Reading The New York Times online yesterday, I came across an essay titled “Semicolons: A Love Story” by a guy named Ben Dolnick. Believe me when I say that I read the piece not because it revisited a decades-old debate* over the use of the convenient punctuation mark, but because Dolnick’s essay explored his longtime allegiance to the rules of punctuation according to his most influential teacher, Kurt Vonnegut.
(*I’m assuming there’s been a decades-old debate over the use of the semicolon.)
About two-thirds of the way into his essay, Dolnick confidently admits to finding the semicolon “useful” in organizing what he describes as the “tendency of thoughts to proliferate like yeast.”
What Dolnick is getting at, I think, assumes, to begin with, that the writing is good — because streams-of-consciousness in the wrong hands simply let us know that a person has nothing interesting to say, no matter how his or her thoughts are organized or presented.
After finishing Dolnick’s essay, I read a news story about CainTV, the former Republican presidential candidate’s latest attempt to sell a rancid lemon to the American rabble. Naturally, I logged-on to luxuriate in whatever the epically unashamed dimwit had to say.
In a video titled “Give a Lamb a Gun,” which, apparently, is part of a series called (quite unbelievably) We Are Not Stupid, Cain — with his creepy, over-enunciated delivery — says, “As Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.’ Let’s give a lamb a gun.”
He launched an Internet-TV channel for this? I thought, before considering that Herman Cain could be so intellectually impotent and rhetorically challenged that he might be advocating for the Tea Party to actually give lambs guns, which I’d wholeheartedly support.
I hadn’t watched the news in some time and turned on the TV to see what kind of entertainment the folks at MSNBC were offering. I happened to catch the end of a new show called The Cycle, which features people sitting around a table talking about things. In her somewhat cleverly titled segment “Per S.E.,” conservative mouthpiece S.E. Cupp said, “I love America because I like being good at stuff. I like winning. And Americans are winners … But winning isn’t a choice, like grad school or veganism. It’s part of our American DNA. We’re aspirational by definition, otherwise we’d all be bowing to Kate Middleton … Instead, we bow to the Burger King, because everything … is better with bacon. … I love hunting, because it doesn’t count if someone else kills your food. That’s winning at eating. … I’m sure whatever you like it’s because you like winning, unless you like veggie burgers, in which case I’m sorry, you’re not winning.”
She was given a 24-hour-cable-news platform from which to declare that? I thought, before considering that the producers at MSNBC might not care that Cupp has nothing interesting to say as long as she says it wearing ironic glasses.
My allergy to nationalistic arrogance was worsening — and on the eve of Independence Day, no less. It was time for some substance abuse, I decided, picking up my copy of Camus’ The Plague and finding the passage in which Rambert explains, “You’ll soon be talking about the interests of the general public. But public welfare is merely the sum total of the private welfares of each of us.”