Author: David Byron
In these parts, we're all understandably outraged about the War on Dogs, an apparent precursor to the rising police state. After all, we've befriended some of the cutest dogs on the planet.
It's only fair, then, that I give the copper his due. Today, I went to the public library. Following local custom, I had pulled through one parking spot and into the one opposite to set up an easy departure. In that space, I was flanked by an SUV on one side and a white minivan on the other.
After czeching out some language-related materials, I made my way to the parking lot. There, a police cruiser was parked laterally in front of my vehicle and the adjacent minivan. The latter's owner had left the building when I did. Ignoring me, the policeman intercepted that guy.
"License, registration, and proof of insurance, please."
"There's a dog in your vehicle. It might be 110 or 120 degrees in there. Your windows are up. His life is at risk. That's illegal."
They unsealed the door, and out popped the panting head of a large, goofy, loveable canine, none the worse for sweltering.
Nobody had parked behind my drive in the interim, so I backed up, drove around, and went on my way, wondering how this had come to pass, and feeling glad for dog's sake that it had.
Well done, Office X of the Y police force. Well done.
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So, if you're a grammar Nazi, then feats of form and usage that strike you as "wrong" (or inferior, or jarring) fairly leap off the page or screen at you in just the same way that my use of "so" at the start of this sentence irks all who are by now fed up with hearing that word abused that way.
The French have an expression for obvious things and especially for things obviously wrong: ça saute aux yeux! That leaps out at the eyes! Like an eye-attacking deathfrog of death. Or blindness. Or blinding obviousness.
Many folks notice deviations from canonical grammar and usage; the Nazi is the one who sees most or all, all the time, until she's fed up. She feels welling up within her an urgent, primal cry in behalf of the norms she has embraced, the quirky irrationales of the tongues to which she's wedded. The Nazi is the one for whom, involuntarily, cela saute aux yeux. Finally, with eggshell sensitivity to the descriptivists and positivists, she pipes up: "perhaps you should reconsider using 'begs the question' in that way." Then she ducks.
Have you been watching the newish BBC series Sherlock? I enjoyed the Holmes stories as a child but wasn't passionate about them. I enjoyed them again as an adult with the same result, but with an admixture of pity and contempt for the racism, sexism, inconsistency, and lack of complexity. I enjoyed them (despite these and other flaws) because they project a world and an ill-fitting inhabitant of that world, and they spark the imagination to consider how that combination might play out– a worthwhile exercise (especially for the logically inclined).
I grew up in a time when Basil Rathbone was the archetypal realization of Sherlock. And his bumbling Watson, who had so little to do with the character described in Doyle, was the archetypal moronic foil. I watched the fading films, but I wasn't married to that realization. Years later, I tried to watch Jeremy Brett's Sherlock– many consider it definitive– but couldn't stomach his interpretation. I didn't reject it because Rathbone; I rejected it because reading. That Sherlockian series aimed within a reasonable margin to be faithful to the canon, so Brett's Holmes is one reader's way of expressing what he found there. What he found, however legitimately derived, isn't what I had found.
The Sherlock of Robert Downey, Jr? Uhm… nice Wing Chun. And I haven't seen Elementary. And I skipped House. (See? Hardly a passionate Irregular.)
The BBC's Sherlock, now entering its fourth season, doesn't aim to stay faithful to the canonical stories; it aims to stay aware of them, and to show this, while re-envisioning the series in a contemporary setting. In this respect, its fidelity is like that of the more recent Battlestar Galactica vis-à-vis the less recent one. And it's brilliant. Often contrived, but then so were the Doyle tales. Sometimes hilarious, always well acted, often clever. Fragmented for the postmodernists, ironic for the Xers, savvy for the millennials. It's a lot of fun.
The show is, among other things, a fabric of in-jokes and allusions, some of them reaching forward within the reimagined world and some reaching out and back toward its Victorian antecedent. That the "Sign of Four" becomes the "Sign of Three" is reaching back; how it does so is reaching forward. That extra layer of literary texture provides a lot of the pleasure.
A recurring motif in Sherlock is that facts and inferences from them jump out nearly involuntarily at Sherlock. Cela saute aux yeux! And the show makes this clear in a medieval way, by literally overlaying text on the screen near the things he's observing. (Sometimes, the overlaid text is used for other purposes, such as making clear to the viewer what has just been texted to someone's device regardless of whether Sherlock knows that. This dual use of superimposed content would be interesting to study more systematically if you're looking for a dissertation topic….)
One respect in which this new Sherlock is enjoyable is that he's clearly superhuman; no mnemonist, no prodigy, no abductive reasoner would or could infer and calculate at the pace and in the ways that he does. He's a freak, and he's presented as a freak. ("Do your research! A high-functioning sociopath!"). And this offers another pleasure: in those moments when we, viewers entangled in the quotidian, draw a little inference from a telling detail in real life, we not only feel like Sherspock but participate in his condescension. We rise above our mundane capacity and attain a height from which to criticize (on eggshells). Having tested the tapir, we fling the femur. We enjoy, however briefly, the subtle pleasures of superiority, enforcement, and reproof. (Oxfordian in commas; Stratfordian in dramas.)
For example, we may read the clickbait article How to Fix Open Offices at Fast Company because we have an innocent interest in rolling back the horror. But as soon as we reach the second paragraphette, ça saute aux yeux: "Ferrigan's team creates 'enclaves' for collaborative working…" (emphasis added).
We try to proceed, but the solecism will not allow it– not until we've at least privately acknowledged the nature of the blunder, gauged its importance, and decided whether to intervene. Involuntarily, we recognize inferences about the writer that may be drawn with high probability: Didn't study Latin. Doesn't know roots. Mixes Latinate and Germanic irrespective of stylistic effect. Is insensitive to redundancy. Missed the 19th century. Was proofed, if at all, by someone with similar deficits. Doesn't care.
One after another, the phrases float up like on-screen annotations in Sherlock, and they hesitate near the eyes before dissipating. Id and Superego enraged, we begin to start to commence formulating a plan for intervention. Then the ego reels us in, and (wistfully waving farewell to the condescendible moment) we decide that the game that would then be afoot ne vaut pas la chandelle. It wouldn't be received well. Why waste illumination where it's not wanted? Pearls before Quine, but squirrels prefer pine.
Fine. Annihilate all stylistic norms. Wallow in your positivism. At this point, what difference does it make? I will diminish and go into the west.
That's one example, but if you're a grammar or usage Nazi, you don't need me to tell you that the occasions proliferate, especially among members of generation whippersnapper.
Correction offers a brief high, but a potent one. It's too engaging, too consuming, to allow oneself to be carried away with every noted blunder. Too indulgent. Here's my advice: offer a solution only seven percent of the time. And that's final.
The documents were taken from at least 24 supersecret compartments that stored them on computers, each of which required a password that a perpetrator had to steal or borrow, or forge an encryption key to bypass.
Once Mr. Snowden breached security at the Hawaii facility, in mid-April of 2013, he planted robotic programs called "spiders" to "scrape" specifically targeted documents.
This excerpt from Edward Jay Epstein's WSJ article sounds awfully sinister and, well, advanced. Not just compartments, but supersecret, Houdini-defying compartments! Except that "supersecret" just means "above secret"– top secret — and "compartments" aren't physical devices but logical, taxonomic infosec categories.
However one feels about Snowden's ideological self-presentation and whatever case can be made that he was/is under the control of foreign intelligence entities and using whistleblowing as a cover, I don't think this sort of rhetorical obfuscation is appropriate. The strength of a case should depend on its substance and validity, not on frosting applied through orc mischief or ignorance.
A. Suppose there's a standard recipe for people who want to make coffee: harvest and prepare (or simply buy) some coffee beans, grind them up, boil them for a few minutes, and serve.
B. Suppose a company — let's call it Feurig — declares a patterned approach toward following this recipe:
- Provide penetrable cups of a certain size containing prepared, ground beans.
- Provide a ring sized to hold the cup, a mounted pin to puncture the bottom of the cup, a mounted injection nozzle to penetrate the top of the cup, and a hinged apparatus to automate these penetrations when a cup is inserted into the ring and covered by depressing a handle.
- Provide an encompassing container capable of heating water, detecting its temperature, and injecting that water into the cup at a rate suitable for cooking the bean dust.
C. Suppose Feurig then implements this patterned approach toward following the recipe by making cups and a device to accommodate and process them.
D. Suppose further that a competing company with an interest in making coffee notes Feurig's success in the marketplace and creates a different machine — made from different materials, employing a different heating, monitoring, and injection facility, and penetrating the cup differently.
E. Suppose even further that yet another company makes a cup different from Feurig's but consistent with the scale of the holding ring on Feurig's machine and capable of being refilled with arbitrary contents (such as tea or sympathy).
What is the API?
The API is not the standard recipe (A) for making coffee: that's an obvious practice deeply embedded in the common culture and widely exercised in industry and among hobbyists.
The API is not the device that Feurig made as an implementation (C) of the patterned approach that Feurig had declared, and it is not the competing machine (D), and it is not the alternative cup (E).
The API is B: a patterned recipe-following approach capable of being realized in a concrete implementation.
F. Suppose now that a complex culture of innovation and competition has arisen around the API defined in B, and that a company — let's call it Deploracle — comes along and buys Feurig.
Deploracle argues that its newly acquired intellectual property extends not just to the physical brewing device its wholly owned subsidiary invented, but also to the abstract pattern to which that device and its successors (and many knock-off devices) conform to ensure interoperability, substitutability, and some other seven- or eight-syllable word.
That's sort of like claiming IP rights not only over the particular car you manufacture, but also over the general idea of exposing a latch to open a door, providing access to a seat, and presenting a wheel, some pedals, and a feedback display to enable intentional control of a driving machine– a contingent set of conventions that declare a patterned approach to the general recipe for driving a car. (Adherence to those declared conventions of capability and method ensure that many automobile manufacturers can make a car, that many people can learn to drive a car, and that people who learn to drive a car can thereby drive any car that conforms to the expectations implicit in that training.)
So Diabetes-Benz lays claim not only to its actual line of cars, but also to the very idea of doing a car in that way, simply because they declared that convention when implementing their car.
Does that seem right to you?
This poem is the second part of a diptych. To read the first part, already posted, follow this link.
A Passover/Easter Exhortation
When winter, winter days, and dramatic rains,
Arrange with memories in ink and fiction,
Ascribing each benediction to the reigns
Of blessed change and heavenly restriction,
Their season’s preferred font of color let
Bestow with frigid hand a painted touch,
Chromatically whispering even its palette,
And reason a distraction to the brush.
In essence winter day too long decrying,
Thy lip and constancy’s eye, by short diction, tear
The given center. Why, wonted sky denying,
With word take aim, selection and objection their
Reaction? Whether winter be loss, the other teach,
Meet me, thy mate, in the periphery of each.
~David Byron for Cathie
The most beautiful land I've ever stormed
Crimea, Crimea, Crimea, Crimea….
All the beaches and dachas and woods where my army swarmed
Crimea, Crimea, Crimea, Crimea….
I've just held a vote in Crimea,
And suddenly I've shown
How vain a threat or drone
Take by force, and we're there in person.
By decree, and we're edging toward Kherson….
I'll keep occupying Crimea!
The most beautiful land I've ever stormed:
This article originally appeared in The Mandala Magazine (2:5), April 2012
Houdini Now and Then:
Caught on the Web
It’s tough being a fan of the Great Houdini. Your non-magician friends quickly grow tired of hearing you say “Watch me escape from this” or “Tie me up! Tighter!” The patience of your significant other wears thin as you beckon “Look at this photo of the fourth milk can!” And your magician friends who are not fans of HH (a defect we fans describe with the phrase “just doesn’t get it”) are likely to respond with “You know, he wasn’t really much of a magician” or “You know, Vernon fooled him with a double” or “You know, he was sort of an arrogant bastard to… well… everyone.”
OK. Yes, we know. Even so, there’s just something about Houdini the man and the myth. And being a fan is no longer about becoming Houdini (though for some it once was). Nor is it about defending Houdini. (Well, maybe a bit.) It’s about appreciating two interwoven themes in the life of Ehrich Weiss: a tragically imperfect pursuit of the American Dream and a splendidly perfect example of magical theatrics. The actor lived a life, not always well, but the character he played projected a fiction, always magnificent. (more…)
Bring a cleric.
On 16 November, I told you about Gridiron Solitaire, an indie game developed by Friend-of-the-'Hat and all-around nice guy Bill Harris of Dubious Quality. At that time, Bill had submitted the game to Steam for possible greenlighting and I asked for votes in support of that effort. Alongside some Popehatters, friends of Bill from all around the 'verse joined in, and pretty soon afterward the game was approved.
Well, Gridiron Solitaire is now officially available on Steam! I'll bet it's a great way to spend a snowy evening….