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.

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."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fun with fallacies: begging the question

I think most people, myself included, use "beg the question" to mean "prompt us to ask the question." 
But in reality, "beg the question" is actually a type of logical fallacy, which is "assuming as true the very point that is under discussion," according to Theodore Bernstein. 
A perfect example of this fallacy is an article from entitled "Why do so many liberals despise Christianity?" The author, Damon Linker, argues that liberals hate Christianity (like lack of centralized oversight and accountability), but begins with a statement that already assumes that liberals hate Christianity. By "begging the question," the author is able to attribute the beliefs of some liberals to hate for Christianity without having to show evidence that hatred of Christianity motivates these beliefs. 
So when a editorial expresses "ambivalence toward missionary medicine," we can ignore writer Brian Palmer's arguments supporting his ambivalence because we know he's really saying what he's saying because he hates Christianity because he is liberal and liberals hate Christianity. Oddly, the article concludes that missionary medicine is a good thing and saves lives, and secular Americans should set aside their reservations and "let God do His work." But obviously, he's being insincere because he hates Christians because he's a liberal and liberals hate religion.

The article talks about a college in Boston that is facing having its accreditation revoked because the college has enforced a policy against being gay. The higher education commission that opposes the policy is made up of liberals (or so Linker implies), and they are threatening to revoke accreditation because they are liberals and liberals hate Christianity. So any arguments about equal rights are just a smoke screen because we know their real motive is hate for Christianity. And the commission couldn't be choosing to focus on the parts of the bible that talk about loving and not judging because liberals would never follow the bible because it is Christian and liberals hate Christianity. 

The fallacy of begging the question here allows the author to attribute liberal beliefs to hatred of Christianity, any argument to the contrary having no merit because we already know that liberals hate Christianity, therefore, when a liberal's beliefs conflict with those of a particular Christian, those beliefs are obviously the result of hatred of Christianity - no other argument is valid.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I bet you think this song is about you

There are many great mysteries from history. What happened to the Roanoke colony? Who was D. B. Cooper? What the hell is up with the Easter Island sculptures? But perhaps the greatest mystery is the one given to us by Carly Simon: who's so vain?

Ms. Simon has given many clues, but no solid answer as to the subject's identity, but Warren Beatty once said, "Let's be honest. That song was about me." Because irony. 

Here's a few other songs written about folks you may know.

Layla (Eric Clapton Jim Gordon, 1970)
The Layla to whom this song refers to the ancient Arabian tale of Layla and Majnun. Majnun, according to the story, was in love with Layla, but her father would not allow her to marry him, and so Majnun went insane. The Layla of the song stood for Clapton's secret love, Pattie Boyd. You might not have heard of Boyd, but you've probably heard of her then husband, Clapton's best friend George Harrison. That's pretty awkward, and it got even more awkward in 1979 when Harrison was an honored guest at Boyd and Clapton's wedding. Before the two divorced a few years later, Clapton also wrote the song Wonderful Tonight about Boyd.

How Do You Sleep vs. Silly Love Songs (John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney)
The Beatles were musical pioneers who created, among other things, the first concept album (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), the first real music videos (they released them for Rain and Paperback Writer in 1965 instead of touring), and the first album in which all the songs were written by band members (most artists at the time performed music written by other people on their albums, and those who did have original work only had a few original songs on each album). 
After the excruciating public meltdown of The Beatles, Paul and John decided they hadn't had enough fighting and so they joined to innovate one more thing: the hip hop feud, in which they lobbed "diss tracks" at each other for the first several years of their solo careers.
John Lennon's 1971 How Do You Sleep was the most direct of these songs, with lyrics like "those freaks was right when they said you was dead" (I assume that McCartney must also have been the grammarian of the duo) and "the sound you make is muzak to my ears." 
That wasn't the catchiest song ever written, but one of McCartney's songs, 1976's Silly Love Songs (which is certainly muzak to my ears) was a response to John's complaint that all Paul wanted to write were "silly love songs."
And since I don't like either song, you get this:

Hollaback Girl (Gwen Stefani, Pharell Williams, and Chat Hugo, 2004)
This is absolutely the best song to perform on network television

This song, second only to Mickey and It's a Small World in its earworminess, is actually written about a person second only to Yoko Ono in its "talentless person only famous because of dead spouse"-iness, Courtney Love. Love, described by one of my friends as "literally the worst singer I have ever heard live" (see proof below), once said of Gwen Stefani "being famous is just like being in high school... I'm not interested in being Gwen Stefani. She's the cheerleader, and I'm out in the smoker shed." So Stefani wrote a song about being a cheerleader because... that'll show Courtney love she's not a cheerleader.

Actually, Love is kind of like the girl who drops out of high school
to form a terrible band and ends up dying in a prison knife fight.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Same planet, different worlds

So Jeremy and I are at the National Museum in London, checking out the Rosetta Stone and the body of freaking Cleopatra (like you do), and I visit the restroom. A museum employee apologized for the fact that  the blow-dryers were broken and I replied I'd just wipe my hands dry on my pants.
Up until that point, I'd been doing all right with the lingo (thank you, BBC America), but that all ended when I told the kindly old museum docent that I like to dry my hands on my underwear. 
Seems it's not just soccer and football that Americans and Englishmen can't agree on (I am with the English on that one, by the way - the game that consists solely of kicking a ball with your foot should be called football). Another pair of expressions with opposite meanings are public and private schools. Here, private schools cost money and public schools are free. There, it's the opposite. 
The things we call cookies, they call biscuits. Jeremy went into a KFC to try to figure out what the buttermilk biscuits were called there. They don't have them (in related news, KFC sells other food besides biscuits). Chips here are called crisps there, and chips there are called fries here. And "curry sauce" is a thing you dip your fries in, but appears to be gravy with curry powder added to it (and disgusting). There, if you mention a car's hooter, you're not claiming that a vehicle has a breast, but that it has a horn.
Cars in England have bonnets and boots, rather than hoods and trunks. Station wagons here are called estates there. 
Also, Dennis the Menace exists on both sides of the pond, but the two comic strips, both of which first appeared in 1951, are completely unrelated.
The best thing about British museums is that they're full of stuff that they obtained before
it was considered uncool to just go to somebody's island and take their treasures.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A cop shot a guy... who was shooting at him

Another black man was killed by a white cop in St. Louis, an Associated Press article tells me. The cop claimed that the Vonderitt D. Meyers whipped out a gun and started shooting, but the boy's mom said the boy had a sandwich, not a gun.
Oh yeah, and by the way, ballistics show Meyers totally had a gun and appear to confirm that he fired three times at officer with a stolen gun that was found at the scene. A fact that the article only points out 700 words into a 900 word story. 
The article points out that the man was black, that his parents (who near as I can tell weren't anywhere nearby) say he was unarmed, that a state senator called this "racial profiling gone bad." It mentions the Michael Brown killing in nearby Ferguson. It goes on to talk about protests, candlelight vigils, police arresting black protesters... all before pointing out that there's overwhelming evidence that things went down exactly as the officer in the Meyers case said.
Other stories follow the AP's lead. One CBS news story ran under the headline "Mom of man killed by St. Louis cop: he was unarmed." If you've got credible evidence that the St. Louis police force is both willing and capable of such a cover-up, let's hear it. If eyewitnesses saw Meyers using a sandwich to shoot at the cop, then mom's sandwich story is headline-worthy.
Journalists are well aware that most people don't read the whole story - many only read the headline. The AP and CBS know exactly what readers will assume. The media is lying by burying the truth and in so doing, handing ammunition to the white people of the world who would have us believe that racial profiling is A-OK and every cop who mistreats a minority is the victim of a liberal media smear campaign. 
All the evidence we have so far points to a conclusion that the officer who shot Vonderitt D. Meyers had ample reason. This is nothing like Michael Brown.
Brown was unarmed. He was 35 feet away from the cop who shot him, and at least 7 eyewitnesses say that Brown had his hands up when the cop shot at him. The forensic evidence does not confirm or deny either the officer's or the eyewitnesses' accounts. The cop's actions endangered the many folks standing around. The cop at the very least exercised poor judgement, and it's not unreasonable to suspect that if Brown were white, he would still be alive.
Burying the evidence of Meyers' guilt does not make him look less guilty, it makes the media look less credible. There are way too many folks who rush to defend every white cop who shoots a black man, overwhelming evidence notwithstanding - folks who believe they aren't racist, who want to bury all our heads in the sand and pretend racism is a hazy memory. Let's not be like them, rushing to judge all cops who shoot black men without looking at the evidence. 
I think it's time to focus on healing. I think it's time to focus on better non-violent crisis training for cops. On getting cops the equipment that lets them use deadly force only as a last resort. It's time to focus on solutions that keep cops, citizens, and yes, criminals, safe. It's time for coming together. We don't need liberal and conservative media reporting conflicting facts on the same story - we need openness, honesty, and dialog. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

You don't say

Traveling around the country for a job some years back, I discovered regionalisms I had no idea existed. Everybody knows about y'all and soda, but there's a whole world of regional weirdisms that your students will make fun of you for not knowing.
Like how people in parts of Pennsylvania refer to a shopping cart as a buggy. Which is especially weird in light of the fact Pennsylvania is Amish central, making it the one place in the union where you're most likely to see a horse buggy and a shopping buggy in the same trip. 
This regionalism quiz is eerily accurate. The quiz tells me I'm from Cleveland, Akron, or Canton - the three cities in which I've lived. It told Jeremy he's from Canton, Akron, or Fort Wayne - two of those are cities he's lived in, and the third is where his dad's family is from. Try it yourself. Tell me about it in the comments. Seriously, guys, when nobody comments, it makes me look even lamer than your average lady with a language blog.
Seriously? How do you people not have a word for this?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Only offensive if you think about it

Let me say in advance that this bit was a bad idea poorly executed by The Daily Show. Watching the Daily Show's coverage of the Washington Redskins controversy is a little painful, and not just because I'm a Cleveland Indians fan.

This coverage actually went way worse than the video lets on. One of the Redskins fans ran out and called the cops because she felt "threatened" (though there's nothing to indicate the Native Americans did anything that a reasonable person might find threatening). 
Some of the Native American folks who participated in the segment felt threatened, though. Their fear was maybe a bit more reasonable, considering the direct death threats they've gotten.
Even though the bit was a dirty trick, it raises a really important question. Would you wear your Chief Wahoo shirt to a meeting with some Native Americans? Would I admit to being an Indian's fan if a Native American person asked? 
And why on earth are fans of these racist mascots and team names so vitriolic when someone calls them out? How does a debate devolve into death threats so quickly? Because when you're arguing that your team name and mascot are intended to honor the Native American spirit, but then threaten to murder one of the people you're honoring, your words ring just a bit untrue.
I'm pretty offended by this mascot too.
Seriously, Cleveland? A FREE stamp with
legs would be a better mascot.

My title is in reference to this Onion story.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I'm not racist, I'm just stupid

So the Boston Herald ran this really lame cartoon recently
I mean, seriously, if you're going to be offensive, you could at least be funny about it.
Here's why some consider this offensive. For more than a century, the offensive image of a stereotypical black person or child with a big hunk of watermelon was ubiquitous. It was a degrading reminder for African Americans of their sub-human status in white society. 
Following Obama's election, the watermelon cartoon enjoyed a renaissance in less mainstream publications, only with our president as the starring player. You can see several hundred if you care to do a Google image search for "Obama and watermelon" (but I wouldn't advise it if you want to retain any faith in humanity). 
So the cartoonist at the Boston Herald claims he didn't mean anything about it, and the editorial staff plead naivete. And maybe it's my own naivete, but I actually believe them. 
But it makes me wonder... when it comes to journalism, does ignorance absolve idiocy? I mean, journalists are supposed to help people be less ignorant; yet nobody employed at the Boston Herald was familiar enough with the whole watermelon thing to have it ring alarm bells and change the toothpaste flavor (or replace the cartoon with one that was actually remotely funny)?
It reminds me of a decidedly more grave case where journalists claimed ignorance, this one in my hometown. Last year, a trans woman named Cemia Dove was found murdered. Newspaper coverage was shameful. The Plain Dealer ran the story of her death under a headline about an "Oddly Dressed Man" found murdered. The story reported that she was wearing three bras, no pants, and a Betty Boop tank top before it even mentioned her legal name. Her chosen identity, which they could easily have learned, wasn't even mentioned. The pronoun he was used throughout the story.
Once they learned Cemia's identity (and had already been contacted by folks from the trans community about the language in the first story), another story was run, again under a headline calling her a man, this one detailing her history of run ins with the local transit authority to whom, we learn, she had "lied" about her gender and identity. Later, the headline was changed to use the gender neutral "Clevelander," but the content of the story was unchanged.
All right, well, most people outside the community don't know the proper language to use (although people outside the community probably should know that stories about someone's grizzly death probably shouldn't start with fashion commentary, and that a five-minute public records search doesn't qualify as journalism). That's why the Associated Press style guide has clear standards to use when covering stories about trans folk.
The author of the story was publicly indignant that they'd been criticized, claiming that it was perfectly reasonable to not know about these standards. How did no one say "I have not encountered a news story about a transgender person; perhaps I should bother to do a damn Google search on the proper vocabulary to use"?
The folks at the Plain Dealer and the folks at the Boston Herald are essentially seeking absolution by saying "I shouldn't be blamed here; it's not my fault I don't know how to do my job."
Dude, you screw up, you own up. If the Herald had said "gee, that was a really big mistake we made and we're sorry," that'd be enough for me. But instead we get "I'm sorry, but I shouldn't have to be sorry." If the Plain Dealer had apologized and atoned by speaking with the members of the trans community who reached out to them, maybe learned a bit about the alarming numbers of trans people who are violently attacked or outright murdered, it would have turned the situation around. Instead they ran an editorial by another reporter defending the first reporter's ignorance.
And they wonder why my generation gets its news from The Daily Show.