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Some interesting results from research on bullying: often, neither the victims nor the perpetrators of bullying call it that. They use the term “drama.”

Dismissing a conflict that’s really hurting their feelings as drama lets teenagers demonstrate that they don’t care about such petty concerns. They can save face while feeling superior to those tormenting them by dismissing them as desperate for attention. Or, if they’re the instigators, the word drama lets teenagers feel that they’re participating in something innocuous or even funny, rather than having to admit that they’ve hurt someone’s feelings.



Eek, I appear to have been busted



Infographic: easy, medium, and hard languages to learn for an English speaker. Spanish is easiest, Arabic and Oriental languages the hardest.



Paul Blackburn’s ‘Statement’ — a poem about his poetry. More poems by Blackburn here. There’s a bio on Wikipedia.



Dear The Awl,

I do not think that I have never particularly cared about a single thing The Awl has written about, but I love reading it all the time anyway, because of the glorious wordsmithery of Choire, Balk, et al. However, it bothers me that there are two reasons why reading The Awl in an RSS reader is better than reading it on the site: (1) you can read as much of each post as you’d like instead of as much as the site’s editors would like without having to keep clicking “READ ON” and then clicking back and waiting for things to load and (2) you can see the name of the person who wrote it under the title of each post (i don’t know why all group blogs don’t assume that at least some readers care who writes what?).

But let us not leave it there. Let us point to this fun, which admittedly I might care about more than the average reader because said issue was the first in my subscription to said magazine and because I have actually enjoyed a couple of Dave Eggers books and other things. So, whatever. I’ll skip the story and see the movie, and I’ll try to hold in my heart a little skepticism directed toward the New Yorker’s fiction editor. And I’d urge anyone who read all (two pages!) of the post to also read enough of the comments to get to this bit by Choire:

But I absolutely do believe this is a pegged event for the promotion of the movie. Between the studio-supplied art–and I speak as someone who’s been doing a weekly silly Q&A feature for a major newspaper for the last three years or so, and for which even that little thing we would NEVER accept studio art–to the timing, to the Brand Naminess Quotient (in which you ask: would the New Yorker publish this submission from my Aunt Susan? No they would not): well, it all smells.

(Um, sorry: don’t try to parse that grammar and punctuation.)

Posted: Saturday August 29, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


A subtle point of grammar

The word “a” becomes “an” if it’s followed by a noun that begins with a vowel. So we have “a fool” and “an idiot.” If we insert a adjective between them, “a” becomes “an” on the basis of the adjective: “an interesting fool,” “a handsome idiot.” So far so good. The question before us today is, what if the interceding adjective is in parentheses? In deciding whether it should transmogrify itself into “an,” does the “a” look at the word in parentheses, or does it skip over that word and look to the noun following? In short, is it “a (handsome) idiot,” or “an (handsome) idiot”? (By the way, I place my question mark on the outside of the parentheses advisedly. Just because I’m concerned with the technicalities of “correct” grammar does not mean that I’m unwilling to break the rules where I disagree with them, and in some cases the “punctuation inside quote” rule is just nuts.)

I discussed this issue with several newspaper folks (Folks who, I suspect, were not quite able to get over conflating the issue with something rather separate — that it is in newspaper writing completely blinkered wrong to have a parenthetical adjective before a noun. Yeah, but I just like to use byzantine parenthetical constructions, I protested. It’s part of my style — a sort of deconstruction of the linear hegemony usually exerted by the written word. And it works for the casual nature of blog writing. And it inserts a mood of doubting and probing to writing that fits a particular mental style. But they don’t read my blog. They don’t understand. Life goes on.), and to a one they all agreed with what you are probably thinking: that the parenthetical adjective takes charge, and you get “a (handsome) idiot.”

Among other seemingly valid reasons for why this should be the case is the appeal to the spoken word. Were you speaking the phrase, you would certainly say “a handsome idiot” — it would be almost impossible not to. But parentheses are funny things, and they don’t really exist in the spoken language. Speakers may make clear verbal asides, but these do not get transcribed as parentheses — they’re typically set off with dashes — because parentheses in transcriptions cannot help but to look silly. Therefore, the appeal to sound cannot be used in arguing this particular case.

A key consideration when constructing sentences with parenthetical asides is that the sentence must remain perfectly constructed should the parentheses and everything within them be removed. The reader ought to be able to skip over the parentheses and feel that nothing is amiss. (I bet you wished you’d skipped over some of these parenthetical remarks, e.g.) For me, this is the clincher. Correct as though it may seem at first blush, I must insist on “a (interesting) fool” — a parenthetical adjective cannot be enough to force “a” to become “an.” A separate, and less clear, decision is whether a noun following a parenthetical adjective ought to. Do we really end up with “an (handsome) idiot”?

This, I guess, is the question I’m submitting to you. By the argument I’ve laid out it seems inevitable. But. Common sense interjects that it’s crazy, right? Could it be that when followed by the beginning of a parenthetical aside, “a” never becomes “an”? Could we have “a (handsome) idiot,” and “a (interesting) fool”? Maybe. Maybe, because parentheses are inherently a tool of the written word, and “an” is inherently a concession to the spoken word (however codified it is in the rules of grammar — after all, there’s nothing difficult to read about “a idiot,” right? (Or isn’t there??!)), the rule pertaining to the latter is somehow canceled out by the use of the former?

But how can this be? How does a grammatical rule get canceled out? As much as I doubt anyone can, I sure hope someone will clarify this issue. (Other than to say, “with as many other grammatical problems as you’ve got going, this ought be the last of yer worries, bud.”)

Posted: Wednesday August 5, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [13]


The list of 61 essential postmodern reads gives points for: • author is a character • self-contradicting plot • disrupts/plays with form • comments on its own bookishness • plays with language • includes fictional artifacts such as letters • blurs reality and fiction • includes historical falsehoods • overtly references other fictional works • more than 1000/less than 200 pages • postmodern progenitor. Nice, but where is Special Topics in Calamity Physics? (via)



This was on Google’s home page a few days ago:

Over 28,000 children drew doodles for our homepage.

Vote for the one that will appear here!

Can you find two grammar errors in the above? Here’s the answer. (I got one.) (via)



Twitter vortex: So, Maureen Dowd has nothing particularly interesting to say about Twitter, but at least she said it to the company’s founder. (Then again, so did Colbert.) So then Rex linked to a post on the not uninteresting new site “The Awl” about Dowd’s dismissal, which actually summed up my own feelings pretty well. So then I noticed that Rex was using that post to compare the Awl to Suck, and Chorie quoted my complaint about The Awl, and everything got a little dizzy. All of which reminds me of my favorite editorial (mostly) about Twitter, Geoff Nunberg on Fresh Air last year (text):

The story was a natural for journalists. It combined three themes that have been a staple of feature writing for 150 years: “the language is going to hell in a handbasket”; “you’ll never get me onto one of those newfangled things”; and “kids today, I’m here to tell you.”



Pompous vs. full of yourself

There’s a subtle but significant distinction between being “pompous” and being “full of yourself. By way of example, James Lipton is pompous, but not so much full of himself. In contrast, Thomas Friedman is full of himself, but not necessarily pompous. (Not that both guys are not, in their own way, great.)

Posted: Monday January 26, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


This is the funniest thing I have heard so far this year.



Chuck Klosterman: Chinese Democracy - a review of a review

klosterman reviews chinese democracy So, I thought that Rex Sorgatz was the only person in the world who cared about Chinese Democracy, but it turns out I was wrong. His college roommate, Chuck Klosterman, also cares a lot, and wrote a 1,900 word review for the Onion’s AV Club.

Now, the opening pages of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is some of my favorite neither-fiction-nor-nonfiction writing ever, and I’m generally all too happy to follow Klosterman on whatever flights of rhetorical fancy he chooses to explore. (It’s also tough to escape the fact that my writing style largely consists of biting him to whatever limited extent I’m able.) But I’ve read the Guns N Roses review twice now, and I’m just not sure I’m buying it.

I understand Klosterman’s position — I’m just about the same age as Rex and he, and so I understand that he’s got a lot of yarn to spin around Guns N Roses (just by way of example, check out a fake review of Chinese Democracy he wrote for Spin in 2006). This being (please God) the last time anybody will have any interest in reading about what’s left of GNR, he’s got the one chance to let it loose.

Klosterman’s gift is the ability to momentarily make the trivial seem monumentally important, and he goes all in here:

Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It’s more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? . . . This is a little like when that grizzly bear finally ate Timothy Treadwell: Intellectually, he always knew it was coming. He had to. His very existence was built around that conclusion. But you still can’t psychologically prepare for the bear who eats you alive, particularly if the bear wears cornrows.

I’m with him there, but it goes off the rails right away in just the very next paragraph:

Three of the songs are astonishing. Four or five others are very good. The vocals are brilliantly recorded, and the guitar playing is (generally) more interesting than the guitar playing on the Use Your Illusion albums. Axl Rose made some curious (and absolutely unnecessary) decisions throughout the assembly of this project, but that works to his advantage as often as it detracts from the larger experience. So: Chinese Democracy is good. Under any halfway normal circumstance, I would give it an A.

Am I the only one who zipped happily through that paragraph and didn’t at all see where it was headed? An A?! Since when does a competent rock album with three great songs get a fucking A? Here mainstream rock has been dishing up stagnant pop-punk since Kurt Cobain’s suicide (i.e. just about 20 years), with interesting music coming mainly from eccentric Brooklynites who get minimal play outside of pitchfork, and we’re seriously handing out good reviews to 46-year-old has-beens who manage to come up with 3 good songs and a pop-metal album that isn’t completely embarrassing?

Next, we’re then treated to a boilerplate “last real album” argument in which we are to believe that rock fans around the world will take Chinese Democracy as seriously as Klosterman does, and that it’s good enough to be remembered as the end of the era before all music was downloaded track by track. Which is completely goofy, since even the albums alleged fans are streaming it on MySpace and downloading it off the Pirate Bay.

Continuing as though he were working off an Important Album Review Template, Klosterman next gives us the lyrical analysis paragraph, which is actually the highlight of the review. “The weirdest (yet more predictable) aspect of Chinese Democracy is the way 60 percent of the lyrics seem to actively comment on the process of making the album itself.” Do tell. But we run into trouble again when the discussion turns to “the music.” If the warning bells haven’t begun ringing yet, what about when the praise for an album begins with “It doesn’t sound dated or faux-industrial.” And if you cherish, even in a small way, the Guns and Roses of yore, you’ll cringe at where this is going: “But it’s actually better that Slash is not on this album. What’s cool about Chinese Democracy is that it truly does sound like a new enterprise, and I can’t imagine that being the case if Slash were dictating the sonic feel of every riff.”

I don’t know who that works for, but as I vaguely recall it, GnR gradually tanked artistically as Rose’s influence over the group’s direction grew and Slash’s waned. Buckethead may be an interesting guitarist, but I suspect he’s playing Philip Seymour Hoffman to to Axl’s Robin Williams in Patch Adams here.

But don’t get me wrong — reading this review is still way more fun then entertaining the prospect of listening to the actual album. Towards the end, Klosterman goes off on one of his two-tangents-a-minute romps, speculating at great length about why Axl Rose chose to sing one particular line in one particular song in the particular way he did, along the way winding his way through an Extreme comparison, a James Bond reference, and the entirely probably speculation that there are 400 hours of vocal takes of this one particular song on tape somewhere. “Throughout Chinese Democracy, the most compelling question is never, ‘What was Axl doing here?’ but ‘What did Axl think he was doing here?’” Maybe so, but how compelling is either question, really? And is it going to make this album worth listening to?

Klosterman concludes with a sincere and heartfelt deceleration that this is, in his honest opinion, a Good Album. He sounds like he means it, but I actually sort of hope he doesn’t. I hope he just figures that making a big deal out of Chinese Democracy makes sense for him, and making a big deal out of it being good is more plausible then making a big deal out of it being predictably lame. He seems oblivious to the fact that much of the anticipation that existed at one point for Chinese Democracy has fizzled out years ago, and that CD is little more then the present day Two Against Nature — very few people care today, and nobody will care or remember 6 months from today.

In the end, Spin Magazine’s actual review of CD, brief and mildly dismissive, seems like a much more measured response. And if you want some primo Klosterman, go read his piece on R Kelley’s Trapped in the Closet, or better yet Sex Drugs and Coco Puffs.

Posted: Tuesday November 25, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [5]