The world is now down two great thinkers and, let's face it folks, there weren't that many to start with.
Tim Russert and George Carlin present an interesting study in contrasts. Russert got us thinking by learning his subject's points of view and then taking the opposite position with a flow that was totally natural. He could move seamlessly from right to left and visit everywhere in between, all with an unassuming enthusiasm that often belied his questions' underlying toughness.
George Carlin never varied his position for the situation. Liberal anger and combative nonconformity were the swords he handled deftly. Mercilessly, too. No attitude or institution was safe. I didn't always agree with what he had to say - part of me wants to say I rarely did - and he frequently made me very uncomfortable and wanting to speak back to the television or radio. And I am grateful for that. I can't think of a single case in which he changed my mind about something, but he had a genius for making you push your emotions through the filter of your intellect, the way an espresso machine forces water through the coffee under pressure and you end up with something richer and stronger. When George Carlin got on a roll you had no choice but to gel and verbalize ideas you were satisfied with only feeling instinctively before that. It was no longer enough to figure out what you thought; out of self-defense you were driven to figuring out why you thought it. He recognized the irony of instant information becoming a superficial cover-up for an epidemic of unexamined lives, and he would have none of it.
A few years back, when Richard Pryor, another seminal comedian, passed away, some pious friends expressed mild outrage that such a fuss was being made over this comedian known for using crude language. I tried explaining that, well, there was content in between the salty expressions, but was rebuffed with some out-of-context biblical quote about "the word." Regular readers know matters of faith are important to me. That said, I am firm in my belief that you should run, and fast, from people who use expressions like "the word" with a self-satisfied, hands-folded piety that oozes the very divisiveness and hatred they say they're railing against from high atop their sanctimonious pedestals. (Not that I'm bitter about it.) I'd love to hear what they have to say about George Carlin.