I confess: I have a taste for self-refuting discourse. The other day, I complained to one of my friends about the incomprehensibility of some of the “Settings” on my cell phone. “Oh,” he said, “it’s actually very simple.” And he began to explain them. When he reached the third minute of his explanation, we both started laughing. Obviously, something that requires a long explanation — by a person who, by the way, happens to be a genius about technology — cannot be “simple.”
But my favorite self-refuting words are those of the “No, I am not ANGRY with you!!!” variety. The funniest I’ve ever heard were recently emitted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. James Rosen, a reporter, asked her a question about whether hatred could possibly have something to do with her drive to impeach Donald Trump. Her response was hilarious:
"I don't hate anybody. I was raised in a Catholic house, we don't hate anybody — not anybody in the world,” said Pelosi. She had been asked by a journalist during her weekly press briefing if she “hates President Trump.”
Pelosi had earlier announced the House Democrats would begin drafting the articles of impeachment.
"As a Catholic I resent you using the word 'hate' in a sentence that addresses me," a visibly angered Pelosi said, point[ing] her finger at the journalist. She went on to claim that she prays for Trump “all the time.”
“So don't mess with me when it comes to words like that," she added.
Pelosi is fond of making up stuff and claiming that she found it in the Bible, so perhaps she thought she was quoting some episode in the gospels in which Jesus wags his finger at a hapless questioner and screeches, “Don’t mess with me!”
Absurd generalizations are the mother’s milk of politics, and they’re usually a total crackup.
There are other things that delight me here, besides the self-confutation. People always laugh when they recall the remark that Richard (“Tricky Dick”) Nixon supposedly made: “We can do that, but it would be wrong.” Pelosi is even funnier: she thinks the fact that something is wrong is proof that she isn’t doing it. She even thinks you can’t be accused of doing something wrong if your parents taught you it was wrong.
And what about Pelosi’s grand generalization: “We don't hate anybody — not anybody in the world” — with the silent but obvious addition, “not even that bastard Trump”? Absurd generalizations are the mother’s milk of politics, and they’re usually a total crackup. This one certainly is. If the aforesaid Jesus was a Catholic (itself rather a large assumption), he seems not to have gotten the message. In the book of Revelation (2:6), the same Jesus compliments the church of Ephesus because “thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” There are no qualifications about hating the sin but loving the Nicolaitanes. In the gospel of Luke (14:26) he says, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” This is a long way from Pelosi family values. A hyperbolic statement? Yes, OK. But it doesn’t give much cover for Pelosi’s impersonation of Heidi.
So, in an act of supreme inclusivity, tolerance, and diversity, he had to exclude those judges — even the ones appointed by other presidents.
Attempting to compete with Pelosi in the self-refutation derby, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed, shortly before Christmas, a bill intended to allow federal judges to marry people in his state. His reason? Some judges were appointed by Trump, and Cuomo cannot “in good conscience” let them perform the sacred rite.
“President Trump does not embody who we are as New Yorkers,’’ the Democratic governor said. “The cornerstones that built [cornerstones build?]our great state are diversity, tolerance, and inclusion. Based on these reasons, I must veto this bill.”
So, in an act of supreme inclusivity, tolerance, and diversity, he had to exclude those judges — even the ones appointed by other presidents. That’s a pretty good self-refutation. Cuomo, who is said to be a Catholic, may also be competing for best “conscience” with Pelosi, although he needs to get up pretty early in the morning to beat her at that.
Can you picture a series of murders flyin’ around and hittin’ them civic values smack in the face?
Suddenly I’m reminded of a message that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted back in October, about what is described as “the savage slaying of four vagrants” in his city:
We’re stunned and horrified [but not too stunned to tweet] by this senseless act of violence against the most vulnerable members of our community. It flies in the face of the values of our city. We’re keeping the victims and their loved ones in our hearts.
“Flies in the face of the values of our city,” eh? We learned from Governor Cuomo that states have values, (otherwise known as cornerstones) but cities now have them too? If so, can you picture a series of murders flyin’ around and hittin’ them civic values smack in the face? Probably De Blasio just turned to one of the many online templates of talking points — go ahead, google them — and found the formula for student council resolutions condemning hate on campus or some such thing. Yet flying in the face of values is easy to picture, compared to the notion of Mayor Bill holding the victims (people he never heard of before) and their loved ones (God bless mommy, and daddy, and teacher, and that lady on the bus, and her husband, if any) in his heart. Do you think they’re still in there? If so, exactly where?
But to return to Pelosi’s hate-filled attack on hate: it’s entertaining to witness psychological symptoms so weird that only Freud’s weird theories can account for them. Other people Dr. Freud would have liked to get his hands on are the media analysts and commentators who have accepted Pelosi as their Amazon queen. While laughing at her bizarre self-revelation as a fanatical hater, I somehow imagined that the media would (in the spirit of Whittier’s “Ichabod”) walk backward with averted gaze, and hide the shame. But no! Her outburst was greeted with nearly universal celebration. Google this one too; you’ll see: it’s the Joan of Arc treatment. If, once again, you’re wondering whether these people are quite in their right minds, wonder no more.
Legions of talking heads, even at Fox News, continue to be puzzled by how such things could be done by this "very smart operator." Really?
Pelosi’s daft comments about religion presaged her daft behavior after the impeachment vote. Having maintained her party’s position that Trump must be impeached right now, not a minute to lose, and don’t wait for Christmas, she refused to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, at least until the House reconvenes in January. She babbled about ensuring fairness, and refused to answer questions. Wha—?! Legions of talking heads, even at Fox News, continue to be puzzled by how such things could be done by this very smart operator. Really?
Another brainy fella is Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Evan Horowitz, a man who spent many months minutely examining the behavior of a group of bumbling secret policemen who hounded Trump’s campaign — people who omitted no opportunity to evince their hatred of the people they were investigating — and concluded that he couldn’t say whether they were biased or not. If he can’t settle that point, why don’t we hire someone who can? Someone who won’t make an ass of himself in the manner illustrated by the inspector general’s congressional testimony on December 11:
In response to questioning by Sen. [Mazie] Hirono, Horowitz says they use the term "surveillance" rather than "spying" because the latter has such negative connotations, and he did not use it in the report. Hirono asks if he is bothered by [Attorney General William] Barr's comments that spying occurred on the campaign. Horowitz says he doesn't want to get into people's motives or thinking on matters.
Heaven forbid that an investigator should use words with negative connotations or concern himself with motives. What next, “I don’t know what he could have been thinking, but I was forced to consider arresting the gentleman for conveying Mrs. Grundy’s purse to another location”?
Our ability to laugh is the sign of our ability to transcend whatever we’re laughing at, and in this case the things transcended are decay and death.
Even people who have never been mistaken for smart operatorscan make themselves very funny. My last column began with a consideration of remarks made by His Royal Highness Prince Andrew, Duke of York, concerning his relationship with legendary sex demon Jeffrey Epstein. There are doubtless reasons to be concerned about the fool Prince Andrew continues to make of himself. But according to Fox News, the big issue is something I would never have suspected. Nor you, either. Fox cited reports that Prince Charles, the heir apparent,
is “furious” that his 12-day tour of the South Pacific, which aimed to raise awareness on environmental issues such as climate change and how it's rising [sic] ocean levels, has been completely overshadowed by [Andrew’s] scandal impacting the British royal family.
That’s sort of a selfish approach, isn’t it? Worrying that your brother’s problems might impact your publicity tour? And after all, how much would it take to overshadow Prince Charles’s expedition? A butterfly wing? A blade of grass? Thank God, it’s not as if environmental issues had escaped all public awareness.
I have a soft spot for Charles’ mom and will feel sorry when she’s gone — although I confess that I can no longer tell the difference, if there is any difference, between Elizabeth II Regina and the woman Helen Mirren played in that magnificent film, The Queen. But now that monarchs lack the ability to create world wars, there’s generally something funny and engaging about them. I’m thinking about the comment made by Farouk, the ill-fated king of Egypt, to the effect that in the future there would be five kings left in the world: the king of hearts, the king of diamonds, the king of clubs, the king of spades, and the king of England. Funny, and curiously reassuring. Our ability to laugh is the sign of our ability to transcend whatever we’re laughing at, and in this case the thing transcended isn’t just the monarchical system of government; it’s decay and death.
Even if it did rave, that would be nothing special for The New York Times, would it?
A more ordinary object of transcendence — drearier and more ordinary than death — is the dull, constant pressure of our present would-be authorities: Pelosi, Horowitz, the geniuses that CNN, Fox, and MSNBC pay to lecture us, the teachers, spiritual leaders, and priests of sensitivity who patrol our moral lives, the strange organisms that cling like muck to every spade that tries to drain a swamp, even the trivial headlines that purport to tell us what we need to know. The goofiness of headlines, which are supposed to be so impressive to us common folk, is a dependable source of merriment to me. Where would respectable news sites be without headlines saying that so and so had just ripped, torched, or blasted someone? It’s like those movie trailers that inevitably cite the New York Times as raving about the product. Even if it did rave, that would be nothing special for the Times, would it? That paper has been raving mad since Reagan.
Occasionally, a headline can make me laugh out loud because it’s actually true, and the truth is terrifically funny. Here’s one from CNBC (December 20):
Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren releases a $10.7 trillion plan to create 10.6 million green jobs
Evidently this headline writer knew that “creating” jobs at the rate of a mere million dollars per job is an idea that only an idiot would come up with, and that the math need only be cited for the idiocy to be shown. Years ago, The Onion ran a headline that’s my all-time favorite:
Miracle Of Birth Occurs For 83 Billionth Time
Like the Warren headline, this one assumes an audience intelligent enough to see the joke.
But let’s think about some wordings that are not tributes to the human intelligence. Call this, if you wish, a letdown from the high discourse of King Farouk and Elizabeth Warren, but I think it’s time to notice that there is a class of expressions that consist of two individual words; examples: Turn on. Push back. Take over. Sometimes the two words can be joined to make a single noun, often with a hyphen between them — "Britain’s pushback against Europe’s attempted take-over was a big turn-on for me.” But you can’t do that with the verb form, because the two parts are separable from each other: “I was turned completely on when I saw Britain push strongly back against Europe’s attempt to take the country over.” Once almost everybody who was able to write, or even type, knew this. But now we constantly behold our well educated (or perhaps just expensively credentialed) neighbors and colleagues making fools of themselves by writing, “Use blue button to turnon lights in conference room”; “Let’s pushback against this plan”; and “I am happy to inform you that Marjorie has agreed to takeover our customer relations office.” Sad to say, this is not entirely or even chiefly an American illiteracy. Witness a headline in a British paper:
Your CAR could be at risk of cyberattacks: Scientists reveal 'holes' in systems that let hackers steal data or even takeover your smart vehicle
My own CAR is smart enough to sneer at the possibility that it will be takenover. It has always pushedback against all attacks and attempts to surveille, turn green, or otherwisepusharound its passengers. Perhaps the Model 2020 Republic will prove to be smart enough to do the same.