Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2005 / 17 Shevat 5765

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Letters from an editor | Dear Friend,

It was wholly a pleasure, believe it or not, to read a piece of Educanto that delighted instead of annoyed. Which is why I am indebted to you for your report on the symposium at which an official from the U.S. Department of Education was asked to define an "augmented test."

His reply: "a norm referenced assessment tool with criterion referenced components augmented into the assessment mechanism."

Whew. Glad to have that cleared up.

Why was I delighted to hear that indecipherable definition?

Because on reading it, I relived a happy moment of my wasted youth.

I suddenly saw, very clearly, the grave visage of Dr. Entrikin, my chemistry professor at Centenary College of Louisiana back in the High Middle Ages. I remember his white dress shirt had a distinct crease in the collar. He'd called me into his office, always a bracing experience, to discuss my grade in his class. He wound up offering to give me a D in his course if I would solemnly swear never to have anything to do with chemistry, medicine and preferably science in general so long as I shall live.

It was one of the few statements Dr. Entrikin made that semester I was able to grasp.

I accepted his generous offer with alacrity and mutual relief. He carried out his end of the bargain, and I have endeavored to do my part to the best of my poor abilities.

Wherever Dr. Entrikin is now, I know he's smiling at having saved the world of science from me. It was no small contribution to the health and welfare of the American people.

Among his many other stellar qualities, Dr. Entrikin dealt in formulas and facts — not the kind of Educanto we're inundated with in these blurry times. Grateful to him to this day,

Dear Sensitive,

It was wholly a pleasure to hear from you, and with a familiar plaint: that the word Redneck should be barred from acceptable discourse because it's used (especially by Yankee pundits) as an ethnic slur.

But those who use it that way reveal their own ignorance and prejudice, not the redneck's. I'd hate to lose a good word because some of our chattering classes abuse it. Shall we let those who abuse a word determine the limits of our language?

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Context can be all in these matters. In certain contexts, Redneck is a term of pride, not opprobrium. In these latitudes, politicians have been known to identify themselves as rednecks — even if they weren't — in order to appeal to country voters. And by now a whole subset of American humor goes by the name.

Consider the word Yankee. Is it the proud name of a New England magazine, a distinctive kind of virtue (as in yankee ingenuity), or is it always preceded by a parenthetical (D***n)? Doesn't its effect depend on context? I'd hate to have to ban it from our vocabulary — just as I'd hate to lose Redneck.

Yours for saving words, not killing them,

Dear Judge,

It was wholly a pleasure to receive your rebuttal to a column of mine in which I explained — well, tried to explain — why judges should not interject themselves into political disputes, especially as part of their campaigns for the bench.

Because if they do, voters will be invited to decide contested questions of law at the polls instead of where they should be decided — in a court of law by judges who are not only impartial but appear to be.

The independence of the judiciary rests in large part on public confidence in the courts, and judges like you undermine it every time they take a stand on some hotly contested political issue. The price of judicial independence is judicial restraint.

I once would have assumed all of this would be self-evident, and I am grateful to you for teaching me otherwise.

Your rebuttal doesn't so much address my concerns as sweep them aside in the name of free speech, candor, knowledge, robust debate in a democracy . . . . As if whatever we are legally entitled to say, we should. As if there were no difference between law and ethics, between running for a judgeship and running for alderman.

To simply assert that there is no such difference is not to answer my argument but to be oblivious to it.

To quote Dr. Johnson: "Sir, I have found you an argument, but I am not obliged to find you an understanding."

With the greatest respect for your office, perhaps greater than your own,

Inky Wretch

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