Friday, June 04, 2010

And I Quote:

Here's another mash-up of quotations, many from the fine newsletter A Word a Day, many from other sources:

    Liberalism is trust of the people, tempered by prudence; conservatism, distrust of people, tempered by fear. -William E. Gladstone
    The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. -Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)
    ... it is helpful to recall that Jesus did not write a book but lived a life. — Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
    Let no man pull you low enough to hate him. -Martin Luther King, Jr., civil-rights leader (1929-1968)
    Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. -George Bernard Shaw, writer, Nobel laureate (1856-1950)
    The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. -Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)
    We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. -Richard Dawkins, biologist and author (b. 1941)
    It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument. -William G. McAdoo, lawyer and politician (1863-1941)
    In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. -Marcel Proust, novelist (1871-1922)
    Doubt is like a front porch. All of us go through it before we get into the house of faith.... The Rev. Dr. William L. Self
    The most miserable pettifogging in the world is that of a man in the court of his own conscience. -Henry Ward Beecher, preacher and writer (1813-1887)
    Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it. -Agatha Christie, author (1890-1976)
    In the struggle between yourself and the world second the world. -Franz Kafka, novelist (1883-1924)
    A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilisation. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)
    The tragedy of modern war is not so much that young men die but that they die fighting each other, instead of their real enemies back home in the capitals. -Edward Abbey, naturalist and author (1927-1989)
    The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)
    "I sometimes pray not for self-knowledge in general but for just so much self-knowledge at the moment as I can bear and use at the moment; the little daily dose." — C.S. Lewis

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Strange Headlines, Part Two

Not so much strange headlines as interesting juxtaposition of headlines. Did someone not look at the overall look of the page before sending it out...or did someone note the layout and decided--as did I--that the placement of these two headlines was rather amusing?

Again from The Daily Beast's Morning Scoop Cheat Sheet (which, it must be said, seems to have at least one title too many: "The Daily Beast"; "Morning Scoop"; "Cheat Sheet." I get that they're separate albeit umbrella'd pieces of a whole. But that doesn't make it easier to type) for today:

Nuff said, I think.

Strange Headlines, Part One

Having spent a fair number of years coming up with headlines, subheads ("decks," if you prefer), pull-quotes (call-out quotes), photo captions, and the like, I get that it's not always an easy task. Indeed, it's a pretty precise skill, one that, like any skill, requires practice and patience.

Evidently those commodities are sometimes in short supply.

Here's an item from The Daily Beast's Morning Scoop Cheat Sheet one day last week:

Wait. What? "Homicide Student"? You mean this guy was, like, majoring in homicide? In which case, wouldn't murder be, I dunno, his final project or something? What next--"French major accused of speaking foreign language"?

The Cheat Sheet's little blurb contains no useful information, other than that the accused is a grad student, meaning he must have taken a lot of Homicide over the years. A regular fixture in his college's Homicide department. Bit of a Homicide geek, truth to tell. Probably going to become a Homicide professor himself. You know, those who can't do...oh. Wait. That's wrong. Forget that part.

One must click through to the Telegraph's report to get the full scoop:

Ah--the accused is a PhD student whose focus of study, apparently, has been Jack the Ripper. Okay, that makes some sense--evidently he was doing his practicum--and I suppose it's fair enough to call him a "homicide student." It's a grabber headline, and I get that. But The Daily Beast would have been well advised to do a tiny bit of explication in their subsequent blurb.

On the other hand, it was pretty intriguing for a few minutes there. I was all set to go back to school.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Free* Advice!

* Not really.

When you see the word "free" followed by an asterisk, you know that the advertiser means free in the sense of "not free."

Witness ye this from my inbox a few days ago:

The asterisk tells me that the "free" sample of fruit snacks will be mine all mine just as soon as I complete "program requirements" for some company that takes pains to inform me that it is not "endorsed, sponsored by or affiliated with any of the products, brands, or merchants listed above." Phew.

Perhaps needless to say, I declined to participate in the "gift program." "Free"--or rather, "free*"--sounded like too much trouble. If I want fruit snacks I'll buy them, and consider myself ahead.

I spent enough time in the advertising rack-- business! I mean business! that I know and appreciate the value of the word free. And I maintain that it is far more valuable than the word free*. I imagine there are a few people around who overlook the asterisk and thus are to a greater or lesser extent snookered into "participating" in a program. Or parting with cash for their "free*" treasure. Or both.

But even at this late date I retain enough optimism to believe that that number is indeed small, and that the majority of folks have long since wised up to the meaning of the asterisk.

And I maintain that those who have been snookered by the asterisk will refrain from putting themselves in that position again. Fool me once, etc.

I'm a bigger fan of the expression "free with purchase." Um, yes. A new and exciting use of the word "free," but again indicating "not free," and coming right out and saying so. I mean, isn't everything "free with purchase"? Big Macs, flat-screen TVs, used cars--I make a purchase (Big Mac, flat-screen TV, used car) and then it's absolutely free!

Meanwhile, here we are well into the twenty-first century and we are still in thrall to the hoary practice of pricing products mere pennies below some real or imagined break point, and sticking the word "just" or "only" in front of it as if that really convinces anybody that the purchase is inexpensive. Does anybody really believe that $24.99 isn't, for all practical purposes, twenty-five dollars? Does anybody, looking at an item priced $12.97, not think, "Huh! They want thirteen bucks for this piece of junk!"? Does anybody look at a catalog and become convinced that a given product is inexpensive because the copy says it's "only" $999.99?

    I wouldn't have bought it, except the ad said it was "only" $999.99, which makes it cheap. And anyhow, it was under a thousand bucks. I wouldn't have bought it if it cost $1000.00. That would have been too expensive. Unless they put "only" in front of it.

Anyhow, it's just "pennies a day"--another meaningless phrase. My house costs just pennies a day, after all, as does my car--several thousand pennies, to be sure, but still just pennies a day. And note that that's just pennies a day, which makes it all better, so no worries.

Well, make that no worries*: I actually do worry that we are raising a generation that believes the word is in fact spelled ef-ar-ee-ee-asterisk.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Seeing Doubles

Facebook does so many weird things these days that it sometime seems hardly worth the effort to comment on them. (Lately, for instance, it's been having trouble with links on shared items: the description of the item is lost and a mere generic or or something equally uninformative--appears, no matter how things had looked in the Post to Profile popup.)

But previous to this latest oddity, Facebook has for some little time now been vexing me with thumbnail schizophrenia on its Post to Profile window. I will elect to share an item--it doesn't seem to matter if I do so with ShareThis, Share on Facebook, or via a link in the original publication--and after a moment in which all appears to be progressing normally I will be greeted with a Post to Profile window that looks like this:

Invariably, the top thumbnail is the appropriate illustration. But, also invariably, my clicking the "share" button at this point means that the bottom thumbnail will appear on my News Feed.

A little exploration reveals that the last of the number of thumbnail options presented--in this instance, seven--is the winning entry. Of course. So a conscientious poster must go through the entire inventory before he can share a post with a thumbnail that will be anything but a head-scratcher to his devoted readers:

Typically, the proper thumbnail remains in the top position. But at any point in this process, clicking
"share" will post the item with the bottom thumbnail appended.

Until finally--literally, finally, for there are no more options save "no thumbnail"--the right illustration appears all by its lonesome, and will be properly attached to the post. What a nuisance.

On the other hand, Facebook's latest troubles with correctly (or at least helpfully) rendering links is even more of a nuisance...meaning that I now long for that which I considered an annoyance only two days ago!

Are You Paying Attention?

Eric Barker's blog Barking up the wrong tree features an interesting little post, "Does doodling make you smarter?"

The conclusion of the study that Barker references--"Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial"--is intriguing enough, but what really caught my attention is Barker's own subsequent commentary, especially this:

    ...Well, now I post this and play my trump card against every one of my elementary school teachers. (Have no illusions; just like all of you, I thrive on petty vengeance.)

Exactly! Not the petty vengeance paty--that goes without saying--but the elementary-school teachers part. (And junior-high teachers. And high school. Don't remember any of my college profs caring, however.) The assumption always seemed to be that doodling in the margins, which I do to this day, some 30 years after my college graduation, indicates a lack of attentiveness. I suppose it may do so, but my experience and observation incline me to think that it indicates greater attentiveness. A distraction it may be, but I think it's a way of distracting the hand while the mind focuses on the matter before it.

Likewise the closing of one's eyes.

We are taught from the earliest days that "paying attention" means "look at me." That makes sense in the case of a demonstration. But I have always found it easier to concentrate on a speaker if my eyes are closed. Unless I'm taking notes. In which case the results can be disastrous.

But in our society, to listen with eyes closed is somehow considered rude. It makes no more sense to think that my closed eyes mean I am not paying sufficient attention than to think that my fixed stare means I'm hanging on every syllable. And yet society seems to think that the latter is inarguably true.

Nor is it logical to assume that my closed eyes mean that I am asleep...although I must confess to having sat through any number of sermons, homilies, and presentations where that outcome could easily have occurred. Why my desire to shut out extraneous distractions (look at that bird on the window sill! I wonder how long that pencil has been embedded in that ceiling tile. It's annoying how that fluorescent tube keeps flickering) should be interpreted as an insult instead of a compliment is beyond me.

That said, I must weigh in with my belief that to engage oneself with a laptop or smartphone is not the same thing. Electronic devices distract the mind as well as the hand. I've taught enough classes with students hunched over their laptop computers--and, more to the point, graded their subsequent papers--to know they're not listening. Certainly they're not taking notes!

Oh, and that eyes closed thing? If snoring and/or drooling is involved, forget all that stuff I said above.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, I am given to understand, originally was intended to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War. Today it seems to get confused a lot with Veterans' Day. Be that as it may, here are ancestors of mine who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Perhaps there are more.
    Anthony McGrale (my Grandma Reynolds's great-grandfather) - Company A, 48th Regiment, Illinois Infantry. Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, among others.

    Phineas Bates Reynolds (my dad's great-grandfather) - Company K, 34th Regiment, Illinois Infantry. Wounded at the Battle of Shiloh.

    Alfred Nye (my dad's great-grandfather) - Signal Corps. He appears to have been at Little Round Top, though I am still researching details.

I have a small family history website here, though I see I need to do some housekeeping.