Radio Interview: The Janet Mefferd Show


Beginning at 11:00 a.m. CT today, Doug will be interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Show.

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Did Dr. Laura Use the N-Word?


It’s all over the media. Dr. Laura Schlesinger has left radio, over a dust-up over her alleged use—eleven times (!)—of the so-called “n-word” in conversation with a black female caller.

Notice I said “alleged.” The fact is, Dr. Laura did not use the “n-word” at all. Nope, not even once. She said the word, but she did not use it. How do I know? Because if the word she said had been put in writing, as she said it, it would have been placed in quotation marks, indicating that she was not employing the word to refer to something or someone or some class of people, but to speak about the word itself. This is known as mention. It is fundamentally different than use. In mention, a word is singled out for direct consideration.

The caller now says she has absolutely no respect for Dr. Laura. This is nuts. I watched in shock as Dr. Laura, who obviously agreed to appear on the show, was grilled by a CNN anchor for her wrongful action. What wrongful action?

Let’s be clear. Dr. Laura is not being arraigned because she used the n-word, but because she said the n-word.

* * *

The distinction between use and mention is well-known in philosophy and deserves greater respect. Consider this way of explaining the point from an excellent reference work in philosophy.

  • Sentence 1: The Nile is longer than the Murrumbidgee.
  • Sentence 2: The Nile is shorter than the Murrumbidgee.

The Nile and the Murrumbidgee are rivers. Which sentence, (1) or (2), is true? Answer: (1). The correct answer is determined by the comparative lengths of the two rivers. The Nile is the longest river in the world, around 4000 miles. The Murrumbidgee River of New South Wales is much shorter, at about 870 miles.

Now consider:

  • Sentence 3: “The Nile” is longer than “the Murrumbidgee.”
  • Sentence 4: “The Nile” is shorter than “the Murrumbidgee.”

Which sentence, (3) or (4), is true. Answer: (4). Why? The correct answer here is determined by the lengths of the phrases “the Nile” and “the Murrumbidgee” in sentences (3) and (4). “The Nile” (8 characters, if we include one space) is shorter than “the Murrumbidgee” (16 characters, if we include one space). “The Murrumbidgee” is twice as long as “The Nile.” So (4) is true and (3) is false. The lengths of the rivers has no bearing on the question.

[See A. W. Sparkes, Talking Philosophy: A Wordbook, p. 8.]

* * *

I have a question for readers. How are we supposed to talk about concepts without words, and about words without the words themselves? Today, apparently, you can’t even say the “n-word” for the purposes of mention and analysis. So how are people supposed to know what word the term “n-word” refers to? (You can say “the n-word” but you cannot say the word that “the n-word” stands in for.)

Outrage over an exaggerated sense of meanness in Dr. Laura’s radio counsel is another move toward the coarsening of culture in the direction of a culture of vicitimization. The poor woman who called Dr. Laura for her advice in a matter was poised to be offended. She’s been conditioned by shabby thinking and a form of racism that continues to poison public discourse.

* * *

If I say that I don’t like the “n-word,” what do you suppose I mean by that? Do I mean that I don’t like the six-letter word that is signaled by the hyphenated word? Or does it mean that I don’t like the hyphenated word?

Frankly, I don’t like either one. The first I don’t like because it is pejorative when used, and obviously (but inexplicably) dangerous even to mention. The second I don’t much like because it’s just plain stupid. It’s the only word currently tolerated for the purposes of referring to the altogether different six-letter word that starts with an “n” and is rightly offensive when it is used.

So here’s another question. What’s the difference between using the phrase “the n-word” to refer to, you know, the n-word, and mentioning (as opposed to using) the n-word itself?

Oh, and why should Dr. Laura have to leave radio over something like this?

Radio Interview Today


I’m about to be interviewed about film and Christian engagement with culture on a radio program called “Iron Sharpens Iron,” out of Long Island, NY. Here are details for listening to live streaming. Read more of this post

Bingeing on Tea Bags


A few days ago I posted about Rick Santelli’s call for a Chicago Tea Party. His remarks have inspired some creative ideas to raise awareness of the Obama bungle—that is, Obama’s alleged “stimulus package.”

john-kenHere in southern California we have an AM radio station, KFI 640, with “More Stimulating Talk Radio.” Mid-day banter is dominated by the ranting duo, John and Ken—as in John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou. They have some goofy ideas about how to get in on this tea party thing. They’ve targeted our state lawmakers in Sacramento with loud provocations to mail tea bags to the capitol en masse. This because they are righteously angry about the new tax-imposition plan that was passed in our state within the past week. The problem is that California has gone from a smokin’ economy, envied round the world, to a broken economy with rapidly accumulating incentives to pull up stakes and go elsewhere.

What’s goofy about the John and Ken advice? Several things. But one is noteworthy for its irony: it will cost the state of California money to process all the tea bags that arrive by post at the state capitol. And whose money will be spent sortieing the tea bag salvo? Money earned by the very people encouraged to launch the salvo. (Note: there’s a website called California Tea Party, “United to Repeal California Taxes.”)

It’s not the people in Sacramento or DC who need to hear from us. The ones who need to hear are fellow-citizens who are out of the news-loop and don’t know what’s going on. The electorate can make a bigger difference than elected officials by electing different officials. But the electorate has to be informed.

Can tea bags be used effectively to raise consciousness about our national crisis in leadership? Possibly. I like a suggestion offered by Brittney Linvill—spread some tea bags out on your desk at work and when those who are curious inquire about your new proclivities, remind them of the Boston tea party and explain its contemporary analog in the present circumstances. Stress the lesson that energized citizens can make a difference.

If you want to be a little more overtly eccentric, here’s a variation of the idea—tie a bunch of individual tea bags to a string that can be draped conspicuously from one end of your office or cubicle to the other.

Bottom line: decorate copiously with tea bags; enlist all of your friends to follow your example; host tea parties to plan tea bag binges in public. Then . . . buy stock in Unilever (UL) . Why Unilever? Because they are the consumer goods makers that own Lipton Tea.

Note: You may find it inspiring to read Brittney Linvill’s “About” page.

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