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Words, July 15 

How much off the Chairman Mao shirts?

A Little Rock men's store has been advertising "50% Off Lenin Shirts," which are said to be available in colors of aqua, white, black, lime, brown, blue, yellow and melon. Paul L. Butt of Conway writes:

"Must be a market for Communist shirts in Little Rock. But you'd think they'd offer it in red."

"The Supreme Court held Monday that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-defense anywhere they live ... The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative-moderate justices in favor of gun rights and four liberals opposed." Why not "The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative justices in favor of gun rights and four liberal-moderate justices opposed"? Because the Associated Press, and the mainstream media generally, lean to the right. People on the conservative side of an issue are often described as "moderates." People on the liberal side are not. They are instead exhorted to become "moderate" by becoming more conservative.

In reality, the Supreme Court has shifted considerably to the right in recent years. Today's "liberal" justices would have been "moderates" in the 1970s and '80s when Warren Burger, a Republican, was chief justice. There was no one on the Burger Court as conservative as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are today, and there is no one on today's court as liberal as William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall were then.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, a recent article about Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominees mentioned that Sen. Arlen Specter, a member of the Judiciary Committee, was a "lame duck," which is not as bad as being a dead duck, but almost. A lame duck is "an officeholder whose power is diminished because he is soon to leave office, as a result of defeat or statutory limitation."

According to Safire's Political Dictionary, "Lame duck was originally an 18th-century import from Britain meaning a bankrupt businessman; by the 1830s the phrase was used to label politically bankrupt politicians."

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