Tag Archives: Roger W. Smith

white male privilege (a flawed premise)

i

 

 

‘The President is golfing and exercising White male privilege’

 

 

 

 

 

Re:

The president is golfing and exercising White male privilege

By Robin Givhan

The Washington Post

November 17, 2020

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/11/17/president-is-golfing-exercising-white-male-privilege/

 

 

This story illustrates a major flaw in constructing a piece of writing: a weak premise. A piece built on no sound premise — in fact, on no real premise at all; on no valid, cogent, or original thought.

A piece that essentially reiterates, using scant evidence, a weak idea or cliché.

Many readers would — I am certain do — agree that Trump is unfit to be president, that he lives a privileged life and seems not to care about people, that it is deplorable; that he appears to spend most of his time — and has done so increasingly in the past few weeks — watching television, tweeting, and, when he leaves the White House, golfing, while for all intents and purposes ignoring the pandemic and doing nothing about it.

It is also indisputable that, until very recently, golfing was (and perhaps in the present day, still is, predominantly) a sport for rich men, most of them white (I would presume); and that until recently golf clubs and courses banned blacks. And, that most golf clubs are still private and expensive — for wealthy males (I presume it is mostly a men’s sport). And, this was undoubtedly even more the case in our past history. It was a sport for the rich, leisured class.

So what?

I see photos of men riding golf carts on the course and think, they can’t they even walk and (maybe carry their bags); and look at the caddie hanging on the back of Trump’s golf cart, and it all looks so decadent, and I don’t like Trump; and why isn’t he governing? Why doesn’t he do his job? I wouldn’t want to join his club (should I be a golfer) or visit Mar-a-Lago.

This tells me a lot about Trump (but I knew it already) and about the lifestyles of some people, but the op-ed does not in the least enlighten me. It is jerry built on the premise that this is all about white male privilege. Well, yes, Trump, is white and is assigned to that artificially constructed racial category. And, yes, he lives a life of privilege and seems heedless about many things he should care about or do something about. But this tells us nothing about white male privilege, or advances our understating of it; and, anyway, white male privilege is a code word used to enshroud weak, tendentious thinking.

Bill Clinton was a womanizer. He had an affair with an intern. Donald Trump is a womanizer and groper (or worse). Using them as my key examples upon which I construct a lead and build my case, I will write an opinion piece about male chauvinism or infidelity? They have a countless number of companions in the crime, and there are so many examples throughout history that such a piece would be meaningless. The only valid piece, approach, would be to begin with the topic of, say, male chauvinism, sexual predators, white privilege, or some such topic, define what is meant by it, and then proceed to show why it is a problem today, how it is not being acknowledged or addressed, etc. It might be a very boring piece, but at least one could conceive of such an approach. But to begin with Trump’s failings and outrageous behavior, and to then assert that this proves something about white male privilege is an a priori unsound and worthless endeavor. It amounts to this writer wanting to prove something — show us: that she is against white male privilege.

Rather than hanging her op-ed on the premise of white male privilege, the author could have merely written a piece — probably illustrated — showing what Trump has been up to in the past few weeks: mostly tweeting baseless complaints about the election having been stolen, watching television, and golfing. Then say that this is ridiculous and shows that he is not governing as he still should be and is, most importantly, not dealing with the pandemic in any way. That is enough to say, and although we already know it, the writer could give specific examples of Trump’s activities since the election and put in her two cents worth. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s as if I wrote an article. The head of the local school system was found to have been cheating for years, embezzling funds and neglecting kids’ education while enjoying luxuries and perks. The premise of my article is that corruption is pervasive; corrupt officials with a sense of entitlement are living a life of privilege and perks and see nothing wrong with this. (I might say, proving nothing, “White men in important positions are committing an awful lot of crime nowadays.”) Corruption has been going on forever, and most people don’t care about it. And so forth. Such an op-ed, though probably true with respect to the broad assertions made, would be worthless, would provide no enlightenment, as opposed to a news story about the official’s crimes, which would at least be informative.

In English composition we were taught the importance of choosing and identifying one’s thesis (main topic). The thesis of this op-ed, as the writer construes it, is white male privilege. A valid, workable and sustainable topic would have been, Donald Trump’s decadent behavior in the midst of a public health crisis in the waning days of his presidency.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

metaphor-itis (aka galloping metaphor disease)

 

 

This post consists of my brief comments on the following book review:

 

“The Plight of the Aggrieved, Rich Manhattan Liberal”

review of Shelter in Place. a novel by David Leavitt

reviewed by Michael Callahan

The New York Times

October 13, 2020

 

SHELTER IN PLACE

By David Leavitt

 

It’s late 2016, and Eva Lindquist is distraught. The chilly, exacting Upper West Side socialite has gathered a circle of sycophants at her Connecticut country house to witness her gnashing her veneers over the recent election of Donald Trump. Swirling her glass of wine, she remains puzzled and furious at the blithe acceptance of this apocalyptic event by her feckless husband, Bruce, a wealth manager, and her standard-issue Manhattan leisure-class coterie: the bickering artsy couple, the hanger-on magazine editor with no money, the diffident gay decorator. (All of the women seem to be some derivative of Iris Apfel.)

Eva is the kind of perennially aggrieved cosmopolitan who in movies is depicted aggressively slapping on body lotion before bed. Even as she cows the members of her social set, she remains the sun around which they orbit; her friends spend all of their time talking either to her or about her. She’s a tabula rasa, TAUT AS PIANO WIRE as she tosses out withering rejoinders LIKE BEADS AT MARDI GRAS. But she is also prescient, warning that Trump will manipulate the media to rip the country to shreds, even as her privileged petting zoo shrugs off all the doom and gloom.

“The news isn’t news anymore,” she laments, “it’s just pompous opinionating, the purpose of which is to keep us anxious, because these people … know that as long as they can keep us anxious, as long as they dangle the carrot of consolation in front of us, they’ve got us hooked. They’re no different than the French papers in 1940, just more sophisticated. And more venal.”

Determined not to be caught behind enemy lines, she impulsively buys a grand but tattered apartment in Venice. It’s a decision that will fling the lives of her self-involved cabal hither and thither, LIKE RAINDROPS BEING SHAKEN OFF AN UMBRELLA.

There is an art to writing about unlikable people while still engaging the reader to invest in their indulgence, vanity and, yes, happiness. Tracking the fallout wrought by Eva’s acquisition, Leavitt unfurls a droll drawing-room pastiche that evokes la dolce vita as “Seinfeld” episode. His boorish elites argue over the altruism of Barbara Kingsolver, whether Jean Rhys would have been anything without Ford Madox Ford, and the true symbolism of the pussy hat, all while dropping words like “ouroboros” and “concupiscence” in everyday conversation. IT’S AARON SORKIN ON STEROIDS. And surprisingly compelling.

Leavitt has claimed John Cheever and Grace Paley as influences, and it shows here: His dissection of the pampered New Yorkers’ reaction to Trump’s election, which they treat as a personal affront, is lethal and also kookily endearing. These poor rich people, wringing their hands at a country they no longer recognize, when what they’re truly mourning is the death of their own relevance. You can almost hear Elaine Stritch warbling “The Ladies Who Lunch” in the next apartment.

At one point, Aaron, a bitter, unemployed editor in Eva’s circle of faux bonhomie, tries to look at the bright side of the election. “When writers start to feel oppressed again,” he says, “they’ll start to write books worth reading instead of all of that idiotic upper-middle-class self-absorbed liberal navel-gazing crap we got when Obama was president.” Leavitt cleverly crafting a New Yorker cartoon in words, proves there is still some navel-gazing worth reading. His autopsy of the current liberal ennui is not particularly trenchant or surprising, but it’s certainly amusing. And in this ghastly year, can’t we all use more of that?

 

*****************************************************

 

Besides the metaphors I have highlighted in all caps above, there are several “implied” ones: e.g., ‘privileged petting zoo, “cleverly crafting a New Yorker cartoon in words.” And “Leavitt unfurls a droll drawing-room pastiche that evokes la dolce vita as ‘Seinfeld’ episode.”

 

*****************************************************

 

Mr. Callahan is clearly a talented writer. It’s like when a pianist sits down to play, and you immediately know either that the piece is very good, or that the pianist is, or both.

I am wary of saying anything critical (about Mr. Callahan’s review). I am impressed by his talent. But all the clever metaphors caught my attention. I could easily become envious. but there is a danger here. The writer who is too clever. Who almost parodies himself or herself. The danger of mannered writing which sounds affected.

By the way, the characters in the novel are given to debating things such as whether Jean Rhys would have been anything without Ford Madox Ford. A clever reference (telling detail) indeed! Kudos to the author (Leavitt), and to Mr. Callahan for noticing it. And, while I am at trying to be fair to Mr. Callahan, let me repeat, he can write — that’s for sure — words and clever formulations roll off his keyboard like those of writers of yore such as Henry Miller. Which is to say, he can effortlessly compose prose that “flows” (here’s a metaphor of my own) like music to the reader’s ear (or should I say, like the Mississippi River?).

 

— Roger W Smith

   October 14, 2020

“Perhaps the most wonderful Sunday of my life!” (a Henry Miller letter)

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Miller letter to Emil Schellock

 

 

 

Attached is the text (downloadable Word document above) of a letter dated December 1, 1930 from the American writer Henry Miller — written by Miller from Paris — to his American friend Emil Schnellock. Miller and Schnellock had known each other since schooldays at P.S. 85 in Brooklyn (class of 1905). They were lifelong friends. Emil Schnellock was a successful commercial artist.

Miller moved to France in 1930 (he made a previous trip there lasting a few months in 1928) and remained in France for approximately ten years. During this period, as an exile. Miller experienced profound feelings of liberation and a burst of creativity, both of which are seen in his autobiographical novel Tropic of Cancer.

 


— Roger W. Smith

    September 2020

 

*****************************************************

 

addendum:

This letter “charmed” me when I first read it some thirty (perhaps) years ago. I thought to myself: Now that’s how to write a letter!

Reading it again now, I guess I would say that I am not quite as entranced. Maybe what thrilled Miller almost a century ago doesn’t thrill (or titillate) us the same today. But this is vintage Miller. The raconteur who when he gets going should not and can not stop. It all comes tumbling out, not carefully crafted: the minute observation and the grandiose impression or thought; the connoisseur and intellectual as well as the sensualist and extoller of the tawdry, the carnal and prosaic. One thing I would say about Miller’s writing is that, it all tumbles out pell-mell, but he has a great “ear.” The tone, rhythm, and pacing are just right. I guess that’s gift a writer such as Miller is born with.

 

*****************************************************

 

 

addendum:

See also my post:

“Henry Miller”

Henry Miller

 

vocabulary building (my post)

 

 

Check out my long post (from August 2017) about vocabulary building and the importance of vocabulary to a writer. It’s one of the best pieces (written by someone who knows from experience what he’s talking about) ever written on the subject.

 

Vocabulary: Building and Using One’s Own; The Delight of Same; Its Value to a Writer

 

https://rogers-rhetoric.com/2018/12/27/vocabulary-building-and-using-ones-own-the-delight-of-same-its-value-to-a-writer/

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

Francis Parkman

Parkman excerpts

Excerpts from the works of the historian Francis Parkman are posted here (above) as a downloadable Word document.

In view of my mentions of the historians Carlyle and Macaulay in recent posts on rhetoric and style, I got to thinking this morning about the historian Francis Parkman, author of The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life and the monumental seven-volume France and England in North America; and of an early, forgotten work: Vassall Morton: A Novel (1856), which, I dare say, few have ever read. (I am proud to be able to say that I have.)

A student at Harvard College of the historian Jared Sparks, by whom he was greatly influenced, Parkman was fluent in French and was an admirer of Froissart, whose works included the Chroniques (Chronicles) a prose history of the Hundred Years’ War written in the fourteenth century. Parkman’s style of historical writing would probably be termed “romantic” and perhaps lyrical. His research in primary sources was prodigious, belying the impression (which would show ignorance of them) that his works are not scholarly or objective. His narrative is crystal clear.

He can — and has by his admirers — be read almost for his style alone.

What modern historian writes narrative history with metaphors and descriptive passages such as the following?

a rolling sea of dull green prairie

On the right hand and on the left stretched the boundless prairie, dotted with leafless groves and bordered by gray wintry forests, scorched by the fires kindled in the dried grass by Indian hunters, and strewn with the carcasses and the bleached skulls of innumerable buffalo.

Yet hardly anyone reads Parkman nowadays.

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2020

great sports writing indeed (as it rarely is, yet should be)

 

 

Tex Maule, ‘The Giant Story’

 

 

THE GIANT STORY

by Tex Maule

Sports Illustrated

December 23, 1963

https://vault.si.com/vault/1963/12/23/the-giant-story

 

downloadable Word document, above

 

 

 

I was a New York Giants fan in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I am sure I watched the 1963 Eastern Division championship game between the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers on television. I knew the individual players and thrilled to the exploits of players such as Frank Gifford, Y. A. Tittle, and Del Shofner. Shofner was always getting open for miraculous receptions of Tittle’s passes lofted downfield in a high arch. I knew the defensive stars such as Sam Huff and Rosey Grier. I recall Frank Gifford’s one-handed catch in the 1963 game, assuming that this was the play I remember. Or did he (again) or another Giant player do it in a later game?

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The reason for this post is my commentary on Tex Maule’s 1963 Sports Illustrated story about the 1963 Giants-Steelers game. Does any sportswriter write like this nowadays? I would say no, there is no such example. Read Maule’s story and see for yourself.

Most sports reporting (game coverage) nowadays consists of essentially “filler’ material putting the game in context — along with a summary account of the game. Some or most of the background material is written before the game or as it is in progress. The Milwaukee Bucks were facing elimination toady in the sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals and the daunting prospect of playing at Boston Garden against a heavily favored Boston Celtics squad. And so on. Then a blow by blow account of the game, and a few post-game interviews, if the reporter can get a quote or two. Down by three runs in the seventh, the Yankees loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Red Sox manager Johnny Pesky yanked his starter and brought in flame throwing reliever Dick Radatz. “He was throwing smoke,” catcher Russ Nixon said.

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Every play and the game itself are put into context and elucidated with consummate skill and meticulous attention to detail in Maule’s account of the 1963 Giants-Steelers game. It is an incredible piece of reporting — it speaks for itself. The reader feels like he was there, on the field.

Note how Maul intermixes reportage (description) with exposition. Some examples:

 

* * *

Buddy Dial, who was cut by the Giants in his rookie year only to become one of the best receivers in the league for Pittsburgh, found a long stick during practice one day and sneaked into a meeting of the defensive club with it.

“Here, fellows,” he said. “You better take this. You may need it to knock down Tittle’s passes Sunday.”

He was a better prophet than he knew, although even a 10-foot pole would not have been ong enough to reach Del Shofner on some of the passes Tittle threw him.

 

* * *

 

The first touchdown came on a 41-yard pass play from Tittle to Shofner, who was yards beyond Willie Daniel, the Steeler corner back attempting to cover him. Daniel, a young back in his third season, found Shofner’s experience and speed difficult to cope with. Earlier in the game Tittle had attempted a sideline pass to Shofner, luring Daniel up close. This time Shofner faked the sideline, then broke downfield, and Daniel, coming up too hard, could not reverse direction and could only watch helplessly from far behind as Shofner took the perfectly thrown pass.

Late in the second period Tittle did almost the same thing to set up the second Giant touchdown. Again it was a first-down play–a play on which Tittle does not often pass. Again Shofner beat Daniel and this time the pass carried down to the Steeler 14-yard line for a 44-yard gain.

 

* * *

The Steelers, whose main threat is the running of John Henry Johnson and Theron Sapp, had moved sporadically over the frozen ground during the first half. Their drives were aborted when [quarterback] Brown went to the air but could not connect with his receivers and the Giant defense, with linebackers playing up close, stopped Johnson and Sapp.

 

* * *

 

The Steeler field goal came with seven seconds left in the half, and the drive that produced it was frustratingly typical. From the Giant 20, first and 10, Brown threw three passes. On all three he had plenty of time, but none of the passes was within reach of a receiver, and twice receivers were in the clear. On fourth down Lou Michaels kicked a 27-yard field goal.

For a few moments after the Giants got the ball for their next series of downs, it appeared that the Steelers, encouraged by their quick score, might take control of the game. They rushed Tittle hard and forced him to hurry a pass so that it fell incomplete. They smothered Phil King on a running play. It was third and eight, Del Shofner was out of the game with bruised ribs, and the Giants were in trouble–or so it seemed.

But then Frank Gifford took over Shofner’s role as first-down getter. Gifford had been laying flanker back all afternoon–just getting exercise. Tittle had thrown to him only once. Gifford’s covering man was Glenn Glass, a second-year corner back. Glass, aware that Tittle’s favorite pass to Gifford is to the outside, near the sideline, had been following Frank closely to the outside, almost conceding him the inside routes, where help might be expected from a safety or a linebacker. The Giants had discussed this during the half-time intermission, and now Tittle called a pass pattern that sent Gifford down and in. When he broke to his left, toward the center of the field, he left Glass cross-legged. Tittle’s pass was low, and Gifford reached down with one hand, hoping to tip the ball up. The ball, amazingly, stuck in his hand for a completion on the Steeler 47, a 30-yard gain and a first down. …

“That Gifford catch was the end for us,” Steeler Coach Buddy Parker said later. “It looked then like we were beginning to pick up and they were sliding. But you could see the whole club come alive after that play.”

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Hamilton Prieleaux Bee Maule (1915-1981), commonly known as Tex Maule, was the lead football writer for Sports Illustrated in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

pithiness

 

 

 

pithiness — terseness and economy in writing and speaking achieved by expressing a great deal in just a few words

 

 

“The pretended rights of these theorists [of revolution] are all extremes; and, in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false.”

 

— Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 
This is pithiness by definition. It is a great example of how a great writer and thinker, a master of expository prose, can have the reader stop in his or her tracks, and think, say to oneself: so true — I never saw this before. And of how a single statement can focus and reorient one’s thinking; and enable one to not only see things more clearly than heretofore, but anew in a way not perceived before.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     July 2020

“binary” words

 

 

 

list of ‘binary words’

 

 

See downloadable Word document (above) containing my compilation/list of “binary words”

 

 

Something got me to thinking about the following: in the English language, when two words are combined to form a compound word.

Two separate words are paired and function as if they were a single, unitary word or idea.

Many of these pairings are ingenious. They most often result in one or both words taking on a new or metaphorical meaning different from the original or literal one. So dotted line (as in sign on the dotted line), while there remains a literal meaning (there are dots arranged in a line), also in our minds becomes something we think of — the two words being conjoined, so to speak — as a thing in and of itself, sort of equivalent to red tape or fine print.

What is a rumor mill or a diploma mill? The word mill is part of the compound. And, there is an adjective, e.g., diploma — formed from a noun. It is the case that many such compounds are formed of two fused nouns where one noun now functions as a qualifier and the other as the substantive. A rumor mill or diploma mill is not really a mill, although there is the idea of mass production. The two nouns having been fused together have become an abstract concept.

Or take smoking gun. There may be literally a smoking gun, but the phrase has become metaphorical, and there is usually not an actual gun. Or, take silver platter, for instance. Something that can be visualized as an object has become metaphorical. And worker bee. In botany, it refers to a specific class of bees. But worker bee has become idiomatic when used to describe a person. And we have the same things with hornet’s nest and close shave.

Often a verb, usually used in the active, has become rather listless as an adjective: e.g., peep show. But there is an implied activity associated with the controlling noun. It’s something generic, a show, and there is something going on that the verb/adjective allows us to visualize: peeping.

Some — indeed, many — of the compounds are devised to serve as euphemisms. have become hackneyed, or serve as stock phrases. To give just one example: damaged goods.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The attached Word document contains examples of “binary words” that I thought up over the course of a few days. None are taken from a list. They were all from off the top of my head. They are in no particular order. The words come from all sorts of activities and walks of life; government, the professions, sports, the high and the low, etc.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2020

the poverty of protest rhetoric

“These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up.”

— Charles Manson, trial testimony, November 17, 1970

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

“The museum’s exhibition about the statue was partly a response to the defacing of it by protesters, who in 2017 splashed red liquid representing blood over the statue’s base. The protesters, who identified themselves as members of the Monument Removal Brigade, later published a statement on the internet calling for its removal as an emblem of ‘patriarchy, white supremacy and settler-colonialism.’

“ ‘Now the statue is bleeding,” the statement said. “We did not make it bleed. It is bloody at its very foundation.’ .” [italics added]

— “Roosevelt Statue to Be Removed From Museum of Natural History,” by Robin Pogrebin, The New York Times, June 21, 2020

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

This is impoverished rhetoric (by the so-called Monument Removal Brigade). Which is actually inane.

It shows the impoverishment of their ideas, mental and moral vacuity on the part of so-called revolutionary reformers, and the emptiness of vandalism (excuse me, protest actions).

I could have done better in the third grade.

 

 

Roger W. Smith

   June 2020

POST UPDATED: generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)

 

 

 

My post “generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)” has been updated with new content. See

 

 

https://rogers-rhetoric.com/2020/06/01/generic-writing-or-how-to-say-nothing-in-430-plus-words/

 

 

— Roger W. Smith