Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reflections, Ruminations and Rants


I am grateful to Geoff Nunberg (http://people,ischool.berkeley.edu/~nunberg/), the linguist on Terry Gross' "Fresh Air," for pointing out how words can be used in a way contrary to their original meaning.  Most "guarantees," for example, are actually predominantly "limitations of liability."

Words and Reality

I'm calling my telephone service to ask why this month's bill is larger than last month's, when my usage was the same.  The first thing the automated announcement tells me is, "We value your time."  Then it goes on to waste my time with a bunch of advertising and irrelevant announcements, eventually taking me through a series of steps, then putting me on hold again until I can finally speak with an account representative.

What counts more, the words--"We value your time"--or the reality?

"Only One Book"

Spanish writer Arturo Perez-Reverte (http://www.perez-reverte.com), in his novel, "Purity of Blood," (http://www.amazon.com/Purity-Blood-Arturo-Perez-Reverte) tells a story from the perspective of the 13 year old Inigo Balboa, ward of Captian Diego Alatriste.  Following a disastrous attempt, with Alatriste, to resuce a young woman from a convent which is also a prison and cult, Inigo is captured by the Inquisition.  He is beaten and tortured, and witnesses worse done to others, inflicted by those who believe they are obeying the highest authority (sound familiar?).  Commenting on this episode later in his life, Inigo reflects:

Later, with time,, I learned that although all men are capable of good and evil, the worst among them are those who, when they commit evil, do so by shielding themselves in the authority of others, in their subordination, or in the excuse of following orders.  And even worse are those who believe they are justified by their God.  Because in the secret dungeons of Toledo, nearly at the cost of my life, I learned that there is nothing more despicable or more dangerous than the malevolent individual who goes to sleep every night with a clear conscience.  That is true evil.  Especially when paired with ignorance, superstition, stupidity, or power, all of which often travel together.

And worst of all is the person who acts as exegete of The Word--whether it be from the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran, or any other book already written or yet to come.  I am not fond of giving advice--no one can pound opinions into another's head--but here is a piece that costs you nothing:  Never trust a man who reads only one book.

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