Monday, June 24, 2013

The "F word"

When I was 16, I wrote an essay for my favorite English teacher, and at one point I wrote "copulating" as a substitute for the word that was needed in that particular place. My teacher was not amused. I took care never to trespass in that way thereafter. Times have certainly changed. Until quite recently, it was rare to see the "F word" in print, and it is still not my style to use it in speech or in writing. That was just the way I was brought up. We also see "freaking", "flipping", etc. I have recently read two books by favorite authors. The first was Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carré. The leading character in the story is a Russian oligarch, who wants to defect to the UK with his family. It's a clever story, as are most novels by that author, but my point here is not the plot, rather the Russian's constant use of the once- forbidden word. It was cleverly used, and seemed totally authentic, but my reaction can best be described as mentally wincing at the word's constant use. I have also long enjoyed the Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell. It has been a few years since she wrote The Book of the Dead, but once again there is very liberal use of that word. Not that I am shocked, but a little surprised. O, wtf!

Monday, June 17, 2013


These are familiar initials in the US, where French speakers are fairly rare. There's a general grasp of the meaning: "Please Reply". A literal translation of the French is "Respond if it pleases you". Those initials have been adapted here to often become a verb, giving birth to such monstrosities as "Please RSVP" and "Have you RSVP'd?" I was brought up to believe that good manners called for a response to all communications containing "RSVP". I'm a bit more selective now. If it's (say) a wedding or dinner invitation, of course a response is needed. If it's a commercial or institutional inquiry, I recognize that it is just a matter of the hosting entity wanting to know how many places to set, I don't choose to waste time and maybe a stamp in replying that I won't be there. (I know I'll be in good company when ignoring the request.) In recent times I've noticed a helpful variant. If the invitation says "Acceptances Only" I don't have the least twinge of confidence in taking a pass on the event and the need to make a negative response.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Altar Rail

My parish church (St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Berkeley) was sensibly designed so that the Sanctuary area in front of the stone altar, (no longer used as such) is raised about four feet above the level of the rows of pews. This enables the congregation to observe the action of the liturgy. When it is time to proceed towards the beautiful wooden altar to receive communion, there are stairs and a handrail on each side of the sanctuary. I would have no problem climbing up the stairs, but walking to the foot of the stairs would be difficult for me, even with a cane. The presider and the deacon or Eucharistic Minister always come down to the main level, and offer the bread and wine to the infirm. I began taking advantage of this some three years ago. There is one elderly and very infirm woman who prefers to have two supporters, one on each side, to assist her up to the rail. I wonder why this is important to her. I don't criticize her for her preference, of course. I do wonder if she thinks her struggles to the rail bring greater benefit. More likely, she is just doing what she has always done to receive communion.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The IRS Blunder

I can well understand the furor created by the reports that the Cleveland office of the IRS "targeted" entities with "Tea Party" or "Patriots" in the title. I am certainly not surprised that the Republican Party is making such an issue of this news. After the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, it is not surprising that a flood of money was then dispatched for political causes. It is also not surprising that a flood of applications for 501(c)(4) status were then received by the IRS, which has the duty of determining if the applicant qualifies for the preferred status (gifts made to entities that undertake political work are not deductible to the donor, but those that receive the 501(c)(4) status may use the funds for "social welfare", although not for direct political purposes.) It is the responsibility of the IRS to determine whether the applicant qualifies for a 501(c)(4) exemption. Joe Klein in Time describes what happened as a "lunkheaded effort by mid-level IRS employees to use an ideological shortcut". I have some sympathy for the IRS employees, faced with a massive influx of applications, who decided to identify some applications which were suspicious, since the entities submitting them obviously exist for political purposes. Some of these applications were "shelved", essentially. Perhaps if I had been working in that IRS department, I would also have tried to weed out blatant attempts by purely political organizations to claim that any of their funds were used for the required "social welfare" purposes. That sympathetic point of view I am expressing may be shared by many. However, a more sophisticated management would have realized that by "flagging" right-wing groups they were setting themselves up to be accused of political bias.