The word for today is…

Two friends sent me Wednesday’s word of the day from A.Word.A.Day. The word was, or rather the phrase was STAR CHAMBER, which is defined as “a court or group marked by arbitrary, oppressive, and secretive procedures.” It continues

After the Star Chamber in the Palace of Westminster in London. It was the site of a closed-door court appointed by King Henry VII of England in the 15th century. Notorious for its abuse of power, it was abolished by the Long Parliament in 1641. The chamber was so named because its ceiling was decorated with stars.

The poor vilified Star Chamber originated as a court open to the public, employed by the Tudors as a royal counter-balance to the chaotic common law courts. It was those nasty Stuarts that drove it into the ground and gave it its enduring reputation. As we read in the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica

Its procedure was not according to the common law. It dispensed with the encumbrance of a jury; it could proceed on rumor alone; it could apply torture; it could inflict any penalty but death. It was thus admirably calculated to be a support of order against anarchy, or of despotism against individual and national liberty. During the Tudor period it appeared in the former light, under the Stuarts in the latter. […] The need for a strong central court directly inspired by the king, which could administer justice without respect of persons, was so great, that the constitutional danger of establishing an autocratic judicial committee, untrammelled by the ordinary rules of law, escaped notice at the time. It was not until much later that the nation came to look upon the Star Chamber as the special engine of royal tyranny and to loathe its name.

Sounds pretty contemporary, eh? One of the morals here is that secrecy and power are a bad mix (Total Information Awareness), but beyond that it illustrates one stretch of the long sordid path the enlightened West has taken on its way to liberal democracy and capitalism. Democracy is often at odds with the defense of individual and national liberty; a strong wise hand is sometimes needed to play the one against the other. Henry VII could pull it off. Charles I could not, and consequently got his head pulled off. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek writes engagingly on the troubles of nascent democracies in a series of recent articles, with an emphasis on our newfound friends in Iraq. Will they get Henry or Charles? Or will they defy the odds and jump straight to the final stage of an advanced modern liberal democracy? Stay tuned.

Shitty-whipping in the news

Good friend, long-time Rambles reader, and former Minnesotan JMike emails with this message.

I grew up in Minnesota and learned a bunch of local-isms:

  • “ish” (general expression of disgust, see also “ishy”)
  • “doy” (local variation of “duh”, i.e. what is said to mock someone who is
    acting in a way the mocker associates with stupidity)

  • “skitch” (to grab onto the back bumper of a usually-unsuspecting car and
    ride along on packed-snow-covered streets)

But when my friends and drove over to Creek Valley elementary school (“Creek
Valley” being one of the few phrases where the typical Edina resident would
pronounce it “kreek” instead of “krick”) to drive circles in the
recent snowfall in their asphalt-covered portion of the playground, we
always referred to it as “doing donuts”. I’ve never heard of “whipping

Tipped off by JMike that maybe it was just a hack after all, I did a little research (okay, I typed the words “whipping shitties” into Google). I discovered, as is so disturbingly often the case in blogland, that everyone was saying the same thing as me. This page has been blogged a thousand times (of course!) and everyone seizes on this one phrase (of course!) and wonders aloud: can it be real? But entry number five on the Google list was this Best Cheap Thrill from the Twin Cities’ City Pages 1998 Best Of list. Read it and wonder no more, for the Minnesotans have spoken.

By the way, Google considerately and delicately inquired, was I perhaps actually looking for “whipping sites.” I was not. But thanks for asking.


E-mailbox clogging net stories are circulating in greater and greater numbers, but where do they come from? Is there some cyber-spot where they mate, like squids in the Sargasso Sea? Is there a burying ground where they go to die? Yadda-Yadda-Yadda is a speculative piece that came about because a) Paracelsus received yet another net story in the mail and b) he should have been working on something else.
Continue reading “Yadda-Yadda-Yadda”