Monthly Archives: November 2012

Star-spangled syntax

I only just realized that the entire first half of the National Anthem, from the beginning to “gallantly streaming,” is a single sentence.

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Is anybody still editing the New York Times?

From the John Jeremiah Sullivan piece on massage in the NYTimes magazine:

When you feel like that, you don’t leap to be naked in rooms with an assortment of strangers while they rub their hands all over your bare flesh — there’s probably a fetish group for becoming as physically disgusting as you can and then procuring massages, but that’s not my damage. Also, there’s something about massage in general that makes me more, not less, relaxed.

He means “less, not more.”  If you click through you’ll see it’s been corrected in the online version.  So someone noticed it at some point.  But someone should have noticed it before the piece was posted and printed!

See also my complaint about Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which besides being carelessly edited — when you vomit because a vampire bit you, you are retching, not wretching, dammit! — failed to live up to the promise of its very good first 300 pages.  Executive summary:  it starts out as The Stand and ends up as The Dark Tower, and if you think that is not a downgrade then we shall fight.

Back to Sullivan:

But that’s true for so many of us — we fall into our lines of work like coins dropping into slots, bouncing down off various failures and false-starts.

has a nice cadence but does not actually describe a thing that is like the way a coin drops into a slot.  Before the coin goes in the slot, it doesn’t bounce off anything, and after it’s in the slot, it may bounce down off things inside the mechanism (is that what he meant?) but it does so while travelling down a well-defined rigid channel, exactly the opposite of what Sullivan is going for.

Finally:

The yellowish gray-green circles under my eyes had a micropebbled texture, and my skin gave off a sebaceousy sheen of coffee-packet coffee.

Most of this is great, especially “micropebbled,” but “sebaceousy” isn’t right — I’m not sure the “add -y to informalize a word,” move, a lexical way to indicate “kind of” or “sort of,” applies to any adjective, and if it does apply to some, I’m sure it doesn’t apply to “sebaceous.”

 

 

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18% of Americans think Barack Obama is Jewish

Per page 13 of this AP poll, the proportion of people who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim went from 17% down to 10% between January 2010 and September 2012.

However, 18% now think he is Jewish.

I would dearly love to hear an explanation of this result because I can’t think of one.

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Triple negative

J Cronin’s The Passage is surprisingly interesting and I hope to blog about it at greater length some other time.  (Short version:  it is the only thing I’ve ever read that imitates Stephen King and gets right what works about Stephen King, and this is sort of a great achievement.)  Still, though, there’s this:

It wasn’t that he didn’t like her, nor that she had failed to make her interest less than plain.

It took me about thirty seconds to figure out what this actually said, and once I figured it out, I was pretty sure it didn’t say what Cronin wanted it to say.  But how could any editor read this sentence and not flag it?

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When he finds out about regexps he’s going to totally freak

Thomas Friedman in today’s New York Times:

 To the contrary, there will surely be a new secretary of state visiting you next year with the umpteenth road map for “confidence-building measures” between Israelis and Palestinians. He or she may even tell you that “this is the year of decision.” Be careful. We’ve been there before. If you Google “Year of decision in the Middle East,” you’ll get more than 100,000,000 links.

Can this really be true?  Nope.  In fact if you Google that phrase you get fewer than 12,000 links.

The problem here is that Thomas Friedman apparently doesn’t know that when you search Google for a phrase you need to put quotes around it.  Without the quotes, you do indeed get more than 100,000,000 results.  That’s because a lot of web pages mention years, decisions, and things located either in the middle or to the east.

It seems plausible that long-time New York Times columnists might not know how to use Google, but it’s appalling if the people who edit and fact-check the columns don’t know how to use Google.

So that this post has some content and is not pure snark, here’s a relevant article by my friend Eszter Hargittai, whose research has taught us a lot about how people use search engines in the real world.

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The GOP’s electoral triumph

You knew there was one, right?  While the national party was crying in its beer, Wisconsin Republicans held the State Assembly and took back the State Senate, undoing the results of last year’s recalls and regaining complete control of the legislative process.  After a December special election to fill the seat left open by Rich Zipperer (best political name of 2012?) the Republicans are expected to hold a Dale Schultz-proof 18-15 majority in the upper chamber.

That’s not such a surprise; a GOP-friendly redistricting generated a slight majority of Republican State Senate districts in this purple state.  More impressive is that Republicans may not have lost any of the healthy majority they hold in the Assembly, an advantage obtained in 2010 when the GOP gained 15 seats out of 96 in play.  That means there are a lot of new Assembly members who are well to the right of their districts.  With the 2012 electorate back to a more normal partisan distribution, how did all these people keep their seats?

My guess is that people just don’t pay much attention to Assembly races, and that the incumbency advantage there is even bigger than it is for federal positions.  After all, it’s reasonably safe to vote for the US Senate candidate nominated by your preferred party; that person’s been vetted at a high level and the chance that they’re an incompetent or a loon can reasonably be considered pretty small.  But a State Assembly candidate?  If the first time you see their name is on Election Day, it’s not totally nuts to go with the incumbent.

My guess is that the Assembly won’t switch control again, or even move close to 50-50, until there’s another Democratic wave election.  Despite the many reasons Democrats have to be happy today, this election wasn’t it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Make no mistake

Choire Sicha in Slate, in the course of correctly praising Ursula K. LeGuin, remarks:

The literary novel is, make no mistake, as much a pileup of inherited conventions as the worst werewolf cash-in. There are now thousands of young, MFA-toting writers, so many of them aping the weak generation of literary male novelists now in their 50s: pallid and insufferable teachers and idols, in light of the strong and inventive generation before them.

When you find yourself inserting “make no mistake” into an assertion, you should consider the possibility that you’re doing so because you subconsciously recognize that your assertion is not sufficiently well-justified.

Also:  Sicha packs an amazingly dense tangle of sexual politics into just a few sentences!  Literary fiction is stultifying because it’s tied to the cultural practices of men in their 50s.  But they aren’t real men like their forbears, they are instead weak and pallid!  (Katie Roiphe called and she wants her tendentious generalizations back.  But then while she was on the phone Camille Paglia cut in on call-waiting and then things got really ugly.)

And the people with MFAs don’t just have MFAs — they tote them!  Probably in a tote bag!  Probably while drinking some insufferable kind of coffee drink!

Literary fiction — even literary fiction written by MFA-toters — is a big, rich, complicated zone.  At the moment I am reading Peter Carey’s crazy Illywhacker – Carey is indeed a male of the old persuasion, but pallid he is not – and Heidi Julavits’s new book The Vanishers, which is unquestionably literary fiction but which has lots of psychic phenomena and astral travel in it.  It’s a delight.  And I started Justin Cronin’s vampire-apocalypse book The Passage, whose more “literary” parts are better than the other parts.  I was promised it would be as good as The Stand, a great book whose status as literature is an interesting thing to think about.

I keep meaning to write a post about the ways in which Stephen King and Jonathan Franzen have converged on each other as writers, and how this fact helped me think about what “literary” means w/r/t novels.  But there is no time to do it today, only time to snark about something I read in Slate.  There is a lesson here.

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Walker and Obama

Back in June, before the recall election, I argued against the view that a Walker victory spelled trouble for Obama’s re-election campaign in Wisconsin:

“if Walker actually wins by 7, it means there’s no massive shift to the GOP going on in this state, and you’re a broadly popular incumbent President whose hometown is within a half-day’s drive of most of Wisconsin’s population, your prospects here are pretty good…..

In 2010, Walker won as a non-incumbent in a regular election. If he gets the same margin against the same opponent, as a sitting governor, in a recall that not all Democrats think should have happened, I take that as a signal that the state of the electorate has shifted back to something like normal,, from the abnormally Democratic year of 2008 and the abnormally Republican year of 2010.”

In fact, Walker did win by 7.  And I think my assessment of what that meant for the November electorate is looking pretty good!

 

 

 

 

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Will Mitt Romney be the next Al Gore?

He could, like Gore, win the popular vote while losing in the electoral college.  He will certainly lose his home state, as Gore did (and is pretty likely to lose the state where he grew up, as well.)  And, like Gore, his campaign has kept the previous two-term President from his own party decidedly at arm’s length.  (OK, in Romney’s case, it’s more like a Gadget arm.)

If Romney loses, will he devote his post-political career to a cause as Gore has with climate change?  What would Romney’s cause be?

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