Verb Regulation

They’re beiging my language.

I’ve tried to learn other languages. I have studied them, but the most that’s consistently stuck with me is “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I speak only a little ______,” all said with pretty decent accents. But every time I’ve tried, especially the year when I was taking French and Spanish at the same time, I’ve learned more about English and come to love it a little more.

I don’t like it because it’s any sort of a rational language. Quite the opposite. I love every little quirk and irregularity. I collect idiom. I like that we’ve stolen words from almost every other language, and that I have to know something about each of them to know how my own words work.

But now, someone, some nefarious, well-meaning clown, is going around trying to make my language tidy. They’re taking my beloved irregular verbs and making them regular.

They started with the less common ones, and I’m sure they thought I wouldn’t notice. Silly them. When I was a kid, I dove competitively (well, it wasn’t terribly compatible with acrophobia, but I tried). Future generations of youngsters will not have had that opportunity. The most they’ll be able to say when they’re my age is that they dived (although probably better than I did). And while I dreamt of being able to go off the high board without my legs shaking, they will only have dreamed.

And let us not forget the poor campers. I knelt beside coals and burnt my marshmallows, listening as others wove thrilling ghost stories. Today’s children will have burned theirs for a lesser cause as they kneeled, their stories merely weaved. When spooky sounds came from the woods, my heart leapt. Theirs will have simply leaped.

I know there are good reasons to simplify our language. It’s replaced French as the language of commerce and diplomacy, and holding tight to these words create barriers for others who must learn it. But I can’t do it. I can’t embrace this rational, streamlined, beige version of my love. I have no choice but to fight it.

It isn’t for me, you see. It’s for the children.

Verb Regulation

The Nature of Offense

In the corners of the blogosphere where I hang out, offense and the giving and taking thereof have been the topic du jour for quite a few jours now. There’s Crackergate, the “sheet head” letter, the question of what words may be used to point out that someone else is calling names and, as I start writing this, questions being raised about protecting students from being offended by class material. A lot of people are being offended these days.

But what does it mean to be offended? What does it mean to be an offender? Who gets to be either and why? Is offense ever a good thing? What follows here is my attempt to synthesize my observations and conversations on the topic over the last couple of weeks.

Offense is, obviously, a social transaction. A person in social isolation can neither offend nor be offended (without resorting to anthropomorphism). One person can intend to offend or not. Another can accept offense, reject offense or claim offense.

More than that, offense is a power transaction. Historically in Western civilization, offense has been the purview first of gods, then of kings as the representatives of gods, then of kings in their own right, then of those elites who were recognized to have honor that could be offended. Beyond that, the “right” to be offended is still in flux. Being offended is a privilege. Offense is made against and measured by the (local) status quo, and those outside the status quo are not permitted to take or claim offense. Instead, they are perceived to be merely angry.

Limiting the right to take offense is important and contentious because the difference between anger and offense is obligation. Offense implies an obligation of the offender to the offended to “fix” the offense. Again historically, this obligation is paid in blood–on the altar, battlefield, chopping block or dueling ground. These days, when blood is a less acceptable form of payment, fixing the offense is frequently impossible, leaving the offender permanently in a position of obligation.

So being offended confers a certain benefit, if the offended can have their claim recognized. Why would one offend? The obvious reason is that the offense is unintentional. The offender may not know their audience well enough to gauge their expectations. The offended may not know the offender well enough to interpret their behavior. Or either may enter a social space with a different status quo than they are used to.

Offending deliberately can, counter-intuitively, have advantages. It can declare one to be outside the status quo or declare affiliation with a group with a differing status quo. It can provide an opportunity to declare that the offended does not have the status required to claim offense. It can easily provoke an opponent to anger, since the status quo is rarely observed or dissected objectively. And it can, in the right hands, provide a “teachable moment” about the nature of the status quo.

So those are the wherefores of offense as I’ve been pondering them lately. This is a bit more dense than what I usually post here, so it won’t surprise me if no one feels up to commenting after reading it. But if you do have a comment or question, please share. The issue is hardly likely to go away, and now that I’ve noticed it properly, I’ll keep thinking about it. I’d love the opportunity to refine my thinking some more.

The Nature of Offense

On Critique

(or, Randy Olson, erv Is Absolutely Right to Be Kicking Your Ass Right Now)

Here’s the thing about being an artist.

  1. You have to communicate to do art.
  2. Communication requires someone on the other end.
  3. You require feedback to know whether you’re communicating.
  4. Critique requires time, thought and investment in your art by someone else.
  5. Art (and all communication) is subjective, so not all your critiquers will agree. Some will strongly disagree.
  6. Sorting through widely divergent critiques is not a comfortable process for the artist.
  7. While some may be more useful than others, none of the critiques are wrong.

I have a good friend with whom I’ve had exactly one fight (plenty of arguments, but that’s part of the fun). He’d written a book that he felt was the best thing he’d ever written. His critique group thought it was the best thing ever, period. He asked me to read it.

It took me forever. I didn’t want to keep reading or to pick it up again after putting it down. It left me feeling icky and cheated. I hated it. (Sorry, dude.)

I usually like his stuff, so I spent some serious time breaking down which parts of the book were causing this reaction. I spent a couple of hours on just one email to articulate my overall problems with it and plenty more on the usual line edits. I scoped out continuity glitches and pointed to places where characters fell flat. I spent extra time with this book that creeped me out to be fair and give him what I normally give him from a critique.

I then spent a few hours talking to him mostly about other stuff but with the conversation frequently circling back to the book. By the end of the day, he said he’d figured it out. The book was deliberately manipulative. I dislike being manipulated. Therefore, I didn’t like the book.

I was immediately upset, but it took me until I got home to realize the full extent what had just happened. After all that work, I had just watched myself being categorized and filed away. I’d been explained. To my face. Needless to say, I kicked his ass for it. He took it quite well, since he really does understand the whole critique thing. The wide difference of opinion had just briefly overwhelmed his judgment.

Filmmaker Randy Olson has just done the same thing on a larger scale, soliciting reviews of his new film from 50 bloggers, then releasing a memo classifying the positive and negative reviews by the character of the reviewer the day after the reviews came out. Abbie at erv, quite rightly and beautifully, starts the ass kicking.

Randy, you say you’re listening. I hope you do it better this time, because you’ve got a few things to learn on this particular subject.

On Critique

Walking Away and Back

I know I all but promised a blockbuster post for #101, but I used up a bunch of my intended post on someone else’s blog. I’m thinking the rest will end up as a more general post, but that requires actual thought, so it’s waiting until I have more time. In its place, I offer a little story that a lot of people know the outlines of, but few know the details.

Once upon a time…uh, sorry.

Many, many (many) years ago, I was getting ready to graduate from college. I was coming up on the five-year mark, which wasn’t bad for having switched majors and transferred schools. I had just about finished my degree in psychology, with a bunch of classes but no official minor in Russian language and literature, when someone noticed my grades and asked whether I wanted to enter the honors program.

I wanted to do some sort of counseling, although I hadn’t focused on specifics yet. Since this meant grad school, and honors would only help me get accepted, I said yes. And immediately discovered that three of my classes, statistics and a couple of subjects that had just sounded interesting, would still count. Every other class required for my honors psychology major would be new.

Most of my new classes were graduate-level. I met a bunch of PhD students in the new classes, including one I dated for two years, but I actually fell in love with research methodology. Yes, I’m totally a geek.

I took my classes and worked as an RA, lying to intro psych students about what they were about to do and classifying their responses. I got right up to the point of finishing my senior research paper, data collected and analyzed but the introduction and conclusions not written, when my new love caused me no end of problems. I could no longer hide from the fact that psychological counseling had almost no support in the literature. I was planning to go to grad school to study something useless.

I walked away without finishing my paper. Everything but that was done, but I wasn’t going to do it. Okay, I could have just gotten my degree, then said I wasn’t going to grad school, but this made it a sure thing. It was a form of digging in my heels.

I can be a bit stubborn sometimes.

I think it was somewhere around this time where I had the discussion with my mother about how she could choose whether to keep telling me how to run my life or to have me answer her calls. My friends were a little more circumspect. There was the one guy, about a year or so after I should have graduated, who told me he would buy me champagne if I’d just finish the paper. That is, it was champagne at that point, but the longer I waited, the less the value of the bribe. I think the final offer, if I didn’t get off my ass in a year or so, was warm Pepsi. I didn’t get the Pepsi either.

Eventually, the issue just sort of evaporated. People gave up and stopped asking.

Then, about eight years after my presumed graduation date, I took a job as, essentially, a customer service lead. I knew, and my new boss knew, that this job and I were not an ideal fit. But it kept me and my knowledge at the company, helped out a friend, and involved a decent raise. The biggest hitch, aside from having to be a lead again (I hadn’t liked it much the first time), was that it required a one-year commitment.

Six months in, I was ready to chew my leg off. But I’d committed. On the upside, I had plenty of time to look for the next job. My resume, when I was done, was a work of art. It was still only going to help me so much. I had a bunch of weird experience and assorted proficiencies at this point, but in order to make the most of them, I was going to need that degree.

I called the U to ask what I needed to graduate now. First thing I needed was to go to campus in person, since they couldn’t give me any information over the phone. Of course. The news got better from there, though. Since I’d applied for graduation before my dreaded realization, all my requirements were locked into place. All I had to do was resolve my one incomplete.

That, in itself, was a little delicate. I’d originally chosen my advisor based on the fact that I wanted to replicate a piece of his research in a non-student population. So I did that. Then I blew him off for nine years. Ahem.

There was only one way to go about this. First, I checked that he was still at the U. Then I wrote the paper. I pulled out my old file. I redid my literature search to make sure I hadn’t missed anything relevant the first time. I didn’t gloss over the weak spots in the research. I organized, wrote and polished until I had the best paper I could manage.

That was when I sent him the note asking whether he’d still be willing to grade it, now that it was done. He said, “Sure,” and about a week later sent back a grade of A with a couple nice compliments. Then he copied me on his email having the grade entered. Boom. Done.

I still had months to go before I could look for a job. If I’d known it would have been that easy…oh, wait. I had. That was why I’d walked away.

Walking Away and Back

100th Post

It seems a little silly, celebrating my 100th blog post, when it took me a bleeding year and a half to get here. But looking back at what I’ve written, I’m pretty happy.

This blog started as a place to be me on the internet, not just the bits of me that come out when I’m a guest at someone else’s site. And I wanted to do it without resorting to this-is-what-I-did-today posts. Not that there’s anything wrong with them. I’m just convinced I live a boring life, which is fine by me. As I’ve mentioned before, drama is less fun for the protagonist than for the reader.

For quite a while, I didn’t go back into my own archives. As much as I wanted someplace to be me, I’m a pretty private person. In order to start myself blogging, I had to pretend that no one was ever going to read any of it and that I was writing disposable words. This probably explains why I hardly ever wrote anything.

Then, 40-50 posts in, I stopped and reread everything. I don’t know that I’d say there were any diamonds in the bunch, but what I was writing wasn’t disposable. It also wasn’t all of me, or even as much of me as I’m willing to be in public. Pretending the blog was disposable was keeping me from doing what I set out to do. And now that I had that much blogging behind me, I couldn’t really pretend anymore.

So I started writing more kinds of things more often, and so far at least, it seems to be working. Blog friends, RSS feeds, guest blogging, lurkers, trolls, blogrolls–this place is turning into a real blog. Thanks to all of you for joining the party. I didn’t imagine this when I started, but it’s pretty cool. I can’t wait to see what I do in the next 100 posts.

Heck, I can’t wait for 101. It’s looking to be a doozy.

100th Post

Debunking the Caribou Thing, Again

My husband recently received an email from someone we love dearly:

A fellow here at work says he went to the SEC online to look at who owns Caribou and it turns out the holding company is majority owned by people who say they are helping pay for jihad. It’s an Islamic militant organization and it says right on the Security and Exchange Commission web pages who they are.

Just thought you’d like to start making your own coffee at home….

I’d thought we were over this years ago, but my husband hadn’t heard anything about it before, so he went to the SEC website. Of course, he couldn’t find anything like what the email suggested, so he tried Google instead.

He immediately hit the Snopes page, where the short version of the story is that Caribou once had a consultant who said some objectionable things and worked for a Palestinian relief organization. They haven’t worked with the consultant since 2002 and have gone to some trouble to make sure that the charities the company supports are not groups that the U.S. has identified as troublesome.

So he sent the information back, only to get another email.

[He] says that if you go to the SEC website and look at the “10K”, whatever that is, that’s where it says it supports the Islamic militants. He also scoffed at snopes because it is a wiki site.

The 10-K? Really? I’ve put together information to go into 10-Ks. I’ve read big chunks of far too many 10-Ks for research projects. They’re the company’s year-end financial statements for investors and potential investors. They’re written by the company. The last thing a 10-K is going to say is, “We support terrorists.”

My darling husband went one step further than scoffing at the idea, though. He found the 10-K and sent back all the sections that deal with Islam. They paint a slightly different picture than the email would suggest.

Arcapita has substantial control over us, and could limit other shareholders’ ability to influence the outcome of matters requiring shareholder approval and may support corporate actions that conflict with other shareholders’ interests.

Arcapita beneficially owns 11,672,245 shares, or approximately 60.6%, of the outstanding shares of our common stock as of January 1, 2006. Arcapita’s ownership of shares of our common stock could have the effect of delaying or preventing a change of control of us, could discourage a potential acquirer from obtaining control of us, even if the acquisition or merger would be in the best interest of our shareholders, or could otherwise affect our business because of our compliance with Shari’ah principles as described below. This could have an adverse effect on the market price for shares of our common stock. Arcapita is also able to control the election of directors to our board. Two of the six members of our board of directors are representatives of Arcapita.

Our compliance with Shari’ah principles may make it difficult for us to obtain financing and may limit the products we sell.

Our majority shareholder operates its business and makes its investments in a manner consistent with the body of Islamic principles known as Shari’ah. Consequently, we operate our business in a manner that is consistent with Shari’ah principles and will continue to do so for so long as Arcapita is a significant shareholder. Shari’ah principles regarding the lending and borrowing of money are complicated, requiring application of qualitative and quantitative standards. The negotiation and documentation of financing that is compliant with these principles are generally complex and time consuming. As such, if we have immediate liquidity needs, we may not be able to obtain financing that is compliant with Shari’ah principles on a timely basis. A Shari’ah-compliant company is prohibited from engaging in derivative hedging transactions such as interest rate swaps or futures, forward options or other instruments designed to hedge against changes in interest rates or the price of commodities we purchase. Also, a Shari’ah compliant company is prohibited from dealing in the areas of alcohol, gambling, pornography, pork and pork-related products.

We may be subject to adverse publicity resulting from statements about Arcapita or complaints or questions from our customers arising from such adverse publicity.

Arcapita, our majority shareholder, could be the subject of allegations that could adversely affect our reputation in the eyes of our customers or investors due to the fact that it has offices in Bahrain and that its investors are located in the Middle East. During 2002, we were subject to adverse publicity due to attempts to connect Arcapita with inflammatory and controversial statements made by one of its former outside advisors, in his individual capacity, regarding a variety of subjects, including events in the Middle East. We may be subject to additional adverse publicity in the future due to the ownership of our common stock by Arcapita. Even if unfounded, such adverse publicity could divert our management’s time and attention and adversely affect the way our customers perceive us, our net sales or results of operations, in the aggregate or at individual coffeehouses, or the market price for shares of our common stock.

Oh, yeah. That’s damning. Well, it is, but not for Caribou. Just for the guy at work who can’t tell the difference between practicing a religion and supporting militants. And who won’t read Snopes because someone told him it was a wiki. (It’s not.) Listen to Rush much, dude?

Look, if you really want to get upset with Caribou, complain that they’re installing automatic espresso machines in some of their stores. Coffee made with those always tastes a little stale. Just like this rumor.

Debunking the Caribou Thing, Again

Making History

The unit in Belgium had a poor reputation for readiness and morale and John was one of a number of officers and enlisted personnel transferred in to deal with this. When transferred in he was promoted to First Sergeant. It was at this time that John had a frightening brush with death.

When he first arrived in Liege, Belgium he went into a four story barracks to find bunk space. On the top (4th) floor he found a nice room that was unoccupied and started to drop his gear. He went back out to the truck to pick up the balance of his gear and carry it up the four flights of stairs. As he approached the truck his new commanding officer (CO), a Captain, was standing by the truck. Suddenly the sound of a German V-1 Buzz Bomb was loud and close. Both John and the CO dove under the truck.

My grandfather’s story is up as part of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project at the Minnesota Historical Society. He tells these things much better in person, but I’m glad it was captured and posted while he’s still around to hear it. I’d say see it, but even if he trusted computers, he can’t read anything off the screen anymore. But my mom read it to him.

Making History

Post-a-Rejection-Letter Friday

I’ve been a bit busy the last couple of days, watching As the Cracker Crumbles.

Thanks, therefore, to Sean C. Green for making it easy for me to quickly weigh in on the Helix “sheet head” fiasco. Here’s my rejection letter:

Thank you for submitting “Unwinding” to Strange Horizons, but we’ve decided not to accept it for publication. There was some really nice writing in this piece, but overall I’m afraid the core plot just didn’t click for me.

We appreciate your interest in our magazine.

See? That was easy. Professional, helpful, pleasant. Totally cool.

What Sanders did was racist and uncool. That the author who posted his letter has been forthcoming about details of his story and correspondence, so everyone could see what bits of the letter came straight from Sanders’ seedy little brain, is very cool.

And to S. F. Murphy: if Toby and Tempest are “PC Nazis,” then I hope I get to be a PC Nazi when I grow up. Tempest has been one of my heroes since I met her, and everything I’ve seen from Toby has earned nothing but my respect. You? Also uncool.

Post-a-Rejection-Letter Friday

Oh, the Horror

Hopkins horror: 90-year-old was slain

The woman was found dead in her apartment Monday, the city’s first murder case in nine years. Neighbors and police want answers.

I read this article yesterday morning. It immediately pissed me off, but I thought I’d give myself some time before talking about it. It’s still pissing me off.

Meanwhile, concerned neighbors at the normally safe and quiet Hopkins Plaza Apartments flocked Tuesday evening to City Hall in search of answers from police.

Those in the well-kept apartment complex, where wind chimes and flowerpots adorn patios, said the woman…

I’m so tired of the assumption that living in the suburbs, in a “nice” place, can (and should) keep you safe. I’ve lived in the hood for more than fifteen years now. The closest I’ve ever been to a murder was when I was a kid living in deep, prosperous exurbia. One of the neighbors whose yard abutted ours was shot by her husband.

No one can promise you safety in the ‘burbs. That won’t stop them from trying, but you’ve got no business listening. If you pay any attention at all to who dies violently, you’ll know that if it happens to you, it’ll be someone you know. If you live in the ‘burbs, that just means it’ll be someone from the ‘burbs.

Random violence does happen sometimes, but it’s not particularly more likely to be a stray shot in the city than it is to be freeway congestion road rage or a drunken hunter.

So Hopkins has had it’s first murder in a while. Yes, that’s news. That people in the area are shocked? That’s just stupid. ‘Cause you know, when it happens in the city, none of us less-than-nice people give a damn.

Classist jerks.

Oh, the Horror

Da Widdle Snakey

Isn’t it adorable? Just needs that pink little tongue sticking out to be irresistible.

Okay, I find them irresistible already. Every time we go to the pet store for cat stuff, I make my husband stop by the reptile cages so I can ooh and ah over the sweet little ball pythons. I can’t have one while we still have cats (hopefully for a good, long while), but I can coo. (Yes, I can. You can’t stop me.) They’re at their cutest when curled into balls under their logs.

Last time we went to the pet store, however, they had sold their last ball python. We’re about to go again, so I’m collecting the cute in an accessible place just in case.

If it’s all getting to you and you think you might want a little ball of joy of your own (your own personal neck massager?), there are a few things to keep in mind, like the fact that this snake is an escape artist and benefits from quite a bit of handling. Here’s some good background to help you decide whether you’re going to be the next person to take a ball python from the store before I get a chance to talk baby talk at it.

The cute, in order: Ghost Ball Python and Spider Ball by Alex Butler, reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license. gussy4 by quantumdell, reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Da Widdle Snakey