AUGUST 2017

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FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

COOL HAND LUKE

I have found that life is most simply explained by the “Captain” in “Cool Hand Luke” (played by the late, great, Strother Martin) when he said: “What we got here is a failure to communicate.” Consider the study I stumbled across in the “American Association of Neurology, 2006”, (Fat&Stupid) the objective of which was, “To assess whether body mass index (BMI) is associated with…cognitive decline (i.e., does fat equal stupid?). Says the study, “The black continuous line is the regression line in a multiple linear regression analysis…but a similar shape is obtained from other cognitive tests.” Now, I examined the graph very carefully. I could find no shape. There is a wad and a line. The chart looks like somebody with emphysema sneezed up a wad of snot and chalk dust on a blackboard. And when, in desperation, you turn to the line mis-labeled “Results”, you are treated to a display of why intellect must prove to be as much an evolutionary dead-end as a rhino horn on a horse fly. “Cross-sectionally, a higher BMI was associated with lower cognitive scores after adjustment for age, sex, educational level, blood pressure, diabetes, and other psychosocial co variables.” What the hell is a cross sectional co-variable? If they meant to say that “fat equals stupid”, why didn’t they just say, “fat equals stupid”? Was it really required they do a study to prove that?
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And then, as a capper, they make the following statement on their methodology; “Of the 3,236 persons initially included, 1,013 were not included in the analyses (lost to follow-up or missing data).” This is like saying “One third of the parents who bought “Lawn Darts” are no longer answering their phones, so we just dropped them from our study proving that “Lawn Darts” are safe.
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I suspect that a good part of our communication problem is that we seem determined to mangle and confuse our methods of communication which barely suffice to keep us from neglectfully butchering each other under the best of situations. I learned “E-mail” easily enough, and was even willing to morph it into “email”, and then I had to learn SPAM, which is email you don’t want, and now I have to learn BACN, (pronounced ‘bacon’), which is backed-up email you might want but don’t have time to read. Here in the post-golden age of television, entertainment that was once the “least objectionable programming” has been shortened to “irritainment”, and a situation comedy (SITCOM) about horny teenagers has become a ZITCOM, and what was once respectfully called “feature films” are now just “movies”, and those “movies” that are never shown in a theatre are said to have gone “straight to video”, including those “movies” originally shot on video. (I guess we call those STRAIGHT VIDS, as in “straight to video, videos”.)
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We have stories and movies that inspire sequels or prequels or threequels or possibly even quadrequels, and then we added “intraquels”, which are stories that are set in the same time frame as the original; “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is an “intraquel” of “Hamlet”. Confused, yet? Then maybe you are either an OINK, a one income, no kids family, or a SITCOM, a single income, two kids, with an outrageous mortgage family, or perhaps you are suffering with a NINJA, no income, no job and an adjustable mortgage. (How subprime can you go?) Or worse, you could be a DINK.
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A DINK is either a “dual income, no kids” family, or a family of Dutch ancestry living in Merlin, Oregon with two kids and four cars, or just possibly it is an insult. Take your pick. Mike and Shelly Udink claim they were unaware of the last interpretation until their youngest child, daughter Kawika, applied for her vanity license plate, at which point the family was told they would have to turn in all their vanity plates because when used as a verb their last name “has a sexual reference and is a racial slur when aimed at Vietnamese”, rendering license plates reading UDINK1, UDINK2, UDINK3, and UDINK4, offensive. And the state gets the final say on the matter because all license pates in Oregon are owned by the state; which might be news to the citizens of Oregon, unless their plates are stolen. Asked Mike Udink, “Since when can a panel dictate whether your name’s offensive or not?” I think that’s a good question. Perhaps we should ask the Nigger family, or maybe the Fuckers, or the Kikes, the Rednecks or the Poleloks.
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Similarly, when the California DMV spotted the plate requested by Keith Wagner they rejected it because he wanted “Go 2 11”, which they assumed meant “Go To double L”, or “Go To Hell.” But Keith insists the plate is intended to be a reference to the movie, “Spinal Tap”, as in “Go To Eleven”. In the case of most citizens (as it was with the Udinks), the DMV would have the final say. But Kieth Wagner, God love him, is a lawyer. He appealed, and for his appeal he took the time to research public standards in California and discovered that under the rules of the California State Senate the word “HELL” is not considered, officially, to be profanity. I guess sessions of the California Senate are a lot more interesting than I had thought. And how could the California DMV hold the average citizen to a higher standard than its state senators? Keith makes it seem there is no hope of better communication, even from the best of us. And given what I know about politicians in California, I agree.
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Part of the reason English is often confusing is because it suffers from heterography, which is an English word meaning that the way you pronounce a word often depends as much upon who and where you are, as it does on the way you spell it; or, to paraphrase Burt Reynolds from “Smokey and the Bandit”, “How smart you are depends on what part of the country you’re standing in.” Earlier this year 18 year Czech rider, Matej Kus, who could barely speak English, went down on his bike during a race in Glasgow, Scotland and was knocked unconscious. He woke up while paramedics were treating him and conversed with them in perfectly fluent English. Doctors assumed it was a case of “foreign accent syndrome”, an uncommon side effect of a concussion. But a day later, when Kus returned to his halting attempts to communicate in English with his agent, Pavel Kubes, the agent observed, “It seems you have to bang him on the head to speak English, because he’s not speaking it anymore!”
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But more amazing is ten year old William McCartney-Moore, who went into emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain speaking in the same thick Yorkshire accent of his parents and school mates (“Af past ten and ee anna cum already. Wunna cum afor now sure to.”), and awoke after surgery speaking “the Kings English”, “Like a toff’, as his mother Ruth described him (“Half past ten and he still hasn’t come. He won’t come before eleven, for sure”). "He lost everything”, she says. “He went from being such a bright, lovely, wonderful eight-year-old who was totally confident and socially aware, to being a two-year-old who followed me everywhere like a toddler.” It took William almost two years of hard constant work to recover, but now he is back in school with his classmates, but still with a completely different accent than theirs.
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According to Neurolinguistics, William’s response to the challenge of re-learning his language was to re-learn it anew, which brings to mind an incident in Christine Kenneally’s new book, “The Search for the Origins of Language”, when she describes two apes trained to use American sign language, meeting for the first time. What resulted”, she writes, was not a conversation but a “…sign-shouting match; neither ape was willing to listen”. Sounds like Washington, D.C., doesn’t it? But could all that primate silent-shouting actually have been an exchange of information too complex for the dull humans to document? Could it be that the most important part of language is the silent part, the listening? According to linguist Noam Chomsky, no, it can’t. He maintains that the core magic of any language is its invention and creative use of recursion, which Chomsky defines as any process which repeats itself as a product of its function, which Noam Chomsky defines as syntax, which is how you derive meaning not merely from words you use but from the order in which you use them, which Noam Chomsky calls “recursion”.
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My head hurts.
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In any case, it is this crucial question about the value of the silences in language which brings us to the case of Mr. Wendell Hollingworth from Columbus, Ohio, who seems to have a rather fundamental language problem. In January of this year Wendell launched a crime spree, committing grand theft auto, robbing a gas station, a health food store and the Franklyn County Animal Shelter. In order to cap his career in crime Wendell could now chose to rob either an orphanage or a nursing home. Instead Wendell chose to be original and inventive. On Sunday, January 28th he walked into the Christ the King Catholic Church, during mass, and pulled a gun. Now, had Wendell been a great ape he might have attempted to sign his intentions, but clearly he was not taking any chance on being misunderstood. Instead he uttered a single simple declarative sentence, “This is a robbery.”
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Unfortunately for Wendell, not only was he understood, but he was also tackled and disarmed by several of the church ushers, who held him down until the police arrived. Father Michael Lumpel was outraged. “You don’t go into God’s house and do these things; it’s just unheard of,” he said. However the angry priest did take enough advantage of the situation to incorporate the robbery attempt into his next sermon. His subject was “forgivness”.
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Wendell was charged with the two previous robberies and the attempted one at the church, as well as kidnapping and assault, to a total of 13 charges. And yet he was still, eventually, released on $500,000 bail. Finally, on Tuesday, September 11th, Wendell’s trial was to begin with jury selection in the Franklyn County Common Pleas Courthouse. Judge Julie Lynch was there. The prosecutor, Christopher Brown, was there. The prospective jurors were there. And defense attorney J. Scott Weisman was in the court room, But Wendell was late. When he at last appeared, in a wheel chair, he apologized to the judge and explained that he had injured his back. The judge accepted that explanation without asking for details and proceeded. But the activity required that Wendell communicate with his lawyer, and almost immediately Wendell’s communication problem manifested itself; again.
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For some unexplained reason Wendell began to kick Mr. Weisman. The attorney tried to block his assault but Wendell was determined. The judge ordered him to stop. Wendell continued to kick the man hired to defend him. Sheriff’s deputies struggled to control Wendell, who was, you may recall, confined to a wheel chair. Wendell eventually slid out of his wheel chair, onto the floor. The deputies crowded around until finally one pulled a stun gun and attempted to subdue Wendell with it. But his shot missed the mark and a second deputy fell to the floor, jolted by his own partner. More deputies arrived and, as was inevitable, Wendell was subdued.
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I guess it should have been expected that Wendell would have a problem communicating in court. In 1992, when Wendell was being tried on another armed robbery charge, he had punched his court appointed attorney in the mouth. This time Wendell Hollingworth, Master Criminal, was returned to the courtroom in his wheel chair, in restraints and with a thick white towel wrapped around his mouth as a spit guard. Unfortunately for Wendell this did not prevent him from speaking, which he did often and loudly, shouting at one point, “I don’t want to be part of this farce. This is a (expletive deleted) farce”, and demanding to know from Mr. Weisman”, “Why won’t they let me fire you?” It was a question Mr. Weisman was probably asking himself by that point.
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When prosecutor Brown suggested that Wendell might receive a total of 103 years if convicted on all charges, Wendell shouted, “Give it to me now. Give me 250 years right now. How the (expletive deleted) are you going to treat me fair? I’m charged with robbing a Catholic church.” Mr. Weisman took the opportunity to suggest that Wendell be taken to a holding cell. “If issues come up I can address them with him.” The judge agreed and Wendell was wheeled to a holding cell.
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Last Friday the trial reached its climax when Wendell’s own attorney, Mr. Weisman, admitted, “Wendell Hollingworth is a bad person, he’s got a prior conviction and he clearly committed some of these crimes”. The jury disagreed, convicting Wendell on all 13 counts. And on Wednesday Judge Julie sentenced Wendell to 93 years in jail without the possibility of parole. Wendell assured his victims, “I have remorse.” Notwithstanding his remorse, Wendell is appealing his conviction.
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We may never know how much better Wendell would have fared at trial if he had just shut up. But as Cool Hand Luke says, in the abandoned church, "Ol' Man, I gotta tell ya. I started out pretty strong and fast. But it's beginnin' to get to me. When does it end? What do ya got in mind for me? What do I do now? All right. All right. (He kneels on his knees and cups his hands in prayer.) On my knees, askin'. (pause) Yeah, that's what I thought....I guess I gotta find my own way..." .
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Well, as somebody once said, all prayers are answered but sometimes the answer is just, no. And as somebody else once said, “Silence is golden.” And you can take that to the bank.


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