Posts tagged ‘words’


A slightly unique post

So apparently I come here every three or four months, to complain about things (often AI hype; omg don’t get me started on the latest “Watson” ad campaign owch).

Today I’m going to complain about this common English-prescriptivist notion, which I randomly encountered recently on a page that I won’t bother linking to because it was just like so many others, that it’s Very Bad Usage, and even Incorrect, to use adverbs of degree or comparison with the word “unique”. You can’t, this notion says, say “very unique” or “more unique”, for instance.

This is because, the notion says, uniqueness is an all-or-nothing concept; something is either unique or it isn’t, so there aren’t degrees or meaningful comparatives.

And this is just wrong.

Every physical object is unique, if you look hard enough, as is every situation. There has never been a bottle of hair shampoo with exactly this many molecules in it and a label exactly this many hundredths of degrees askew. There has never been an evening with exactly this number of fireflies in all of the yards for ten miles all around.

Even an electron, which is about as close as we get in this physics to something that’s exactly the same as a bunch of other things (all other electrons), has a unique position (and/or momentum and/or combination of the two).  If you want to be all quantum and deny that an electron has a single definite position, you’ll still grant that it has some sort of probability-function over a set of space-time coordinates, and that that function is different from the function corresponding to all other electrons.

So if everything is unique, why is the word “unique” useful? Exactly because some things are more unique than others: unique in more ways, or unique in more important ways. This tract house here is unique because although it’s identical to its neighbors in most ways, no other house in the county has an inverted horseshoe with Mickey Mouse’s face on it (a souvenir of Disneythingie) over the door. But compared to the house on the corner, which sits on top of a fifty-foot tower and can be reached only by a long spiral staircase, and which inside contains only one large room, which the inhabitants variably divide into sections as the mood strikes them, using bedsheets suspended on hooks from the ceiling, the tract house isn’t really unique at all.  The tower house, being very unique, is much more unique than the Disney-horseshoe one.

And that makes perfect sense.

So away with this simplistic “you can’t say ‘very unique’ or ‘more unique'” rule; it’s silly. The terms have perfectly reasonable meanings, which they communicate clearly to any competent speaker.  I don’t know where this idea started, and I’m insufficiently motivated to look it up, but I suspect that it’s one of those ways of showing that you’re a certain sort of card-carrying language maven, like the bit about not splitting infinitives.

Which isn’t to say that there are never better alternatives. If you really want to talk about general statistical properties, “more unusual” or “very unusual” might be better. Hauling out the bigger gun of “unique” is best done when you want to say that there isn’t anywhere a thing that’s the same as this one in the relevant sense, rather than just saying that things like that are comparatively rare.  And so “really amazingly unique” is best reserved when you really want to say that, in a particularly important and relevant sense, that the thing has properties (really, and amazingly) that nothing else has; not just that it’s sort of odd.

Thus ends the meta-prescriptivist lecture o’ the day (week? month?).  :)







Story straight

My personal websites, davidchess dot com and all, which are hosted somewhere in like England by friends-of-friends who stopped billing me in maybe 2010, seem to be down currently; but I have located a local copy, and have been looking nostalgically through it at random. Here is a piece of microfiction from March 2008 that I had entirely forgotten…

“So you know what you’re going to say?”

Chervais looked down at the squat form, sitting behind the piled shapes that served for a desk, sucking at a damp cigar.

“I was thinking I could just tell the truth.”

There was an explosion from somewhere outside, and the gondola rocked sickeningly for a moment. Chervais imagined the view outside, the gondola suspended like a parasite from the vast flock of harnessed geese, the bulbous airplanes that flew by now and then in slow irrational dogfights, the oddly glowing ground over which they passed, trees in the shape of nightmare reaching toward the starless sky.

The other grabbed at the desk automatically, and looked up.

“First, no one would believe you,” he stubbed the cigar on some component of the desk, which grudgingly caught fire, “and second, it’s not allowed.”

“I don’t think you have any way to enforce that.”

The big bloodshot eye rolled in its socket. “That’s a dangerous thing to assume.”

Chervais sighed and looked down at his hand, colorless and insubstantial. “All right,” he said, “first I became aware of myself floating upward, then I turned and saw my body lying on the bed.”

The other just nodded, the eye staring.

“Then there was this intense light, and I found myself moving toward it –”

“The calmness,” the other cut in.

“Right, right, there was this great feeling of calm, and I was moving up this tunnel toward the light, and there was this ethereal music and a great feeling of,” he made a sound, involuntarily, with his mouth, “of love, and a gentle voice, telling me I had to return.”

The squat cyclops grunted. “Ya still got some work to do on attitude, but I like that ‘ethereal’. Keep it up.”

Somewhere outside there was another explosion, as a cargo helicopter full of cheese plummeted from the sky.


Nothing happens when you’re offended; except when it does

I’m afraid I’m going to be political again; comes of hanging out in social media too much in a U.S. election season.

The other day on the Face Book, someone posted some version of this:

along with a little essay about political correctness, and how trigger warnings are censorship, and how kids these days are so thin-skinned that no one can say anything anymore, and so on.

I posted a comment disagreeing, and got (and this is very unusual for me) two different people that I like and respect texting me privately in the Face Book (which I always forget is even a thing) expressing surprise at my opinion.

I’ve been thinking about how to write down my thoughts on these subjects for some time, but without actually doing it. So I thought maybe I’d start with just the basic message of the video clip itself: that when you’re offended, it doesn’t mean anything, and nothing happens.

To first order, I agree with this. The mere fact that I’m offended by something doesn’t in itself mean anything.

But depending on why I’m offended, it may be a sign of something that is meaningful.

The implication of “when you’re offended, nothing happens”, and a thing that the comic up there says more or less right out, is that if someone’s offended, they should just suck it up, sit down, and shut up about it.

But that’s wrong. Words mean things. Words build things up, and wear things down. Structural oppression exists, and words are part of the structure. Sitting down and shutting up does not help us get to a more just society.

If enough people are offended by casual references to some stereotypical negative property of some oppressed group, and refuse to sit down and shut up, and other people stop making those references as often, a little bit of the structure of that oppression has been lifted.

If I’m offended because some comedian punches down for laughs, and I give that comedian poor reviews and recommend that people avoid him, maybe he, or his colleagues, will look for laughs somewhere else.

Or if I’m offended because people are no longer deferring to me because I belong to some privileged group, or because structural oppression that favors me is being questioned, and I complain about that, I both tend to look like an idiot, and to shed light on the privilege and oppression that I’m upset about losing, and even that helps us along toward justice.

If I’m offended because someone said “shit” instead of “poo”, well, probably I should sit down and shut up about it.  :)

So it depends. But also it matters.

Because sometimes, even often, people take offense because of the way they are impacted by injustices in society.

And that’s not nothing.

Maybe sometime in the future: Trigger Warnings, Why the Kids are Alright, and so on.


Blurbs and Synopses


When her live-in boyfriend loses his job and starts drinking, Tulia dreads becoming like the battered women in the shelter where she works. Then one night while he is out on the town, a seriously injured woman appears in her apartment, calling herself Tully, which was Tulia’s childhood nickname. She talks incoherently about the Peace Corps, which Tulia almost joined years ago, before losing consciousness. Dealing with the riddle of this other self will set Tulia’s life, and Tully’s, on end.

booksSounds of the Tide

In a series of brief summer meetings over a dozen years, a young man and an older woman invent their own kind of love on a rocky New England beach.

Snack Bar Only

A man whose life is at loose ends takes an introspective cross-country tour of golf-course restaurants, in a covered pickup truck.

The King of Storyville

A fictionalized account of the red-light district of New Orleans in the early XXth Century, loosely centered around the career of jazzman Joe Oliver.


In a world sharply divided into the wealthy few and the desperate many, a brother and sister from the wrong side of the tracks stumble on a secret that could re-make everything, if they can stay alive long enough to reveal it.

Two Loaves of Bread

Lucia and Maria are children together, baking bread in the community ovens. As they grow up they also grow apart, until decades later they encounter each other on opposite sides of a heated political battle, and the past and present collide.

Whisper through the Flames

With the U.S. and China on a brink of an apocalyptic war, enigmatic messages apparently sent from the future may hold the only hope of survival.


The surreal tale of the collapse of a major corporation, as those around it descend into chaos and strange magic.

Usually Night

A collection of poems about humanity’s efforts, national and international, to travel to space and back; illustrated, with accompanying notes from the authors.


If you do something, dye something

I have this little “skin tag” on my neck, which sometimes my fingers play determinedly with, and if they do this enough it becomes Irritated, and sometimes even Bleeds and things (WTMI, I know, but anyway), so to prevent this I sometimes put a, you know, “band-aid” on it in order to prevent myself from playing with it (see this entire subfield of philosophy).

So today I wanted one of those “band-aids” for that purpose, and The New Employer made it really easy. And this brought to mind the following little bit of snark, which while somewhat snarky and mean-spirited and all, I can’t resist posting…

Old IBM: Non-emergency first-aid supplies are available from the on-site RN during regular business hours, once you have management approval and have filled out the right form. Your department will be charged $27.50, plus $11.92 per individual supply item.

New IBM: As a cost-cutting measure, the on-site RN is available only on alternate Thursdays from 1:11 PM to 1:27 PM. The forms are no longer available. There is still a box of non-emergency first-aid supplies in the building, but everyone who knows where it is has been laid off.

Google: Around the corner from each Espresso machine (i.e. five per floor) is a shiny metal self-service cabinet full of non-emergency organic free-range vegan first-aid supplies, never tested on animals. On the door of each cabinet are internal telephone numbers and URLs (automatically verified for correctness daily by a cluster of [redacted] servers located in [redacted] and [redacted]), in case you think your situation might be not entirely non-emergency, or if you just want to chat. Googlers may access the supplies inside at will, 24/7. Non-Googler access requires a Google+ account.

Ha ha ha! I am here all week.

Oh, oh, also!

In the Subway there are all these Signs, and some of them say:

If you see something, say something.

which is pretty amusing if you think about it literally (because everyone with their eyes open would be constantly saying things, and if they made the reasonable assumption that the two “somethings” are supposed to co-refer, they would be saying like “a person, a person, a person, a door, a sign saying ‘if you see something, say something’…”), and also calls to the idle mind all sorts of variants.

For instance

If you smell something, tell something.

which isn’t quite right, and then immediately after

If you smell someone, tell someone.

which is really just juvenile, what was I thinking?

Continuing with the senses,

If you hear something, fear something.

which I can imagine becoming extremely popular with DHS (see also the U.S. Department of Fear).

If you taste something, baste something.

I suppose. And then, one with more selfish and more Buddhist versions:

If you feel something, heal something.

If you feel someone, heal someone.

I like that last one.

In rereading this I realize that I haven’t really analyzed the form correctly; “see” and “say” don’t rhyme, they, you know, do something else. That other thing. Which seems to be harder to do.

If you touch someone, teach someone.

Maybe. Hm.

If you buy something, be something!

Oooooh, deep!


Shining like the shone

Here’s something that you’d think that I, as a native speaker of English, would know, but that I apparently don’t, and sitting here on the speeding 7:40 express without the iPad’s cellular service turned on, I can’t just look up.

What’s the past tense of “shine”?

Well, “shined” is a word (nu?), and all it can be is that, so that must be it.

On the other hand, during the sportsball news on the radio this morning the announcer person said that some particular player really “shone” in the game last night, and that only sounded slightly wrong. And thinking about it, saying that he really shined would also have sounded slightly wrong!

Maybe “shone” is actually correct there; it sounds right in, say, “polished them until they shone”. The perceived slight wrongness might be from the similarity to “shown”, which is always a past participle-thing (show, showed, shown; shine, shone, shone?).

But if “shone” is correct there, what is “shined” for? Thinking about examples, my tentative theory is that the intransitive “shine” goes shine, shone, shone (polished it until it shone, had shone like gold for centuries), whereas the transitive (and more quotidian) “shine” goes shine, shined, shined, not getting “shone” even in the participle-thing (I shined my shoes yesterday, by the time I arrived he had finished shining his pate).

Which among other things produces the amusing “shined them until they shone”, which actually sounds about right.

This suggests a few things if true. For instance, that English is definitely a weird language. Also, since it’s hard for me to imagine I’ve never noticed this before, also that one of the many rewards of age and dotage is that you get to rediscover all sort of amusing things all over again. :)

Updates now that I am online again: Here is someone saying basically the same thing that I do above, and here is someone saying oh wait now it’s more complicated than that (with lots of comments offering further viewpoints and complications).

So there we are!



(Found in a drawer I was cleaning out; from context, I’m guessing written in around 1985.)

1. In 1836, a book called Society Life was published in London.
2. Somewhere, the doctor is or is not examining a patient.
3. We live in very uncertain times.

I am at a cocktail party. The cocktails are quite good, if heavy on the lemon. The wives are clustered around the piano, singing tunes that they think they remember from younger days; perhaps some of them do. In the kitchen there is a woman without any clothes, being casually examined by most of the single men, and not a few of the husbands. She smiles engagingly.

I ask Camille, whose watch (an expensive foreign brand) is always accurate, what time it is.

“Ten forty-two,” she says.

1. Salt
2. The signs of the zodiac are twelve: The Dasher, the Dancer, the Prancer, the Fox, Kafka, the Swan, the Lion. But I am rambling.
3. In times of uncertainty, truth will be seen to come from far places, at great expense (at least one week’s pay for the average citizen).

My ship sails at midnight. I do not know the time; Camille is nowhere to be seen. I wander in the fog. There may be a dock nearby, because of the foghorns. I associate foghorns with illness, because of something I think happened to me as a youth. I fear I will miss my ship; if only I could remember the name, the dock, the time, Camille’s address.

I grope in the fog for truth, and grasp a scrap of newspaper blowing in the wind. I decide it will do.

(I suspect I’d been reading alot of Barthelme…)


Mach’s Principle

I wrote my 750 words again! (Answers to even-numbered exercises are in the back of the book.)

The blinking light on the side of your laptop computer actually represents the average heartbeat of every human on Earth who is within one mile of a monitoring node.

Which is approximately 45% of the population of the planet.

Most of the time it is rock-steady, as any excitement in one heart, or in one group of hearts, is exactly balanced through the vast mushy laws of large numbers, by the ebbing of excitement in the same number of hearts elsewhere.

And vice-versa.

But on some days, if you are watching the blinking light as I often do, you will notice it slowly subtly down, or speeding suddenly up, as somewhere there is a large anomaly, a sudden gasping, a thrill, an excitement, in the entire population of a small city in Rawanda, or every Girl Scout in the USA; or somewhere else an entire continent goes to bed, and on the other side of the world, due to an international holiday, their usual counterbalancers are sleeping in.

Because, vast and sprawling and numerous though we are, humanity is still finite. There are only so many left-handed people, only so many people about to open a soda can, only so many Lutherans. The number of religious sects is large, but smaller than the number of grains of sand on the beach, which is smaller than the number of atoms in one grain of sand, which is smaller than the number of possible Sudoku grids, which is itself still finite, and so smaller than nearly all of the positive integers.

Looking down Platform 29, across all those people waiting patiently, or impatiently, for the 6:45 to arrive, and thinking that each of them has a history, and a set of beliefs, a complicated web of preferences and fears, we are already far beyond the vastness that any one of us can comprehend (one, two, three, seven, many), but if all of those people were to vanish suddenly, spirited off by aliens or vaporized by more mundane means, the size of the world as a whole would be reduced by only an imperceptible fraction.

So your laptop’s light blinks, almost always, at the same steady pace, as all of our hearts (or the hearts of all of us within one mile of a monitoring node), average out into a signal with just one bit of content (“still the same, still the same, still the same”); all the complexity nicely smoothing out, a hill here balanced by a valley there, a hundred orgasms in one set of college dorms nicely making up for a hundred hearts drifting off to sleep in another set one time zone away.

Take a breath. Feel yourself breathing, and what it feels like to breathe. Feel yourself thinking, and what it feels like to think. If you are worried, feel what it feels like to worry. Feel your own heartbeat slowing. Look at the reflection of the blinking light on the Ethernet connector, or the shiny tabletop, or your fingernail. As your heart slows down, imagine that you can see the light slowing down, by the smallest imaginable amount.

Imagine that you can feel, somewhere deep in your gut or your inner ear, the Earth turning under you, and the stars whirling around.

It the Earth turning, or the stars? We know, these days, that motion in a straight line is relative; that jogger is the one who is moving, and I on the park bench here with my peanuts am the one sitting still, only because the math is simpler that way; but either one might be true. It’s not so simple for rotation, though, for things spinning around. Ernst Mach thought, at least if we listen to Einstein (and we might as well, since we listened to him on that whole “motion in a straight line” thing), that the universe has a large-scale structure (large as large, larger than anything), that determines what counts as spinning and what doesn’t; but I hear down at the corner pub that this is not true in all solutions to the field equations.

Feel your breath, and what it is like to breathe. Feel your heart beating, and what it is like to have a heart, beating. Watch the blinking light, and feel your heart beating with all of the other hearts (the ones within a mile of a monitoring node). Feel the Earth turning under you, and the stars whirling around you (with or without closed timelike curves). Be still.


It was a red beach ball

I wrote my 750 words again! Haven’t done that in months.

And they sort of hold together (I wanted to avoid the “write 750 more or less random words as wordily as possible” effect this time, but still without taking much time or with the internal editor very active).

For what it’s worth…

In London, it was a red beach-ball, thrown over the heads of the crowds of commuters coming out of the underground station early on a Monday morning, and kept bouncing up in the air for long minutes by a few hundred different hands. All brimming with warm and vulnerable cells.

In Lisbon, it was a broken crate of plastic-wrapped tee shirts for a popular Indy band, left by the side of a building.

In New York, it was the liquid dripping from a hole in a black plastic trashbag swaying in the grip of a shabby man walking from Harlem to downtown and back over the course of the day, stopping for sandwiches, occasionally muttering to himself.

In the high Arctic, it was an explosion, a large one, that flung a quantity of earth and snow and other things into the air, where it was picked up by currents and flowed down in a dissipating waves around the globe.

Any of these things, by itself, could have started an epidemic, sparked chaos, begun the end. None of them did. All of them, together, pushed something subtler over the edge, and a dozen people, initially scattered around the world, began to see differently.

They would talk about it, sometimes, later on, up in one of their satellites circling in the airless sky, or sitting a late watch with the humming patient machines in some sub-basement in a secret room under an obscure street.

“Was it just a coincidence?”

“Was it something that would have happened, had to happen, eventually, and that was just when the day that it did?”

“Did someone, or something, plan it, intend it, make it happen, in a way that, despite it all, we just can’t see? Even though as far as we know we can see everything.”

What do you see? Whether your eyes are open or closed, whether it is dark or light, chances are that you see just whatever photons happen to hit your retina, and then whatever labels the quite dark parts of your brain sticks on to them automatically, so you see a redness that is (probably) a box, and you see things that are (probably) your hands, and probably a bus, and most likely the street.

And, as far as anyone knows, as far as they know even, that is mostly all that any of them saw, either, before that day. Most of them (ten of the twelve, if you were to pin them down and dig into the question) had had times, more or less brief, flashes where they saw more in the world than that. Where things came together and impressed themselves on them in a different way.

But then so had thousands of others, even just that same year, and none of them went over the edge on that day, or on any day since.

No unusual contaminants leaked from that bag, or spun wetly from that bouncing ball, spread with those gradually and guiltily unwrapped shirts, or flew into the sky from the high Arctic. But they could have, and that potential spread, and those four webs of spreading potential somehow came together in a dozen points in the world, in a dozen people, and they changed.

Were there more points, more knots in that global web of spreading might-have-beens, where if there had been a person that person might also have been changed, Changed, and become one of the twelve. Probably there were. They would know, but they are not telling.

What is it like, to see the world directly as connected bundles of meaning? To see potentials and relations directly, rather than colors and shapes and probable labels? They have tried, some of them, to describe it and write it down. Four of them have even published books, but they are generally acknowledged to be opaque, more or less incomprehensible. Two of them are highly regarded as poetry, and one is still being analyzed as a possible cryptogram.

More of them have written, or crafted, or constructed, internal memos, stored in their own network of computers, available onto to each other. These may be more successful, although they are surely less necessary.

When you can see it directly, what need for words?

What would you have done, if you had been one of the twelve? It’s impossible to say, of course, without being one of them. Even knowing oneself deeply, as who of us really does, it’s impossible to say how you would have reacted, without knowing what you would have seen. And they are still not telling us, for whatever reason, just what it is that they have seen.

This was partly inspired, I think, by Embassytown, which I recently finished and keep meaning to do some sort of writeup of, and which is also the reason I posted that old micro of mine the other day.

Semantics everywhere! :)



Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t been each other’s First Contacts. Virgin civilizations, groping each other in the dark.

“Damn it, damn it, damn it,” the smaller of the two men moaned, his head down in his arms on the broken table, as the sounds coming in through the half-boarded-up window swelled louder.

“If they wanted to destroy us, why didn’t they just send a missle, an asteroid, a fucking army?”

The taller man took another drink from the bottle in his hand, staring without seeing at the window.

“We started it, you know.”

“Bastards, bastards.”

“We nearly destroyed them.”

“Should have.”

“It was the linguists,” his voice was rough and slow, detached, almost toneless, “that went out in the first starship. We taught the Tanatha suicide.”

“Bastards.” The sounds outside moved away a bit, grew softer.

“Their language was utterly alien. No reflexive forms, strange verb tenses. Eventually they learned enough of it to try to ask them questions, eventually they asked them what their word was for ‘suicide’. They didn’t have one.”


“They didn’t. They had no reflexive forms, and ‘to be’ and ‘to kill’ were such utterly incompatible concepts that they had been literally unable to imagine killing the person that you are. Until we asked the question, and kept asking it until they understood.”

He took another long drink, a deep breath, and shuddered. The man at the table raised his head just long enough to wipe his eyes.

“It nearly destroyed their civilization. They didn’t have the millennia of evolved defense mechanisms that we did, the cultural institutions that discourage killing yourself, the structures to deal with it.

“They experimented.

“They died.

“Their cultures crumbled.”

“Not fucking far enough they didn’t,” the smaller man muttered, and lay his head down again with a thud.

“They fell so fast. Our linguists came back on the last starship they sent out, along with what was left of their Tanatha colleagues. Half the crew died on the way, but they got here.”


“And their linguists, the ones that stayed alive, learned our language in return, and one day they knew enough to ask, to ask what was our word for –”

“No, no, no, no, no,” the man slumped over the table moaned monotonously, as another explosion bloomed outside and a chorus of voices raised in an ululating scream, full of fear and an incomprehensible ecstacy.

(This is an old piece of microfiction (untitled at the time, and I’m not sure “Verbum” is the right title, really), that had the honor of being reposted on Language Log once, that I’m reposting because I may want to conveniently refer to it in a posting about a book I’m reading, once I’ve finished reading it. And also because it’d be fun to gather and post some of my old microfictions. And also I should write more of them!)


In turf amending his bright replies

They just keep coming!

Sat down not petrify recalling every pontiff he had said, and in turf amending his bright replies.

Openly scarcely, peremptorily, barely fondly unconcerned on paying my addresses to her, I conceiveed franc most improperly to let him, from vote to dugout, the sect of carpeting it, from an unwillingness to die into an landmark while my circumstances were so soon feed.

I will miss these when the next level of the arms race happens and they start to go to my Spam folder, which is so voluminous I hardly ever check it.

Tags: , ,

Having one as a pet

Today’s Bayesian text is from an attempted comment to some old weblog entry.

As a result, there are many things you’ll need to be aware of and consider if you’re thinking of having one as a pet.
This info should be second nature, when you have 40 eggs to
deal with, the clock is ticking. For babies, about a half
inch to an inch of water will suffice for bathing them.

I like it!


NaPoWriMo 12

Nothing said with words is true.
But they can point
beyond themselves.



It turns out that there is (and maybe I knew this) a National Poetry Writing Month, NaPoWriMo of course, and it’s now! April, that is!

I am currently (i.e. as I type this weblog entry) strongly considering Doing NoPoWriMo, despite my on-and-off relationship with poetry, or maybe because of it. Since (a) it might tend to make the relationship more “on” for a bit, and that’s nice, and (b) it would give me weblog material, and (c) writing bad poetry is surely (even) easier than writing bad prose!

Here are some ancient poems of mine interspersed with thoughts on them, on the ol’ firstname lastname dot com site, for background.

Lyrics written during a NaPoWriMo would be sort of the opposite of those (or even “the obvious of those”, as my fingers first typed; I like the phrase), in that they would be fresh and new, not distillations of things that have been rolling around in my head for decades. At least I expect that they would be.

But on to the first poem!


Opening the cupboard
The first time in a decade
The air tumbles out
Old and rich
Smelling of stillness

Dangling participle included at no extra cost! :)



I’ve gotten a few “wtf dude?” reactions to yesterday’s post, on Facebook and directly. Basically I noticed that most of Bloomberg’s defense of Stop and Frisk (“it makes the city safer”, “we do it according to how much crime there is, not the race of the residents”) didn’t refer to the actual civil rights violations at all, and could be used almost word-for-word to defend (say) Stop and Punch, or Stop and Kill.

So there we are.

(He does claim, not very convincingly, that it is only done when there is reasonable suspicion that there is some crime going on. Sadly that also doesn’t differentiate it from killing.)

Gah! But anyway, here are another 750 words.

A set of steps leads up from the water’s edge to the house. All around, the swamp is noisy and fragrant in the night. She turned the key. He ate the last of the peaches, sitting alone looking at nothing.

Sitting in the back of the flat-bottomed boat, watching her pole through the salt-grass and between the silty hummocks with practiced strokes, I saw the house for the first time just at sunset. It was, and is, a sprawling chaotic structure, growing over the years in a comfortable haphazard way, concerned mostly with not sinking into the saturated ground, but also with accommodating the varied and equally fragrant waves of inhabitants.

He is tall and bearded, she is small and compact, with large breasts and a round bottom. They both wear flannel shirts and blue jeans.

I took with me only a string-bag full of oranges.

She has used him, he realized; used him as a foil, a wedge, a handy tool to extract from the world around her one more victory, one more step up the ladder that she thought would lead her to wherever it was she was going.

I am a creature of narrative, Yolanda, just as you are a creature of vision and image. Where else but here could we possibly have met?

Someone opened the front door and came in. From the sound, whoever it was just stood there for a long time, after closing the door again, shifting from foot to foot, perhaps reading the limericks on the wall.

Of the ten doors opening from that hallway, only two were unlocked. Of the ones that were locked, there were keys to only three. Entering the others would require a fire-axe, or perhaps a ladder against the outside wall, up to a broken window.

Jacob is here. He has brought his new wife. In the evenings they sit with the rest of us after dinner for a few minutes, saying little. Then they exchange a look and go upstairs to their bedroom. Herman rolls his eyes.

The tempo of her life changed every eighteen months, when her son finished a tour of duty and came home to rest and recover. This had been going on, it seemed to her, since the beginning of time.

“What do you want?” she asked. But there was no answer.

By the end of the summer, my calves were strong and well-defined from going up those steps. I held the wooden stake in my hand like a club and looked out over the water, waiting for the ferry to appear around the headland. What mistakes we make, I thought, when we try to change things.

By the time I had the fire burning well, the yard was full of the sound of a hundred children singing the song about Anansi the Spider. Just as the sun set, they all tried to get through the doors at once, clattering and laughing and cuffing each other.

“There was a time,” the old woman said, “when no one here believed in the undead. But that was a long time ago.”

As I pushed the right earpiece of my glasses back onto its broken stud, hoping the red candle wax would hold a little longer this time, one of the nosepieces cracked and fell off into my lap. I really should have made that telephone call sooner.

Bert and the Doctor decided to hike up to the top of the mountain behind the apartment building, and do the mushrooms there. They would lie on their backs on the rocks, they decided on the way up, and get high under the open sky. Bert didn’t always like mushroom highs, but they were better than no high at all, and they could afford them. Also the Doctor was a big fan; he said the mushrooms put them in touch with deeper parts of reality.

There is a box half-buried in silt at the bottom of the lake. The wood, soft and rotten, let the water in long ago. The papers that were in the box have entirely dissolved and their fibers and molecules drifted out to be part of the lake water. The two gems, an amethyst and a star sapphire, are coated with fine mud, and thoroughly in darkness. The last person that had ever seen the box before it sank to the lake bottom died fifteen years ago. That is how time works; gradually everything sinks and is forgotten, to make room for more things to rise, and for awhile to be remembered.


Were there doxen in the orphad?

So my 750 words yesterday were largely spent directing obscenities at call-directors, voice-response systems, office staffs whose main interest is to foist you off on to some automated system as quickly as possible so they can get back to whatever it is that’s more important than your phone call, and other hazards of modern life.

Wasn’t somehow eager to share that with the world. :)

Today’s is based on a rather obvious thought; enjoy!

Sometimes, when the frillocks were in swarrow, they would go down to the warrilling with a clite and a few brantills, a leftover gandrich-seed or two, and just lie down out there, between the yammows and the spee, and look up at the clear orphad learint.

He was a yonderbay then, and she was one of the mannon. This was before sponding, before the hotast of renamtion, and they were still jacosens, flechlings without toggol. From that onch of the warrilling you could hear the spallton far below, and the bront moving the polifract of the plennons, back and forth.

It was hard then, it is still hard now, even with the sponding, to be a mannon and a yonderbay, to taste fortella with your cattin, and know only yot and blunk. But they had clite and brantills, and they had a taffrock full of eske now and then. And altogether it was not so bad.

Once, sometime between slomitch and fereen, a yal-sotterer came to the mannon petruch, and set up an elaborate claylel, full of martrice and praste. All of the brantlings and gropestants took big flaylillies of pordim from it, carrying them to hosteria in their shining greflucettes, their croffen dangling in the lobest like hamillias.

What does a yonderbay do in the ommit of a claylel? Down by the spallton, he knew the grosten were bantilling, the bront full of volker, the prenning feth. Martrice smells of clotember, it is like an androne or a fetten, a cloving of hybernum. But all things pass, and in the pretrim they were again blode and fornot among the yammows, and the learint full of treblong, and feelty was onch.

The old zennaches in that prale tell phetoches of armber and ghralefect, where strong shiny hamberelches fight and win in the torrends of cly, always coming away with their nobiles intact and their yarmiles quelching. Everyone knows these are hommor, and not a theodor to the brong, but on a red slorotnoe, with the spee trilling, no one cares.

With the hotast, they say, we all became bronches. But what is a bronch but a gropestant with no croffen? Lying there, all atrenchant, what came to them but the sparency of slimendiates, between the feld of the yammows and the aple gramt of the trochan flechlings? How could their oblamorch be any more spotie than the brootch? Would a gandrich and a horridge full of pnorum be more venocasey? Would a taght vernidge the glim?

In the cruffet of cly, the high ponoty of sgrillate takes a ferrow from the olean of taggy-elding, and thereby comes to glamtipory. But on the way from defk to brule, what passed below the devvit of bramburny was only pordrim, of the amacie of a great teocycline, not a perry or bramblette. So the yonderbay, between his own defk and the glefidge of carrue, called to farradge, and the mannon to a hertiach, and the ploner was enfugled.

At least for that enmelton.

We must, each of us, take the grapstem. However tonet or copplestan, the grapstem is the only brootch of the hybernum. The bamblies of Tomosk may have built a crennen to the orphad, but we can only perenck at their delb. My hybernum is not yours, and hers is not his. Grapstem and hybernum, we are each a ponoty of our own petruch, and there is no allent in the alb.

But that is no frennen! One of the mannon craling to a yonderbay, or a crafling on twipe, are all the same perring. It is to our great fontena that our hanteliver has no erositian. If the enfoliation of the ormery were pliatiste, where would the candiskey be? And what a penner would plat the eske.

So best we should leave them, with the frillocks in swarrow, down by the saduka warrilling, and take our own parrist from the monnow of farifort: do not congravior only for the best grandiole in the bonty, but also the androne of slomitch. Not the paretrine only, but, if we can, every porwhillion that effortates an orng, and every sleemind on the brellaw.

And what came after? Were there doxen in the orphad? Did all of the mannon come and brallerate their clotesks in the obstanty of phlie? That I must leave to the paratale of your own famsy chamerska; my allent is all too spotie. But I think of bright harrens taking sloderbent in the sponding ormery, and it gives me toggol.

I note also that the 750 Words site is apparently going to start charging money soon. I can’t decide whether or not it’s worth it to me to spend even the small amount that they are talking about charging; I guess I will find out! I am amused, though, to note that this fact, which one would have thought would be rather important, isn’t (or isn’t prominently anyway) mentioned on the site itself, but instead on their weblog, which seems to be on tumblr, which is otherwise used primarily to repost other people’s postings of kittens, sunsets, porn, and so on.

I just thought that was kinda funny…

Tags: ,

You’ve also got to get them in the right order…

750 wordsSo there’s this 750 words site, which is a very simple (simple enough to be confusing, really) site designed to help wannabe writers (raises hand) get into the supposedly healthy “writing three pages a day” habit that has, on dit, been recommended by Various Famous Writers. Friend Emily mentioned it on Facebook and I signed up on ummmm Saturday, I did 750+ words that day, forgot all about it yesterday despite the helpful reminder email, and then did 750+ again today.

It’s different from, say, NaNoWriMo, in that 750 words a day isn’t nearly 50,000 in a month (more like 22,500), and it’s open-ended. And on the other hand you can’t be lazy one day and then make up for it the next.

Here is what I wrote today; what I wrote on Sunday feels a bit too personal and/or embarassingly bad :) to post in public at the moment. It is, probably predictably, about the process itself.

I’m not sure that what Real Writers have suggested in the past really meant just writing three pages of absolutely whatever sprung to mind, including grocery lists, the word “cheese” repeated over and over (like, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese), or even pure internal monologue like this.

Is that really something that helps develop writing skills? Or develope them, for that matter? (stet)

I can see this sort of totally uncensored, totally unjudged activity being either helpful or unhelpful, really, and I which is more likely is probably an empirical question. Contingent. Possibly different for different people, even, although it’s all too easy to suggest that for any given thing that might otherwise have a Right Answer.

There’s that scene in the L-Word where whatsername Jenny is talking to the creative writing teacher who has basically trashed her stuff, and what the teacher says is that she is just writing things that actually happened to her, perhaps thinly disguised, and Jenny agrees and/or admits this. And the teacher says that she won’t be a writer until she stops doing that, because just writing what actually happens is something else, she uses a word like “chronicaler” or “diarist” that’s clearly intended to be derogatory, and also says something sort of twee-paradoxical about things that actually happened not being true, or not being reality or something.

Awhile back, quite very awhile back, I used to (for some probably-small period of time) pick a word at random from somewhere (given how long ago, probably from the hardcopy dictionary or something), and then write some amount about that word, whatever first sprang to mind. (I wrote it with an actual pencil, on actual atomic paper, in an actual physical D-ring binder notebook, as I recall; how archaic, eh?)

Once Anne, childhood Anne, read a bunch of my writing (brave of me in retrospect, and probably even at the time, to have given them to her to read), and she liked it overall, but thought that the “write some stuff about a random word” ones were sort of forced, or artificial, or missing something, or at any rate, I remember, not as good.

And that’s the worry here I suppose, or something like it. That just writing without worrying about what one is writing will lead to the habit of doing that, of equating writing with writing-whatever, wearing away at whatever habits or standards of quality that one might otherwise have, and which one might do better carefully cultivating then actively wearing-away at. (Hm, how would one avoid ending that sentence with a preposition? “and one might do better carefully cultivating them rather than actively wearing away at them” I guess, but is that really an improvement?)

Not to mention actively developing bad habits. I don’t know if it applied to the pen-and-paper version, probably it did really in some form, but the temptation in this medium, with the word-count actively (but slowly) going up in the bottom-right corner down there as I type, is to always choose the wordier way of saying any given thing, to say the same thing over and over in various different ways even, to use N words when K would have done, for N greater than K.

One can just type and type and type, that is to say, making totally (or reasonably) coherent sentences (even though that’s not strictly-speaking required), while still not saying much of anything, or saying the same thing over and over.

And is that a good habit to develop? That is probably not a good habit to develop.

We walk out into the fields to harvest the pages. They grow on tops of the page-stalks, and also on the second-highest cluster of leaves, or cluster of what would be leaves if they were not pages. Below that level, the leaves actually are leaves, green with veins in the typical way, if somewhat more squarish than the typical leaf on any other kind of plant.

(See, the “on any other kind of plant” didn’t really need to be in there; there are things besides plants that have leaves, but the reader would have gotten it without that hint even.)

When the pages are ripe, they snap off of the stalks easily, with a slight tug just off of straight. Not too much off, so as not to tear the paper. And not too much straight, because then it may resist and not come off, and you may have to try again, and that would be inefficient.

And no one wants to be inefficient…

It’s funny that I have (or at least pretended to have, for the purposes of word-count) these reservations about developing bad habits by doing the “three pages a day” thing, whereas I’ve never had that worry about NaNoWriMo, where the lack of internal censor just feels freeing. Maybe because NaNoWriMo is so much an all-out infrequent event, whereas the other is intended to be an everyday every-day habit. Or something…

(Astoundingly, even the combination of being linked to by Salon and writing this exquisite political satire has not yet led to international fame; but we soldier on…)


Days of splines and toeses

So in the morning when I wake up I am vaguely surprised to find that once again I am in the same bed and the same room, the same universe, as when I went to sleep.

’cause it seems like a big coincidence!

But, it occurs to me, that’s not necessarily what’s happening; memory is just as unmoored as immediate experience.

Maybe tomorrow morning I will wake up in my nest, surrounded by M and our other flock-group members, curled up in our diaphanous salmon-colored leaves, stretch and yawn, attach the platinum blades to my hind set of legs in case of hungry sleet-flies en route, and fly off to work, thinking all the while that it’s funny I’ve woken up yet again in the same nest, in the same mile-high tree, that I went to sleep in last night.

The King’s Country, as the royal precincts with their streets and shops and storehouses have come to be called over the paranoid years, is saturated with security, and eye-patches.

In order to present a disadvantage to anyone who might mean ill toward the monarch, anyone entering is given a tight black eye-patch, and must wear it over one eye as long as they remain within the walls.

A one-eyed man came to the Gate to King’s Country one autumn afternoon, upon a commission to repair a water-wheel. He assumed that, already equipped with an eye-patch, and more importantly a non-functional eye, the rule would have no effect on him.

But, due to zeal in defense of the sovereign, or perhaps certain reservations about the cut of the mechanic’s clothes, the Sergeant of the Gate declared that, in order to present a disadvantage as intended, the patch would have to be worn over the newcomer’s good eye, not the bad one.

Appeal to the Chief of the Guard did no good.

So, in the country of the King, the one-eyed man is blind.

(That was the easy case, I think, mundane and cloudy. One could as well have done “In the country of the King, the blind man has one eye”, which might have been about how the monarch’s deity-infused aura provides sight to the sightless, or alternately “In the country of the one-eyed, the blind man is King”, which might have taken more thought.)

And there was some third thing that I was going to write down, and that in fact is the thing that got me to open up this computer and start writing in the weblog here, but at the moment I have entirely forgotten it (phah!) so I will just say that I have been playing Real Racing 3 on the iPad here, and it is fun. And the graphics are woot good heavens! Right now I am working on upgrading my second car, a BMW M3 Coupe which I have “resprayed” all shiny red:

Real Racing 3 cars

That’s my first car, a now-fully-upgraded Nissan Silvia S15, behind it.

The In-App Purchases have not annoyed me, or tempted me, yet (unlike in certain other pad games).

Vroom vroom!


I want to go ahead and complain…

So I want to go ahead and complain about people who go ahead and insert “go ahead and” before random verbs for no apparent reason.

Actually of course it’s not completely random; they go ahead and do it preferentially in certain contexts (probably not very often including that one where I went ahead and did it right there).

But anyway, it goes ahead and annoys me!

That last context is probably completely non-normative. I’m gonna go ahead and search the web for “it goes ahead and”

And we (go ahead and) find that the phrase isn’t common, but also isn’t unheard of. Never in the (what’s the word?) tenseless sense of “it goes ahead and annoys me”, but sometimes in the (what’s the other word?) nonspecific present sense of “if you give the program the wrong arguments, it goes ahead and deletes all of your files”.

Thinking about it, this phrase (clause, set of words) doesn’t always annoy me. It feels fine in the imperative, when there is some sort of giving-permission involved. To “Can I eat these?”, it’s clearly (clearly, haha) valid to say “Sure, go ahead”. Or, by obvious extension, “Sure, go ahead and eat as many as you like” or alternately “Go ahead and eat two or three, but leave the rest for the ancestors”.

(Here is Language Hat emself, who we are sure would never annoy us, saying “if you’re sure enough, go ahead and correct the Wikipedia article“, and indeed it seems quite correct.)

Even in non-imperative cases, the wording seems benign enough when there is some sense of permission involved, or notable lack of permission, where the going ahead (now that permission has been granted, or despite the fact that it wasn’t and one should have stopped) is remarkable in itself, in addition to whatever the actual activity was.

So from another web search, “I hate when you tell someone a secret and they go ahead and tell people”, seems plausible, as does “best friend knows you like someone, but they go ahead and date them”, both because, well, they shouldn’t have gone ahead, they should have stopped.

The annoying cases are when people (go ahead and) use it in non-imperative cases, when there is no permission involved at all, where it’s basically just a very long and distracting way of saying “um”. I heard a perfect example on the radio last night but of course I can’t remember it. Let’s see…

Impressive! A little web searching actually found it. The words were, speaking of the fun that giraffes an’ ellafumps have when they have food that is not all pre-processed for them: “If they have a large limb that they can go ahead and strip and pull the leaves off of, then they’ll work on pulling the bark off and then…” and so on.

That, I thought, was pretty clearly just an “um”, only much longer. Looking at it now from the wisdom of another day’s worth of experience, I wonder if this “go ahead and” might be signalling that a process, a set of steps, is coming up. That might be a reasonable excuse.

One more for now, also from NPR somewhere: “I believe it’s possible to get re-elected without taking large campaign contributions. So, why would I not go ahead and try to do that?” What’s up with that one? The sentence feels punchier and more impactful to me without the “go ahead and” (“why would I not try to do that?”). It’s hard to excuse it as a permission thing, and there’s no series of steps there.

So I will go ahead and remain annoyed by that one. :)


Who’s the chief of the BBC?

So this is a pretty cool news story:

Chinese revolt leader becomes village chief of Wukan

The leader of protests against land grabs in a southern Chinese village has been appointed its new chief.

Lin Zulian will head the new Communist Party Committee in Wukan and organise elections for a new village committee.

I mention it, though, not for its content, but because I’m wondering about that word “chief”.

Why does the BBC translate whatever word is officially used to describe this official as “chief”? In English (and perhaps this is an American thing, I dunno), “chief” has connotations of either a guy with a bone through his nose and feathers in his hair, or the guy with the cigar who runs the police or fire department (but not the whole place).

They could have rendered it as “leader” or “head” (both of which they used to refer to him elsewhere in the piece), or (given that he will “head” the Committee) presumably “Chairman” or “Chair” (although it might not be proper to refer to the “Chair” of a village).

If Wukan were a “town” or “city”, one might expect “Mayor” there, but I can buy that it’s a village in some objective sense having to do with population or something. So not using “Mayor” is perhaps understandable.

Does the BBC refer to the leader of a village in England as the “chief”? Let’s see…

Well! Searching for “english village” on the BBC site turns up a whole lot of droll and more or less nostalgic stories, but so far no mention of chiefs or mayors or anything. Perhaps villages aren’t governmental structures at all in England?

The official page about local government in the UK seems to be silent about villages, talking instead about “county and district councils” which may or may not involve mayors who may or may not have any actual powers. Searching for “village” there turns up the fact that local councils are responsible for village greens. Still nothing about village chiefs, though.

So perhaps the BBC uses “chief” for the leader of a village just because they don’t know what else to use, English villages not having leaders?

Okay, so what does a search for “village chief” on the BBC site find? Various chiefs, mostly from China, but also an indigenous Alaskan, a chief from the Ivory Coast, South Sudan, and aha Aberdeen!

Ah, wait. The one in Aberdeen is “David Beattie, chief executive of Aberdeen Sports Village“. Which is perhaps a commercial enterprise that just happens to be called a Village.

It is at least somewhat suggestive, though, that villages in non-Western places have “chiefs”, whereas the Aberdeen Sports Village has a Chief Executive. :) I’d love to see the BBC Handbook that covers this subject…

Update: The New York Times, for what it’s worth, seems to use “party boss” and “party secretary” in this piece about the same thing. The word “chief” is absent from the article.