- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

Legally registered

We’d written this week about outrage in several quarters over the Senate Democratic leadership’s failure thus far to allow a vote on the nomination of labor lawyer Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to be the Labor Department’s solicitor general.

President Bush nominated the highly qualified Mr. Scalia more than eight months ago, on April 30, 2001, yet no confirmation vote has been scheduled. Beside Republicans, more than 300 Italian-American groups are preparing for battle over the stalled nomination.

In a new development, Washington-area lawyer Jon S. Nicholas informed “Inside the Beltway” yesterday: “I just received my copy of the Legal Register for this year, and was pleased to see that Eugene Scalia is listed as the Solicitor for the Labor Department at page 68. Does the Legal Register have the inside scoop about a recess appointment? Let’s hope so.”

D.C. buncombe

“I trust that others will have a more complete story on the background of the use of the term buncombe,” writes Ron Kurtz of Spring, Texas, who’d read our short item yesterday about the North Carolina birthplace of the word “buncombe.”

“But as I remember reading about it (something H.L. Mencken wrote, I believe), it arose from a recurring phrase used by a state legislator who represented Buncombe County in the North Carolina legislature.

“Apparently,” says Mr. Kurtz, “he would invariably precede his soliloquies on the floor of the legislative chamber by remarking, ‘Speaking for the people of Buncombe,’ or words to that effect. Of course, he rarely had any interest in his constituents’ needs, only his own. Hence, the use of the term as a way of describing a scam or a ruse.”

Or perhaps meaningless talk, Mr. Kurtz. We also heard yesterday from a North Carolina authority, Dr. Frank Craig, a medical doctor born and raised in Buncombe County, who has since fled (our word, not his) to the adjacent county. The good doctor informs us:

“John Parris, then of the local newspaper, described some years ago the connection of the derisive term buncombe to the county; his column on the matter must have been back in the 1970s. A congressman from the area stood up at the end of a long and vexing day of debate to make a protracted and mind-numbing speech that added precisely nothing to the issues being debated, frustrating both sides of the debate equally.

“As the gentleman left the scene of the crime after finally shutting up, he was asked why in the world he had made such a useless speech. He replied, ‘I was just speaking for Buncombe,’ and speaking for ‘buncombe,’ or speaking ‘buncombe,’ or ‘bunkum,’ entered the vernacular as regards extraneous utterances. This apparently occurred prior to World War I, as I have noted use of the term bunkum from about that era; it may even have been in the late 1800s.

“Fortunately, we are much better represented now, though I note the Beltway crowd got very incensed when our congressman [Rep. Charles Taylor, North Carolina Republican] chaired the D.C. Appropriations subcommittee and was holding the city administration’s feet to the fire about malfeasance there. His stance was certainly popular here, and won him a lot of brownie points with the voters.”


An overflowing mailbag this week, much of it postmarked in President Bush’s home state of Texas, a proud state we obviously overlooked when writing one of yesterday’s headlines, “Only in California.”

“No, sir, not only in California,” corrects L. Lane of Humble, Texas, who’d read our item about California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps securing $50,000 in federal money to fund a tattoo-removal program in her district, because as the congresswoman says: “People with visible, inappropriate tattoos often encounter negative attitudes, stereotyping and discrimination, resulting in unemployment, underemployment, or the inability to move forward in their careers.”

“In Houston,” reveals Mr. Lane, “tax dollars are skimmed from the Parks & Recreation budget to provide the same ‘personal-image repair programs’ (a k a tattoo removal) you describe.”

Finally, regarding the item about our holiday reception invitation from Attorney General John Ashcroft, which took exactly two months to arrive in our mail slot, Robert Fike, the federal affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform, reveals that Rick Merritt sent him a Christmas card, postmarked Dec. 18.

“When did I receive it?” Mr. Fike says. “Today, 9 January.”

Wouldn’t you know, Mr. Merritt works for the U.S. Postal Service watchdog organization Postal Watch.

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