The State of Their Union and a Strange Sign

I missed the State of the Union Address last week (what a plea­sure to be able to say that!), but I did hear the com­men­tary and cov­er­age that echoed the main sound byte of the speech: “Amer­i­ca is addict­ed to oil, which is often import­ed from unsta­ble parts of the world.” The choice of this par­tic­u­lar phrase fas­ci­nat­ed me for sev­er­al rea­sons. First of all, why would a pres­i­dent who’s always done his best to gloss over his past abus­es of alco­hol and drugs (which I ful­ly expect will some day reveal a past that would have made his pre­de­ces­sor in the Oval Office look like a tee­to­taler) even men­tion the word addic­tion. Doesn’t it remind us of the ele­phant in the room? No, not the Repub­li­can mas­cot, but the fact that Bush’s unscript­ed appear­ances are fre­quent­ly inco­her­ent, and along with the pre­pon­der­ance of burst arter­ies on his face, that were, accord­ing to a friend of mine, clear­ly vis­i­ble on his high-def­i­n­i­tion TV dur­ing this appear­ance, seem
to sug­gest that he has start­ed drink­ing again.

If we leave aside the ques­tion of Bush’s addic­tions, up until this point, the stan­dard GOP talk­ing point was that ‘we need to address America’s depen­dence on for­eign oil.’ The stan­dard fix to this was ‘more drilling, espe­cial­ly in the Arc­tic Wilder­ness’. If you think that way, it makes sense: More depen­dent on for­eign sources? Come up with your own sources. But if you replace the word ‘depen­dence’ with ‘addic­tion’, it doesn’t work any more. After all, if someone’s addict­ed to cocaine, you don’t try to help them start an opi­um pop­py gar­den to help them switch to a local source.

What’s more, the oth­er terms that each of these words evokes couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent: ‘Depen­dence’, in Microsoft Word’s built-in The­saurus pro­duces match­es like ‘reliance, trust, con­fi­dence, belief, hope and faith.’ Not bad. On the oth­er hand, ‘Addic­tion’ pro­duces ‘habit, com­pul­sion, need, obses­sion and crav­ing’. Not so good. The terms also point to each oth­er, to be sure, but it does point out the neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tions for the new word. Note that for the Left wing, ‘Addic­tion’ means sick­ness, some­thing that you need ther­a­py or coun­sel­ing to help over­come. On the Right, it’s a vice, or a lack of moral fiber or failed upbring­ing. It doesn’t mat­ter which way you look at it, being addict­ed to some­thing is far worse than being depen­dent on it.

I final­ly came to the con­clu­sion, that despite the many neg­a­tives asso­ci­at­ed with the term, Bush’s speech­writ­ers decid­ed to go with it in order to appease some of the administration’s base, the Chris­t­ian Tal­iban, even at the risk of anger­ing the oil com­pa­nies or Detroit (who are pret­ty much speed­ing toward bank­rupt­cy any­way). In this case, I’m sure that it’s all just talk. Bush would nev­er do some­thing con­crete, like actu­al­ly push automak­ers to adopt bet­ter miles-per-gal­lon stan­dards, or sug­gest that cit­i­zens use Mass Tran­sit as a way of get­ting the petro­le­um mon­key off their back.

No… What?
I saw a very strange sign at the bot­tom of the stairs at work the oth­er day. It seems there are two lan­guage schools on the low­er floors (we’re on the third), who serve a pri­mar­i­ly Asian clien­tele. The kids are from Chi­na, Japan, and per­haps Korea, and I usu­al­ly see them smok­ing in front of the build­ing most of the time. Appar­ent­ly, this sign was meant for them:

Nospitting Vancouver

Text reads: “Spit­ting is a cul­tur­al­ly unac­cept­able habit. If you absolute­ly must spit, please do so in the gut­ters of the road, not on the pedes­tri­an walk­ways, and in par­tic­u­lar not in front of the main doors to the build­ing.”

When I men­tioned this to my friend Matt, he was amused. “Dude, he said, “Every­body in Chi­na spits every­where. In fact, they had to put up signs on The Great Wall to dis­cour­age it.” He gave me a pic­ture he took of this to prove it:

Nospitting China

Text reads: “In order to keep fit no spit­ting please no throw­ing waste”

Matt point­ed out how the sign tried to get peo­ple to stop spit­ting to “keep fit”, as if doing so made them bet­ter peo­ple. That’s very typ­i­cal, he explained.