Sunday, July 13, 2008

Political correctness stumbles on science: "Black hole" to be a banned word now?

Yes, amazingly, a race hustling ruckus actually developed recently in the United States (where else?) around the astronomy term "black hole".

Generally, a black hole is thought to be the final fate of a very massive star that collapses on itself, sucking up even light (hence the name). Because the hole destroys all the information it ingests, the term "black hole" often suits a junkpile office or a useless bureaucracy.

(In defense of junkpile offices and useless bureaucracies, let me state up front that they destroy information at a rate that is only fifteen to three hundred times as fast as an intrastellar black hole out in space ... )

Here's columnist Jonah Goldberg's explanation of the nutty Dallas County controversy.

Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield found himself guilty of talking while white. He observed that the bureaucracy "has become a black hole" for lost paperwork.

Fellow Commissioner John Wiley Price took great offense, shouting, "Excuse me!" That office, the black commissioner explained, has become a "white hole."

Seizing on the outrage, Judge Thomas Jones demanded that Mayfield apologize for the "racially insensitive analogy," in the words of the Dallas Morning News' City Hall Blog.

[ ... ]

Call me nostalgic, but there was a time when this sort of stupidity actually generated controversy. Remember the Washington, D.C., official who used the word "niggardly" correctly in a sentence only to lose his job? That at least generated debate.

But these days, stories like this vomit forth daily and, for the most part, we roll our eyes, chuckle a bit and shrug them off.

Obviously, there's something to be said for ignoring the childish grievance-peddling that motivates so much of this nonsense. But the simple fact is that ignoring political correctness has done remarkably little to combat it. Meanwhile, people who make a big deal about it are often cast as the disgruntled obsessive ones.

The only people allowed to take political correctness seriously are the writers for "South Park," "Family Guy," "The Simpsons" and the like. Of course, they take it seriously because it's their bread and butter to mock the absurd pieties of daily life. But nearly everywhere else, the rule of thumb is that we should either defer to this stuff or quietly ignore it.
I think where science terminology is concerned, the thumb should be pointed straight up ...

The grievance mongers should go back to investigating "bad" words in modernist literature written by people who empty the Scrabble bag from different positions when they need to write something - and hope that whatever turns up is usable.

Here's more and still more if anyone cares.

(Note: The "black hole"image is from NASA.)