March 7

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Education

I have started three drafts of a blog entry on the current political environment vis-a-vis education.

I gave up three times.

The conversation right now is too close to me. It is too disheartening. It is even shocking.

As the granddaughter, niece and daughter of teachers, as an educator myself who has always valued education and the myriad opportunities it brings, I guess I’ve been a little sheltered from the vitriol of the anti-school crowd. Not completely, of course.

My mother often brought home horror stories about angry parents, aloof administrators, and indifferent students. My aunt teaches second grade at a public school in Terre Haute, the methamphetamine capital of the world. She always talks about her 7-year-old students whose parents could care less if their kids come to school. Hell, my grandfather actually had Charles Manson in class for a brief spell before he got kicked out for ditching. Even before I went to college, I knew that many people had low opinions of a formal education.

And the further I went into my own academic career, the more first-hand experience I collected myself. The summer after I graduated with my bachelor degree, I went to a party with some old high school pals and made the mistake of enthusiastically admitting I was now a college grad. One of the guys I was talking to actually rolled his eyes, snorted and walked away. When I questioned his girlfriend about his behavior, she shrugged. “We’re not big on college snobs,” she replied. I was speechless.

By the time I got to grad school, I realized that, sadly, there were some circles in which I needed to keep my education to myself. When certain people asked me what I was up to, I would just talk about the two jobs I was working and leave out the classes I was taking.

Nowadays, when people ask me what I do, I try to gauge the situation, anticipate their reaction. If I’m not sure their reaction will be positive, I just say I’m a teacher. Sometimes, though, they’ll ask further, and I have to admit I teach English at a university. And then I get the “Ooooh, well, I’ll try to watch my grammar” comment. Like I’m going to correct their usage. I rarely correct even my own children; I don’t correct friends. Ever.

Despite all these experiences, the current discussions about education and teachers and their unions still leave me speechless. What can I say? Can I even be remotely objective?

Of course not.

Obviously, education is important to me. And it should be important to all Americans. It’s part of what makes the American dream possible. We must have a baseline of education to succeed in life. We have to learn how to read. We have to learn how to do basic math. We have to learn enough history to understand what’s come before, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. We have to learn the scientific method.

At a minimum, everyone should learn these things. The U.S. has to have a literate population to maintain its democracy. Thomas Jefferson understood that: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

We have to have a literate population to innovate and boost our economy. Even the most creative people will not get anywhere if they cannot articulate their great ideas.

We have to a have a literate population to protect our nation. Our military needs soldiers and officers who know their history, know multiple languages, know good communication skills.

Education is important to the success and stability of our nation.

So when people want to cut funding of our schools, when people want to bash public school teachers as lazy, glorified babysitters, when people want to privatize our schools because they’re not performing as they think they should, I am flabbergasted.

Our government needs to get its priorities straight. Get back to basics: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For me, “life” means “health” and “safety.” I want my government to provide a bottom-line, safety-net type of health system, and I want my government to keep us safe from our enemies within and without.

“Liberty” is more complicated, but for me, its about getting to choose our leaders and those leaders’ supporting the Bill of Rights.

And then there’s “pursuit of happiness.” Now, I know that education does not make everybody happy. My kindergartner told me just today that she hates school. I know that higher education is not for everyone. I certainly do not look down my nose at people who choose or cannot afford college. My husband left school at age 16; he’s one of the most brilliant people I know, and he also appreciates the value of a good education. You don’t need a degree to be educated, but not appreciating education makes you stupid.

Education allows us to succeed in business. It allows us to get better jobs and make more money. Education helps us to pursue property, which is, of course, the original source of the phrase from which Jefferson co-opted his famous Declaration (John Locke).

And the current education system, while certainly not perfect, its not in such bad shape that it needs to be completely abandoned. Are there bad schools? Oh yes. Do I know how to fix them? No, but taking away their money and marginalizing the teachers is definitely not the answer! Are there bad teachers? You bet. But I can count on one hand, the number of bad teachers I’ve had in seventeen years of education. In fact, I can think of just two. Two!

On the other hand, I can think of a hundred really good teachers I have had the privilege to know, either as their student or as a friend. My mom won student-voted awards almost every year of her 30-year career. Even today, people who had her as a teacher come up to me and sing her praises. She worked her tail off for three decades. All those “vacations” and “breaks” people complain about teachers’ enjoying. Yeah, my mom spent most of those “days off,” locked in her room, grading endless piles of essays. I remember Thanksgivings, Easter Sundays, and Mother’s Days, when we would visit family in Terre Haute, my mom spent the two hours in the car grading and doing lesson plans.

One of my favorite teachers of all time was a lady named Karen. She taught three preps – sophomore AP literature, junior composition, and an awesome class called humanities. I was fortunate to have her twice as a teacher. She was amazing in the classroom. But she was also one of my mom’s best friends, so I got to see behind the scenes. I saw her in tears my senior year, her first year teaching the brand-new humanities course. She was crying on my mom’s shoulder because she was working so hard, prepping all her classes, developing this new curriculum, grading and dealing with all the usual administrative crap. She felt like she was missing her sons’ childhoods. If I hadn’t walked into my mom’s classroom after school that day, I’d have had no idea she was under such stress. She was flawless in front of her students.

And then there were my band directors. The first two years I was in band, I didn’t give much thought to how much time these three men put into their music program. My senior year, though, I was a drum major, and I spent a lot of time with them. In the summer. On Monday evenings. On Thursday evenings. On Friday evenings when we had football games. Every Saturday from August to November when we had contests. They chose the marching drill, the musical selections, the uniforms, the flags, the staff. They coordinated 350 teenagers, teaching us music, marching routines and dealing with our teenage angst. They dealt with stage parents and vengeful judges. I cannot imagine how many hours they put into that program. And, oh, yeah, they also had to teach music classes, grade papers, and all that stuff too. They earned every dollar they got paid, and I know it wasn’t as much as it could’ve been if they’d taken their degrees and put all those hours into a private business. I know for a fact that band was the only reason many kids stayed in school at all.

Teachers are alright.

The cuts in funding, the swipes at teachers’ unions, the pushes for privatization (vouchers and charter schools) reveal some seriously screwed-up priorities in our country.

We’d better get our heads on straight and start investing in our future. Education is key. If we forget that, we sacrifice our future because part of our electorate has a chip on its shoulder and another part is senior voters who would rather protect their assets than educate our nation’s children.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or property if you swing that way) is the bottom line. Education is the path.

December 21

Christmas Lists

For me, the holiday season started this morning. Until 1am of December 21st, I was buried under statistical reports, department meetings, esssays to be graded and a textbook manuscript to be edited. I finished the last of it in the wee hours of this morning, so I can finally turn my attention, undivided, to the Big Day.

Not that I haven’t been thinking about Christmas or doing things here and there. My parents treated my family to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Yuletide Celebration a couple weeks ago, which was lovely. I went to Metamora, a little town in eastern Indiana that does a “Christmas Walk” along its historic canal every year. I attended my old neighborhood’s annual Progressive Dinner and a couple of children’s parties. I have done snatches of shopping, wrapping and baking when I could fit them in.

My friends and family often reminded me that time was running short. And I even got some reminders from unlikely sources. Such as one friend, a Muslim PhD candidate from Indonesia, who comforted me when I learned we were expecting ANOTHER snowstorm: “But Jennifer, now you will get to play your Christmas sports,” he said with a sincere smile. I guess I looked confused because he explained, “You know, your skiing, your sledding, your snowball fighting.” So cute.

And during Hannukah, I tutored an exchange student from Israel. I was reading his paper, when I suddenly heard him humming “Jingle Bells.” Puzzled, I looked at him and asked, “Boaz, aren’t you Jewish?” He grinned and nodded. “Yeah, but your Christmas music is everywhere! It gets stuck in my head.” HA! (So much for the “war on Christmas” Fox News is always screaming about to all the retired W.A.S.P.s who actually believe it. If Jewish exchange students are singing Christmas music, I think the holiday’s safe, Bill O..)

Anyway, now I can finally concentrate on getting into some Christmas spirit. So the following lists are really just me brainstorming for my own benefit unless you, too, are trying to cram all your favorite Christmas traditions into three or four days!

Below are some of my favorite things about the season that I’m trying to get in before it’s over.

Songs:

(Remember, I’m a child of the 80’s.)

  • ·         White Christmas – Bing Crosby
  • ·         Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie
  • ·         Do They Know It’s Christmas – Duran Duran and some other people
  • ·         The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
  • ·         Joy to the World – Julie Andrews
  • ·         Santa Claus Is Comin to Town – Bruce Springsteen
  • ·         I Saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus – John Mellencamp
  • ·         Rudolph – Gene Autry
  • ·         Mary’s Boy Child – Boney M
  • ·         Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
  • ·         I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
  • ·         Happy Christmas – John Lennon
  • ·         Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer – Elmo and Patsy
  • ·         Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
  • ·         All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey

Movies:

  • ·         It’s a Wonderful Life
  • ·         The Grinch
  • ·         Rudolph
  • ·         White Christmas
  • ·         A Christmas Story
  • ·         Mickey’s Christmas Carol
  • ·         Scrooged
  • ·         National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • ·         Holiday Inn
  • ·         Die Hard
  • ·         Love Actually

Books/Stories:

  • A Christmas Carol – Dickens
  • A Visit from St. Nicholas – Moore
  • Gospel of Luke

Cookies:

  • ·         Sugar cookie cutouts
  • ·         Oatmeal craisin
  • ·         Snickerdoodles
  • ·         Jam thumbprints
  • ·         Chocolate chip
  • ·         Gingerbread

Other Holiday Food/Drinks:

  • ·         Egg nog
  • ·         Mulled wine
  • ·         Cranberry “grog”
  • ·         Spinach dip with Hawaiian bread
  • ·         Honey ham
  • ·         Green bean casserole
  • ·         Jesus’ birthday cake

If I spend the next five days doing nothing but cooking, eating, reading, listening to music and watching movies, I think I can get it all in. The race is on! Merry Christmas!

Category: Current Events, Family and Kids, Popular Culture | Comments Off
October 1

The Gay Suicides

Do you remember 1988?

I do. I was a junior in high school and, well, kind of the belle of the ball. I was cute. I was skinny (was I ever really a size 4?!). I was the teachers’ pet, and I was popular. It was one of the best years of my life, so it’s imprinted on my memory very clearly.

Ronald Reagan was on his way out as the presidential campaign between George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis was in full swing. (I was rooting for Bush!?) The Soviet Union was still a constant threat.  My beloved Duran Duran, now down to three members, released their “Big Thing” album. Bruce Willis starred in the first “Die Hard” film that year.

We wore pegged jeans, Coca-Cola brand clothes, and high-top Converse. Our hair was BIG! Our eyeshadow was blue. And all the way up to our eyebrows.

My mom was an English teacher at my high school, but I was lucky: she was way cool. My mom might’ve been more popular than I was! But I had a driver’s license, a car, and a reputation for being a non-judgemental goody-two-shoes, so I was everyone’s favorite designated driver. It was in that role that I experienced one of the “game-changing” moments of my life.

It was December (I think. I know that it was VERY cold.), and I was leaving a basketball game at my school. I was in the pep band (at my school, band was actually cool!), so I had had to stay for the entire game, then go back to the band room, put away my clarinet, and socialize for a bit with my fellow band geeks before actually leaving.

As I was walking out, one of my friends asked if he could have a ride. This friend, Ryan, would become my senior year boyfriend, but as juniors, we were just friends. I said sure, and we headed out into the cold, dark parking lot together, gossiping about this and that.

We were almost to my car when Ryan stopped short and grabbed my arm. “What was that?”

I’d heard it too. A terrible sound. I can hear it now. Whimpering. But almost-adult whimpering. A desperate, defeated sound that sent an instant zing up our spines and stopped us in our tracks.

We followed the noise to the edge of the lot. Between the darkened parking lot and the even darker football stadium was a figure in the brittle grass. A human form, lying on the frozen ground.

Ryan and I were 16 years old. We were frightened, fascinated and concerned at once. I remember the bizarrely inappropriate thrill of realizing that he was holding my hand as we approached this dark, moaning shape in the grass.

And then we saw, in the dim light of a distant street light, that this was a fellow band geek. He was lying, face-down, on the icy ground, moaning pitifully. We knew him well. He was a fellow clarinet player, and I had been to Europe with him on a school-sponsored trip.

I approached him cautiously and said his name. He moved a little. He recognized my voice and responded. “Price?”

Ryan and I helped him to a sitting position. Ryan put his jacket around him. We learned that he had been “jumped,” attacked by a bunch (maybe 3 or 4 or 5?) of guys in the parking lot. They had called him a “f-ing faggot” and beat him brutally.

Our friend was a mess, but he refused to go to an emergency room. He didn’t want anyone to know, especially his parents.

I was confused. At a very sheltered 16, I had a limited understanding of “gay.” I didn’t even yet realize that my dear friend Ryan was gay. I didn’t see why our bruised and battered friend was so anxious about people finding out he’d been beaten up. In fact, I chalked it up to a male-pride thing: he didn’t want anyone to know he’d lost a fight.

Ryan understood better. He ran back inside the school to use the pay phone. He told us later that he’d called his mom and our friend’s parents to ask if he could spend the night. While he was inside, he also scoped out the band hallway and determined almost everyone was gone. He came back to us, huffing and puffing. “We can use the restroom. Everybody’s gone.”  Ryan and I helped our friend back into the school where they went into the boys’ restroom. I waited in the hallway.

While I was waiting, our band teacher saw me as he was leaving. “Jenni, what are you still doing here?”

“Oh, I’m taking Ryan home, and he needed to use the restroom. I’m just waiting on him,” I replied.

The band director trusted me.”Okay,” he said, “well, I’ve gotta get going, so I’m just gonna lock these doors. You can get out, but make sure you have everything because you won’t be able to get back in, alright?”

“Yes, sir!” I nodded, absolutely panicked that Ryan might exit the boys’ room with our friend any moment.

“See you Monday!” the band director said, and he disappeared into the darkness.

Ryan and our friend appeared several minutes later. Our friend was no longer bloody, but he had a very swollen lip and a black eye. From the way he was limping gingerly out to my car, I’m sure he had bruises elsewhere too.

The boys didn’t talk much as I drove them to Ryan’s home. Of course, I filled the silence with useless prattle, making assumptions to justify my perspective. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of: “Stupid teenage boys – always looking for a reason to fight. Just because Center Grove High School lost the game, they have to beat up on one of our guys.”

I never learned if it was kids from the rival school or kids from our own school who beat up our friend. He never said. But even then, I understood just enough to know it didn’t really have anything to do with a basketball game.

Our friend was beaten because he was gay.

I didn’t become a liberal right then. No, it took about 15 more years for that lesson to sink in completely. I voted Republican in the first two elections in which I participated. Then I began to split my ticket. Gradually it became more and more liberal as I recognized that the rhetoric of the G.O.P. helped inflame and justify the hate crime I had witnessed first-hand.

Both Ryan and our friend are gone now. One died of AIDS years ago; one died of stomach cancer in 2008. Otherwise, I would not be blogging about that night. You see, I promised them both that I wouldn’t tell anyone. It was too complicated, too painful, too fraught with consequences for parents, friends and loved ones.

But the suicides of Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase, Billy Lucas and others have made me re-think my promise.

The perpetrators of hate crimes WANT to keep their acts in the dark. They want their victims to remain silent.

It certainly was easy for me to stay quiet. I finished my junior year in the top 10 of my class. I became a drum major in the marching band. I was a homecoming princess. Life was good. I didn’t want to complicate things by telling the story of having witnessed a crime on school grounds. My promise made my life easier. So I could happily justify my silence; I was just being a good friend.

Now I’m not so sure.

Those guys, whoever they were, got away with assault and battery on a kid they wanted to beat on because he was different. And I helped them get away with it by being quiet, passive, sweet, and loyal. What if they raise their kids to do the same thing?

My mom loves to say that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” That night, I did nothing. And I’m sorry for that.

If you know an LGBT person, especially a kid, do NOT do what I did. Do something. Even if it is just to say, “Hey, I’m your friend, and if you need me, I’ll listen.”

Change starts just one person at a time.

June 19

Summer Reading Recommendations 2010


My husband chastised me the other day because my blog’s been idle for a while. I admit, I’ve been lax, but I do have some really good excuses if you’re interested! First, I’ve been in summer school hell. Like an idiot, I accepted a double assignment which means I’m teaching two classes covering 15 weeks’ material in 6 weeks. I’m a lesson planning-student-email-responding-paper-grading automaton! Second, the novel that has been gestating in my brain for the past 8 years has decided it’s time to be born. So in between my manic teaching work, I’ve been spending most of my writing time writing that. And finally, well, most of my blog stuff’s been focused on current events, and the oil spill in the Gulf has been dominating that spectrum for a while. The whole fiasco simply paralyzes me with disappointment and anxiety. I am so angry with BP, disappointed in our government’s response, devastated about the environmental impact, and grief-stricken for the people of that region, I don’t want to write more than these few lines about it. Soooooooo…

My guilt-ridden conscience thus temporarily cleared, I can move on to something kinda fun.

As an English teacher with a couple of degrees in literature, I am often asked for summer reading recommendations. Now if you were talking to me in person, I’d ask you several questions about your personal tastes before I would presume to recommend anything because the possibilities are really endless. Plus, I have some rather particular tastes in reading materials, especially the stuff I read in my free time.

Since you’re just reading this blog, though, I’ll list my personal favorites. Please bear in mind that I read some rather heavy stuff for my professional work, so in the summer, I tend to read fun, low-impact books. I love Dante, Shakespeare and Henry James, but I’m not going to recommend them for light reading on the beach. Please don’t hold the fluff in this list against me!

In no particular order:

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher: A memoir of Princess Leia’s life, growing up in a celebrity family. Painfully funny, it is particularly fascinating if you are remotely interested in Hollywood history. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it wasn’t three times as long.

Fool by Christopher Moore: A retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear from the fool’s perspective. I’ve been a Christopher Moore fan for years, but I was leery of his taking on my beloved bard, especially Lear, which is my favorite Shakespearean tragedy. Moore is irreverent, hilarious and dirty, so I had my doubts. I needn’t have worried; it is hilarious, and his love for this magnificent play is obvious just behind all the four-letter words and naughty bits.

Angels and Demons/ Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Imaginative novels about Catholic conspiracies. If you’re one of the few Americans left who haven’t read these, pick ‘em up at your local library or used book store. They’re fun, fast-paced, and intriguing, especially Angels and Demons, which moves at a near-breakneck pace that keeps your nose in the book right until the rather farfetched end. I can’t recommend the third one because I haven’t read it yet. I refuse to shell out $30 for a hardback, so I’ll wait until it’s available at the library.

Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich: Series of mysteries about an unlikely bounty hunter in New Jersey. These are pure fluff, but I was hooked when my sister lent me the 9th book in the series, and I read the line: “Punky Balog had an ass like Winnie the Pooh…big and fat and furry.” That was the first page, and it just got funnier from there. They’re all filled with wild characters and improbable fumbles – the kind of stories I have to stop and read pieces aloud to my husband now and then.

Sex with Kings/Sex with the Queen by Eleanor Herman: A whirlwind tour of European history via royal bedrooms. I’m a sucker for European history, so I love Herman’s books. They’re not your high school history textbooks, for sure. All the juicy particulars of romance, passion, sex, and political intrigue are woven into real history to make it come alive in lurid detail – everything from tsarist Russia to Prince Charles and Princess Di.

Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie: Murder mystery with a twist before twists were cool. My mom has read every Christie novel. I’ve read about a dozen or so, and the Hercule Poirot stories are my favorites. This one is a classic. Think M. Night Shyamalan before his father was even a twinkle in his grandfather’s eye.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: The monster classic. I taught this to freshmen a few years back, and I was worried. The course was designed for non-majors, and I feared the 18th-century language and sensibilities might turn them off. I warned them to forget about watching any of the film adaptations and faking their way through discussions; this is nothing like what you think you know about Frankenstein. They loved it. It’s actually an easy read despite its age, and it is still fascinating and disturbing and thought-provoking.

Dracula by Bram Stoker: The other monster classic. Again, forget what you think you know. Even more so than Frankenstein, Dracula has been done some terrible disservice by Hollywood. Stoker’s novel is far richer in characters, plot and paranoia than any of the film adaptations. This novel is what I started to write my Master’s thesis on, so it’s a personal favorite. I’ve read it about 20 times. A couple scenes still give me chills!

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne: An adventure tale about an OCD British gentleman who makes an outrageous wager. If you ever watched “Frasier” with Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde-Pierce, you’ll recognize Phileas Fogg’s type – fastidious, exacting, particular, and over-educated. But you can’t help but fall in love with him as he battles his way around the 19th-century globe. I read this to my 8-year-old son, and we had a blast following Fogg’s travels.

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold : Historical fiction about a magician in 1920’s San Francisco. I love historical fiction done well. This novel is full of surprises and keeps you guessing until the end. Supposedly, it was just picked up by Warner Brothers for a film adaptation. That’s been a rumor for a while, though, so don’t wait for the movie.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr: Historical fiction about a profiler in turn-of-the-century New York City. Sherlock Holmes does Jack the Ripper in the United States. Sort of. This book is dark and twisty with cameos by great historical figures like Teddy Roosevelt.

Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: Classic children’s fantasies. Most people (including myself, obviously) label these as children’s books, but they are so deep and full of tricks and word plays children would never catch, I think it’s a shame to dismiss them or relegate them to a genre where adults who never read them as kids will feel foolish picking them up. They are amazing, and I find myself quoting them all the time: “If you do such a thing again, I’ll have you buttered!”

So there you go. I wish I hadn’t read any of these so I could read them all this summer for the first time. They are such fun to discover. If you’re fortunate enough not to have read some of them, I envy you.

Meanwhile, I shall trudge off into the unknown bookshelves, mining for gems. Happy reading!

February 18

Word Drama


As an English teacher and writing tutor, I spend a lot of time thinking about words. Lately, it seems like many other Americans are thinking about them too. From Rahm Emanuel, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh to John Mayer to Shaun White, people are taking flak for the words they are using.

First, we had the spat between Rahm Emanuel and Sarah Palin over Emanuel’s use of the word “retard.” Then Rush Limbaugh jumped into the fray, repeating the word half a dozen times and accusing Palin of trying to be “politically correct.” Now you can go about 50 different ways with this argument.  You can go the Mom direction: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. You can go the political route: liberals are all about political correctness, so Emanuel’s use of such a word is particularly egregious. You can even go the etymological route: “retard” is derived from the Latin “tardare” which means “to slow,” so there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the word itself. I’ll let other people take on those debates.

What really interests me in the classroom, at the tutoring table, and in the news lately is the issue of audience. I was talking with some students the other day, and we decided that the world is made up of two kinds of people – those who are only concerned with getting their point across for their own sake and those who want to communicate in a way that affects their audience appropriately. In all the recent language scandals, what has made the difference to me is the audience.

Take Rahm Emanuel first. He actually used the word “retard” months ago in a private meeting with staffers (telegraph.co.uk, 2/4/10). His intended audience was a small one, a group of people with whom he works on a regular basis. Did he offend some of them? Maybe. He probably didn’t surprise any of them, though, since he’s known for his brash, Machiavellian, potty-mouthed style. But he never intended everyone in America to hear his remark. It only came to light in recent weeks because of a tell-all book and Palin’s attempt to jump into the spotlight again by calling for his resignation. I’m not excusing Emanuel. It’s not a word I use, and I don’t like to hear other people use it. I’m not sure I can give Emanuel a pass. It’s pretty insensitive language to use with any audience, but he’s certainly not as guilty as Limbaugh.

Limbaugh used the word multiple times on his radio show which reaches millions of Americans. He not only repeated it, he defended its use. He was talking about the word, its meaning and his right to use it. To me, that kind of conscious discussion in front of a huge audience of whom you are proudly aware is far more egregious than an incidental usage in a private meeting. Limbaugh fail. As usual.

Evidently, Sarah Palin does not agree with me. Shocker. For her, it’s all about the speaker. Emanuel is a Democrat, so his use of the word is wrong. Limbaugh gets a pass because he’s a conservative. Just more evidence of Palin’s deep thinking.

But word snags are not hitting just the political world. The music world got a dose of the drama when John Mayer’s Playboy interview went public (Associated Press, 2/11/10). His use of the n-word and rude comments about his ex-girlfriends offended millions. Does he get a “pass” because he’s an artiste? Full of angst and creativity? No. At least not as far as I’m concerned. The guy was doing an interview with Playboy. It has millions of readers and subscribers all around the world. What an idiot. Did Mayer really think no one would notice his racism or misogyny? Fail.

I woke up this morning to another word snag, this time at the Olympics. It seems the sports world can’t get enough of this language craziness. Today it’s about Shaun White’s coach, Bud Keene. Evidently White and Keene were at the top of the snowboard run. They knew White had the gold medal wrapped up. They were excited and happy, and they were talking. To each other. Unfortunately, NBC had one of its huge boom mikes close enough to pick up a couple of F-bombs (Chris Chase, Yahoo! Sports Blog, 2/18/10). So the NBC announcers immediately had to apologize “for Bud Keene.” Wrong. Bud Keene was talking to his athlete, a guy he’s known for years. They have trained for this moment for ages, and they were thrilled with the outcome. Two adult professionals should be able to say anything they want to each other. The fact that NBC felt the need to eavesdrop that closely in that situation is not Keene’s fault. Would I have been angry if I’d been watching with my kids? Sure, but not at Keene. His intended audience was Shaun White. He gets the pass.

Language is a tricky thing, and these days it’s getting harder to keep track of your audience. Cell phones can record anywhere at any time. Sometimes we post things on Twitter or Facebook, forgetting that certain of our friends may be offended. As technology becomes more and more invasive, those of us who actually try to consider our audience when we communicate are going to find it ever more difficult. For the other folks who don’t care who’s listening as long as they get to say what’s rattling around in their head at the moment, I guess they’ll just go on offending everyone in their wake. Soldier on, Limbaugh and Mayer!