05 Juli 2008

Getting it right, another installment

"Water, water, everywhere, not a drop to drink." -- So often have we heard this corrupted rendition. For the record, the quotation comes from poet Samuel Coleridge's epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1797), and the correct phrasing is "Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink." From Part II of said poem:

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

And some in dreams assured were
Of the spirit that plagued us so:
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

We don't even have the funding excuse

It bears repeating that Americans usually tend to be grossly ignorant of Canadians and Canadian affairs. Turns out that our phlegmatic brethren to the north have their own share of PC and associated difficulties. The following is an extract from an 1999 article by law professor Ian Hunter:

ON THE RARE OCCASIONS WHEN DEFENDERS OF UNIVERSITIES ACKNOWLEDGE THE SHAMBLES that their institutions have become, they quickly shift the blame to government underfunding, an argument that has a scintilla of truth. Education in Canada has been relatively harder hit by government cutbacks than, say, agriculture or health care, but the rot was deep and pervasive before the cuts began. And who can blame governments for not wanting to fund institutions whose product includes young people made semiliterate by "disciplines" such as semiotics (the study of signs and symbols in various fields, especially language; a modern-day parallel to, say, necromancy or phrenology), women's studies, and now queer studies.

And what of the students, the ostensible beneficiaries of the whole enterprise? Taught that there are no timeless truths, that all is relative, that the Western canon is the product of a Eurocentric, homophobic patriarchy, students now simply search for what pleases them in the university shopping mall. Toward the end of my tenure, I sensed that more and more students realized that something was wrong. Those who came to university strictly for commercial reasons — to enhance their job prospects — realized that few jobs beckon after graduation, in part, because employers have seen through the universities' propaganda and grow wary of the product they offer.

The more perceptive students become disgruntled long before graduation: by deans who are cheerleaders rather than leaders; by programs and whole departments devoted to interest group politics; by professors who cannot teach. But what can they do? When they first arrive, the university overwhelms them. By the time they see through it, most are near graduation and probably calculate that it is better to say nothing and go quietly rather than to besmirch the institution granting their degree. But "consumer dissatisfaction," as the marketers say, is rampant and obvious to anyone who talks to recent graduates.

02 Juli 2008

Not elegant, just costly, so what's the point?

Small tableau of Southern California in the opening decade of the 21st century:

Twice in the past four years, I've had occasion (by dint of being invited) to have brunch at the Hotel del Coronado, a San Diego landmark. Victorian ugly, to be sure, but well-kept, exquisite location, etc. The place has more than its share of elegant paneling, etc., and it's definitely worth a look, although the effect was irretrievably impaired decades ago by the construction of several hideous high-rise condo buildings immediately next door. The food, granted, is indisputably first-rate, albeit rather unimaginative. The brunch buffet probably costs around thirty bucks a person. Real silverware (well, hotel-quality flatware), genuine clotted cream, all fresh and tasty. Service is fine too. But...

1. Because of the hotel's location, and the fact that our greedy, asinine, narrow-minded and just plain contemptible town fathers could never settle on a single set of plans to relocate our 1920s-era airport, diners at the Hotel del Coronado are treated to the visual and auditory assault of jumbo jets taking off and landing every five minutes. The restaurant's outdoor lanai is right in the flight pattern. The planes fly close enough so that one can read the markings on the underbelly of the fuselage. In this respect, it's scarcely any better than the filthy Chicago railroad flat occupied by Elwood Blues. When Jake queries, "How often does the train go by?", Elwood replies, "So often, you won't even notice it."

2. While the hotel is elegant and expensive, it's still in slobbo Southern California, meaning that all of the quite well-to-do folk who patronize it are dressed just as poorly and tastelessly as those whom they would not deign even to greet. This typifies today's faux-democratic ethos. The wealthy dress like bums, and the proles rejoice: i.e., "Hey, Bill Gates wears a baseball cap, just like me! Sure, he may have ten quadrillion but he's a regular guy, just like me!" What rubbish. Ironically, my colleagues and I were wearing suits and ties at the hotel (we met there for a business function), with the result that we ended up preposterously overdressed. Everyone is wandering around in tatty flip-flips, caps, tube tops, cutoffs, etc. The unshaven thirty/forty-something dads are munching their eggs in the restaurant while their rugrats tear up the place and throw cereal (organic, to be sure). Charming, that. One might as well eat at Denny's...about one-fifth the price for the same food (and same crying infants). And the parking's free.

I knew I had it right

“You may be sunk, but you’re quite comfortable until then." --patrician American author Louis Auchincloss, explaining why he chose to join the Navy during World War II.

01 Juli 2008

Don't forget!

"A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away."

--Dr. Boyce

George Bernard Shaw...

Might have been a vegetarian, socialist and an all-around crank, but he was definitely quite hard-headed and, like so many of these types, knew full well how best to look out for Number One. I certainly can't argue with the following sentiment:

Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get. Where there is no ventilation fresh air is declared unwholesome... Where there is no knowledge ignorance calls itself science.

Think: a) cubicle; b) Processed food products; c) One car, one driver; d) feminism, creationism, TIME magazine's half-face mug shots, race-class-gender-theory, video screens at gas stations, inadequate but ADA-compliant restrooms, "issues" when you mean difficulties or problems, neo-Nazis, motivational seminars...

29 Juni 2008

It's still all Shakespeare

I've always known that Shakespeare bequeathed us The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves, Beware the Ides of March, To Be or Not to Be, and so forth, but there are countless others:

A dish fit for the gods
A fool's paradise
A foregone conclusion
A plague on both your houses
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
A sea change
A sorry sight
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety
All that glitters is not gold
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players
All's well that ends well
As dead as a doornail
As good luck would have it
As merry as the day is long
As pure as the driven snow
At one fell swoop
Bag and baggage
Brevity is the soul of wit
But screw your courage to the sticking-place
But, for my own part, it was Greek to me
Come what come may
Discretion is the better part of valour
Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble
Eaten out of house and home
Et tu, Brute
Even at the turning of the tide
Exceedingly well read
Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog
Fair play
Fancy free
For ever and a day
Foul play
Good men and true
Good riddance
Green eyed monster
He will give the Devil his due
Heart's content
High time
Hoist by your own petard
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child
I have not slept one wink
I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
If music be the food of love, play on
In a pickle
In my mind's eye
In stitches
In the twinkling of an eye
It beggar'd all description
It is meat and drink to me
Lay it on with a trowel
Lie low
Like the Dickens
Love is blind
Make your hair stand on end
Milk of human kindness
More honoured in the breach than in the observance
Much Ado about Nothing
Mum's the word
My salad days
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Off with his head
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more
Out of the jaws of death
Pound of flesh
Primrose path
Rhyme nor reason
Salad days
Send him packing
Set your teeth on edge
Shuffle off this mortal coil
Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em
Such stuff as dreams are made on
The Devil incarnate
The game is afoot
The game is up
The quality of mercy is not strained
The Queen's English
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on
There's method in my madness
Thereby hangs a tale
This is the short and the long of it
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub
Too much of a good thing
Truth will out
Vanish into thin air
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
We have seen better days
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Who wooed in haste, and means to wed at leisure
Wild goose chase
Woe is me

Down with Folk Etymology!

It IS "catercorner," not "kittycorner" or "cattycorner," you trolls!!
The Phrase Finder explains it quite well:

The word is "catercorner" or "catercornered." The "cater" is an Anglicization of the French "quatre," or "four," and "catercornered" originally just meant "four-cornered." To specify that something is "catercorner across" from something else is to stress the diagonal axis of an imaginary box, as opposed to saying "directly across" or just "across."

According to the Dictionary of American Regional English "catercorner" first appeared around 1883 in the South, and originally meant "askew" or "out of line." The "diagonally across" meaning soon took over, however, as did the transition from "cater" to "catty." Linguists call this process "folk etymology" -- people replacing an unfamiliar element in a word or phrase ("cater") with a familiar one ("catty" or "kitty"). "Cattycorner" has remained purely an Americanism.

In homage to Mr. Carlin, who, despite being a high-school dropout, possessed a command of the language superior to that of most degreed persons I've ever encountered, here are a few other pet peeves:

"If I would have [or, even worse, "of"] went" --> If I had gone!" Quite an accomplishment, really, to pack three illiterate vulgarisms into a paltry 5-word sentence!

"I could care less" ---> Really?! Then you must care to some extent. Think about what you are saying, Dummkopf. It's I couldn't care less. And you probably don't, anyway.