Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bonus Content - Augh!

Okay, so this really has nothing to do with words, or whatever it is that this blog is supposed to be about, but 
a. It's Halloween and I feel like I should be doing something to acknowledge it, besides eating these Reece's Cups we got on sale.
b. I saw this thing about the movie and now I have all this trivia and nothing to do with it.
c. I'm putting off actual writing.

So let me tell you some things about Halloween. The movie, not the holiday (I did the holiday last year). 
Halloween was made on a budget of $300,000, so when it came to Michael Myers'mask, the word was budget (from the Latin bulga, meaning leather bag). Costume folks bought a handful of  masks at a costume shop, including Emmett Kelly, Mr. Spock, and Captain Kirk. The Kirk mask was chosen because it was the most generic - they just made the eye holes larger and painted it white. I knew that Shatner couldn't be trusted. In the script, by the way, the monster is referred to only as The Shape.
Michael Myers was an English guy who helped director John Carpenter with his previous film. Carpenter named the character after him as an homage. Apparently, Michael Myers was well known for being an incredibly nice guy.
Nick Castle, the actor who played The Shape, appeared in only three other films, and two of those appearances were uncredited. He has written and directed a couple of films, however; notably, he co-wrote the screen story for Hook. That's not from the documentary, it's from IMDB.
Jamie Lee Curtis, who was a teenager when the movie was made, is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who played Marion Crane in Psycho.
The original title for the screenplay was The Babysitter Murders. Filmmakers were shocked to learn that there had never been a movie called Halloween, or even a movie with Halloween in the name.
John Carpenter wrote and performed the movie's theme, which is in 5/4 time, a time signature I did not know existed. It sounds to me an lot like the opening theme to Tubular Bells, the theme for The Exorcist. The Halloween theme, however, seems to hold scary better - play Tubular Bells out of context and it's not really all that creepy. 

There. Half an hour of procrastination managed. Also, I have never seen Halloween all the way through. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Monster Mish-Mash

Happy Halloween, all.  Seeing as it's the season for such things, I think it's time I told you what I know about the creatures that lurk under your bed.
Monster, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the Latin monstrum, meaning monster or omen. This word, in turn, comes from the Latin verb monere, meaning to warn - malformed animals were considered a sign of a coming evil. 
 Zombie, I learned in a special on the History channel today, has its roots in Haitian Vodou. It referred to a person made into a mindless slave by a sorcerer. I read somewhere that some think it's possible that zombies have some basis fact, historically speaking. People have hypothesized that a combination of naturally occurring chemicals can be used to induce a zombie-like state in a human, but that idea seems more than a little far fetched when you dig into it.
I also learned on the History channel that the word ghoul comes from ancient Arabic folklore and refers to a demon who feeds on human flesh and robs graves. Looking for a little background from Wikipedia, I learned that ghouls rob graves, drink blood, steal coins, and eat the dead. I'm amused that "steal coins" is in that list. You can eat the dead and rob graves all you want, but when it comes to stealing coins, that's where I draw the line.
A hobgoblin can be a mischievous imp or a more serious monster. It's name, the Online Etymology Dictionary has just informed me, comes from hob meaning elf, which descends from Hobbe, another way of saying Rob, from the character Robin Goodfellow. As I think I've mentioned before, Puck is another name for Robin Goodfellow, and that is the name of my cat. Hence, my cat is essentially a hobgoblin. No wonder he has been so much trouble. 
A poltergeist gets its name from the German for noisy ghost. Poltergeists are the things, essentially, that go bump in the night. Poltergeists are generally impish and destructive, but generally harmless. In the movie Poltergeist, there are likely poltergeist living in the house, but they're not the ones doing all the scary stuff that makes one hide behind the sofa. In the movie, there are actually many types of ghosts in the home. A demon, not a poltergeist, called Beast is the one who steals the little girl. Eerily, four of the actors who appeared in the films died within a year of each film's premier, including, quite unexpectedly, the actresses who played the two daughters.
I've got to admit that this shot was an accident.
But it's pretty damn cool.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I solemnly swear I am up to no good

I'm reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I'm a little scared they're going to come and repossess my English degree because I'm struggling. I mean, I know I'm short, but this stuff is sailing over my head hardcore.
So early in the novel (I know that because I'm only about 50 pages in), there's a passage in which Stephen Daedalus is in bed at his boarding school after the prefect leaves, and he wonders about the "black dog that walked there at night with eyes as big as carriage lamps. They said it was the ghost of a murderer." So of course, my brain goes to some literature more my speed... that dog sounds like Sirius Black! Was Rowling making a literary allusion, I wondered.
I mentioned this to Jeremy, and he told me, if I remember correctly, "no, the black dog is like, a thing." By which he meant that a black dog that portends death is a common theme in English folklore. The black dog is a large dog with glowing eyes that comes out at night and are fundamentally evil. There are myths all over the British Isles about the black dog. According to this site, the black dog is sometimes said to be a shape-shifter, is often a ghost, particularly of an executed murderer, and death usually falls in its wake.
According to Wikipedia, it goes by names like Hairy Jack, Hateful Beast, Cu Sith, and, like Sirius Black, Padfoot. Sith, by the way, is from Gaelic, meaning fairy. George Lucas didn't name the Sith of the Jedi after the Gaelic word, however, according to Wikipedia, the Sith were a creepy giant bug race in the John Carter of Mars book series. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

You can't do that on TV

While listening to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me in the car today, we learned a bunch of interesting facts about ridiculous examples of censorship. Most of which, sadly, I can't remember. I asked Jeremy, but he seems to be fighting a giant satanic purple smoke dinosaur and got very flustered when I tried to break his concentration. Sometimes you just have to let a man fight his purple smoke demons. Also, his character might be hiding a turquoise pony. All this World of Warcraft stuff is just too manly for me.
Okay, so I remembered that one of the examples of censorship is that in the 40s, censors decided Tweety Bird's sparse feathers were too scandalous and demanded he be less naked. Humorous anecdote: when I searched "nude Tweety bird," I purposely censored the results by using the "Moderate Safe Search" feature of Google images, wherein Google only returns images it thinks will not offend me. I used this tool based on my vast personal experience with "rule 34"; if it exists, there is porn for it. Then my scientific mind demanded I confirm rule 34 by searching "nude tweety bird" with safe search off. Don't do it. Just don't. 
Also, just an aside: if you can't think of anything more original than a Tweety bird tattoo, you don't deserve a tattoo. Just saying (though to be fair, this is coming from a woman who has a quill tattoo because she's a writer. Slightly more creative, but really only slightly).
Nowadays, with things like Hustler, unrated directors' cuts, and rule 34, it's hard to imagine that only a handful of decades ago, most sectors of the entertainment industry governed themselves by a strict set of rules that seem absurd today. And the twin beds in which Lucy and Ricky slept were the least of it. In 1921, according the Bill Bryson's Made in America, Hollywood decided it was time to make a bunch of really stupid rules. Over time, a group called The Hays Office developed a strict set of words and ideas that movies weren't supposed to show - and these rules lasted (though less and less strictly followed) until the 1960s. You weren't, for instance, supposed to show "excessive lustful kissing," and audiences should never be "thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin." Which is silly, because I want to  murder someone every time I hear Shirley Temple sing You Gotta Eat Your Spinach. You weren't allowed to say floozy (from 1902, possible variation on flossy, according to the online etymology dictionary), guts (which weren't particularly dirty then, but came to refer to a girl's lady bits in the hip hop slang of the 80s and 90s), and belch (from Old English bealcan).  You also weren't supposed to say louse, with the Hays Office suggesting films use the term stinkbug instead.
When I was searching for those facts from Wait, Wait that I mentioned earlier, I couldn't find them, but I did find this story about the state of Virginia censoring their official state seal to remove a bare breast. It struck me as funny that Virginia didn't censor the state seal when John Wilkes Booth basically reenacted the scene on the plate (slaying the nation's leader and then shouting "sic semper tyrannis." Not that I think it should have been censored then either. I just find it interesting the way people are always so much more eager to censor sex than violence. Like, of all the people refusing to let their kids watch Dancing with the Stars because Chaz Bono is trans, I'd bet about 95% of them have no problem letting their kids watch the Transformers movies, full of people and robots horribly murdering one another.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oh yeah

By the way, and for the record, if the ACLU did decide to take up the case of Kevin Trudeau, the sleazebag I lambasted yesterday, I'd still back them. Much as a menace as I think the guy is, speech is sacred. I someone wants to shut a guy down, even if it's for obvious fraud, even if the person who wants to shut the guy down is me, he damn well deserves a zealous defense.

Depends what your definition of "is" is.

Earlier today, somebody called Anonymous responded to the post I made yesterday with a link to this article about how the ACLU thinks fraud is free speech. 
I'd like you to swing on over there for a second and then swing on back here because this article's a great example to use when explaining how to spot a bucket of bull when you see one. I'm going to take a page from James Randi's book and beat the crap out of a dead horse just to prove my point, so feel free to skip to the end of this post for the real story once you're bored. 

All right, here's the play-by-play:

  • There's no author. Lots of bloggers like to stay anonymous, of course, but this Web site is not a blog. It purports itself to be the Web site of a non-profit organization "dedicated to protecting the civil rights of all Americans by publicly advancing a Constitutional understanding of our essential rights and freedoms." A proper non-profit, not a conglomeration of bloggers.
  • The author sites only one source, and it's a blog. Huge red flag. Never site other bloggers when making a case. Don't site me when making a case. I know that I research everything I say here, but you don't. Well, most of you don't. Someone who really cared about reporting properly would go to the sources or Google search to verify what the other blogger says before passing it along. Bloggers can say whatever we want, especially since many if not most of us do it anonymously. 
  • The author doesn't link to the blog post he or she refers to - doesn't even provide the title of the post. For that matter, they don't even provide the year in which this blog was supposedly written. Now the copyright at the bottom of the page is 2010, so we can probably conclude that the blog post appeared in 2010. It took me quite a few minutes of dedicated digging to find this post, which I think is the correct one... there were multiple Virginia politics blogs discussing this issue on May 6th.
  • Note that the author of the ACRU article doesn't site any of the sources that the Virginia blog sites, which is probably a decent indication that the ACRU author didn't read them.
  • Now let's look at the "ACRU" site itself. I find it a little suspicious that the site's url is so similar to the ACLU's, that the setup and color scheme of the site are so similar to the setup and color scheme of the ACLU's site (even more similar when you hop in the Wayback machine and check out an article that would have appeared around the same time the article in question did), and that the ACRU site doesn't go out of its way to clear up any conclusions on its main page. This makes me suspect that the site might be hoping for people to happen upon this site while looking for the ACLU site and maybe trick them a little into clicking on the "ACLU Outrages" link to find articles about how bad the ACLU is.  
  • The flip-flopping of fonts is often a sign that the author's doing some heavy cutting and pasting. College professors look for mismatched fonts as a red flag that the student might not be doing all of their own work. Might not be the case here, but it's worth pointing out.
  • There's no specific information about Michael Mann's research or what kind of fraud he's accused of. It uses weasel words to avoid actually claiming that Michael Mann presented "fake research," but that's most certainly what the author is implying. At no time was there any substantiated evidence that Michael Mann faked his research, but the author has given him or herself a back door to claim that he or she never actually accused Mann of fake research either.
  • There are no facts presented indicating what might have been fraudulent about Mann's work, no details at all. 
  • The article doesn't specify what documentation the university was being sued for. If you know anything about the way scientific research is presented, you'll know that any study that the author conducted would have been thoroughly documented and peer reviewed, his data painstakingly poured over by many, many people. So you have to wonder what, exactly, the university could have been hiding.
  • There's a really tiny snippet of the ACLU letter, again not directly sited, making me have to search around to find the letter to even verify that it existed. The tiny snippet implies that the ACLU is using "novel methodological approaches" as a euphemism for making up data, which, if you read just a tiny bit more of the paragraph in which the sentence resides, it is clearly not.
  • What's the paragraph about the history paper at Vanderbilt got to do with the price of fish? What's it doing in the article? Why isn't specific information sited there either? How is an allegation of fraud at another university in an entirely different academic discipline evidence that Michael Mann committed fraud?
  • Holy crap, the nature of scientific inquiry has changed a lot since the ancient Egyptians. I don't... I don't even know where to begin on this one. And is he claiming Galileo invented the telescope? Because he didn't. Does he even know what Galileo did do? Also, most people who know a lot about history and science know that there's a chance the Ben Franklin kite flying story is apocryphal, and that it's a fact he wasn't the first to do it (was the first to suggest it, however). So the blatant untruth about scientific inquiry not changing and the squishiness of the other examples might indicate the author doesn't know a whole lot about science or history. 
So the fact is that allegations of fraud by Michael Mann were never really substantiated. He was cleared of all wrongdoing. The university was being sued for documentation related to some government grants. The ACLU's stance was that the demand for the documentation was a baseless fishing expedition, and that there was no credible evidence of fraud. The judge who blocked the subpoena thought so too. Plus there was other stuff, but from here, you're on your own. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cancer schmancer

Jeremy told me that the reason all of the new TV shows start in the fall is that back in the early days, big television shows were sponsored by car companies, and car companies revealed their new lines in the fall. Nowadays, there's no reason for shows to begin in the fall, other than the fact that that's what people expect.
Advertising sponsors are responsible for the name of an entire genre. As I told you in this post, Variety, the show biz trade magazine, has been responsible for coining a surprising number of terms, including soap opera. Variety first used the term to apply to daytime radio dramas. At some point in the olden days, some soap advertising genius came up with the idea to sponsor shows geared exclusively toward women and run them during the day for the benefit of the housewives. Since the folk listening to these shows basically cleaned for a living, they were the perfect audience for soap commercials.

When I got my current job, it was the first during which I worked any kind of traditional schedule, and I was pretty surprised to discover that we nine-to-fivers get a whole different set of commercials. During the day, when I used to watch TV, the commercials were mostly for cash til payday loan places, workman's comp lawyers, and services that will get your phone turned back on after it's been shut off for non-payment. Advertisers had figured out that the folks home during the day weren't housewives anymore. People who work non-traditional hours make less money, or are unemployed, or are unable to work. Also, there were a lot more commercials for Enzyte, the supplement for "natural male enhancement." Apparently people who don't work during the day are also more concerned about the size of their wee wees. Or maybe advertisers surmise that people who don't work during the day are probably less educated, and therefore aren't capable of recognizing a crock when they see one. 
BTW, another place where you see a lot of commercials for natural male enhancement? G4 - the network for us geek types. Sorry, boys, it's not the performance that's keeping you single, it's the fact that you still live with Mom and haven't showered since the Bush administration. (I figure it's okay for me to make this offensive generalization because I'm a geek too - sort of like how it's okay for brown-skinned people to say the n-word).
As I mentioned in another post, night people get a whole other set of commercials, the cruelest of which are the ones for products that those advertisers know full well don't actually relieve pain. Magnets. Copper. Shoe inserts. Vitamins. I tell you what, when you're up all night with pain, pacing in front of the television because it hurts too much to even lay still; you start to want so badly to believe that one of these stupid things might help that three easy payments of $29.95 starts to seem like a damn good price for something you're more than smart enough to know is a crock.
The worst by far of these snake oil salesmen is Kevin Trudeau, the unrepentant felon who hocks the Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About books. In the books, he claims that the FDA and drug companies are members of a great conspiracy to convince you that drugs can keep you alive. Instead of using drugs proved effective by the FDA, you should subscribe to his highly overpriced Web site that can get you in touch with all your snake oil needs. He's been taken to court over his patently false and disproved claims, which he sites as proof of the evilness of the conspiracy. Courts have prevented him from selling the products about which his books and Web site make false claims, but free speech gives him the right to continue selling the books. Fraud's not free speech. Just saying.
Not that big pharma's not evil, not that the FDA does enough to protect us from dangerous products, not that the whole system isn't set up to let big phrama screw us. It's just that you shouldn't stop taking your cancer meds because a charismatic fraud felon overcharges you for a book that tells you that you should. It's a little bit like shouting fire in a crowded theater, IMO.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The legendary yeti

I'd be skeptical if you told me there was a venomous, egg laying, duck billed, beaver tailed mammal, and yet, the platypus. ~ Some dude just now on Bones

Cryptozoology, as I've mentioned before, is the study of animals that haven't been proved to exist, like the yeti, the Loch Ness monster, and the teacup poodle (you can't convince me that's not just a rat with an afro). 
The Online Etymology Dictionary doesn't have an entry for cryptozoology, which is too bad because I'm curious. If I had to guess, I'd say it was coined by the folks who formed the defunct International Society of Cryptozoology. It comes from the Greek krypto, meaning hidden. It's not an official branch of zoology, by the way, or any science.
In fact, Dr. Temperance Brennen - yes, I'm still watching Bones - just pointed out that "cryptozoologists begin with the conclusion and then work backwards... that is not science. That's the opposite of science."
But that doesn't mean everybody who believes in creatures that  we can't prove exist are crazy, or even necessarily wrong. The people of the Congo knew about the okapi for ages before the rest of the world learned of them. Imagine trying to tell someone of the existence of a half-horse, half zebra looking thing that's actually a short-necked giraffe. I'd buy Nessie over that thing. Look at it. It looks Photoshopped. Badly Photoshopped at that. Looks like someone just pasted some zebra legs over a deformed giraffe and didn't even bother trying to blend.
Okapi, by the way, is the word given to the creature by the folks who lived alongside it. Wikipedia says it's a portmanteau of oka, which means to cut, and kpi, which refers to a striped design. Which is way better than the way the gorilla got its name.
I got blown off course somehow, and I've got things to do before bed, so I guess I'll just have to regale you with whatever I planned to regale you with later.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Indigenous Peoples Day?

It is Columbus day once again, the day when Americans gather across the country to either laud or vilify the man, and accuse those who disagree with them of being terrible Americans. 
Last year, in this post, I wrote about how Columbus himself glibly announced what great slaves the people of the new world would make; how he and the Europeans who came along with him committed horrible atrocities against the native Americans, atrocities he and his contemporaries document in their own journals. 
This year, I tried to get the other take by reading stuff that Columbus supporters have to say. The problem with that, of course, is that the Internet is full of giant idiots. If there are pro-Columbus folks out there with intelligent, well-reasoned defenses for the man, they're far overshadowed by the shrieking flag-wavers that fill the blogosphere. 
I did find this article from that claims
Columbus should be honored, for in so doing, we honor Western civilization. But the critics do not want to bestow such honor, because their real goal is to denigrate the values of Western civilization and to glorify the primitivism, mysticism, and collectivism embodied in the tribal cultures of American Indians... We should, they claim, replace our reverence for Western civilization with multi-culturalism, which regards all cultures as morally equal. In fact, they aren't. Some cultures are better than others: a free society is better than slavery; reason is better than brute force as a way to deal with other men; productivity is better than stagnation.
It's interesting that author Michael S. Berliner mentions slavery in his argument, in that enslaving the the native peoples of the New World is one of Columbus' most direct accomplishments. 
But peering past his racist assertion that all Native Americans were primitive, violent, and brutish, he does almost kind of have a point. There's a certain subset of liberals who do think that Native American culture was better than our own, that Native Americans were just a peace-loving people in touch with the planet and the universe. That sweeping generalization is a little bit racist too. Native Americans were people. Some were in touch with the earth, some, however, intentionally burned down huge chunks of forest to make for easier hunting. Some had lovely spiritual traditions and worshiped Mother Earth, some practiced human sacrifice. Some tribes were peaceful, others forever at war. Some Native Americans were enslaved when Westerners came to the New World, some Native Americans brutally enslaved other Native Americans long before Columbus and his men showed up. 
And there's this trend among some academic liberals to claim that Native Americans honored women more than Westerners, to characterize Native Americans as having been largely matriarchal. That claim isn't really true. Some tribes were matriarchies, but only a handful, as far as I know. 
I guess where I'm going with this is that Columbus and his men may have done horrible things, but it's not like every Native American in the New World was running around with a dream catcher revering the earth and honoring women. 
However, Berliner, in making a somewhat valid point, sneakily sidesteps the central question when it comes to honoring Columbus: was Columbus a hero? The facts are these: Columbus did not originate the idea that the world was round - most educated people at the time knew that. So we can toss that out of the equation. Columbus wasn't a champion for Christ; Christ would have been sickened by the atrocities committed by Columbus and his men. 
Columbus, was, however, a very skilled navigator. Columbus was very brave to attempt what he attempted. Columbus was a great man in his time. 
But a hero that schoolchildren should be indoctrinated into believing was God's gift to the Americas? Not in my opinion. Still, you look too hard at any of your heroes, and you're bound to start seeing things you don't want to see.
Except Mr. Rogers. 100% hero.
I just want to point out that every other picture
I took in Key West is of a stupid chicken.
I had about ten shots of this amazing tree, and then
a hundred of the rooster I discovered a few
feet away.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

All your diction dripping with disdain

There's been much debate, in the circles in which I run, about the Oxford comma of late. Because I run in circles with people who debate about commas, I'm ashamed to say. And listening to this debate I've learned one important thing. People get really, really worked up over one tiny piece of punctuation.
Here's the deal. The Oxford, or serial comma, is the punctuation that comes right before and, but, or nor in a list of things. As in "I like puppies, rainbows, and drag racing." Not all people think that the Oxford comma is needed, that the sentence is just as clear if written "I like puppies, rainbows and drag racing."
I have an opinion on this. I've tried my hardest not to, but I think it's in my English major DNA. I'm not going to push my opinion on you here though, because the point of this entry is to demand, loudly, to know why the hell anyone cares about such a thing.
Now I'm not above pointless debating. I've dedicated more of my life than I care to admit to debating what would happen if Wolverine got a tattoo, what with the mutant healing factor. I mean, would it just seep in, or slough off, or would it stay. It's like a scar, but it's not a scar... I mean what it all comes down to is that we'd need to figure out first exactly just how his mutant healing factor works. If his cells just regenerate really quickly, then the skin that contains the ink would come to the surface sooner first...
Okay, wait, no. Not the point. The point? Oh, the point is punctuation. And how damned silly it is to get worked up about it.
This seems hypocritical coming from someone like me, who froths at the sight of misplaced apostrophes (apostrophes aren't used to make plurals, for God sake. Your establishment doesn't serve fajita's, it serves fajitas. Unless, of course, your restaurant serves thinks that belong to a fajita, in which case, part of your sentence is missing). Can I be forgiven based on the fact that I get paid to care about these things?
You know that book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves that everyone seems convinced I'll love? I hate it. The woman, I kid you not, picketed outside the movie Two Weeks Notice to complain that it should be Two Weeks' Notice. Like, maybe she's a lovely person with a great social conscience, but I really wonder as to the last time she held up a picket sign in favor of something important, you know? I might complain loudly, and at length, outside of an establishment that abuses apostrophes, but holding a sign? Please. Never. Okay, maybe under the right circumstances.
But then, I do care about things like little things like punctuation. If a piece of business literature is filled with little punctuation errors, it will make me think twice about the company. If they can't be bothered to proofread their copy, what else are they lax about? I know a knitter who won't use a knitting pattern if there are a lot of mistakes in the text between the pattern bits - minute details are very important in things like sock patterns, and if someone's lax in the area of grammar, well, it might be the red flag that prevents you from making socks the size of your head. And there are times when punctuation is important. Take the age old case of "Let's eat grandma," vs. "Let's eat, grandma." In that case, a lack of punctuation may lead to some very expensive therapy bills down the line. 
Also, my friend sent this to me, which is what got me thinking about minutiae in the first place. And the cartoonist really does have a point.
Okay, fine, I'll say it. I'm pro-Oxford. And I'm not afraid to admit it.