academia | advice | alcohol | American Indians | architecture | art | artificial intelligence | Barnard | best | biography | bitcoin | blogging | broken umbrellas | candide | censorship | children's books | Columbia | comics | consciousness | cooking | crime | criticism | dance | data analysis | design | dishonesty | economics | education | energy | epistemology | error correction | essays | family | fashion | finance | food | foreign policy | futurism | games | gender | Georgia | health | history | inspiration | intellectual property | Israel | journalism | Judaism | labor | language | law | leadership | letters | literature | management | marketing | memoir | movies | music | mystery | mythology | New Mexico | New York | parenting | philosophy | photography | podcast | poetry | politics | prediction | product | productivity | programming | psychology | public transportation | publishing | puzzles | race | reading | recommendation | religion | reputation | RSI | Russia | sci-fi | science | sex | short stories | social justice | social media | sports | startups | statistics | teaching | technology | Texas | theater | translation | travel | trivia | tv | typography | unreliable narrators | video games | violence | war | weather | wordplay | writing

Friday, November 28, 2008

George Clooney having a bad day on a bender

I had a lot of fun reading Richard Belzer's new novel I Am Not a Cop!. The novel is a riff on what it's like playing Det. John Munch on Law & Order: SVU--a character he's played on ten different television shows, he notes proudly in the afterword and on the jacket flap--and what would happen if he had to use his fake cop skills in order to solve a real case. The clues will be familiar to anyone who's seen a few episodes of any of the police procedurals Munch has been on, but that's part of the fun. We see Belzer on the set of SVU, practicing his lines, feeling good about nailing a scene, enlisting his personal assistant to be his Gal Friday, and, weirdly enough, practicing (and deploying) martial arts. One of the running jokes is that New Yorkers recognize him from somewhere, but they keep mixing him up with other TV cops and actors. He gets mistaken for William Petersen, James Woods, and, he imagines, "George Clooney having a bad day on a bender." (I've seen him around the Upper West Side a few times.) Belzer's fictionalized self has a penchant for referring to other fictional detectives--everyone from Gil Grissom on CSI: to Jimmy Stewart in Rope. In the afterword, he writes,
So perhaps it's appropriate that as I started writing, a Chandleresque voice kept echoing inside my head. It was like Philip Marlowe telling the literary version of myself how to proceed. (I figured that since Altman cast Elliot Gould as Marlowe in his movie version of The Long Goodbye, I was in good company.

Homicide: Life on the Street is my favorite television show of all time, and my favorite Law & Order episodes are the crossovers between those two shows. I turned on an episode of Law & Order one afternoon and was puzzled to see such a weirdly angled, lengthy shot of Jack McCoy looking puzzled and exhausted; I realized almost immediately that it was a crossover episode just by the filming style--and the convention that McCoy usually looks more righteous than puzzled on Law & Order. It's on one of those crossovers that Munch decides to file a Freedom of Information Act request for his government file from his days as a campus radical. He's disappointed to find out that the government has labeled him a "dilettante" of no real threat.

Labels: , , ,

Blogger Katy on Fri Nov 28, 11:49:00 PM:
I remember that episode with Munch and the FBI file. Great stuff.
 
Blogger Adela on Mon Dec 01, 10:47:00 PM:
I want to read the book. Thanks! I just started watching *The Wire.* Yes, I know, super late. But it's interesting to see the differences between L&0 and TW. Same genre but, to use one of your favorite words, the procedures are much more elaborate on TW. L&W is the Disney police/legal drama. TW is...help me fill in the blank here.
 

Nonhorologists

I love every single paragraph of this seemingly esoteric article on watch settings in the New York Times business section today. The "most people don't notice..." lede is one of my least favorite formulas, but when it highlights what most of us are missing as nonhorologists, I am all for it. Then there's the precise description of research methods (checking out Amazon.com, eBay, and some print advertisements) and the outlier settings. And check out the sourcing on a lot of the arcana. While the advertisers echo one another about 10:10 as an industry standard--which is common knowledge enough to have been a Trivial Pursuit answer--the weird stuff comes from tech blogs. I like this note about what happens to 10:10 in an era when wristwatches are worn less often:
Watchmakers are, naturally, fretting over how to sell watches to a generation that is in the habit of consulting their phones for the time, so it is perhaps fitting that the most-hyped phone has its own time-related intrigue. Many bloggers have wondered why the time on the iPhone in commercials, with few exceptions, reads 9:42 a.m., even when the capability being highlighted on the phone — like watching the “Pirates of Penzance” and being compelled to order calamari from a seafood restaurant — might seem atypical behavior over the day’s first cup of coffee.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Janet Jagan: the other minority president from Chicago

At Slate, Devid Berreby argues that Obama isn't so exceptional -- that history has lots of ethnic outsiders who rose to power. He cites Benjamin Disraeli, Napoleon (he of the Italianate French accent and provincial Corscican ways), Alberto Fujimori and the various Arab, Berber and Balkan emperors of Rome.

But he's missing one of the most remarkable of all: Janet Jagan. Nee Rosenberg, Jagan is Jewish woman from Chicago, where she lived her whole life until, in 1942, she met a a Guyanese dental student--see their wedding photo below--and moved to Guyana with him, where they became revolutionary leaders. They were hounded by the CIA and Janet's husband Cheddi was ousted from power by a US- and British-backed coup, but they organized a powerful opposition and when US policy in the Americas shifted, Cheddi Jagan was elected president. When he died, Janet ran for his office, and became the first democratically elected female president in the Americas, and (I think) the second female Jewish head of state in world history, after Golda Meir.

I saw Janet Jagan speak in New York in 1997, shortly before she needed heart surgery and resigned. She had what sounded to me like an old-time Jewish accent, seemed whip-smart and told of her years ducking CIA goons and organizing support in the Guyana countryside. She is reported to have declared, "Nothing much frightens me."

She's nearly ninety now, but still works actively for women's rights and sustainable development.

Labels: , , , , ,

Anonymous Anonymous on Sun Apr 03, 11:05:00 AM:
nice (:
 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Should an Obama form letter make you choke up?

I received a form letter from the Obama campaign in the mail today, thanking me for donating. (I gave a hundred bucks a few times over the course of the campaign.) And I gotta say, it's a powerful form letter.

It's still a form letter, though, and that means it's formulaic. It repeats the familiar themes of Obama's victory speeches, including ones that make me cringe. Are we really supposed to believe that donations of five dollars made a difference? 80% of his money probably came from people who gave over a thousand bucks, right?. It also follows the mass mail tradition of inserting my first name, hoping I will be flattered by the illusion that this letter was individually drafted and signed just for me. That signals its artificiality and alienates me from the letter's message; it would be better if it were just addressed to supporters in general.

But the content of the letter is remarkable. It does not ask for more money. It has some actual content that I think supporters need to be reminded of: "This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change." In fact, it repeatedly establishes the sense of being at the beginning of something; the closing line begins with "For now". And it finishes with "We will never forget you."

Now, I know that this is not a letter from Barack and Michelle Obama. It is a letter from a computer, or from a staffer who composed it, or from a team of people who quickly threw it together. Obama has not read it. But on the other hand, it is an amalgam of phrases Obama has written or chosen from proposed speech drafts, and it emulates Obama's tone and sincerity. So it is an Obama letter, even if he did not write it, and it carries meaning for me.

Reading it, I also experience a connection to others like me who believe in Obama. This is remarkable, because I know many Obama supporters, and I know I have immense political and philosophical differences with them. My friend Megan, for instance, refuses to agree that there is no objective meaning in the universe -- that we're just glorified apes who construct meaning for our own purposes. My friend Leah thinks that more money will turn bad public schools into good ones, which unfortunately doesn't seem to be the case. And my mom is relieved that Larry Summers isn't Obama's nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, because she can't stand his impolitic comments about why there are so few women in Ivy League science and math departments; I think he'd be the best man for the job, on the basis of endorsements by smart liberal and conservative economists alike.

And if I compared my Netflix movie ratings to those of some other Obama supporter, I would find differences that are inexcusable in my book -- liking Little Children or Running with Scissors, for instance. (I'm not bringing the movie ratings up to be trivial. It really would disgust me.)

In other words, I would give support or money to causes that other Obama supporters would oppose; I could just as easily be reading a letter thanking me for donating towards increasing school choice, which would anger many other Obama supporters.

And yet, when I read this letter, I feel connected to all those other Obama supporters, to the part of them that I agree with and love, to the spirit inside them that recognized a decent and smart and fairly honest man.

I am imagining a community, to use Benedict Anderson's phrase, of people like me in some fundamental way. Like so many of the nationalists he discusses, I don't consciously know what it is about those people that is like me, but I know they are out there and I am one of them. (Though Anderson cautions that other associations are seldom as strong as religion and nationalism. He points out that there is no "tomb of the unknown Marxist", though when reading this I felt there should be one.)

But part of Anderson's point is that there is often little that people in the same "imagined community" really have in common. There is no one imagined Obama community, of course; what I love about imaginary Obama supporters around the country is different from what a real, other Obama supporter loves about the fellow supporters she imagines.

And so this letter is intentionally vague on what it is exactly about us that connects us, leaving it to the fact that we are all one, we are all hopeful, and we all like to say "yes we can". I do think there's more that connects us, as a subset of the nation's population, than that.



The letter's text follows.

Dear Mr. Wheeler,

The victory we achieved on November 4 means so much to so many -- but to all of us, it is a stirring affirmation of our country's most fundamental promise: America is a place where anything -- anything we choose to dream together -- is possible.

Ours was never the likeliest campaign for the presidency. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington -- it was built by working men and women, students and retirees who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause.

It grew from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from the Earth.

Benjamin, this is your victory. But even as we celebrate, we know the challenges are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. And we will be asking you to join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for 221 years- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand. What began 21 months ago in the depth of winter must not end on a night in autumn. This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change.

Benjamin, this is our moment. This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.

For now, please accept our deepest thanks. We will never forget you.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
Michelle Obama

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A clever Will Shortz crossword

A few weeks ago, this crossword appeared in the New York Times, a Thursday (thus of moderate difficulty). It has a clever trick.

(Click image to enlarge)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Did not think the girl could be so cruel

I was as tall as the center on the girls' varsity basketball team when I was in ninth and tenth grade, but I was better suited personality- and skills-wise to sit in the bleachers with the sportswriters and help with stats. As I was pouring cups of water for the players after the games, I'd mumble wistfully to the post players, "you had a double-double." When we watched college hoops at home, I'd ask my step-dad again and again to tell me what was better than a triple-double and what kind of player could possibly achieve such a feat (Hakeem Olajuwon was his go-to reference at the time since he was very precise about not noting the conjectural quardruple-doubles which probably occurred before those stats were recorded regularly). So here's Latiqua Williams at Bard College, of all places (although maybe you see these kinds of statistical anomalies in D-III women's college basketball because of the wide range of programs at that level; here's another basketball anomaly at Bard from last year):
Eight minutes later, with 21 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and 11 steals, Williams had her quadruple-double.

She became only the eighth women’s college player to register one since the N.C.A.A. started keeping full statistical logs in the early 1980s. The previous one was in February 2007 by Danna Purnell of the College at Old Westbury, also in Division III. New Rochelle was on the wrong end of that one, too.

In men’s college basketball, the only quadruple-double came last November, by Lester Hudson of Division I Tennessee-Martin, according to the N.C.A.A. There have been four in the N.B.A.

Labels: , , ,

A sentient winter squash

Mark Bittman is the Minimalist, and his prose is usually no-frills. Today's sweet potato swerve made me laugh:
For example, they are fine braised (with or without meat), gaining a texture that a sentient winter squash would envy.

Labels: ,

Blogger Katy on Wed Nov 19, 08:55:00 PM:
I really love Mark Bittman. Did you catch this post from earlier in the week with the wonderful picture of MB cooking in his tiny New York apartment kitchen while wearing a dorky dad outfit?
 
Blogger Katy on Thu Nov 20, 09:59:00 AM:
Apparently, I'm not the only one who noticed Mark Bittman's tiny kitchen.
 
Anonymous Alice's mom on Thu Nov 20, 10:18:00 AM:
Perhaps because at least one vegetarian (your Santa Fe cousin) is coming for Thanksgiving, the sentient-squash figure of speech caught my attention.

To attribute sentience to a vegetable is charming, until the background question of formerly sentient food arises. We don't want to think about that previously sentient lamb chop.

I also love and trust Bittman and am currently pondering his turkey recommendations against some of my long-term methods.

But I think he blundered here, and it brings up an inherent problem in food writing. Our experience of food is so sensual, so tied to life, that it is natural to look for life-associated metaphors to evoke that intensity.

Until that troubling death issue comes up.

I'm still cooking the turkey, however.



Our experience
 
Blogger Sophia on Mon Nov 24, 02:02:00 PM:
I used to be a veggie...

now i love a good rare steak. mmmmm.
 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Overheard at the Strand

(and seen with my very own eyes): "Someone highlighted their copy of The Hipster Handbook."

Labels:

Blogger Sophia on Wed Nov 19, 02:03:00 PM:
OMG, THAT'S SO DECK.
 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The fake New York Times: "All the news we hope to print"

On the way to work on Wall Street today, I spotted a stack of copies of The New York Times left for free.

Only it's not the Times -- it's a faithful copy in the Times's format, dated July 4, 2009. All of the stories report on news that liberals and leftists would like to have happened by then, such as our adopting a sales tax system that penalizes products with large environmental impact.


I couldn't find any publishing credit in the eight high-quality pages, only URLs for the domain nytimes-se.com . (The site was slammed by traffic today, but seems to be up now.) It seems its creators wish to appear anonymous, at least to casual readers. There is a list of worthy progressive organizations listed where reporting errors would normally be printed, but no indication that they are responsible.

Among the more clever articles is a staff editorial apologizing in clear terms for the Judith Miller stories repeating the government's claim to have evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and an op/ed piece by Tom Friedman resigning permanently. Among the more myopic is a report of a "maximum wage" bill passed, which really is the stupidest idea I've ever heard. (I used to associate with Maoists who thought it was a great idea.)

But the overall tone is not Onion-style satire or a litany of demands; instead the tone is optimistic and genuinely hopeful. It simultaneous reflects the sense that enormous injustices have mounted without answer, and that there might actually be an opportunity now to right some of them. It's hard to imagine this attitude making sense a year ago, when Barack Obama's candidacy seemed a very long shot.

I have heard that these were being passed out around the city, and the country, today. It'll be interesting to look more closely at who put together this elaborate and expensive stunt.

Labels: , , , , ,

Blogger Ben on Thu Nov 13, 12:12:00 AM:
The domain is registered to a clearly fake name and company -- "Harold Schwepps" of "Ginsu and Treadmill Technologies", located in "Son of Triumph, Pennsylvania."

It's hard to imagine that a major nonprofit or advocacy group would be so unofficial as to register their domains with goofy names. Is this a small group of wealthy tricksters?
 
Anonymous jose on Thu Nov 13, 12:47:00 AM:
the yes men. big post on metafilter today with lots of links. they've done some in the past around the WTO and Dow Chemical.
 
Blogger Ben on Thu Nov 13, 08:07:00 AM:
Thanks, Jose. There's an AP story today:

On behalf of a collective of liberal activists, 1,000 volunteers across the country handed out 1.2 million copies of a spoof of The New York Times, dated July 4, 2009.

At first glance, the parody, which used the Times' Gothic-style font on the nameplate, could easily be mistaken for the real thing.

The 14-page paper - which also announced the abolition of corporate lobbying, a maximum wage for CEOs and a recall for all gasoline-fueled cars - showed up in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The pranksters - who include a film promoter, a college teacher, journalists and others - said they wanted to encourage the administration of Democratic President-elect Barack Obama to keeps its promises.

The publication was funded by small, online contributions "to maintain the pressure on the people we've elected so they do what we've elected them to do," said a journalist who used the pseudonym Wilfred Sassoon to protect his real job at a newspaper in the New York area.

He said he helped create the paper with about 30 other people, many of whom work at New York daily newspapers.

Steven Lambert, an editor of the parody who teaches art at New York's Hunter College and Parsons The New School for Design - and gave his real name - said the project was a success.

"This really resonated with people on the street," Lambert said. "First, there was a moment of, 'How could this be true?' But then people enjoyed this feeling of, 'Ah, amazing things really could happen!' The paper provides this vision of what's possible if we all work together."

Lambert said the team included three New York Times staffers whose names will remain secret. He said the group looked into the legal issues raised by the use of The New York Times nameplate style and believes it is within the bounds of what's known as "fair use" under federal copyright law.
...
The group posted a small notice on Craigslist soliciting volunteer writers and others to help. The fake paper was printed at presses around the country and The Yes Men, a New York-based prankster group, provided software and Internet support.
 
Blogger Brette on Thu Nov 13, 09:02:00 PM:
The Times printed a story on it, interestingly in the Arts section. My favorite line were the last two lines: "The statement said that 1.2 million copies were printed, more than the weekday circulation nationwide for real issues of The Times. That number is suspect, if only because of the printing that would be involved."
 

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"I can't imagine dying without this book"

Literary critic John Leonard died from complications from lung cancer yesterday. Leonard's reviews of Joan Didion in the New York Review of Books (he wrote the intro to an Everyman edition of her non-fiction) are my favorites among his many, many works of criticism; he picks up exactly what I love about her work. As I read the NY Times obituary (note the obituary's final anecdote about his voting on Tuesday) just now, I remembered the final paragraph of his review of The Year of Magical Thinking:
If Joan Didion went crazy, what are the chances for the rest of us? Not so good, except that we have her example to instruct us and sentences we can almost sing. Look, no one wants to hear about it, your death, mine, or his. What, as they listen, are they supposed to do with their feet, eyes, hands, and tongue, not to mention their panic? If they do want to hear about it—the grief performers, the exhibitionists of bathetic wallow, the prurient ghouls—you don't want to know them. And maybe craziness is the only appropriate behavior in front of a fact to which we can't ascribe a meaning. But since William Blake's Nobodaddy will come after all of us, I can't think of a book we need more than hers—those of us for whom this life is it, these moments all the more precious because they are numbered, after which a blinking out as the black accident rolls on in particles or waves; those of us who have spent our own time in the metropolitan hospital Death Care precincts, wondering why they make it so hard to follow the blue stripe to the PET scan, especially since we would really prefer never to arrive, to remain undisclosed; those of us who sit there with Didion in our laps at the oncologist's cheery office, waiting for our fix of docetaxel, irinotecan, and dexamethasone, wanting more Bach and sunsets.

I can't imagine dying without this book.

Labels: , , ,

Blogger Ben on Mon Nov 10, 08:26:00 AM:
Several obits have excerpted from a 2007 speech:

for almost 50 years, I have received narrative, witness, companionship, sanctuary, shock, and steely strangeness; good advice, bad news, deep chords, hurtful discrepancy, and amazing grace...

At an average of five books a week ... I will read 13,000. Then I’m dead. Thirteen thousand in a lifetime, about as many as there are new ones published every month in this country.


How different to be a film critic, who has a decent chance of experiencing all the great works of the medium in one lifetime!
 

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama: what would great-great-grandma think?

My father notes, regarding Obama's election:
I just keep thinking, my dear old aunt Margaret [who was born in 1900, and with whom I, Ben, have felt a deep connection all my life], who lived with me and died in this decade, was raised by a grandmother who had herself, personally, been a slaveowner. In her late dementia, Margaret's chief companion Hope told me one day that at breakfast, sitting in the kitchen that day with Hope and her sister (from Uganda), and the other caretaker (from Jamaica), Margaret remarked, pleasantly, "I just wonder what Grandma would say, if she saw me sitting here eating with the slaves." And she regarded Hope as a daughter, mind you, and tried to give her lunch money every day, and to check on her homework. This was maybe 9 years ago, coming from a woman who worshiped her uncle, the anti-Ku Klux politician, and had been a civil rights progressive all her life, the entire century, in the old South. But the old legacy was embedded in her deep consciousness, in 1999.
Elsewhere in my father's ancestry from that era are other stories of slaveholding. An ancestor, Tom Matthews, was killed by slaves in an uprising. Another ancestor, of Margaret's grandmother's generation, lived in Georgia as a young girl during the Civil War. When Sherman's army came through Georgia, the family's black nurses, who had lived as slaves all their lives and effectively raised my ancestor and her sister, took them to hide away in a free black settlement in the swamps so they wouldn't be raped.

One black pundit commented last night that Obama's victory isn't just a vindication for black Americans, but for everyone--including Obama's mother, who registered voters in the South in the 1960s--who has worked for equality and justice since the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass frequently pointed out that white people had a stake in black freedom, because the fates of all the country's races were so tightly linked, socially, economically, and culturally.

I think my great aunt Margaret would feel a little freer today.

Labels: , , ,

Anonymous k8 on Wed Nov 05, 09:38:00 PM:
I am always shaken out of a vague, passive stupor of assumptions about history when I hear about, say, a white, anti-KKK progressive politician in the old South, like the relative your father mentioned. The Obama victory (and such a decisive one!) has shaken me ever so much more. We are usually so comfortable understanding people's attitudes as an automatic by-product of their time and place--you were a white Southerner in 1900, ergo you were racist and favored subjugation of black people; you are working class, white, and live in a blue state, ergo you could not pull the lever for a black man with a funny Muslim name... And yet, the examples, atypical though they may be, of white Southern progressives living under Jim Crow is a reminder that racism did not simply follow from being born then and there. That there were arguments sounded against the status quo, and people chose to be open to them or to close themselves off. People are a product of culture, sure, but we are not strictly bound by a culture's implied or explicit limitations. Yesterday's election of Obama serves as a visceral, modern-day reminder that the white people of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania ought not be treated by us smug, progressive New York liberals as a foregone conclusion of backwardness, racism, and close-mindedness. Barack MAJORITY election showed us that open-minded forward thinking might be a lot more normal in America than we give it credit for.
 

Monday, November 03, 2008

Because "fag hag" is a little rough

Two great excerpts from the NY Times lately:

From an article on cooking whole meals in your rice cooker:
John Youngsun Park, a designer of video games in the San Francisco Bay Area, blasts the heat on his Sanyo to make noo roong ji, the toasted crust of rice that forms at the bottom of the traditional Korean stone rice pot. "You just want to see what it can do," Mr. Park said. In fact, it can poach, steam and simmer, as well as turn out a crisp noo roong ji.

"People love that toasted-rice taste," he said. "It's even a flavor of ice cream in Seoul." (Japanese cooks, however, consider toasted rice overcooked and highly undesirable. The unwanted crust left stuck to the bottom of the rice cooker is called okoge — the same word used as slang for a single woman who spends a lot of time with gay men.)


From an article on ways researchers found that they could train emergency medics to thump heart attack victims' chests at the proper rate:
That’s right — “Stayin’ Alive,” the song some people might pay to get out of their head, may be just what their heart needs if it suddenly stops.

Researchers say the Bee Gees song, from the 1977 hit movie “Saturday Night Fever,” offers almost the perfect pace for performing chest compressions on people who have had heart attacks. Emergency workers doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation are advised to press down on the chest 100 times a minute. “Stayin’ Alive” has 103 beats a minute.
...
“Stayin’ Alive,” by the way, is not the only song found to be helpful. “Another One Bites the Dust,” by Queen, may also work.

“Obviously,” Dr. Matlock said, “ ‘Stayin’ Alive’s a little more appropriate for the situation.”

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Ad landing

It's kind of ingenious to ask a grammar question as the enticement for a click-through ad (that's the ad landing; it appears as just a grammar question sponsored by the Chicago Manual of Style in the first part of the advertisement):
My colleagues are divided in their opinions about “storing data in a computer” versus “storing data on a computer.” Which is correct? Thanks.

I'm more used to hearing the usage snarkily discouraged by the style guide, but I'm charmed by the ad anyway and look forward to clicking on more of them. When was the last time anyone praised a click-through ad rather than ignored it or felt manipulated? Manipulate away, grammarians!

Labels: , ,

Anonymous Alice's mom on Fri Nov 07, 03:20:00 PM:
I clicked on the ad too, before I read your blog. And I never click on ads, so I guess I was charmed, too.

I didn't like their answer. They tried to give a 'natural' reason for their preferred usage of 'in' rather than 'on.' 'On a computer' is wrong, they say, because it implies that stuff is sitting on top of a surface. But the stuff is not 'in' a computer either. It's probably on a disk, just connected to a computer. No, wait--not "on" a disk, it's "in" tracks, it's an alignment of electrons (is it electrons? and are they "in" a line?)....

The computer gets the stuff "in" and "out." So we could store the stuff "by means of a computer." That sounds dumb, but it's no dumber than justifying an explanation of what is really a convention with an analogy that is now more false than true. Justifying, that is, without an admission that the preferred usage is more conventional than natural.

Which is more natural, to stand "in line," as you said in the pre-NYC years of your life, or "on line," as I think you say now?

Prepositions are odd. They are one of the most in-the-world parts of our language--what could be more real than in, on, over, beside, etc.? But as any non-native speaker could tell you, their use is not "natural" at all. In any but the most basic meanings, their usage is entirely conventional.

So I'm interested in clicking on the ads, too. But I'm also interested in whether all of the ads will be somehow geared to internet computer-users who are just technologically literate enough to reject one naive analogy in favor of another only slightly less naive. And whether the ads are somehow appealing (I wrote "pandering" first and decided that was harsh) to those users. Hoping to get them to feel that a manual of style can be cool.

As it can be. I recall that you gave me a manual of style as a Christmas gift once. The illustrated, gift-box version, to be sure.

Maybe this ad was pretty ad-like after all.

btw, I used "stuff" instead of "data" because of the is / are problem. I now think "data are" sounds ridiculous but am waiting for the forces of convention to completely overcome my Latin-trained guilt, just as the forces of everyday speech have now made me feel that the split infinitive in this sentence is ok.

It's good to know hat "conventional" doesn't mean "dead." And I guess it's good to know that language conventions can drive advertising dollars.