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Posts Tagged ‘speeches

The Annals of Relativism: The High Art of Doublespeak…

Judge Soggy Sweat (source)

In 1952, a young Mississippi State Legislator, Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., spoke on the Assembly’s floor to the question of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit alcoholic beverages (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize them:

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

Sweat went onto to a judicial career, then taught law, and founded the Mississippi Judicial College (the first full-time state judicial education program in the nation; a division of the University of Mississippi School of Law).  But he is surely best remembered for his “if by whiskey” speech, the canonical example of the use in political oratory of a relativist fallacy, via doublespeak, to satisfy listeners on both sides of an issue.

Hear it here (reprised by Mississippi State Rep. Ed Perry on 100th anniversary of opening of the Mississippi State Capitol, as broadcast on public radio).

As we hear altogether too many echoes in the political discourse of today, we might note that today is a special day for Baker Street Irregulars the world over, Sherlock Holmes Day.  Sherlockian Carl Thiel:

Although Holmes’s date of birth is nowhere mentioned in the Canon (ie, all 60 stories written by Doyle), the 6th of January was first suggested by Christopher Morley (1890-1957) in his ‘Bowling Green’ column in The Saturday Review of Literature in 1933. Through the efforts of the Baker Street Irregulars, and largely the influence of William S Baring-Gould’s 1962 biography of Holmes (Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Biography of the World’s First Consulting Detective), January 6th has become the traditional birthday of the great detective.

Morley wrote: ‘I have not looked up the data, but if, as an astrologer has suggested, Sherlock Holmes was most likely born in January, some observance is due. Therefore, if the matter has never been settled, I nominate January 6th (the date of this issue of the Saturday Review) as his birthday.

Morley, incidentally, believed the year of Holmes’s birth was 1853. Subsequent tradition has settled on 1854, largely due to the fact that in the story ‘His Last Bow’ (which takes place in August 1914) Holmes is described as a ‘man of sixty.’

In the 60 original stories, Holmes was depicted in illustrations as wearing a deerstalker cap in only four. Nowhere does Doyle mention that type of headgear.
image source

You stand on the verge of…

It’s May, and readers are no doubt beginning to make notes for the commencement wisdom they’re soon due to dispense.  Here, inspiration:  from the helpful folks at Online Universities, five graduation addresses (including JFK’s famous 1963 American University speech, pictured above) and 45 other exemplars of the rhetorical arts: “50 Incredible, Historical Speeches You Should Watch Online.”

As we clear our throats, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that Queen Elizabeth II of the UK and French President François Mitterrand spoke at the opening of one of “the Seven Wonders of the Modern World,” the Channel Tunnel.

Where’s Wellington when one needs him?

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