Those who have tried to define conservatism’s affinity for tradition have searched everywhere from the seminal writings of Edmund Burke (the future is built upon the past) to the musings of William F. Buckley Jr., who urged us to “stand athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’”
Me, I prefer a regional expression that had been around for a while and then was popularized in the 1970s by Bert Lance, Jimmy Carter’s hapless OMB director: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Change isn’t inherently bad, but change that isn’t really needed will probably create more harm than good.
Consider “Jeopardy!”, the game show often mentioned here, which has upset this most ardent fan with a quite unnecessary upheaval.
No, not the decision to rotate Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik as hosts, although it is hard to imagine any two worse emcees. Since Alex Trebek selfishly died on us, we can probably cut them some slack on that one.
It’s the annual Tournament of Champions, the 2022 version of which is in its second and concluding week.
For years and years, the tournament has had a reliable format. In the first week, the 15 biggest winners of the season compete in groups of three for the quarterfinal round. The five winners and four runners-up then go on to compete in groups of three for the semifinal round. The three winners of that round go on to the finals for a two-game showdown.
You see how elegantly simple it was? Each contestant in the final round had to overcome exactly the same hurdle to get there, by beating four other people in two separate rounds.
But this year, they have decided to “improve” the format.
They added six more contestants. Who doesn’t want to see even more trivia-worshipping geeks going head to head? But having 21 competitors screws up the math for a two-week format. So now, the have six quarterfinal rounds. And those six winners are joined in the semifinal round by the season’s top three winners, who were given a bye for the quarterfinals.
That’s right. They only have to beat two other contestants in one round instead of the four in two rounds the other six contestants had to endure. All “Jeopardy!” contestants are equal, but some “Jeopardy!” contestants are more equal than others. It’s nerd privilege is what it is. When even the ultimate celebration of useless knowledge discards the level playing field, how can it be anything but an outrage?
But then, November is a good month for outrages. We’ve just gone through the yearly daylight saving time insanity of celebrating the folly that humankind could improve on the sun in creating a well-ordered universe. This also is the month for elections, in which we replace some self-serving politicians with other self-serving politicians. Later, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, which was probably originally held in October but moved to November by President Lincoln for some reason and now is on the fourth Thursday of the month after President Roosevelt’s aborted attempt to move it back a week to create a longer shopping season.
At least we have good, old reliable Veterans Day on the 11th day of the 11th month, right where it should be.
Of course, the knuckleheads in Washington tried to change that, too.
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to turn four of our holiday festivities into three-day weekends, and it was decided Veterans Day should be the fourth Monday in October. But states balked and kept celebrating it on Nov. 11, so Congress relented in 1975 and put the celebration back where it belonged.
Don’t mess with history, right? Actually, the reason it is celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month (and technically at the 11th hour) is because that was when the armistice was agreed to between Germany and the Allied Forces of World War I. In fact, it was called Armistice Day until 1954 when, with millions of World War II and Korean War veterans milling around, it became obvious the “war to end all wars” had not exactly lived up to its billing.
It is Veterans Day, without the apostrophe, by the way, as opposed to the apostrophed Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and New Year’s Day. The idea is that the day belongs not just to one veteran or even all veterans but to the nation as a whole as it honors those who have served.
On the other hand, Anna Jarvis, who lobbied for Mother’s Day, insisted on that punctuation because she wanted the singular possessive to highlight that the day should be dedicated to each family honoring its particular mother. Presumably, the creators of Father’s Day held the same view. I have no idea in the world what that apostrophe is doing in New Year’s Day. Does it mean the day belongs to the new year instead of the people celebrating it?
Apostrophes have a way of showing up where they’re not needed, as in when people think it’s a way to pluralize words – “Don’t fight like cat’s and dog’s,” for example, or “I have more photo’s to put in the album.” Because it is so often seen on signs for fruits and vegetables — potato’s $150 a pound, pick your own apple’s here — it is often called the grocer’s apostrophe.
I could have said “it’s” back there instead of “it is.” The best use for the humble apostrophe is to form a contraction, turning two words into one: I’m for I am, won’t for will not, would’ve for would have and so on.
This can be carried too far, of course. “Ain’t” started out as a contraction for “am not” but now can stand for is not, are not, has not, have not and, in some dialects, even do not, does not and did not. It makes no sense at all, so naturally, there are calls for an overhaul.
I think I will withhold judgment on that until I have decided if I will be comfortable with the change.