Setting the Record Straight

June 23, 2008

The Time Has Come


 Guns and Flying Pigs                

The time has come, the walrus said,
To talk of many things:                   
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax,
Of cabbages and kings                   
And why the sea is boiling hot,       
And whether pigs have wings.

 Columbine, Virginia Tech, Helsinki, Omaha, Kirkwood, Louisiana Tech, Portsmouth, Los Angeles, Lane Bryant, DeKalb — Next?

          The incidents go on and on and what is the National Rifle Asso-ciation’s response? “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” That is a non-sequitur response, as it was intended to be–deflect the question you do not want to answer and turn it to something else. Who ever said guns kill people by themselves?

          The matter that needs to be addressed is the easy access to guns by people who will do stupid things with them, causing far more destruction and death than with any weapon that does not rely on an explosive force.

          These are weapons of destruction, just as deadly as smoking tobacco, and much more efficient and quick about it. It is far more irresponsible to allow firearms to be widely and easily available than to allow cigarettes to be available, yet even the laws that exist to govern guns are far less strict than those applied to tobacco.
          The only tobacco restrictions are decades of “just don’t advertise them on TV” to today’s restrictions on where you smoke, not at all on whether you can smoke at all. Despite all the evidence that smoking tobacco is a lethal cancer-causing addictive, tobacco companies still push them, and change their corporate names so you can no longer identify the perpetrators. The NRA never offers comments about any of these massacres because it pretends that guns are not associated with them, that the events have nothing to do with guns.

          Well, we need to talk about this subject, instead of talking about whether pigs have wings and pretending the world is the reverse of what it is and citing only part of the Second Amendment and pretending it says other than what it says.
          If we do not, there will continue to be Columbines and Virginia Techs and Helsinkis and Omahas and on and on. The why is not the issue for the common weal, it is the how that counts. There will continue to be the pretense that possession of guns is worthwhile because some people can use them to protect their property–the NRA never misses a chance to note those times that such use is successful in one out of the thousand times they are kept for that purpose. It blithely ignores the other 999 cases in which the possession of a gun leads to tragedy befalling the possessor.

          Here are some possible actions that can be taken at the federal level, the only level where any restrictions can be an effective check, beginning with the smallest and building to the ultimate.
          Go ahead and institute those mental-condition checks. One might also include everyone seeking “fame” in today’s society of sycophants.
          Otherwise, do something useful, beginning with what the NRA will label the camel’s nose under the tent, and let us hope it is at least that, and if they don’t work, let’s put the whole camel in the tent:

Ban sales of firearms to anyone under 21, just as selling cigarettes is restricted.
Hold a firearm possessor liable for any damages caused by an under-age person using that firearm.
Ban personal concealment of firearm while not in one’s home.
Require all firearms in personal possession to be kept locked up.
Ban all but supervised and licensed possession of handguns.
Expand the ban to all firearms. 
Ban all handguns.
Ban the private possession of all firearms.
Restrict the possession of firearms by law enforcers.
Restrict even the use of firearms by law enforcers.
Ban all firearms not kept by state militias (National Guard), just to be in compliance with the Second Amendment.   


The sun was shining on the sea,  

Shining with all its might.               

He did his very best to make         

The billows smooth and bright.     

And this was odd, because it was

 The middle of the night.                   
So said Tweedledum to Tweedledee 
Alice Through the Looking Glass 




June 22, 2008

StraightRecord Schoolmarm Lessons: Part V


     Referring to “war on terror.” It is the “war on terrorism.” Terror can include acrophobia, a fear of heights, or any other fear people may have. “Terrorism” refers to an act designed to instill terror.


     Calling the president “Commander in Chief” unless you mean “of the military.” Collectively, members of the public are the president’s com-mander in chief, not the other way around.
     “The president shall be commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.”


Lay? Shrunk? You’re Not Communicating

     We get positively schoolmarmish in this site about grammar. We do that because clear communication becomes difficult when the speaker is careless with the language. Sometimes it is best to stay on the correct usage, whether it is popular or not.

     It used to be that to adopt a low profile was to “lie low.” Nowadays, you often hear it as “lay low,” which the dictionary defines as the “informal” version of “lie low.” The movie “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” did not do proper grammar any good. What was wrong with “shrank” as the past tense? Well, some dictionaries are accepting “shrunk.” (Thank goodness we have not gone–yet–to, “He drunk his drank,” “He thunk his thoughts.” “They grinded their coffee.”)                                                                     —Veritas


Change? Or?

     To Candidates: Stop running against Washington, D.C. This is a childish tactic, aimed at childish-thinking people. The presidency, vice presidency and all members of Congress are people sent to Washington by people at home. The American public always gets what it deserves. If you send fools to Washington, you deserve to have fools representing you.
     As for the presidency, the reality is, Washington defines the president, the president does not define Washington, no matter who he is. Presidents are elected to head only one of the three equal branches of government.
     In one of the weird quirks of American politics, presidents seeking their second terms strangely run against Washington. Senators who have made a career of being senators run against Washington. How ridiculous can you get?
     Let us hope that some day pandering to a largely ignorant U.S. electorate becomes self-destructive.


Who Are The Parties?

     You can tell how far right a member of the Republican Party is by whether he or she refers to the opposing group as the Demo-crat Party instead of its proper name, Democratic Party. Both words are adjectives; the proper names are consistent.
     This reference is more than 40 years old, going back to the days of the John Birch Society when people looked under their beds at night to make sure no commies were lurking.
     If you really think you have to make a distinction between a philosophy and a party’s name, why not just say “capital d” for the party and “lower case d” for the system of government.
     You’d sound far less silly.


Fly the Constitution

     Most political conservatives, who generally like to display their patriotism on their sleeves, or on their lapels, cannot stand the American Civil Liberties Union.
     Yet there probably is no more patriotic group in America than the ACLU. Its sole purpose has been since its creation to guarantee Americans have the protection of the
Bill of Rights , the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which in turn is the basis for our democracy since its inception. How much more patriotic can you be.
     Perhaps if those political conservatives showed more respect for the one of the world’s greatest documents, the American Constitution, than they do the U.S. flag, which is only a symbol–a powerful one, but still just a symbol–the solution to our political conflict might be found. Not!!!



June 18, 2008

StraightRecord Schoolmarm Lessons: Part IV

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Still More Things Your Grammar Shoulda Told Ya

     The fatal heart attack suffered by NBC interviewer Tim Russert brought a spate of an error one would hope Russert learned in some sort of journalism class, or whatever passes for it for TV types.
     Not just a few news reports said “Tim Russert died suddenly,” meaning he suffered a heart attack in his office and died on the spot.
     One of the first things a would-be reporter learns in Journalism 101 is that everyone dies suddenly. It’s a fact of life, er, death. The heart stops beating, bingo. Usually, what is meant is that the victim died unexpectedly, which, of course, Russert did.


Physics of Compliments 

      If you tell a person he or she is the “wind beneath my wings,” you have offered an insult.
     Any pilot can tell you the wind that provides lift, what a plane needs, is created by a vacuum created by an air foil flowing over the curved wing, not under it. The wind beneath the wing provides drag, just the opposite of lift.


Verbing Nouns
     It probably occurred earlier, but way back when John F. Kennedy was president, he made popular the word “finalize.” Since then, there has been an explosion of people making verbs out of nouns, apparently as a way to speed up their oral speech, helped along to a great extent by lazy newscasters.
     Some of these verbed nouns are pretty bad.
     Take “reference,” for example. It is not a verb, but a noun as in a type of book or a citation. “Refer to” is even shorter.
     “Impact” is a lousy verb that mostly means to press closely or fill up and should be avoided by all but dentists. Instead, say “have an impact on.”
     And yes, we intended the irony of making a verb out of the word “verb.”

     So, don’t verb nouns at people!



     Saying literally when you mean virtually.

     Saying “period of time.” What else would a period be, but time, if it is not a reference to a punctuation mark.

     Saying “going forward.” If you mean “later,” “after this,” “in the future,” or something else, why not use those veteran phrases, and they are shorter.

     Saying “less” when you mean “fewer.” Tell your grocer to change that sign over the checkout lane. Less refers to quantity, fewer to a number, as in checkout lane with a proper sign: “9 items or fewer.”

     Saying between when you mean among. The “tween” in “between” means two, either individually or collectively. If there are more than three, the proper word is “among.”

     Saying “loan” when you mean “lend.” “Loan” is a noun, “lend” a verb, as in something given to you when a person is in the act of “lending” it to you.

     Using “like” when you mean “as.
     “Like” is used to compare one noun or pronoun with another. If you use “like” instead of “as,” such as in “you are writing or speaking like you are uneducated,” you sound uneducated.
     “I feel like I’ve seen this before” should be “I feel as though I’ve seen this before.”
     Back when there was an appreciation of good grammar, a cigarette company was criticized for an ad that blared “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.” Teachers complained, the company demurred and came out with an ad poking fun at its earlier goof.

     And if you can, please stop saying “nucular” instead of “nuclear.” Just because George Bush says it that way does not mean that only intellectual midgets mispronounce the word. So do many people with much more than half a brain, so the habit of saying “nucular” must be akin to having a physical tic.



June 16, 2008

StraightRecord Schoolmarm Lessons: Part III

More Things Grammar Shoulda Told Ya

     Assure, ensure and insure are not interchangeable. Each has a specific meaning that is not anything like the meaning of either of the other two.
Assure means a promise or an oath, a commitment to the statement that follows it. “I assure you we are doing everything we can.”
Ensure is like a guarantee, as making sure something occurs as intended. “You must ensure that this comes off as planned.”
Insure is a commitment your behind will be covered if either of those quotes is a lie. “I’ll insure you against libel, but get it right next time.”

Mind Before Mouth  
     Many of the grammar errors Americans stumble through stem from a failure to speak in complete sentences.
     Now, nobody would want to listen to someone who actually speaks in complete sentences. It would be tedious and nettling, particularly in today’s hurry-up society.
     For instance, would you want to listen to this?
     “I just saw Roger, and he looks younger than I am young.” Hearing “I just saw Roger, and he looks younger than I,” sounds less pedantic, but more often you will hear, “I just saw Roger, and he looks younger than me.”–Incorrect
     Or this: “I can do it better than he can do it,” rather than “I can do it better than he.” More often, you will hear, “I can do better than him.”–Incorrect
     None of us wants to sound pedantic (this current lapse of ours notwithstanding), but what if we thought pedantic and spoke normal? Who but the most illerate among us would say, “me looks young” or “him can do it.” But if we thought in complete sentences and then spoke normally, we wouldn’t make those grammatical mistakes. Try it.


Grammar Key To Communicating

     And here’s an example of why good grammar is important–communicating.
     Take this phrase from a newspaper: “to promote more affordable housing.” As written, the sentence suggests there is not enough affordable housing.
     But if it a hyphen is included  (more-affordable housing) the phrase would mean there is not enough housing that is more affordable than whatever we are comparing it with.
     Two totally different meanings, all because of whether a hyphen is included.
     Yet, because of the decline of the language, we cannot be sure what the author intended even if she or he has used perfect grammar.



     Saying “hopefully” when you mean, “I hope.” If you cannot substitute “I hope” for “hopefully,” you don’t make any sense and are hopelessly lost.

What’s with?

     Saying “That person over there that” as if a person is a thing and not actually a person. The correct way is “That person over there who.”

     Alright? It’s not all right to say alright. Alright isn’t a word.

     It’s for its and vice versa. The former is a contraction for “it is,” the latter a possessive pronoun.



June 13, 2008

StraightRecord Schoolmarm Lessons: Part II

Mythical Iraq

   Many people appear to have settled on “eye-rack” as the pronunciation of Iraq. The dictionary allows only “ih-rack” or “ih-raq.” Nearly all the military folks quoted on the boob tube call it “eye-rack.”
   And an analyst from a well-respected think tank was quoted on television recently, 50 times or so, referring to the mythical place called “Eye-rack.”


TV Talk

   A Schoolmarm for television would require that:
   * The word “well” (as in “Well, Wolf…”) would not be the first word in every standup reporter’s report;
   * The word “incredible” would be banned (as in “That was an incredible story, Skippy”);
   * The word “that” would never be used to refer to a previous event being updated (as in “The suspect in that double murder in upstate New York.…”);
   * The word “target” as a verb would be thrown out and more accurate substitutes such as “designate,” “select,” “aim at,” “benefit,” “pick,” etc., would be used;
   * Television reporters would never be allowed to say “I can tell you” or “I should tell you,” because all the salient facts in a news event are things the reporters can or should tell their audience;
   * And now for the silliest little tic in speech: the double “is–” Nobody on television would be allowed to use the double “is.” You know it, don’t you? “The point is, is that…,” or, “The problem is, is that…,” or “The question is, is, does he really mean….”


Permit Us To
Convince You

     What happened to the word “persuade?”
     All one seems to hear these days is something such as, “He convinced him to do such-and-such.”
     Persuade means to cause someone to act in a certain manner. Notice the word “to” In this sentence construction; it designates an infinitive.
     Persuade is part of an infinitive, convince is not. One would persuade someone to believe the previous statement is true and that person would thus become convinced it is so.


Slam Dunk!!!!
As in WMDs?

     One danger of slurry thought and even slurry pronunciation is the loss of meaning. Jargon has its dangers.
     Consider, “It’s a slam dunk, Mr. President” and all that phrase helped get us into.


Why, Oh Why?

     Why do people have such trouble with common plurals?
     “Media” is the plural of “medium.” So, it’s “The media are struggling…”
     “Criteria” is the plural of “criterion.” So, it’s “My criteria for success are these…”
     “Data” is the plural of “datum.” So, it’s “The data are conclusive.”
     “Bacteria” is the plural of “bacterium.” So, it’s “The deadly bacteria were detected in food.”


And Learn This,

Por Favor

     People have such trouble with the hard and soft “h.”
     Words with the hard “h” take “a,” as in, “It is a historic occasion,” “He was a Hispanic scholar.” You wouldn’t say, “He gave AN hard time when we took AN history test,” would you?
     Words with the soft “h” take “an,” as in, “It is an honor.”
     “Herb” is a fuzzy example. Usually, the American usage is “an herb.” But “a herb” is being accepted as an alternative, with the dictionary notation, “Especially British.”



June 12, 2008

Lessons from the StraightRecord Schoolmarm

Things Your Grammar Shoulda Told Ya, Part I

     Turn off your TV the next time you hear “near miss” or “midair.” These speakers don’t really mean a “near miss.” The anchors breathed in too much hairspray. What they really mean is “near collision.”
     This one we know we will never win: “midair collision,” explosion or whatever. Have you ever heard anyone say sideair or top air or bottom air? A simple “collision in the air” would suffice, thank you.
     Stop the speaker when you hear “a lion’s share,” and find out what he or she really means. The phrase actually means only “all of it,” not “most of it.” Unless you’re another lion, you’re not going to get a share.
     And when you hear “each and every one.” What’s the difference? How about just “each” or “every one,” or better yet, “all.”
     Some things are accepted today when they would not have been accepted in the past. For clarity, please mind the difference.
     For example, a newspaper recently advertised for “an aggressive police reporter.” Poor thing that got the job probably got beat up by the cops the first day on the job. Let us hope the newspaper got the assertive reporter it was seeking. Aggressive carries with it an intent to do harm. Assertive is just putting one’s self forward.
     Why say “period of time.” What else would a period signify, but time or the end of a sentence or a menstrual cycle?
     And we love this from those TV anchor types: “If you are  seeing this….” Well, duh, you ain’t on radio.


Some Age-Old Questions Answered

Chicken or Egg

     It’s supposedly an age-old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg.
     Organic evolution says the egg came first.
     This is an over-simplification, but every living thing procreates by forming some sort of seed that grows into similar living thing. Eventually, the seed became an egg in some species and then somewhere along the evolutionary path, a chicken emerged from an egg.

Tree falling in the woods

     Another supposedly age-old question: if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
     No, it does not.
     The crash of the falling tree emits wavelengths that are interpreted by some living things, such as humans, to be sound. If no species capable of hearing is around to interpret the wavelengths as sound, then there is no sound.


June 7, 2008

What Do You Really Mean?

Myths Are Not Benign,

They Maim The Message

          Repeated myths such as those that often appear in blogs and in widely circulated e-mails by people with an axe to grind do harm to the causes they espouse and provide fodder to their opponents. Misstatements embedded in arguments also do harm to the intended message. And in our efforts to dumb down the language to try to communicate with the most ignorant among us, we also harm the record.

          As an example of the first, many assertions we’ve already seen in the political campaign are so ridiculous, one gets the idea the person behind it must be an absolute fool, and thus his opinion is the opinion of a fool even though it might well be legitimate.

          An example of misstatements that harm an argument is outlined elsewhere on this site—that globally, water can be wasted. As for dumbing down the language, for decades have required trucks to carry signs warning that what they are carrying is “flammable” because we fear the ignorant would misunderstand the correct term, “inflammable.”

          Probably the most egregious error of these types comes from those who accept Darwinism. They have long hurt their cause and given sustenance to “creationists” by misstating the process of evolution.
Science books, science shows and other media that attempt to explain evolution almost universally explain evolution as a selective process, i.e., we adopt features so we can be more suitable for survival under changing conditions. Supposedly, presenting evolution as a selective process makes it easier to understand.
Those misrepresentations are illustrated by claims such as over generations an animal developed features to help it adjust to changes. But evolution is a deselective process, not a selective one, a reality that is much clearer today as we learn more about the genetics of life.
Simply put, our genes mutate as they are passed from one generation to another. If conditions change, the living thing such as a person whose genes have changed to the extent that the living thing is more suitable to its changed environment just happens to be the one who is more suited to the new conditions, survives longer, is healthier and more likely to pass on the more suitable genes to the next generation.
The living thing that has not mutated in the more suitable direction is less suited to the changes, is not as healthy and what offspring it does produce is likely to be less suitable to the new conditions. Thus, its line of generations is likely to die off or move to more suitable conditions when it is able, leaving its home to those best suited to survive in it.
It is the deselective process that constitutes evolution.

          Similarly, the evolution theory is constantly harmed by believers who misstate “survival of the fittest” as the person in the best condition or shape being the one who survives. As stated above, survival in evolutionary terms depends on who is best adapted to the new conditions that confront us.

          None of us will be around to prove or disprove whether global warming (and global cooling, which is occurring at the same time) is real. But if the globe becomes too hot, those closest to the polar ice caps will survive to evolve better than those in the torrid zones. The survivors will be the fittest because the deselection of evolution has omitted the others.



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