Category Archives: Rant

What Kids Learn At the Middle School Drop-Off

I don’t often drive my kids to school but this week their dad was away and it rained a lot, so I took over that task.

Since I don’t do this often, I’m not as inured to the horror of the experience as their dad is. (Apparently he rants a lot less than he used to.)

As my blood pressure inched up, I tried to figure out just what was so infuriating to me about the casual flouting of the school’s rules that I witnessed every day.

Surely I wasn’t so intolerant that I couldn’t understand why someone might want to hold up the flow of traffic so they could let their precious angel go in the front door instead of the side door like they’re supposed to. I mean, what’s the big deal, right? I still have to wait behind you either way…

Here’s The Big Deal

I finally figured it out this morning.

Here’s the real reason I get so steamed up about people who ignore the principal’s repeated requests (and big, new signs) to go down THIS lane not that one, and stop at THIS point, not some random point that makes sense to you:

  • Every time you drive down the middle lane instead of going around, where we’ve been asked to drive, you show your child that the school’s principal is someone whose instructions can be ignored…by your family.
  • Every time you drop your kid off at the front door instead of the side door, you demonstrate that inconveniencing other people is ok, as long as it makes life a little more convenient...for your family.
  • Every time you double park at the gym doors and then pull out in front of me, you model to your kids that it’s OK to disregard the safety of others as long as it makes life easier...for your family.

And Here’s Why I Care

I care, because if you show your kid, day after day after day, that disobeying the school authority figures is OK for your family, that being selfish is OK for your family, that disregarding other people’s needs is OK for your family, how do you think your kid acts inside the building…with my kid?

When the teacher asks the class to be quiet, but you’ve shown your kid that the rules don’t apply to them, what do you think they do? Do you think about how that affects the education of my kid, who has trouble concentrating when the room is noisy? Does it matter if the teacher gets so frustrated that they assign them busy-work instead of teaching them the good stuff? Or if the teacher sends home a ton of homework because they couldn’t get through everything in class?

When your kid mocks my kid down for not wearing the right shoes, and upsets him, does your kid come home and worry about that? Or do they never give it a second thought, because you’ve demonstrated, day after day, that other people really don’t matter?

When your kids disobeys school rules and shoves my kid on the stairs, do they understand that the safety of others is important?Or do they complain to you about stupid rules and mean teachers and tattle-tale kids? And do you back them up?

Obey

We live in a society. Societies only work if we have rules that we all agree on and we follow them.

I’m not talking about slavish, stupid following-of-rules. If your kid is on crutches and you let them out at the front door, I’m not going to honk at you.

  • But if you just can’t wait and follow the rules because your whims are more important than the principal’s instructions, what message are you sending to your kids?
  • If you’re in such a hurry that everyone else can go hang, what behaviour are you modeling to your kids over and over again?
  • If you put others in danger to make your morning more convenient, what is wrong with you?

And, thanks to you, I am now demonstrating to my kids that it’s fine to judge people and call them names, as long as you’re behind the wheel of a car.

Sigh.

I guess we all have some work to do…

That Time We All Begged Obama To Help Syrians

Got a little steamed up on Facebook this morning. Posted this in response to an asinine comment on a friend’s wall. Posting it here because I want to hold onto this outrage. Unlike our outrage at celebrities, this one is, I think, worth nursing.

The Background

  1. Bashir Al-Assad has attacked his people with chemical weapons. Again. Or maybe he hasn’t, and we need to investigate it further before we act1
  2. The Russians are blaming the rebels. The US is blaming Assad. Trump is saying it hurts his heart and we should probably Do Something.
  3. A friend posted this heart-wrenching BBC story about a young man who lost his entire family, including his 10 month old twins. (You don’t have to watch it. You can imagine.)
  4. And in the comments someone my friend allows to communicate with her for some unknown reason, turned it into an advertisement for the Idiot-In-Chief.
Quote: Trump did what Obama couldn't and finally we are taking a stand as a strong country again

“Trump did what Obama couldn’t and finally we are taking a stand as a strong country again”

I couldn’t even.

And then I could. (Before I knew that Trump had ordered an attack)

Reposted below.

That Time We All Begged Obama To Help The Syrians

I agree. Obama should have taken action when we concluded in 2013 that Bashir Al-Assad had used chemical weapons on his own people. But if he “couldn’t”, let’s ask why.
Was it because the American people, sick of 12 years of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks) demanded the president bring troops home?
 
Was it because, in 2013, the Republicans in congress shut down the government, rather than compromise over the budget? If we couldn’t even agree on a budget, how were we going to pay soldiers we sent into a new war?
 
Was it because the citizens of the great United States of America, that grand experiment in liberty and democracy, were too busy being outraged by Miley Cyrus’s twerking to read about the strangers across the globe being gassed by their own government?
 
Was it because that president understood that he was there to do what we told him, and we did not tell him to intervene in Syria?
 
Was it because he didn’t love his Muslim buddies as much as we thought he did, after all?
 
Was it because the Republicans were, in the wake of Sandy Hook, too busy opposing gun control measures that would expand background checks and limit who could buy military-style assault weapons?
 
Or was it because he–and only he– didn’t care?
 
That’s right, I remember how everyone was talking about the Syrians’ suffering.
I remember how Congress pleaded with him to help the burgeoning humanitarian crisis.
I remember when Doctors Without Borders begged for our help to keep a maternity hospital open so that those conjoined twins (among others) could get help and we told our government to help; and I remember how the twins (and all the other babies) went on to live  happy and full lives.
I remember when we opened our doors to the refugees fleeing this crisis, and when we housed and fed hundreds of thousands of them.
 
Oh wait. No I don’t.
 
We didn’t care, so he couldn’t do a thing.
WE didn’t care, so we encouraged this president to ban them from seeking refuge here.
WE DIDN’T CARE, until it suited us to use it as a political football.
 
Shame on President Obama for not acting. Shame on President Trump for turning away the refugees. Shame on us for ignoring this slaughter for years and years and years.

[Updated 1: 35 pm 7 April 2017] Some More Things

Retweeted by @SolomonJones1

Trump tweeting about NOT attacking Syria

“He calls it as he sees it”

  1. Bearing in mind that a, I wrote this before I knew Trump had sent missiles, and b, Kennedy spend WEEKS deliberating what to do about the Cuban Missile Crisis….

Early Morning Activism

Thing these little beauties out into the world this morning. Postcards by Marta Pelrine-Bacon.

Update: I hesitated to post this on Facebook, and I even hesitated to post it here, in my own virtual living room (knowing i would probably be allow it to be sucked into Facebook, but that fewer people would see it because: algorithms.)

But now, instead of cowering, I’m roaring.

During the election I felt things strongly and I posted them on Facebook because that is where I interact with people the most, now that I am at home, writing all day.

I was one of those people who prompted Facebook comments like “I can’t wait for the election to be over so we can get back to posting about the kids and cute kittens.”

But I can’t go back.

This is who I am.

This is why you rarely see me at neighborhood get-togethers. It’s why you don’t see me hanging out making small talk after church. It’s why I tend to turn down invitations to jewelry parties (that and the fact that I don’t wear it.)

It’s not that I don’t care about the people in my community. I do. I like a lot of them an awful lot.

But this is who I am. And this is what I want to talk about.

I very much appreciated my two years of being a bus-stop mum, after the kids switched to public school. I liked the comradeship and the forced socializing early in the morning (the requirement that I get dressed, for one, and maybe drag a comb through my hair), and the opportunity to share concerns and triumphs with other parents, maybe to help, maybe to be helped.

And I miss that.

But that’s not all I am. (It’s not all anyone is.)

I am passionate about Big Ideas. And I can’t not talk about them. 

I care a lot (head-‘splodingly) when the leaders of the richest nation on earth “decide”, in the face of scientific evidence, that climate change isn’t being affected by humanity, because it might slightly affect profits if they do.

It drives me insane when our so-called ‘leaders’ protect a broken status quo rather than looking for bold solutions to the problems we face.

It makes me want to punch things when I see people lying to support their ideology.

And I can’t shut up about it because they work for me.

My blood pressure goes through the roof every time I see a flier for pot-luck dinners and fundraisers when someone in my community gets sick.

And do you know what? I haven’t seen so many of those in recent years, since the Affordable Care Act raised premiums but required that all insurance covers stuff like, actually getting treatment when you get sick. The calls for help that I have seen, tend to be about ‘helping out with living expenses while the family deals with this’, which is still not utopia, but is better than the panicked “OMG, she’s going to be homeless and bankrupt if we don’t help right now”, like the ones I used to see.

(This is true in my physical community and even more so in my professional community of artists, who don’t have big corporations to sponsor their health-insurance for them. One house fire, one tumor, one car accident can mean DISASTER to the self-employed, underpaid writers and artists who provide all the entertainment we rely on so much to get us through the day.)

I care ALL THE TIME about war and international relations and small businesses and public transit and corporate welfare and the dignity of human life, the poor, the vulnerable, the prisoner, the refugee, the underemployed, the at-will contract worker, the person with mental health issues, the rich person who doesn’t know why they still aren’t happy, the unborn, the born, the entrepreneur; I care about how we treat our animals; truth in advertising; integrity in government; faith (yours, mine, and his right to lack it); philosophy, history, truth, truth, truth (subjective as it is, but pare away as much of the rubbish until we get as close as we can, clear-eyed about our own prejudices and privileges).

I cannot wash my hands of it all. I can’t shrug cynically and say nothing makes a difference. This doesn’t makes me better than someone who can. I’m simply stating who I am.

Are You There, Senator? It’s Me, Your Boss

Our voices ring in the ears of our elected representatives. I’ve been blessed with a mostly-tax-payer-subsidized and excellent education that trained me to research, gather information, compare and contrast, analyze and build an argument formed from the best available facts. It is a talent and a gift and I feel compelled to use it to spread truth, and battle misinformation.

I will continue to suck in information and share the best-researched, the most-thoughtful, most useful information I can. I will be eloquent when I can and pointed when I cannot. I will be opinionated and honest about my biases.

TL;DR: This executive action on the environment SUCKS and I will be screaming about it for a long time. This small-hearted, short-sighted government chaps my ass and I will be screaming about that for a long time, too. 

If you’re looking for kittens, move along.

The Personal Cost of Sexual Assault Culture

I’m angry this morning.

I’ve been angry about having-voluntarily-become-a-citizen-of a-country-where-people-elected-Donald-Trump-as-candidate-for-President for a long time.

Today I’m specifically angry that someone I know, a ‘pillar of the community’ in my town, thinks it’s OK to dismiss Donald Trump’s 2005 chat about how he treats women, because “Bill did it too”.

OK, let’s go:

1. If We’d Had Proof About Bill

If we’d had this kind of iron-clad proof about Bill Clinton’s character would he have been elected president? Maybe.

1991 was a long time ago, even though it doesn’t feel like it to people my age—except when you think about how far we’ve come on issues like, uh, acknowledging unwanted sexual contact as the damaging assault that it truly is.

2. Bill Clinton is not running.

If you think Hillary is morally weak for staying with her husband after knowing what he was like, then you clearly will have no compassion for other complicated human emotions and situations.

Why do abused people stay with their abusers? Why don’t drug addicts just pull their socks up? Why do we have to pay all this money to put ramps in for the couple of disabled people who might conceivably want to enter our buildings? (Can’t they just wait outside until we send someone down to help them like the infants they are?)

3. When we had proof of Bill Clinton’s actions, he was impeached.

We didn’t invite him to stay on. We weren’t proud he was our leader. It’s not ‘going all Democratic” or “defending the Clintons” to demand that we don’t knowingly elect another man like him.

He is not “a dirty boy”. He is a grown, 70 year old man, who has shown us the content of his character in many and varied ways. This is only the latest.

And, at the risk of being accused of defending Bill Clinton (which I am not), he HAD some skills in the job he was doing. He trained for it his whole life. He qualified as a lawyer. He apprenticed as governor of a large state. Twice.

I disagreed with many of the policies he put in place, and think the fallout from them has been bad. But he understood government. He did not need on-the-job-training.

4. Contact Without Consent is Sexual Assault

People like me, your sister and your mother had to put up with Trumpian behaviour from the moment our periods started, because now we were women.

You had to smile and laugh and learn to brush off grown men in order to voice being called a bad sport or a ‘shrill harpy’ or frigid or worse, to avoid being physically intimidated or attacked.

We had to endure being touched and propositioned by strangers because ‘it’s just a bit of fun’.

5. Assault is Damaging

When someone decides they can be in your personal space, touch you however they like and demean you when you say no, it is a psychologically damaging assault that leaves an impression. It might make a dent, or it might crush someone, but, as with all interpersonal interactions, it has an impact.

Are we clear on that?

6. A Climate of Degradation Doesn’t Just Hurt The Target

Sexual predation doesn’t just hurt women. We have to stop saying “this language has to change ‘for our daughters and our wives”.

We have to change this language for our daughters and our sons and our wives and our brothers and for all human beings.

This culture hurts men too.

Decent men feel bad, and often powerless when the Dude-Bros let loose. Decent men have historically felt stressed and constrained by cultural norms and had to tamp down their natural decency so as not to look like a “fag” or a “pussy”or whatever demeaning name guys like this would throw their way; guys that might be their boss, or their partner on a project, or 243lbs of angry muscle.

7. How The Threat of Sexual Assault Affected Me

First, I’m fine.

I’m tall, and strong, and opinionated and I never once felt in danger from a man.

I did, however, learn to be careful about how I bent down to pick something up.

I learned to tug my skirt down.

I learned it was not OK to go out alone.

I learned to smile and deflect when men tried to chat me up on the train, when I was 13.

I spent the years when Bill Clinton was busy being elected, at university, with one hand on the rape alarm I kept in one pocket of my biker’s jacket and my other hand on my sharp housekeys as I speed-walked home with my head down. From. Studying. At. The. University. Library. I was 18.

It never occurred to me to get particularly angry that I had to do this. I had been conditioned to think that I might get attacked and that if I did, I needed to prove I had done everything possible to excuse myself from blame.

Let me repeat that: I didn’t expect to be attacked. BUT I learned to walk with my head down, not making eye contact, carrying a rape alarm, so nobody would blame me (much) if the unthinkable happened.

I internalized this at 18.

What did that do to my character? I don’t know, because whatever it did is part of me now and always will be.

Is this what we want for our children?

I wasn’t angry on my own behalf, but now that my kids are approaching their teens, I am mad as hell.

  • I’m angry that my boys will be viewed as predatory.
  • I’m super-angry that my friends’ tall, beautiful, bold, witty daughter will soon begin to duck her head and shorten her stride if she dares go out after dusk.

I’m angry that I, an adult human being, think twice about taking walks in quiet places lest something bad happen and I get blamed.

I thought we had moved past this. I was 19 when Bill Clinton was elected. I was 33 when Trump was recorded making these comments. I am 44 now and I have one question:

Can we stop?

Can we stop normalizing this behavior, please?

And while we’re at it,

  • Can we stop thinking it’s OK that African American mothers have to train their sons to be meek so they don’t get in harm’s way, sometimes by officials of the state?
  • Can we stop treating everyone who’s poor as if they’re weak?
  • Can we stop dismissing everyone with an accent as lazy because they ‘haven’t learned English properly’ when they’ve uprooted their lives and learned to live and work in a new culture, raising kids in a place where they don’t understand the school system, taking fewer benefits than they’re entitled to and paying more of their income in taxes than richer, native-born Americans?
  • Can we stop demonizing people because they love who they love and they just want to be treated equally?
  • Can we stop asking people to calm down, when we’re metaphorically punching them in the face?
  • Can we start respecting that my experience may not be the same as your experience and that two realities can be true at the same time?
  • Can we stop pretending we’re Christian or Pro-Life when we do not demonstrate it with our words or our actions, not to mention our policies?

Let’s Move Forwards, Not Backwards

We have proof of the kind of man Trump is and he’s not “a dirty boy”. He’s the kind of damaging, hateful man who wants to take us back to a time when wolf whistling was cool, and it was ok to not employ people because of their parents or which side of the tracks they came from.

I though we were making progress. I thought people like Donald Trump were figures of fun, who we reviled and kind of pitied.

I didn’t think we were ready to put them back in charge.

For The Love Of Handwriting

Sometimes I see this kind of post on Facebook:

I love handwriting. I think everyone should have a good, fluid, readable handwriting style. But. I can’t subscribe to this knee-jerk ‘we must teach loopy handwriting to seven year olds so they can read the Constitution’ mindset.

I’m Pretty Smart But…

When I went to university as a joint English/History student, I couldn’t read this:

I certainly couldn’t read this:

(in cast you’re wondering, it’s the Magna Carta, one of the most important governmental documents in my country’s past, and still hugely important in the history of most modern democracies).

People Who Can’t Read Cursive

My husband, who can get by in French, can read scientific documents in German, has a PhD and did postdoctoral research at Harvard, has invented a couple of drugs, and makes the world a better place every day, didn’t understand why he could no longer read our son’s writing when the boy hit second grade.

The school had taught him cursive…which my drug-designing, guitar-playing, Latin-reading, grammar-correcting, polymath husband had never been taught.

It hasn’t exactly held him back.

And if he needed to know what the Constitution said, he would learn cursive. Or ask a trusted source.

Which brings me to Point A and Point B of this blog post.

Point A – The Love of Learning

Should we really be spending valuable time in elementary school, forcing children to learn an archaic type of handwriting that they may or may not ever need?

What better way to squash the love of learning in children who may not have the manual dexterity (from the Latin for “right-handed”, dating from a time when left-handedness was considered a sign of being in congress with the Devil) to master it? I know both my boys have HORRIBLE handwriting, in spite of their teachers’ efforts to make them write like 18th Century schoolgirls, because they lacked the interest or fine motor skills to master the form at such a young age.

I understand that it’s a good thing to be able to be able to read your country’s founding documents in the original.

But it’s not essential.

I learned to read Middle English in order to appreciate Chaucer…but I was 19 at the time, and had elected to study English Literature full-time at university.

I learned to read early moveable type fonts (think: Gutenberg. All those elongated “S”s!) so I could read explorer’s journals of their voyages to the New World…but, by that time I was 20 and thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so (white cotton gloves, no backpack, and frowning, supervisory Rare Book Librarians, and all!)

More importantly, I learned to rely on translations of things that are considered the founding documents of their disciplines. I read Beowulf (arguably the first great English language epic) in translation (fabulous translation by the poet Seamus Heaney) because I can’t make heads nor tails of the Old English. I trust the scholars to have done that for me. Scholars funded by public and private funding sources. Scholars who are (ideally) free to concentrate on the work, not the politics or economics of doing their job.

I was developmentally ready, and I was excited, to learn these things. I wasn’t 7 years old. I wasn’t trying to learn to decode and to compose at the same time as I was trying to read these new forms of writing. I was mature. I could handle it.

Point B – Trust, But Verify

If we are to have any hope of living in a society, we must learn to have trusted sources, to trust each other. We must learn to allow people to be experts, and trust that their motives are no less impure than our own.

I don’t read the Bible in the original languages; I trust 2,000 years of church scholars to come to some kind of understanding of the text that represents The Truth (even in 14 years of Catholic school, the only time I really learned any Latin was in the music room!). I trust Seamus Heaney to represent the spirit and the letter of the poetry of Beowulf. I read side-by-side versions of Chaucer and used scholarship and judgment to figure out if the ‘translation’ was trustworthy.

No, we shouldn’t rely on one or two people to tell us what’s in our historical documents.

Yes, we should fund robust and independent scholarship, so that we alway have experts who can give us diverse (and probably argumentative) arguments about what they mean.

We do not ALL need to by polymaths, Renaissance Men, or Jacks of All Trades.

It’s OK to be an expert and trust other experts. (For example, I don’t want my hypothetical heart surgery to be performed by my General Practitioner/Family Doctor, and I’m fairly certain she’d be much happier to recommend whichever “nice Jewish boy” — her usual, impish referral — she respects the most.)

I Love Handwriting

I’m not against teaching handwriting. Far from it. I think it’s important.

  • Handwriting lights up parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, boosting both creativity and memory.
  • Handwriting allows you to slow down and consider what you’re saying, compose sentences before you write them down.
  • Being able to write with a pen, means putting your hands all over the paper, which you can then send to someone miles away. They can hold it, knowing that you held it. They can touch it and feel a thrilling connection to the physical reality of you.
  • When I look back at my handwritten notes and journals, I can see what mood I was in simply from the size and shape of my handwriting.
  • It’s important to be able to write fluently, fluidly and in a way that can be read by yourself and the general population, because computers and keyboards are not always practical or optimal. (For the record, I recommend learning to write in a nice, clean italic, joined-up style. If you have already learned to write, you can still teach yourself this style as a useful alternative to printing or cursive.)

And I think it probably is fine to teach cursive handwriting in schools.

But I think it’s probably much more useful to teach them a less-convoluted, more practical form of joined-up writing that lets them take notes quickly and efficiently, and then teach them cursive in the middle school History class and the art room; Latin in the music studio (andante! Edit: Thanks to Craig for gently reminding me that I also learned Italian there too!); and most importantly, let them learn enthusiasm for scholarship and expertise in every room in the school.

To The Woman Who Felt The Need To Correct My Ten Year Old At A Concert

I know it’s a wonderful thing to listen to classical music live.

That’s why I brought my nearly–11 and just-turned–13 year old sons to the school auditorium for the 2pm Sunday performance.

And I know it’s annoying when people distract you.

This is why I’m sure you’ll have noticed (since you were obviously watching us) that I was silently correcting my 10 year old when he got fidgetty: stilling his hands with mine, making sure he wasn’t kicking the seat in front, quietly prompting him between pieces as to how many more movements were still to come.

What Went Down

Towards the 1 hour 10 minute mark, I admit he was moving around a lot. I’m sorry it distracted you. It distracted me too, especially as I felt a responsibility to correct him over and over again, so that he wasn’t disruptive.

Having got to the last piece in the concert, you felt you needed to lean forward and tell him that there was only one piece left, with the unspoken “so for goodness’ sake sit still” hanging in the air.

Thanks.

Thanks for making me really uncomfortable.

Thanks for making me miss most of the last piece as I tried to figure out how much we had annoyed you, or whether you were trying to be supportive. And wondering why you waited until the short, last piece to make your displeasure known.

I’ll bet you didn’t notice the way my boy was squeezing my hand in time with the music. Or the way he shared your chuckle of glee when the motif from the first piece came around again at the end, in a piece by a completely different composer.

I’ll bet you didn’t consider that I’m trying to bring my boys up to be well-mannered, cultured, and excited by the passions of others (wasn’t the violinist amazing, by the way?).

What The Future Holds

I know it’s annoying to be distracted during a concert.

I also know that I was one of the youngest people there, not counting my boys. And I’m 43.

If we want live orchestral music to survive as a form, we need to make concerts (afternoon concerts, at that!) a hospitable place for people with children and for first-time concert-goers. The soloist did. Remember? He told us to go out to the bathroom whenever we needed to; he wouldn’t mind. He said he’d cue us when to clap and, when we got it wrong, he laughed and said “We’ll take it!”. He was the perfect host.

Without people like me — paying full price and bringing along the next generation of fans — orchestras will not survive.

So. I will continue to take my kids to this regional orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concerts in the middle school auditorium. And yes, the 13 year old will read his book for a while. Yes, the 11 year old will fidget towards the end of a long concert without breaks. And then, one day, they’ll be ready for the big city orchestra’s Saturday night concerts, where they will pay big money to hear amazing music, I hope, for the rest of their lives.

If, that is, there are enough people willing to brave the tutters and the sighers to keep orchestras alive that long.

Words And Phrases You Will Only Ever Hear Me Put In The Mouths Of Loathsome Characters

ScreamIt has come to my attention that people are attempting to invent the word “conversate” as in: “I was conversating with Bob…”

Wh—ugh.

When I Am Linguistic Queen

I will be a benevolent dictator. Unless you do any of the following things, in which case I  will turn up at your door with a copy of Strunk & White and the collected works of Ernest Hemingway. And I will hover over you, menacingly while you read and absorb each spare sentence of both.

Yes, language evolves. Yes, we need new words. Yes, we are free to invent cute, clarity-enhancing new terms for things.

But let us not simply replace existing, perfectly-good words simply because we are too lazy to find out that they exist.

And before you go correcting my grammar,  I’m perfectly aware that I started these sentences with prepositions and you know what? It’s fine. It’s a conscious stylistic choice. It does not obscure meaning. It reflects modern structures and modes of communications. It does not, to the vast majority of the population make me sound like an unlettered oik. It’s fine. Get over it. (This is my fantasy and I am Linguistic Queen, remember?)

Making up words that obscure meaning is not OK

Language is about communication. Communication requires that we all share a pool of commonly-used words, the meanings of which we all understand. It is also about throwing in the occasional unusual word because it makes things more clear, or illustrates a concept perfect, even if someone has to go to the dictionary to check the meaning. Dictionaries are easy to get nowadays. My Kindle has one built in so I don’t even have to page away from the book I’m reading if I need clarification (not “clearness“).

Words And Phrases You May No Longer Use In My Absolute Kingdom

Conversate

Instead of using conversate why not try converse? Better yet talked to. I’ll even give you speak to as long as you do not use it in the following ways:

1. “Can you speak to the problem of binge drinking?”

No, Mr. Interviewer. I cannot speak to the problem of binge drinking. Binge drinking is a concept. It is a problem. It is not a person. It has no ears. I can, however, speak about it.

2. “The decline in piracy speaks to the rise of  global warming.”

No it doesn’t. Global warming, likewise, has no ears. The decline in piracy may indicate a subsequent rise in global warming (except it doesn’t. That’s a logical fallacy: a subject for a different rant.).

Note: A word that sounds a bit like conversate that you may still use with impunity is conversant. If someone is conversant with a topic, it does not mean they are talking with it or about it, it means they are familiar with the details. Use at will.

Utilize

Seriously. Why? Just say use.

Supposubly

This is not a word. This was a punch-line in Friends.  The word you want is supposedly. My eight year old may stumble over this. If you are older than him, you may not.

Addicting

Drugs are not addicting. Neither is Game of Thrones. They are not going out and hunting you down and addicting you to them. What ever it is you are addicted to, the thing itself is more passive than that. It is addictive. You are addicted. It is addictive. Addicting? Not a word.

There, They’re, Their

I know. They sound the same. You only need to know the difference when you’re writing. But we’re all writing and reading much more than we used to (thank you, Internet). If you want me to know what you mean, and not have to stop and wonder why it looks wrong, thereby losing all sense of what you are trying to communicate to me, use the correct form.

There is related to place. I don’t have a trick to help you remember that. Sorry, but it’s just one word. Commit it to memory. There=place.

They’re is a related to them (they are. It’s right there, in how you spell it. They, them, they’re, they are).

Their is the weird-looking cousin of the there/they’re family. No other word really looks like it. It can only be used when talking about people and the things that belong to them, for example, their weird-looking cousins.

Note: Likewise, if you’re not sure which homophone of a word to use, look it up. It’s easy to make a mistake. I’m not judging you on that. I’m judging you if you don’t care that you’re making the other person work too hard to understand you. Don’t be inconsiderate.

Examples: I don’t want to sore (ouch), I want to soar. I don’t want a peak  (mountain top) at your work. I want a peek.  I don’t want a roll (fall down and writhe) in your movie, I want a role.

You’re welcome.

The Problem Is, Is

The problem is you’re repeating yourself unnecessarily. The problem is. Not the problem is, is.

People say, “The problem is, is I’m going to be out that night.”

You wouldn’t say, “Is I’m going out that night.” so why say, “The problem is, is I’m going out”?

It’s a stylistic tic that I hear all the time and I’m alerting you to it now, so you can cut it out.

The problem is [state the problem]“. Done.

Wa-la

It’s French. It’s literally “see there” (voire: to see,: there). It’s spelled “voilà” and pronounced “Vwah-LA”. It’s a real word used to express satisfaction, approval or sudden appearance. Use it with joy, but use it with a v.

Things I Have No Problem With

It’s not all judgment and dictatorship, as Linguistic Queen. I’m really quiet laid back. There are many non-traditional words, phrases and language evolutions I’m totally cool with. So really, am I asking too much?

Dialect and Accent

If, in your local dialect people reliably say “aks” instead of “ask” or “liberry” instead of “library“, that’s just an accent thing. If everyone around you says it the same way, you might have some trouble spelling it properly, but you’re not obscuring meaning.  Carry on, as you were.

If you come from an area with distinct dialect patterns that don’t follow standard English, feel free to use them. They’re part of your heritage. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong. Even me (OK, maybe me).

However, you will probably also benefit from knowing how to use standard English for those occasions that call for interaction with people from other places, or a more formal setting. (In fact, in my experience, people who have a genuine dialect pattern, tend to be able to drop into standard English with more precision than people who just don’t use Standard English because they just don’t care.)

Noo-cular

Yeah, the word is nuclear (new-clee-ar), but if you say noo-cular, everyone knows what you mean. Don’t sweat it. (But do spell it properly.)

“Guys”

As an informal group-collective that has, arguably,  become non-gender-specific, I call this one of the ways language has evolved. Sure, you could use people or everybody, or all. None of these are particularly grammatically sound and not everyone can get away with shouting “Ladies and Gentlemen” before beginning a sentence. I vote we move over to “guys”. Except this is not a constitutional monarchy. I’m Linguistic Queen and therefore “Guys” is now decreed an acceptable gender-neutral collective noun. Deal with it.

 

And that’s it for today. I’m all out of outrage.

What words get you riled up? Share the horror in the comments section.

 

Amazon and the agency model

I got an email today telling me that several publishers are going to be sending me money to make up for screwing over me (their end customer), to try to stop Amazon’s Kindle editions from eating into their hardback prices. They did this by refusing to allow Amazon to sell the ebooks unless they did so at the publishers’ preferred price.

As a Kindle fanatic since the first day (and possibly sooner) I was astounded by this self-defeating business decision. Or I would have been had I not had past dealings with the publishing industry. (People in the publishing industry are lovely. The industry itself is a fairy tale princess resisting all attempts at rescue, because that might mean, you know, change). I wanted to buy more books than I ever had before and I DID until the prices went up by 50% overnight. I never bought hardbacks, and I was much more willing to buy any book after reading a kindle sample, but apparently that wasn’t good enough for certain publishing houses. They must have only wanted a wealthy elite to buy their titles, if you judge them by their actions. And now they have to apologize to the rest of us plebs for daring to want to read their books. With cash.

So while I’m sure my Twitter feed will be full of predictions of doom and scathing criticisms of Amazon, as a reader and a writer I say: ha! (Sorry).

Should The BBC Play “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead”?

So, yes, it is cruelly amusing that Margaret Thatcher’s death has caused the song “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” to shoot up the UK charts as people express their still-passionate dislike of her policies and her effect on Britain in the 1980s and beyond.

But also yes, I think the BBC is right to decline to play the song on the chart show.

It’s a matter of taste.

While I’m all for the Internet and self-expression and self-publishing and all that, I find myself applauding the venerable old institution for clinging to its role as arbiter of taste and keeper of the culture. There are some things that are tasteless. This is one. I’m happy that the BBC, like a fine old-fashioned gent, is quietly frowning and staying in its seat and saying “You dance if you must but no, no, I’m afraid I don’t approve and shan’t be joining you. Terribly sorry to be a stick in the mud, old fellow, but there it is.” The lady had children who are, no matter how you feel about their actions, people too. How we treat other people is a reflection on the state of our own souls, not theirs. And gleefully celebrating any death is just cruel, disturbing and unkind to a family in distress.

The BBC’s actions makes me feel like something is right with the world.

(And before anyone screams about government censorship, the Beeb runs on a government charter, yes, but it’s run to by an independent board).

So Bravo BBC.

On The Other Hand

I also read that some, perhaps more right-wing sources, were up in arms after Thatcher died, because they felt ‘one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.’

Rubbish.

She was a public figure and the media profiles of her life absolutely had to include commentary from people who were willing to speak ill of her. They are not doing it out of thoughtlessness for her family’s feelings. They are assessing her public work, her actions, not celebrating the fact that her family is now in mourning. And they have an obligation to do so.

The obituaries and media profiles after a public figure dies become part of the historical record and part of the judgement that history begins to write of that person. Without a truthful assessment of a public figure’s life in these moments, we end up with hagiography not history. By whitewashing their legacy all we do is fail our society and its future, by failing to learn from what is past.  If we only allow a public figure’s supporters to talk about them in this moment, we silence the opposition and we deny the suffering of the thousands who feel they were personally harmed by that person’s actions.

Just look at the divisions in US society caused by historians’ efforts to finally tear the halos off the Founding Fathers and look at them warts and all. It is “a liberal conspiracy”, it is “a war on America”, it is “unpatriotic”. Really? It’s unpatriotic to search for the facts about the men who founded the country? It’s a war on America to try to see them as humans rather than heroes, and from there try to figure out what shaped their opinions and actions and thereby interpret them more accurately? It’s a liberal conspiracy to seek to acknowledge the suffering of millions and millions of poor and enslaved people whose voices are largely unheeded, and to examine the contradiction that some of these collosi of US history were also slave owners? Because, to me, that’s history. That’s a search for the truth. That’s the only way we can ever learn and improve and make things better.

Don’t Burn Flags And Dance In The Streets

So yes, I’m a bad person: I laughed when I heard that “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” was rising in the charts. It’s part of the black humor which makes Brits make jokes about tragedy. We ALWAYS take it too far (remember the space shuttle jokes that would not die?) and it seems some things never change.

But no, I don’t think we should be burning flags and dancing in the street, celebrating the way that disgusted us when we saw TV coverage of people doing the same on September 11, 2001.

And yes, I do think we need to take an honest, unvarnished look at every public figure’s life, when they die. Say what you like about her (and I’m certainly no fan) but I do think Margaret Thatcher would have been the first to agree that she should be judged on her actions, not on the sentimental reminiscences of her fluttering fanboys.

Ugh

First of all, this:

Now.

When this happened in Dunblane I was newly-married but childless. I couldn’t bear to watch the news. Now? I’m retreating inside my shell and keeping the electronics tightly locked down. I can’t even bring myself to think about the human aspect of this. 1

As if it wasn’t bad enough, we are immediately seeing social media flooded with a debate about gun control in the US. Now, Lord knows I’m no fan of the 2nd Amendment the way it is interpreted today 2, but you don’t stop gun crime by banning guns alone.

Can we maybe talk about the fact that, as stated in that video up there, when we ‘glorify’ (or ‘notorify, if you’ll allow me to invent a word) these people, we create copycats?

Can we talk about our culture and the fact that we glorify conflict and being-an-asshole on TV, with wall-to-wall reality shows and shout-fests?

Can we talk about access to mental health services and how they really should be a priority?

Can we talk about the fact that the voracious news media lives on a moveable feast of garbage, wringing every desperate detail out of every ‘conflict’ it can find purely for its own aggrandizement (“you heard it here first!” “Stay tuned for more!”) and monetary gain? 3

Can we talk about the fact that ordinary people, all around us (you or me, perhaps?) suck from the diseased teat of the 24 hour news cycle in part for the sick, momentary thrill of being the first among their friends to “know” all about the latest cultural ‘event’, good or bad, or to be the one who has all the details at their fingertips so they can hold forth at the next gathering of friends (“Oo, look at me. Listen to me. Hear me. I have woe to spread. I am soooo empathetic. I am so sensitive. Look at me. Here! Over here!”)? I’ve been guilty of it. And I bet you have too.

It’s melodrama at its most voyeuristic. It’s Victorian freakshow, the elephant man, the Roman circus with people killing themselves for glory and my entertainment and I refuse to feed the beast.

No More Melodrama

I am not going to watch coverage of this tragedy. I am going to turn off the radio if I hear it mentioned. I am going to lock down Twitter and Facebook and my blogs feed, so I’m only seeing info from my closest friends and family if and when I go on.

I am going to pray for those families affected. I am going to sit down and think about how I can make my community a better place for people who are suffering. I am going to love my neighbor and try to love my enemy, and more than that: act upon it. 4

  1. No! See? my brain tried to go there and I had to stop it.
  2. By the way, “Amendment”? That means we’re happy to admit that the Constitution is wrong or incomplete at times. But if you happen to suggest that we’re interpreting something about the 2nd Amendment differently from the way you do, all of a sudden we’re violating some kind of sacred document? We can’t have a conversation about how life is a bit different and might have different needs now that we’re not long an insecure new country beseiged on all sides by monarchies who would love to overrun us and claim our abundant resources? Or now that population density was, like one guy and his cow per square mile when the 2nd Amendment was written and is now 33.4 people per square mile as a national average (including all those bits that nobody at all lives in) and 394 per square mile in Newtown, CT where this thing happened. Population density is 8000+ people in the most populous city in that state. Life is a bit different from 1791. Can we at least talk about that?
  3. What good does it do anyone to know the name of the mass-murderers in these cases? What good does it do me to watch cell-phone footage of the crime? What good does it do my children to hear about this over and over and over again until they think this is how the world is?
  4. It’s almost Christmas. This morning I was stressing out about gifts. This afternoon I’m remembering about the real gift.