Friday, September 10, 2010


Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life:
  • There are two types of men in the world:  Those who carry pocket knives, and those who don't.
  • Quiz time:  The answer:  Ray Flaherty.  (The question appears later in this column.)
  • One thing people forget when comparing baseball across eras:  They didn’t throw the ball out of the game every time it hit the dirt (standard practice now!) in Babe Ruth’s day.  If it didn’t go into the stands in some manner, they kept using it, no matter how dirty or scuffed. 
  • (Tell me that didn’t give the pitchers more of an advantage back then--along  with the higher mound, the legal spitball, the absence of batting helmets, batting gloves and all that body armor. Plus they didn't have the "hitters' backgrounds" that are commonplace today; batters were often looking into a sea of white shirts. Still, Joe DiMaggio managed to amass a 56-game hitting streak that has endured nearly 70 years, among other remarkable offensive feats by other genuine giants!)
  • Jim's Unusual Product of the Week:  Crop brand Organic Cucumber Vodka (Only $25.99 for a 750ml bottle).
  •  "After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed and mourning over tragedies that were not my own."--Oscar Wilde
  • Book Title of the Week:  "How To Really Get Postal Jobs."
  • Which brings up a point: Time was when postal jobs--never mind how unglamorous or pedestrian (no pun intended)--were valued because of their "job security." But with reduced mail volume, the closing of numerous post offices and the specter of discontinued Saturday delivery, such jobs have lost their best feature.  Not surprising, given that even teaching and police and fire department jobs--other bastions of "job security"--are falling victim to layoffs, furloughs and "early retirements."
  • Redundancy patrol:  “Collaborate together,” "continue on," ". . . see what happens in the future."
  • When I was young, news of a divorce in our neighborhood/circle of friends was a virtual scandal, not accepted (or virtually expected) as it is now.  The thought of gay marriage would have been regarded as science-fiction improbable.  And who would have predicted "male-enhancement" commercials in prime time?  Heard some of the words now getting past the censors on late-night talk shows? On cable?
  • Thus this question:  If past is prologue, what other taboos will eventually fall into the Accepted category? Where will society finally draw the line?  Child pornography? Incest?  Bestiality? Alternate-side-of-the-street parking? I would hope "None of the above," but I wouldn't bet on it.  (I’m just sayin’.) 
  • What's the difference between a proverb, an axiom and an adage?
  • "Both President Obama and Glenn Beck . . . were fulsome [italics mine] in their praise of the troops [at the rally], as well they should have been."--Frank Rich in The New York Times, Sept. 5.
  • Oops--wrong word. The error, albeit a common one, is the misuse of "fulsome."  It does not, as many erroneously assume, mean "full," "abundant" or "lavish"; it means "insincere," "excessively flattering," "offensive to good taste, tactless."
  • The Times' copy desk should have caught that and asked the estimable Mr. Rich which word he wanted to substitute. But that didn't happen.  Perhaps the Times has also fallen victim to the reduced staffing that has plagued the profession in recent years. ("Lavish" would have been my choice, as it has but one meaning and therefore invites no misunderstanding.)
  • Rule of thumb:  Whisper anything you want remembered.
  • Ever wonder why computer models have such strange, alphabet-soup-sounding names?  It's no accident, says Steve Fox, vice president and editorial director of PC World magazine.  Complex names (such as Widget-Tech Huzzah 5097B-15iJ Laptop) make it almost impossible to demand that Big Box Store A match the sale price at Big Box Store B  and also makes online price comparisons virtually impossible.
  • Writes Fox:  "Dozens of models; thousands of configurations; indecipherable, protean prices?  Don't sweat it; just click the Buy Now button."
  • I agree with Fox:  It's hard to believe that increasing customer confusion is an effective marketing strategy.  How can you ask for a product by name when the name is confusing and complex--or changes every month?  (As if instant obsolescence isn't enough, we now have constant confusion.  Lovely.)
  • Quiz answer question:  In 1935, Flaherty, a New York Giants receiver, became the first athlete to have his number retired. (In this case, appropriately, No. 1.)
  • Strange but true: Did you know that Ernest Hemingway was dressed and raised as a girl until he was 3 years old? (His mother tried to pass him off as the twin of his slightly older sister!  What's the joke here--The Daughter Also Rises?)
  • "Zippy" by Bill Griffith is the best "comic strip" ever.  And to call it that is almost an insult, because what it is, is social/pop culture commentary at its witty, most perceptive best.
  • Why you're running late:  According to a study cited in the Wall Street Journal, traffic can slow even without heavy volume, because of driver reaction time. Even when the number of vehicles shouldn't tax a road, "a small perturbation—such as a slight deceleration by one car—can ripple through the cars behind them, as they brake in reaction." 
  • Japanese researchers assigned roughly two dozen drivers to cruise along a closed circular track at about 20 miles per hour. After some time, a jam developed, and the cars within it ground to a halt--even though no one ahead of them actually stopped!
  • Postgame (or perhaps even pregame) cliche of the year, if not the decade:  "It is what it is."  (What it is, is lame beyond description--a vacuous locution.  But I guess they got tired of saying older lame stuff like "We'll go get 'em tomorrow!")
  • Today's Latin lesson:  Fines finium may adicio. ("Restrictions may apply.")

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