• If you talk to your plants but it still doesn’t help them grow, it is probably because most plants speak Latin.
• It is hard to believe how bland Premium Saltines have become in recent years. If salt and shortening are still ingredients, they exist in amounts that can only be detected by trained forensic dogs. Is it just a coincidence that the box in my cupboard says “Made in Canada”?
• I am not a big fan of Fresh Air on NPR — Terry Gross has gushed over dozens-too-many middling celebrities for my taste. But I learned a lot from a recent show when bioethicist Travis Rieder discussed the various dimensions of the U.S. opioid crisis. I was impressed by the logic and clarity of Rieder’s arguments, which were informed by his own experience with opioid withdrawal. I have not read his book but do recommend the NPR interview.
• My new go-to reference book is Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016), a 1056-page colossus that is satisfying to open, whether I find what I’m looking for or not. Still, I would have preferred more entries on usage (should one say impressed by or impressed with?) and less guidance on variants (smolder vs smoulder) and pronunciation (there is no gone in Oregon, among other pronouncements).
• Garner also weighs in on formal words, a category that includes commence, obtain and sufficient and phrases such as be of assistance. Formal usage has its place but usually just gets in the way, so said Amherst College professor and author Walker Gibson. He believed the use of formalism suggests the writer is scared: “If this is an age of anxiety, one way we react to our anxiety is to withdraw into omniscient and multi-syllabic detachment where nobody can get us.” Gibson could not have essentialized the grandiloquent intonation of this blog more veraciously.
• Speaking of usage and abusage: Why does our society call it white supremacy instead of radical Christian terrorism? Why do we say white Christian shooters are indoctrinated but brown Muslim shooters have been radicalized? Why do people blame social media for spreading our culture of violence, rather than change the culture, that is, ourselves?
• An informative three-part quiz: Which has the greater population, Pakistan or Russia? Egypt or Germany? Iran or Vietnam? Bonus question: Of those countries, which is the least populous? Answers below.
• Surely I can’t be the only person who finds it annoying when a concert audience offers up a round of perfunctory applause several bars into a song, as if it suddenly dawns on them that the artist is performing her signature work. I’d like to know, when and where did that custom arise? And more importantly, how do we make it stop?
• Pakistan has 47% more people than Russia does, Egypt has 23% more than Germany, and Vietnam 17% more than Iran. Of those, Germany has the fewest people, 82.4 million. Free subscription to Wikipedia for everyone who got a perfect score, compliments of me.
• Skeptics were in full throat years ago when it was reported that many people spend hours (and money) watching other people play video games. Video games! But according to one e-sports site, the video game audience (65 million) now rivals that of the NBA. We should not be surprised — humans are born with season tickets to Vicarious Stadium and we are happy to watch whatever is played there.
• The speed humps in my neighborhood are minor inconveniences that slow local traffic and protect children. The speed humps in your neighborhood are a pain in the butt.
• Q: Why is Trump like a sleeping dog? A: Because we let them lie.
• Bad news for photographers and other creatives: Big Brother can use your copyrighted work without telling you or paying you, so a Texas appeals court declared. As originally reported in DPReview, photographer Jim Olive discovered that the University of Houston had removed the identifying marks from one of his photos and then republished the photo on its website. He sued for damages. The University initially argued that, as a government entity, it was immune from prosecution. That plea was rejected; the University appealed. The Court of Appeals decided that the University’s actions did not constitute a “taking” and so Olive had no case. A similar case involving a North Carolina filmmaker is heading to the Supreme Court this fall. And here I thought only China could get away with this.
• Given enough time, people generally turn the topic of conversation to whatever interests them most. The time required for this is typically short and the topic of most interest is invariably themselves.*
* Fred Rogers was a notable exception and he turned this rule on its head. I often have to remind myself to be more like Mister Rogers.