July 24, 2008

"Destroying the status quo"

A fellow writer pointed me to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. She pointed out that this seems to be doing for film what print-on-demand is doing for publishing.

Dr. Horrible is produced by Joss Whedon, whose prior work includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Dr. Horrible is a supervillain musical (of which, Whedon writes, "there are too few").

If you visit the Dr. Horrible Web site, be sure to read Whedon's "Master Plan," in which he outlines why he chose to release his film this way.

It's a good film—both amusing and thought-provoking. It has a catchy soundtrack, too.

Warning: If you're as much of a prude as I am, you'll be annoyed by a few naughty bits of dialog and lyric. If you're more of a prude than me, you might even be offended. If you're like most Americans, though, you'll be wondering why I characterize those bits as "naughty."

July 20, 2008

Let them eat dog

Proving once again that the concept of "freedom" is anathema to communism, China has decided to improve its international image by ordering Beijing restaurants to stop serving dog meat during the Olympics.

See the news story here.

Ostensibly, this move is being made so as not to offend Western sensibilities.

Sorry, but Westerners traveling to the Orient can learn to cope with dog meat on menus. Some Westerners might even want to try it.

Not that I want to eat dog. But those who do oughtn't be prevented from it in a country where it's customary.

The Chinese government can't be bothered to clean up its image by doing hard things like allowing freedom of religion, or cracking down on patent infringements, or leaving reporters alone so they can do their jobs.

But they can protect Westerners from Oriental culture by instituting a pointless ban on a legal substance. Yeah. That's communism for you.

July 19, 2008

Putting the C in YMCA

The Dr. Phillips YMCA Family Center is holding a Back to School Community Prayer Breakfast Aug. 7, 2008, at 7:30 a.m.

I would have liked to put this in the paper, but there’s just no place for it, because it’s a back-to-school event, not a business event. I explained this to the PR person, and she replied that she knew that but submitted it anyway, “since everyone needs prayers for their businesses to last through the economy.”

And you know, she's got a point.

July 17, 2008

Oui, nous n'avons pas d'émail

Sometimes, it seems that only the lexicographers and grammarians are fighting this good fight. Luckily, there are quite a few of us.

Email, like the coneheads, comes from France, where it's pronouned "ay-MAYL." It translates as "enamel."

E-mail is short for "electronic mail," and, as Bill Walsh so eloquently argues in Lapsing into a Comma and also at The Slot, it needs its hyphen. It's pronounced "EE-mail."

Perhaps only pedants like me care whether there's a hyphen. Maybe so. But as long as my dictionary of choice shows a hyphen, I'm using a hyphen. For that matter, I'll probably keep using the hyphen even if the descriptivists rewrite all the dictionaries.

Vive le trait d'union

July 13, 2008

Over-reaching speculation

Looking for indications of connectedness among cultures is usually beneficial. Finding our similarities is enlightening. But sometimes, in the search for such connections, people reach a little too far, and in the wrong direction.

The History Channel program Egypt: Land of the Gods examined the influence of that country on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

In the segment on Chrisianity, the program speculates that Christian iconography of the infant Jesus sitting on the lap of his mother, Mary, was inspired by ancient Egyptian iconography of Horus sitting on the lap of his mother, Isis.

Yeah. Or maybe Jesus is depicted sitting on Mary's lap because children often sit on their mothers' laps.

The universality of motherhood is a given. No long reaches are needed to make that point.

July 7, 2008

Poor company

Writers must be hard to live with. I know I certainly have been lately.

I've been preoccupied with my novel, which I've been repeatedly told is about 60,000 words too long. I finally got some professional advice about just which bits need cutting and which plot loopholes need plugging.

So I've been plugging away, as it were, which means I've been investing all my thought-time on a fictional world instead of the real one. I have no doubt it's been hard on the people around me, since it's rendered me nearly incapable of having a rational conversation.

This is an occupational hazard, I think.

In 1996, when Viking was preparing to release his translation of The Odyssey, Robert Fagles was interviewed by Paul Gray for Time magazine:

"Fagles recalls a day during his long labors on the Iliad when he was standing in line at a Princeton, New Jersey, bank. 'I suddenly thought, "Don't these people know there's a war going on?"' The Trojan War, of course."

I can relate, even though most of my preoccupation has had little to do with that 3,000-year-old war. Until I started working on this post, I'd only spent 15 or 20 minutes thinking about Menelaus and Agamemnon.

July 1, 2008

Metaphorically speaking

Some words are too heavy-laden to use figuratively.

"Ground Zero," for example, brings with it images of death and destruction. Prior to 2001, we grammarians insisted that it be used only in reference to nuclear explosions. But even we have to make an exception for the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City. That is indeed a site of profound destruction.

Given the phrase's inherent qualities, it is not only absurd, but also insensitive to write of a shopping mall being "ground zero for the region's economic recovery."

People seem to like the word "epicenter." But, as Inigo Montoya said, "I don't think it means what you think it means."

Outside of seismology, there really is no good use for "epicenter." It doesn't mean "middle," and it doesn't describe a center that's better than all the other centers. It's the point of origin of an earthquake.

Yes, I suppose you could get away with using it metaphorically sometimes, e.g., "the subprime shakedown was the epicenter of credit troubles that shook the financial industry to its foundations." But unless you are talking about something destructive—earth-shattering either literally or figuratively—please use something less loaded. A new office building is not "the epicenter of the financial district," no matter how many bankers work there.

I hesitate to even address the use of the word "rape" to describe consumers' feelings about high prices. Suffice it to say that the experiences of people who must reduce their Starbucks budgets to gas up their Hummers differ from those of people who have been sexually battered.