See you tomorrow, over the radio

Kai Ryssdal hosts the public radio (listener supported) program Marketplace on a daily basis Monday through Friday.

He signs off the program saying,

See you tomorrow, everybody.

Am I the only one whose radio doesn’t come with a camera? Can Ryssdal see me through his website?

Stick that in your tea and drink it.

Gourmet vanilla extract

McCormick  markets gourmet premium pure organic vanilla extract. They tout its quality by telling us that the hand-picked vanilla beans “are left on the vine for up to 9 months to ensure vanilla flavor the way it was intended to be.”

So then, what does “up to 9 months” on the vine mean? Does it mean that some of the beans stay on the vine for only one month? Does it in fact mean that only a token number of beans remain on the vine for a full nine months?

My curmudgeonly take on writing hardened by reading American journalist Theodore M. Bernstein (1904–1979). He was the assistant managing editor of The New York Times from 1951 to 1969.

Among his several books, he wrote Watch Your Language: A Lively, Informal Guide to Better Writing, Emanating from the News Room of the New York Times  (1958). (My copy is still boxed up from my move ten months ago.)

So how am I doing in the writing department? Do I write better after hot tea with sugar? Of course, you wouldn’t know.


See Theodore M. Bernstein papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

Acquittal: freed from charges

I found these notes after the previous post on the subject:

A not guilty verdict is not exoneration except in a colloquial sense.

U.S. President Donald Trump claims that the Senate will exonerate him. “I’ve done nothing wrong.” What he doesn’t know – or doesn’t want to admit – is that a not guilty vote doesn’t mean innocent.

An acquittal, which is to say a preponderance of not guilty votes in the Senate, would only free President Trump from the impeachment charges. No explanation is attached to the individual votes, though.

A Senator who votes not guilty may intend to say that the President is innocent of the charges. He simply did not do what he was accused of doing. Another Senator might intend that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict. The President may still be guilty – just not in the eyes of the law.

What is the difference here?

Those who believe that he is innocent will still associate themselves with him. Those who believe that the President probably did what he was accused of will distance themselves from him.

Similarly with voters, although it is more complicated. People have been known to hold their noses when they reach a ballot box.

‘Not guilty’ is not ‘innocent’

President Donald Trump will go on trial in the U.S. Senate, probably in January 2020.

Senators will choose how to vote: guilty or not guilty. They cannot vote innocent.

A not guilty vote is ambiguous. Is the defendant innocent of charges, “exonerated” in everyday speech? Or did the prosecutors fail to give evidence that rose to the standard of “no reasonable doubt”?

Anyone who will claim that the President was exonerated is speaking colloquially but not legally or morally.

This figure of speech, ‘exonerated’ was previously declared by the President and his supporters after Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issued his report. This way of speaking is feel-good speech.

The Mueller report did not find sufficient evidence that the Trump election campaign coordinated or cooperated with Russian intelligence agents. That’s it. They did find smoke but failed to find a fire.

President Trump was not exonerated. The failure to find unambiguous evidence doesn’t mean that evidence doesn’t exist. Evidence may yet turn up. Then again maybe not.

The final jury of history has yet to convene.


Extra strength pain relief

If  there are no regular strength pain relievers on the shelf – 325 mg of acetaminophen (Tylenol) – is a 500 mg tablet really extra strength?

What’s really important is that acetaminophen is dangerous in amounts that people are liable to take. It’s dangerous to the liver. An overdose could be fatal.

The directions for the package I just bought are to take 2 tablets every 6 hours while symptoms last. Some people might be inclined to take 8 tablets a day. But, “do not take more than 6 tablets in 24 hours.”

So, pharmaceutical companies encourage us to buy a product that is not safe unless you read the the fine print.

Another reason for disdaining Big Pharma.

A caveat: I live in a town where most people are seniors – arthritis city. Maybe there’s little demand for regular strength pain relief. Thank G-d that I don’t have joint pain.

Trump links gun violence to mental illness, social media, and violent videos

I’ve been dwelling on the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio (during the weekend of August 3 and 4, 2019). There’s a tendency in some circles to call mass murderers mentally ill. Such was the judgment of U.S. President Donald Trump:

“If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness…. These are really people that are very, very seriously mentally ill.”
(Remarks delivered Monday morning, August 5, 2019.)

However, many or most terrorists and mass murderers aren’t mentally ill in the medical sense and probably not in the legal sense either. Besides this, mental illness does not predict violence of any sort.

These two mass murderers planned their attacks. The El Paso shooter drove across Texas. He published a screed to explain his actions. Both shooters already had their weapons at the ready. One probably modified his legally acquired gun. These actions are generally not what mentally ill people can do.

It does seem that the shooter in Dayton may have had psychiatric issues. He was allegedly taking illicit drugs before the shooting. In fact, taking drugs could have been evidence that he knew the difference between right and wrong and that he needed to numb himself before he could commit the shootings.

Regardless, the El Paso shooter showed no signs of mental illness. He made a moral decision.

Mr. Trump continued:

“We must recognize that the Internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts.”

The President continued to castigate the Internet and social media:

“The Internet likewise is used for human trafficking, illegal drug distribution, and so many other heinous crimes. The perils of the Internet and social media cannot be ignored and they will not be ignored.”

Trump’s speech then dwelt upon potential solutions, including dealing with mental illness, social media and violent video games. Supposedly, “troubled youth surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.”

First, he called on the Department of Justice to act on early warning signs, to develop Internet tools to detect mass shooters before they strike. However, there’s no evidence that either shooter could have been detected. The El Paso shooter only published his screed shortly before his attack.

“Second, we must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace…. Each of us can choose to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life.”

A worthy goal “to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life.” But, I’m not aware that playing violent video games predicts acts of violence. It’s so easy to blame violent videos.

The President continued:

“Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get mental health treatment, even if necessary, involuntary confinement…. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

There’s a difference between being distressed and being mentally disturbed in the medical sense. Going through a psychological crisis is not mental illness. If there is a mental health crisis here, the sufferer is likely to be depressed and suicidal. Depression is deadly, and depression and guns don’t go together. Depression pulls the trigger. And often hatred pulls the trigger (so to speak), as hatred pulled on the shooters who pulled triggers to murder in Dayton and El Paso.

In later remarks on Wednesday, August 7, Mr. Trump said,

“These are sick people; these are really people who are mentally ill, who are disturbed. It’s a mental problem…. They’re mentally unstable.”

But, mental instability is not a diagnosis of mental illness. Again, the President has no evidence that mass shooters are sick in the colloquial sense of mentally ill. Furthermore, his new push for involuntary confinement is draconian. Confinement is not care. And people in straightforward distress don’t benefit from confinement.

If anything, the President is talking about confining me. When I was 25 years old, I was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. I’ve received effective treatment including medication, and, typical of other sufferers, I’ve never been violent.

Finally, the President suggested:

“Fourth, the Department of Justice sees to it that those who pose a great risk to public safety do not have access to guns.”

Laws to take guns away with due process are popularly called “red flag laws.” More properly, they are known as extreme risk protection orders.

So-called red-flag laws could allow family members to request that judges temporarily block individuals who are mentally ill or may pose a risk to themselves or others from having a firearm.

Hopefully, guns would be taken away from individuals who are suicidally depressed. Unfortunately, family members and friends don’t see suicidal intentions. So many suicides don’t usually cry out for help either.

And Mr. Trump added that, “mass murderers and hate crimes receive the death penalty.” (The awkward wording is his.) Never mind that they receive the death penalty in some states already. And never mind that there’s no evidence that the death penalty deters murder.

The President called for real bipartisan solutions to make America “safer and better for all.” But, he didn’t call for better background checks, though Not that these would help prevent guns from falling into the hands of mass shooters. The Dayton and El Paso shooters had never had serious brushes with the law.

The only part of the President’s remarks I agreed with is when he said,

“Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.”

I firmly believe that hatred kills people, both the hater and the hated, but not mental illness or video games. Hatred has become an evil contagion.

Mass shootings are truly a “monstrous evil” – Mr. Trump’s words.


To view the President’s remarks after the mass murder go to his Twitter channel.
(Tweets may be archived:
Some of the President’s remarks are available in the press secretary’s Twitter feed.

Racist Trump

On July 27, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, “no human being would want to live there.” Where? In Rep. Elijah E. Cummings’s (D-Md.) district in Baltimore. He’s black. It’s a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” according to Trump.

The Washington Post calls this “divisive rhetoric”.

I beg to differ.

This is racist.

Cummings and thousands of other people live in his district. But, they’re not human beings according to the President. Racists dehumanize their targets like this.

I’m not being pedantic. This is how racists speak.


See “Trump campaign sees political advantage in a divisive appeal to working-class white voters” by Toluse Olorunnipa and Ashley Parker, The Washington Post, July 27, 2019.