From the Make-Believe 𝘖𝘧𝘧𝘪𝘤𝘦 of the First Lady

I won’t say I’ve actually been a fan of Melania Trump but (since 2016 anyway) I’ve thought of her as the, shall we say least offensive member of the Trump troupe. Even with the plagiarism gaffe* and then the “I don’t really care. Do U?” jacket fiasco, I figured it was her handlers who may have ill-advised her. From time to time she has even made some deft pushbacks from her  husband—not to mention handholding shakeoffs.

But with this latest staff firing — in a list that is becoming legion — I have to do a 360 on the woman. I was going to use the term “First Lady” but I’m officially retiring that term…

…because of this statement on Nov. 13, 2018 from her spokesperson about Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel:

“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”

According to the AP report, “Ricardel is said to have clashed with East Wing staff over logistics for the first lady’s trip to Africa last month.”

First and foremost, “First Lady” is simply an honorary term, like calling your spouse your “better half.” Or in the cartoony days of yesteryear, when a husband might say “You’ll have to ask the boss” (referring, of course, to his “better half”)

To be plain: there is no “position of the Office of the First Lady.”  She may have her own administrative office but the “office” doesn’t get to have a “position” — that’s what government officials do. Her “office” is not an elected position, it’s not a cabinet position or other “appointment.”**

At first I thought the missive was simply an old-style term, like saying “From the desk of…” or “From the office of…” indicating that…well, indicating whatever those old-fashioned terms ever meant—I suppose that it was a business-oriented communication, not a personal note.

Sure, so-called first ladies have long held unique positions of influence in the White House, and we have come to expect the president’s wife to adopt a public cause, whether it’s highway beautification or bullying. But that’s all voluntary and non-official.

*I used the Turnitin citation above because it’s a well-respected “similarity check” service that colleges use and the report offers some excellent distinctions in the study of plagiarism. As the July 2016 USA Today story points out “It’s not entirely a verbatim match, but the two sections bear considerable similarity in wording, construction and themes. (“Was Melania Trump’s speech plagiarized from Michelle Obama?”)
**FLOTUS’ office consists of a chief of staff, social secretary, press secretary, chief floral designer, and executive chef.

Reporting from CNN…Spartacus!

It’s time for a Spartacus moment.

To recap last Wednesday’s bizarre press briefing (Motto: “Only good press allowed in”) at the White House (WH):

When CNN reporter, Jim Acosta, asked some tough questions during the briefing on Nov. 7 and was then, shall we say, accosted by a WH aide, President Trump got testy and suspended Acosta’s WH press pass…in effect, banning him.

It’s pretty clear what happened. Upon direction, an intern moved in and tried to grab the reporter’s microphone; he held it back from her, she persisted (but not in a “nevertheless she persisted” way) and Acosta held his arm out to resist her. The live video footage shows this quite plainly and that he even said “Pardon me, ma’am” when she jostled him for the mic — though some WH rapscallions have edited the footage to try to show otherwise.

(The full video actually shows the intern being called forward during the questioning, crouching down in readiness in the aisle at the front of reporters and then springing up to attempt the mic-grab)

Trump and Acosta had been verbally sparring as the reporter asked about the caravan of migrants issue. When Acosta tried to follow up with another question, Trump said, “That’s enough!”

Trump later whined said, “I came in here as a nice person wanting to answer questions, and I had people jumping out of their seats screaming questions at me.”

WH press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ then reframed the incident as “placing his hands on a young woman,” upon which, CNN said. “Jim Acosta has our full support.”

Acosta later said, “Thank you all for your support. We won’t back down.”

Now, although members of the WH press corps* have traditionally vied for individual recognition as they ask questions, there seems to be an emerging sense of “one-for-all” as they continue to see Trump calling the unfriendly media “enemies of the people.”

Therefore, we would like to suggest that the remaining not-yet-banned WH press corps stand up, not for Acosta personally, but for the integrity of the world’s news media by showing solidarity . . . before they become the WH press corpse.

So at the next briefing (whenever that is—they seem to be somewhat sporadic), I’d love to see the New York Times reporter stand up and say

“Thank you for recognizing me, Mr. President, but I’m reporting on behalf of Jim Acosta . . . I am Spartacus.”**


*Journalists assigned to cover the White House apply for passes that allow them daily access to press areas in the West Wing. White House staffers decide whether journalists are eligible, though the Secret Service determines whether their applications are approved. (Mercury News)
**Reminder for non-film buffs: Near the end of the film, the Roman general Crassus announces to a group of former slaves who unsuccessfully fought against their rulers that unless Spartacus—a Thracian gladiator, one of the escaped slave leaders—is turned over to him, all the slaves will be crucified. Spartacus stands to turn himself in to protect his friends proclaiming “I am Spartacus!, but then the rest of the slaves show their loyalty to him by also proclaiming “I am Spartacus” in great numbers.

In fairness to Trump, he is not calling all the media “enemies” . . . just the “Fake News Media” (e.g., CNN. NYT, WaPo, etc)


Phoenix Gears Up for Halloween

Looks like the city of Phoenix is getting its street signs spiffed up for Halloween!






Oooooh, scary!

But that’s not all that’s going on around here that doesn’t quite…um…feel right. Like there might be invisible presences.

Take this chair, setting off by itself in a big vacant lot, apparently unoccupied.

Here’s a closer view. You can almost make out a figure resting comfortably with “its” feet out.







And then there’s this ghostly presence out by the canal.

Here’s a closer look. Notice the complete lack of any human form in the strange shadow. In all my daily bike rides along the canal, I’ve never seen a human using this chair.


But wait…here’s a separate chair positioned against a canal-side fence. Trust me, it’s a different chair with its own ghoulish shadow.

While we’re checking spooky canal items, check this verrrrry strange deposit, clearly not something a human would mess with. (Well, OK, a human other than me.)

As you can imagine, we approached it cautiously

…and discovered a bizarre collection of two dozen cheap orange and blue BIC razors, cotton balls, a single AA battery, some white plastic wrist rings, the cap of a toothpaste tube (or alien torture device), misc. faded receipts and an instruction manual for an extraterrestrial-looking “OptiChamber Diamond anti-static valved holding chamber.” Yes, but holding exactly what!?






Up the street is the neighborhood McDonald’s…

No! Just kidding!…that’s the McDonald’s I used to frequent in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia when I got tired of shawarmas.


But this little fella on the right is a genuine unretouched shot from a Scottsdale McDonald’s.


Looks pretty clean. I wonder if it uses razor blades in bulk.

4 More Quirky Words You Need…and 1 You Don’t

In my most recent “quirky words” post, I had to cut what was quickly becoming an über-long essay down to size.

But here are a few more gems that you may find useful…and one that you should absolutely ignore, forget and generally eschew.

pastorpreneur (noun): An entrepreneur who sets up churches as a business venture. See Fantasyland (2017) p. 268. Also John Jackson’s book PastorPreneur: Pastors and Entrepreneurs Answer the Call (2004) where he defines it as: “A pastoral innovator and creative dreamer who is willing to take great risks in ministry in the hope of great gain for Christ and his kingdom.” Although the term seems to mainly apply to evangelical Christians, Catholics are not immune, as prolific family/religion author Susan Vogt points out in reference to Matthew Kelly. See Kelly’s The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, (2012).

chisme (noun) Sp. <CHIZ-muh> or <CHEEZ-meh> (pronunciation depends on the speaker): gossip, a story worth telling “Chisme! Tell us what happened with that guy last night!” (example from Urban Dictionary). Also a “thingamajig” or widget (colloquial) — something whose name you can’t quite recall.

snipe (a sign) (noun): a “bandit sign” —  an illegal commercial sign posted on a utility pole, tree, fence, and other street fixtures; outdoor signs that advertise everything from tax preparation to garage sales and cheap houses.

During political seasons, negative snipes are sometimes posted next to legitimate political signs to specifically counter their message — as in the recent instance where a congressional candidate Debbie Lesko unaccountably called her opponent, an M.D. in good standing, a “fake doctor.” (Lesko agreed to take down the snipes under pressure from the Arizona Medical Political Action Committee which had endorsed her.)

Cognitive auto-correct (noun): Recent research suggests that our brains have an “auto-correct” feature that we use when interpreting ambiguous sounds or phrases. Although the researchers focused on ambiguous sounds (‘p’ vs ‘b’ for example), in my experience with college writing students, it works for the written word as well. Here are two examples:

1.) Therefore believe that all students have the same opportunities in their education.

Therefore I believe that all students should have . . .

2.) The ACT and SAT should not decide a student’s future. What a student has done for four years should be tarnished by two tests.

(can you spot the problem?)

The brain does this is by using the surrounding context to narrow down the possibilities of what the speaker may mean and automatically resolves the situation for the best fit. Thus, when students are proofreading their drafts, they know what it’s supposed to say and their brains make it read that way. In fact, other students peer-reviewing their classmates’ essay drafts, often do the same thing.

And just to show that because a word is old, it doesn’t mean it has any business cluttering up our brains, we present this 1741 gem (resurrected in 2014 by Australian economist Colin Dwyer)

floccinaucinihilipilification (noun) <FLOK-si-NO-si-NY-HIL-i-PIL-i-fi-KAY-shuhn>: Estimating as worthless.



More quirky words you may not need

I’ve had enough of politics for the day so here are some fun/not-fun words from my bulging file of “Words You May Be Hearing These Days….But Wish You Hadn’t.”

As many of you know, I collect words like some people collect butterflies or old typewriters This set is mostly new to me but there are a few old faves that you might like to know about, even if you don’t have occasion to use (and in some cases, better that you don’t)

 Here we go…

turnt  (adj): excited, having a really good time, possibly with the help of alcohol or drugs (Macmillan). Meanwhile from Urban Dictionary: a variation of “turned” used only to describe when someone is excessively excited or prepared for the current event. In it’s entirety, it can commonly be seen used as turnt up,” as in “turned up.” (heard on Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show)

bumps (noun) short clips of music used by podcasts and radio shows as signature or theme music to buffer transitions between programming elements. Also “bumper music” or “bumps.”

onion (noun): an ethnic/racial barb for Armenian immigrants (see Rescued reference, below). Like most ethnic terms, not to be used lightly or by those outside the group. “You know, I only let my friends call me onion. And even then I ain’t so sure I like it” (p.12). Onions are a staple of Armenian cuisine but we can probably do without more ethnic characterizations.

poop in a group (verb phrase): (1) “get your shit together” (2) A group of friends that meet at a certain time and bathroom in order to converse while pooping in different stalls (3) group of dog walkers

boss up (verb) (student slang): take responsibility for things going on in your life

fisk (verb) (slang) to refute or criticize (such as a journalistic article or blog) point by point. In Aug. 2017, this verb emerged from a video the National Rifle Association posted to its Twitter account. The clip featured shrieking right-wing NRA personality Dana Loesch promising, among other things, that she and the NRA would “fisk” The New York Times. (Some originally thought she said “fist” which was later clarified by means of the transcript)

Shepard tone (noun):  a sort of an audio barber pole — a spooky auditory illusion, like an M.C. Escher drawing, where a tone continually ascends or descends in pitch, but seems to get no higher or lower — named after cognitive scientist Roger Shepard. Used in movies like The Dark Knight (2008) and Dunkirk (2017) as well as Pink Floyd’s song Echoes from the 1971 album Meddle. (listen to this sound file for the effect)

hockey stick growth (noun): a sharp increase that occurs suddenly after a short period of inactivity or dormancy. A hockey stick chart displays data at low-level activity (y-axis) over a short period of time (x-axis), then gets a sudden bend and finally a long and straight rise at a steep angle.

shadow ban (noun and verb): when someone’s posts on a social media platform are rendered invisible to everyone but themself. The term is somewhat controversial since it’s not exactly clear which platforms are actually doing this and it seems to have different implementations. The point though is that your experience using the site may not change — it feels like you’re still posting normally — but other people can’t see your stuff…supposedly. See The Reality Check podcast #518 (8 Oct. 2018) for a great discussion and NYT article “What Is a ‘Shadow Ban,’”

showmance (portmanteu noun): show romance — romantic relationship between two members of the cast of a play, film or television series. Often a publicity device used by reality shows like Big Brother or Survivor.

voodoo shark (noun): a mythical monster shark based on pseudoscience popularized by Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” in which legitimate scientists are duped into making statements that are highly edited and taken out of context.

“Throughout the interview I was fed certain words to rephrase my sentences in ways that the producer thought would spark more interest. Some words or phrases they asked me to say were beyond anything I would say on my own and I refused. However, they were clever in their questioning by getting me to respond to a vague question with a response that could be used as an answer to a completely different question.” (Jonathan Davis).

See also the upcoming movie Science Friction (in production): “jaw-dropping stories of misrepresentation.”

tarrifism (noun): tarrif-based terrorism. A bully who wages economic war by means of threatened tarrifs would be a ‘tarrifist’ (guaranteed brand new!)*

conlang (portmanteu noun): a construction language or invented language (like Klingon, Avatar’s Na’vi, etc.). Conlanging is the creation of such a language.cafeteria opinion (noun): an uninvited opinion voiced to friends or, often a captive group, with no particular evidence (guaranteed brand new!)*

butt hurt (student slang): Getting your feelings hurt, usually from some petty remark. “Tough love teaches you to be less butt hurt to criticism.”

tree(s) (noun, student slang): stoner talk for marijuana. “Let’s smoke some tree.” “Who you think taught you to smoke trees” (Dr. Dre, 2003)

adulted (verb) apparently related to “raised” as in “I was raised in California, adulted in Arizona” (from a Bumble dating ad). Please make this usage go away.

And now, from the prison scene, compiled variously from a 2014 prison memoir I edited called Rescued, Not Arrested and Orange Is the New Black. (I recently read the book.) Hope you don’t need these:

irons (noun) guns (aka, ‘iron’)

banger (noun) gangbanger

peels(noun) prison garb

torpedo (noun): the shot caller’s faithful enforcer “They called them torpedoes. They were usually culled from the young herd, kids scared to death, the system moving them out of the sandbox in juvie and onto the big boy playground. They’d do anything to feel safe.”

Big Stripes (noun) higher-echelon prisoners

jacket (noun) legal papers, prison record, details of offense

baño (noun) bathroom, john

race leader (noun) yard leader, building leader, complex leader…that is, the hierarchy

mule (noun) A person who smuggles drugs into the institution.

* coined by me

more Klingon for the buck:

NRA launches new slogan

The National Rifle Association (NRA), in commemoration of the anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history one year ago in Las Vegas, has developed a new slogan that it hopes will help soothe the nation’s ill-feeling about guns.

Noting that on Oct. 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock sprayed gunfire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing 58 people and injuring almost 500, the NRA has concluded that it’s not the guns that we need to fear…

It has been reported that the NRA’s “Bullet Subcommittee” challenged the main body by putting forth their own proposed slogan, modifying one of its most prominent catchphrases, to reflect their constituents’ interests:

“The only way to stop a bad man with bullets . . . is a good man with bigger bullets.”

“Either way, with guns now off the hook we can turn our attention to the real culprit: irresponsible bullets, which are not even mentioned in the 2nd Amendment,” an NRA spokesperson said.

*The contemporary definition of “mass shootings” has come to be viewed as the act of a lone gunman shooting sometimes randomly into a public space. Thus, individuals leading packs to kill groups of people with guns — as with the 1921 “Tulsa Race Riot” (300 blacks residents killed), the 1919 “Elaine Massacre”  or the 1846 “Sacramento River Massacre” (several hundred Wintu Indian people) — aren’t viewed as mass shootings in the modern sense.

Ask the Witch-Answer Guy: Part 5

A concerned public servant who desires to remain anonymous wishes to know:

Q: Is it possible to replace a very bad, worst-ever-in-the-history-of-the-world witch hunt with a good old-fashioned American snake hunt? As a very smart, stable man, the smartest, stablest man you’ll ever meet, said “It seems the snakes are everywhere!”

A: No. We need the snakes. Although snakes have been known to eat some wacky things — golf balls, light bulbs, a pregnant sheep — they will normally stick  to a more basic diet of rats or mice . . . assuming there are some rats (or meeces) around. And there usually are. Snake lives matter!