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Monday Afternoon Diversion

Not sure how I landed on this video—Twitter, maybe?—but after watching it I found myself on the Ant Lab YouTube channel and under the spell of the charmingly nerdy Dr. Adrian Smith.

Which, of course, led me to still more videos about hopping, flying, attacking, slime-eating, stinging, fighting, foraging, squirming, hatching, hunting, biting critters. Next thing I knew it was time to punch out for the day.

Side note: Maybe it’s just me, but the older I get the kookier this world becomes. When I was a kid, bugs were just…bugs. Now, I can’t help but wonder at the weirdness of it all.

Forget What We Said Two Days Ago. This Is the BEST Year Ever.

According to the fine folks at the Oxford English Dictionary, there are 171,476 English words currently in use. And not one of them is sufficient to describe this:

But wait! There’s more. Check out another track from Shatner’s forthcoming album—somewhat optimistically titled The Blues—featuring the great Harvey Mandel and Canned Heat:

The Blues is set to drop October 2.

Only 127 Days Left in This Godforsaken Year

From Scientific American, folks: “‘Oumuamua—a mysterious, interstellar object that crashed through our solar system two years ago—might in fact be alien technology.”

I dunno, man. First a pandemic, then a plague of locusts, then a hurricane lands in—of all places—Iowa. Now a real-life Harvard astrophysicist is suggesting that the best explanation for the sudden appearance of a “cigar-shaped” object “tumbling end over end” and, um, accelerating “as if something were pushing on it” is…aliens?

Think I’ll just tap out now. You know, before the probing commences.

We’re Doomed (part 763,842)

Just when I was starting to think that maybe—just maybe—millennials have been unfairly maligned, more evidence emerges that this generation is quite possibly the worst that has ever inhabited our planet.

At the very least, any cohort that truly believes that a period at the end of a sentence is “a triggering form of aggression” has successfully unseated boomers as the most self-absorbed in history.

So…congratulations, I guess?

“Will you type curse words?”

From Wesley McNair’s wonderful piece about the late poet Donald Hall and his assistant Kendel Currier, three things are abundantly clear.

First, Donald Hall was a truly delightful man.

Second, The Paris Review is one of a handful of must-read literary magazines still publishing. I need to quit reading it online and purchase a subscription. You should, too.

Third—and perhaps most obvious—I should definitely get an amanuensis. Pretty sure the lack of one is all that’s keeping me from the literary fame and fortune I so richly deserve.

Miscellany

Before you take this advice seriously, ask yourself one question: Has the federal government ever—and I do mean ever—been right about dietary guidelines?

The best case I’ve yet seen for bringing back the monarchy:

Look, I’m more than willing to concede that I’m an asshole. I just don’t see what it has to do with my (unimpeachable) tastes in music.

Speaking of music, a recommendation: All the Good Times, by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, released last month.

Behold! The flying train—er…suspension monorail—of Wuppertal, Germany, filmed in 1902:

Pretending to Be Adults

“Not quite a cliché, not quite a term of art,” writes Olga Khazan, “a buzzword is a profound-seeming phrase devised by someone important to make something sound better than it is.”

That’s a pretty good description—and if that were the end of it, we wouldn’t have a problem. But it’s far more insidious than that, Khazan alludes. “Typically, the buzzword develops a shibboleth status in a given field…to the point where everyone is saying it and everyone feels as if they must say it.”

The thing is, everyone also knows it’s BS. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have, courtesy of the Atlantic, a March Madness-style bracket enabling Twitter voters to decide on “the most nauseating of them all.”

Again, I’m not opposed to buzzwords qua buzzwords.* If your job is such that you feel the need to “dress up [your] otherwise pointless tasks with fancier phrases,” that’s on you. It’s when jargon’s purported benefit—saving time—does more harm than good. To this day, in fact, I have no idea what value added actually means. And I’m guessing the vast majority of those who use it are just as ignorant.

But according to Copenhagen Business School professor Mary Yoko Brannen, it’s not in pursuit of clarity or efficiency. No, it’s all about fitting in with the other office drones. So we blithely go about our business, day in and day out, repeating meaningless phrases in order to blend in? That’s depressing.

*Except for lean in, obviously. I swear to God if I hear that steaming pile uttered even one more time I cannot be held responsible for my actions.

Tuesday Musings

The other day I saw a bumper sticker that read “It’s Not Hard to Be Nice.”

At first blush, it’s awfully hard to argue with that. But then you think about it a little and realize that, in fact, the opposite is true. To be nice is to think first of the other person; to set aside, however briefly, any ill will you might be harboring; to make a concerted effort to turn bitterness into…betterness. (Get it? Get it?)

Being a dick is SO much easier.

Stop! Grammar Time!

You’ve all heard the rule: “I before E except after C.” But as the great Stephen Fry points out, it’s…not a rule. In fact, there are 21 times more instances of words that break this “rule” than those that abide by it.

Quote of the Day

“All human effort beyond the lowest level of the struggle for animal subsistence is motivated by the need to live in style.”

That’s the incomparable Albert Murray in his 1970 book The Omni-Americans. He sets up the line with a reference to the significance of art in human behavior, then goes on to explain what he means by living “in style”:

Certainly the struggle for political and social liberty is nothing if not a quest for freedom to choose one’s own way or style of life. Moreover, it should be equally as obvious that there can be no such thing as human dignity and nobility without a consummate, definitive style, pattern, or archetypal image. Economic interpretations of history notwithstanding, what activates revolutions is not destitution (which most often leads to petty thievery and the like) but intolerable systems and methods—intolerable styles of life.

The Library of America has published a gorgeous fiftieth anniversary edition of The Omni-Americans, and it’s practically a steal at $12.

Stop! Grammar Time!

This one’s a beast: affect or effect?

The simplest answer is that affect is a verb; effect is a noun. Except when they’re not—because affect is also a noun and effect is also a verb. Confused? Yeah, you and everyone else.

First, let’s take a look at the most common usage:

Courtney’s foul language is affecting office morale. (verb)
Courtney’s foul language is having an effect on office morale. (noun)

If you can remember that, you’ll be golden 99.9 percent of the time.

Where it gets weird is when you swap the parts of speech. Here, it helps to know that when affect is used as a noun, it’s pronounced with an emphasis on the first syllable, rather than the second (AFF-ect). Used primarily in psychiatry, the noun form of affect refers to a visible display of emotion or mood…

Courtney’s foul language was just a verbal manifestation of a surly affect.

whereas effect as a verb simply means “to cause.”

In attempt to effect a change in office morale, Carl put a swear jar in the employee break room.

In the entry for “affect/effect” in Common Errors in English Usage, Paul Brians writes that “nobody ever said that English was logical: just memorize it and get on with your life.” With that in mind, I recommend memorizing that affect is a verb (starts with an A, just like action) and effect is a noun (cause and effect)—because that’s all you really need to know.

Miscellany

We live in an age in which respectful, good-faith, reasoned debate is the exception rather than the rule. So I’m happy to see a return—of sorts—of Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish. Here he is, in stellar form, on postmodernism, critical theory, and the origins of wokeness. Zowie.

Speaking of brilliance, Agnes Callard has some thoughts on academic writing. “In the humanities,” she writes, “no one counts whether anyone reads our papers. Only whether they are published, and where.”

Matthew Walther tries Budweiser Zero: “The teetotaling hall monitors are undermining the moral foundations of our country and letting the terrorists win.”

“We laud Beethoven for breaking out of one box,” writes Emily Bootle on the myths surrounding the great composer, “and yet with 250 years of hindsight we would like nothing better than to put him in another.” True story: Long before I’d memorized every note of my copy of Irwin the Disco Duck Vol. 3: Big Hits Dance Party, I’d so internalized Toscanini’s 1952 recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that, to this day, I could easily pick it out of a lineup.

207 East 32nd Street

This is the Manhattan office of Milton Glaser, Inc.

Just about every time we’d visit New York City, Linda and I made a pilgrimage to this place, stand across the street, and ponder what he and his team were working on. We never actually encountered Milton Glaser, but just seeing his four-story office building was inspiring enough.

The transom window over the entry reads “Art is Work.” Glaser believed in hard work. Persistence. A commitment to one’s craft. And his enormous talent provided the joy that kept him working right up until his death on June 26—his 91st birthday.

Once, when he was asked what he does all day, Glaser replied, “I move things around until they look right.” And he made his work “right” quite often. Best known for his 1967 Bob Dylan poster and the 1977 “I ♥ NY” logo, Glaser produced identity programs, book and album covers, packaging, signage, exhibit and environmental design, and countless posters. He co-founded New York magazine and authored three books about design. In 2009, he became the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts. And the list goes on. His contribution to graphic design is immeasurable.

While standing next to a stoop across the street from Glaser’s office, a neighbor told me he’d see Milton arrive in a black limousine late in the morning to start his day and see the car return to pick him up late in the afternoon. He was design royalty, after all.

Evening Reading

Do yourself a favor and check out this great profile of La Monte Young, “the composer who quietly shaped much of contemporary Western music.”

It is difficult to square Young’s influence with the humbleness of Young’s upbringing. He was born into a conservative Mormon family, inside a log cabin in Bern, Idaho, a town that at the time had a population of about 145. His father was a sheep herder who moved the family to Los Angeles in 1940 to work as an experimental machinist for the Douglas Aircraft Company when Young was about 5. But at heart, Young’s father was a cowboy, a country hill jack with a temper. A doctor once told Young’s father that his son was very smart, and upon hearing this news, Young’s father took him outside and beat him.

Young now owns that very cabin. “He’s been thinking of installing a sign in front of the cabin — ‘La Monte Young Was Born Here’ — but his sister has demurred: She was born there, too, she says. Why shouldn’t she get a sign as well?”

Quote of the Day

“Let me tell you somethin’ right now. You’re only allowed three great women in your lifetime. They come along like the great fighters, every ten years. Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis. Sometimes you get ’em all at once. Me? I had my three when I was 16. That happens. What are you gonna do?”

Chazz Palminteri, from the screenplay to A Bronx Tale

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