This place matters

This place matters

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bittersweet

Angie was this old lady at my church when I was a kid. So deaf she couldn't hear the squeal of her hearing aids echoing from every marble surface in the sanctuary. She sung every hymn in a loud, tuneless warble, making a joyful noise unto the Lord as my mom always put it.
I remember one parish family picnic, us kids playing with water balloons in the broiling sun, and Angie jumped into the fray lobbing a green water balloon and then clapping her hands, bouncing up and down and laughing in a tuneless warble, making a joyful noise unto the Lord.
I remember just being delighted to see a grown-up play. She was too deaf to talk to, but she spoke to us that moment in play, the language every kid knows by heart. I was too young to know that this was the moment the grown-ups realized she'd gone senile. Too young to know that the moment of joy marked the beginning of her end. 

When I was a teen I worked with kids with developmental disabilities. I loved those kids like crazy, looked up to them. Their disabilities were what they had, not who they were. I never understood parents who treated their children's lives like tragedies. I was still a child, still immortal then, incapable of understanding what it was like to wonder who the hell was going to advocate for my baby when I died. To not be able to see the hope through the suffering. 



Thursday, December 25, 2014

Brown Christmas doesn't have the same ring

So according to QI, England had a grand total of 4 white Christmases in all of the 20th century. However, there was an entire decade of very cold winters early in the 19th century, which just happens to have coincided with Charles Dickens' formative years - 6 of his first 9 Christmases were white. It was Dickens' portrayal of white Christmases that led the rest of us to associate the day with snow.  


Friday, December 19, 2014

Letters to Santa

The year I was five, I wanted nothing more in the world than a Cabbage Patch Kid. The Daulls are a practical people, and there was no way my folks were going to join the melee down at Children's Palace for a doll that looked like a demon baby with mumps. 

Instead, she got my a knock off from Bernie Schulman's which was, in the words of parents everywhere, Just As Good.
Which it totally was. Until I hugged its head clean off. I still have nightmares. In yet another case of me turning into my mother, if I had a kid, they would totally get the self-decapitating Just As Good model. 
Cabbage Patch kids came with birth certificates, but despite the urban legend to the contrary, you could not send damaged dolls back to the factory for a death certificate. Another urban legend held that Cabbage Patch Kids had been commissioned by Ronald Reagan to desensitize Americans to what government scientists thought the offspring of survivors of a nuclear war would look like. That is the best urban legend I have ever heard. Ever.
A few more toy-related urban legends, courtesy of Snopes:

  • A 2006 talking Elmo potty training book was not, as it turns out, saying "Uh oh, who wants to die?" He was saying "Uh oh, who has to go?" Ironically, every time I hear his obnoxious little voice, I do actually want to die. 
  • Webkinz are stuffed toys that stuffed toys that come with a secret code that let the toy's owner create an online version of their pet to play with. Rumors a few years back claimed that if children clicked on certain on-screen elements, a creature would pop out and chop of the pet's head. 
  • Despite what my favorite Chick Tract claims, playing Dungeons and Dragons does not give you satanic powers. Unless the ability to chug 2 liters of Mountain Dew is a satanic power.
  • While I haven't tested this personally, D&D figures also do not scream when thrown into fire. The Escapist website points out that when the claims about this were first made, figures were made of lead and covered with many layers of paint. So if anyone was foolish enough to throw them into a fire, any screaming they heard would likely have been in their lead-addled imagination.
This is blessedly not a legend.
Dog bless you, dollar store.

Monday, December 15, 2014

I'm not dead yet

Recently, People Magazine's website made a tiny bit of a blunder when it published an obituary for the still very much alive Kirk Douglas under the headline DO NOT PUB Kirk Douglas dies. Oops? 
This is not the first time a pre-humous obit has escaped into the wild. See, when a famous person starts getting on in years, most publications write up obits for them ahead of time so they're ready to go when the subject finally kicks. Hence the "DO NOT PUB" headline that the folks at People apparently failed to notice.
Some other folks to be memorialized just a bit prematurely:

  • Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, Nelson Mandela, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, Pope John Paul II, and Ronald Reagan: Not only did the folks in charge of web content at CNN.com report that all these folks had died on the same day, the obits were wrong. For instance, Dick Chaney was referred to as "the UK's favorite grandmother." 
  • Pope John Paul II: This dude died thrice before he died, at least according to CNN and Fox News: CNN reported it in 1981 and then again in 2003; Fox got the day right, but ran the story a couple hours early, when he was only mostly dead.
  • Steve Jobs: hey - this one wasn't perpetrated by CNN. Bloomberg ran a 17 page story on Jobs' death three years ahead of time. Where are they even storing these pre-obits where it's so easy to accidentally publish a 17 page article? 
  • Marcus Garvey: What's worse than recovering from a stroke only to read a published story about your own demise? Reading a Chicago Defender story that says you died "broke, alone and unpopular." Not long after, poor Garvey had another stroke, this one fatal. 
  • The "Cha-Ching Guy": Long before he became show business' favorite ginger, Seth Green starred in a series of Rally's commercials, where he was responsible for the most annoying catch phrase of the early 90s. Like so many stars before and after him, he was killed by the deadly combination of Coke and Pop Rocks. Or from smoking pot and driving. Or possibly from smoking weed, then swallowing Coke and Pop Rocks while careening into a tree. This wasn't reported in major newspapers, but we all knew it to be true.


Friday, December 12, 2014

It stinks

Amazon product reviews are a surprising source of hilarity. After hearing dramatic readings of one-star reviews on the radio show Wits, I decided I'd like to blatantly steal their idea. And because I'm in need of some holiday cheer just now, I thought we'd have a look at some of the one-star reviews of some beloved Christmas treasures. 

It's a Wonderful Life

Only communists share with others at Christmas
it's an American classic. NOT! It's Communist propaganda about the "evils" of American free enterprise from a guy who made a lot of pinko films but never thought HE should have to live like this "common man" he kept making pictures about.

A Christmas Carol

Atlas Humbugged
Scrooge was better at the beginning! You know the ritual: boo the curmudgeon initially encountered in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, then cheer the sweetie pie he becomes in the end. It's too bad no one notices that the curmudgeon had a point-quite a few points, in fact... There was no need to make the object of his lesson an entrepreneur whose ideas and practices benefit his employees, society at large, and himself. Must such a man expect no fairer a fate than to die scorned and alone? 


The Polar Express

Well that escalated quickly
Santa and his village as portrayed in this book, would have fit in perfectly in Nazi germany.
A perfect book for the entitled and spoiled American child of the Uberclass of consumerist American drones.
Complaining about consumerism on the country's largest e-commerce website.


White Christmas

From a man who has never seen a movie musical before...
You have to get past Rosemary Clooney's way-to-happy-to-be-here face/personae. Add to that, sorry Clooney fans, she just can't sing. I have always wanted to slap the face of the first person that ever told her that she could. Ah. Vera-Ellen. Cutesy-cutesy and yes, she can dance (some) but her smile just gets in the way.
 I find it stomach-turning to see/hear "the kids" on the train all excited about snow. It's a song. "Snow". Rosemary Clooney wants to wash her face and hair in it. This makes Clooney, right out of the gate, an idiot... And Clooney is old enough to know better.
 
Vera Ellen demonstrating her apparently underwhelming dancing ability




Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 

I ALSO DO NOT THINK SO

The soundtrack is bad, it sounds like a music box with almost(dead) batteries. The message is bad. They say X-Mas is gonna be cancled. HOW CAN WE CANCEL X-MAS? THAT IS LIKE SAYING X-MAS IS ALL ABOUT PRESENTS? They treat rudloph badly because of his nose. Should we treat people badly because they are different? I DO NOT THINK SO.

A Christmas Story:

Mr. BigWords impresses the internet
The sine qua non of Christmas movies has always been a central message --some nugget of hope... conveyed either seriously or humorously. This movie... illustrates the extent to which postmodern cynicism has swallowed a beloved film genre. The movie lacks universality. No one understood universality better than Shakespeare. We relate to the plight of kings and paupers, without ourselves being kings or paupers, because their sufferings, joys, and longings, are our own, no matter the century or country. "A Christmas Story," by contrast, is parochial. The vignettes are amusing only to those with similar experiences. Parochialism is not, of itself, detrimental, but it does preclude the designation, "classic."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jargon

I'm reading a book called The Sense of Style by Stephen Pinker, and I highly recommend it. It's a kind of practical style guide - a guide to writing well - that puts effective communication before rigid adherence to arbitrary rules. I'm loving it. 
In the book, he writes about jargon, and how it kills good writing. In a chapter called The Curse of Knowledge, he says that some theorize that opaque prose is intentional - that academics and technical writers are intentionally opaque because it makes them feel smart. Pinker offers an alternate explanation for opaque writing - that perpetrators of it are simply ignorant of what their audience doesn't know.
I think both theories are wrong - at least when it comes to technical writing. Opaque prose happens because tech writers have to do two opposing things at the same time - be accessible and be succinct. See, the problem with jargon is that jargon happens when there's not already a word for a thing. Which means that when the tech writer tries to translate technical jargon into plain English, it take some fancy footwork to define the term without adding excessive verbiage. A good tech writer finds a way, but it's no small feat translating a term for which no direct translation exists.

Speaking of words for which there's no direct translation:

Schadenfreude
  • Schadenfreude (German): Taking joy at the suffering of others. Like the feeling I get when Loki tries to jump onto something, but forgets to take his morbid obesity into account and drops like a rock.
  • Fargin (Yiddish): The opposite of schadenfreude - taking joy in the success of others. I feel fargin when the Indians win. Like every true Clevelander, I feel fargin and schadenfreude at the same time when the Indians crush the Yankees. 
  • Sitzpinkler (German): A wimp. Literally translates to "man who sits down to pee." More men should do this - nobody likes cleaning urine off the rim.
  • Yaourt (French): To sing along in nonsensical noises. After my piano lesson last week, I found myself singing the tune I'd just learned, but substituting "princess" for the real lyrics. I didn't even know I was doing it. My subconscious does some really weird crap.
  • Tartle (Scots): When you go to introduce someone to somebody else and realize too late that you've forgotten their name.
Seriously, mom, do not watch this. 
Unless you want to learn a whole
passel of swears.
NSFW

Info comes from the Huffington Post, Cracked, and Better Than English

Monday, December 8, 2014

That's that

That, like this, these, and those, is a demonstrative pronoun, a word used to distinguish between a number of possible subjects. You might say that when physically pointing to something, as in "I want that one." You might say that when you're referring to something you talked about earlier, as in "of all the Christmases I can remember, that one is my favorite." 
Recently I stumbled across this academic article about emotional demonstratives or affective demonstratives, which are demonstratives used to "foster a sense of shared perspective and common ground." For example, if I met another Clevelander and said "how about that LeBron James," what I'm really saying is "I assume you, like me, like LeBron James, so we have something in common."
And you know what's magical about the word that? If I had met another Clevelander one year ago and said "how about that LeBron James," I'd have been saying "I assume you, like me, hate Lebron James, so we have something in common." 
So the word that gives the sentence a completely different meaning depending on tone and context. It got me thinking about other times a demonstrative like this or that has spoken volumes. 
This was part of one of the most iconic quotations about the Cold War: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" I think the sentence kind of hinges on the word this. Reagan was standing in front of the Berlin Wall when he said those words, but he needn't have been - everyone on earth who heard the words knew exactly what this wall was. This was the wall dividing freedom from oppression, this was the wall dividing us from them - and this became the symbol of the Cold War.
Another memorable presidential quotation - "I did not have sex with that woman." In this instance, Clinton used that to make it sound like he barely knew Monica Lewinsky, and that he found her contemptible. 
And check out all the demonstratives in this section of The Gettysburg Address: "We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this." Those men didn't die for this nation - one divided and at war, but that nation - the one our forefathers dreamed of. 





Sunday, December 7, 2014

Or does it explode?

I keep starting to write a post about Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, etc., and then not knowing what to say. Maybe it's overly fatalistic of me, but I feel like everyone's opinions on the matter are set in stone and there's not a word I can say or write that will change that. I feel like someone's thrown the cover off a new breed of racists... folks who have no idea that they're racist, but just happen to always side with the white guy. People who would never say the n-word out loud, but who find ways to make bigotry sound like civil discourse. 
In short, I feel helpless and a little hopeless. 
So I've been reading a lot, looking to people far wiser than me for guidance.
I think that former St. Louis police officer Redditt Hudson is right when he says this:
The problem is that cops aren’t held accountable for their actions, and they know it. These officers violate rights with impunity. They know there’s a different criminal justice system for civilians and police.
Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave. My colleagues would laughingly refer to this as a free vacation. It isn’t a punishment. And excessive force is almost always deemed acceptable in our courts and among our grand juries. Prosecutors are tight with law enforcement, and share the same values and ideas.
We could start to change that by mandating that a special prosecutor be appointed to try excessive force cases. And we need more independent oversight, with teeth. 
I agree with David Bales, Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission commander when he says
“We are guided by the underlying goal of producing officers who are guardians as opposed to warriors. The most common corresponding emotion to fear is anger, and anger does not facilitate ongoing compliance... that when they mistreat people they actually may make that person more dangerous.”

If the above sounds naive, I can say that people who work with adults and teens with severe behaviors, know a dozen ways to take a man, every bit as big as Eric Garner, to the ground without causing injury. They do it every day. The officer in the Eric Garner case didn't even try other interventions before he throttled him.

And did you know that the Cleveland police didn't even bother to determine whether Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot Tamir Rice, was remotely qualified to do his job... all they'd have had to do was ask his former employer, the Independence police department, to see their report on the officer, where they'd have read that Loehmann:
  Ptl. Loehrnann's inability to perform basic functions as instructed... leads one to believe that he would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions, during or resulting from any other stressful situation.
They'd have read the recommendation from Deputy Chief Tim Polak which said in part:
 Due to this dangerous loss of composure during live range training and his inability to manage this personal stress, I do not believe Ptl. Loehmann shows the maturity needed to work in our employment.Unfortunately in law enforcement there are times when instructions need be followed to the letter, and I am under the impression Ptl. Loehmann, under certain circumstances, will not react in the way instructed.
For these reasons, I am recommending he be released from the employment of the City of Independence. I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies.
Regardless where we stand on individual cases, we should all be outraged that grossly incompetent police officers are running around with badges and guns. That officers are so poorly trained that the don't know how to subdue a subject without killing him.



A Dream Deferred

by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dream Baby Dream

Jim Carrey gave this inspirational speech a while back about how you shouldn't settle for safe in the name of practicality - that he's living proof that it's possible to achieve your dreams. His dad, he says, could have been a great comedian but chose the safe job of CPA to support his family. And then he lost his job anyway.
I saw a TED talk once with a similar message - some guy talking about how there are no good jobs, there are only lousy jobs and great jobs, and you should shoot for the moon and try to get a great job, and how you shouldn't let your kids be your excuse for settling.
What I don't get is, when did choosing to focus on being a good parent become "settling"? Is it so bad to choose the dream of being a great parent over the dream of being a great comedian? Seems to me that the accomplishment of creating and raising a happy, healthy human being is pretty damn impressive too. Not saying it's not okay to pursue both dreams, just saying I don't think choosing to create life constitutes failure. 
People always talk about dreams like they're some pot of gold, that each person only has one pot of gold, and that anything less that getting to the end of your own personal immutable rainbow is failure. 
They sold us on the idea that we'd grow up to become astronauts or actors or athletes so long as we believed in our dreams. But not everybody gets their dream, no matter how hard they believe. Otherwise we'd have far too few trash collectors and Hollywood would have to annex surrounding counties to make room for all the movie stars. Seems like a generation ago, there was no shame in dreaming of office jobs and white picket fences. And now it's like it's the moon or nothing.
Thing is, dreams are what you do when you're asleep. On the way to the end of whatever rainbow you're chasing, might be worthwhile to open up your eyes and see the dream you're living on the way.


I'm choosing to believe the vines broke this window.
If there's one thing that The Ruins taught me, it's... that
"man eating vines" is just as terrible a concept as it seems.
But if it taught me two things, it also taught me to never underestimate
the destructive power of vines. Where was I going with this?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Patient Zero - World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day. December 1.

In 1981, folks at the Centers for Disease Control noticed a rash of men being diagnosed with a rare fungal lung infection called pneumocystis pneumonia. The men were all gay, and they all presented with a bunch of other rare infections as well. By the time the CDC published its first report on the subject, two of the five men discussed in the report were already dead. 
The disease was officially called GRID - Gay Related Immune Deficiency, though it was often called the "gay cancer." With next to no funding, and the US government unwilling to touch "gay issues" with a ten foot pole, a small group of dedicated researchers thrust all they had into finding the cause.
Researchers soon figured out that the disease was sexually transmitted, and began taking detailed sexual histories of all those afflicted. One name came up over and over, the name of the man who would become known as patient zero, Gaeton Dugas. This marked the first time the term patient zero was used.
Dugas wasn't, of course, the first person to have AIDS. He was just an incredibly promiscuous flight attendant who traveled all over the country, infecting men wherever he went, even after doctors told him that the disease killing him was sexually transmitted. 
It's likely impossible to find the real patient zero, of course, but scientists have come shockingly close. 
See, AIDS had been in America since long before 1981, when it was discovered. Scientists looked through countless medical records for AIDS-related infections, like pneumocystis pnemonia and Kaposi's sarcoma. They found a likely case in England 1959. And another likely case in Chicago in 1961. 
All of this is just speculation though. To find out for sure where the virus came from, they needed to look at the virus itself. So they dug up blood and tissue samples from every known and suspected case that they could. Then they looked at mutations in the virus' structure - see, viral mutations happen at a really steady rate, creating a trail leading back to the earliest cases - the fewer the mutations, closer the source. Scientists found that the disease took hold in the US after arriving from Haiti in 1966 (earlier cases may have existed, but not been passed on). And it got to Haiti from Africa. In Africa, scientists were actually able to locate blood and tissue samples from two individuals, both of whom had HIV, both from around 1960. Scientists could then look at the two samples and determine, from the differences between them, that the disease had made the jump from chimp to human around 1908 in southeastern Cameroon. The likeliest scenario is that a bushman killed a chimp infected with simian immunodeficiency virus and cut himself in the process. 
Even though it's not in the headlines as much anymore, AIDS is still killing people all over the globe. Wanna do something about it? Here are some charities that could use our help.

Info from Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On, aids.gov, and a Radiolab story also called Patient Zero.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The first Thanksgiving after

I started to write this really bitter post about how we're celebrating the day when white people took a break from all the killing and the raping to enjoy some Native American hospitality, and how the more things change the more they stay the same.
And then I was going to write this really sappy post about how grateful I am for having the perfect life, which I am and I do.
But I don't have either in me today. All I can think about is how many families are planning their first Thanksgiving after.

Monday, November 24, 2014

No god but God

Stories similar to this one have been popping up all over the news lately - people complaining because Muslims want to worship in a place people don't want them to worship, people complaining because their children are being taught about Islam in history class (alongside the four other major world religions). One guy threatened to bring a "shit storm" down on a school if they made his child learn about Islam in history class, because the book "makes it seem" like Muslims are peaceful people.
Always at some point in the story, the person complaining about Muslims says something about how they're offended because those people worship Allah and not God.
For the love of all that is holy, you people worship the same God. Muslims, like Christians and Jews, worship the God of Abraham. Allah is just the Arabic word for God. Arabic Christians also use the word Allah, because he is the same guy.
If you're going to paint all 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet with the same hateful brush, wouldn't you want to know literally the first thing about them? 
I'm not saying this isn't a complicated issue, I'm just saying that it's a good idea to know anything, at all, about Islam before shrieking about how all Muslims are monsters.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Male feminists

The folks at The Truth Shall Set You Free call male feminists "the monstrous regiment's useful idiots."
Tweeter @JustineTunney echoes the words of like, every anti-feminist ever when she insists that male feminists are just trying to get laid.  
Anti-feminists universally describe male feminists as whipped, cowed, stupid pussies. 
A Return of Kings (a website so hateful it seems like heavy-handed satire but it probably isn't) blogger accuses male feminists of having "lispy, effete voices" (what?) and have appearances that "make it patently obvious he never hits the gym and poses no danger whatsoever to anyone." 

I have nothing to say to this, but these male feminists might like a word.
I made this myself. Woo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Don't try this at home

This American Life ran a story titled The Wisdom to Know the Difference, and it's been troubling me ever since I heard it.
The story is of a woman named Tina who got sober at the age 13. She was well-known in AA circles for her inspirational story and a poster child for teens in the program. But at age 33, she became obsessed with the notion that she might not be an alcoholic after all. So she started drinking again. Responsibly. And after 7 months of handling alcohol without spiraling out of control, she's ready to say she's not an alcoholic after all. 
The reporter's clearly buying it, but anybody who's spent any significant amount of time in the rooms of AA, NA, or Al Anon has heard this story so many times we can recite it verbatim. It never has a happy ending. So when the story wrapped, it left me feeling like it ended with a woman standing on her tiptoes at the edge of a cliff. It's possible she won't fall to her grisly death. It's possible she isn't really an alcoholic after all. But I feel like the reporter failed to do her job by relaying Tina's story without apparently talking to a single addiction expert.
The story is, in the end I believe, dangerously naive. By presenting the story of a single individual without pointing out, "hey, experts say this is a terrible idea," the reporter is painting a very incomplete picture of the disease of addiction.
And the reporter missed a huge red flag. Tina says she agonized, every single day for 9 months, whether she should try drinking again. Discussed it with her fiance - who said he'd support her no matter what - every day for 9 months. But here's the thing - overblown claims about the magic of red wine aside, drinking provides no tangible benefit. Billions of people will go their entire lives without ever touching a drop, and they'll be none the worse for it. So why, if the benefits are so low and the risks so very high, would she take the risk? Especially when she's been in the program for 20 years, hearing people tell exactly this story for 20 years. She's a big girl and entitled to her own decisions, but I feel like the reporter should have probed that question, if not with Tina, than with an addiction professional. 
It seems to me that the general public is already so unaware of how addiction and addiction recovery programs work, and I feel like this story made listeners all a little more ignorant, which is kind of the opposite of what journalism is supposed to do. And while in the end, it's the addict who is solely responsible for his or her behavior, the people around the addict should know that Tina's story is far more likely than not to end in disaster.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Basically high school

I learned a new phrase recently, and the fact that I only just learned it probably means I am one - basic bitch. A basic bitch, according to UrbandDictionary.com, is someone who is boring and unoriginal, usually a woman and usually white. Someone might be considered a basic bitch if she likes the products below - Uggs, infinity scarves, and pumpkin spice lattes. 
I'm super excited that we still think a person's consumer spending habits have anything to do with who they are. If we swapped out the Uggs for Docs, the pumpkin spice latte for absinthe, you'd no longer be unoriginal? If a hipster wore the outfit ironically, would the outfit cease to be basic?
The bitch on the right might be basic, but when she takes those earrings out
she won't have earlobes like a stretched out hair scrunchie. 
It cracks me up that supposed nonconformists still think that you can go into a store and buy a personality. Like only cool kids get their skinny jeans from American Apparel and only basic bitches get them at American Eagle. Wow, man, that messenger bag you got from Target may be identical to the one I dug out of the bargain bin at the Salvation Army, but you are clearly the soulless conformist, whereas I'm an individual (just like the million other people who accessorize exactly like I do). They're purses, dude. They hold your crap. The only difference between you and the basic bitch is that her bag didn't come with a colony of bed bugs.
Just noticed that this is an actual photo of a cat
It seems to me that basic bitches and the people who bitch about them are using clothing for the exact same purpose - to identify themselves with a tribe. Yoga pants are tribal tattoos for the modern world. Regardless of what you're wearing, if you're dressed exactly like your friends, you're not an individual, no matter how idiotically your friends dress.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hey, beautiful

Some lady made a video of herself walking through the streets of New York getting cat called right and left. A lot of people watched it, then a lot of other people were like, "...uh, why is every single dude in this video a person of color?" 
So I'm not posting it, but instead I'm posting the video above. 
I don't have super strong feelings on the subject; either I've become hideous or people in Canton are way more civilized than people in Akron or Cleveland, but I can't remember the last time I got catcalled.
I do remember some of the first, when I was 11 or 12. Some drunk dude screaming "Hey little girl, you want some candy?" (his much more reasonable drunk friend revealed that they did not, in fact, have candy, much to my dismay). Walking a babysitting charge at 13 and having a dude offer to father my next kid in language not appropriate for a teenager, let alone the 2-year-old in the stroller I was pushing. 
And that's just the compliments. Dudes seemed to always feel inspired to loudly announce what they thought of my sexual orientation. Either that or I was always walking in at the tail end of really spirited debates about John Updike.  
It didn't destroy my world or anything, but creepers don't check ID before sexually harassing women. 

I feel like his "manswer" would change if it was his 12-year-old being "complimented."
PS, I posted the video above for no other reason than the awesomeness of her facial expressions, though the best part by far is where dude says that women who don't want to get catcalled shouldn't live in New York. They should come to Canton - you've got to deal with coyote calls and the occasional muskrat attack, but it is what it is.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"Being a guardian of language is enjoying language," and other wisdom from Stephen Fry


Stephen Fry using the phrase higgledy-piggledy is maybe the most British thing that has ever happened. 
According to Dictionary.com, we don't know the origin of the phrase higgledy-piggledy, only that it first appeared in the 1500s. The Phrase Finder website tells us that higgledy-piggledy is a reduplicated phrase - a phrase in which the second word repeats the sound from the first word, one or both words often being nonsense words. Other examples include helter-skelter, jibber-jabber, and hanky-panky. The Phrase Finder also admits that no one knows the origin of the phrase, but points out that a herd of pigs does sort of epitomize the phrase higgledy-piggledy.
Wikipedia tells me that there are actually several types of reduplication in the English language. There's rhyming duplication - like all the examples above. Wikipedia also gives hoity-toity, which I just realized is a double diphthong. 
There's also exact reduplication, according to Wikipedia, like bye bye and no-no. Shm-reduplication is a type of rhyming reduplication in which the second word is the same as the first word, but with the first consonant replaced by shm. Fancy-shmancy, cancer-shmancer, etc. This type of reduction comes from Yiddish, and found its way into our mouths by jumping from Yiddish to the New York dialect before going national.
A gorilla - scientific name: gorilla gorilla. When exact reduplication
occurs in biology it is called a tautonym.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Let them eat pie

My favorite word just now: pastiche. A pastiche is, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is an artistic work that incorporates elements of work from at least one other artist, era, or style. For instance, the film Pulp Fiction is a pastiche, with the filmmaker creating a new story in the style of the dramatic and lurid pulp novels popular in the first half of the 20th century. 
Pastiche is a French word derived from an Italian one that means pie crust, according to Dictionary.com. So a pastiche is like a pie, in which a variety of ingredients are combined to create a single dishes in which the individual elements are still recognizable. 
May I interest you in some pastiche pie?
Pastiche is related to pasta, which, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the Latin word meaning dough or pastry. Pasta appears to go all the way back to an ancient Greek word for sprinkle.
How about some pasta pastry? 
You've probably already guessed that pastry is related to pasta, both being foods made with dough. 
A pasty is a sophomoric giggle-inducing word for meat and vegetables wrapped in a pie crust and folded over to be eaten on the go, also known as a pocket pie. So this is the part where I was going to joke that pasties, the thing you eat, are etymologically unrelated to pasties, the things that women paste over their nipples because somehow obscuring one's nipples makes it legal to be topless in public (man nipples - no problem; lady nipples - filthy). Anyway, I was going to joke that the words are etymologically unrelated, but it turns out they're totally not. Pastie comes from paste, which also comes from pasta.
Oh yeah, you're looking at pastry pasties. That's happening. 

Comics to happy your day




Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Foolish games

In recent weeks, you've probably heard of a controversy in the video game community that people are calling "gamergate." You've probably heard that it's about journalistic ethics, or the depiction of genders in games; you've heard wrong. 
Sure, there's been a lot of conversation about journalistic ethics and portrayal of women, and that's a good conversation to have. But the events that precipitated this debate have nothing to do with any of those things - they have everything to do with men who hate women.
A couple of months ago, a man named Eron Gjoni started ranting online about his relationship with an ex - a relatively little-known indie video game developer called Zoe Quinn. It was a 10,000 word manifesto about how she'd cheated on him a bunch of items, and he posted it on a bunch of online forums. 
The ex alleged that Quinn had had a relationship with game reviewer Jeremy Grayson, but did not allege that she had done so in exchange for a favorable review, mostly because Grayson had never reviewed Quinn's game. That did not stop thousands of gamers from launching a terror campaign against her from deep in their parents' basements.
Terror campaign is not hyperbole, by the way. A bunch of men who weren't involved in the conflict in any way dug up tons of personal information about her and posted it online. They made threatening calls to her, her family, and her friends. They plotted her demise online. The New Yorker gives one example of the sorts of things people posted about her:
"Next time she shows up at a conference we ... give her a crippling injury that's never going to fully heal ... a good solid injury to the knees. I'd say a brain damage, but we don't want to make it so she ends up too retarded to fear us."
Whoever defended her was a target for threats and hacking campaigns. There were graphic descriptions of how they would kill and rape her supporters. She fled from her home.
To reiterate, a phalanx of grown-ass men launched an atomic bullying campaign against a woman they don't know because a man they don't know claims she cheated on him. 
Name-calling: The best way to announce to the world
that you have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to
this conversation. You doody-heads.  
I don't know Zoe Quinn. She might be a horrible person. She might have cheated on her boyfriend with the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory. Worse, she might even watch The Big Bang Theory. An all-out terror assault from a bunch of people who don't even know her is not an appropriate response. If she had traded sex for favorable reviews (but she didn't), an appropriate response would be an angry letter to the editor, not a threatening call to her father. If Zoe Quinn was sacrificing kittens to the prince of darkness, none of this would be an appropriate response (and this is coming from me). Death threats are never okay. Rape threats are never okay. The fact that thousands of men in the gaming community don't know this is terrifying. 
Several times, the "Died" date was changed to coincide with
her public appearances. Other times it was just changed to "soon."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

No Shave November

Welcome to No-Shave November, the time of year when we remember that boys get cancer too. 

The idea is that dudes don't shave for the month of November to raise awareness about cancer. The campaign seems even dumber and more pointless to me than the ice bucket challenge. I see a dude with scraggly un-groomed facial hair and I don't so much think "cancer" as "too lazy to shave." But, as with the ice bucket challenge, if embracing one's inner old-timey hobo inspires people to donate to a good cause, who cares if it's stupid? Plus, No Shave November is probably the only good deed you can do by being even more lazy than you already are.
Me, I care so much about cancer that I observe No Shave November all winter long. And most of the rest of the year, let's be honest. 
So if you hate cancer, or love facial hair, or want to do your good deed for the day without even getting off your couch, consider donating to American Cancer Society

Friday, October 31, 2014

The poets down here don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be

The first scary movie I ever saw was one of the Children of the Corn sequels. I was terrified of everything as a kid. If I was watching TV and they even started playing music in a minor key, I was in a fetal position under the nearest bed before you could say "For the love of God, Brigid, it's Greensleeves."
So I was really surprised to discover Children of the Corn was hardly scary at all. Which is why I chose to watch The Stand. And then read it. And then literally have nightmares about it for a decade. Turns out some Stephen King movies are decidedly more terrifying than others. 
Oh god, no - it's Wesley Crusher!

So seeing as it's Halloween for another couple hours, and I am curled up at home with two extremely non-threatening black cats asleep on me, I thought I'd lay some trivia about the man who has been giving the world nightmares for the past 40 years.

  • Stephen King said in an interview that he's scared of spiders.
  • In the book It, the titular it isn't a clown - or a spider. He just takes the form of your greatest fear...
Oh god, why?
  • King's son Joe played the little kid in Creepshow
  • Joe, who writes under the name Joe Hill, penned the novel Horns, which was made into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe. I haven't read it, but I did read Heart Shaped Box, about a guy who buys a ghost on eBay. It was quite good.
  • Speaking of kids, the kid from the 1980 film version of The Shining, Danny Lloyd, was only 6 when the film was shot. Kubrick didn't want to traumatize the kid, so he made sure the kid didn't know what the movie was about - it wasn't until years later that the actor learned he'd starred in one of the most twisted horror movies of all time.
  • Kubrick did not go to the same lengths to protect another of the film's stars, Shelly Duvall. To get a better performance out of her, Kubrick resorted to psychological torture - he was so cruel to her that by the time shooting was finished, she was going bald from stress.
  • The movie version of King's Needful Things holds the world record for "most instances of people mispronouncing Akron in one film." I assume. 
  • There used to be a store in Akron called Needful Things. I haven't been able to figure out which came first. 
  • In The Stand, the character Larry Underwood is based partially on Bruce Springsteen. King, a huge Boss fan, had really hoped Bruce would play Larry in the movie. Instead we got the guy from Mystic Pizza.
  • Speaking of Larry Underwood, Damon Lindelof, creator of the TV show Lost has said that the character of Charlie was an homage to Larry Underwood. And to be fair, the only fictional song worse than Baby Can You Dig Your Man is You All Everybody
  • Speaking of The Stand and Springsteen, the film's title was inspired by a lyric in  Springsteen's Jungleland. I am in love with this fact because I figured it out on my own. The entire album Jungleland's on (Born to Run) could be the soundtrack to the book.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sucking the fun out of innocent things

The Cleveland Arcade
As anyone who has ever tapped me on the shoulder without first announcing their presence can tell you, I have an outlandishly strong startle reflex. Sometimes I jump even after they announce their presence. On top of that, I've got this irrational fear of people in costume, which ranges from mild discomfort to abject terror depending on circumstances. 
Needless to say, this time of year is kind of a minefield for me, with all jumping and the startling. The other day at a music store, I walk past this motion triggered spooky hand thing as I walk in and as usual, I jump out of my skin. I usually don't get mad about boobie traps like that; I know my reaction isn't typical and it's all in fun. Maybe it's because you don't expect that sort of thing at a store that sells sheet music, or because the not terribly kind way the store staff snickered at my response, but this time, I was unusually annoyed.
And it suddenly made me realize that this time of year has got to be serious trauma for people with an actual reason to jump a mile when startled by spooky hand things - like PTSD. Like soldiers who just came home from fighting for our right to display spooky hand things. Like, that could be serious episode-inducing. And while people with PTSD can avoid the Halloween aisle at the drug store, and haunted houses, and Halloween parties. But one would assume stores where you buy sheet music to be relatively safe. 
So my public service announcement for the season is this: it's kind of uncool to startle people without their consent. So think about not doing it. And if you own a sheet music store that does have a spooky hand thing, consider not laughing at people who clearly aren't happy to be the butt of your joke.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Purple Penguin Eaters

A week or so back Fox News reported on a case of political correctness gone wild - a school in Nebraska has banned teachers from referring to students as "boys and girls"; teachers are ordered to use "Purple Penguins" instead. 
Shockingly, Fox blew the story just a touch out of proportion. Long story short, some teachers got a handout of suggestions on how they might be more gender inclusive, and none of those suggestions involved calling all children purple penguins.
But the story got me to thinking about the methods the handout suggested, and whether they're pointless political correctness or little things that could make a big difference.
For example, instead of having kids line up in a boys' line and a girls' line, the handout suggested using some other arbitrary factor. Seems trivial, but consider this:
Teachers are statistically more likely to reprimand boys than girls for similar behavior. That means one line is likely to get more attention in the form of more reprimands. Boys who are behaving are being scolded by association. And while a little extra yelling might not seem like a big deal, but research shows that boys who feel teachers are biased against them perform more poorly and are less invested in their schoolwork
And while the teacher is busy yelling at John, she's ignoring Mary, who may be committing the same infraction as John - depriving Mary of a lesson in accountability.
If teachers aren't splitting kids up by gender, it could go a long way toward rectifying their biases, which are most often unconscious. Kids internalize these biases and act on them - boys are expected to act up, so they do. Science and math teachers don't push their female students as hard as they do their male students, so girls under-perform in those subjects. 
Girls are perceived as more obedient, and rewarded for passivity; teachers often move disruptive boys to sit near well-behaved girls, on the idea girls are a civilizing influence (which happens to reinforce a notion that girls are responsible for their own behavior as well as boys who aren't capable of being responsible for their own). But really, aren't these things inevitable? If teachers have been lining kids up by gender this long, is it really so bad for them to keep doing so?
Well, here are some facts that suggest maybe the status quo isn't good enough, and anything we can do, especially if it's as simple and unobtrusive as changing the way kids line up, is worth trying.

In short, girls aren't being challenged and boys aren't being judged fairly. Can making a few changes make teachers more gender-blind actually make a difference? I don't see how it
can hurt.
Also, random fact, if you Google "boys are," the first result is "stupid."

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