Mar 30, 2005

no small matter

My wife and I agree on nearly every matter of consequence, so our bitterest feuds are always about trivia. Last night we argued (discussed, debated) the accepted plural of the proper noun "Adidas." Consider the following sentences:
"I wore my Adidas because my Nikes were consumed by mold."

"I wore my Adidases because my Nikes were consumed by mold."
She argued that common usage supported the former; I argued that grammatical propriety supported the latter. Alas, we were stuck in the car, with no Google to guide us. When we arrived home, what was the first thing we did?

That's right.

Our research ended up meandering through some interesting and unexpected areas. First, we discovered that I was somewhat right; in published documents, "Adidases" is the preferred plural, while the vernacular favors "Adidas." However, trademark regulations say that both are out-of-bounds.
NEVER modify a trademark to the plural form. Instead, change the generic word from singular to plural.


1. tic tac candies, NOT tic tacs
2. OREO cookies, NOT OREOS

Furthermore, we discovered that the warring bastions of the British press disagree over the proper capitalization of "adidas." The Guardian:
company names
use names the companies use themselves, except in cases where they adopt typographical or other devices that, in effect, turn them into logos
So: Adidas, not adidas; BhS (no italicised h); Live TV (not L!ve TV); Toys R Us (do not attempt to turn the R backwards); Yahoo! is OK

But contrast The Times:
adidas (l/c) policy is now to allow companies the styles they wish to follow. See AXA, BUPA, easyJet etc
Confounding expectations, the politically conservative Times is linguistically progressive, while its liberal twin stands against the changing tides of usage.

Now, a challenge: is there a word in the English language that ends in -as and is both singular and plural? (If you say "maracas," you're wrong; the singular is "maraca.")

just a phone call away

This clever (but nasty) hoax shows that no one--not the MSM, not bloggers, not anyone--is immune from poor fact-checking. (Update: I note that the now-broken link has been replaced by this explanation.)

(Thanks to Matt Welch.)

Mar 28, 2005


Morgaine of What She Said:
The point she's making is that "there's no such thing as Women's Writing". There's just writing. Some of it is good, some bad, some brilliant, and none of that is determined by the writer's gender. Half the women on the net have taken that crazy test to see whether their writing is "male" or "female" and most score male. Apparently, it has something to do with complete sentences and accurate punctuation, and nothing at all to do with plumbing or a second X chromosome.

Wouldn't it be nice to just be a writer, without being shoved into a subset with an assumption of inferiority? To be judged by the work, and only the work? To write about one's own experience without apologizing for it? To express a complete range of emotion and imagination without being told that those should be limited by a cultural norm? To write whatever comes to mind without worrying about the comfort level of anyone who might read it?
Trying to get across the same point, I challenged my juniors to identify writing samples by gender. The results were hilarious for their sheer, confident wrongness. "If that's by a woman, I just don't know what to say," said one of my female students. "Women just don't use that expression."

The supposedly male phrase? "The thing is."

Tell that to Barbara Cooper. Or danah boyd. Or Allison Keiley. Or Susanne Denham. Or Jennifer Squires.

and one more thing

Just when I thought I'd read every opinion there was to read about Terri Schiavo, along came Ed Brayton.

Mar 26, 2005

kept "alive"

After all the heartache of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, what are we to make of this?
Thursday night, the medical examiner told KOMO 4 News that Puckett had been pronounced dead. But confusion reigned when it turned out Puckett was still alive Friday morning.

But now officials say Puckett's being kept alive to preserve his organs. He's on life support at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

In a statement issued late Friday, Jeremy's father said:"...There has been some confusion in the last 24 hours as to the status of his condition. This is because it has taken some time to coordinate the extensive donation of all of his organs. It has been necessary to artificially support his organs to keep them viable for donation..."

wherein I claim the mantle of Nostradamus

And now for a trivial diversion.

My "olympia northwest" NCAA bracket is in the top 5% on ESPN, number 141169 out of millions. Seriously. I can't believe it.

My secret? I take only five minutes, no more, to construct it, proving the essential wisdom of intuition. (Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell.)

I picked UNC, Michigan State (take that, Dick!), Kentucky, Louisville, Arizona, and Illinois, and, like everyone else, missed Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Looking into my hazy plastic orb, I foresee Illinois, Louisville, UNC, and Kentucky.

Kentucky beats Illinois in a close championship. Dick Vitale, are you paying attention?

Update: As of 9:08 p.m. Pacific, I have moved up to the 98th percentile, ranked #43776, thanks to teeth-gnashing comebacks by Illinois and Louisville--the best basketball action this year. Until tomorrow.

Mar 24, 2005

life imitating art imitating art imitating life

The Smoking Gun has found a troubling animation by Jeff Weise, the teenager who, including himself, killed ten and wounded seven during Monday's rampage at a Minnesota high school.
In a brief bio accompanying his Flash animations, Weise described himself as "nothin but a Native American teenage-stoner-industrialist," whose favorite movies included "Dawn of the Dead," "Thunderheart," and "Elephant," director Gus Van Sant's 2003 film about a Columbine-style school shooting (on his MSN profile page, Weise actually included an "Elephant" movie still showing two teenage characters--dressed in camouflage and carrying duffle bags containing weapons--heading for a school door).

Mar 21, 2005

tales of PubMed

The juniors have finished Artemio Cruz, and discovered (well, some of them discovered it, others were told) that Cruz's constant babblings about doubles and twins really refer to the twin brother he never knew, the twin that was stillborn after him.

But what if the twin had been inside him, hidden, dying without ever having been born? Sound far-fetched, even impossible? You might be surprised.

There is no limit to the weirdness of human development.

Mar 18, 2005

from the mouths of dweebs

If I didn't spend most of my social life shepherding students to debate tournaments, I'd probably... well... blog more. (I've never had much of a social life; when I was in high school, I was the one being shepherded.) This past and present weekends have been spent at the University of Puget Sound, surrounded by adolescent nerd angst and nerd angst denial--teenage debaters, and their slightly older college peers.

Today, for about two hours, I watched Student Congress, and there were enough moments of stultifying ignorance to fill an Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. A few favorites:

  • The kid who said that we ought to outlaw gay adoptions because "those children who are diagnosed with homophobia won't be able to handle not knowing which is the mommy and which is the daddy."
  • "And in the Kashmiri town of Maflablalala Flaballa... whatever..."
  • The argument that teenagers shouldn't vote because they're not eligible for the draft. Just like women... hey... maybe they shouldn't vote either...
More tomorrow, I'm sure.

Update: Perhaps because I was parliamentarian and didn't have to actually listen to speeches, Saturday didn't contain nearly as much idiocy. Except for one gem: "If we put an embargo on India, we'll inevitably have another World War II... um... I guess that would be World War III."

Mar 17, 2005

how much egg fits on a single face?

I mean, really?
The list of alleged felon voters compiled in Dino Rossi's legal challenge to the governor's election mistakenly includes people tried as juveniles who never lost their right to vote.

A spokeswoman for Rossi acknowledged last night that perhaps hundreds of the 1,135 people on the list are there improperly because of juvenile cases.

Mary Lane said Rossi attorneys and researchers will review the names and remove anyone found to be on the list only because of a juvenile offense.

"It could very well be that people we have on our list didn't have their voting rights taken away," Lane said of the juvenile cases.
That's it. Gregoire's in for sure. For reals. No, really, this time we're serious.

Mar 16, 2005

epigram central

Epigrams are atoms of thought.

Writing is atrophy of the intellect.

Words are the ivy of the mind.

An epigram is a dull pencil.

To write for another is to plant birdseed.

Laughter is the music of money.

Aging makes the conscience tangible.

Envy is the smallest particle in the cosmos.

Today's exercise in my junior-level classes involves creating and discussing epigrams, especially in the context of The Death of Artemio Cruz, famed for the maxim, "Memory is satisfied desire."

Choose and discuss. Or add your own.

Mar 14, 2005

Meta-Test Raises Standards


NEW YORK -- The College Board today announced the release of a new test that measures a student's ability to take standardized tests. Called the Standardized Test of Aptitude for Testing, or STAT, the new assessment allows test prep companies to target students likely to perform poorly on other metrics.

"The time for such a test is long overdue," noted Marisol Hernandez, director of public relations for Kaplan. "We can no longer rely on students' own perceptions of potential failure. It's better that they know with precision and confidence that they need remediation."

Jonas Underwood, president of Fight Against College Testing, disagreed. "Biases are littered throughout this new moneymaking scam for the testmakers and test preppers," he said. "They'll laugh all the way to the bank. And they'll drive there in those new hybrid SUVs."

High school students have begun to feel the pinch of added testing. "Whatever it takes," said Amaria Gorney, a sophomore at Rockefeller Central High. "I'd sell a kidney to get a perfect STAT score."

Sample Question on the new STAT

When using a #2 pencil, you should make your mark __________

a) heavy and dark b) hot and heavy c) dark and stormy d) all of the above

[correct answer: (a)]


I am so smart. S-M-R-T.

Reason enough to spend gobs of cash on a college degree?

Mar 11, 2005

and you thought you were original

Try this meme on for size.

Take the last sentence of your last post and Google it, as an exact phrase if you can, and see what comes up.

I thought my previous last line ("I wish I weren't you") was a clever turn of phrase until I saw who used it before me.
The morning dew laid scattered across the frozen ground. The night had been bleak and cold. The clouds had done their job

The town was called New Angeles. It was a technical wonder. Even though this was the 21st century, the town was in 1983 condition. It was an ancient foundation, and made of beautiful brick. Being early in the morning, 6:12 last time he looked, people were just waking up. He stood in front of the bar.

James Lom was his name. He stood at the door. He was a Bounty Hunter, and a good one too. His fame had spread a few problems. Some bounties hired an assassin who would try too kill him. He'd end up killing both the assassin and the bounty, and getting both rewards. Another problem was his reputation would make a bounty flee the continent. Most the time he still caught them.

His current bounty was Peter Zalanski, a ruthless computer thief. James was the best bounty hunter known, but Peter didn't care. He was in that bar.
I can't continue--it hurts. Read the whole thing here. Even the title is bad: "Till The Day Till All Are One."

[this is not a title]

Your belching is not speech.

Your perspective is too narrow; your concerns, too broad.

You are obviously brilliant.

Your logic hiccups from false premise to invalid conclusion.

The barrel is full of fish, but you've managed to hit the barrel.

You have enviable amounts of free time.

You are a gnat, a mosquito, a tsetse fly, Erebomyia exalloptera.

A field goal is no touchdown, no matter how far you kick it.

You expect the moon to howl back.

Your words are a limp balloon, impossible to enjoy, impossible to puncture.

I wish I weren't you.

burnout burnout

I can't take it--I have to blog more. Compulsion. Obsession. Compunction. Obligation. Any way you frame it, the world needs me to opine. Why?

Jason Kuznicki is bowing out for a while. Timothy Sandefur is on sabbatical. Two great bloggers have left the cave, climbing back into the sunlight, umbras cast over those who remain.

I hereby resolve to pontificate anew.

Mar 10, 2005

what if they gave an election, and nobody left?

Yes, the controversy over the closest governor's race in U.S. history hasn't gone away.

Head over to Sound Politics (from the middle-right) and Horse's Ass (from the middle-left) for the scoops.

My take: Gregoire is already so gubernatorial that she'll be given a pass by a sympathetic court. Rossi takes it in '08.

Mar 9, 2005

Jesus wrote a blank check

St Matthew's Church has once again graced my mailbox with this letter, reproduced by Jason Kuznicki for your amusement. My own observation: if you cover up the bottom half, Jesus is an attractive twentysomething female.

all is not quiet

And you thought Mt. St. Helens had gone gentle into that good night.

Mar 7, 2005

O Lord

Jon Rowe dredges up an old post on Gary North, Christian Reconstructionist par... par... I want to say "par excellence," but can't muster up the weakness to do it.

North is a scary guy, but only if you take him seriously--which is no easy feat. I first became acquainted with North's paranoia when I discovered Fighting Chance: Ten Feet to Survival on the bookshelves of my college library. The book, now on DVD, is a guide to surviving and winning nuclear war. It includes all sorts of tips and tricks, a home curriculum to implement when the local school turns into so much rubble, prayers to utter while the bombs are dropping.

Gary North is the guy who watches Dr. Strangelove and thinks, yeah, that might work.

sit down for your rights

The time: now.

Mar 6, 2005


I spent much of the weekend with family, celebrating my younger brother's fairly recent engagement to a delightful young woman. During Saturday night's party, I chatted with a current attendee of my alma-mini-mater, Elma Middle School.

Turns out that most of my former teachers are still there. Mr. L's classes still papier-mache planet Earth. Mrs. W's kids still chart biomes. Mr. P. drives the same Mustang, and parks right up front in the same spot. Mr. O. is now an assistant principal. (Mr. T. has dropped sentence-diagramming, though. And Mr. H. no longer leads laps around the track.)

In fifteen years, where will I be? Will I have worn deep grooves in my teaching brain? Will new technologies baffle me? Will I be driving the same car? Will I have a tacky tie for every day of the year--and then some?

Please--don't answer.

Mar 3, 2005

we should try seeing other philosophers

What's scary is that Brian Weatherson posted this list almost a year ago, and it's still growing.

Update: The link has changed. And it's still growing.

no survey here

Have you seen the links to SurveyMonkey popping up all over the blogsmos? (I'm tired of "blogosphere.") Well, it ain't gonna happen here. This blog is ad-free, all the time, thank you very much.

And that is my promise to you, dear readers. I will never advertise or solicit donations. When I can't afford to blog without them, I'll quit and write a book.

And then you'll really be sorry.

survival of the certain

In a bold move, instead of commenting on an article on the evolution of religious belief, I'm going to point you to other bloggers first. (Actual postings only... thinkers, not linkers.) Read and discuss.

OB: "We're often told some variation on the theme 'Millions and billions of people have believed this stuff for thousands of years, so there must be something to it.' But that just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn't it. Everybody looks around and says to herself, 'By golly, everybody for miles around believes this crap, so there must be something to it, so I'd better shut up about the fact that I think it's all fairy tales.' We don't have a clue how many people would have believed it without the shoring-up effect of all those millions and millions, so the argument isn't worth much, is it."

Alan Cook: "All the usual qualms and objections concerning evolutionary psychology still apply here, of course; but unlike Kristof, the Guardian writer, Ian Sample, shows that is aware of such issues."

Jared Bridges: "As one who has faith in Christ, my evidence for belief is found in God’s general revelation, his written word to us, and the internal witness of the Spirit (this last is the most difficult for establishing credibility among those outside the faith, but it is highly credible to the believer). The naturalist who claims that these evidences do not exists without thouroughly examining their credibility is nothing more than a lazy naturalist."

Matt Frost: "To say that “our brains are wired to view objects in three dimensions” would be a trivial observation. Why, then, does Ian Sample of the Guardian or the editor at announce a similar observation regarding religion as somehow enlightening? Would either writer consider depth perception an atavistic delusion?"

Inkling: "I find it funny that the scientists are now developing all kinds of hypotheses to explain why people are born with a tendency to believe in God, but they are not considering the possibility that God exists and created us."

Tom Coates: "As a confirmed and long-standing atheist, I choose to read it as an interesting explanation of why people choose to believe such counter-intuitive things - but there's something here for everyone, and I applaud Ian Semple for writing it so elegantly."


Gennady: "God was there before, after, and is still there, and everywhere. God is the Tsunami. I call it Nature. Now that is something I’m prone to believe in. And I don't need a Bible or a Church to do it for me."

some robot to watch over me

The creepiness factor here is just about immeasurable.
The teddy bear sitting in the corner of the child's room might look normal, until his head starts following the kid around, using a face recognition program.

Next, the stuffed animal might actually call out the child's name or record his every move in a digital diary - perhaps maintaining for posterity a child's first words, or maybe just giving a parent an idea of whether the youngster is eating too much junk food.
I can tell you this: if I'm a five-year-old with any sense of human dignity, that robot kibitzer better know the Third Law.

Mr. Kennedy? Mr. Breyer?

In her take on the SCOTUS oral arguments about religious monuments, Dahlia Lithwick shows again why she's the most entertaining writer on Slate.

Mar 2, 2005


While visiting What She Said this morning, I was surprised--no, shocked--to see an ad touting Mother Teresa as the "Feminist of the Day." If modern feminism is defined largely by its support of full reproductive rights, then Teresa was the arch-antifeminist.

Christopher Hitchens dissects the Teresa myth briefly here and here and more fully here. Most Hitchenesque quote:
The rich world has a poor conscience, and many people liked to alleviate their own unease by sending money to a woman who seemed like an activist for "the poorest of the poor." People do not like to admit that they have been gulled or conned, so a vested interest in the myth was permitted to arise, and a lazy media never bothered to ask any follow-up questions. Many volunteers who went to Calcutta came back abruptly disillusioned by the stern ideology and poverty-loving practice of the "Missionaries of Charity," but they had no audience for their story. George Orwell's admonition in his essay on Gandhi—that saints should always be presumed guilty until proved innocent—was drowned in a Niagara of soft-hearted, soft-headed, and uninquiring propaganda.

Mar 1, 2005

advice from beyond

Given the recent kerfluffle over "agendize" and other pseudo-words (not to mention blanket labels like "leftist") over on Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I thought I'd throw a little Orwell into the mix. From Politics and the English Language:

... Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers. ...[T]he normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

...In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.... Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

Not that all neologisms are bad; sometimes they're something more. Jan Freeman writes,
But Americans had been ignoring such rules for a long time, mixing and matching stems and affixes as they pleased. Having coined cafeteria, a Spanish-style blend, they used the suffix to make shoeteria, casketeria, chocolateria, and healtheteria; the ending -dom, then fading in England, got a second wind in America, producing moviedom, flapperdom, and crookdom. Many such creations have brief lives, of course - sometimes too brief: If we're keeping mortician and beautician in the lexicon, surely we should save their adorable relative, a word Mencken cites as slang for a college cheerleader: whooptician.... For every neologism with staying power, dozens of whoopticians and casketerias die unmourned. We might as well enjoy them while we can: That's always been the American way.
So has anti-intellectualism. Sorry, George.