Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Threat as Rhetoric

What's in a word? You may recall that airport security cops always go ballistic whenever somebody jokes about their luggage, usually mentioning the B-word in a totally jocular way of course. That's because of some old psychology exposited several centuries ago by Patanjali, the yoga sage who maintained it was easy to tell what people are thinking simply by listening to what they say, and observing what they gather to themselves.

A joke about a dead king, Patanjali would say, suggests dead kings are on one's mind. Finding pleasure in implements of war, such as javelins or archery, suggests dead kings who die of projectile weapons. A little wine, and the prevalence of such conjectures in one's speech to the exclusion of all else including naked women, and that drunkard becomes an individual marked for special attention. Finding him slowly progressing through the crowd toward the king, a wise cop signals his companions and gravitates toward the fool on his fool's errand. As Patanjali said, reading minds is easy.

Reading Sarah Palin's mind is like watching tarantulas in a glass box. On the other hand, we've never gone in much for lèse majesté in this republic of democrats, not at the gilded levels of contempt royalty reserves unto itself. In my lifetime, JFK, RFK, and MLK have died at the hands of assassins, none of whom died on the rack, and Ms. Barracuda within the sovereign scope of political debate — thanks to New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct. 710, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1964) — is free to say whatever kind of inflammatory bat guano most pleases her. Of course, that cuts both ways as soon as she runs for office, even Wasila dog catcher. Such encrusted irony is thicker than unicorn snort, but we do enjoy the spectacle.



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