Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Fine Print

    NOTICE: This email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.

Ah, yes. What balderdash. I observe that an increasing number of e-mail messages—including those that come from individuals, not institutions—carry some variant of the above twaddle.  I rather suspect that such disclaimers carry no weight whatsoever, in a legal sense. If they do, then shame on us, since the little paragraph above has no meaning whatsoever. Consider:

The message is “…for the sole use of the intended recipient(s)”….  And how, pray, is one to know who the Intended Recipient(s) is or are? The above sample is one that I copied from a message received this past week (with the exciting subject line “CONFIDENTIAL”). It was sent from an individual to a short list of individuals that, obviously, included me. My name, my Mac address. May I not safely conclude from that that I am an Intended Recipient? I mean, my address and everything!

Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?

But soft! “Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited.” Clearly this means that if I am not an Intended Recipient I may not “review” (i.e., read) the message, yes? How, then, am I to determine that I am not an Intended Recipient? The fact that it’s addressed to me would seem to indicate so. But how can I be certain without a “review” of the item in question?

So, throwing all caution to the wind, I plunge into the body of the message. Which begins with the salutation “Brethren.”


I have encountered this before. Somewhere in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, my e-mail address has become attached to an Elder who shares a name with me. In bygone times I would respond to such misaddressed missives (I imagine I’ve written about that in the past, but I’ve no time to go through the archives at the moment), but I discovered that people not only could not be bothered to acknowledge their error, they could not be bothered to correct it. I know I have written about the woman who habitually gives people my address instead of hers (she seems to have left out a letter), and how I one replied to all of the misdirected messages from her friends, encouraging them to update their address books—only to receive no reply…except for more misaddressed notes!  (Oddly the only exception to this rudeness/stupidity has come from businesses to which the woman in question has sloppily given the wrong address.)

Along those lines, I responded, in the early days, to e-mail from various LDS persons, politely encouraging them to correct their address books. No reply, ever. So I quit replying. Not my fault if their message fails to reach one of their Intended Recipient(s).

And speaking of: So now I am into the “Brethren” message (which contains, following a brief greeting, the peculiar line, “I think that I have spoken live with each of you.” Spoken live. Still deciphering that one), and must conclude that I am not one of the Intended Recipient(s). For one thing, the sender has not Spoken Live to me, nor Spoken Unlive to me, nor Spoken Any Other Way to me. For another, he says, “I continue to look to raise a lot of money,” which immediately tells me he isn’t talking to me—although he goes on to say that this lot of money must not come from “members of the Church,” which is intriguing and suspicious enough that I was momentarily inclined to reply. (“You know, I speak live to a lot of people, so refresh my memory about what we spoke live about before…”)

So now I am in clear violation of the disclaimer, for I would seem not to be an Intended Recipient, and yet I have “reviewed” the message, unauthorizedly, which the disclaimer says I can’t do. Or maybe that was on the mattress tag. I’m losing track.

What am I to do? Clearly I can’t unread what I have already read. I know this bloke is eager to raise “a lot of money” from “those who share the passion and who are NOT members of the Church”; I am unlikely to forget that any time soon. The disclaimer says I am to report my transgression to the sender. But I’m pretty sure that violates my Fifth Amendment rights, so I’m not going there. Also, I’m tired of trying to do the right thing by people who are too fucking rude to acknowledge the effort or change their behavior, so that’s out.

The instructions go on to say that I must now “destroy all copies of the original message.” Exactly how I am supposed to do that? For one thing, the “original message” by definition resides with the sender. Am I to break into his house and destroy his computer? Maybe the “original” isn’t even on his computer—maybe it’s on a server somewhere. Am I to hack into the system and determine the location of the host, then travel to wherever it may be and destroy its server farm? And even then I am left with the quandary inherent in the command to “destroy all copies of the original message.” In my world, there can be only one “original”—everything else, by definition, is a copy, not an original. So which am I to destroy? The original? Or copies of the original? If the latter, we have a big problem, since there are apt to be dozens, if not more, floating around in cyberspace. Maybe they’re hanging around various servers that handled the message en route to its Intended Recipient(s).  Finding and destroying all traces could take decades.

And what of those Intended Recipient(s)? They have copies! I presume I must break into their homes and offices and destroy their machines as well! And their ISPs’ servers!

And what about “disclosure,” which the disclaimer also prohibits? How am I to know whether they disclosed the e-mail’s contents? How am I to know whether any such disclosure was “authorized”? And if they did disclose, what is the penalty? And who is to undertake it? The disclaimer implies that it is my responsibility…but I’m not supposed to have read the message in the first place!

Which obviously means…I shouldn’t have read the disclaimer either.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What's This Doing in My Spam Folder?

Why in the world does Yahoo Mail think that great stuff like this is spam?

Who knows how many other important opportunities I’ve been missing out on?

Thursday, November 22, 2012


This past Tuesday was my turn to provide devotions—and, perhaps more important, food—for the weekly staff meeting at the church where Ive worked these past couple of years. Naturally, with the holiday mere days away, my thoughts turned to the subject of giving thanks, of feeling—and expressing—gratitude for what is and, quite often, what is not.

Such expression does not always come easily for me. Too often, I see the glasss half-emptiness. It takes a deliberate, conscious effort to pull out of I-want mode and enter the I-have state of mind. As I have put it to my colleagues, I am much better at making to-do lists for the Ground of All Being than I am in simply expressing my appreciation for what is.

Usually, when my turn for devotions rolls around, I turn to a couple of trusted sources for inspiration. Henri Nouwen in particular never disappoints, and his words have an eerie way of fitting precisely what I wish to express. Heres what I shared with my colleagues the other day.  Its from Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (1992).

In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realise that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticised, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.

There is always the choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection: “You are with Me always, and all I have is yours.” Indeed, I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off than I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past, and thereby wrap myself up in my resentment. But I don’t have to do this. There is the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that all I am and all I have is pure gift calling for gratitude.

The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace. There is an Estonian proverb that says: “Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” Acts of gratitude make one grateful because, step by step, they reveal that all is grace.

Well put, and well worth remembering, on this day especially—although, as Ebeneezer Scrooge discovered in regard to the Christmas spirit, it is good to keep Thanksgiving in our hearts all year ’round.

My late mother was possessed of what I came to dub the Habit of Complaint. That glass I mentioned earlier? Always half-empty. Always. As I look back, I can see that habit developing in her even when she was a young woman; as the habit became more established in her later years, complaint simply became part of the fabric of her life. Conversation, small talk, was little more than a string of petty complaintsabout the weather, about people at church, about the news, about the infrequency with which she saw her children and grandchildren, about this neighbors tree or that neighbors dog. It was all inconsequential and probably unconscious on her partit was, after all, a habit, and a habit, I find, that is all too easy to slip into. As mentioned above, I find I must make an almost constant effort to avoid sliding into that vein myself.

And so one works to be grateful for what is and what isnt. This may take on a spiritual aspect, if one isas Father Nouwenso inclined. But I would argue that it neednt necessarily hinge on any particular belief system. Regular readers of these irregularly produced pages know that I tilt toward what I think of as healthy agnosticism on most days of the week, but that in no way interferes with my fitful attempts to be grateful for what I have (and for what I have not had to deal with). Thank God, thank the Fates, thank good luck, thank the universebut thank.

That said, if I hear the expression “An Attitude of Gratitude” one more time, I will not be responsible for my actions.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Slow Day for News?

Here’s a screen grab of this morning’s Daily Briefing from Yes, all four of those “Polls: Obama, Romney in tight race” headlines link to the same article. Guess they wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

And Good Luck with That!

A couple of recent items that gave me pause, then gave me a laugh.

First up, a little bit of a challenge signing up for a newsletter. I dislike these Captcha things anyhow, because it always seems I need to try three of them before I correctly guess at the distorted letters and numbers. But this time I know it wasn't my fault!

And, yeah, it took three attempts before I finally got a screen that displayed letters that actually could be read. Hope the bots had better luck. Meanwhile, here was a fun offer from Lone Star Steakhouse, good for One Week Only. A "week," in this case, apparently being only five days. Beginning on Wednesday.

It could always be worse, of course. More than once I have come in from the (physical) mailbox holding ad fliers that have already expired. And I am reminded of a certain fulfillment house, many years ago now, whose aim in life seemed to be to make sure not to fulfill whatever rebate, "free gift," or other come-on accompanied one's purchase of a given product. Invariably, one would receive a form letter indicating that one had someone not quite met all of the requirements--even when one clearly had done so--but encouraging one to try again. Even though the expiration date had just passed, darn it anyway. After awhile, one simply gave up if one saw that the proof-of-purchase was to be sent to that particular address. Which, I strongly suspect, was the point. But then it's been years since I've seen that outfit's address on any kind of mail-in form, so it's possible that they--and the companies that hired them--outsmarted themselves.

It's a pleasant thought.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Tattoo on the Tongue

And here we have another bunch of quotations, which I semi-compulsively collect from here and there across the vast wasteland of the internet. Several are from the wonderful newsletter A Word a Day; many are not.

The title of this post, as you will discern momentarily, comes from the first quotation in the current batch, which struck my fancy.

“A quote is just a tattoo on the tongue.” —Attributed to William F. DeVault

“Writing is torture. Not writing is torture. The only thing that feels good is having written.” —C. B. Mosher

“Not far from the invention of fire must rank the invention of doubt.” —Thomas Henry Huxley, biologist (1825-1895)

“The hardest part is starting to write.” —Michael Crichton (1942–2008)

“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.” —Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“No writer is really part of a group sensibility. When you’re writing, you’re on your own.” —A. S. Byatt

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” —Confucius

“Four basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity.” —William Zinsser

“The real index of civilization is when people are kinder than they need to be.” —Louis de Berniere, novelist (b. 1954)

“The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” —Mark Twain

“Faith is the unflagging determination to remain ignorant in the face of any and all evidence that you’re ignorant.” —Shaun Mason

“Habit with him was all the test of truth / It must be right: I’ve done it from my youth.” —George Crabbe, poet and naturalist (1754-1832)

“They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.” —Benjamin Franklin

“An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.” —Arab Proverb

“An interesting thing about writing is that you might write quite a lot before you realize what you’re doing.” —Alexander McCall-Smith

“God shouldn’t be put in charge of everything until we get to know Him a little better.” —Kurt Vonnegut

“Patriot: The person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.” —Mark Twain

“The term ‘family reunion’ kind of implies you normally don’t have to keep in touch with these people, right?” —Jim Gaffigan

“To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.” —Oscar Wilde

“And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.” —Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

“Man: A creature made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired.” —Mark Twain

Friday, July 20, 2012

Apostrophe Catastrophe

But of course! When “its” actually needs the apostrophe, that’s the one time it gets written without one! Shee-it.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

It Makes a Difference

From time to time I will encounter the bizarre attitude that, somehow, spelling, punctuation, usage, word choice—you know, all that technical, grammar-Nazi stuff—“doesn’t matter.” Translation: “I don’t understand such things, so the armor I put on is to say it doesn’t matter.” 

In fact, it does. 

As I have expressed to more than one client—and, once, to an alleged editor!—such supposed trivia may well go unnoticed by 98.6% of readers, but the flip side is that it will be noticed by 1.4% of readers. And simple mathematics tells us that the bigger the total number of readers, the greater that 1.4% will be in actual numbers of readers. That 1.4% could be 100,000 readers. (We should be so lucky.) 

More disturbing: You have no way of knowing who those 1.4% are. Nobody does. You have no way of knowing their personalities, their threshold of tolerance of sloppy (or nonexistent) editing. For every one who might just shake his or her head and plunge on ahead, you could have one or two who give up, close the book (real or virtual) or web page, and never come back. 

Simply because, as the meme has it, you don’t know the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit. And you don’t like “grammar Nazis,” so you shut down the person who could help you. 

I pause to reflect on these things because a few minutes ago I started to read an article that I had bookmarked earlier. The topic sounded interesting—writing a sales page for book promotion—and maybe the article contained some useful information; I’ll never know, because when I came to the second error in as many paragraphs, I stopped reading. Sure, I could simply have tut-tutted and kept going. Heaven knows I’ve done that more often than I’d care to count. But today I didn’t feel like it. The obvious sloppiness of the article caused me to doubt that its author really had anything worth saying. If she had, she would have taken a few minutes to proof the article, see that here she had used it’s when she wanted its, there she wanted the word’s noun and not the verb form, and so on. 

I would have been more forgiving had the article been a blog post about, I dunno, politics, or food, or movies, or any number of other things. But when your article purports to be educating about the finer points of writing and publishing, you had bloody well better proofread the damn thing before you publish it. 

Or find a grammar Nazi to do it for you. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Peter Palmer, the Amazing Spiderman

So yesterday I posted my little gripe about The Professional Media’s laxness when it comes to correctly rendering such things as proper nouns—using as an example the frequent references to Spiderman one sees in print and online, rather than the correct trademark, Spider-Man—and what that may say about the media’s inattention to other details they place before us.

Today’s e-mail, coincidentally, brings an offer to read—for free, even—a digital copy of the inaugural issue of Spider-Man, from March 1963. I’ve got it somewhere in the archives, on paper, as a reprint in a later Spider-Man “annual” (as mentioned yesterday, I didn’t come on board till Spider-Man number 16, which I mark as the genesis of my comic-book meekness), but having not looked at it in many years I thought it’d be worth a nostalgic peek. Did I mention it was free?

Worth the download it was indeed…but I was amused to discover that, in those early—and, I suspect, hurried—days, not even Stan Lee himself seemed to have a firm grasp on the character’s name. Here’s the cover:

Plainly, the intent seems to be to call the character Spider-Man, hyphenated. The name appears three times on the cover, each time punctuated the same. Very good.

Oh, but look:

There on page one, the name appears another three times…twice as Spider-Man, but then as Spiderman. This is getting slippery. 

Skipping on to page nine, we have Spidey’s name presented yet another three times (coincidence? I think not), and I’m going to say it’s given as Spiderman each time. (Bit of a coin-toss there in the second panel, but I’m guessing the hyphen is there to break Spiderman at the end of the line, not to indicate the letterer—or whoever ultimately made the decision—meant to have it Spider-Man.) 

By page two of the second Great Feature-Length Spider-Man Thriller, “Spider-Man vs. The Chameleon,” which includes a completely pointless fight with the Fantastic Four, whose presence here, I imagine, was to boost sales and nothing more, things seem to have settled down a bit: Peter Parker’s alter ego is being consistently rendered as Spider-Man. Alas, young Peter Parker himself is not faring so well, in that twice on the same page his creators seem to think his name is Peter Palmer


Alas. Even 50 years ago Spider-Man was being victimized by sloppy, hurried editing. And so was Spiderman. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

If You Don’t Have a Phone, Call This Number

I occasionally lend my name to petitions on subjects that are of interest to me, and much of the time those that are directed to my congressional trio produce this result: 

I can think of no legitimate reason for my state’s junior senator to “require” me to supply a phone number “in order to communicate via email” (emphasis mine). To communicate via telephone, yes, that would make sense, but via e-mail? What do you need besides my, you know, e-mail address…which, along with my name and street address, have already been provided. 

The other two members of my congressional team seem to be able to function without asking me for my phone number. Maybe they realize that e-mail communication goes by, you know, e-mail. 

Because of the way things are in this country, and in this state, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an intimidation angle at work here. I express my opinion, but before Sen. Thune will accept it, I have to give him my telephone number. Geez, my telephone number! What the hell is he gonna do with my telephone number?? Better click cancel… 

I suppose I could call one of the numbers he provides in case I have “difficulty providing this information,” and ask why he needs me to provide said information. 

But what if he has Caller ID? 

Can I borrow your phone?

Well, "Forever" Is a Pretty Long Time

Rule of thumb: If they put quotation marks around it, it’s the same as putting “not” in front of it.

This Should Not Be Difficult

Full disclosure: I was a comic-book geek in my youth, and, I suppose, once a comic-book geek always a comic book geek. (I am a child of the so-called Silver Age, and trace my “active” years from 1964—The Amazing Spider-Man #16, “Duel With Daredevil!”—to 1975, when I hied off to college.) But I don’t think it’s simple geekery—nor the fact that I have spent my entire working career as an editor, a writer, a creative director, etc.—to be continually torqued off when The Media can’t be bothered to spell things correctly. 

Like this, from today’s HuffPost Daily Brief

Let us pause for a moment an consider the irony inherent in the fact that James Franco, who co-starred in the original three Spider-Man films, seems not to know how to correctly render the proper noun (and trademark). Or that his editor seems not to know how. Or that Huffington Post’s proofreaders seem not to. 

Assuming there are in fact editors and proofreaders there, which more than once I have had cause to doubt. 

I have long since become inured to such monstrosities as mailboxes bearing the legend The Anderson’s, or copy handed to me replete with “quotation” marks to “highlight” words the “author” considers “important” (though possibly the “author” is being “facetious,” as possibly I am here), or “infer” instead of “imply,” “whom” instead of “who,” and so on. These generally are the product of nonprofessionals, which entitles them to a significant amount of slack.

But it’s disheartening to realize that even in the “professional” realm—and at a time when advertising for the upcoming movie series reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, is relentless—nobody can be bothered to check it out, to look at a movie poster, a comic book, the internet, and say, “Oh, it’s not Spiderman; it’s Spider-Man. Well, that’s an easy fix!” 

Nope, no time for any of that sort of nonsense! 

Yes, you’re right: It’s just a comic-book character. And the majority of the world doesn’t know and doesn’t care one way or the other. 


It has been pointed out that God is in the details. And it seems unlikely that a media organization (and Huffington is far from alone in botching “Spider-Man”: As soon as the box-office figures start rolling in on Wednesday, we will see the name mangled in all sorts of print and electronic communiquÈs—will be sloppy only with the “little stuff.” 

If you can’t be bothered to check to make sure you’re getting the “little stuff” right, what would make me think you’re bothering to check to make sure you’re getting the “big stuff” right? 

Truth is, you’re in a business in which there’s no such thing as “little stuff” and “big stuff.” Not if you’re the least bit interested in credibility. 

For Lovers of Irony

I know it’s not funny. And yet...Victoria’s Secret?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Part of the Problem

Our letter carrier left this slip at our house the other day. Evidently someone had sent us a letter that required an additional 20 cents’ worth of postage.

It’s a good thing we know where the post office is, since, evidently, the post office does not. You could spend the rest of your days driving the streets of our fair city, you could comb through maps, atlases, and gazeteers, you could MapQuest, Google Map, and Google Earth until overcome by hunger, thirst, and sleeplessness, and you would never find 320 S WND AVE. Indeed, you would never find WND AVE at all. There is no such thing.

You might, however, with a certain amount of detective work, stumble upon 320 S 2ND AVE, which is where the downtown post office (Downtown Station, in current parlance) resides. And where, 20 cents later, our daughter claimed our undelivered envelope.

It’s true that 2 and W sit awfully close together on the keyboard. And it’s true that in this era of budget cuts and over-reliance on electronic backstops, proofreading by actual breathing, thinking human beings is one of the first fatalities (at the hands of breathing but not thinking human beings, usually). But it is both true and deliciously ironic that mail sent to the address provided by the post office itself would be returned as undeliverable by, yep, the post office.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Choose One

Call it self-serving, but I do believe that even in our technological age, editors—of the human variety—still matter. Why? Well, here’s yesterday’s Daily Briefing from USA Today:

I presume that any editor worth his or her salt would have paused at those last two headlines, and determined that one of them must go. But maybe not. There’s a lot of low-salt editors out there.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dear Groupon: What??!

My dad was a great guy, and he did a lot for me...but he most certainly did not “give birth” to me.

Appears somebody needs a Human Reproduction refresher course.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Daily Beast's Ethnic Slur

This is from this morning’s Daily Beast Cheat Sheet, a link to an article about the most recent Vatican scandal:

The immediate and obvious question: What the hell is that mamma mia doing there? It has nothing to do with the article, nothing to do with the Vatican scandal. Clearly some doofus at The Daily Beast had an intellectual epiphany that went something like this:

“Hey, the Vatican’s in Italy, right? And those crazy Eye-talians, they’re always saying stuff like Mamma mia and pastafazool and other goofy things, right? So let’s just throw in a completely superfluous and vaguely insulting Mamma mia to lead off this serious crime story, ’cause, I dunno, it’ll be fun.”

And some perhaps-even-more-moronic Daily Beast editor—if in fact there are any, which I often have had occasion to doubt—said, “Wow, what a great idea! That’ll be loads of laughs! Too bad we don’t have any pictures of some greaseball goombah biting the inside of his own hand--that would be hilarious! Well, we’ll go with this picture of one of those beanie things cardinals wear. Not very funny, but it’s all we have.”

Incidentally, the Washington Post article to which the Cheat Sheet item points manages to avoid any such frivolity, and the implied ethnic smear.

Friday, April 27, 2012

This Makes Perfect Sense to Me

Obviously, you can never be too careful, or too precise:

But I’d really like to pay at the store when I pick up my order. How do I do that?

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Here we have a few oddities that have caught my eye in the past few weeks.

First up, I was stopped in traffic the other day when I noticed the bumper of the car ahead of me:

Not sure how visible it is in the photo (shot through my filthy windshield), but if you look closely you will note that, yes, those are staples holding the car’s bumper together. Rusting staples, alas, but still a notch or two above the old standby, duct tape.

Regular readers of these posts will know that I will occasionally subject myself to an online survey, usually to amass points that I can spend on junk I don’t need. Also they can be kind of fun and, once in a great while, even interesting. Here’s a screenshot from a survey I took a little while back:

Not sure what to make of it. A bit of whimsy on the part of the survey designers? Or did the survey designers think the question was such that people would benefit from visual aids?

The other day I took a survey about vodka—something I seldom drink, so the survey went pretty quickly. It turned out to be one of those aforementioned rarities, a survey that is in fact interesting and from which I learned a few things:
    1. People who drink vodka must not like the taste of vodka, since there seems to be an enormous number of flavored vodkas; 
    2. People who wrote the survey either don’t know or care about past participles or, like a great many people, are afraid of the word “drunk”: A careful editor would have changed the category titles to “I have drunk it ...” Unless they have drank too much.

 From the same survey:

I have spent some little time trying to figure out what the survey designers thought was the difference between the two indicated questions. Granted, some editors would frown on the use of “I’d” as a contraction of “I would” (it’s not wrong, but I’ve worked with editors who eschew it since “I’d” also stands in for “I had”)...but somehow I doubt that there was a heated editorial meeting in which half of the staff argued for “I would” and half argued for “I’d” and in the end they decided to split the difference and use both, just so they could move on to the next item on the agenda

Which obviously was not the drank/drunk discussion.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Pope, Maybe; Proofreader, Not So Much

This from the Daily Beast Cheat Sheet: Afternoon Edition for April 4, 2012:

At least, I can’t find “infalliable” in any of my dictionaries.

This assumes there actually are proofreaders on the scene, of course. Increasingly, based on my reading both online and in print, I think The Powers That Be have decided that proofreaders—the good ones, at least—are an unnecessary luxury.

They aren’t. Trust me on this one.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Word or Two

I see it’s been a little while since I recorded here some of the quotations I’m always semi-obsessively collecting from all over the internet. Time to redress that oversight:

    Public opinion rarely considers the needs of the next generation or the history of the last. It is frequently hampered by myths and misinformation, by stereotypes and shibboleths, and by an inate resistance to innovation. —Theodore C. Sorensen, presidential advisor, lawyer, and writer (1928-2010)

    In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends imprisoned by an enchanter in paper and leathern boxes. —Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

    To read fast is as bad as to eat in a hurry. —Vilhelm Ekelund, poet (1880-1949)

    In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you. —Mortimer J. Adler, philosopher, educator and author (1902-2001)

    Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. —A. A. Milne author (1882-1956)

    An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. —Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

    I react pragmatically. Where the market works, I’m for that. Where the government is necessary, I’m for that. I’m deeply suspicious of somebody who says, “I’m in favor of privatization,” or, “I’m deeply in favor of public ownership.” I’m in favor of whatever works in the particular case. —John Kenneth Galbraith, economist (1908-2006)

    I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be. —Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

    If there is a God, I don’t think He would demand that anyone bow down or stand up to Him. —Rebecca West, author and journalist (1892-1983)

    Habit with him was all the test of truth, / It must be right: I’ve done it from my youth. —George Crabbe, poet and naturalist (1754-1832)

    Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry... To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery. —George Polya, professor of mathematics (1887-1985)

    I live in the world rather as a spectator of mankind than as one of the species. —Joseph Addison, essayist and poet (1672-1719)

    Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the human heart can hold. —Zelda Fitzgerald, novelist (1900-1948)

    There is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others. —Michel de Montaigne, essayist (1533-1592)

    The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it. —Jean-Paul Sartre, writer and philosopher (1905-1980)

    The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another, and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it. —J.M. Barrie, novelist and playwright (1860-1937)

    All men — whether they go by the name of Americans or Russians or Chinese or British or Malayans or Indians or Africans — have obligations to one another that transcend their obligations to their sovereign societies. —Norman Cousins, author, editor, journalist and professor (1915-1990)

    Before we set our hearts too much on anything, let us examine how happy are those who already possess it. —Francois, duc de La Rochefoucauld, moralist (1613-1680)

    Men are not against you; they are merely for themselves. —Gene Fowler, journalist and author (1890-1960)

    Nationalist pride, like other variants of pride, can be a substitute for self-respect. —Eric Hoffer, philosopher and author (1902-1983)

    In an earlier stage of our development most human groups held to a tribal ethic. Members of the tribe were protected, but people of other tribes could be robbed or killed as one pleased. Gradually the circle of protection expanded, but as recently as 150 years ago we did not include blacks. So African human beings could be captured, shipped to America, and sold. In Australia white settlers regarded Aborigines as a pest and hunted them down, much as kangaroos are hunted down today. Just as we have progressed beyond the blatantly racist ethic of the era of slavery and colonialism, so we must now progress beyond the speciesist ethic of the era of factory farming, of the use of animals as mere research tools, of whaling, seal hunting, kangaroo slaughter, and the destruction of wilderness. We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics. —Peter Singer, philosopher, professor of bioethics (b. 1946)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Lie With Dogs, Rise With Fleas

Not quite an hour ago, The Huffington Post ran an AP story that begins thus:

    A flower company is the seventh advertiser to pull its ads from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s radio program in reaction to his derogatory comments about a law student who testified about birth control policy.

    ProFlowers said Sunday on its Facebook page that it has suspended advertising on Limbaugh’s program because his comments about Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke “went beyond political discourse to a personal attack and do not reflect our values as a company. ”

    The six other advertisers that say they have pulled ads from his show are mortgage lender Quicken Loans, mattress retailers Sleep Train and Sleep Number, software maker Citrix Systems Inc., online data backup service provider Carbonite and online legal document services company LegalZoom.

    ProFlowers had said on Twitter that posts it received about Limbaugh’s remarks affected its advertising strategy. ProFlowers is an online flower delivery service.

(Read the entire article here.)

Interestingly, just moments before I came upon that article, I found this in my e-mail, from ProFlowers Customer Care, in response, I assume, to one of the petitions I had signed in the previous couple of days:

    Thank you for your feedback. We spend our advertising dollars across a wide spectrum of media channels. The views and opinions of the media outlets and personalities we advertise with are not necessarily those of our company.
    We simply wish to delight our customers with fresh and unique gifting products, and that will continue to happen to the best of our abilities.
    Best Regards,
    Yolanda D. 
    Customer Care 

It’s interesting to note that ProFlowers’ e-mail, which apparently was sent late last night (Saturday, March 3), has all of the familiar signs of a kiss-off: Oh, we advertise all over the place and don’t really pay any attention to any of it. We don’t know or care what’s being said in the media we support with our advertising dollars. We just like flowers!

Sometime between last night and this afternoon, it seems, someone at ProFlowers woke up to the fact that it really does matter where they advertise, it really does matter when they spend money to support odious, hate-filled rhetoric, it really true that we’re known by the company we keep. (Mom was right.)

Points for wising up, albeit late. Kudos to those advertisers who pulled their dollars away early on, though, rather than waiting till they got both eyes blackened.

It would be nice to think that Limbaugh has at last come to his Lonesome Rhodes moment, though I am too much the pessimist to really believe it. But perhaps some people, like ProFlowers, will now belatedly come to see what a truly hateful and hate-filled little man he is.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

And ONLY One!

For some reason, I find instructions like this to be funny:

Somehow the “Select one” instruction makes me wonder what other choices they think I might put down if they weren’t so specific. I guess, from their perspective, it’s best to not take chances.

Monday, February 20, 2012

I'll BET He Was Surprised!

According to this news (or news-ish) item that appeared in the rotation on my log-in screen, former Senator and former astronaut John Glenn recently was able to “speak live with the International Space Station” and found it “a great surprise.” And I bet I know why: Senator Glenn probably expected to speak with human beings aboard the International Space Station, and not with the station itself. Who wouldn’t be surprised?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Comma Comment

Last night I was flipping through my son’s English book as we discussed his needing to select from it a poem for a class project. The book contained many of my favorites, including The Lamb, The Second Coming, Ozymandius (which I memorized when I was even younger than my son is now, for a class project), and several by good old Robert Frost, including this:

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost
New Hampshire, 1923

Recalling a discussion of the poem in an English class back in college, I shared with my son the subtextual meaning of “the woods,” and privately reflected, not for the first time, on the first line of the last stanza:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

Not long ago I fell into a Facebook “conversation” about the serial comma, aka the Oxford comma. I have always used it, finding it more logical and clear than the newspaper style, which omits the comma before “and” or “or”: Snap, Crackle, and Pop clearly refers to three entities; Snap, Crackle and Pop could refer to three, or to two (Snap + [Crackle and Pop]), depending on context.

With the serial-comma conversation fairly fresh in mind, I recalled my English professor’s comment on the punctuation of that line:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
says something quite different from The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.

Frost isn’t saying the woods are lovely and dark and deep; he is saying they are lovely (because they are) dark and deep. Dark and deep is a single expression, as is lovely.

But if you don’t habitually employ the serial comma you may well lose that distinction, for its absence in the poem would go unnoticed. Lovely, dark and deep would be like Snap, Crackle and Pop—maybe two ideas, maybe three, and probably unnoticed.

Even by its absence, the serial comma does important work.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

If it's Worth Doing, it's Worth Doing Well!

Readers of these sporadic chronicles know that I am a fan of well-done, creative spam, as well as a harsh critic of slipshod, half-baked spam.

Two fairly recent examples of spam that could have been so much more:

Two minutes on the United States Postal Service’s website could produce a copy of the USPS logo, the addition of which would have given this spam some much needed verisimilitude.

But it seems unlikely that as much as two minutes was spent on developing this message. How could it be that so many people sent packages on January 11 that could not be delivered because of an erroneous address? (And see my previous post in re the BCC field.) Why would I need to print a “shipment label" and collect the package at their unspecified “office"? Why wouldn’t they simply return the package to me as undeliverable?

Oh, yeah—and why the hell would the postal service be sending me e-mail, considering that e-mail is popularly considered to be a cause of the postal service’s recent financial crisis?

To appreciate sSpam requires a certain suspension of disbelief, so let us for a moment sent aside the fact that I don’t even know what an “ACH transfer" is, let alone have instigated one. And let’s ignore the likely fact that e-mail purportedly from NACHA would most likely indicate same in the sender’s field, not just “Dick Richmond." And we’ll grimace a little and try not to think about how spending a couple of seconds at NACHA’s website would have produced a company logo (see above in re verisimilitude). Just set all of that aside, and focus your attention on the link that the spammers wish me to activate for whatever nefarious purpose they may have in mind.

Yeah. That sounds like a URL that the Electronic Payments Association would use.

I suppose that would be Dick Richmond’s Uncle Willy.

Really, does no one take any pride in his work anymore?

And This Is Why God Gave Us the BCC Field

The header from e-mail that arrived this past week. I get a lot of e-mail from this sender, and it always begins the same:

Naturally, a distressing number of recipients choose to reply to these messages by clicking “reply all,” generating messages of staggering length until you get to the latest entry, which generally is something like, “Do you still need help with that?”

Similarly, a distressing number of e-mailers out there seem not to know how to un-select their caps lock key.

How long has e-mail been around by now?

Monday, January 02, 2012

Old Words for a New Year

By way of New Year’s greetings, here is another smattering of quotations that I collect here, there, and everywhere on the vast and boundless internet.

    “Let this ending of a year, and the beginning of a new year be a time to consider what is really important in life.” —Jonathan Huie
    “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” —Charles Bukowski
    “Man is a clever animal who behaves like an imbecile.” —Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)
    “Information is the currency of democracy.” —Thomas Jefferson
    “Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.” —Da Vinci
    “Men shout to avoid listening to one another.” —Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936)
    “Creationists make it sound like a ‘theory’ is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.” —Isaac Asimov
    “Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else’s religion practiced on us.” —John Irving
    “The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives of infidels.” —Robert Green Ingersoll
    “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” —Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
    “Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth — the tyranny of plutocracy.” Theodore Roosevelt
    “Today the world changes so quickly that in growing up we take leave not just of youth but of the world we were young in” —Peter Medawar
    “No one ever goes into battle thinking God is on the other side.” —Terry Goodkind
    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” —Epicurus, philosopher (c. 341-270 BCE)
    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” —Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and writer (121-180)