Digital Chum - Virtual fish guts and other nonsense


In response to a post about how words and meanings matter…

"Grammatical pedantry is the righteous passion of royalty."

– me

Oppose Marriage Equality!!! *

While I try to avoid using sarcasm in anything serious that I write, this (which I first saw on Facebook… I didn’t write it) is an appropriate use. Ha!

10 Reasons To Oppose Marriage Equality

I’ve heard equality-opponents make arguments against some of these points and it’s always amusing to watch a bigot try to justify their beliefs.

“Homosexual behavior is a choice!” (#2)

“Studies show that children do better with a mother and a father!” (#9)

“What about polygamy!?” (#3)

…and of course…

(insert any number of bible quotes here) (#1 – #10)

* title meant as sarcasm

Hunter S. Thompson on Life

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming ‘WOO HOO what a ride!'”

-Hunter S. Thompson



It applies to everyone…

Ability to Reason vs. Ability to Change Your Mind

Those who really need to understand and absorb this generally won’t get it.


The Pale Blue Dot

About twenty years ago, Voyager 1 looked back toward it’s launching point and took the now famous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph. The arrow points to us. That’s Earth… from about 3.7 billion miles away, which is just a little bit outside our solar system. In the grand scale of the universe, that’s hardly any distance at all. Given that our sun is one of about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy which is, in turn, one of an estimated 125 billion galaxies in the universe, Voyager 1 was sitting virtually on top of Earth when it took this picture.

We live on an mind-bogglingly tiny speck of dust.

Voyager 1 - Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan was much more eloquent than I, of course. His words in 1996 (from Wikipedia)…

Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

A very small stage, indeed.

Screeching Fingernails of Death

Grammar Boy I have a decent education. I went to a public school in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, then proceeded to college at Penn State where I majored in (depending on which semester you target) chemical engineering, business, computer science, and English (with a writing emphasis). I grew up in York County in Pennsylvania where colorful colloquialisms and clichés are a dime a dozen. See what I did there? It was almost like a joke.

However, I didn’t attend a fancy-schmancy private school nor did I further my education at Harvard or some other outwardly ostentatious bastion of higher learning where everyone talks with a stiff jaw, raised nose, and a martini in hand.

I did, however, have a mother who was a teacher and was a stickler for proper grammar and polite speech. She was not born nor raised in York County, so the liberties that York Countians take with the English language tended to make her wince, and I think it became her mission (or one of them) to make sure her children did not suffer from such locale-induced linguistic affectations. She seems to have succeeded at least somewhat, since I’ve been told on a number of occasions (by York natives) that it is hard to believe I was born and raised in York County.

I appreciate my mother’s efforts in that regard. There is, however, a side effect.

Hearing some of the torturous grammatical creations spoken by some of my fellow York natives is like hearing fingernails down a blackboard (See! They even make me resort to using clichés!). I twitch. My head tilts involuntarily, as if in a desperate attempt to dump the offending phrases back out of my head. My breathing stops momentarily as all my brain functions are diverted to support linguistic defense mechanisms.

I have some grammatical pet peeves, certainly. Many people do. For instance, using incorrect contractions when referring to a plural predicate. “There’s cars in the parking lot.” That’s equivalent to saying, “There is cars in the parking lot.” It drives me nuts.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the type of grammatical abomination that I heard today at the gas station from an elderly woman at the attendant’s glass cubicle asking about some gift cards for sale in the window. Most of them had “$25” printed on them in big, bold numbers. Some did not. She said (and this is an exact quote because, after my bodily functions resumed their normal course, I wrote it down)…

“What are them that don’t have no price on them?

I uh… ummm….

Sorry… I still twitch just reading it.

Sadly, that kind of language abuse isn’t an uncommon occurrence around here. That was a particularly colorful example, but is by no means unique. I’m not sure why. I did have grammar classes in high school. I’m sure of it… I think. I know I had writing classes in college and even diagrammed sentences (which, and you can call me a nerd for this, I actually enjoyed). I assume that the people who speak these brain-twitch-inducing sentences also had some grammar classes during their educational careers.

Or maybe they didn’t. A cousin of mine who teaches in the neighboring county told me that her school district had decided it wasn’t going to teach grammar anymore because “the kids already know how to talk.” It wasn’t her idea (she teaches Latin, anyway), but it must have been something the school board decided.

I think that’s sad. Every day, I hear our language being spoken by people who seem oblivious to basic grammatical rules. When it comes to longer sentences, all bets are off. It’s not just little things like ending a sentence with a preposition. It’s a complete disregard for the proper conjugation of irregular verbs or the correct usage of adverbs and adjectives or even basic subject/verb agreement… and it’s all combined at the same time.

My grammar isn’t perfect and I make mistakes (I’m eyeing up the last sentence in the last paragraph with all the ambiguous “it’s” usages, for instance), but I don’t think I’ve ever spoken a sentence like the one I heard today at the gas station… even when I was in a drunken stupor (not that I ever have been, mind you!). At times, I even catch myself speaking a sentence that’s leading inevitably toward a prepositional ending… and I stop… and I rephrase. I don’t always do it, but I try. I also cringe when I don’t.

Thanks, Mom.

“Folksy” doesn’t belong in the White House

Say "nuclear"

Say "nuclear"

I’m dismayed by the number of people who seem to think that being “folksy” is a good qualification for a presidential or vice-presidential candidate. Being able to connect with people is one thing. Using slang, bad grammar, and incorrect pronunciations for common words is something altogether different. Comedians and television writers get damned good mileage from it, but do we really want it from our public officials?

Personally, I want someone smart in public office, especially in the office of President of the United States of America. When I say “smart,” I don’t just mean IQ. I mean having enough of an education to know how to speak in public, to use proper grammar, to pronounce common words correctly, to know enough about science to talk intelligently, to process information rationally, to negotiate effectively, to look at evidence objectively, and to know when to ask for help. There’s more to it than that, though. Someone “smart” understands that appearance matters… visually, audibly, and behaviorally.

Folksy appears uneducated. It probably doesn’t appear that way to uneducated people, but to anyone else (who has an ounce of honesty)… it does. However, everyone looks favorably upon well-spoken, even folksy people. Well-spoken doesn’t mean using big words, literary flourishes, clever allusions, and mythological references. It means having the ability to get your point across cleanly and clearly, using proper grammar and a relatively solid grasp of the English language. That doesn’t offend or alienate anyone.

That’s what I want in the office of President. We haven’t had it for 8 years now and, although McCain has it (or used to), his runner-up has precious little of it. Obama has it in abundance. Biden has it, too. When I visualize our president sitting down with other world leaders to discuss matters of global importance, I cringe to think of someone saying “new-cue-luhr” and “you betcha” and winking and stumbling over facts and simple scientific issues. If that happens, it reflects poorly on us as a country. It looks laughable. It looks farcical. It looks sad.

“American Values”

I really hate hearing politicians making claims of representing “American Values” and it’s never more apparent than during an election year. McCain is all about American Values. Obama is all about American Values. Bush is all about American Values. Everyone claims to be all about American Values.

Yet nobody ever actually defines what constitutes American Values. You hear quotes like the “values upon which this great nation was founded” or the “values that make this country great” or the “values that we Americans hold sacred” along with similarly vague descriptions.

I understand it’s all about staying vague because if any politician ever specifically defined what his or her values are, it would alienate a huge percentage of the voter base. Generic references like “valuing freedom” (one of Bush’s favorite values, it seems) sound great on the surface, but under that surface, everyone has a different definition. You can even narrow it down to, for example, “valuing freedom of religion” and people will still have hugely variant views on what that means.

So you’ll hear politicians say things like “I cherish the American Values that have made this country great! Values like freedom, honesty, bravery, and hard work!”

You’ll never hear them define any of that. You won’t hear “Values like freedom… of religion, speech, choice… where everyone is equally free to chose what they believe without interference from the government; where people have the right to openly speak out against personal or governmental injustice; where people are free to choose their own lifestyle without persecution.”

Even that is a bit vague, but it’s far clearer than politicians dare to go. The danger of alienating a voter base by providing a point for disagreement is far too great.

But until there’s more definition, American Values can mean “freedom, honesty, bravery, and hard work” or it can mean “racism, intolerance, hatred, and violence.” Both sets represent the values of some Americans… and without further definition by a politician who claims American Values, one set could fit with just as much validity as the other.