Squeamish Quotations of Those Potty Mouths

The New York Times cannot decide if it is a contemporary publication, or a throwback to the Puritan/Victorian heritage that considered exposure of an ankle to be shocking. Naval-gazing is not solely the province of the blogosphere.1

The Times does not always seem consistent in its decisions. It would not print “nuts” last week but put “cojones” in a headline 10 years ago. The newspaper reviewed a rock band last fall without printing its name because it contained what is probably the most objectionable of Carlin’s seven words. When Vice President Cheney used a variant of the same word on the floor of the Senate in 2004 to tell Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont what to do to himself, The Times again passed. But two years later, it did print another of Carlin’s words when President Bush told Tony Blair, then the British prime minister, what Syria needed to tell Hezbollah to knock off. The same word appeared last year in an article about a telephoned threat to Bernard Spitzer, whose son Eliot was then governor of New York. The Times was back on the conservative side this year, ignoring a vulgarism by former President Bill Clinton in the middle of a rant about Todd Purdum, a writer for Vanity Fair.

Keller told me before the Jackson issue arose: “I think the trend here — and it’s something I share — is we don’t want to be leading the charge to a coarser public discourse. We want to err on the side of civility. If occasionally that makes us seem squeamish or square, I can live with that.”

Caine, the law professor, argued that The Times needs to loosen up and cited as one model The New Yorker, where the barriers to Carlin’s forbidden words began falling in 1985.

David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, said, “People use these words in everyday speech. Why should we editors become so decorous and want to protect our readers from them? If a vice president uses a profanity to describe a senator, why should we sanitize his expression?”

Allan Siegal, Whitney’s predecessor as standards editor, said that Remnick was invited to speak at a retreat of Times editors some years ago and criticized “the prudery and hypocrisy of not using dirty words in the paper.” But while Remnick sees his audience and The Times’s as the same, The New Yorker is not delivered to middle- and high-school classrooms as 40,000 daily copies of The Times are.

The Times has built one of the most powerful brands in the world on the strength of writing “in a civil, measured way for people who want to read in a civil, measured way,” as Siegal put it. Although I would have quoted Jackson — and Cheney and Clinton, for that matter — I think the newspaper is wise to preserve its character and adapt slowly and carefully to the language around it. I use some of Carlin’s dirty words, but I do not want to read them in The Times unless it is essential, and I do not think I am alone.

[From The Public Editor – When to Quote Those Potty Mouths – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com]

How about my compromise: use language that is appropriate to the topic. My grandfather, Joe Murphy, has a quote about writers and salty language, which goes something like, “only a poor writer requires curse words to communicate clearly.” The culture has changed a bit since Joe Murphy was a newspaper editor though, and the self-proclaimed paper of record should accurately quote Vice Presidents,2 musicians,3 and other public figures, but reporters need not work the word “fuck” into their supporting sentences, unless absolutely necessary – like discussing George Fucking Bush and his love for torture and other war crimes.

  1. yes, skippy coined the phrase []
  2. Cheney told Senator Leahy to “Go Fuck Yourself” []
  3. Bono proclaimed winning some award was “fucking great” []


Noticed a visitor searching for a theory of solipsism

Solipsism (Latin: solus, alone + ipse, self) is the philosophical idea that “My mind is the only thing that I know exists.” Solipsism is an epistemological or metaphysical position that knowledge of anything outside the mind is unjustified. The external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist.

[From Solipsism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Seeing as I’m fairly un-religious,1 the so-called Eastern religious and philosophical paradigms are as valid as any other. Especially after ingesting a few grams of something or other – talk about the illusion of reality!

The Buddha stated : “Within this fathom long body is the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world and the path leading to the cessation of the world.” Whilst not rejecting the occurrence of external phenomena, the Buddha focused on the illusion of reality that is created within the mind of the perceiver by the process of ascribing permanence to impermanent phenomena, satisfaction to unsatisfying experiences, and a sense of reality to things that were effectively insubstantial.

Some later representatives of one Yogacara subschool (Prajnakaragupta, Ratnakirti) were proponents of extreme illusionism and solipsism (as well as of solipsism of this moment). The best example of such extreme ideas was the treatise of Ratnakirti (XI century) “Refutation of the existence of other minds” (Santanantara dusana). [It is important to note that all mentioned Yogacara trends are not purely philosophical but religious–philosophical. All Yogacara discourse takes place within the religious and doctrinal dimension of Buddhism. It is also determined by the fundamental Buddhist problem, that is living being and its liberation from the bondage of Samsara.]

and of course, of equal importance:

Zen concentrates on direct experience rather than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures.

Really, the name of this blog is mostly ironic – all 23 of my regular readers probably realize the inherent silliness of webzines. Does anyone really care what anyone else thinks about the topic de jour? I may find interesting discussions elsewhere, and maybe agree with them, but the revolution will not have an RSS feed, that’s for sure.

  1. is that even a word? Probably not, but I’m guessing you know what it means, in at least a general sense. I self-define myself as a Pastafarian, but I’ve probably lapsed. []

George Carlin, RIP

“Class Clown” (George Carlin)

Any student of American language and culture should have a moment of silence for the passing of one of the greats, George Carlin.

George Carlin, the Grammy-Award winning standup comedian and actor who was hailed for his irreverent social commentary, poignant observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and groundbreaking routines like “Seven Words You Can Never Use on Television,” died in Los Angeles on Sunday, according to his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He was 71.

The cause of death was heart failure, according to Mr. Abraham.


In 1970, Mr. Carlin discarded his suit, tie, and clean-cut image as well as the relatively conventional material that had catapulted him to the top. Mr. Carlin reinvented himself, emerging with a beard, long hair, jeans and a routine that, according to one critic, was steeped in “drugs and bawdy language.” There was an immediate backlash. The Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas terminated his three-year contract, and, months later, he was advised to leave town when an angry mob threatened him at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Afterward, he temporarily abandoned the nightclub circuit and began appearing at coffee houses, folk clubs and colleges where he found a younger, hipper audience that was more attuned to both his new image and his material.

By 1972, when he released his second album, ”FM & AM,” his star was again on the rise. The album, which won a Grammy Award as best comedy recording, combined older material on the “AM” side with bolder, more acerbic routines on the “FM” side. Among the more controversial cuts was a routine euphemistically entitled “Shoot,” in which Mr. Carlin explored the etymology and common usage of the popular idiom for excrement. The bit was part of the comic’s longer routine “Seven Words That Can Never Be Said on Television,” which appeared on his third album “Class Clown,” also released in 1972.

“There are some words you can say part of the time. Most of the time ‘ass’ is all right on television,” Mr. Carlin noted in his introduction to the then controversial monologue. “You can say, well, ‘You’ve made a perfect ass of yourself tonight.’ You can use ass in a religious sense, if you happen to be the redeemer riding into town on one — perfectly all right.”

The material seems innocuous by today’s standards, but it caused an uproar when broadcast on the New York radio station WBAI in the early seventies. The station was censured and fined by the FCC. And in 1978, their ruling was supported by the Supreme Court, which Time magazine reported, “upheld an FCC ban on ’offensive material’ during hours when children are in the audience.” Mr. Carlin, refused to drop the bit and was arrested several times after reciting it on stage.

[From George Carlin, Irreverent Comedian, Dies at 71 – Obituary (Obit) – NYTimes.com]

A true talent who will be missed.

Lou Reed is still a New Yorker

“The Bells” (Lou Reed)

Marrying Laurie Anderson did not dull Lou Reed’s abrasiveness, as Andrew M. Goldstein of New York Magazine discovers:

New York Mag: Sirius’s impending merger with XM is anticipated to boost earnings. Do you own any stock in the company?
Lou Reed: What are you, a fucking asshole? I’m here telling you the truth about music and you want to know if I have stock in the fucking radio? You fucking piece of shit. What did I do to deserve that?

NYM: Moving on. You’ve got a film out, you’ve got your radio show, you’ve got a new book of photography coming up — is there a new album in the works?
LR No. Nothing I feel like talking about. Good-bye.

[From Lou Reed Wants to Talk About His New Radio Show, Does Not Want to Talk About Money — Vulture — Entertainment & Culture Blog — New York Magazine]

Sex Life of the Giant Squid

A recently caught giant squid in Australia [click to embiggen, if you dare!]

As a sort of addendum to a previous post, the odd sex life of a giant squid is titillating scientists.

Group sex
He says the reproductive habits of giant squids are particularly interesting and will be the focus of much study.

“[We will look at] whether it has been mated or not. Whether it is a male or female.

“Giants have very strange sexual behaviour where the male has a metre-long muscular penis that he uses a bit like a nail gun and shoots cords of sperm under the skin of the female’s arms and she carries the sperm around with her until she is ready to lay her big jelly mass of a million eggs.

“[We want to find out[ whether they gather somewhere together to mass-breed.

“If we get some sperm out of the arms of this animal then we can do paternity studies and see if was multiple males that are mating with her or single males.

[From Scientists probe giant squid sex secrets – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)]

Everyone gets excited about different things, glad someone can drool over discovering a massive muscular penis.