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This, That, and the Other Thing

Ok, we’re done with the argumentums, and I thank you for indulging me. To make it up to you, none of that will be on the test, ok? This week a potpourri, a grab bag, some stuff that I have been filing away but none of enough moment for a full wonk. At least I don’t think so. Best put on your Kevlar vest, because we are talking bullet points.

  • Our justice system sometimes falls egregiously short of the mark. According to The Week, up in Colorado last summer a wealth manager for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney hit a bicyclist from behind and sped away in his Mercedes. Can you say “reprehensible”? How about “lowest form of life”? Well, the local D.A. didn’t see it that way. He let Martin Enzinger plead to two misdemeanors rather than two felonies, because felony raps “have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Enzinger’s profession.” Yeah, my jaw dropped, too. You expect to find this stuff in the National Enquirer along with the three-headed sheep pictures.

  • In local news, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld a 25-year sentence in adult prison—treating minors as adults being the new big thing—for a 17-year-old who pleaded no contest in a shooting that left another young man a quadriplegic. (Yes, it was a very bad thing, and yes, one’s heart should go out to the victim as mine truly does, and yes, the shooter should do serious time. God help you if you are “soft on crime.”) But in what seemed to me and to the lone dissenting justice a very tortured reading of the law—one which flew in the face of a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling—he was denied a jury trial for his sentencing and the chance at a rehabilitation program. But that’s almost a moot point, because the courts admitted that the state has no facilities at present to attempt his rehabilitation. So tough luck, kid. We’ll check back with you in 2035 when you will surely have become a model citizen.

  • I have always thought privatizing prisons (to be blunt, imprisoning people for profit) a terrible idea, both in principle and because of the abuses it can invite. Well, we now have a textbook example of such abuse. A while back, a couple of guys approached Glenn Nichols, the city manager of Benson, Arizona, with a proposal to built a private prison in that southern border town, a prison specifically for illegal Mexican immigrant women and children. This, he was told, would do wonders for Benson’s economy. Nichols wondered how they could keep it filled with such prisoners and was told not to worry about that part. Now we know why. The private prison lobby, and specifically the biggest player, Corrections Corporation of America, was busy helping draft what would become Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (yes, THAT bill). In fact, word is that they pretty much wrote the bill for its sponsors. Used to be (when it was on the taxpayers’ dime) that we reluctantly built new prisons as needed to house lawbreakers. Now we write new laws so that we can have more and more lawbreakers to put away so that we can build new prisons so that we can make more and more money. Ain’t free enterprise grand?

  • Watch for this language change. The old expression “all thumbs” describes someone with very poor small motor skills, someone who has trouble with buttons and shoe laces and what not. But do you suppose that sooner or later “all thumbs” will become a compliment to describe a very adroit texter?

  • As an end-of-semester treat, I introduced the trope babies last week to venery terms, expressions dating back hundred of years that describe animals collectively (the best book is James Lipton’s An Exaltation of Larks). A pride of lions we all know, and a school of fish. Ditto a plague of locusts and a den of thieves. A gang of laborers survives in “chain gang.” Not just animals, either, as flight of stairs attests. Then there is a murder of crows and—wonderfully judgmental—a cowardice of curs. A rafter of turkeys, a siege of herons, a labor of moles (love that one). I am not making these up. But later in the book Lipton does invite us to make some up, so we gave it a go (you can, too). Our best efforts, I think, were a lewdness of pornographers, an arrogance of Hummers, and—bless the student—a meekness of Miatas.

  • Which led us to carving terms, which date back to Elizabethan times. There were specific verbs to use depending upon what delectable was the main course. Thus, you would “fract” a chicken, “allay” a pheasant, “chine” a salmon, “lift” a swan, and so forth. To fall back on simply “carve” showed that you were ill-bred or worse. Which is what, to my shame, I did when we had friends over for peacock last week. I stood there poised with my ginsu knives and announced that I was about to “carve” the bird—when we all know that one “disfigures” a peacock. An acute silence fell around the board and I realized that my social standing was in ruins. I retreated to the kitchen and made myself a hot dog.

Meet Your Macinstructor

Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is


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