Friday, September 4, 2009

Culture of Hate

*Trigger warning - language*

There is a growing culture of hate in our country, but its not just the hate that is the problem; it’s the rage with which the hate is dispensed. By this I mean that anyone, anywhere, anytime, believes it is OK to share their opinions in a way that spews anger and condemnation all over everything within hearing.

We all know about the big-media examples of which I speak: Fox News, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Michele Bachmann. I am continuously shocked at the amount of frenzied fury behind the commentaries one sees on TV. They scream and yell and shout. They repeat lies until their viewers believe them. If anyone questions their facts or dares to disagree, they inundate the airwaves with more lies, screaming, name-calling, fact-twisting, and verbal violence. O’Reilly calling George Tiller “The Baby Killer;” Limbaugh telling his audience that he hopes Obama dies. Comparing Obama to Hitler. You know the kind of thing I mean.

When did it become OK to do this?

As one might expect, this has trickled down to the more mundane levels of society. A heated discussion of politics can be a wonderful thing. I love debating the issues, because, as you know, I know more about it. I don’t love, or even like, being screamed at for my beliefs, and more currently being “flamed” or “trolled” when visiting website forums. People see their leaders, their newscasters, their celebrities spewing this filth, and no surprise, they think its perfectly fine to do it too. Let me share some personal examples.

A couple of years ago, I was walking in the parking lot at Target. A car with an mid-aged woman was trying to maneuver down the aisle but another car with two young women was blocking the way, in the wrong direction. The older woman rolled down her window and pointed out politely “You’re going the wrong way.” The younger driver screamed back “Fuck you, you fat bitch.” Nice.

Last spring, I posted a question on a gaming forum trying to find suggestions for a new video game my husband and I could play together. The first response back was “Who the **** cares about Halo.” Other responses included: Nice arguing, idiot; That's a good way to get your ass beat; That's why no one gives a **** about … ; and so on. When I read comments such as these on the forums of any website, even forums about non-political issues, they are filled with such anger and disregard for other opinions that I am usually sickened and stop reading.

A few days ago, my 16 year old son had a friend over. The boy casually used the term “chick-flick” and I made a point of calling him on it. I tried to point out that even though he has used the term all his life, and even though he can find women who don’t object to it, that using such a dismissive word for women is hateful to all women. His defense? He said belligerently “Well, I’m a Republican.” As if that justifies any behavior. He then launched into a hailstorm of twisted logic, even going so far as to cross into other issues by proudly claiming to be a racist, saying that blacks should never have been brought to this country, that they are all stupid and violent, and Obama wasn’t even born an American. I was dumbfounded. Like Barney Frank, I felt as if I was arguing with a dining-room table.

Let me say at this point that, as you know, I am a big Obama supporter, a card-carrying liberal, and a feminist. For many years, this tendency towards hatred and vitriol has been growing in our country. Intense hatred for anything the Obama administration does or says is the latest manifestation of this. Where is this hatred and fear coming from? I’ve been trying to trace it back to it’s origins, but I find that it started so subtly, and has grown so intrinsic, that it is hard to pinpoint. I suspect it started with the Reagan administration. Prior to Reagan’s run for president, there really wasn’t much difference between the political parties. Taxes and state’s rights were the main points of contention. Reagan decided not to include the ERA on his platform and to speak stridently against the right to choose, and the freedom to bash women’s rights with impunity came into vogue. But maybe to be more accurate, it started with Nixon. Once his secret tapes were released, the public heard him railing and swearing on a daily basis. Either way, it took George W. Bush and his cronies to solidify it into stone. I suspect that this is because Bush was so stupid, that to continue to support him, Republicans needed to revert to vociferous rhetoric and slight-of-hand, in an attempt to divert people away from what he was doing and saying and onto whatever the current distraction was. If Limbaugh yells loud enough about Hillary Clinton ankles, people will look at her, and not at Bush’s erosion of Constitution Rights.

Yesterday, and this is what prompted my decision to finally write this, I was on Facebook. A friend of mine had posted a news story about a stranger slapping a crying child in a Wal-mart. To my shock, most of the comments to his post were in support of the man. One young woman even said “Like him, I'm not afraid to tell a parent to STFU their kid.” For those who don’t know, that is “Shut the fuck up.” I tried to inject some reason and calm into the discussion, whereupon she returned “…and they fully deserve to be told to STFU. It's not even a matter of ignoring them till they shut up cuz alot of them are fucking spoiled and have it thier way. The parents are just as moronic as thier own kids.” (I’ve left the grammar and spelling mistakes in place because you know how I feel about that anyway. Rhetoric has taken the place of learning.)

Some may say that if one feels passionately about something, one should be able to say it with feeling. I agree, to an extent, but civility should always prevail. However, I contend that these talking-heads are not as dedicated to their espoused ideals as you might think. I put before you this example.

Many years ago, before Rush Limbaugh had gained a great deal of popularity, and was only a new radio phenomenon, he was on the David Letterman show. He came out and was grinning like he was overawed by being there. I had heard his broadcast not long before and was waiting for him to start in on the Clintons, his usual dumping ground of the time. Dave was asking him questions and he just kept grinning and looking around, answering politely. Then, you could see in his eyes - as if a switch was thrown, and he remembered who he was supposed to be. He immediately launched into his typical tirade. I mention this to show that at that time, it was all an act. He was playing the part of “Conservative Pundit.” But before he remembered, he was just a normal minor celebrity talking to a TV host. I believe that since then, Limbaugh has come to believe his act, and has even taken on megalomaniac features because so many people believe in him and his power.

I understand that hate has always been around, and that there has always been people who like to vocalize that hate. But this intense vitriol that has become ubiquitous in our modern society is a shame and it truly sickens me. I know the phrase is trite and overused, but can’t we all just get along?

Monday, July 6, 2009

More Pet Peeves

Time for another installment of My Pet Peeves. This is where I show you your mistakes and you fix them. Who knows more about it than me, after all?

There is a growing trend in this country among our young people that makes me uneasy. I do not refer to the use of the word “gay” when they mean “stupid,” or the baggy pants syndrome. That’s a whole other blog. My complaint is with their bizarre language skills. Namely, the mixed-up use of “on purpose” and “by accident.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my daughter, son, or one of their friends say that something happened to them “on accident.” I have trouble even saying it out loud. It does not roll off the tongue trippingly. Why do they say it? Beats me.
Then there’s the widespread misuse of the past tense of “hang.” Sadly, you even hear this from news media people. A picture is hung on a wall; a person is hanged. If you are referring to a person, you must use the word “hanged.” It may seem wrong at first, but it is correct, and soon it will sound wrong to hear “hung.” It doesn’t matter whether its accidental or capital punishment; a person is hanged.
This brings me to my next point. Since “hanged” in spelled with an N, please situate it correctly on your changeable-text signs. I challenge anyone to drive through their town and not find a sign with a backwards N. Especially, here in the South. Even worse are the permanent signs with backwards Ns. Now, I’m not talking about Russian signs. I know the Cyrillic alphabet has a backwards N. Neither am I talking about people from other countries trying to make a sign in English, or the rare cases where a backwards N has special or historical meaning. I mean the people who should know better. Native English speakers (and one would assume - spellers) who should, by the time they are making signs, know what way the N is going. (I mean really. There are 4 more Ns on this sign! Not to mention, when is ePM?)
The quote is “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” Not beast. The William Congreve quote is talking about people, not animals.
Wives can not be made to testify against their husbands. Most people misquote this law as “Wives can not testify against their husbands.” Big difference. If a woman wants to testify against her husband, she may. Of course, this dates from an antiquated, anti-feminist time when women were completely dependent on their husbands.
Finally, one of the pet peeves that I find the most annoying is singing Happy Birthday as if it were a funeral dirge. Come on people! Its supposed to be a happy occasion. You friend or loved one is celebrating a birthday. The candle are lit. You’re anticipating a lovely piece of cake. Sing faster! Make it peppy!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Is It too Sunny in Here for You?

Something has been bothering me lately. Hand-in-hand with the general decline of manners in our society, about which I have talked before, I have noticed that there is a growing prevalence among men and boys to violate one of the fundamental properties of gentlemanly behavior.

I am not talking about opening doors for ladies – for I am perfectly capable of opening a door myself, and if I reach it before you, sir, I will hold it open for you. Neither do I mean such silly affectations as lighting my cigarette or ordering for me at a restaurant. I don’t smoke, and am way too picky about my food to allow anyone else to presume to know what I crave.

Let me state it categorically: Gentlemen do not wear hats indoors. Now, you may think that I am picking on these poor hapless men and boys. I have even had arguments with my own nephews over this issue. They offer the same tired defense as others have tried. “Times have changed,” they say. “No one cares about that stuff anymore,” they declare. “It’s ok if we wear baseball caps,” they whine, and it is here that their voices take on that certain note of uncertainty that I always hear.

How many times have I heard that ‘times have changed?’ “Not that old chestnut,” I think to myself and mentally roll my eyes. The ‘times’ do not excuse rudeness. Yes, society is evolving. It always will be, and that is good. However, that does not mean we should abandon our niceties, for they are what makes life pleasant for all. As I have said before in my posts, I assure you, people care. I care, and if I do, there are many others who do too.

I realize that gentlemen hardly ever wear dress hats anymore. Fedoras or bowlers have gone the way of morning coats and spats. What you see now are mostly baseball caps and “trucker” hats. The style of hat has no bearing on this etiquette rule. Baseball caps are not intrinsically exempt. There is nothing so unique about a ball cap that makes it suitable for indoor use. Baseball caps are made to be worn during baseball games. It is even conceivable to wear them for other sporting venues, and to shade your eyes when outside in the sun or rain. I give you enthusiastic permission to wear them backwards, sideways, or jauntily askew. I am all for individual expression in your dress and demeanor. However, when you step indoors, please remove them. I’m not asking you hold them in your hand for the duration. They are usually small and pliable enough to fold them up and put them in your pocket. Believe me, they won’t get damaged.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a restaurant or the mall, and seen several young men wearing their hats. I’m convinced the thought of removing the hat never crosses their minds. Last week, at the doctor’s office, there were at least 4 in the waiting room – one father/son combination. Clearly the sins of the fathers are being passed on to the next oblivious generation.

We would like to see your faces when we talk to you. Besides, the longer you wear your hat, the worse your hat-hair will be. No one wants that! Who knows more about it? I do.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Best Wishes and Happy Times

There are a couple of common mistakes that polite people make because they don’t know any better; and then there are a few mistakes made by people who should know better. I have always tried to follow these obscure rules of etiquette, because not only are they true, they are also amusing to me. You may find some of these surprising, questionable, or even down-right nonsensical. It’s ok. I’m here to help.

Obscure Rules

1. Never congratulate a bride: It is considered bad manners to say “Congratulations” to a woman on her engagement or marriage. One can say “Best wishes.” or “I’m so happy for you.” “Congratulations” implies that she was successful in her hunting and trapping foray into getting a man to marry her. It is however, perfectly acceptable to congratulate a man on his engagement. He has after all, proven himself worthy of a woman’s approval. I know, it almost sounds feminist doesn’t it? And it is a rule that is very old. Unfortunately, it stems from the historic inequality in marriage laws, having to do with ownership and other unpleasant-to-think-about issues.

2. To burn or not to burn: When one places out new candles in one’s home, one must burn the wick ever so slightly and then extinguish it. Never have a candle sitting there with a clean wick. This sounds crazy, you say? What possible etiquette rule could this serve? The candle rule dates back to times when electric lights were new. People who were rich enough to afford electricity did not want their less-advantaged guests to feel inadequate, so candles were meant to appear totally utilitarian. If the wick was dark, one couldn’t tell if the candle was needed, or just for show. So now, we burn the wick to make our guests feel welcome.

Not So Obscure Rules

1. Never drink to your own toast: You’re at a wedding, banquet, award ceremony, or birthday bash with friends. Someone raises a glass to you, singing your praises. He closes his speech with a hearty toast in your honor. Everyone else in the room raises their glasses, repeats the last phrase said by the toaster, and drinks. You smile graciously and demurely at everyone and DO NOT sip from your glass. Etiquette demands humility above all else. You don’t want to appear as if you agree with everything he just said and were waiting for someone to say it out loud. If you’re dying for a drink, wait until everyone has sipped, then turn to the toaster and raise your glass as if to say “Thank YOU,” and then drink.

2. Meat, Bread & Butter: Since one can (or at least – should) only eat one bite at a time, that is all that should be cut on one’s plate. One takes one’s fork and knife, cuts a bite of meat, lays down the knife, and puts the bite in one’s mouth. One should not hack up the entire filet into little bite-sized morsels. Most people can handle this directive easily, however you may find it harder when it comes to bread. Bread should also only be torn, never cut, into one small piece at a time, that is then buttered, and then eaten. Please do not slice your roll in half, butter the whole thing, and then eat it like a sandwich. The remainder of the un-torn roll should sit on its bread plate. Oddly enough, the correct procedure, if you do not have a bread plate, is to the rest the roll on the tablecloth beside your plate. Since it has no butter on it, it will not soil your host’s linens.

3. More on Weddings: Gifts are to be sent to the bride prior to the wedding day. The polite guest does not bring the gift to the reception. The bride and groom are not going to open them there and “ooh and aah” over them anyway. Post them to the bride’s address, or drop them off if you live nearby. The roots of this rule may seem obvious. The bride and her family usually do not have the time, or ability, to safeguard the gifts as they pile up on a corner table. Believe me, they have been known to disappear.

I hope my friends find these rules more palatable than the “no black at a wedding” rule. You wouldn’t believe how many are still arguing that point with me. Don’t they know? I know more about it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Like … you know.

Can I share something with you? There are a few things that my fellow English-speaking humans do that make me annoyed.
Not running-amok-in-a-murderous-rage annoyed, just enough to make me cringe. I’m going to share these pet peeves with you. But not all of them. Today, I’m only speaking of grammatical errors.

Anyone with a modicum of education knows what I mean. These are common mistakes in the English language. Mistakes about which you should know better. I can’t help but wonder, whenever I see these misspellings or hear these mispronunciations, about what else that person may be ignorant. I’m sorry; I can’t help it. Your manner of speech says a great deal about you.

1. A lot – These are two words people. Stop running them together as one word. “Alot" is not a word; it doesn’t mean anything. My computer just now kept correcting my spelling, and I had to manually shut off the auto-correction. My mother, who was a high-school English teacher for years, used to see these misspelled words so often, she banned them. She’d tell her students “I don’t want to see the words ‘a lot’ unless you’re writing about a piece of land.

2. Often – This is one of those words that seems to defy the rules of grammar. It is pronounced “aw’fen,” not “awf’ten.” The T is silent. Always. Do you say “lis’ten” for listen? Do you say “fas’ten?” No, and you don’t pronounce this T either.

3. Cents – When I receive change back from a cashier, there are usually some cents involved. Unless I only get back one penny, please say “cents.” All too often (silent T) I hear, as she’s putting it in my palm, “That’s 3 dollars and 42 cent.” Some may say that this is a regional thing, and I should lighten up. I don’t care, it sounds idiotic. If there are more than one, then they are plural, not singular.

4. Ask – The next time I hear someone say “I want to axe you about something,’ I’ll assume they have a beef with me and mean me bodily harm. I’ll start running for the hills, dialing 911 all the way. “Axe” and “ask” are two completely different words, that mean completely different things. They are not interchangeable. It isn’t any more difficult to say “ask” than it is to say “axe.” It’s not any shorter. I just don’t get it.

5. Suite – As an Interior Designer, I use this word a lot (two words.) Sadly though, I also hear it use frequently by furniture salesmen and the like. All too often (silent T) I hear it pronounced as “suit,” like a men’s suit by Armani. It is pronounced like “sweet.” It means a collection of like items. It can also be used in conjunction with music. For instance the ballet is called “The Nutcracker,” while a recording of the music is called “The Nutcracker Suite.” Please, please never again say “I bought a living-room suit.”

6. Regardless – Briefly, there is no such word as “irregardless.”

7. Comparable – This is a tricky one. Comparable is pronounce with the accent on the first syllable, not the second as if you were saying “compare.” To tell the truth, the second way is considered acceptable nowadays, but the first is more correct. And it sounds so much more concise.

8. Whether – When you are making a distinction between items or choices, it is incorrect to add “or not” after “whether.” I grant you, this is an obscure rule, of which most people aren’t aware. For example, “Yesterday we couldn’t decide whether to go to the movies after dinner,” is correct. “We couldn’t decide whether or not to go to the movies” is not correct. Its redundant. However, there are some instances where most people would have a hard time not saying “or not.” “I’m telling you this for your own good, whether you believe me or not.” It would be hard to end this sentence at “…whether you believe me.” Your call.

9. And – This rule is technically an arithmetic rule, not grammar, but is so commonly misused, I feel it needs to be added to this list. When speaking aloud a long number such as 1023, it is pronounced “one thousand twenty three” not “one thousand and twenty three.” Using “and” in a mathematical statement implies a decimal point. It would be correct to say “one thousand and twenty three” if you were giving change back to a customer, and there were 23 cents returned in addition to the bills. It would look like this: 1000.23.

10. At – Ok, this is my biggest pet peeve. “At” does not belong at the end of a sentence, along with all other prepositions. “Where are you at?” makes my head spin. It very nearly forces me into that murderous rage. “Where are you” is a complete thought. That is all you need. I understand that this may stem from a common misconception of the contraction of “where are” to “whe’re,” which many people may hear as “where,” so that saying “Where you?” clearly doesn’t sound right and they add the “at.” Responding is much easier. You can say in return “I am in the living room, “I am cleaning my oven,” “We are out to lunch.” “At” should only be use when the location is very specific, as in “I am at the end of aisle 4.”

You may have noticed that I didn’t even mention the commonly overused words in the title. Well, like … you know, they’ve been done to death. Many greater pundits than I have written about them. If you are one of those who overuse “like” or “you know,” you know who you are.

Well, these are some of the pet peeves that make conversing with my fellow humans such a trial. Someday, I’ll share more with you about other aspects of life, like driving or shopping. Just remember, I know more about it than you.

In sisterhood.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's a Nice Day for a Black Wedding

Ok, here’s the thing. This is the one bit of advice that I get the most arguments about. When I make my suggestions, my friends say - in voices tinged with uncertainty - “Oh, that isn’t the rule anymore.” They try to tell me that times have changed. They try to rationalize their own mistakes and faux pas. They cleverly throw “What if’s …” back at me. To all this, I can only say: No! Guests don’t wear black to a wedding. Period!

Obviously this advice is for women only. I know, men are benefiting form the old double standard, again, but there it is. Men get to wear their good black suits. And if it’s a classy pin-stripe, all the better.

Yes, we all know that black is slimming. Everyone’s got a favorite little black dress that is sexy, flattering, swingy (the good kind, for dancing,) and cleans up well. I get that. Wear it out Friday night to the club, or on your blind date next week. It will make you feel flirty and powerful. You go girl. However, showing respect for the bride, is more important than how slim you can make yourself appear. For every woman who decides to wear the black dress because she looks so hot in it, and who’s going to care anyway, there is another person looking her over thinking “What was she thinking?” How tacky. I know, because I am that person.

Why black? There are so many options out there. You know what the fashion elite tell us every year. “Brown is the new black.” Or navy, or gray. It changes every year. Wasn’t it lemon recently? If you need to wear a solid dark color to look or feel sexier, try chocolate. Oh my! I can just see you in a chocolate, drapey dress, shakin’ it on the dance floor. Wear something that makes you unique. Be the woman that everyone talks about on the ride home, for the right reasons. “My God, did you see that woman in the ice blue dress. Wasn’t she stunning?!” My good friend Stephanie, wore this amazing red dress to a Candi’s wedding last year, and really stood out from the crowd.

Wearing black to a wedding signifies that you don’t approve. You may think no one will assume that, but once again, you’re wrong. There will be someone at that wedding wondering how much you don’t want the happy couple to be happy. Is that the message you want to send? If so, just don’t go. If, on the other hand, you love the bride and groom as friends or family, be polite. Trust me, someone will notice, and it will probably be the bride. I once attended a wedding where the mother of the groom wore a black pantsuit. Everyone was whispering, not just me.

Yes, a lovely print with black in it is fine, as long as black is not the prominent color. Yes, the bridesmaids may wear black if the that is the color chosen for them by the bride. Yes, you may use black accessories: shoes, bags, belts.

There are a few other simple wedding attire rules to note: no velvet after Memorial Day, dress for the occasion (no big flouncey hats and chiffon to a formal evening ceremony,) and no white! The only thing worse than wearing black, is wearing white. Competing with the bride is a big no-no!

So, there you have it. I know that not everyone knew these rules. Now you do. That’s what you have me for, because I know more about it than you do.

I Know More About It than You Do

My friends have been after me for a while to do a blog. In my little circle of women friends, I seem to be the person they go to with questions about etiquette. They call me “Ms. Manners.” So I’ve decided to share my expertise with the world. I don’t claim to be Judith Martin, or Emily Post. I hope everyone will refer to her own copy of their illustrious books for answers to the big questions. I know my three-inch thick copy is well-thumbed, as I’m sure yours is. But there are some issues I’d like to speak to.

However, since I’m not one-dimensional, I’m not going to limit it to just manners. There are lots of other standards I’d like to raise. (Play-on-words intended.) I notice lots of things. Bad driving, sloppy fashion mistakes, speaking incorrectly, stupid movie plots, male-chauvinist pigs. You know what I mean.

It seems like everyday I notice something that someone does wrong. I’m going to take this space to show you your mistakes. Don’t worry, I won’t name names, unless you want me to. I know I was thrilled the first time Steph (oops, I named her) referred to me in her blog. (see Steph writes funny stories about her life. I first appear in the one called “Downtown Gainesville on a Monday Night.” My other friend Lynn (oops, there I go again) has one at Lynn is an amazing crafter and her blog always astounds me. Then there’s Alisa’s (damn it, I can’t seem to shake this habit.) I am very envious of the title she chose: I can only hope that my blog turns out half as good as theirs.

Now, before you start ranting at me, I realize that you’re going to rant at me. I fully expect to have blistering responses to my freely given constructive advice. I know you don’t like it when I point out your short-comings. But somebody has to, so I’ve decided that it will be me. Go ahead, flame me. It’s ok. I know you feel the need to blame someone. I will calmly pat you on the shoulder, and tell you it will all be ok. As long as you stop doing what’s offending your fellow earthlings, that is.

You just have to remember, I know more about it than you do.