Sunday, November 25, 2012

The German engineering genius

If anyone doubts that the world is going to the dogs, a couple of recent engineering disasters in Germany offer the final and definite proof. First, the opening of the new Berlin airport, initially scheduled for last June, has been pushed back several times because of concerns over its fire-control system. The current due date is October 2013. And this is only the latest of a series of high-profile construction projects to be plagued by serious snafus: a couple of train/subway stations, the new concert hall in Hamburg, the building of the German CIA…

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Clash of the titans

A review in the NYT says the main protagonist in the movie “Flight” is played by a “titanic Denzel Washington.” This prompted the natural question: if Denzel Washington is titanic, what was, say, Martin Luther King? Supermegatitanic? The linguistic inflation epitomized by such bombastic language has long been lamented by intellectuals. German writer and linguist Uwe Poerksen has bemoaned the spread of “plastic words” like “development” and “empowerment” which have lost any substantive meaning and can be used to describe and justify almost anything. In a similar fashion, writer Jennifer Egan has lampooned a fictional academic star who studies “the phenomenon of word casings, a term she'd invented for words that no longer had meaning outside quotation marks” – like "friend," "real," "story," "change," “identity,” “search,” “cloud,” and countless others.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Give rape a chance?

According to a story in the Guardian, "more than one in three men surveyed in the Democratic Republic of Congo's war-torn east admits committing sexual assault, and three in four believe that a woman who "does not dress decently is asking to be raped." If I recall correctly, a similar study done in South Africa a few years ago produced similar results. Such findings, though, seem to have made no impression on Steven Pinker, Joshua Goldsten, and other liberal intellectuals who have confidently argued that both large-scale violence and violent crime are fast becoming obsolete - this time for real. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Phony warrior

Last week, Maureen Dowd complained about the “mind-boggling phoniness of [Mitt] Romney” (“My Mitt Fantasy”). According to David Brooks, however, “Romney’s shape-shifting nature” could in fact help him push though Congress some sort of bipartisan reform if he were to become president. Hurray for inner emptiness and “The Upside of Opportunism”! The funny part is that Brooks passes for a “conservative.” The more bizarre part is that the majority of GOP supporters – and probably some opponents – don’t seem to sense Romney’s inner emptiness.