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“Weekly Barracking”

March 31, 2009

I thought you might enjoy this picture I took on W. 25th St, between 6th and 7th Avenues. 


“Barracks” are, of course, military dormitories.  My father once served a stint as a military policeman, and he was in charge of policing some barracks, in which resided any number of young soldiers and sailors whose hangovers caused them to not show up for work, which in the military is a quite serious infraction (hence the military policeman).

Barracking,” however, can also be used (mostly in the UK) to mean jeering or heckling, or sometimes cheering (in favor of).

In this ad, the implication seems to be that your car will be housed in a “barracks” — i.e., a parking garage.  And perhaps it will be retrieved for you with military efficiency? 

English Abuse of the Day: “Artisan” is a NOUN, people, a noun!

March 30, 2009


Please stop, Starbucks.

“Artisan” is a noun. An artisan is a craftsperson. Something made by an artisan is “artisanal.”

If my shoes are made by a cobbler, they are not “cobbler shoes.” I could perhaps call them “cobbler-made shoes,” as I might call a wall made by a stonemason a “mason-built wall.” But not a “mason wall.” Because that’s stupid.

Fortunately, “artisan” comes ready-made with its own adjective: “artisanal”! Use it.

Starbucks: you are morons.


Au Bon Pain, you started this. Your bread may be artisanal, but your copy editing is apparently performed by monkeys.

Truth in Advertising: a Mortifying Bumper Sticker, and a Sadly Quixotic Ad Campaign

March 27, 2009

A bumper sticker for homeschooling families, guaranteed to broadcast to the world that your child is an incredible mama’s boy: 


Really?  Really now?For being on the Honor Roll to mean anything, someone else has to not be on it.  You might as well get a bumper sticker that says, “My other children are somewhat less intelligent.”

And here’s one that, dear god, I wish could be true: 


I see these “Every Child Born Healthy” posters all over New York, and sigh.  The March of Dimes is a force of good, no doubt — they freaking cured polio in the fifties. 


But … nature doesn’t believe in “every child born healthy.”  Ever had a cat or dog give birth?  Did you get a fucked-up kitten or puppy that the mother didn’t want anything to do with?  Oh, all the time?  Ever meet anyone who grew up on a farm?  Birth defects are very common in nature.  A very small proportion of them become useful mutations, thus furthering evolution.  But mostly, these two-faced kittens and eight-legged calves die.  


On the human front, if we can perform open-heart surgery on fetuses, why, I’m all for it!  That’s great.  But humans will always produce offspring with incurable genetic maladies, and the only way to have “every baby born healthy” is to give everybody amniocentesis and abort all the “unhealthy” babies.  Which people can do if they want.  But I doubt that’s what the March of Dimes is trying to advertise.

From Reason Magazine

John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President’s Council on Bioethics that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women’s normal menstrual flows unnoticed. This is not miscarriage we’re talking about. The women and their husbands or partners never even know that conception has taken place; the embryos disappear from their wombs in their menstrual flows. In fact, according to Opitz, embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent. The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception. About half of the embryos lost are abnormal….

So, 80% of all naturally conceived embryos don’t make it, and half of those were abnormal to begin with?  Yes, indeed: birth defects are more common than healthy babies.  Some of those birth defects can be treated or cured, but a promise to eradicate them completely is simply irrational.  I know of nothing to object to in the actual work or mission of the March of Dimes — just this slogan.  Which is silly, to the point of betraying a lack of basic scientific competence on the part of whomever wrote or approved it.

Enjoy this ABC slideshow of animal oddities, such as these conjoined fish:


Today’s Invention

March 26, 2009

fivestars.jpgI developed an invention in my sleep today!  It was basically transplanting eBay’s rating system to cars on the road.  While driving, you could rate other drivers on a 1-5 star basis and “Flag as inappropriate” anyone who was being, well, inappropriate.  And then insurance companies would pay for access to the database, and if your rating went below, say, 2.5 stars, probably an undercover cop would just show up at your house and trail you on your morning commute, waiting for you to fuck up.

Apparently, I don’t think much about whether the penumbra of the Constitution includes a right to privacy as argued by Justice White in Bowers v. Hardwick when I am asleep. 

This is on par with other ideas I’ve had in my sleep, including the one for a comedy show dedicated to maintaining everything the way it is right now; it would be called “Status Quomedy”! I woke up and groaned at myself for that one.

Monday Reading

March 23, 2009

Conversation with Gentleman Friend:

Me: Jade Goody finally died.

G.F.: Is that that baby with birth defects you’ve been following on that blog?

Me: No, that’s the British reality television star.

G.F.: I didn’t realize you were on death watch for so many people.


images-11.jpegThis post about how adoption is no easy substitute for abortion has been making the rounds in feminist blogging circles. The idea that women should “just give it up for adoption” as if that were no big deal is just one of the reasons I really hated Juno when it came up — that, plus the idea that the stupid wussy boyfriend suffered no consequences at all, not even having his mom find out he had gotten someone pregnant. God, that movie made me mad. If I were an evangelical propagandist, I’d make a whole series of films in which spunky female heroines display obvious, mass-marketable, ultimately inoffensive tropes of rebellion (crazy hair! loud music! Chuck Taylors, oh no!) while oh-so-heterodoxically deciding to take virginity pledges, spout off about the virtues of modesty while blaming women for sexual assault, and enroll in “colleges” that teach Bible-focused home economics.


If you want to be WAY more offended, um … apparently Israeli soldiers have been printing up t-shirts with slogans and graphics congratulating themselves for killing Palestinian women and children. One solider is quoted: “I don’t see what you’re getting at. I don’t like the way you’re going with this. Don’t take this somewhere you’re not supposed to, as though we hate Arabs.”

In the News: Mukhtar Mai, Glenn Beck, Semicolons in Series

March 22, 2009

A few notes from my weekend reading….

Women’s rights activist and tribally-legislated-gang-rape survivor Mukhtar Mai has gotten married! How delightful, cakes and dancing and champagne, right? I was suspicious. In a society that practices arranged marriage and legal polygamy — and where this woman is a virtual prisoner, protected by armed guard — I just didn’t think this meant what people wanted to think it meant. Elisabeth Eaves of gets it right.


Nationwide douchemonger Glenn Beck wants to take us back to September 12th, 2001.

Um … you mean like this? Epic fail.


To me, the most interesting part of this TIME article about Swiss banks agreeing to turn over information about U.S. citizens suspected of tax fraud was the fascinating grammatical construct I have copied below, a triple introductory modifier joined by two semicolons — before we even get to the main verb!

Offering low or no taxes to foreign firms and individuals parking money with them; snubbing requests for information from overseas tax authorities; or indeed both, offshore financial centers provide the perfect conditions for anyone who wants to hide cash illegally from the taxman back home.

Even more hilarious, this bit of semantic play — on the topic of financial play — comes from one Adam Smith, although presumably not the one who wrote The Wealth of Nations.


TIME also claims to have cointed the word “amortal,” a word which describes, er, New Yorkers — at least the glam-loving, pre-recession kind:

Amortals live among us. In their teens and 20s, they may seem preternaturally experienced. In later life, they often look young and dress younger. They have kids early or late — sometimes very late — or not at all. Their emotional lives are as chaotic as their financial planning. The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.

Before I moved to New York, I thought Sarah Jessica Parker on Sex and the City (how much of an asshole would I be if I wrote “SJP on SATC”?) looked like an insane person with her tight, fashionable clothes and her wrinkles. Now I admire the look, and find old people who dress like old people to simply suffer from a lack of gamesmanship.

Prom Project

March 16, 2009

I discovered that there is a program in New York to which you can mail your old prom dress, to hopefully be rocked to its fullest by an underprivileged young woman who, despite her financial state, has such amazing fashion sense that she can revive the ’90s.

Here is me at the prom! I happy-faced my date, since he might not want to be on my blog.


My mother saved that dress for many years, and finally mailed it to me, unbidden and apropos of nothing. She folded it carefully, with its matching wrap, and sent them both flat in a Zip-Loc bag, which is how she sends pretty much everything. The Dziuras, we’re zippy.

I spent all of high school buying clothes that were too big, maybe because I thought I was still growing, or because my tastes hadn’t fully recovered from the ’80s. The dress definitely doesn’t fit me now, so I passed it (and another dress, and some jewelry) on to the Prom Project. Here’s the address if you want to do the same:


Sentenced to Community Service at Oprah’s School for Girls

March 11, 2009

My mom sent me this: Women Should Be Hit for Dressing Sexy in Public, 1 in 7 Believe. (That’s 1 in 7 British people).

I can’t help but hark back to a quote from this week’s US Weekly:

But Rihanna’s decision does have the approval of some, including close friend Sharon Bellamy-Thompson. “It’s no problem,” the Barbados fish-market operator tells Us. “I have had boyfriends who beat me and then I took them back. I stayed with them because I was in love.”

chris-brown-rihanna.jpgUm, no. You don’t just quote something like that without following up with, for instance, a quote from a government official in Barbados about how domestic violence is wrong and is being combatted by some government office. Or a mention of battered woman syndrome. Or even just a mention of the fact that perhaps people in Barbados have different expectations about nonviolence in romantic relationships (Do they? I have no idea. But if you have time to go to Barbados and interview fish-market operators, maybe you should do some research). It’s no problem? It’s not a pro and con situation. You don’t just quote a Holocaust denier and then call it a day. Journalists are responsible for context.

Rihanna, although a victim herself, is setting an atrocious example and should be sentenced to forty days of reading empowering storybooks to young girls. Right after her boyfriend is sentenced to actual prison.

p.s. This blog caught the same quote and covered it eloquently. And here is a post with numerous comments ostensibly from Barbadians about domestic violence in their country.

Words Mean Things: “Into” versus “In To” Edition

March 10, 2009

From a popular music blog:


Look at me, I’m police!


Now that we all see the problem and its hilarious, unintended consequence…

Here is a nice definition of “into”:

  1. from the outside to the inside of; to the midst or depths ofwalked into the house, jumped into the lake
  2. advancing or continuing to the midst of (a period of time)dancing far into the night
  3. to the form, substance, or condition of turned into a swan, divided into parts
  4. so as to strike; against to bump into a door
  5. to the work or activity of to go into teaching
  6. in the direction of heading into a storm
  7. ? INFORMAL involved in, interested in, or concerned with
  8. ARITH. considered as a divisor of 3 into 21 is 7

Now let’s try to clear this up. The “to” in “in to” can mean “in order to.” For instance, “After pausing at the door, he went in to clear up the misunderstanding.” The “to” can be thought of as belonging to “clear up” — “to clear up” is an action. But “in to” is also appropriate when the “to” is simply a preposition (although sometimes a comma will be needed to separate “in” and “to” in such a case).

“Into” is a preposition that generally shows motion from the outside to the inside. You can think of it as an answer to the question, “Where?” “Into” can also suggest a change of state. He walked into a bar. He turned into a bat.

The police are not a place, so Chris Brown can’t walk “into” them. You can walk “into” a police station, but you can’t turn yourself “into” the police. Unless, of course, you are becoming the police. That is, “police,” plural. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible, unless you are sort of like the Transformers (who transformed from plural to singular) in reverse.

“In to” consists of two separate particles. In some cases, “to” is part of an infinitive (“to see,” “to learn,” etc.); in other cases, it is a preposition. I went in to see what was going on. I went in, to the dismay of all involved.

Another way to think of it is that “in to” combines the meanings of two separate words — someone goes “in,” in order “to” do something. Sometimes the “in” is idiomatic, such as the case of “turning oneself in” to police.

A good test to determine which one you need is to pause between the “in” and “to.” If that sounds okay, that’s a good clue you want “in to.” He turned himself in … to the police. Great. She went in … to the cave. That’s a little strange — it should be “into.”

Make me a sandwich!

Poof! You’re a sandwich!

Turn yourself into the police!

Poof! I’m the police!

The Sticker That Belongs On Most of America

March 9, 2009

img_0488.JPGYou know how various consumer products that are obviously inedible (the silica gel packets that come with new shoes) contain warnings that say, “DO NOT EAT”? So, if I were purchasing, say, wooden fruits with which to decorate a kitchen, I would be wholly unsurprised if they had stickers on them recommending against their ingestion.

However, I was surprised to see that a small, faux-antique decorative globe I purchased contained this warning:


I mean, I could have guessed that. Due to, say, the presence of Prussia.

Words (Specifically Pronouns) Mean Things

March 5, 2009

I read a sentence in Us Weekly that I wanted to blog about, but then I left my magazine behind in a nail salon, so I don’t have the exact text. However, here is a paraphrase of the sentence that set me off:

Jennifer Aniston finally encountered Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie face-to-face, four years after their marriage ended.

734cov-home.jpgEvery pronoun (with a few idiomatic exceptions, such as the “it” in “it’s raining”) must have an antecedent that matches in number, is unambiguous, and is actually stated in the sentence. A good rule is: If the sentence could be read another way due to its pronouns, and you’re using your outside knowledge or making assumptions to know what the sentence means, the sentence is probably grammatically incorrect.

A good example is the sentence, “Mary’s mother told her she should do her homework.” This is wrong, wrong, wrong on two counts. First, “Mary’s” is acting as an adjective — that is, “Mary” herself is not in the sentence, so, while the pronoun “her,” which occurs twice and is possessive, may refer back to the possessive “Mary’s,” the object pronoun “she” may not. (Subject and object pronouns may not refer back to possessives, whereas possessive pronouns have much less strict rules and may refer back to other possessives or to regular nouns).

But what, really, is the problem with “Mary’s mother told her she should do her homework”? We all know what it means, right? Well, sort of. If you said, “Mary’s father told her she should do her homework,” the “she” would still be wrong, but that’s a pretty pedantic point, since the meaning is unambiguous. But in the case of “Mary’s mother told her she should do her homework,” it is possible to read the sentence as “Mary’s mother told Mary that Mary’s mother should do Mary’s mother’s homework,” or “Mary’s mother told Mary that Mary should do Mary’s mother’s homework,” or even, “Mary’s mother told Mary that Mary’s mother should do Mary’s homework.” Most of these interpretations are unlikely or stupid. But the fact that they are possible (whereas they are not with the “father” sentence) means that the sentence is ambiguous.


Standardized tests love to exploit these alternate meanings by using sentences such as, “Ms. Chang angered the Senator by reporting that her company had violated the new environmental statutes.” What’s wrong here? After reading this far, you’ve probably inferred that the problem is that the Senator could be female, and that the pronoun is therefore ambiguous. Whose company is it? (If the sentence were in context and we knew the Senator to be male, then this sentence would be fine, just as it is, of course, fine to use a person’s name in one sentence and a pronoun in place of the name in subsequent sentences).

Back to Jen, Brad, and Angie. WHO THE HELL IS “THEIR”? (Or, more grammatically, “To whom the hell does ‘their’ refer?” Has anyone ever said “to whom the hell” before?)

Imagine the same sentence reworked, but in a case in which you had no outside information. “A finally encountered B and C, four years after their big fight.” Whom would you think had the fight? A and B? B and C? All three of them? If I changed “fight” back to “marriage,” you could quite reasonably infer that only two people may be involved, but would that tell you that A and B were the people who had been married?


Let’s fix it. One option is: “Jennifer Aniston finally encountered Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie face-to-face, four years after Aniston and Pitt’s marriage ended.” Or maybe, “Four years after her marriage to Brad Pitt ended, Jennifer Aniston finally encountered Pitt and Angelina Jolie face-to-face.” Or, “Four years after Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s marriage ended, Aniston finally encountered Pitt and Angelina Jolie face-to-face.”

Us Weekly? Call me.



Metrocard Math

March 2, 2009

6a00d8341e31c353ef00e553b358838834-640wi.jpgThe MTA has proposed a plan that would cause the price of the monthly Metrocard to go up from $81 to $103, an increase of over 27%. So I did some research.

An unlimited monthly Metrocard is good for 30 days from the day you begin using it; it also has an expiration date on the back, assuring that you begin using it by a date about one year from purchase.If the cost is going to go up so astronomically, why not just buy a year’s worth of cards in advance, and save $264?

In fact, other than the law against it, there’s no reason a person couldn’t buy a large quantity of $81 Metrocards and sell them over the next year for, say, $95. People would totally meet you in a dark alley to save $8, and you’d make $14 on every sale. If you had $5,000 to invest in $81 Metrocards, you could buy 61 of them, with change left over. Selling each at a $14 profit would make you $854. That’s a 17% return on investment, which, if you are an average American, is not enough to keep up with the APR on your credit cards, but is certainly superior to the performance of the rest of the financial sector right now.

But even if you’re uncomfortable with Metrocard scalping, isn’t the logical move for every monthly Metrocard user who is able to purchase 12 at once for his personal use?

If you don’t have $972 all at once to pull this off (fancy that), compare the APR on your credit card to the $22 savings you’ll gain every month. For instance:If you have a credit card with an APR of 18%, divide 18% by 12 to get the monthly periodic rate of 1.5%.Now say you buy 12 monthly Metrocards this month. Your balance is $972. Your finance charge is $14.58 — a fine savings over the $22 extra you’d have to pay for a new Metrocard. But it gets better! Because, if you simply pay to the card some amount of money in between the $81 you would have paid anyway, and the $103 you’re avoiding, the balance will go down, and your savings will increase every month! Said another way, the first month, you’re paying finance charges on all 12 cards, but the second month, you’re only paying finances charges on 11 cards, etc….

In actual numbers: The first month, when you owe $972, let’s take the money you would have paid for the $81 Metrocard and pay that to the credit card, and then let’s also be responsible and take care of that $14.58. So far, you’ve saved $7.42. The second month, you owe $891 (the original $972, minus the $95.58 you paid). Your finance charge is $13.37. Go ahead and pay $81 plus the $13.37 to the card — you’ve saved $8.63, or a cumulative total of $16.05! The third month, your balance is $729 and your finance charge is $10.94. Pay $81 plus the finance charge, and you’ve saved $11.06, or a cumulative total of $27.11! And this is allowing for a credit card with a usurious 18% APR!

Of course, few people pay off their credit cards with the discipline they originally intend when making large purchases in the first place. However, if you actually just have $972, you should really go buy a dozen Metrocards (or, if you’re less than halfway through a card now, maybe just 11 cards, to be safe).

Update: Don’t do that. I stand by all the math above, but I’ve been informed that the MTA is onto this plan, and will set “sunset dates” by which cards purchased at the old price must be swiped. I imagine that if you wanted to (illicitly) Metrocard-scalp, you could probably still do it for a month or two until the dates kicked in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s consumer math post.



You may also enjoy How to Obtain Free Unlimited iTunes By Admitting That You Have an Addiction and are a Total Fucking Yuppie About It and What Happens When Math Teachers Read the Fine Print.