Sunday, January 14, 2024


Slang by Jonathon Green, 2016

During the recent holiday season, I spent time with my nephew (he's in his early 30s) and heard him use words in ways that had me wondering what they meant. Really. Some I could guess from what they suggest. Others come across as opaque and puzzling.

Every generation has slang words and verbal shortcuts. After reviewing several definitions of  slang, I put together this definition: Usually spoken language used by a particular group, often in an irreverent manner. Using metaphors, it is often targeting respectability and older values. It can possess characteristics that are irreverent, flippant, obscene, and shocking.

People use slang as code within their group, be it by generation, choice, or shared experiences.

The beatnik generation before mine, used crib and pad for living quarters. Cool has staying power, but burning rubber is out. Shotgun has endured to designate the passenger seat in a vehicle. From the '60s and '70s, far out, beat feet, and groovy seem to have died off. Bogart is still used, and don't be a chump gets the message across.

Remember the bomb? My bad, booyah, hella, oh snap, and whatever are cringe worthy.  When my sons were in grade school I could always annoy them whenever I used their slang in that knowing, wink-wink manner, as if I were hip.

A few years ago I started hearing sick as a way to express intense approval. That's a good one. I like punchy slang words that can express agreement, shock, joy or disgust immediately. Simp and cringey seem weak. Also not a fan of OK Boomer. Keep in mind that I don't do Facebook, Reddit, Tweets, X, or other social media. I do use Instagram to post pictures and images of my abstract art and to link to this blog.

Back to my nephew. He informs me that Gen Z is cruising down Slang Street at full speed, and that he's helping me catch up with the times. Here are my favorites from his list.

Cap/Capping = Lying or exaggerating.  Lit = Exciting or awesome. Glow Up = Positive transformation.  Tea = Gossip or the latest news.  YOLO = You Only Live Once. Gucci = OK.        Flex = Showing off in a boastful manner. Vibe Check = Assessing the mood.

Watch Your Tongue
by Mark Abley, 2018

Both of these books are available through the Sno-Isle Regional Library.  Mike Diamanti

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

A History of Reading by Steven Roger Fischer, 2019 revised edition

In an A.O. Scott essay about reading, published in the N.Y. Times Book Review section on June 21st, 2023, Mr. Scott mentioned Mr. Fischer’s book: A History of Reading. I ordered the book from Sno-Isle Interlibrary Loan service. Mr. Fischer is a New Zealand linguist and former Director of the Institute of Polynesian Languages and Literatures in Auckland, New Zealand.

In his Introduction the author says: “What music is to the spirit, reading is to the mind. Reading challenges, empowers, bewitches, enriches.” In seven well-documented chapters, Mr. Fischer starts with Egypt and runs us up to present time. He tells us that writing prioritizes sound, and reading prioritizes meaning. And a key point to remember – for most of written history, reading was reciting. If scribes bore false witness, they were killed.

Reading represents freedom to me; the freedom to absorb anything and the freedom to think about whatever has been read. No one should be dictating what you can read, right? But some have raised the issue about what is appropriate reading material for those under a certain age. As a parent, I understand their concern. Some parents want the libraries to withhold or move material they feel is inappropriate for children. But I don’t like their approach. It’s confrontational and draws a line in the sand. And they get to decide for us.

Many of us expect parents to make suggestions and guide their children when it comes to choosing material. Some parents take no responsibility for kids’ choices. Schools may provide suggestions for age-appropriate reading lists. But when you expect school boards to arbitrarily censor books, you are putting the responsibility for choosing or discarding material in the hands of citizen-driven pressure groups. Where is the freedom in that?

  In Mr. Scott’s essay he says that: “Reading liberates and torments us, enlightens and       bewilders us, makes and unmakes our social and solitary selves.”

Most of us are nodding our heads in agreement. That book that looked so promising on the shelf, ended up sparking feelings of disgust, anger, or maybe horror. Some books chime within us and spark feelings that we can scarcely understand. Scott makes the case that: “Reading, like democracy or sexual desire, is an unmanageable, inherently destabilizing force in human life.” Reading holds risk as well as promise. Reading gives us a connection with another person and their imagination and opinions. The only price we pay is our time. And yes, a risk is involved, but taking a risk implies the freedom to do so. That is the crucial element: free to choose for ourselves.

Mr. Fischer makes the same argument. “A reader can choose to understand, react to, and interpret the author’s work however the reader wants….No text, not even the most fundamental religious, dictates to a reader. It is the reader who chooses how to react, what to think. The wonder in reading is that the writer is never in control. It is the reader who plays God.”

We choose to believe, cast aside, denounce or embrace the material we read. There’s freedom of speech, freedom of the press and there’s freedom of the mind. 

(Steven Roger Fischer also wrote: A History of Writing in 2021. Also available via the Sno-Isle Library system using the Inter-Library Loan portal.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2023


Poverty, By America, by Matthew Desmond, Random House, 2023.

Mr. Desmond, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, won a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier 2016 book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. It tells the stories of eight families who, in some cases, had to spend 70% of their income for rent. And because women are paid less than men and are often raising children, they pay a greater emotional price.

Mr. Desmond grew up pretty poor, in a small railroad town in Arizona, and after his family’s home was lost to foreclosure, Poverty stressed and diminished them. He wondered: is this how families dealt with hard times? Why should there be so much hardship and desperation in this land of money?

Of his time later living in Milwaukee, Mr. Desmond says, “I saw a level of poverty that was incredibly cruel, and painful, and it drilled home in me that this is a morally urgent issue; this isn’t just about people having enough money – this is about pain, on top of eviction, on top of hunger, on top of incarceration, on top of, just, death, really…”  (C-Span “After Words” March 29th, 2023).

Why is there so much poverty in this incredibly wealthy nation? This question drove him to write his book. And he also said: “This book is about how some lives are made small, so that others may grow…There is an incredible amount of unnecessary scarcity in this land of abundance…(and) this book is about why and how we can finally abolish it. This is a call to rebalance our safety net. I want a country that does a lot more to fight poverty than it does to guard fortunes.”

Mr. Desmond cites a study that says: “…if the top 1% just paid the taxes they owed, not pay more taxes, just stop evading taxes, we as a nation could raise an additional 175 billion. That’s more than enough money to re-establish the child tax credit; that’s enough to double our investment in affordable housing and still have money left over.” (Poverty, By America  by Matthew Desmond. April 18th, 2023 interview on “Democracy Now.”)

How do we subsidize the wealthy? One way is the $1.8 trillion per year supplied by tax breaks – which is about double what we spend on the military. Wealthier people get more of these tax breaks from the government, than poor people get. “We could afford [to abolish poverty in America] if the richest among us took less from the government, if we designed a welfare state to do less to subsidize affluence and more to eradicate poverty.”

Another area in which the poor are disadvantaged is in housing. Private equity swooped in after the financial crisis of 2008 and bought up enormous amounts of housing, reducing the overall inventory. Mr. Desmond believes that expanding  opportunities for first time homeowners and working families could ease some of this situation. But banks prefer to lend money for expensive real estate rather than lower cost mortgages. There’s a much larger financial return from financing big ticket homes and commercial projects.

Aid Left on the Table

There are a lot of different kinds of financial aid for the poor, but it is often hard and confusing to get the money. He says they are entitled to it, but in many cases are not told how to apply for it. Mr. Desmond endorses increasing the understanding needed to apply for aid, and cutting the red tape.

“We do a very poor job in connecting families with programs that they need and deserve…Most Americans want a higher minimum wage, most Americans think the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes, most Americans, Democrat and Republican, believe now that poverty isn’t caused by a moral failing – that it’s caused by unfair circumstances.”

Concerns about Basic Needs

His 2023 book, tackles poverty in two sections: “Facts About Poverty in Your State” and “Join the Fight.” Links are provided to learn more about the issues related to poverty in the first section, and lists of organizations, both on a national and state level, that advocate for change are featured in the second. Mr. Desmond is passionate about what he has learned and argues that we may be ignorant of how poverty is allowed to exist in America, but that we can change our awareness and do something concrete.

In his epilogue, Mr. Desmond says that poverty will be abolished in America only when a mass movement stirs. He believes that all of us “…can learn from, support, and join movements led by those who have intimate knowledge of poverty’s many slights and humiliations... mass movements are composed of scores of people finding their own way to pitch in.”

What I hear from Island County residents is this: I have just enough for myself and my family. Movements for change creep along at glacial speed and the folks who might create some change, aren’t compelled to do what we ask for. There’s some societal pressure for change, but there’s no leverage to change. I’m just one person, in a county of 87,000 people.

Mr. Desmond makes the point that: “Profiting from someone else’s pain diminishes all of us.” And at the end of the C-Span interview he says: “I think the book (Poverty, By America) makes the case that an America without poverty makes for a freer America, a safer America, a happier America, and it’s an America that’s committed to each other’s flourishing.”

Those who live too close to disaster’s edge usually don’t have much hope. Their constant focus is a four-sided box of not enough work, shelter, food, and a running car. Add the stress of providing for children, and you have people who feel trapped and desperate. Social change holds out the hope that we are moving closer to having enough –- enough safety and security and enough satisfaction through a shared community of relatives, friends, and neighbors.

Next books I will be reviewing: Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in A Divided Nation by John Freeman, and Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis by Beth Macy. Will also be covering: A History of Reading.               

Mike Diamanti

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Some Suggested Reading for “Concerns”

I received hardly any suggestions for issues to tackle in this blog, so I decided to run out a list of books that hit the topics I hear in conversations during my daily rounds. All books listed are available through the Sno-Isle system.


Best recent book for this volatile issue is: Homelessness is a Housing Problem: How Structural Factors Explain U.S. Patterns, 2022. The authors, Gregg Colburn and Clayton Page Aldern, combine their talents to shed light on the housing market conditions, which they consider an overlooked consideration when tackling homelessness issues. Their position is that mental health and drugs often get the spotlight, while housing availability can be overlooked. Both work in the Seattle area.

They believe that public perception, funding, and placing the problem within a broader societal context are the most important concerns that will help. They say: “…approaches that work have not been sufficiently scaled to the magnitude of the crisis.” And they mention that, on the West Coast, there is strong pressure to demonstrate progress because residents are getting increasingly frustrated.

They cite the example of the concerted effort to reduce homelessness among veterans. Since 2009, the number of homeless veterans has dropped by 50 per cent. Civilians receive far less attention and support during policymaking periods. And at a federal level there has been more money to address the veteran homeless issues.

They finish their book by stating: “Access to housing – independent of one’s ability to pay – is the bedrock of these policy successes. From the veteran’s example, we know that investments in housing, rental subsidies, and systems thinking can substantially reduce the population of people experiencing homelessness…People design cities and structure markets. They can also choose to change them.”

Island County has a robust Housing Assistance menu of services as well as the Veterans Assistance help. Here are the links:


Wednesday, May 3, 2023

An Open Question          May 3rd, 2023

One of the noun definitions for concern is: a matter that engages a person’s attention, interest or care, or that affects a person’s welfare or happiness.

What are your concerns? What can you do about them?

A month ago I picked up a book: How To Read Non-fiction Like a Writer, by Thomas C. Foster, 2020. I read lots of non-fiction: history, memoir, eyewitness accounts, essays and satire. And because I feel the constant urge to write, I figured this would be a good read. It was and it is.

Mr. Foster sums up the problem by telling us that what we need when we read non-fiction is to think better. And we can think better by asking good questions.  Then he encourages us to act like an editor. It’s up to us to filter out baloney, misdirection and straight up lies. He further refines it: …interrogate the text, asking that series of questions about appropriateness and accuracy and logic that must be asked. (p. 249)

I simply ask: Does this make sense (to you, to me)? What type of writing am I reading? What is the source of the statement or claim? Is there a bias in play, the author’s or my own? What are the credentials of the writer? Why did she or he write the piece? Who do I think the piece was written for?  

Having spent almost a month casting about for the next person or organization to interview or highlight, I can’t choose the next subject. Whidbey Island has a large number of organizations, public and private that address not only problems, but needs. The everyday problems I read about and that society grapples with often seem too complex, too interwoven and unsolvable in the sense that no one agrees on even minimal steps to address the solutions. Compromise used to work as a method to reach a solution. Now it’s a dirty word.

A couple I know are seriously considering the best place to live outside of the United States. They want to live where children are not gunned down in their schools. Others recite the latest horrors they have seen on the news, ending with a shake of the head, hands thrown in the air. And yet we go on.

The things I hear Island County residents complain about include: crime, drugs, the police, the homeless, hunger, no affordable housing, politics, fringe groups, too many visitors and the ferry system.

Very few express any kind of satisfaction with the condition of the world. But they also say that we are so lucky to live on Whidbey Island. They cite the natural beauty, small town atmosphere, it’s a good place to raise kids, and friendliness. Everywhere else is awful, but Island County shines.

Author David Brooks believes that Americans are faced with a clear choice going forward. He says: …we’re in the middle of a moral struggle over who we are as a nation.  What are the two choices? Brooks says that one view is that we live in a dog-eat-dog world…that might makes right. The opposite of this is a belief in human dignity and that each of us matters. Cooperation rather than isolation.

Yes, we live in a polarized country. Changing someone’s mind is usually not possible. The point is to work together on what we agree is important and worthy of our energy. What is important to you, what matters to you, as a resident of Island County?

Mike Diamanti  

Please send me your suggestions for additional “Island County Concerns” topics and subject matter via email: