Alibaba: ‘Just Be Who You Are’

Okay, all right, Alibaba the Chinese Internet portal didn’t proclaim “just be who you are,” but its founder, Jack Ma, did this morning on CNBC, just before his IPO sold 100 million shares at $92.70 in 10 minutes.

Of course, a Chinese company’s IPO is hardly English grammar stuff, but Mr. Ma, born and reared in China (but who did study in the U.S.), does speak excellent English.

I don’t recall the question, but Mr. Ma responded that, whenever he doubts himself, he watches “Forest Gump” the movie.

And from that, he derives the lesson, “Just be who you are.”

Sound advice. It’s impossible to be someone else, anyway. I know from trying and failing.

‘Violence Flaring, Bullets Loading’ — The Militarization of Our Cities

You’re probably not old enough to remember first-hand Barry McGuire’s song “Eve of Destruction,” in which he laments, “Violence flaring, bullets loading. You’re old enough to kill but not for voting.”

(Actually, I’m pretty sure all those gerunds got their ending g‘s removed during the song, but I left the g‘s on because they made the headline cleaner looking. Sound reasoning, huh?) Anyway, that particular song was about the Vietnamese War and the accompanying dissent and turmoil here at home.

We were able to end that mess by giving Americans the right to vote when they turn 18 — and the South Vietnamese the right to defend themselves all alone as we cut off all funding and support.

The reference point here is Ferguson, Mo., and the ongoing demonstrations. To be honest, the overriding significance of the whole issue kind of slipped by me until I read today’s techdirt with a post by Mike Masnick on how the “law” in Missouri is not allowing the press the freedom to cover the demonstrations — even after signing a court order to do just that!

Nor are they allowing the demonstrators much in the way of freedom of expression.

Masnick also introduced me the photographic work of Getty photographer Scott Olson, who was even arrested by police while trying capture news photos in Ferguson (see noninterference pact above).

If you want to graphically experience how the police in America have become our adversaries and armed themselves to the teeth to do so, then take a look at Scott Olson’s collection of Ferguson pictures here:

IRAQ OR MISSOURI?

If We Have ‘Continuously,’ Do We Need ‘Continually’?

Okay, I get it. If something happens continuously, then it never ceases. There’s no interruption. “The Mississippi River flows continuously.”

So how does continually distinguish itself from continuously to justify its existence?

My first thought was, “Okay, it happens repeatedly but not ceaselessly, like a dog barking each and every night.”

Partially right, except dictionary.com gives the second definition of continually as “without cessation or intermission; unceasingly; always.

I’ll continually be confused by the distinction, as in I’ll never stop being confused, but I won’t continuously think about it.

Huh?

Man Claims to Own Trademark for the Word ‘How’

Now comes word of a lawsuit in New York, where a man who used the word how twice in the title of a book he wrote is suing yogurt-maker Chobani for building a marketing campaign emphasizing how.

That’s right: Dov Seidman, author of HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything, claims the way in which Chobani is using how in its current marketing campaign is a blatant rip-off of his book’s use of the word. And he claims that his use of the word is trademark protected.

In a way, Chobani asked for the lawsuit by tweeting to Seidman: “Thanks for inspiring the world to care about ‘how.’ Can you help inspire the food industry, too?”  The Seidman lawsuit claims: “Chobani’s new branding platform … employs ‘HOW’ in precisely the same manner as plaintiffs employ their HOW marks: as a noun connoting responsible and ethical corporate behaviors.(I personally don’t see how being used as a noun in the book’s title, but anyway….)

Bottom line, how could anyone trademark a single-syllable word?

I’d like to trademark awesome so no one could (over)use it anymore. That’s how I’ll get even with the destroyers of good English.

Octopi or Octopuses?

Now, we probably don’t use either the singular or plural form of octopus very often unless we own or frequent sushi bars, but most of us have long been mistaken about how to pluralize the critter.

I’ve heard octopi used a lot, but that is a completely erroneous pluralization. The word comes from Greek, not Latin (Greek: oktopous, or eight-footed). Were it of Latin origin, octopi would be fine.

That leaves us English speakers with octopuses, which the dictionary confirms. However, the real, honest-to-God plural form is octopodes.

Bank that one in your memory if you ever plan on competing on “Jeopardy.” Otherwise, just go on saying octopi if you like.

Children Who Can’t Write But Only Type

The so-called Common Core of education that drives the curriculum in most states de-emphasizes the teaching of cursive writing except in kindergarten and first grade. After that, students are expected to learn keyboard skills.

My initial thought: Is Apple behind this shift? Did Steve Jobs pay someone off at the Department of Education?

Anyway, studies have shown that writing, as opposed to keystroking on a smartphone or tablet, stimulates the brain and increases retention and learning in ways that using modern gadgets can’t.

Don’t believe me? Read the science behind it here:

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades?

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

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.

spelling-bee-champions-2014
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!

DWYL and Other Legacies of Steve Jobs

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.

History of ‘Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny’

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.”

Putin to the Rescue: Russia Outlaws Foul Language

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.