« Agoraphilic | Main | Small Press Tutorial »

July 03, 2005

Personally, I Voted For Mike Judge. Huh-huh. Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh.

(Posted by Jim Winter)

Since tomorrow is July 4 - Independence Day us for Americans - I thought it appropriate to comment on the AOL/Discovery Channel Greatest American Poll. The results were as follows:

1.) Ronald Reagan
2.) Abraham Lincoln
3.) Martin Luther King
4.) George Washington
5.) Benjamin Franklin

Um... What's Reagan doing in the Top 5? I'm sure history will judge him kindly, even put him up there with both Roosevelts as a great president. But as your charming host has demonstrated as recently as last month, Reagan's too recent (and still too divisive) to be a good choice.

A look at the nominees' page tells the story. Half the nominees were celebrities. Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, and Tom Cruise (WTF?) were nominated. Oprah Winfrey made the top 25, but Mark Twain didn't? Was there an IQ ceiling for this poll? I'm amazed Reagan, who, you know, like, ran a country and stuff, even made the list, given vapid semblence of logic used to fill out the rest of it. I'm even more amazed that Reagan, along with Dr. King, Lincoln, and two founding fathers even showed up in the top 5.

Frankly, I'm embarrassed Americans voted in this poll. Tom Cruise is a great American? Where the hell was Tom Jefferson? Yeah, he owned slaves. So did #4, George Washington. I don't recall in my history books Jefferson in the court of Versailles jumping up and down on the couch telling the Countess de Winfree how much he loved Sally Hemmings.

More disturbing, though, is how recent most of the nominees were. As I said, half of them were celebrities. Somehow, I think Reagan got on there not for destroying the most idiotic tax system in US history, nor did he make it for his part in ending the Cold War. No, I think he got on there because he died. Recently.

Which is really ashame, because it says little about him as a president, good or bad. Like I said, at least he made the top 5 along with two other presidents, a civil rights icon, and one ofthe architects of our nation. I'm assuming Franklin beat out Hugh Hefner because while he lived Hef's lifestyle, he had that extra edge by inventing the stove and the lightning rod.

Well, Winter, if you're so high and mighty, who would you pick for top 5?

Read on...

Well, first off, I'd exclude Reagan. Not because I dislike him, but because he's still too recent to be objective about. As I said, he dismantled a moronic tax system. (70% is just evil under any circumstance, and I happen to be all for taxing the rich. Just not robbing them.) He also played arms race chicken with the Soviets, yet read Gorbachev right, which led to the end of the Cold War. But there are too many questions left. Was he unfair to the poor? What about his delayed response to the AIDS crisis? And could he have pressured South Africa sooner and harder over apartheid?

No, Ronald Reagan needs to simmer in the stew of history a little longer. He certainly deserves to be on the long list well before vapid celebs and writers who use idiotic phrases like "simmer in the stew of history."

So who would I choose?

Well, let's go with the top 10, 'cuz I'm a Letterman kinda guy.

10.) Bill Gates/Steve Jobs

These guys share the #10 slot because they've done more to change the way we live our lives than any other business person or inventor in the last fifty years. Argue all you want about whether Windows is evil or if Steve's just copping other people's ideas anymore, the fact remains that together, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs put a computer on everyone's desk and hooked it up to the Internet, making it possible for office workers everywhere to download porn on company time. God bless 'em.

9.) Thomas Edison

Long before JP Morgan bought out his company and turned it into GE, Thomas Edison brought good things to life. Without Edison, there would be no modern technology. Sure, the pieces were all there, but Edison put 'em together. And like Bill Gates, Edison had some questionable practices of his own and screwed his competition whenever he could. But think about it. We listen to music now on compact disc, which evolved from the LP, which... Well, you get the point, oversimplified as it is. I'm typing this by electric light with a keyboard that's a quantum leap from the telegraph key from whence much of Edison's technology sprang. Look around you. You can't swing a dead cat with hitting something Edison either invented or inspired.

8.) Theodore Roosevelt

From Nixon to Carter to W, presidents always look to TR for inspiration. More often than not, I find myself wishing Teddy would be more generous inspiring reform and more stingy on the war mongering. Still, can you think of a president in the last 120 years who had more influence of our daily lives today? I can think of one, whom I'll get to in a minute. Teddy Roosevelt might have swung his big stick a little too often, but he was also something rare: A wealthy patrician who nonetheless beat back the system and forced it to give more to the poor who supported it. Plus, we now have Teddy Bears as a result.

7.) Franklin Roosevelt

The most recent president I'd put on the list. Again, can you think of someone who still wields as much influence now as FDR? No, you can't. Even his ideological opposite, Reagan, found inspiration in the man who led America through a depression and a world war, all from a wheel chair. No Frankie Bears, however.

6.) Thomas Jefferson

Architect of our democracy, which is handy, because he was an architect, among his many talents. A slave holder, Jefferson nonetheless also saw the need for the "peculiar institution" to ultimately be abolished. Had he shown the courage to free his own servants, he might have created a culture earthquake in the South where it was needed most at the time. As it is, he laid the groundwork for such change in the Declaration of Independence and through the precedents he set as president.

5.) Albert Einstein

Chances are, you're reading this because Einstein thought a lot about quantum physics in his spare time. So much so, he once forgot to put on his pants. Everything from the Bomb to the space program and in between sprang from an equation scrawled on the back of a napkin at lunch: E=mc(sq). Because of this, fanficcers everywhere have laws of physics they can violate along with a few copyrights.

4.) Ben Franklin

Big Ben. Invented the stove. Created the lending library and the modern volunteer fire department. Negotiated independence and helped frame the Constitution. And let's be honest, he's the first American smart ass. For that, I'd put him at the top of my personal top 5, with Mark Twain and George Carlin coming in at 2 and 3 respectively. But this is not my personal list.

3.) George Washington

Because of George, we have a blueprint for how presidents should conduct themselves. Some of his practices - the two-term limit, for example - have been written into law, the Constitution, or official protocol. Washington was that rarest of individuals in American politics, a true moderate. Personally, though, I think the 1788 election was rigged. He's on the dollar bill, you know, and Adams couldn't even get his face on a wanted poster.

2.) Martin Luther King

Someone yesterday at Live 8 said, "Ghandi freed a continent; Mandela freed a nation; and King freed a people." And King did it nonviolently.

1.) Abraham Lincoln

I wouldn't want this guy's job if you paid me a billion a year. Well, maybe a billion. I could at least afford better security for the balcony. Lincoln handled his office with dignity and grace at a time when lesser men would have cracked. Indeed, someone said had Lincoln lived and Robert E. Lee survived well beyond the Civil War, the history of American civil rights and reconstruction would have been vastly different, mostly for the better. Too bad we lost both of them in short order. Lee might even have made the top 10.

That's my top 10. Now have at. Who would you put up there? And if you nominate a current celebrity, we reserve the right to say rude things about your mother.

Posted by at July 3, 2005 12:23 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.scalzi.com/mt2/mt-tb.cgi/3222

Comments

Mary | July 3, 2005 01:38 AM

Sorry, no Greatest Americans list here, but I can point you to the Top Ten Greatest Canadians, the CBC show that, ahem, inspired the Discovery show.

There are some odd choices in the list (both Wayne Gretzy AND Don Cherry?), but the rest is a mix of political leaders (Douglas, Trudeau, MacDonald, Pearson), real scientists (Banting), celebrity scientists (Suzuki), an inventor (Bell) and a heroic ordinary guy (Fox). I wish the top 10 Americans list had been published: all you seem to have is the top 25 list.

Trudeau was third, Fox was second and Tommy Douglas, the socialist premier from a Prairie province that introduced such innovations as socialized medicine (and who fathered Kiefer Sutherland's Mom), was first.

Yeah, we're different.

Brian Greenberg | July 3, 2005 01:54 AM

Wow...way too big a question for me to answer at 1:45AM (don't ask - it's why I call my blog "I Should Be Sleeping", OK?)

Anyway, in the absence of a full list, two quick thoughts about Jim's list:

1) I'll run dangerously close to the edge of the celebrity rule and nominate Walt Disney to appear on there somewhere. Much like Gates, Jobs and Edison, Walt changed our lives in absolutely uncountable ways, and there's no evidence of his influence slowing down anytime soon.

2) About Einstein: my first thought was, "But he wasn't an American!" Looking it up (God Bless Google, btw), I see that he did become a citizen in 1940, 15 years before he died. But the majority of his work (E=MC2 & all) was done in Germany (where he was born) and Switzerland, and I've always thought of him as a German, not an American. I realize this gets a little sticky (after all, George Washington wasn't born in America either), but where do we draw the line?

Jim Winter | July 3, 2005 02:05 AM

"I've always thought of him as a German, not an American. I realize this gets a little sticky (after all, George Washington wasn't born in America either), but where do we draw the line?"

Wherever you damn well please.

(And why am I web surfing at 2 AM on a Saturday? Isn't there some beer somewhere I should be drinking?)

Ron | July 3, 2005 02:07 AM

You know, I think the only living person I'd even THINK about putting that high on the list is Muhammad Ali, and not because he's a celebrity but because of his conscientious objection. After that, it's hard for me to think of anyone who was alive later than, let's say, Eisenhower that I'd say outranks the dozens of candidates between the Founding Fathers and TR.

Although from THAT crowd, I might consider, among others, William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, and Frederick Douglass.

claire | July 3, 2005 02:10 AM

Don't limit it to ten, and don't rank them. That's so hierarchical, which is what Washington was about, but not Jefferson, slaves or no.

Others who deserve to be on there:
• Malcolm X: who not only changed the world we live in in ways that most people refuse to acknowledge, but was brave enough to live a rapidly developing and changing intellect in public.
• Cesar Chavez: who raised--for a long instant--the boycott to the most dangerous political weapon, and made the great individuals tremble at the power of the multitudes of the small. Now that's American.
• Margaret Sanger: who put reproductive freedom on the map, freeing half of the then-present and future population of America from a variety of oppressions.
• Noam Chomsky: anything interesting or smart Michael Moore has ever had to say, Chomsky said first. Doesn't matter if you agree with him or not. He's more influential than the majority who've never heard of him will ever know.

Jeff Porten | July 3, 2005 02:16 AM

If it's any consolation, Jim, I read a study about the history of "greatest American" polls a few years ago -- and they ALWAYS skew to recent politicians and celebrities. So not only does this say nothing about posterity, it also doesn't indicate that our heads are any further up our posteriors than our forefathers.

Personally, i think most of these lists are silly because the Great Men always stand on the shoulders of other Great Men (man being synonymous with "human" and having nothing to do with gender). America wouldn't be in its present state without the genius who developed the tobacco trade back to England in the 17th century and created the pipeline of European money to the colonies. Gates and Jobs would be selling soap without microchips.

Credit where credit is due to great courage and those people who changed political thinking -- even if they didn't succeed in their own time. My list would include LBJ for the Great Society (and forgetting Tonkin Bay), Woodrow Wilson, and Susan B. Anthony.

Note to Brian: it's been a while since I read Einstein, but IIRC, he was a fervent American. That's good enough for me. We were almost literally in the same boat, just a generation or two earlier. No argument on Disney, but on that list I'd have to include Siegel and Schuster, Bob Kane, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry. Together, they were the founders of modern American mythology.

Bob | July 3, 2005 12:13 PM

Reagan destroyed an idiotic tax system? Yes, it's true: passing along the bill to the kids and grandkids is much better.

mythago | July 3, 2005 03:13 PM

Are there any girls there? /deadalewives

No, Ronald Reagan needs to simmer in the stew of history a little longer.

Now I have a very bad mental image of meat falling off the bone.

Don't underestimate the ability of certain interest groups to skew these polls, either.

Jeff Porten | July 3, 2005 03:23 PM

That's to be expected with anything involving Reagan. Grover Norquist is running a multimillion dollar project to promote his commemoration. Explicit goal is a statue in every congressional district in the country; other work included the airport and the Reagan building in DC, and they're pushing for the $10 bill redesign.

Unfortunately, there is precedent for this. The Roosevelt dime and the Kennedy half-dollars were both minted the year after their deaths. Of course, they were both sitting presidents.

claire | July 3, 2005 04:03 PM

jeff, i'm glad you included susan b. anthony (the safe bet for including a woman on a list, not to mention a coin) but your comment about "great men" including women is a load of hooey. look at the lists above. they're all men, except for your susan b. and my margaret sanger. if you call it a list of "great men" (which i realize the original list was not, it was "great americans") then people feel free to ignore women.

on the othe hand, the moment you change the list from "great men" to "great persons" or something equally awkward and non-gender specifc, thereby making it clear to everyone that you're not going to let the woman thing slide, then suddenly everyone will start thinking about which great women they'll need to include, too, and suddenly, there are women on the list.

let's see if that happens now.

Jim Winter | July 3, 2005 05:48 PM

I just wish the list wasn't loaded with celebs. Really, is your life any better because Brad Pitt was in FIGHT CLUB? Chuck Pahlaniuk's is, but Chuck wrote the book. And how much do you want to bet if Michael Jackson had not had his recent troubles that he'd have made the list.

Maybe he did.

I wouldn't mind posting a poll entitled "Internet Polls: Are They A Waste?"

Then again, I'm the kid who used to put "Get rid of the suggestion box" in the suggestion box at church. Mom was not amused.

Greg | July 3, 2005 06:38 PM

If we're talking about artists and filmmakers, I think D.W. Griffith and Orson Welles deserve a lot of credit for turning filmmaking from a silly diversion for the masses into high art.

Jeff Porten | July 3, 2005 08:53 PM

Claire:

I'm arguing two different points here, so I'll make them explicit.

On the one hand, the backlash against the word "man" bugs the hell out of me. It has a dual meaning as a name for a gender and a name for a species. The "Great Men" theory of history, which I believe is what started the phrase in common parlance, was not using the gendered variety.

To use a trivial example that really illustrates the point, take "where no man has gone before". That's humans -- there are already nonhuman *people* where we're going. Changing it to "no one" has the charming undertones of America not being here until the Europeans showed up.

Point 2: no question that history emphasizes men, the gender. Call this the result of a double whammy -- through most Western history, women were subordinated and less likely to serve in historic roles. Those who did were likely to have done so through male proxies, who in turn made the history books.

So a top ten Americans list can be mostly white and mostly male without in and of itself being sexist or racist. It's just reflecting the sexist and racist history -- and most likely, the sexist and racist education that the people contributing to such lists had. But I think it's equally fallacious to say that a list including Lincoln, Franklin, and Roosevelt is invalid because there isn't enough diversity to be found there.

Brian Greenberg | July 3, 2005 09:13 PM

As long as we're on this topic, let me just add: as a man, I find it an offensive notion that Susan B. Anthony can't be a role model for me - only for women. And since I'm white as well, the same goes for Martin Luther King, Jr. To suggest that someone has to be your race/gender to inspire you limits the accomplishments of that person, whether they were of the majority race/gender or not.

(NOTE: Before anyone jumps down my throat, I realize no one *here* said I couldn't be inspired by SBA or MLKJr, but it's said all the time. Also, the suggestion that there aren't enough women on the list (to me, anyway) is that modern-day women somehow have less to be inspired by on a list containing men. That's a damn shame...)

Stephen | July 3, 2005 10:02 PM

'I wouldn't mind posting a poll entitled "Internet Polls: Are They A Waste?"'

Or maybe a poll entitled, "Figureheads: Do They Qualify as Great?"

I don't know of any presidents that died in the wars they presided over. Many examples of great people are those who owned the company that "invented" something great when it was in fact an unknown employee or group of employees. In most cases the source of a great action is very murky, but it is much more satisfying to oversimplify and attribute events to a single person. My belief is that in most cases, "greatness" is more a romantic notion than a reality.

P.S. Even someone who took great personal risks , like M.L. King, is not necessarily any greater than the many others that did the same without the title of Leader of the Movement. It's just a lot easier to pick out one person and pin all of the benefits of a group's actions to one name.

Nix | July 3, 2005 10:22 PM

This Discovery list is a little more decent then a couple years ago when someone did one of these things and the top two were like Clinton and Bush.
Geez, if we can't get past what's in front of our noses as a nation (recent stuff) then I suggest we sniff harder like the Internet or some good History.
I think this list is better because this is more internet based with AOL and the last poll, I think, was strict T.V.; and now with the advent of blogging and RSS/XML + Podcasts YUMMY in the last 2 years or since the decent turnout of the last Presidential election.
More brainpower.
Funny I sort of agree with the top 5 but not really the rest as for the reasons you listed.
Hype and rumor doth not make a Great American.
A good place to check for facts is en.wikipedia.org
Enron is interesting to look at.

Nix | July 3, 2005 10:27 PM

Also the top two are from Illinois and I'm from there.

Dave White | July 3, 2005 10:52 PM

I guess it depends on your rules and stuff, how you choose a greatest American, but wasn't Einstein technically a German? Who then moved to the US?

John Scalzi | July 3, 2005 10:58 PM

Einstein became a US citizen. He formerly was a German citizen, but then there was that whole Nazi unpleasantness.

mythago | July 4, 2005 12:55 AM

Also, the suggestion that there aren't enough women on the list (to me, anyway) is that modern-day women somehow have less to be inspired by on a list containing men.

You mean "a list containing ONLY men," surely.

The issue isn't about whether somebody else can find meaning in such a list, but about why the listmaker chose the people s/he did.

Dave White | July 4, 2005 02:00 PM

Gotcha, thanks John. Wasn't sure if he became a US Citizen.

Simon | July 4, 2005 02:07 PM

Reagan is too recent and controversial, but Steve Jobs and Bill Gates aren't?

Also: no such person as Ghandi. Try Gandhi.

Jeff Porten | July 4, 2005 02:23 PM

> The issue isn't about whether somebody else can find meaning in such a list, but about why the listmaker chose the people s/he did.

Probably for similar reasons to why you used the nonword "s/he", Mythago. This sort of speaks to my other point about the word "man" -- "he" is the generally accepted gender-neutral pronoun, since "it" doesn't cut the mustard and "they" is grammatically incorrect in the singular.

I'm a card-carrying feminist and I studied communications in a past life, so I know that words matter. But I can't help thinking that a fair amount of the debate over gendered nouns only serves to distract from real issues. Check the polls -- most people think the feminist movement of the 60s has been discredited and that Friedan et al. were radicals. Aside from abortion, there's little public interest in activism. And what percentage of a man's wage does a woman make today? It seems to me that the conservatives have very effectively derailed us into a cul-de-sac.

For my own book, I scattered around "he" and "she" at random, and took some pains to make sure that neither gender was weighted for the cautionary tales. I also tried to avoid my 7th-grade math book style, which always gave word problems where "she" was a truck driver and "he" was shopping for the kids. But I also thought this was a weakness in my writing -- and would have preferred to say, "Women are entrepreneurs" and then say "he" for the rest of the book.

OTOH, if my editor had put all men on the cover, I would have bitched in a heartbeat.

Jim Winter | July 4, 2005 05:37 PM

"Also: no such person as Ghandi. Try Gandhi."

The list was of AMERICANS. Also, imho, it takes longer to judge a president's impact on the nation than it does an inventor's or a businessman's. And how can you argue with that little box you used to type this? The impact and effects were immediate and irrevocable.

Had the list included the whole world, Ghandi would definitely have been in the top 3. I doubt any American, save maybe King, would have made the cut.

Phillip J. Birmingham | July 4, 2005 06:07 PM

Also: no such person as Ghandi. Try Gandhi.

In other news, my "Top 5 Pedants" poll is coming along fine. :)

Jim Winter | July 4, 2005 09:09 PM

"'he' is the generally accepted gender-neutral pronoun, since 'it' doesn't cut the mustard and 'they' is grammatically incorrect in the singular."

Congratulations, Jeff. You just inspired next Sunday's post. I've already written it and set it to post on Sunday morning (as I'm going to be away treating my wife like a 16-year-old on her 40th birthday. She's worth it.)

Now, to find something to post for when I'm in Baltimore on the 17th...

Durf [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 4, 2005 11:45 PM

I'm kind of surprised Nancy Reagan isn't on there too. She ended the nation's drug habit, after all.

Chis B. | July 4, 2005 11:45 PM

Actually, the Canadian show was ripped off a BBC show, 100 Greatest Britons. And there lists were much more respectable than Canada's or America's (the only change is remove Diana with someone else. I mean, come on, what did she do; marry and devoice a prince, give some charity money and die in car crash. Big deal):



1 Sir Winston Churchill

2 Isambard Kingdom Brunel

3 Diana, Princess of Wales

4 Charles Darwin

5 William Shakespeare

6 Sir Isaac Newton

7 Queen Elizabeth I

8 John Lennon

9 Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson

10 Oliver Cromwell



They were also Greatest Dutch(wo)men, Greatest French(wo)men, Greatest German, Greatest South African, Greatest Finn, Greatest Czech and Greatest Arab.

dwarf at large | July 5, 2005 01:38 AM

Simon was correcting your spelling of Gandhi, which you misspelt as Ghandi in the quote you used in your post - he was not suggesting that he was American.

Jim Winter | July 5, 2005 01:59 AM

"Simon was correcting your spelling of Gandhi, which you misspelt as Ghandi in the quote you used in your post - he was not suggesting that he was American."

Hmm... Well, I did promise to proof my posts.

Then again, speling's naat mie strong suet.

Jeff Porten | July 5, 2005 02:19 AM

No fair, Jim. I can't load up a comment a week in advance. (Although it's good to know I can use that for my posts -- hadn't spotted that feature.)

mythago | July 5, 2005 02:49 PM

But I can't help thinking that a fair amount of the debate over gendered nouns only serves to distract from real issues.

Labeling any debate "not over real issues" is a common tactic to kill it. After all, it's hard not to find something worse. Women discriminated against by Wal-Mart? Dude, is that worse than Wal-Mart pushing people onto public health care? Are we supposed to believe that's a bigger feminist issue than honor killings in Pakistan? And so on.

"He" is not really gender-neutral. It's just that it's not considered acceptable to label a man as a woman (and vice versa). If it were truly neutral, "Every mother should breastfeed his baby" would not sound odd to us.

mythago | July 5, 2005 02:49 PM

er, for "and vice versa" above, should be "but not vice versa." Duhhhhhhh.

Jim Winter | July 5, 2005 06:33 PM

Jeff, email me off line. I'll explain how you do it. If you have a Typepad site, it's pretty intuitive, though not exactly identical. If you don't, it's not hard to find, just not that obvious.

winter_writes@earthlink.net

claire | July 5, 2005 06:44 PM

mythago: while i agree with everything you wrote above, lemme just point out real quick that "he" was never used to refer to groups or categories of women alone. the "his" in that sentence refers to "mother", which is already gender specific. so it would have been "proper" even 150 years ago, to use "her" in that sentence.

but to back you up: 150 years ago, you would have had a hard time finding the sentence "every mother should breastfeed her baby" in print, because such things were so rarely discussed openly in print and in those terms. additionally, situations where you would have needed to use a male pronoun to refer to a category of people that included both men and women would have been rare. e.g.: "every student must wear his gown", "every carpenter must carry his hammer", "every doctor must clean his stethoscope", "every nurse must carry her bucket", etc. etc.

my point is: times change, and so does language. male and female roles have changed radically just in the last generation alone, not to mention in the last six. it's our language, we have to use it everyday, and we all have the right to take it upon ourselves to change it if we don't like the way it works, or the implications it throws out there.

the people to whom we are referring/who are being referred to have more say than anyone else as to how they will be called. if the african americans in the room don't wanna be called "negro" anymore, if the asians don't wanna be called "oriental", if the developmentally disabled don't wanna be called "retarded", and YES, if the women in the room don't wanna be called "he" or "man" (or "girl" for that matter), then SUCK IT UP and use the politically correct term. and quit whining about it already.

mythago | July 5, 2005 08:48 PM

lemme just point out real quick that "he" was never used to refer to groups or categories of women alone

Exactly. Which, if it were truly 'gender-neutral,' it would be. You can say "Mothers should breastfeed their babies," and nobody looks at you funny, because "their" is in fact a gender-neutral pronoun. Grammatically, what's really going on is that it's acceptable to use the male pronoun for a group that may include females, but not the other way around. (You can refer to women as men, or pretend they aren't present; you can't refer to men as women and you can't pretend they aren't present.)

Jeff Porten | July 6, 2005 03:15 PM

Jim -- I was talking about here. My own site I can make sit up and beg. And I can see where we can load up a future post in the admin interface, but if we want to time-delay a comment I think the only option is to somehow know what URL it's going to get and do a script browser-side.

In other words, far more trouble than it's worth, and I was being facetious.

Mythago: Labeling any debate "not over real issues" is a common tactic to kill it. Yes, but that doesn't mean we should also be blind to additional ways to kill an argument. Is the issue that the US condones torture, or that the Democrats are racist and anti-Hispanic? Is the issue that we imprison people unlawfully at Gitmo, or that Newsweek published a true article about defiling the Koran without complete sourcing?

And is the real issue facing feminism today the continued inequalities against women, or the sometimes culture war or the use of gendered pronouns? I hear a fair amount of red state opinions in the form of Washington DC tourists, and "feminists" are widely just slightly above "liberals" in being seen as a discredited ideology from the 1960s. So sure, we can fight any battle we choose, but we should also pay attention to whether we're losing the war.

Claire: YES, if the women in the room don't wanna be called "he" or "man" (or "girl" for that matter), then SUCK IT UP and use the politically correct term. When I was in grad school, that PC terminology included "herstory" and "womyn". And while the left was arguing about the use of those terms, the right attacked the very meaning of "politically correct" and turned it into an epithet.

This is exactly my point. The way I learned it, PC is a social rule whereby the speaker and the listener are civil about the power of language. The right took several egregious examples of people in power telling others to suck it up, and told a story that the left was promoting censorship.

The left. Promoting censorship. This is like the US promoting torture. And yet, while we were squabbling, they won. They redefined our doctrine and used it against us. They won.

So while I'm entirely in agreement that people get to define their own proper nouns, I am less in agreement about structure. Writing that includes the proper number of "his or her"s is turgid. "S/he" is not a word. And yes, I see a direct correlation between the blood that has been spilled between the left and center-left on this topic, and our lack of success against the right on other issues on the feminist agenda.

Fact is, I've marched in pro-choice rallies, nearly been arrested defending clinics, worked in planning meetings for the UN Beijing conference, and have donated a few thousand hours of my time to all the expected acronymed groups in DC. Yet here I am, again, defending my feminist credentials because I feel that "his or her" has no poetry. If Jim Dobson were reading this, he'd be smiling.

Mythago, again: waaaay back in the mid-80s, I asked my Spanish teacher about this same point, whether to use a male plural for a group of 1,000 women and 1 man. Technically, yes, you do. And the same rule applies for English.

But that is not to say that you're ignoring the women. That just says that the male pronoun is to be used when speaking of mixed or unknown genders. It's probably true that etymologically this rule descended from your rule. But I can't help thinking that being this sensitive to word origins is to say that we have to mention pepper every time we talk about salaries.

mythago | July 6, 2005 08:32 PM

And is the real issue facing feminism today the continued inequalities against women, or the sometimes culture war or the use of gendered pronouns?

False dilemma. I know that one, too, as you know that language shapes discussion and thought. That's why we have these arguments about PC in the first place.

It's not like 'salt' being the root of 'salary'. Gender is not hidden root of our pronouns: it's right there in the word itself.

Scott | July 6, 2005 08:36 PM

Back on topic...

I'd push for Alexander Hamilton on account of banking and reserve systems paving the way for America to adopt soft-money, and moving us away from Capitalism into financialism, or monetarism or whatever near-capitalist system governs the modern economy.

gerrymander | July 8, 2005 04:22 PM

Jim, the top 10 you list is pretty convincing. I'd change the order somewhat (IMO, an "top Americans" list which doesn't start "Washington, Lincoln, Franklin" is out of whack), but there are only two changes I'd make out of hand.


First, swap out Einstein for Norman Borlaug. Einstein was a genius who developed many the theories which ushered in the modern age, but most of the heavy lifting of development was done by others. Borlaug, on the other hand, both expanded genetics theory and worked to implement it as the Green Revolution, which has literally fed billions worldwide -- and that's a hard record to beat.


Second, swap out Gates/Jobs with either Alexander Hamilton or James Polk. Any business development in the US is predicated on a viable economic situation made possible by the pro-development foundations Hamilton laid. Polk separated the Treasury into its own unit (which stabilized currency) and annexed the northwest and southwest. Either added a more basic part of the country as we know it than the two businessmen, despite the latters' achievements.

Luke | July 11, 2005 05:40 PM

"Einstein was a genius who developed many the theories which ushered in the modern age, but most of the heavy lifting of development was done by others."

True enough for quantum mechanics, to which his contribution was only on par with many others; but Relativity, and General Relativity in particular was his baby. Even if the gauge transformation consistent with electromagnetism had been worked out already.


Also, I'd wonder about including Edison while dropping Tesla. The electrical grid is exclusively attributable to him. And he may have been born Serbian, but his proudest achievement was US naturalization.

Post a comment.

Comments are moderated to stop spam; if your comment goes into moderation, it may take a couple of hours to be released. Please read this for my comment moderation policies.
Preview will not show paragraph breaks. Trust me, they're there.
The proprietor generally responds to commenters in kind. If you're polite, he'll be polite. If you're a jackass, he'll be a jackass. If you are ignorant, he may correct you.
When in doubt, read the comment thread rules.




Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)