Archive for July, 2011

Critical thinking

July 31, 2011

In a recent comment on “Give your baby soda pop” (from April 2010), HortonWhoHeardAWho reports:

Two or three times now, I’ve presented the “Cola Baby” image to students in my Critical Thinking/Media Studies course. Even though I have stressed how imperative it is for interpretation of “cultural texts” to include (at least) an identification of the text’s producer and the historical & institutional context, students tend to “fall” for this image gag/spoof. Very few take the time to “google” “The Soda Pop Board of America” to verify its existence (or lack thereof). I’ve been very impressed by those students who’ve done this extra work.Of course, it’s only after doing the latter research that one can see the image for what it is. It makes for an interesting and challenging analytical task, that’s just plain fun!!


Undermining the army

July 31, 2011

(With a little bit about language.)

Charles M. Blow, “My Very Own Captain America”, op-ed piece in the NYT yesterday, about the 92nd Infantry Division (the “Buffalo Soldiers”), an all-black unit during World War II:

My grandfather, Fred D. Rhodes, was one of those soldiers.

The division was activated late in the war, more out of acquiescence to black leaders than the desire of white policy makers in the war department who doubted the battle worthiness of black soldiers. It was considered to be an experiment, one that the writer of the department’s recommendation to re-establish it would later describe as “programmed to fail from the inception.”

For one, as the historian Daniel K. Gibran has documented, the soldiers were placed under the command of a known racist who questioned their “moral attitude toward battle,” “mental toughness” and “trustworthiness,” and who remained a military segregationist until the day he died. In 1959, the commander commented in a study: “It is absurd to contend that the characteristics demonstrated by the Negroes” will not “undermine and deteriorate the white army unit into which the Negro is integrated.”


The icon hunt

July 31, 2011

Today’s Zippy, with a quiz:

Five of them. How many can you identify?


July 31, 2011

Zippy and Zerbina embark on a fantasy staycation:

(On staycation and other -cation ‘vacation’ words, see here.) Fantasy and vacation (or staycation) don’t combine easily, but fantastic works fine instead of fantasy, and that gives us fantastication.


Jack Marburger

July 30, 2011

In today’s NYT, an obit (by Paul Vitello): “John H. Marburger, Bush Science Adviser, Dies at 70″. Jack was a Princeton classmate of mine, and, although we weren’t close, I counted him as one of the Good Guys (in a place where there were enough men with the contempt of the privileged for the proles to make life uncomfortable).

Jack got a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford and went on to teach and to serve in the academic administration at USC, going on to the presidency of SUNY Stony Brook and the directorship of Brookhaven National Laboratory, before being tapped as George W. Bush’s science adviser, a position in which he was obliged to defend administration policies that he almost surely opposed personally (though he was careful never to state his own positions).

It’s a situation I could never imagine myself being able to survive in, but Jack did his level best. A situation in which you’re obliged to carry out the policies of your superiors (or resign, or be fired). So very different from academic life (at least for the tenured, though their numbers are rapidly shrinking to insignificance), where (if supports for academic freedom work) administrators cannot dictate the positions you must take.





Style sheet tyranny

July 30, 2011

Every so often I take a shot at the New York Times for adhering to some point of mechanical style, no matter what — for instance, its periodophilia in initialistic abbreviations (most recently, here), where it’s happy to disregard the ordinary practices of people and institutions who use the periodless versions of these abbreviations (even in public documents) in favor of its absurd instance on periods in things like the N.A.A.C.P., the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and L.G.B.T.

And then there’s the serial comma, where the paper is dead set against it (Omit Needless Punctuation; yes, I know, this runs counter to its periodophilia, but rules are rules), even where it might be useful.

So yesterday (July 29), we get, in the story “In Baring Facts of Train Crash, Blogs Erode China Censorship”, after a reference to the astounding number of messages on China’s microblogs about the tragedy:

The messages are a potent amalgam of contempt for railway authorities, suspicion of government explanations and shoe-leather journalism by citizens and professionals alike.

I was struggling with the startling idea that people were suspicious of government explanations and shoe-leather journalism, when the sentence came to an end and I realized that shoe-leather journalism … was intended to be a third conjunct, parallel to contempt for railway authorities and suspicion of government authorities. A comma, doctor, a comma!

I generally use the serial comma myself (and am sometimes accused of illiteracy for doing so — how silly is that?), but I’m not doctrinaire on the matter. Still, an editor yoked to a style sheet that abjures the serial comma might have the common sense to see that there are times when that final comma could be useful.

X of death, killer X

July 30, 2011

I wrote, a propos of a postcard of a young man with an extraordinarily developed musculature, that he had “abs [abdominal muscles] of death”, and then thought of the template X of death, with the postmodifier of death conveying ‘overwhelming, magnificent’, much like the premodifier killer in expressions like killer abs — both of them hyperbolically metaphorical allusions to the effects of X on people.


demonational, denomational, whatever

July 29, 2011

Another Shaumeyer-citing from this morning:

I keep seeing people saying odd things today. I just read this in a comment (not in this [Facebook] group) : “This would make a great non-demonational holiday greeting card.” Now, while the misspelling of “denominational” could be amusing enough, I’m really fascinated by the faux-portmaneau that came out, sounding something like it describes some people’s view that the US must be under Satan’s control.

There are a pretty large number of hits on non-demonational, suggesting that they aren’t all just inadvertent errors. Some likely originate in phonological reshapings, simplifications of the tricky /n … m … n/ sequence in denominational. (But some are likely to be orthographic simplifications. Note that a few of the cites have demonational in a header but denominational in the body of the text.)



July 29, 2011

Another report from Jeff Shaumeyer on Facebook:

“If you happenly want to convert …”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard “happenly” before, but it seems potentially quite useful.


Premodifier, postmodifier

July 29, 2011

On Facebook today, Jeff Shaumeyer unloaded a variety of linguistic oddities that had come past him recently. Including this challenge to language processing:

True Blood Actor Denis O’Hare Marries Partner Hugo Redwood

Former Vampire King of Mississippi Russell Edgington portrayer Denis O’Hare married his partner, interior designer Hugo Redwood yesterday in New York. (link)

Thank goodness for the headline. Otherwise, as Shaumeyer observes, the sentence approaches crash blossom proportions.



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