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.
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:
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:
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.