• 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.
• Advice to children: Tell Mommy that the biggest cookies in the jar disappeared first because they were the easiest to grab. Mommy will be forced to admire your reasoning.
• A taxi is a taxi, no matter how it is dispatched or who owns the vehicle. Services like Uber and Lyft are no more about “ride-sharing” than my trips to the hardware store are about “getting some air.” All rides-for-hire to the public should be subject to the same safety, passenger accessibility, driver accreditation and insurance regulations. After that, if riders choose to put up with surge pricing and sharing personal data, let them.
• If I had it to do over again, I would have become a transportation engineer. (Lion tamer would have been my second choice.) I would have eventually found a job with AASHTO, the outfit that administers the interstate highway system. My position of power would have allowed me to tackle urgent transportation problems such as north-south highways that have been foolishly posted with east-west direction signs.
Consider the following two examples. I-376 in Pennsylvania (below left) heads south from Hermitage, PA for 55 miles and then turns eastward toward Monroeville, PA for 31 miles. But the entire route is signed EAST-WEST. The logical way to sign this would have been NORTH-SOUTH from Hermitage to Moon and EAST-WEST from Moon to Monroeville.
Or consider I-26 (at right) heading south-southeast from Kingsport, TN to Charleston, SC. This highway runs seventeen miles south for every ten miles east. Yet I-26 is also tagged EAST-WEST in its entirety, which gets especially confusing near Asheville, NC. The signs should say NORTH-SOUTH at least as far southward as Spartanburg, SC, and preferably along its full extent. There, I’ve had my say. I can retire from AASHTO a happy man.
• If only I had been given some vocational guidance when I was young, I might have had more adventure in my life:
• I am not a hermit or pariah, but I really have no friends here in town. In fact, I haven’t made a lasting friend in 40 years. I follow our local Meetup site but few of those groups interest me. (Men’s nude yoga? Don’t think so.) I considered starting a Meetup myself, for people who have trouble making friends. But who would sign up? Would I attend? What kind of people can’t make friends? Just sad and lonely losers! I’ll stay home.
• Seriously, there is a local Meetup called Asheville Social Introverts Group. They have weekly get-togethers in which they sit on opposite sides of a large room for an hour and read quietly to themselves. OK, that last part wasn’t true. Actually they play backgammon and chess — which interests me only slightly more than men’s nude yoga. Maybe I should attend one of their events and bring along Yahtzee to amp up the excitement.
• Same old Donkeys. Democrats are once again managing to shoot themselves in the foot, this time over standards of conduct, of all things. They forced Al Franken to resign (who was probably more guilty of being a jerk than a sexual predator but we don’t really know) and stomped their feet in pharisaic unison trying to drive Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam out of office (who is definitely guilty of clumsy insensitivity). The Dems obviously hope to make themselves look as squeaky-clean as possible so they can attack Donald Trump from the moral high ground. What is amusing is that neither side of the electorate cares who is the holiest — certainly not Republicans, who will embrace anyone who is good for business and will stack the Supreme Court with righties, and not even Democrats, who would vote for Stormy Daniels if they thought she could beat Trump. (Hey, she did once.)
• I found a recent malapropism in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette comment section to be uncannily accurate: “The truth will be reviled.”
• It is annoying when an online article about a time-sensitive topic (e.g., upcoming event or product review) bears no publication date. Why would a site withhold this information? I would argue that — other than fiction, and even then — there is no writing that does not involve a time element; hence, to omit or conceal its date is disingenuous.
• What-Goes-Around-Stays-There Department: Ironic how the money I used to spend on vodka every month now goes toward my prescription for Eliquis. Different drug makers, similar profit margins (19% and 22% respectively).
• Windows 10 offers users a “high contrast” mode, supposedly to improve text readability. On my laptop, the only thing this does is switch colors to black-and-white and make some lines thicker. It has no effect on the contrast of text, not even the text in its own software. Just one of the new things I keep discovering about getting older.
• I look and feel like I’ve aged a lot in the last year. But clocks don’t run backwards and neither can I. So I have started to paint again. After several hours of work on just the background of my first project, I decided it was ugly and I painted over the whole thing. Then I botched the next try and now I have to sand it all down. I feel younger already.
• An old high-school friend recently sent me a list of our classmates who have passed away. I was stunned to see how many of our African-American peers were on the list, relative to their numbers in our class. This led me to look up U.S. life expectancies for the year we were born: for white men and women, the figures were 67 and 73 years; for black men and women, 59 and 64 years. I am still shocked by those numbers.