, was wheeled out to talk about, you know, things, like maybe inflation, or the weird rumors of inflation . . . According to the Wall Street Journal,

Mr. Bernstein at the White House said the pandemic has created a set of economic circumstances that don’t readily fit into traditional calculations about whether a recession is on the horizon.

“Rather than try to jam this unique and bespoke economic moment into a probability model, I think it’s better to try to sort out the headwinds and tailwinds,” Mr. Bernstein said. “And when we do that, we see an economy that still has fundamental strengths.”

Of course, this is terminally incomprehensible, but one word stands out: bespoke. Now what does this odd word mean? It means “made to order, ordered up, tailored for the customer.” So in what sense was Mr. Bernstein saying that the effects of the pandemic were intentionally produced? If that’s what he meant to say. We can’t tell; probably not. Yet what he said may be literally true.

Amid all this, we see some indications that people in public life (which sounds sort of like “prostitutes,” doesn’t it?) actually want to be understood. Consider how many times Joe Biden interrupts his ooze of words by saying “not a joke” and “I’m not joking.” It’s possible that he’s trying to give us some kind of hint, sign, clue, suggestion, or rotten piece of flotsam to help us escape from the verbal shipwreck and make our way to firm ground. The problem is, none of the stuff is funny.


  1. Sometimes in reading or listening to some of this incoherence, I am remined of product descriptions and warranties that sound like they were written in Chinese and then translated word-by-word by someone who understood both Chinese and English but knew nothing about the product he was describing. Good luck trying to translate the translation.

  2. Michael F.S.W. Morrison

    Another great essay. Of course: It’s by Stephen Cox.

    In times past, in a discussion, I would say to any other participant(s) that some particular word or phrase would be defined just for this conversation. Apparently Joe Biden treats his conversations the same way: whichever words or phrases he uses might well mean something else entirely in another.

    Let’s consider, briefly, “racist.” Any of us who might have tried to pay attention to the Democrat presidential primary of 2020 might — should — remember that every single opponent to Biden called him a racist. Including and maybe especially Kamala Harris. Yet he, and they, use that word daily, maybe hourly, to define, or at least to label, every person or group that dares to oppose them.
    Want the border sealed? Even if just temporarily? You’re a racist!
    Want voters to prove they’re who they claim to be? You’re a racist!
    Want the police to arrest rioters or bust gangs of thugs looting jewelry stores? You’re a racist!
    Wonder why Barack Obama, resident of Martha’s Vineyard, didn’t open his house to those poor homeless immigrants who were flown to the island? You’re a racist!

    Words, as claimed in the classic tale, mean just exactly what Biden wants them to mean. For just exactly that short period he used them.

    By the way, I think Abbott’s comment should be put back into the context: I think he was talking about the Uvalde shooting. He should have said “Anyone who initiates shooting anyone else has a mental health challenge, period.” There is however, no question as to the accuracy and appropriateness of his comment to that certain Democrat politician who rudely interpreted Abbott’s press conference: “You’re a sick son of a bitch!” Abbot shouted. And I add “!” as well as “Amen!”

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