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June 19, 2009

Don’t call me ma’am

Glad we got that settled. Because as we all know, brigadier generals sit in front of soap operas eating bon-bons all day to get their titles.

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Billy Atwell

She's speaking to a Brigadier General! As long as he doesn't call her anything incredibly inappropriate she should shut her mouth and listen to him. She was there to learn from him (that's what legislative hearings are for), not make sure she's being bowed to for her tireless effort in boasting her own career.

She is an example of why people despise politicians.


Hugh Hewitt noted something interesting yesterday that you even refer to the Queen of England as "ma'am" when addressing her.

Dennis Babish

The general was simply following proper military protocol.
The senator was simply following her ego.


I've deliberately acquired the habit of addressing all women as "ma'am" and all men as "sir". (It pleases my strange sense of humor to do it to a 16-year-old behind the counter at a fast food restaurant.) Partly I've done it in recognition of the military usage; if they train everyone to do so, it's probably a good idea.

My other reason is admiration for the Southern habit. If you watch the movie "Gods and Generals", you'll see Stonewall Jackson do this even to people whom he'd unhesitatingly kill.

I.e., you call someone "ma'am" or "sir" *in spite of* whether or not they've earned it. (The military has the interesting exception for non-commissioned versus commissioned.) It's a title of intrinsic worth, rather than an honorific.

Of course, if you believe as some do that people have no intrinsic worth (and therefore can be aborted, euthanized, degraded via welfare and otherwise made into "useful idiots" for your agenda) then I suppose a title like "Senator", that pulls you above the plebeians, would become critically important.

So important that you'd need to remind everyone.

Jason Taylor

Officer vs Non-com is a descendant of Medieval times: the officer and the gentleman is simply a knight adapted to gunpowder.

The system has advantages both in discipline and humanity as the non-com is barely above the need to prop up his power like a barbarian chief or an alpha-wolf. Officers are however to dignified to bully directly(they do so in a more subtle manner if inclined)as they represent the majesty of the state. There was one passage in Hornblower where one chief cuffs a wayward sailor. Hornblower notes both that if he handled it himself he would be duty bound to flog his back off. And that he is not big enough to rule by his fists.

It is also a more humane system because the officers concern for their dignity provides a check to the potential brutality of non-coms. By contrast with most systems, in the Roman army the centurions had all been legionaries and there were no "officers and gentlemen" until one gets to the level of the millitary tribunes. There was one noted centurion who was called "give me another" because he always said that when he broke his swagger-stick on a legionaries back. I never heard how he died but I suspect it wasn't the barbarians: "Darn, I never did learn to throw my pilum properly."

In anycase "sirring" is a reflection of the old warrior-caste system. It comes from the idea in many cultures of having a trancendental as well as instrumental significance to authority. Other aspects of the officer class like swords(often used for whacking cowards with in Wellington's day), epaulettes(during the war the Red Army actually made gold lace a priority item; the justification being the attempt to reinforce discipline with a bit of old-fashionedness). And so on.

As far as this event goes it may have been a misunderstanding. The officer was as pointed out simply using the habitual term he would have used toward a superior. The Senator is probably more used to being addressed as senator. Also if she is of the aggresively feminist mode, she may think such things as patronizing and interpret "maam" as an equivalent to "boy!"
Her reply reminds me of A Few Good Men though: "Call me Senator, I think I've earned it".

Jason Taylor

Actually Lee, "Sirring" is a Medieval descendant, representing the transformation of knights to officer's and gentlemen.
The separation of officers and non-coms is good for both humanity and discipline. It is good for discipline because the officer represents a faceless machine of state and therefore is to dignified to keep order with personal bullying in the manner a non-com has. Whereas a non-com has just barely escaped the need to defend his authority like an alpha wolf. It is more humane, because officers who are inclined to bully are more subtle and they provide a check to non-coms and a bit of regularity and rationalism.

The "Call me senator, I think I've earned it" thing seems to be a misunderstanding. As Babish pointed out, the general was likly following what he considered the normal protacal. And the senator probably took it as patronizing.

Jason Taylor

M'm. Sorry everyone that repition was unintentional. I didn't think it had posted properly. I really only wanted to do one boring and somewhat tangential lecture on the historical background of "sirring".

Gina Dalfonzo

I thought that might be the case, Jason, but I posted both just in case there were things in one that weren't in the other.

It's best to assume that your comment went through. If it takes a while to publish, it usually just means I've been called away from my computer and will publish it as soon as I get back.


Gina, you actually have a life away from your computer??!? We're stunned, but delighted. :-)

Jason, I'm tempted to ask if the video should have been called "the Boxer rebellion", :-). but I'm sure you can give me exquisite detail on why that wouldn't work.

jason taylor

That would be because the Boxers were a martial-arts fraternity that dedicated themselves to driving foreign influence out of China. China had no Senators. And the Empress was rather ambiguous about the whole thing. So unless Mrs Boxer is a martial-arts expert...

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