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January 2009

nytimes illiteracy #2: false heroines

Rar!Moi First we had vans "back-ending over" curbs. Now we have the Queen averting a train derailment!  All by herself! She's a heroine!

No, she's not. She merely passively avoided the train derailment. She did not actually have any active part in preventing the derailment from happening. And yet, here's the headline and first para of the article:

Retired Cop: Queen Narrowly Averted Train Disaster

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Britain's Queen Elizabeth II narrowly escaped disaster in 1970 when a large wooden log was placed on a railroad track in an apparent attempt to derail her train as she traveled across Australia, a retired detective said Wednesday.

Although the story itself is an AP wire story, it's likely that the headline was written by the Times. What the heck is going on there? Are they hiring illiterate idiots now? "Avert" means to turn aside or prevent, not to avoid or escape. This headline is totally misleading! The Queen is not a heroine, she's just the Queen.

Author Birthdays

LimeyMoi Two important writers birthdays this weekend and I forgot both of 'em until just now: Yesterday was the 127th anniversary of the birth of my favorite woman writer, Virginia Woolf. I've always loved the way she captures thought processes and interior life, and the metaphors she uses to describe it. Here's a little excerpt from my favorite of her books, The Waves to illustrate what I mean. This is Bernard:

". . . I am at liberty now to sink down, deep, into what passes, this omnipresent, general life. . . . I have no ambition. I will let myself be carried on by the general impulse. The surface of my mind slips along like a pale-grey stream reflecting what passes. . . . We insist, it seems on living. Then again, indifference descends. . . . And, what is this moment of time, this particular day in which I have found my self caught? The growl of traffic might be any uproar --- forest trees or the roar of wild beasts. . . . beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence."

This is such a beautifully poetic book, full of breathtaking images like the last one. Now I want to read this again.

And today is the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns' birth, generally celebrated by the consumption of haggis and scotch, playing of bagpipes and the recitation of poetry. And though Burns is best known for his Scottish patriotic sentiments as well as for his poems and songs, and for his drinking and swiving, I think he must have had a bit of a gentle heart, if my my favorite poem of his is any indication (this is from the "official" Burns site, so the links to odd Scottish terms go back to their glossary):

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thought for the day

RadicalMoi"The honest poor can sometimes forget poverty. The honest rich can never forget it."

~G.K. Chesterton, quoted on a site called Class Action, which tackles the consequences of this taboo American division. It seems obvious that former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain has never even entertained even the vague idea of poor people. When even the New York Times is calling bankers on the carpet for their sense of entitlement, you know it's egregious.

[h/t to Will Shetterly for the link.]

ny times illiteracy #1: bad words

Rar!Moi I don't often go on language rants; generally, I like slang, I like neologisms, I like the way language grows and changes. But there's a limit to my tolerance and my limit is reached when the correct usage of existing words is eschewed for sloppy constructions in respected print publications, i.e., violations of Strunk & White's "write tight" dictum. And today's violator is, of all institutions . . . The New York Times.  Writing about a horrific accident in Chinatown, the two reporters covering it, Christine Hauser and Colin Moynihan, describe it this way:

A delivery van rear-ended into a crowd of people, including a group of preschoolers, on a busy commercial street in Chinatown on Thursday morning, killing two children and injuring a dozen other people, the authorities said. . . . The van, a 2000 Ford, was traveling on East Broadway and appeared to make a three-point turn to make a delivery. Suddenly, the van lurched, rear-ending over the curb and careering onto the sidewalk, according to witnesses.

No it fucking didn't. The van did not "rear-end" into a crowd of people; it didn't "rear-end" over the curb. It "backed up." It "reversed." The van did not "rear-end" anybody; it was not "rear-ended." To "rear-end" is to collide with another car's rear end. It does not mean "back up."

How hard is that? Reporting this accident does not require an advanced vocabulary. The phrase "back up" is not complicated or obscure. "Reversed" is a simple word, in every even marginally literate person's vocabulary. No cop would say that van rear-ended anything; it's legally incorrect. The driver lost control of his van while going backwards.

It's probably the teacher in me, a little frazzled from reading about 300 pages of not very good prose over the past week, but I expect far better from professional writers. Using the verb "rear-end" in this way is bad syntax, bad writing, and bad reporting. I know it's breaking news, but why would any journalist even use that phrase in this way? It's not slang, it's not hip or informal, it's just wrong, on multiple levels.

No copy editor would ever allow this into print.  /rant

Update: The article has been slightly revised, using "backed into" in the opening sentence, but not the one about the van. I wonder if that's because of my comment on the site? Hee hee.

it's a beautiful day . . .

DreamingMoiI've always watched politics from a distance, convinced for a very long time that "it does not belong to man even to direct his own steps." Even in that distance though, the historian in me has watched the patterns develop with interest and horror, and the humanist in me has simmered in silent outrage at the amount of injustice in the world. Now, the possibility of God stepping in and not only saving us from ourselves but making us perfect seems far less likely to me, like a fairy tale of the Golden Age. I can thank George Bush for this, and George Orwell for that reconsideration. George B. scared the shit out of me and George O. taught me how to parse the propaganda. I don't think I've ever been as frightened by my own government as I was by the Bush years, and now that he and his cronies have brought us to the brink of collapse and disgrace as a nation by sewing hatred and fear and repression while raping and pillaging their own economic system, I'm deeply relieved to see someone with some vision and human decency at the helm. I'm glad I helped put him there. I'm glad I'm not on the sidelines anymore.

As a consequence, I feel like this is one of those days that everything should have ground to a halt for at least a couple of hours to observe the momentous shifting paradigm, at least in this country. I don't know about anyone else, but I feel like I can breathe again, like it might be possible to read the news and not be embarrassed and horrified and full of rage at the things my tax dollars are doing and at the perfidy of the people whose salaries they're helping to pay. However badly this incoming government fucks up, it won't be anywhere near the disaster for human rights, civil rights, science, the environment, and its own citizens that the outgoing one was. I'm not a nationalist, but I know that I live in one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world, and as a citizen, I'd like to not be ashamed and appalled by what it does on the world stage. You know, "with great power comes great responsibility" and all that. As one of my other friends said on her own blog, Obama's government can't possibly live up to the hype it's generated, but it will still be a far cry better than what we've had, simply by trying to. What a relief to have an intelligent, articulate, compassionate humanist in charge!

And what a pleasure to see somebody who's not white in the job! What a triumph for people of color everywhere in this country. I can't imagine what it must be like to have put up with the kind of shit they've put up with for the entire history of this country to finally see a reflection of themselves in the highest office, leading without rancor. Somewhere, Martin Luther King, Jr., is smiling. I hope this is the first step in learning to play nice with each other in the sandbox, because let's be real: this isn't anything but a beginning. It's not the end of racism just because a black man has been voted into the White House. But I think it's a hopeful indicator of a change in attitude. One of my students sent me (and a bunch of her friends) a text message today that said, "Do you know why there's a chill outside? Because people said it would be a cold day in hell before a black man became president. Bundle up, bitches." The note of glee and triumph was unmistakable. And how can I blame her for gloating? It is, after all, about damn time. 

It's about damn time that people in this country started to live up to the first lines of our Constitution, which, even though it was written in an era where people had slaves, offers a paradigm for equality that we should continue to strive for.  Because if not us, when it's written into the philosophy of our government, then who? And why not us? Why not now? Or as the new President said in his speech today, "because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace." (And isn't his rhetoric beautiful? Was that him or his speechwriter?)

It's about damn time we all start to realize that race, culture, gender, faith, language, or any of the other ways we seem different from one another really don't matter, that those differences are superficial at best, that it's fear that estranges us from one another, not anything real. Fear of the other, fear of something different, and an inability to accept another viewpoint not our own and let it co-exist.

Of all the things Obama said in his speech, this lightens my heart the most:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

And the reason it does is that I know that no one can save us from ourselves but ourselves. So somebody has to get in front and show us how. I think Obama can. I think, if our best instincts are roused by a great leader, that we can save ourselves. Yes we can.

tagged: 6 random things about me

Badgirl Moi Roger over at Many Thngs, drat him, has tagged me with a meme. I'll have to think of some way to get him back. Suggestions welcome.

The Rules
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Rules 1 and 2 complete (see above).

Rule 3 - Six random things about myself:

  1. I used to want to be a writer for Marvel Comics. Or DC. I'm not that fussy. But it would be cool to work on Batman, or Green Arrow, or the X-Men. Or, even better, any of the new generation of female superheroes.
  2. When I was a kid, I took ballet, tap, and gymnastic lessons. I still love dance but I don't do much of it myself anymore. I do go watch it fairly often. I still have a soft spot in my heart for tap dance. And yet . . .
  3. The art of choreography is incomprehensible and amazing to me (see above). I can't imagine how it's done.
  4. I used to draw portraits in pencil and they were actually quite good. I can't draw for crap now. Practice, practice, practice!
  5. I write fanfic under a supersecret alias. No, I'm not telling you.
  6. Like Roger, I want to travel a whole lot more than I can afford to. Someday I'd like to live abroad.

Okay, so there.

And now to spread the misery:

  1. Rob, over at Kennebec Report
  2. Allyson, over at Depth of a Puddle
  3. Terry over at Reluctancy Waltz

Uh, and that's all I can manage, since my other friends are not self-absorbed bloggers, or paranoid that someone might discover their blogs, or only blog about important stuff like, you know, science.

my students, fall '08

TeacherMoi I've been talking about them for a while now, so I thought I'd give you a little glimpse of my fabulous students from our last class last night, where they turned in their papers, wrote up evaluations (which I don't see until after grading), and made a list for me of books I should read and movies I should see. They also said some of the nicest things to me, and not just brown-nosing. I had some of the best discussion about literature I've ever had in a class I was teaching with these people. It was so much fun showing them how to unfold a story and then watch them do it for themselves in ways I hadn't thought of. It's an old cliche, but I think I learned as much from them as they learned from me. It's one of the best classes I've ever taught. Here they are (or some of them, anyway):

Modes2008 (L-R rear)Shani, Karen, Tyrell, April (in stripes, Berecia, William, (L-R front)
Paulette (peeking out), Maria, Spechell, Sheryl, and Mary (in pink hat). A couple more were off in the computer lab finishing up their papers while the rest of us ate pizza and fried chicken and salad and had a party. There was the usual number of last-minute catastrophes (dead computers, files that wouldn't open, lack of printers, stuck in traffic or at work), but pretty much everyone got their stuff in and most of the ones who didn't, I was happy to give incompletes to. Why waste all that effort? I'm also proud to say that all but four of my class of 27 passed their crucial essay test. They all worked really hard, and they were challenging, too, which I love. Hope my next class lives up to this one. It's a hard act to follow.

praised with faint damns

PirateMoi I can't even do Pirates right. Captain Jack Sparrow would be so ashamed.

My pirate name is:
Iron Anne Kidd
A pirate's life isn't easy; it takes a tough person. That's okay with you, though, since you a tough person. Even though you're not always the traditional swaggering gallant, your steadiness and planning make you a fine, reliable pirate. Arr!
Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
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thought for the day

BadGirl Moi @work 'With a very few exceptions the world of jobs is characterized by stifling boredom, grinding tedium, poverty, petty jealousies, sexual harassment, loneliness, deranged co-workers, bullying bosses, seething resentment, illness, exploitation, stress, helplessness, hellish commutes, humiliation, depression, appalling ethics, physical fatigue and mental exhaustion.'' 
-Tom Hodgkinson, The Idler

be kind

Going to Church Moi Great review article in The Guardian today about a book called On Kindness by Adam Philips & Barbara Taylor (only available in the UK). The gist of the review is that we, as a society, are suspicious of kindness and see it as a form of selfishness or weakness, in part because we've been taught we are all in fierce competition with each other for survival. Here's a good example: I was catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in a while over New Year's and was telling her that I'd been helping my friend Helen (whom I've known longer than the friend I was talking to) get her new pied-a-terre set up over here. It's been over a year-long process, from the house-hunt to the final move in and Helen, who has a nice house in London and a very successful business, stayed with me several times along the way. We've gone shopping together, I've picked things up for her, met with realtors, and basically shared everything I've gleaned about living in New York for the past 20 years. As I was describing this, my friend kept asking me "what's in it for you?" over and over, until I felt like I was justifying my actions.

While it's true that Helen could probably throw me some freelance work now and then, and she's already invited me to stay with her next time I'm in London, the truth is that I've been helping her out (a) because she's a friend, (b) because someone else (Laurie) helped me out when I first moved here, and (c) because I like helping people. There: I said it. Yes, I do like helping people. It's one of the reasons I teach. The best moments in the classroom are those

Continue reading "be kind" »

thought for the day

Badgirl Moi I thought maybe I'd start sharing some of my favorite quotations. I've amassed quite a few and what's the point if I don't share them? So probably once a week or so, I'll drop one of these in here. I'm sort of working my way backwards on the list, as this is one of the most recent ones, which I've taken from Neal Stephenson's most recent novel Anathem, strangely appropriate to the present economy:

Fraa Erasmus (a cosmologist): "I always tend to assume there's an infinite amount of money out there."

"There might as well be," [Fraa] Arsibalt said, "but most of it gets spent on pornography, sugar water, and bombs."


First meme of the year

Teadoll A
Available: For what?
Age: 48.5
Animal: cats (don't have any right now, but plotting them)
Birthday/Birthplace: 15 June/West Point, NY. Yes, the military academy.
Best Friends: Too many to name individually, bu the oldest ones are Mel and Paul
Best feeling in the world: Afterglow
Best weather: cool & sunny
Been in Love: Yep.
Been on stage?: Yep. Still do readings too.
Believe in yourself?: Most of the time.
Believe in life on other planets: How could there not be?
Believe in miracles: No. Statistical anomalies, yes.
Believe in Magic:  in the non-miraculous sense, yes.
Believe in God: Not per se. But I believe in the numinous.
Believe in Santa: Never. My folks never lied to me that way.
Believe in Ghosts/spirits: See "magic" and "God," above.

Car: don't own one. Use mass transit!
Color: blues and purples; basically anything bright.
Cried in school: Just over my homework.
Chocolate/Vanilla: equal opportunity sweet lover.
Chinese/Mexican: Anything not 1950's American "cuisine"
Cake or pie: cake

Continue reading "First meme of the year" »