Retarded: The Euphemism Treadmill

I have a student who is, by the current euphemism, Learning Disabled. Up until recently he would have been referred to as Mentally Retarded.

Before that he would have been a moron. He would have never been, technically, an idiot, because when idiot was a technical term for retarded it was only applied to the least capable. There was a hierarchy: moron was above imbecile which was above idiot. An idiot was an adult with the mental ability, by some arbitrary measure, of a two year old, an IQ below 25.

He would never have been a cretin, although I had a friend who, before she wore the label “retarded,” would have been a cretin, because technically a cretin was a person whose retardation was caused by an under-active thyroid and was therefore combined with very small stature (which was not technically dwarfism.)

Alas, her retardation and her small stature were caused by a combination of an under-active thyroid and a Christian Scientist father: she could have easily been treated with thyroid hormone and had a normal life. So she became a “cretin” because someone else voluntarily chose to act based on a belief structure, and that other person was known as “normal.”

All of these labels are now used as insults except the latest one, learning disabled. It won’t take long before learning disabled becomes an insult too; I expect before long to see the label applied to Donald Trump.

You might ask why this matters. It matters because, in real terms, it is not the label which forms the insult. It is the accusation that the insulted party is somehow like my student, or like my friends who have passed from this world who also were saddled with the same labels, except for them they were “diagnoses.”

When Rex Tillerson said that Donald Trump was a moron (with our without qualifying adjectives) he knew he was not speaking literally by the medical use of the term: whatever is wrong with Donald Trump, it is not typical of what we up until recently referred to as mental retardation. What he is is an insensitive, ill-informed, poorly educated, thoughtless, rude, hateful, rich, spoiled human being.

Human society has chosen to say that, for instance, Donald Trump is like my student because my student has limitations that make life and learning harder for him than for most other people. But Trump is not like my student. My student is a gentleman. My student knows that he is different from most other people. It makes him sad when he thinks about it. My student, at the age of 27, is trying for all he is worth to learn to read, and he is making some progress. I don’t know how much progress he will ever make, but he continues to learn. My admiration for him knows no bounds. He is pushing against limitations that he never asked to have; he is struggling to be better educated and more skilled than he is today, and he is making progress.

Not long ago I referred on social media to “my retarded student,” and was firmly taken to task for my insensitivity and thoughtlessness. I’m an old man; it seems like not that long ago “retarded” was the current euphemism and was considered a respectful way of acknowledging another human’s limitations.

It is an endless euphemism treadmill, a term now associated with cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, who wrote,

The euphemism treadmill shows that concepts, not words, are in charge. Give a concept a new name, and the name becomes colored by the concept; the concept does not become freshened by the name. (We will know we have achieved equality and mutual respect when names for minorities stay put.)

In other words, it is not the word – retarded, moron – which bears the insult, but the concept: You, accused person, have an IQ below 70. You are not One Of Us.

Which leads me to wonder: what is it about us that leads us to always find ways to insult one another? Donald Trump is not like my student. Whatever else he may be, he is crafty enough to have deceived people out of millions or possibly billions of dollars. It is not a skill I admire, but neither is it a skill that any of my retarded friends and acquaintances over the years have possessed.

Are not his actions themselves condemnation enough? Is there some reason we have to tag him with a name which those few among us would rather never wear?

Today my student’s disability, and his inescapable knowledge that he can’t do what other people can do, got him down. He wept a little. I wept a little too. He is absolutely a valid human being, as good as any person on earth and better than many. That said, he will never be able to live on his own without help. That is the fact of his life.

He is a human being. Others are more capable. None have any more right to be treated with respect. He is not an insult.

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Never-Trump Republicans: An Open Letter

Dear Never-Trump Republicans,

Dear @ananavarrow,
Dear @morningmika,
Dear @JoeNBC,
Dear @TheRickWilson,
Dear @MaxBoot,
Dear @BillKristol,
Dear @Evan_McMullen,
Dear @senbobcorker,

Dear All of you, big names and anonymous citizens, all Never Trump Republicans,

I have a favor to ask. Please help me restore the United States of America to Constitutional small-r republican government.

In order to do that I am asking you to decide whether you are the party of Lincoln or the party of Trump.

In broader terms, are you the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, or are you the party of Reagan, McConnell, and Trump?

They really are not the same party. You have to choose.

Lincoln said, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

Reagan said, “The government is the problem,”

Lincoln created the United States Department of Agriculture, and later said of it, “The Agricultural Department, under the supervision of its present energetic and faithful head, is rapidly commending itself to the great and vital interest it was created to advance. It is precisely the people’s Department, in which they feel more directly concerned that in any other. I commend it to the continued attention and fostering care of Congress.”

Reagan said, “The biggest lie on Earth is ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you,’ ”

Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts and created the National Park Service.

Charles and David Koch demanded the Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act and Mitch McConnell called the Senate into session to do it.

Donald Trump’s Interior Department is selling off Roosevelt’s legacy.

So – party of Lincoln? Party of Eisenhower? or Party of Reagan and Trump? The twain shall never meet.

There is a possibly apocryphal story about Lincoln.

Abe Lincoln said, “How many legs does a sheep have?” 

“Four,” came the response.

“Then how many if you call the tail a leg?”

“Well, five.”

“No. Still four. Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”

Claiming that tax cuts will create jobs doesn’t make it so. Claiming tax cuts will balance the budget doesn’t make it so. It’s been tried. For thirty-seven years. Kansas gave it the Full Monte. It absolutely, empirically, does not work. Stop it. Be the Party of Lincoln. Reagan either (a) was wrong, or (b) lied. Either way: now we know. For sure. It doesn’t work.

Abraham Lincoln fought against the Confederate States of America. Today’s Republicans march under their flag.

Eisenhower fought against the Nazis. Today’s Republicans march under their flag.

Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower? Or Party of Reagan and Trump?

While the newly created FEMA was in Alabama and Mississippi cleaning up the mess from Hurricane Frederic, at that time the most costly hurricane in American history, Ronald Reagan was saying, “The biggest lie in the world is, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you,’ ” and the very people FEMA had helped voted for… Ronald Reagan.

So yes, being the party of Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump has worked for you.

A great teacher long ago said, “What profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

I propose that the same question applies to a political party.

Party of Lincoln? Party of Teddy Roosevelt? Party of Eisenhower?

Or party of Reagan, party of Newt, party of McConnell, party of Trump?

Your country is asking.

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1300 Lies

This is a Tweet thread of mine. Presentation here is made possible by the good folks at, for which I am grateful.

Thread Reader is happy to present an unrolled Twitter story by @homemadeguitars

I’m going to build a little thread on this article. Come along if you like. 2. So Day-care Donnie has told 1300-some certified lies since he has been President, and that’s not counting his campaign. 3. People who aren’t loyal Trumpeters express outra

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Real People

Half of everybody is below normal.

It’s an old wisecrack, but it is also a simple, mathematical fact.

Some 80 million American people are in or below the 25th percentile of intellectual ability. 120 million are below the 35th.

These are real people. They are as real as you or me. This matters.

Roughly 9 million of those people are diagnosed with an intellectual disability, sometimes referred to as Mental Retardation (now fading from use) or Learning Disabled. That leaves over 70 million Americans who are not well equipped to learn the skills necessary to be productively or gainfully employed in a modern technological society but whose abilities leave them unable to draw from established social support systems. The vast majority of them are “able bodied people” who are told to “get a job,” who are publicly insulted and denigrated by arrogant wealthy public figures.

Both political parties accept and preach some form of the mantra, “People need to be trained for the jobs available in the 21st Century.” 80 million of the people they are talking about struggle to read a cereal box. 120 million of them struggle to fill out an online application.

About here is where self-proclaimed Conservatives talk about Personal Responsibility. The idea is, as far as I can tell, that the 80 million Americans in the bottom quarter of the intellectual continuum from “genius” to “unable to interact with others” should take responsibility for choosing such lousy genes. Or the 120 million Americans in the bottom third should. I don’t agree. Someone else made the choice, or at least rolled the dice, before those genes merged to become the current bearer.

Pre-technological societies needed almost the entire spectrum of humanity. There was simply more work to be done than there were people available to do it. There were always things to be carried, things to be pushed or pulled, things to be piled up and removed from piles. Old terms such as “village idiot” still survive in colloquial use; “idiot” was simply a now-outdated term for the gentler euphemism “learning disabled.” The village idiot was the learning disabled, or retarded, person in a rural society. It is difficult to find any serious historic data on the lives of the intellectually disabled in pre-technological societies, but the existence of the term strongly implies that such people existed, were acknowledged at some level, and were integrated into society in some way.

I personally know Amish merchants and business people today who employ intellectually disabled persons in simple, physical tasks, stacking boxes, sweeping floors, and carrying messages in the community, and pay them a wage sufficient to provide for their costs to their caretakers and to provide them some discretionary money. I take these businesses and practices as evidence that pre-technological societies did the same.

Modern technological society seems to have almost totally discarded these people. The homeless, the chronically unemployed, panhandlers and beggars exist because we have evolved a society that has no other use for them.

To say otherwise is, in the mildest possible terms, dishonest.

These people exist. The arithmetic is simple. One quarter of all the people in America are in or below the 25th Percentile. Half of everybody is  below average. Now what?

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To Keep and Bear Arms

The Second Amendment reads,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Standard Disclaimer 1 and Standard Disclaimer 2 apply to this essay.
This essay assumes the reader is familiar with the 2nd Amendment and its root definitions in the base Constitution. Details here. (~500 words)

It is worth noting that the Second Amendment does not guarantee any right to own arms. As a light weapons infantryman in the war in Vietnam I “kept” and “bore” arms, but I did not own them. The United States Government armed me; the United States Government owned the arms I kept and bore.

The Constitution specifically provides that Congress will “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia…” (Article I Section 8 paragraph 16, part). Yes, this is the Militia – the only militia – guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

The original plan was that each state would have a militia, designed, organized, armed, and disciplined by Congress, with officers and training provided by the states. The militia was to be available for Congress to call up for national service at time of need. Some people feel that the National Guard as organized fills exactly those requirements and is, in fact, the Constitutional Militia, and there is a case to be made that they are correct. However, the word “militia” is not included in any National Guard enabling legislation. There is disagreement.

It is obvious that the current situation, with self-selected individuals arming themselves with weapons of war, sometimes in vast stockpiles, is (A) not working, and is (B) not supported by any reading of the words of the Second Amendment and the Constitution which it amends. Advertising and opinion writing to the contrary are powered by widespread ignorance of the documents themselves.

How would a rational society proceed from here?

One option would be for Congress to follow its Constitutional mandate to organize, arm, and discipline a militia which it might call up at times of need. There are such times. Right now today the United States is recovering from 3 major hurricanes, numerous destructive wildfires, and has serious civil unrest in at least one city. A well regulated militia, a body less formal and military than the National Guard but more broadly based and differently trained than local law enforcement, could be useful.

Following is a description of such militia, its possible day-to-day operation, and its integration into 21st Century America.

First, membership would be voluntary. There would, of course, be limitations. Citizens who wished to join the militia in their respective states would be expected to apply, to sign up, and to adhere to published standards of behavior. A person cannot join a church, a town council, The Boy Scouts of America, the Masons, or any service organization without satisfying basic standards and requirements; it would be absurd to envision a well regulated militia which did not operate under the same accepted societal norms.

As compared to, for instance, the military reserves or the National Guard, physical requirements would be far looser. Old people could join. Overweight people could join. There would be no gender limitations. Handicapped people could join. This is not a war fighting organization; the nation is well served in that capacity already. There is no reason an elderly, infirm, or wheelchair bound citizen could not render useful service in a militia.

A background check to eliminate people with histories of violence, serious crime, or serious mental illness would be required, and each member would be required to agree to follow the militia’s rules, accept its discipline, obey the officers, and swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

I would expect to see training exercises one weekend a month, but probably without the annual two week commitment associated with Reserve and National Guard membership. Perhaps one or more weekday evenings a month would also be given over to training. As a volunteer, citizen organization, there would have to be reasonable provision for members to have regular lives. It might be required, for instance, that a member attend at least 80% of training events each year. Training should focus as much on citizenship training as on armed activity training. A well trained, well regulated militia could be a good source of public information on local laws and the specific, actual Constitution (as averse the the mythical, magic-name-to-conjure-with Constitution that makes up so much public discussion today.)

I would expect each militia to maintain an ongoing shooting and firearms safety training program. Many people enjoy shooting, and militia training events would provide a safe, organized outlet for this activity. Remember, these people have specifically joined in order to be those who are, as a well regulated militia, selected by society to keep and bear arms on behalf of the public.

I would expect to see legislation that when militia units were called to service of their states or the nation, their employers could not deny the time off nor take it from their vacation or annual leave.

Provision would have to be made that, when militia were called up for service, members’ wages would be covered, either by government or by their employers. Details are best left to Congress to sort out specifically. Again, organizing, disciplining, and arming the militia is one of Congress’s basic Constitutional obligations.

Yes, this might place modest hardship on employers. It is not too much to ask that, in order to operate in a prosperous and law abiding nation, a business carry a certain share of the nation’s burdens.

What might a militia, called up for service, do? What specific actions?

We already have police. We already have a National Guard. It would be a waste of time, money, and energy to replicate their services. So what is not being done now that might be usefully done by a militia?

Militia might, in case of natural disaster, be assigned to stand guard over buildings to prevent looting. It is an unfortunate fact of life that, under even the worst of circumstances, some people will act to make other people’s losses even greater. Looters are among this portion of society. But the militia, properly organized, would likely be a vast organization. Remember, the militia is made up of essentially all law abiding citizens who want to keep and bear arms. Unlike the smaller police or National Guard units, there should be enough militia members in any state to go stand literally in front of every building in a city that might attract a looter, not quite shoulder to shoulder but within sight of one another, up and down every city block. Only a well regulated militia could turn out such manpower.

Besides protecting private property, in any natural disaster there is a huge amount of work to be done, errands to be run, stuff to be stacked, moved, and handled, communications needs to be served. There are often sandbags to fill. Well trained, willing, available militia members could almost always be put to good use.

Natural disasters are common, devastating, and increasing. Now would be a perfect time to improve our ability to respond to them.

One of the specific, Constitutional duties of a well regulated militia is to suppress insurrections. If, for instance, a group like the Bundy family should invade and hold by force of arms another public wildlife refuge, a well regulated militia could be dispatched to stand guard, every ten feet if need be, all the way around the perimeter of the event, and see to it that no food, water, or other supplies were allowed to enter or leave. Organized law enforcement and fighting forces (again, police and National Guard) could deal with the perpetrators themselves while the militia suppressed the insurrection by denying them needed supplies.

Civil unrest – the right to peaceably assemble and object to government actions and policies – is a Constitutionally protected activity. Destruction of property is not. So once again, while police see to law enforcement, a well regulated militia might stand side by side at property lines just as they would after a disaster and prevent Constitutionally protected protest from degenerating into riot and looting. Once again, by sheer force of numbers, a militia might be the ideal entity to protect property during times of tension.

In order for a militia to perform these needed public duties they would have to be well regulated and well trained indeed. None of the Constitution’s verbiage is waste or filler. We have a societal need which is not being fulfilled.

One would also expect local militia groups to participate in public life, march in parades, stand honor guard at events, and otherwise help to provide a constant visible reminder that American society is all one people, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Congress has the Constitutional obligation to arm the militia. States have the obligation to appoint officers and train them. How might the militia be armed?

As we have seen, the militia is not an adjunct to our war fighting organizations, so there would be no reason to arm them with war weapons. War weapons have specific design characteristics which set them aside from civilian weapons; it is dishonest to blur the differences. That said, a woman guarding a building against looters is more convincing if she is armed, and the Second Amendment specifically states that her right to be so shall not be infringed. I would propose deer rifles or shotguns, with perhaps a five shot or so capacity.

It would be not unreasonable for militia to be armed with sidearms as well. Revolvers would be particularly well suited for this purpose, being simple, tough in harsh environments, and reliable. The militia is not a war fighting force; modest firepower in serious arms would be entirely sufficient.

It might be sensible, as an example, to arm each militia member with a .357 magnum revolver and a .357 magnum lever action carbine rifle. One standard ammunition round for all militia services, and militia armed with weapons which, at extreme need, would provide all the deadly force required for any reasonably close quarters action.

Once again, the specific decision on this latter item would be up to Congress, but unless Congress specifically wants to enable mass murder by rogue militia members I would think they would want to choose arms appropriate to the job at hand. Like any public armed entity, militia arms and ammunition would need to be standardized across the force.

Would militia members be the only Americans permitted to own guns? I would hope not; I would think not. Nearly all nations worldwide make provision for hunters and legitimate sport shooters to have access to guns for their sports. I personally would be gravely disappointed to have to give up my .22 rimfire rifle that I use around the farm. I am not aware of any mass murder in American history that was perpetrated using a .22 rimfire rifle; they are simply not deadly enough.

That said, all civilized nations provide sensible, firm limits on gun ownership. There would not be an assumption of some absolute right for any American to own any quantity of any sort of gun they might wish. The Second Amendment does not even imply, let alone state outright, such madness.

If America chooses the observe the Second Amendment to the Constitution as an organizing principle of our society (and it appears that we do) it only makes sense that it should be the actual Second Amendment, to the actual Constitution, as actually written. Either the right to keep and bear arms arises directly from the Constitution, or it is a murderous fiction make up out of whole cloth.

As a people we need to decide.


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Standard Disclaimer 1

All essays advocating positive actions to be taken by government only become applicable should the current oligarchy governing the United States be replaced by an elected government answerable to voters.

Until that hypothetical event might take place the primary focus must be on replacing the oligarchs and rule of money with a popularly elected government.

This applies to all three branches of the Federal Government.

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Second Amendment in Constitutional Context

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This is an excerpt from a longer article (here) for specificity in reference. 
I realize this topic has been litigated to the Supreme Court and long argued about. This article  specifically reproduces the actual words of the Constitution by Article, Section, and Paragraph, with one reference to a dictionary definition. I use

Most Americans know the words. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights.

As an amendment to the original Constitution, it refers to and takes its meaning from that portion of the original Constitution which it amends. In other words an amendment becomes part of the original document.

The “well regulated Militia” referenced in the 2nd Amendment is not an abstract, otherwise undefined armed group. The militia is defined clearly in the base Constitution. Once again, the Second Amendment to the Constitution begins

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,

Under the Constitution the Militia is primarily a creature of Congress and the States. The first reference to it is in Article I Section 8. Article I creates the Congress; Section 8 spells out several of Congress’s specific powers and duties. Paragraph 15 says,

“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;”

The Militia works for Congress. There are no self-employed militias in the United States.

The next (16th) paragraph continues to define Congress’s duties regarding the Militia:

“To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;”

If Congress didn’t organize it it’s not a militia.

If Congress didn’t arm it it’s not a militia.

If it isn’t trained according to discipline prescribed by Congress it’s not a militia.

During such times that the militia might be activated for duty in service to the country, Congress directly governs them. The President commands their day to day operations as will be seen below.

(This is an example of what was meant by “checks and balances.”)

Article II of the Constitution creates and defines the position of President. Section 2 defines his or her powers and obligations. The first paragraph of Article I Section 2 begins with

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;…”

Notice that the President only commands the militia after Congress calls them up.

Every mention to the Militia in the United States Constitution is discussed above. Four in the base document, one in the Second Amendment. There are no other references or definitions to a Militia in the United States Constitution.

Any meaningful discussion of the place of the Second Amendment in our society absolutely must be based in the Constitution’s actual, existing words. That’s where the Second Amendment is.

Now that we know what the Second Amendment and Constitution say, here is a suggestion how to build on it. To Keep and Bear Arms.

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