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Jewish World Review June 28, 1999 /14 Tamuz 5759

Don Feder

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Michigan lowers the boom on swearing --
IN MICHIGAN, a man named Boomer ran afoul of the law for swearing when his canoe capsized. In a nation of high-school massacres, punishing bad language seems trivial to the point of absurdity.

But social decline always starts with seemingly mundane matters.

Tolerate graffiti and littering, and you'll soon get vandalism. Ignore property offenses, and crimes against people will follow. The weapon in a murderer's hand was loaded by a thousand modest surrenders to barbarism.

Last summer, Timothy J. Boomer was out paddling his canoe on a river north of Detroit. When the vessel hit a rock and overturned, the sportsman came up sputtering and uttering the "f-word" (according to prosecutors, at least 25 times). Families out boating with their children did not relish the experience.

Authorities in Standish, Mich., lowered the boom on Boomer, charging him under a 102-year-old law that makes it a crime to swear in front of women and children. (In part, the statute harkens back to those halcyon days when we believed in the concept of a nobler sex.)

Naturally, the most destructive force in the land, the American Civil Liberties Union, paddled to Boomer's rescue.

Kary Moss, the ACLU's Michigan gauleiter, warned, "If successful, the state will effectively criminalize speech which is heard every day on television and the streets -- it's trying to legislate morality."

But unlike TV sets, the louts who infest our streets don't have on/off switches. When they scream profanities, the less coarse are forced to endure it.

Does the public have rights here? Yes, said an Arenac County jury, which took less than an hour to convict Boomer earlier this month. The ACLU will appeal.

Moss is correct in one regard: In terms of the language we tolerate, society is on a downward spiral -- witness the new "Austin Powers" movie, with its payload of potty humor. News reports called the film the highest grossing comedy in its opening weekend, an apt description.

Like tobacco chewing, once upon a time cussing took place behind closed doors.

Today, kids shout the f-word on city streets. Motorists and pedestrians abuse each other in language that would shock pro-wrestling fans. Matrons mimic the locker-room banter of athletes.

Academics have their rationales for our uncivil tongues. It's said that society is more casual. Just as we have casual Fridays, our language is dressed down.

Stress shares the blame. The irritation of living cheek by jowl, the pressure of life at a lunatic pace, leads to angry explosions.

There are even psychologists who try to make a virtue out of vice, calling profanity "the language of empowerment." They claim it makes traditional underdogs feel tough and allows them to strike back at the system.

Call it, rather, the language of intellectual impoverishment. Swearing in public is a stark admission of an inability to communicate in as rich a language as English. Just as any idiot can tell a dirty joke, it takes no imagination or felicity of expression to curse.

Letitia Baldridge, the etiquette expert (who isn't burdened with a Ph.D.), has a better explanation: "It's the I-I-I, me-me-me thing. What I feel is all that matters. I don't have to follow codes." I'm tough, I'm cool, and I don't play by the rules.

Self-indulgence lies at the heart of lawlessness. The criminal begins with the supposition that no one matters but himself -- that he can scream, shove, throw trash out car windows, change lanes on top of you without signaling or swear in public, and others have to take it.

Which is not to say that bad language is the first step on the road to ruin. But civility (not manners, really, but consideration for others) is a bulwark against the forces of disintegration.

Self-control is a habit. Those who can't restrain the urge to swear in front of innocent bystanders are in danger of graduating to nastier stuff.

In our self-expressive society, is the degree of control required not to subject strangers to our own rendition of an HBO Comedy Special really too much to ask?

Were it capable of rational thought, the ACLU would realize that the First Amendment was written to protect political speech, not gutter language. The colonists put violators of public decorum in the stocks.

Fortunately, some communities still have standards. Let it be noted that in Standish, Mich., they held the line for civilization.


6/23/99: Politicians think we're fools -- they're right
6/21/99: Gambling commission issues report, rolls dice
6/17/99: Why Right went cuckoo over Kosovo
6/14/99: America will be ultimate victim of war on Yugoslavia
6/09/99:Call a moratorium on Clinton judges
6/07/99: Public schools will muck up character education
6/03/99: Don't think, just vote
5/28/99: An American credo
5/26/99 :Do we really want peace in Yugoslavia?
5/24/99: Gay 'marriage' -- don't pass go
5/19/99: Little Bill, you had a busy week
5/17/99: Gun control, campaign-finance reform -- two liberal illusions
5/12/99: Watch Quayle go from "incredible" to quite credible
5/10/99: Conservatives excluded from academic diversity
5/05/99: Expecting the impossible of parents
5/03/99: Gore race-baits with impunity
4/29/99: Why Kosovo? Oh, just because
4/27/99: The president's pro-parent claptrap
4/22/99: McCain plays to the media
4/19/99: NATO would have favored the confederacy
4/14/99: Before we march into Kosovo
4/12/99: Taiwan more worthy of U.S. support
4/09/99: Bauer and Forbes --- Main Street vs. Wall Street
4/05/99: Bubba and Maddy lit Kosovo's fire
3/29/99: At Passover, Egypt is a state of mind
3/29/99: Could the GOP stand Pat in 2000?
3/17/99: Hollywood's party line in 1999
3/15/99: All bow, the court is in session
3/11/99: In praise of negative campaigning
3/09/99: Day-care study defies common sense
3/04/99: Starship Clinton orbits Kosovo
3/01/99: Public will blot out Broaddrick's accusation
2/25/99: Slick Hillie for Senate would be fun
2/23/99: Fascism in the name of fighting fascism
2/16/99: Was anything learned from the impeachment trial?
2/12/99: Educating the democratic voters of tomorrow
2/10/99: First Amendment doesn't apply to pro-life cause
2/08/99: Dems' triumph over Constitution complete
2/03/99: Blood of victims will drown out breakfast prayers
2/01/99: Without a home the heart knows no rest
1/29/99: Poster boy for term-limits
1/27/99: The 'so-what' defense in the City of Saints
1/25/99: Whose choice?
1/21/99: Censure worse than nothing
1/18/99: Words can`t dignify a dishonored presidency
1/13/99: Conservatism "with a heart" is conservatism without a head
1/11/99: If he isn't removed, watch out for Bill!
1/07/99: We can learn a lot from Teddy
1/05/99: Monica and a call to modesty
12/30/98: Will Bubba get away with it again?
12/28/98: Zionist dream alive and well on West Bank
12/18/98: Impeach or abandon the Rule of Law
12/16/98: Clinton moves Middle East closer to war
12/14/98: Why we lost interest in the homeless
12/10/98: No place at table for conservatives
12/07/98: The day America lost its innocence
12/02/98: Pilgrims Pilloried in streets of Plymouth
11/30/98: Caribbean dogpatch not a good candidate for statehood
11/25/98: Will Vermont force gay marriage on the nation?
11/23/98: The ACLU wants your kids to get a love life
11/18/98: Why liberals hate tobacco and guns more than drugs and crime
11/16/98: "Pleasantville" a countercultural morality play
11/13/98: Ads are a tough sell for abortion
11/09/98: Why gutless Republicans lost
11/06/98: Historians against the Constitution
11/02/98: Loving response to a hateful conference
10/28/98: Professor Death will fit right in at Princeton
10/26/98: Plymouth caves to Pilgrim foes
10/21/98: On '98 election, keep a critical eye on polls
10/19/98: Clinton could yet be 'prosperity president'
10/16/98: Working families -- Dems love 'em (stuffed)
10/09/98: Majoring in 'weirdness'
10/07/98: Friends of Billy Clinton
9/29/98: Letter from ex-soldier highlights defense peril
9/28/98: Answering arguments against impeachment
9/18/98: The nation that doesn't exist
9/14/98: Bubba isn't the only one who should be ashamed
9/11/98: Resolution of Clinton crisis will define national character
9/09/98: We're still just wild about Harry
9/07/98: Mexican banditry didn't end with Pancho Villa
9/02/98: Clinton forgives us!
8/31/98: Ashcroft's plain talking touches responsive chord
8/26/98: Public opinion be damned
8/24/98: Why liberals condone Clinton's lies
8/20/98: Time to move on -- to impeachment
8/12/98: With Bubba in the sexual privacy zone
8/10/98: The truth won't set Clinton free
8/06/98: Truth about Hiroshima is incontrovertible
8/04/98: Clinton not the first hollow president
7/30/98: "Small Soldiers" -- a fractured Vietnam allegory
7/27/98: Crime wave hits hometown
7/22/98: Love in an Internet fishbowl
7/20/98: Ads bring ex-gay movement out of closet
7/15/98: Brian and Amy -- the children of Roe
7/13/98: Why are we scared of obnoxious 'activists?'
7/6/98: Fonda still resists reality
7/1/98: New York blesses domestic partnerships
6/29/98: Teddy and Calvin stood for virtue
6/24/98: Will Clinton betray Taiwan?
6/22/98: Big tobacco? What about big casinos?
6/15/98: Religion -- God for what ails you
6/10/98: Planning Clinton's China itinery
6/8/98: Republicans' Custer offers advice
6/4/98: Oh, Dems Christian-bashers!
6/2/98: Goldwater did conservatives more harm than good
5/27/98: A Clinton-hater confesses
5/15/98: Giuliani's assault on marriage
5/13/98: Hillary knows what's best for everyone
5/11/98: To honor her would not be honorable
5/6/98: Conservative chasm: pragmatism vs. worship of marketplace
5/4/98: Anglo-saxon me
4/29/98: Needle exchange programs are assisted-suicide
4/27/98: Chretien's mission of mercy to Fidel
4/22/98: School-choice is a religious freedom issue
4/20/98: Corporate execs deliver body parts to Beijing
4/14/98: National sales tax --- looks better all the time
4/13/98: The U.N. sinister? Hey, where did that idea come from?
4/8/98: Unions fight workers rights in 226 campaign
3/30/98: Africa's leaders should apologize
3/25/98: GOP shouldn't look to media for advice
3/22/98: You should care about Clinton's 'private life'
3/19/98: Color-coded reading, product of obsessive minds
3/16/98: Amendment will end exile of G-d from our public lives
3/9/98: Havana will break your heart
3/2/98: Vouchers Terrify Teachers' Union
2/25/98: Presidential politics starts at a resort hotel
2/23/98: Hillary's support comes at a price
2/18/98: How many times must we say "no" to gay rights?
2/16/98: Enoch Powell spoke the truth on immigration
2/11/98: Bubba behaving badly
2/9/98: A conservative dissent on the flag-burning amendment
2/5/98: We get the leaders we deserve
2/2/98: Send a signal that could penetrate boardroom doors
1/27/98: State of the president: hollow rhetoric
1/25/98: For Monica's playmate, we have no one to blame but ourselves
1/22/98: At Yale, bet on yarmulke over gown
1/19/98: Commission tackles America's fastest-growing addiction, gambling
1/15/98: Capital punishment and the hard case: no exceptions for Karla Faye Tucker
1/12/98: Partial-birth abortion and the GOP's future: the "big tent" meets truth in advertising
1/8/98: IOLTA: the Left's latest scam to crawl into our pockets
1/5/98: Connect the dots to create a terrorist state
1/1/98: The Unacceptables of 1997: Long may they rave
12/28/97: Hypocrisy is a liberal survival mechanism
12/23/97: Chanukah is no laughing matter
12/22/97: No merry Christmas for persecuted Christians around the world
12/18/97: Bosnia, Haiti, and how not to conduct a foreign policy

©1999, Creators Syndicate