Thursday, March 23, 2023

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Monday, March 20, 2023

March Equinox

Spring arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at 5:24 p.m. Eastern Time today, all things being equal.

Because the earth is a spheroid, not a perfect sphere, the hours of equal daylight and sunlight, known to meteorologists as “equilux,” was last week, on March 16, here in Florida.

As far as I’m concerned, we’re getting more daylight, and I like that.

Spring Break

I get the week off, like the rest of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.  Unlike this kid, I’m not going anywhere.

That photo was taken in March 1968 at Aspen Highlands. I was fifteen. I know it was 1968 because I’m wearing dorky horn-rimmed glasses that I only wore for that one year.

Spring skiing was an annual thing in those days.  But one year we went to Jamaica because my brother had broken his leg, and I was bit by the tropical bug. I got rid of my skis and cold-weather gear when I moved back to Florida in 2001 and haven’t looked back.

I’ll be on a spring break schedule here, too.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sunday Reading

Mark My Words — Florence Hazrat comes to the defense of the oft-overused exclamation point!

Open your text messages. Scroll through a couple of threads with your close friends. Chances are you will find plenty of ! or !!! — to express anger or enthusiasm or sometimes just to lighten the mood. But in some contexts — in a note, say, to your boss or your mother-in-law — an ! might come off as too forceful or pushy or naively joyful. The Chicago Manual of Style says the punctuation should be used “sparingly to be effective.” But what does “sparingly” mean in our emphatic times? If you’re confused, you’re not alone; the exclamation point (or mark) has long been a source of confusion and contention. Naturally!

For the last three years, I have been studying the history of the exclamation point — and over the course of my research (which began with a study of parentheses) time and again I have come across flak against !. I began to wonder whether the exclamation point was really as “breathless, almost childish” as the “Penguin Guide to Punctuation” says it is. I read on, hoping someone would publish a manifesto in defense of the poor abused mark, but couldn’t find anything. So that someone turned out to be me.

What I love about ! is precisely the unabashed emotion that makes sober style guides uncomfortable. The exclamation point encodes feelings — and it doesn’t apologize for doing so. In fact, since its first known appearance, in the 1340s, ! has been praised for capturing the emotion of the author and encouraging emotions in the reader.

The ! was a bit of a late bloomer — sprouting up from the period, which along with the comma, colon and question mark had been around for hundreds of years. The Italian scholar Alpoleio da Urbisaglia, however, noticed with dismay that people would read what he called “admirative sentences” as statements or questions, which undermined both the meaning and the effect. In his Latin treatise “The Art of Punctuating,” Alpoleio suggested a new mark, one that would signal “admiration and wonder” through a period at the bottom of the line and an apostrophe dangling from the top of the line. ! was born, addressing an express need for emotion in text.

Renaissance writers put a premium on persuasion, gladly using any means at their disposal to make their readers feel, so the exclamation point quickly spread across Europe from manuscript to manuscript and enlarged its sphere of influence to indicate not only admiration and wonder but any strong emotion.

! was happily coasting along in the service of effective rhetoric until a shift occurred at the end of the 19th century. Its repercussions still determine our current critical attitudes: We started to become suspicious of emotion in any form in public or private life, preferring the clean straight lines of a Bauhaus building to the mischievous curlicues of a Renaissance palace. During the Victorian age, language was forced into a straitjacket of right or wrong on both sides of the Atlantic. Along with the zeitgeist of quantification, linguistics invented itself as an exact science that left little space for ambiguity, experimentation, excess and the conscious deviations that are the hallmark of a language that’s alive and breathing.

Influential household writing guides like “The King’s English” (1906) by the Fowler brothers, sternly admonishing that too many !!! “betray the uneducated,” contributed to banishing exclamation points into two realms where convincing through emotion was of the utmost importance: wartime propaganda and advertising. Private exclaiming was discouraged; there wasn’t even a dedicated ! key on the typewriter until the 1980s — before that, you had to return to the exclamation point’s olden days, performing a complicated period-backspace-apostrophe dance. Only those truly committed to shouting would go to such lengths.

But ! was merely in hiding, planning its comeback. And come back it did … with a vengeance: Smartphone technology enables us to simply leave our thumbbbbbbb on any of the hundreds of available keys and produce rows of characters with no added effort. Social media’s declared goal is informal, near-instant human communication. Put differently, it’s all about emotion.

It seems almost obvious now that the exclamation point would rise again when smartphones and the web emerged and pooled forces. But there’s more to our increased !!!!!!!! than just that: The internet is a supremely disembodied space. All writing is disembodied, but with the rise of digital communication, we don’t have reminders of the writer’s actual presence anymore; we don’t have paper to feel, folds and crumples to see, or individual letter forms to scrutinize, underlinings, scratchings-out, a stamp that’s been licked. Both writer and reader are reduced to electronic impulses, as if they never existed as flesh and blood. Precisely because the exclamation point is so EMOTIONAL, it’s able to bridge that gap of presence. On the web, people using ! seem friendlier than people who don’t.

In their 2007 book “Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better,” David Shipley (now the editorial page editor at The Washington Post) and Will Schwalbe suggest that exclamation points can give welcome texture to the otherwise flat tone of emails, recuperating them from the bottom of the punctuation pecking order. Why not spice up your emailing game with a few strategically placed exclamation points here and there? And don’t forget to include at least one in the first message to the person you swiped on: Your chances of getting a date could increase by 10 percent, according to one study!

The exclamation point did go through a rough patch before and during the Trump presidency: In 12 years on the little-blue-bird platform, Donald Trump reportedly produced 56,000 tweets, containing 33,000 !s. That’s a lot of exclaiming. It added to the screechy tone and political division perceived in the United States and abroad during those years. While the association with the ex-president remains strong, users have attempted to reclaim ! as a sign of spontaneous enthusiasm and authenticity.

But another threat is lurking around the corner: emoji. The little pictures have been hijacking some of the !’s traditional territory, appending expressions of feeling in text messages. In recent years, the number of emoji has exploded, growing every year. As texters, we need to scroll through long lists of similar-looking pictures to find the exact one that suits our need. Then as readers, we have to spend time and attention on recognizing which emoji we are facing and interpreting what it means in relation to the words surrounding it. The exclamation point, in contrast, is much more economical and effective, well suited to the swift back and forth of texting. Its shape is unmistakable, its message clear: Here are feelings! Pay attention!

Emoji may naturally disappear in a few years, replaced by new technologies, but the 700-year-old exclamation point isn’t going anywhere. And thank goodness! We need to keep using it — and should be free to do so, to point out wonder, express admiration. And joy! But beware: Boomers are allergic to exclamation points. So, if you want to keep the peace at the next family gathering with your parents-in-law, better go for the boring period!

Florence Hazrat is the author ofAn Admirable Point: A Brief History of the Exclamation Mark!” She is a writer and researcher from Berlin who loves all things punctuation and Shakespeare.

As a blogger and a playwright, I rarely use the exclamation point.  It’s not that I’m a snob about it, but as the author points out, it can be overused to the degree that it becomes meaningless, not unlike how a certain vulgar word has been used to the point that it has lost all its impact.  The only times exclamation points appear in this blog is when I’m quoting someone who used it in their piece.  Other than that, I let the writing carry the necessary emphasis.  In my plays, I hardly ever use it because I leave it up to the actors and the director to discern that it should be implied and the dialogue punched up without a punctuation mark.

Doonesbury — Look what I found.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Friday, March 17, 2023

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Judge Not

Charlie Pierce looks at the judge sitting on the abortion pill case in Amarillo, Texas.

A group of kangaroos is called a “mob.” It is also called a “troupe.” And, yes, a group of kangaroos also is called a “court.” Which reminds me, there was a judicial hearing down in Texas with a direct bearing on the health, safety and freedom of all American women. From The New York Times:

Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, of the Northern District in Texas, told lawyers in the case on Friday that he was scheduling the hearing for Wednesday morning. However, he asked them not to disclose that information and said he would not enter it into the public court record until late Tuesday evening. One person familiar with the case, which is being heard in federal court in Amarillo, Texas, said such steps were “very irregular,” especially for a case of intense public interest. Judge Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who has written critically about Roe v. Wade and previously worked for a Christian conservative legal organization, told lawyers in a conference call Friday that he did not want the March 15 hearing to be “disrupted,” and that he wanted all parties involved to share their points in an orderly fashion, according to people familiar with the discussion.

Even by the standards of a theocrat judge who owes his current position to the worst president ever, this guy is a piece of work. First of all, clearly, he’d have held court in a compound in Idaho if he could have managed it. He is preparing to land another gut-shot to reproductive freedoms, and he’s preparing to do it surreptitiously, and in Amarillo. But I repeat myself. Anyway, it’s not working very well.

Despite the judge’s request, news organizations learned about the hearing and reported it. Members of groups that support abortion rights are planning to demonstrate outside the court building while the hearing is in progress, including by wearing kangaroo and judge costumes to protest what they consider to be a “kangaroo court” and by driving a truck around the city streets with a billboard that will say “a majority of Americans support abortion access.”

The kangaroo suits are a nice touch, and thanks to the NYT for explaining the gag to us.

He said that the court would provide seating for the public and the press, but his plan to provide little advance notice seemed likely to have the practical effect of minimizing the number of people who would attend, according to people familiar with the discussion. Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, is several hours’ drive from other major Texas cities, and only a couple of those cities provide direct flights.

Judge Kacsmaryk comes straight out of the vast conservative judicial nursery. From the Washington Post:

Kacsmaryk, who ascended to the federal bench from the conservative legal group First Liberty Institute, has defended his ability to be impartial in his work as a judge. Nonetheless, many of his recent decisions have been wins for the right, including one that struck down new Biden administration protections for transgender people and another that forced thousands of asylum seekers to return to Mexico while they awaited processing. (Kacsmaryk is also presiding over a lawsuit filed by anti-vaccine activists led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. accusing several media outlets, including The Washington Post, of colluding to censor their views on coronavirus vaccines.)

The administration already has announced that it will appeal Kacsmaryk’s ruling, fully expecting that he’ll rule against medication abortion. His preposterous attempt to hold this hearing under cover of armadillos does not bode well for the defendants. Judges with stealth capabilities are a whole new thing.

It should be noted that this judge’s previous rulings in favor of conservative causes have come down on the side of shoring up what he sees as personal rights over the intrusion of the government.  Except when he agrees with the big government stomping on a woman’s right to control her own body.  That is how they roll.

The Dorkiest Place On Earth

Andy Borowitz:

ORLANDO (The Borowitz Report)—Ron DeSantis has unveiled an ambitious plan to raze Disney World and replace it with a “Dilbert”-themed attraction.

The new theme park, tentatively called Dilbert World, will attract “millions of Americans deprived of their favorite comic strip by the left-wing media Reich,” the Florida governor said.

Calling the new tourist destination “a woke-free zone,” DeSantis promised, “Parents who go to Dilbert World can rest assured that their children will not be exposed to the vile multicultural propaganda that it’s a small world, after all.”

DeSantis was vague about what kind of rides might be featured in Dilbert World, saying only that “they will probably involve cubicles.”

Perfect place for Dopey.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Foreign Entanglements

Ron DeSantis is a big seller of his bullying and bazz-fazz here in Florida and some rallies in Iowa (gee, what’s he doing there?), and he finds nodding agreement with his ignorance-based “anti-woke” snake oil among the folks like the two old gaffers I overheard at the diner yesterday morning solving all the world’s problems thanks to two cups of coffee and grits.  As George Burns noted, it’s too bad that the only people who really know how to run the country are driving cabs and cutting hair.  Anyway, Mr. DeSantis was on Tucker Carlson the other night and was asked about Ukraine.

“While the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness with our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis said in a statement.

This is at odds with most of the rest of the GOP, but it’s right up Carlson’s — and Trump’s — alley: they’re basically America First isolationists, more worried about starving and desperate brown people trying to cross the Rio Grande on foot than they are about an army with tanks and hyper-sonic missiles invading a sovereign country in Europe.  And he’s also at odds with himself.  In 2015 when he was a back-bencher in Congress, he spoke out against the Obama administration’s “weakness” on supporting Ukraine against the menace of Russia.

“We in the Congress have been urging the president, I’ve been, to provide arms to Ukraine. They want to fight their good fight. They’re not asking us to fight it for them. And the president has steadfastly refused. And I think that that’s a mistake,” DeSantis said in a 2015 radio interview with conservative talk radio host Bill Bennett, which was recently unearthed and reported on by CNN.

What’s changed?  Well, he’s now running for president, and he’s trying to suck up to the base of the party that he thinks will hand him the nomination.

What it really proves is that while he may have been re-elected by a wide margin in Florida (although he basically ran unopposed; sorry, Charlie), that doesn’t endow him with a great deal of insight into foreign policy, and his understanding of geopolitics is limited to what he thinks he needs to say to get on Fox News so he can have a gig when his term is up and he’s in the GOP loser ranks with Scott Walker and Tim Pawlenty.  (Who?  Exactly.)

He also may want to remember that politicians who thought “territorial disputes” were not our business once said the same thing in 1939.  How’d that turn out for Poland, Belgium, and France?