Month: May 2014

Lotus Eaters, Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose But…

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The Spelling Bee? The Clippers?

I was originally going to pen a little piece here titled “It Pays to Be a Racist,” referring to Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s incredible stupidity/unluck to be recorded raging against a non-white race and then his incredible sagesse/luck in selling his team for $2 billion and beating the National Basketball Association at its own game.

Ansun Sujoe, 13, of Fort Worth, Texas, left, and Sriram Hathwar, 14, of Painted Post, N.Y., celebrate after being named co-champions of the National Spelling Bee, on Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Oxon Hill, Md.

Not bad to make $2 billion from a $12 million investment 30 years later. It would be like our taking a $12,000 investment to $2 million before we retire on our self-funded 401(k). You think your investments are going to do that? Think again. Time to be racist and get thrown out of the NBA!

Rather than that racist strategy (which will probably work only once in a thousand years), let’s look at tonight’s Spelling Bee, where 7th and 8th graders are smarter than the lot of us.

I mean, I watched the final few rounds, and I could count the words I got right on somewhere between my index and middle finger.

The amazing thing (I guess) is that, for the first time since 1962, there was a tie for winner, and lucky them — they didn’t have to split the pot. They both got the trophy and the $30,000 grand prize.

The word I loved (see my headline title) was lotophagi, Greek for Lotus Eaters (a la Lord Tennyson). Lotophagi in Greek mythology ate the Lotus plant and were consequently overcome with “blissful forgetfulness.”

Ah, ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. Bring on the Lotus, I mean wine.

Bottom line, I couldn’t win any spelling contest with or without lotus eating, or with wine drinking, but I can certainly enjoy the bliss of forgetfulness as I retire each night and awake the next morning with a clean slate.

No, I am not smarter than a 7th grader, or an 8th grader, but I do love my “blissful ignorance.” Hail to the Greeks!

Categories: Grammar Notes

DWYL and Other Legacies of Steve Jobs

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Here, all along I thought I was some kind of unappreciative, uncultured, unhip curmudgeon who, alone in the world, found Apple’s Steve Jobs to be an insufferable bully and phony who built fame and fortune on the backs of others.

Then I met up with Miya Tokumitsu.

Met up with, as in I read her article “In the Name of Love” in Jacobin online, self-dubbed “a magazine of culture and polemic.” (Ah, polemic — I love both the word and the concept!)

Ms. Tokumitsu, who holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania, in her polemic (love it!) takes on both Jobs and the culture of “DWYL” that he helped create.

DWYL, in case you’re as uncultured and uninitiated as I am, stands for “Do What You Love,” as in choose only a profession you’re passionate about. (I actually did — writing — but the profession didn’t always love me back.)

Please read her article to see why she disparages and hates both the concept and rhetorical imperative of DWYL. Meantime, I love how she takes on Steve Jobs (I’ve truncated her writing a bit, so you really need to read her masterful essay in its entirety):

Jobs … cultivated a very specific image of himself as a worker: inspired, casual, passionate — all states agreeable with ideal romantic love. Jobs telegraphed the conflation of his besotted worker-self with his company so effectively that his black turtleneck and blue jeans became metonyms for all of Apple and the labor that maintains it.

But by portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love, Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.

Anyway, you get the idea: I was right. Jobs was a dictator enjoying fame and fortune — and doing what he loved — by breaking the backs of others who had to do the unpassionate jobs (pun intended) of actually doing a day’s work, out of sight, unappreciated and underpaid.

Categories: Grammar Notes

History of ‘Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny’

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Glomar-ExplorerI’ve probably read or heard the phrase “can neither confirm nor deny” umpteen zillion times when someone in government is being asked about a certain painfully obvious secret operation or unwanted development.

The phrase has now been dubbed “a non-denial denial,” an artful dodge when one is caught with one’s pants down. “I can neither confirm nor deny that I’m standing here half-naked” sounds good but doesn’t quite click with the visual reality, kind of like when it’s used by government spokespersons denying clandestine operations that are all over the news.

Anyway, this phrase dates back to 1974 when a vessel named the Glomar Explorer attempted to raise a sunken Soviet submarine in the Atlantic. Actually, not only attempted, but evidently succeeded as it turns out. However, when asked about the operation, the folks in charge said they could “neither confirm nor deny” any such thing was under way.

So the phrase now goes by the moniker of “The Glomar Response.”

You can read the fantastic story behind both the submarine retrieval and the phrase itself on the Radiolab website, in an article titled appropriately “Neither Confirm Nor Deny.”

Categories: Grammar Notes

Putin to the Rescue: Russia Outlaws Foul Language

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If you’re a Russian official and use obscene language, you can be fined $40 under the terms of a new law signed by Vladimir Putin, but if you’re a regular citizen, you can be fined $70. Businesses can be on the hook for up to $1,400 per incident.

According to the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass (whatever happened to Pravda?), the new law “bans the use of obscene language when ensuring the rights of Russian citizens to use the state language and protecting and developing language culture.”

Huh? Unless the original statement means “while” where the translation says “when,” I’m not sure what they’re getting at here.

Anyway, the use of “obscene language” (undefined in the law) in a film will doom it to the underground, as the state won’t grant it a distribution license.

Rock stars, actors and performances of all ilk are to be similarly constrained by the law.

Books, CDs or movie DVDs will have to be distributed in a sealed package with the warning, “Contains obscene language,” or they cannot be otherwise foisted on a populace too tender to hear swear words.

Is this new law a response to the rock group Pussy Riot and its lyric putdown of V. Putin?

Anyway, Russia — with or without the Ukraine — sure sounds like a fun, open type of place.

Categories: Grammar Notes

Greatest Cinematic Death Soliloquy Ever?

Rutger Hauer delivers his ‘tears in rain’ death soliloquy in ‘Blade Runner’

I’ve been watching the new BBC series “The History of Science Fiction” and have come away impressed, after three episodes, with how much heart, soul and literary achievement can be found in scifi flicks.

I think just about everyone the producers interviewed about Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (a film about a future filled both with real humans and with replicants, pseudo-humans with real human emotions and aspirations) waxes poetic about replicant Rutger Hauer’s death soliloquy, dubbed “tears in rain.”

Hauer mostly reimagined the soliloquy from the script. On the written page, however, his soliloquy loses most of the impact that the “History” interviewees rave about:

I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… [contemptuous laugh] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [small cough] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…

But it’s certainly terser and more impactful than the scripted version:

I’ve known adventures, seen places you people will never see, I’ve been Offworld and back… frontiers! I’ve stood on the back deck of a blinker bound for the Plutition Camps with sweat in my eyes watching the stars fight on the shoulder of Orion…I’ve felt wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I’ve seen it, felt it…!

Now, compare both of those to the on-screen rendition and draw your own conclusion. You can try this link to “Tears in Rain,” but if it doesn’t work, just do a search on YouTube. I tried embedding the clip here, but those idiots at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scams, I mean, Sciences, have it blocked (even though I watched it on YouTube just minutes ago).

Categories: Grammar Notes

Makes Sense: V. Stiviano for President

Donald-Sterling-and-V.-StivianaNow the Donald Sterling bringer-downer has revealed her true intentions: She wants to be president, and with the current media furor over her and her buddy Donald, she may have just enough Q rating to eclipse Hillary and Jeb.

Her politics? Who cares? She’s a celeb!

Anyway, enough of that, today’s New York Times contains an absolutely brilliant (if not sardonic) profile of l’affaire Sterling by David Carr titled “A Key Player in a Scandal, V. Stiviano Feeds the Media’s Appetite.”

The article says much about American culture and the media.

Categories: Grammar Notes

Note to Donald Sterling: You Should’ve Used Whisper or Secret

I’m beginning to think that Donald Sterling made what is now being labeled his “racist rant” on purpose since there was a third party in the room to whom Sterling had assented to being recorded by. [Now there’s a convoluted sentence.]

Regardless, one’s private thoughts should probably never be aired unless one is certain of the possible consequences and willing to face them.

Help is at hand for you buddy Donald Sterlings out there, however: Regardless of the flavor of your rant, the cell phone has come to your rescue.

There are now a few apps (and the list appears to be growing) on which you can rant away anonymously. Secret, Whisper and Yik-Yak are just three of these apps that function like a chat room or forum on your smartphone, and they don’t require you to identify yourself to voice anything.

Granted, I haven’t checked these out yet, but I plan to shortly.

My rant? About all the hypocritical phonies in the news media who feel they’re above racism. Or harboring secret thoughts. Or being human.

Categories: Grammar Notes