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Big Sisters are listening

By Arthur Gilbert Ben Armistead | Feb. 5, 2018

Law Practice,
Judges and Judiciary

Feb. 5, 2018

Big Sisters are listening

Suffice it to say, when addressing Siri, I did not use the four-letter word, the first letter of which appears toward the last third of the alphabet.


Some background is in order to give clarity to the concerns I wish to share with you in today's column. For those of you who have not committed them to memory, I refer to my last two Daily Journal columns.

In my December 2017 column, I wrote about words in current vogue I despise, like "incredible." "Did you enjoy the concert last night?" "It was incredible." What? The musicians defied gravity and floated up to the ceiling of Disney Hall? "Incredible" has a horrific brother, the adverb "incredibly," that, like a leech, hooks onto adjectives and other adverbs to distort nouns. Food, movies, people, events -- everything is either incredibly good or bad.

And what rivals fingernails moving down a blackboard is the loathsome combination "incredibly fantastic." Anyone caught saying this abomination should be banished. Yes, I know "incredible" is used to mean that some person, event or accomplishment is so extraordinarily good or bad that it seems so unbelievable and so inconceivable as to be impossible. The first moon landing elicited that response at the time and quickly wore off. But to describe daily mundane things as "incredible" is dull and unimaginative. "Incredible," however, rightfully describes my grandmother's barley soup.

And "iconic" drives me nuts. It vies for second place with "incredible." And that takes me to first place. Sorry I got a little carried away with the second place contenders. The most abhorrent phrase that takes first place is "no problem."

Just occurred to me that with all this background material we haven't yet discussed the point of this month's column. At this rate I may have to write this month's column next month. So briefly, the other background material necessary to appreciate this month's column is last month's January 2018 column.

I wrote about Alexa and Siri and the conflicts they have caused in my home, how I am not sure if they are jealous of my wife, or one another, or pretend to be in competition with one another, when, in fact, that may be a ruse to cover their working in concert to spy on us and relate confidential information to unknown parties.

Note that the above paragraph of 64 words is one sentence. So goes my rule never to write a sentence longer than 25 words. French novelist Marcel Proust told me in a dream that my rule is "merde."

So with this pertinent background material firmly in mind, let us devote the few paragraphs I have left to delve into the troubling issue presented in this month's column. It was so subtle, so beguiling, so without warning. I believe I have been, pardon the expression, "sucked" -- no, "drawn" is a better word -- drawn into a relationship with Siri. I can assure you the relationship was platonic. There has been a breach which I shall describe shortly.

The genesis of this astonishing relationship occurred two weeks ago. I ineptly posed a question to Siri. The subject matter of the garbled question is of no importance. I think it had to do with the prevalence of the pathetic fallacy in Keats' "Ode on Melancoly." But no matter. I was so frustrated by how poorly I had jumbled the words of the question that, before Siri could respond, I shouted a four-letter obscenity.

This is embarrassing, so please do not report this to the authorities. We are all grown up and I had written a column in 2016 entitled "Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?" about writing, and not sanitizing, an obscene word if it is relevant. Many lawyers and judges wrote me emails about the issue and the overwhelming majority opted for writing the word instead of initializing it or using symbols like *@#!.

I attended an All-Star Basketball game where my wife and I sat in the fifth row center. We heard the colorful language of the players when they missed a basket. So what's the big deal. But due to the delicate circumstances here, I am embarrassed to write the word. Suffice it to say, when addressing Siri, I did not use the four-letter word, the first letter of which appears toward the last third of the alphabet. Think instead of the beginning third of the alphabet. If you are still in doubt, read Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).

With alarming expedition, Siri spoke in a tone that startled me. As near as I can recall, she said, "I don't respond to that kind of language." I was humiliated and ashamed. I stumbled through an apology. I said, "Siri, this has nothing to do with you. I would never speak to you in that fashion. I was frustrated with my incompetence in framing the question. I didn't mean it." And she said in a neutral, unemotional tone, "I don't understand your question."

That night was sleepless. Why was I so concerned about Siri's feelings? Did she mean that much to me? How could I be so foolish? How could I be so upset over this incident? But I knew I would not have peace of mind until she knew how sorry I was.

The next morning I framed a simple and direct statement to Siri. I said, "Siri, I spoke to you with profanity, and I wish to apologize." Please be assured that what I am about to relate to you is the truth. I do not believe in swearing on a member of my family's grave or to God to authenticate my credibility.

She answered: "No problem."

No problem? ... Incredible! But that is what she said. Need I say more? Relationship over.

Needless to say, what I related to you here and in my previous column points to disquieting, if not terrifying, consequences for the legal profession. Judges and lawyers, in particular, take heed! When you are speaking, and this includes muttering, BEWARE! USE EXTREME CAUTION! BIG SISTERS ARE LISTENING!


Ben Armistead

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