30 March 2007

Vows and covenants II

I now understand my grammarian streak as something I abhor in my father, namely, his desire always to know where his hammer and screwdriver are, and to have his electrical cord, the one that attaches to the Weed Wacker, rewound perfectly after each use and returned to its home behind the extension ladder.

His lust is for the placement of objects; mine is for punctuation. Until recently, I didn't realize they are essentially the same thing. It was an unhappy discovery.

But, hey, if the giddy nihilism of your twenties isn't followed by sad realizations, then you're not really dying, which means that you weren't really alive.

Caring about grammar and keeping a tidy workbench are both moral, of course—something goes here, not there, for no reason other than that it should, and the pursuit is driven by a fear that the world would unhinge if people didn't care about these things.

All of this, gentle reader, is preamble to my point. I went to a lecture last night with Trois Heures. We heard a woman speak about Iran. Interesting talk, blah blah blah, then thoughtful questions and one denunciation from an intense bearded man.

All night the speaker—Deborah Campbell, a writer and UBC prof of literary nonfiction—used "media" as a singular noun. The media is growing in influence. The media is censored.

To my ear, it's ugly in the same way as "There's three chairs over there"—forgivably, avoidably, uglily. Then there's the question What does 'media' actually mean?

Here's what the experts say:
American Heritage: Maybe "media" refers just to the press and broadcasters...
Dictionary.com: The singular use is now common in mass communications and advertising.
OED: "Media" is the plural of "medium."
In this fractured and fizzing information landscape, can we really get away with thinking of the media as a monolith?

Next, we tackle he, she, they, ze, and, gulp, hir—unassigned singulars. Let's wait till we're drinking wine.

By the way, have you seen the Phillips-head? It should be in the cupboard in the garage.

(Illustration: The shield of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Is that a pen?)

What is language? (II)

Nothing to do with the New Yorker, but this deserves noting. In Canada you can now be sued for using the words "friend," "top," and "winter," among many others, in an advertisement. Unless, that is, you are a sponsor of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Bill Cooper, the commercial-rights director of the 2010 Organizing Committee, says that the organizers aren't trying trying to stifle debate.

"We owe it to Canadian athletes and the Canadian public to police the brand, and we take that very seriously," he says.

I'm glad my 'you'd better police the brand' letters to VANOC aren't falling on deaf ears. Oddly, though, my application to a communications position did.

Other words that will fetch you a phone call from a lawyer:
  • See You in Vancouver
  • See You in Whistler
  • See You in Beijing
  • Let the Dreams Begin
  • Sea To Sky
  • 2010
  • '10
  • We're Next
  • Road to Beijing
  • Driven by Nature
  • Road to Vancouver
  • Driven by Dreams
  • Celebrate the Impossible
  • Vancouver '10
  • Gold Medal
  • Game Plan
  • 2000
  • 2002
  • '00
  • '02
  • It's Our Time To Shine
  • For The Fire Within
As Michael Geist reasons, even a balanced implementation of this law still represents an extreme example of special interest legislation. Myself, I'm just looking forward to having a Coca-Cola, shutting up, and watching some luge.

Classmate Emily is keeping an eye on the run-up to the Games: check her out.

(Alf, please skip.)

28 March 2007

"He was always surrounded by paper"

Got halfway through "In the Now" on the bus yesterday—John Colapinto's snarky profile of Karl Lagerfeld. The most enjoyable article I've read in a while.

Click the portrait to see the award-winning commercial for Lagerfeld's clothing lines at the British discount chain H & M.

23 March 2007


The lights keep you awake so you can study.

(Photo: "B.C. Place at Midnight.")

16 March 2007

There is chaos under heaven

Priceless cartoon this week of Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-tung dancing cheek to cheek under a hammer-and-sickle moon, to the strains of an accordian waltz squeezed out by a hip-height Henry Kissinger.

The drawing accompanies Louis Menand's review of "Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World," a blow-by-blow of Tricky Dick's 1972 trip to Beijing.

Four highlights of the trip:
Mao takes Kissinger's measure: "Just a funny little man. He is shuddering with nerves all over every time he comes to see me."

Pat Nixon prevails over her handlers and arrives in Beijing in red, a colour worn only by prostitutes.

Nixon, prodded for his thoughts on the Great Wall, provides them: "This is a great wall."

A collective (not to say Communistic) whoosh of anxiety moves north from Taipei—the official capital of China for just seven years more.
Bloggers are not doing backflips over this article. The two I found are yawning and making meta-points, like you do in a pizzeria when you're coming down.

Pater Familias asks, 'What if Nixon hadn't gone to China?' (Someone else would have, apparently.) And Momentary Language wonders, not wrongly, about Menand's description of Nixon and Kissinger together:
"The couple was odd in many dimensions. Kissinger was a ladies' man (or cultivated the reputation); Nixon had trouble opening a bottle of aspirin."
I just found this question in the GRE practice questions.
27) Being a ladies' man : opening aspirin bottles ::

a) wolf : hound
b) soap : tallow
c) root : shrub
d) blazon : efface
What's your vote?

(Illustration: Edward Sorel.)

09 March 2007

Four poems

I'd like to buy her some toffee
but I don't have a daughter

as I pass a sidewalk store in autumn.

* * *

the mother has fallen asleep
so her baby is listening all alone
to the sound of the night train.

* * *

Frogs croaking in flooded paddies—
if there really is a world beyond,
echo far enough so my dead brother can hear.

* * *

A boat whistles in the night.
For a moment I too long to sail away

but merely pull the blanket up over the kids.

Ko Un

Translated, from the Korean, by Brother Anthony of Taize, Young-moo Kim, and Gary Gach.

(Alf, please skip.)

06 March 2007

Feed us, Seymour

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who, admittedly, looks a little like Jiang Zemin, is the most well-connected reporter in the world. This week he comes down from the mount with a freshly-chiseled tablet: "The Redirection" (March 5th).

Here's the premise: To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. The change brings the two countries closer to an open confrontation and propels the U.S. into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Interestingly, the new strategy has American money flowing to radical Sunni groups, most of whom are avowed enemies of the United States. (Al Qaeda is one.) It also brings Saudi Arabia and Israel, who both see a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, into a clammy diplomatic embrace.

Here's Hersh, unfettered by his New Yorker editors, speaking with Bill Maher on "Real Time":
"This is, without question, the most dangerous Administration we've ever had. They don't understand the Middle East, they have a disaster on their hands in Iraq, and they are trying to 'fail forward' by pushing into Iran, saying, "Maybe we'll bomb Iran, maybe we won't."

We're running clandestine, covert operations with the help of the Saudis—in effect, we're outsourcing clandestine operations to the Saudi government, which is pretty amazing for an American government. We're outsourcing the most sensitive operations there are. We're not telling the Congress. We're disobeying the law. We're using money that isn't appropriated. The system is completely broken, and these guys are marching to their own tune."
'Fail forward': nice. I've been struggling for a catchphrase to describe my romantic life.

As you can imagine, Hersh excites a good deal of honking and spraying among conservative bloggers; many of them see him as a benighted wacko lefty with an Bush grudge.
Across the Bay: "Hersh's reporting is shrill, hilariously conspiratorial, thin, ideologically skewed, and based on dubious sources."

From Beirut to the Beltway: "Hersh, who rose to fame with his reporting on Vietnam, is only satisfied if the U.S. army is seen massacring innocent people."
That second quote deserves a couple of readings. Wow. There's some edifying discussion at Newsbusters, too—patriotic riffs on journalism, war, and liberal media bias. Two for your sampling:
"Well, goll-eeee! If the Bush administration would just listetn to Seymour Hersh, who DOES understand the Middle East, all would be hunky-dorey! Problem is, in his next spiel, he says NOTHING that shows he understands anything at all about the Middle East. He just describes what he sees happening...we're failing forward (according to him), we're outsourcing, Cheney thinks Iran is going to have a bomb....and then proceeds to hold up the head of Hezbollah as a reputable source of information on what's going on. What a joke. And he gets taken seriously."

"Ya know what I want asked to these dumb monkeys? I want a serious reporter to ask them if they have an anti-virus program installed on thier computers. If they really believe that if we just open are hearts, we wouldn't have any problems. Let's see if they would open up thier hard drives and test their theory right here at home. Go ahead, I dare you lefties to turn off your firewalls and disable your anti-virus software and show how open and honest you trust those people."
I hope you know, faithful blog reader, that I trust you open and honest. I allow anonymous comments, which opens me to attacks from strangers and my sisters. I'm not running antivirus on my friendship drive—that's the point. We are friends.

(Extra reading: A Salon profile of Seymour Hersh from 2000.)