Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sticks and Stones: How Hyperbole is Hurting America

In these recent weeks, the passage of new immigration laws in Arizona, continuing debate over healthcare, Tea Party protestors touring the country and the myriad other goings on in America, have set the infotainment industry ablaze with fresh fodder for their "intellectual" discussion.

Emotion-stirring issues like these usually lend themselves to all kinds of finger pointing and posturing from the opinionators and pundits of the media, with their comments generally landing somewhere between derisive to ad hominem. Normally, I don't mind the impassioned sword-crossing of ideological opponents; in fact, I generally think it is a sign of a healthy freedom of speech. However, recent comments have me worried that the state of political discourse is America has plunged to a new low.

Consider the recent deluge of dissent being thrown around the papers and television:

New York Times columnist Frank Rich charged the Tea Party protestors who had thrown bricks through the windows of congress members homes, with reenacting Kristallnacht, the two-night raid of Jewish homes and businesses prior to WWII that marked the genesis of the Holocaust.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has made similar comparisons, calling the countries failure to cover the uninsured, a "holocaust."

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson called the recent Arizona immigration law draconian, racist, oppressive, mean-spirited, unjust, xenophobic, unconstitutional and an abomination.

Jesse Jackson may well agree. In a recent interview on MSNBC, he said the new law is, "a form a terrorism."

Glenn Beck, in a discussion on his show about some Americans' distaste for the recent healthcare overhaul, compared the U.S. government to pedophilic rapist Roman Polanski, and the American people to a 13-year-old girl.

Maureen Dowd, another New York Times columnist, compared her own experience as a Catholic woman, to that of the subjugated women of Saudi Arabia, calling the Catholic Church, "an inbred and wealthy men’s club cloistered behind walls and disdaining modernity . . . an autocratic society that repress[es] women and ignore[s] their progress in the secular world."

If I may just briefly and respectfully offer some perspective: In this country, Ms. Dowd can say that. In this country, she can travel without a chaperone, drive a car, vote, use the internet and make love to someone of the same sex without fear of death, imprisonment or deportation. And perhaps most importantly given her charge against the Catholic Church, she can leave her religion.

These are of course just a few examples of the pabulum that is daily passed off as discourse in America. Certainly these people have the right to their opinions, but their choice of language and imagery is boorish, morally confused and dangerous. By using this emotionally charged language so cavalierly, they are striping the language of any meaning.

When uninsured Americans are compared to the millions of men, women and children that were exterminated in the Holocaust, then the word "holocaust" loses its significance, and the lives of the victims of that great evil are cheapened. When American taxpayers are compared to a victim of child rape, the true victims of that heinous crime are undermined.

Rhetoric is a wonderful part of American society, but if language is to retain any utility it must be measured.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Trenta vs. The Human Stomach (and Mind)

As a former Starbucks barista, I can't help but weigh in on the "Trenta," Starbucks' newest and largest drink size.
Ever since its announcement last week, the blogosphere has been buzzing with speculation, sneers, cynicism and incredulity.
"This must be a joke!" Some assert. "It's a publicity stunt." Others charge. "It's just another satirical meme." Others say, patting themselves on the back in celebration of their internet acumen.
But this is no meme. The 31 ounce behemoth (which is just slightly larger in volume than the average human stomach) will be available nationwide sometime in May. According to Starbucks, the Trenta will only be available for iced coffee, tea and juices, not for lattes, Frappuccinos and other milk-based drinks.
But does anyone really think this limitation will last? The rules of supply and demand are pretty simple, and I can't imagine Starbucks be able to resist the urge to charge $7 for a Frappuccino.
Don't get me wrong; I love Starbucks. I met my wife there, half my family has worked there at one time or another, and I think they treat their employees beautifully. But if they think customers won't demand their favorite drinks in the new coronary compromising size, they are fooling themselves.
"But no one would order that much milk in one drink," You say. Take it from someone who has worked there, they will. If you don't believe me, just take a moment to consider the super-sized society in which we life. Is a country that uses chicken breasts as buns for a beacon and cheese sandwich really going to forgo a quarter gallon of milk just on principal? Besides, it's not the copious amount of milk that should disturb you, it's the fact that some people will order it with half n' half and extra butter-caramel.
I can hear it now:
"Can I get a Trenta, breve, extra caramel, Caramel Machiato please? Oh, and can you go easy on the ice?" The customer asks.
The barista's eyes widen as she tries to calculate the amount of calories in the customer's request. She imagines the patrons plaque-packed artery walls, already about as thick as half-set Jello, and wonders if the drink will deny her heart the precious, red liquid-life it's already so desperate for.
As the barista tries to keep her lunch from coming back like a bad Michael Bay sequel, she asks the question she already knows the answer to. She doesn't want to ask, but her training takes over her mouth like a epileptic fit and she hears exactly what she feared.
The answer is nauseating, it's horrifying and yet, it's simultaneously puzzling. It is so counter to the human instinct to live that our barista friend now finds herself slipping away from consciousness, drifting like a sailless ship at sea, tossed by the waves, pulled by the tides, further from shore, away from the coffee counter and into the foggy unknown.
She begins to question everything she knows; her existence, the existence of others, of God, of the universe. The fog and the waves begin to overtake her as she feels her mind being pulled below the surface. Like the Titanic's iceberg, the customer's answer delivers a devastating blow to our friend, tearing a rift in her mind too deep to hold out the frigid realization of human mortality.
As she sinks deeper into despondency, the cold and crushing weight seems unbearable. Our once bubbly barista is now tumbling into despair, plummeting into nihilism. Her eyes, once sparkling with life and optimism, are now clouded with existential doubt, darkened by her new found truth; nothing exists, nothing matters.
"How could I have been so blind?" She asks herself. "How could I have ever believed in life, in love, in goodness?"
She sinks deeper and deeper into the cold darkness, further and further from that moment at the coffee counter, the moment that changed her life forever. As she approaches the depths of her own psyche, she finds a reality that she does not recognize, yet wonders if it is any less real than the reality from whence she came. "Maybe I should end it all," she thinks to herself. But does "it all" even exist?
"Excuse me... Did you get that?"
The customer's voice pierces the air like a sonic boom. The curious customer, now holding out her Visa Gold card, is wearing a look so evenly divided between perturbed and puzzled that each emotion seems to be worn on opposite sides of her face.
"Sorry," The barista replies. "What did you say?"
"You asked if I wanted whip," the patron reminds her. "I said yes; with whip please."
"Anything else?"
"Yes. Two glazed doughnuts."
The barista takes the card, swipes it, returns it with a smile and weeps inside...
All this so we could have seven more ounces of cold caffeine? If you want to order the Trenta America, go right ahead, it's a free country. But mark my words; if there is a sudden wave of barista depression and suicides, the blood's on your hands people.