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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 28, 2010

Making sausage sounds more fun

By Charles Memminger

During the mind-numbingly tedious coverage of creation and passage of President Obama's health care bill, the TV talking heads repeatedly told us that watching a bill be made into law is like watching sausage being made, the implication that sausage being made is not a pretty sight. I think that's an insult to Jimmy Dean and sausage-makers everywhere. It implies that sausage-making today is like sausage-making in the early 1900s when, as documented in "The Jungle," Upton Sinclair's expose of the Chicago meat-processing industry, sausage was created out of the less-appetizing and more obscure bits of an animal, like the lips, eyelids, gall bladders and pancreases. Not to mention the occasional Lithuanian boiler tender who would fall into the meaty mixture and be processed into sausage links.

I like sausages and have it on good authority that today's sausages are relatively Lithuanian–free. I also suspect that watching actual sausage being made would be a lot less nauseating than the minute-by-minute hyper-partisan news coverage of the health care bill by CNN, FOX, MSNBC and the networks. At one point, if it were in my power, I would have happily shoved Bill O'Reilly, Wolf Blitzer, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity and Ed Schultz into a giant meat grinder and made one big old sanctimonious gasbag sausage.

Is it really a surprise that there is a huge, angry political divide in the country when the bulk of TV commentary is conducted by rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth extremists from the far right and far left? Who knew that actual commentary today would be worse than the parody in the classic "Point/Counter Point" Saturday Night Live skit during which, after Jane Curtin made her point, Dan Aykroyd would reply, "Jane, you ignorant slut." Today's poisonous political discourse makes the Aykroyd/Curtin verbal battles look like the Socratic Method.

Once the health bill was passed, the gasbags were faced with another problem: Some 13 states filed lawsuits to stop the bill. The suits were filed by the attorney general of each state, which raised that difficult journalistic question: what do you call a gaggle of such government lawyers?

I learned covering courts for the newspaper that they are "attorneys general," but most of the TV reporters and commentators called them "attorney generals." Even California Attorney General Jerry Brown called them attorney generals. Chris Matthew then called Brown "General" several times, a designation I've never heard before. Matthews apparently thought the general reference in attorney general is an actual military title. I've known Hawai'i Attorney General Mark Bennett for a long time, well before he became attorney general. But I doubt he was an attorney lance corporal.

The "general" part of "attorney general" is actually a backward modifier to set the person apart from other types of attorneys like "attorney specific" or "attorney run-of-the-mill." In the old days some lawyers were "attorneys at large," meaning they could practice in all the courts. Today, "attorneys at large" refers to those out on bail.

Attorney general is similar to the term "court martial." The martial refers to the type of court it is, a military court. So several of those such bodies would be courts martial, to differentiate them from other kinds of courts like "courts civil" or "courts kangaroo."

Anyway, I've seen quite enough of this kind of TV coverage. It's turned me into a viewer disgruntled who pines for a good, tasty sausage.