education, grammar, history, humor, language, philosophy, politics

Writing Well – Part 2

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Babies, Names, and Snobs

Here are links to all posts in this project of reviewing and supplementing the splendid book

The Lexicographer’s Dilemma by Jack Lynch.

  1. Introduction
    What does the rise of “proper” English have in common with a physics conundrum about gravity?
  2. Babies, Names, and Snobs
    We name words by wrapping them in square brackets to avoid overloading more common conventions.
  3. Descriptivism, Prescriptivism, and ????
    We add a new ISM to the familiar duo of attitudes toward English language usage: readabilism.
  4. Why is English Spelling Such a Mess?
    An insight into the difficulty of spelling reform has wide-ranging significance, far beyond spelling.
  5. Ambiguity Sucks!
    Ambiguity is almost always at least a little harmful to clear communication. It can be disastrous.
  6. What is the Point of Punctuation?
    Careful punctuation helps avoid unwanted ambiguity.
  7. Yogi Berra’s Paradox
    Sometimes bad English is good English that’s good because it’s bad.
  8. Blood & Gold End This Series
    Apart from a concern about the examples on 2 late pages in the book, I could applaud those pages until my hands bleed.

Sorry, but we need a short digression on ways to name a word so we can talk about it.  Some details here will also contribute later to the overall project.

Failure to distinguish using a word from talking about it can lead to confusion, as in the following dialog:

Mother :         How was school today?
Small Child :  Fun.  Teacher showed us how to make babies.
Mother :         What?  WHAT?
Small Child :  Drop the Y and add IES.

In casual speech, we can insert “the word” in a few places.  That is clunky in extended writing.  There are 2 common ways to do the job in writing: quote marks and italics.  Using quote marks works well in short documents, but it can be confusing in longer ones that also use quote marks for actual quotations and/or for sarcasm, as in

After an ad blitz from the National Rifle Association rescued his failing campaign, Senator Schmaltz “bravely” defended the right of crazy people to buy assault weapons.

Maybe we should follow Lynch and use the convention popular among those who are most fastidious about the difference between using a word and discussing it: those who often call it the “use/mention distinction” and put words being mentioned (rather than used) in italics.  I do not mind doing w/o italics for emphasis because I prefer bold anyway, but italics are also used for titles and for foreign words temporarily imported into English.  I want those uses, and I found that Lynch’s use of italics for multiple purposes in quick succession invited confusion.

There is a simple way to give any word or phrase a name that works well here and in many other contexts, tho not universally.  Wrap it in square brackets (or curly braces).  Choose the wrapper U never (well, hardly ever) use for some other purpose in the current document and run with it.  If both wrappers are OK, use square brackets and give the Shift key a rest.

Now I can avoid confusion, even if I want to be emphatic, be sarcastic, and mention words (marking some as foreign), all in the same sentence:

Some snobs flaunt their “education” by saying [Weltanshauung] when [worldview] is all they need.

While not so disgusting as Senator Schmaltz, the flaunting snobs are enemies of clarity.  An enemy of my friend is my enemy too, and clarity is both a very dear friend and a concept crucial to amicable resolution of some of the tensions that Lynch explores so ably.  So I want to be especially clear and hope U will forgive the digression into metametalanguage.  Will put a quick reminder of the square brackets convention early in each subsequent post.  The next one will get down to business.

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humor, politics

Boycott Blues

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Why am I glad that 2017 is the Year of the Rooster in the East Asian Lunar Calendar?  Because I quickly found an image of a smirking rooster for this post.  Thank U, Ariadna Ada Sysoeva/Shutterstock.com.  Why did I want such an image?  Read on, if U dare.arrogant-smirking-rooster

Despite not owning a gun, I sometimes shoot myself in the foot.  It is a common tendency among progressives.  Case in point: boycotting retailers like Walmart and Amazon that carry Trump-branded products w/o pushing them, not just boycotting the products themselves and those who push them.  We continue with appropriate made-up names.

Consider a retailer, say Walazon, that carries several lines of women’s fashions, including IvankyPanky and Togs-4-Progs.  The former is Trump-branded.  The latter makes good stuff in union shops and donates 5% of operating profits to worthy causes.

Furious at Donald Trump’s travesty of a presidency, progressives want to hit him and his where it hurts.  Some of us decide to boycott Walazon until they stop selling IvankyPanky clothes.  It is more likely that we will hit us and ours.

Here’s why.

Suppose progressive women stop buying from Walazon.  Kellyanne Conway and her ilk still buy IvankyPanky clothes (often from Walazon), while Walazon’s Togs-4-Progs sales dwindle.  The computers and people who do data analytics at Walazon are interested in sales (not politics), at least during working hours.  They notice that IvankyPanky is selling much better than Togs-4-Progs.  Guess which brand gets the ax when management decides that Walazon is spread too thin.

On the other hand, suppose progressive women who like Togs-4-Progs continue to shop at Walazon, despite its willingness to sell IvankyPanky clothes to those benighted enough to buy them.  Togs-4-Progs comes out with an edgy collection of T-shirts that display the words

TRUMP SUCKS
PUTIN’S

(in various fonts and trendy colors) over a picture of an arrogant smirking rooster.  The shirts sell like ice cream in July.  The computers and people who do data analytics at Walazon notice that Togs-4-Progs is selling much better than IvankyPanky, despite Kellyanne Conway blasting thru her credit limit.  Guess which brand gets the ax when management decides that Walazon is spread too thin.

Want to make capitalist economies work more humanely?  It might help to pay more attention to how they work, period.

humor, politics

Valentine for DT

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I hope that nobody will object to my poetry in the style of greeting card doggerel.  Trump does not deserve better anyway.

devil-heart

Valentine for DT

U will swindle the workers and sully the skies.
U will suck up to Putin and tweet vicious lies.
Some states are red and some states are blue.
For some years of Hell they are all stuck with U.
(reblog), humor, politics

Hit Him Where It Hurts

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Tho worthwhile, fact checking and well-deserved ridicule were not enough to keep Trump out of the White House.  I doubt that the current vogue for demonstrations and calls for impeachment will accomplish much either . While Trump does deserve to be impeached and convicted, it will not happen unless the 2018 elections flip Congress.  Pence as POTUS would push the same vile agenda anyway, and he might be even more effective by being less abrasive.  Hollering for impeachment is a distraction.

Boycotts might do some real good.  I thank Kurt, both for publicizing the boycott link and for introducing it so humorously.  The sane people will need their sense of humor to stay sane over the long and nasty years ahead.

baseball, enlightenment, humor, philosophy, politics, quote, riff

Riff on a Yogi Berra Quote

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yogi-berra-1

Some of the many humorous quotes (mis)attributed to Yogi Berra are trenchant expressions of genuine wisdom, akin to Zen koans.  (In his Washington Post obituary, the subtitle “American philosopher” is well-chosen.)  One of his gems is so widely applicable and important that it deserves a special name.  It is also so widely quoted that 2 versions are common, as indicated by {|} below:

Yogi Berra’s Law
{The game|It} ain’t over til it’s over.

Yes, the original context was baseball.  With 2 outs in the bottom of the 9-th inning, the home team may be trailing.  Yogi rightly admonishes both the home team (to resist despair) and the visitors (to resist complacency).  A lot can still happen with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9-th inning.  I prefer the shorter version of the law because it is more explicit about the law’s generality.  “It” could be almost anyhthing.

My current context for heeding Yogi Berra’s Law is the imminent inauguration of Donald Trump as POTUS.  At best, this event marks the start of 4 long and nasty years in the US.  At worst, this event might combine with trends elsewhere (in China, Europe, and Russia) to start a new Dark Age.  Considering the worst case is prudent, not alarmist.

Mindless repetition of platitudes like

  • It can’t happen here.
  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • It is always darkest just before the dawn.

is no substitute for the eternal vigilance that Jefferson said is the price of liberty.  (There are other prices.)  I resist the complacency of those platitudes; I also resist despair and continue (in my own small way) to be a citizen rather than just a complainer.

In a late inning in the biggest game of my lifetime, the Enlightenment is trailing.  That sucks.  But 2+3 is still 5 and Yogi Berra’s Law is still true.
(reblog), humor, politics

Xmas in Trumpistan

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Tho 12-25 has come and gone, the traditional 12 days of Xmas run to 01-06.  So it is not too late to post an illustrated topical parody of a classic Xmas carol.  I cannot draw my way out of a paper bag, but Poet Rummager can draw.  She is also a fine creative writer (with an impish and sometimes dark sense of humor) and a fun collaborator.

With more control than just clicking the [Reblog] button would provide, this post is what amounts to a reblog of a recent collaboration.

Originally posted on Slasher Monster:

moneydemons

Hark, the snake oil angels sing!

Russia’s tsar rides on our king.

Bullshit here and beefcake there –

bovine voters everywhere.

Joyful greedheads make stocks rise –

Rust Belt workers fall for lies.

Hark, the snake oil angels sing!

Russia’s tsar rides on our king.

trumppig


Illustrations by Poet Rummager

Poem written by Mellow Curmudgeon

View original

history, humor, politics

After 202+4 Years

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In 1814,

the British Royal Navy bombards the fort guarding Baltimore’s harbor with state-of-the-art artillery.  The attack inspires a mediocre poem that is just barely singable (if U pretend that “yeh-et” is a word) to the tune of a British drinking song.  The Brits eventually get a consolation prize for the failure of the seige of Baltimore, when their song becomes our national anthem (but with lyrics from the poem, not the pubs).

On the morning of Election Day in 2016,

pink-rebel-386x342

I find that the Pink Rebel (a Xmas cactus that blooms when it damn well pleases, and never at Xmas) has a nice blossom.  I take that to be a good omen. Good omens have been in short supply recently, as the pseudoconservative coalition of bigots and plutocrats bombards a wobbly electoral process with state-of-the-art ratcrap, propelled by dark money and deep resentments.  The pseudoconservatives hope for veto-proof majorities in Congress as a consolation prize, if they cannot install a protofascist buffoon as President.

My local polling place is crowded.  The people who run it have finally found an efficient way to arrange all the stuff that must be crammed into a tiny room in the firehouse: a sign-in table, little booths for marking the ballots, and a machine to scan the ballots and keep them secure in case a recount is needed.  I have finally remembered to remove my ballot from the privacy sleeve before feeding it to the scanner.  (It is only in theory that the scanner can grab the ballot by an edge protruding from the sleeve.)  The scanner accepts the naked ballot w/o fuss.  Walking back to my car after an unexpectedly smooth and quick process, I tear up a little.

I have just now experienced an America that is calm and polite and competent.  For how long?

On the morning after Election Day in 2016,

sad-flag-386x527
I rise with the dawn’s early light and go online to see the results for races that were not foregone conclusions.  Mostly vomit-worthy, with a few consolations in the Senate.  The Dems will keep the NV seat that Reid is leaving.  The new Dem for IL is a combat veteran who knows the difference between patriotism and posturing; a seat for NH also flipped.  Maybe filibusters can keep the pseudoconservatives from passing the very worst things on their wishlist.

For at least the next 4 years, I expect that American politics will not be calm and polite and competent.  I hope I am wrong in this prediction, and not wrong merely because of surrender by those who oppose the pseudoconservative agenda.

Remember Mitch McConnell’s declaration (soon after the 2008 election) that preventing a 2nd term for Obama would have his top priority?  I was angered by that commitment to reflexive opposition (regardless of the cost to the nation) to whatever Obama might propose.  So I will try to keep an open mind.  It is conceivable that Trump will surprise everybody (even himself) by growing quickly and well into his awesome new responsibilities.  But not at all likely.

What is likely?  Zombie economics and accelerating climate change will lead to global suffering comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930-s.  Less likely (but still far from being alarmist hype) is the possibility of descent into thinly veiled fascism.

Yes, our traditions of liberal democracy are stronger than those of the Weimar Republic in 1932 and 1933.  The question is not whether our traditions are stronger than Weimar’s but whether they are still strong enough to withstand escalating bombardment from pseudoconservatives who have honed expertise at selective vote suppression.  The land of the free has its share of people with authoritarian personalities and deep resentments, often legitimate but exagerrated or misdirected.  As did Germany in the 1930-s.

The Royal Navy bombardment in 1814 was 202 years ago.  After the imminent 4 years of intensified pseudoconservative bombardment, will our flag be still there?

s-s-b-386x342.jpg
Star-Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian Institution

happy-flag-386x349