Thursday, June 19, 2008

Colbert on McCain: lexi[con artist]

Haven't talked about Colbert for a while, but you gotta see this:

Getting the word-boundary pun on 'lexicon artist' as 'lexi con artist' is nice, of course. And he goes into classic Colbert coinage-every-10-seconds mode.

But really, haven't you wondered what the hell McCain* means by "transcendental challenge", and "transcendent threat"? Just to be clear, he's defined it directly as "radical Islamic extremism". This has barely been discussed (see here, for one example), and I don't think McCain has really been challenged on this.

Here's the full definition of transcendental from M-W's 11th:
1 a : TRANSCENDENT 1b b : SUPERNATURAL c : ABSTRUSE, ABSTRACT d : of or relating to transcendentalism
2 a : incapable of being the root of an algebraic equation with rational coefficients ** is a transcendental number* b : being, involving, or representing a function (as sin x, log x, ex) that cannot be expressed by a finite number of algebraic operations *transcendental curves*
3 in Kantian philosophy a : of or relating to experience as determined by the mind's makeup b : transcending experience but not human knowledge
Seriously, 2 is a non-starter, unless you are Randall Munroe, author of xkcd and our generation's funniest math/sci person. Few things seem less supernatural, abstruse or abstract than guys sending around videos about how they want to destroy western democracies. 3 seems absurd too. If, like Colbert, we go back to transcendent, maybe the most viable candidate is this:
being beyond comprehension.
If so, it's the crudest of scare tactics. Doesn't it seem like we need nothing more than to comprehend what this challenge is and how best to respond to it?

* Most of the nicknames for McCain so far don't move the needle beyond "mildly amusing" on my laugh-meter. McSame and McBush make a point (tie to Bush), McSane and McCrazy get some sad irony into the picture, McWhere'sMyCane and a lot of others remind us that he first went to war against the Kurgan invaders. See here for one list.


The Ridger, FCD said...

"Not just scary - really, really scary"

Anonymous said...

Way toooooo much credit to the McBane crew here, Mr. V: I think it's just using a Big Word that Sounds Nice. Nobody does seem to call him or others on such cheap tricks.

Mr. Verb said...

Yes, Ridger, scary beyond belief and comprehension. I'll just being quivering in my boots and wetting my pants.

Anon, I wouldn't bet money on you being wrong here. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Is there some way we can get some talking head to ask him what he means by it? I'd luuuuuv to see him try to define it. McWriggle.

Mr. Verb said...

Talk about priceless ... I'd kill to hear that. I was sort of half imagining this morning what it would be like if it came up in a debate, but the odds are outrageously long on that.

Jan said...

Maybe he's just misremembering one of Cheney & Co.'s favorite scare phrases, the "existential threat" we're under from Islamic terrorism. I wrote about this use of "existential threat" = "threat to existence" at some point in The Word, but I'm too lazy to look for the URL --need another hit of caffeine first.

Mr. Verb said...

Oh wow, that's a good point, Jan -- some McCain aid working the thesaurus too hard?

I remember people joking about the 'existential threat' as the attack of the existentialists (!) but wouldn't have made that connection.

Not sure whether Thoreau or Sartre is more frightening.