Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hold it Down in There!

Over the holidays, The Daily Beast ran a piece entitled "Christmas with My Son with Autism" (why not "with My Autistic Son"?) that was predictably poignant, perhaps a little syrupy and, it must be said, not all that well-written or edited. Case in point:
Now I thought, "How do I undo this damage?" I know, I thought quietly to myself, "I will teach him."
If you're going to put the rest of your thoughts in quotation marks, better include the "I know" as well. And while we're at it, you don't need to include the "to myself" --you can trust us readers to figure out whom you're doing your thinking to. And why are you thinking in a whisper? Worried he might hear you if you think too loudly?

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's A Wonderful Lifetime in Which to be Born

Our traditional Christmas bacchanal once again left us all awash in gifts of wine and books (except for the kids, of course--they got wine and toys). Among Kim's haul was The Book of Negroes.  Despite what you might surmise from the title, it is not John McCain's personal contact list of African-American friends and colleagues, but rather a novel that dramatizes the journey--from down south to up north and on to repatriation in Africa--of a freed slave during the American War of Independence.

Coincidentally, The Vancouver Sun ran a story on the book in this weekend's edition, which includes this quote from the novel's author, Lawrence Hill:
It was such an untold story: the idea that some African people were drawn into slavery in the Americas, and then came to Canada and went back to Africa in the same lifetime in which they were born.
Unless you're Shirley MacLaine, you only get the one lifetime--and pretty much by definition you have to be born into it. That final prepositional  phrase, in other words, is about as necessary--and almost as absurd--as the tasteless novelty pencil sharpener my sister bestowed on me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Luckily, Nobody Noticed He Got the "O" Backwards, Too

Last night I was sitting by the fire with my little boy on my knee, watching the hockey game while leafing through a coffee table book called The Book of Hockey Firsts. Let's face ityou can't get any more Canadian than that without actually pouring maple syrup on a Mountie.

Anyway, as Sam dutifully yelled out "GOALIE!" at every picture of a masked or padded player, we thumbed through the pages, until we alighted on this team snapshot from 1922 of the Toronto St. Pats, the forerunners of today's Maple Leafs.

I admit it. I couldn't help being tickled to discover that the ineptitude of Torontonian pucksters is not confined to today's hapless squad, but extends back generations and includes the gormless (or possibly dyslexic) equipment manager who reversed the occasional "N" on the team jerseys.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Let's Make a Deal

I'm playing the annual waiting game with Maclean's. They send me emails and letters beseeching me to re-up for another year, and I continue to ignore their pleas until we finally reach a point where they make me an offer I can't refuse. We're not close yet in our negotiations.

The latest (but still early) missive arrived today--an urgent PAYMENT DUE "invoice" that offered uninterrupted enjoyment of my subscription for a mere $51.83 (which I believe is about double what I paid last year). But wait, they're sweetening the pot:
As a "thank you" we will also send along a BONUS GIFT when we receive your payment plus a $5 Chapters Indigo gift card. (This offer will not be repeated again.)
First of all, the hysterically all-capped BONUS GIFT is actually a cheapo pocket calculator identical to the one I received last year--the one my young daughter uses as a pretend cell phone. I don't need another. I am also more than a little affronted that, in order to receive this "gift," I must submit not only an inflated payment, but also a bookstore gift card. Get your own damn gift cards, Maclean's! And I certainly don't appreciate the final Godfather-ish threat that this is a final offer.

Now, if they had said that they would "send along a BONUS GIFT plus a $5 Chapters Indigo gift card" in exchange for my payment, we might be closer to an agreement. But not much. I'm still holding out for some invisible ink and a pair of x-ray glasses.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Look Back in Anger...or at Least Mild Irritation

The TV section in my Vancouver Sun tells me that if I whistle up CNN I can expect to see "a retrospective look back" at some of Larry King's more compelling interviews. There is a glaring redundancy there (some would also suggest that "Larry King" and "compelling" don't belong in the same sentence, but we'll leave that aside for now), and such redundancies always remind me of this exchange from A Few Good Men:
Q: Did you give Markinson an order?
A: I ordered him to have Santiago transfered immediately.
Q: Why?
A: His life might be in danger.
Q: Grave danger?
A: Is there another kind?
Is there another kind of "look back" that isn't retrospective?

On a similar note, yet another year-end special issue of Maclean's arrived today, this time a super-sized "Year in Pictures" edition, which is fronted by an editor's note reminding us that "December is also a time for reflecting back on the year past." Since one can hardly reflect ahead, that sentence would have more spine if its back were removed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

And Soon They'll be Open 8 Days a Week

My goodness, is it already 25 o'clock? I've got to be up at half past 32!

Hat-tip to Karen @ kapercreative for the pic!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It is to Weep

John Boehner's Crying: Is He Drinking Too Much? That's the provocative leading question that serves as the title of Matt Lewis's column today on the Politics Daily website. The piece spends several hundred scattershot words probing the lachrymose tendencies of His Orangeness, the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, before arriving at the answer: Maybe. Or maybe not. But probably not.

Before we get to that "definitive" conclusion, however, we get plenty of juicy supposition, speculation, and even self-incriminating testimony such as this:
When President Obama mentioned that he ran into Rep. Boehner at a holiday party last year drinking eggnog, Boehner responded, "I was drinking wine." And when recently asked about attending a "Slurpee summit with the president," Boehner quipped, "How about a glass of merlot?"
Merlot is the name of a wine-producing grape (unfairly maligned in a memorable scene in the memorable film Sideways) and it is usually capitalized. Interestingly, it is also the custom to capitalize "Speaker of the House"--and even just "Speaker"--even though "senator" traditionally is only given the capital treatment when it precedes a name, and "president of the United States" is still the subject of vigorous "to capitalize or not to capitalize" debate.

By the way, as it happens, I have some firsthand experience regarding the relationship between drinking wine and crying. Just this morning, my doctor advised me that my efforts at moderation have paid off, as it appears the activity of my liver enzymes has returned to acceptable levels, and I won't need any further testing for several months--which I took as a green light to lubricate my way through the upcoming holiday season. I was so grateful on hearing the news, I wept.

*  *  *
For more on "the Weeper of the House" and clips of crying men in movies, there is this timely summary from The Atlantic. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's Unaccpectable

I went to my favorite lunch place again today and noticed a new sign, squeaked out with a Sharpie and scotch-taped to the side of the cash register:
$100 BILL
Obviously, this is a simple typo. What they mean to say, I'm sure, is, "WE DO NOT EXPECT  $100 BILL." Because, really, in this economy, who's buying a cheap takeout lunch with a C-Note?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Give Me a Brake

I know a guy. Or, more accurately, I know that if I ever need something done on the cheap and nasty--auto repair, paint job, body dismembering--I know that my brother will know a guy. So when the brakes on the privately-owned automobile began making plaintive, teeth-rattling grinding noises, I put in a call to Mark. Surely any brake-and-wheel franchisee would do the job for a decent price, no?

Biggest rip-off in the car repair business, he says, and he puts me in touch with a retired mechanic who sells all makes of brake pads on Craigslist. Within hours, Bill* is at our door with a set of "premium" pads at a fraction of retail cost:

I don't want my brake rotors getting cancer, so of course I insist on brake pads that are free of asbestos. The thing is, I prefer that these pads be described as asbestos-free. Perhaps I'm being a hyper-hyphenator, but I don't think there should be much argument when it comes to compound modifiers (see "high-efficiency" on the same package): a hyphen is what makes a compound one in its adjectiveness. Some will argue that it depends where the compound is deployed ("a well-read scholar" vs. "a scholar who is well read," to borrow an example from Bill Walsh), but many more will argue that any time you're using a compound ending in free (sugar-free, tax-free) the final component is more suffix than word and always requires a hyphen.

But to get back to the pads. What does a fellow like me, who spent the better part of an evening trying to get the hood open on his vehicle to find out how big the engine is (for some reason, Bill needed to know) do with a set of non-cancer-causing brake pads? Luckily, Mark knows a guy who runs a shop in my neighborhood-- a swarthy man of indeterminate ethnicity and loose ethics--who was willing to install said pads for a reasonable forty bucks, provided I crossed his greasy palm with cash and didn't ask for any verifying paperwork. Which made the whole transaction satisfyingly tax-free (with a hyphen) for both of us.

Shady? Yes, I suppose. But if I get busted on it, I'm confident I can get sharp, aggressive legal representation at a good price. Mark knows a guy.

* Not his real name. His real name is John.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

'Tis the Season...

...for magazines to pump out those year-end wrap-up editions that I so love to waste time with over the holidays. I wouldn't want to go into 2011 without indulging in some instant nostalgia about the best books and movies of aught-ten, let alone without reflecting once more on who was hot and who was not.

The first of the bunch, MacLean's "NEWSMAKERS 2010"* special issue was stuffed into my mailbox this week, apparently by a rabid beaver, judging from its mangled condition (please, Mr. Postman, a little care and respect), and inside was a photo-and-caption spread with the uninspired title, Infamous Rogues' Gallery. First up:
He spared nothing in a series of secretly recorded aural assaults aimed at his girlfriend...So far, Hollywood is refusing to forgive. Even his cameo in The Hangover remake--however pathetic a shot at redemption--was axed after a revolt by the film's cast.
First of all, technically it should be "the The Hangover remake". Except it shouldn't, really, because that would sound ridiculous; any sane person (that is to say, just about anyone this side of Mel Gibson) would say "the remake of The Hangover" to avoid that bit of awkwardness. But it would still be wrong, because the movie that is now being filmed (or "lensed" as they say in the trades) is not in fact a remake, but a sequel. Big difference.

*This was one dilly of a pickle: how do you ascribe a possessive to the name of a publication that already possesses a possessive? In other words, if the magazine in question were Newsweek, it would be easy. I could just slap an 's on there--"Newsweek's NEWSMAKERS 2010"--and be done with it. But MacLean's's? I feel unclean even suggesting that. I suppose I could have written around it with "The NEWSMAKERS 2010 special issue of MacLean's," but the solution I decided upon, you'll note, was to ignore the problem, which sometimes (in matters of punctuation, as well as table manners) is the only civilized solution.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Big Deal, Bottom...Glenn Beck Wakes Up as an Ass Every Day

I started reading The Book of William  last night, a charming little book about the creation of--and ongoing marketplace intrigue surrounding--Shakespeare's First Folio. Early on, we find that the Folio's creators had to round up the text of plays from various London printers (who had varying degrees of scrupulous conduct), and in doing so, they discovered that at least three were no longer being printed. The absence of two of those "derelict" plays, King John and Titus Andronicus is perhaps not so surprising, as they remain relatively underwhelming components of the canon today. But...
...the third orphan really is a shocker: A Midsummer's Night Dream. It may be one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed plays now, but it's a mark of the vagaries of theatrical fashion that Puck and Titania couldn't get themselves arrested in the 1620s.
Actually, if you ask me, it's performed too often now. I'll take the angsty poetic whining of Hamlet, the spirited blood-letting of Macbeth, or the deliciously devious plotting of Iago or Richard III over those silly forest fairies any day.

In any case, it seems the apostrophed possessive migrated back one word in that title*. It should read: A Midsummer Night's Dream**.

*While we're on the topic of aprostrophes in Shakespeare titles, here's another trivia tidbit from the book with which to amuse your friends and confound your enemies: The play that goes by the extravagantly-apostrophed title Love's Labour's Lost is thought to have had a companion play, Love's Labour's Wonne, the manuscript of which has been, regrettably and ironically, lost. How sadde.

**There are, of course, a lot of variations on a lot of points in a lot of editions of Elizabethan works, and I did find a reference to a 1598 publication that mentions "a Midsummers night dreame." But that rendering doesn't seem to be at all common (see the original quarto title page, pictured above) and since he's using modern spelling (and an apostrophe), I don't think Collins was intending to go retro. So I'm still going to call it an error.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Making an Impression

I finished reading Sam Harris's latest, The Moral Landscape, the other night, and I can safely say that if you only read one book this year about the canard that science can have nothing to say about matters of morality, this should be it.

I can't say I found a lot of blog-worthy nits to pick in the book--I was too busy trying to wrap my melon around some of the more abstruse material in the end notes--but here's something to chew on: In a passage describing some of the logical fallacies we humans are inclined toward embracing, Harris writes:
Invariance of reasoning, both logical and moral, is a norm to which we all aspire. And when we catch others departing from this norm, whatever the other merits of their thinking, the incoherency of their position suddenly becomes its most impressive characteristic.
Rather an odd use of the word impressive, don't you think? You don't usually think of yourself as being impressed by someone's incoherence. The usage is not wrong, of course--something that is impressive is something that makes a vivid impression, good or bad--but idiomatically speaking, I think we tend to reserve impressive for things that impress us favorably, and that makes the sentence incongruous on first reading.

To belabor the point, I refer to this passage from further on in the book:
It is useful to know that what we think will matter often matters much less than we think. Conversely, things we consider trivial can actually impact our lives greatly. If you have ever been impressed by how often people can rise to the occasion while experiencing great hardship but can fall to pieces over minor inconveniences, you have seen this principle at work.
Again, Harris is not describing behavior that one would be "impressed by" in the conventional sense of the term. But somehow I find the usage less jarring here--perhaps because it is the principle, not the behavior, that is actually impressing us with its profundity.

Finally, from further along on that page:
Rome will find you sitting in cafes, visiting museums and ancient ruins, and drinking an impressive amount of wine.
That's more like it. Speaking as someone who routinely drinks what he likes to think of as "impressive" amounts of wine, I have no doubt that the word is used here in its most apposite way: to denote awe and respect for a challenge well met.

*          *          *

Speaking of impressive...I don't want to brag or anything, but this blog seems to be developing quite the readership. Scarcely a day goes by now that I am not fielding emails like this one, which arrived today from longtime reader, Anonymous:
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What can I say? I am humbled by the devotion and grateful for the kind words. And in case you think this was not an honest, heartfelt expression of appreciation, I will just point out that my correspondent also thoughtfully took the time to include a link to a great deal on penis-enlargement pills.

I have the best readers.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Apparently, God Wasn't Their Co-Pilot

It's the old story: Pilot gets up to use bathroom. Co-pilot tries to adjust seat. Co-pilot accidentally sends plane into a death plunge. Huffington Post has the story, as cribbed from a real news source:

An Air India Express co-pilot on a May 25th flight from Dubai to Pune, India nearly killed the plane's 113 passengers when he tried to move his seat and sent the plane into a 7,000 foot nose-dive, according to ABC News.
The unidentified pilot was trying to adjust his seat forward and pressed a control column forward which sent the plane into a 26-degree nose dive, according to India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
Naturally, the airplane's pilot was in the bathroom and couldn't get into the cockpit because the co-pilot "got in a panic situation." The pilot used a secret code to gain access and pulled the plane out of it's nose dive. Aviation authorities said that the plane would have broken apart if it had continued on that path.
Indian authorities said that the co-pilot, who was 25, had not been trained to handle this type of situation.
You'll note that the author used nose-dive in the first paragraph, and
nose dive in the other two mentions (as it happens, nosedive is also an acceptable variant). But the problem goes beyond a lack of internal consistency: Nose-dive is in fact the verb form, as in: "he sent the plane
nose-diving toward the earth."

Also, "it's nose dive" should be "its nose dive."

Also, I'd like to point out, in the co-pilot's defense, that this is yet another problem caused by tall people. I know because I have done something similar when driving the car after my (relatively) lanky wife has been using it. I try to adjust the seat forward while driving, apply brake, and find my sternum propelled into the steering wheel at just shy of air-bag deployment velocity.

So why am I not wearing a seatbelt to prevent this? Because I have a habit of not buckling up until I reach the end of the block when leaving home.

So why don't I learn from previous experience and adjust the seat when the car is stopped? Look, maybe you should stop asking so many questions and just click your little mouse over there and move along.