Sunday, September 30, 2012

How to save the US economy

"When Romney goes to the movies, he pops a bag of his own popcorn at home, stuffs it into his wife’s purse and sneaks it into the movie theater so he doesn’t have to buy a snack he considers overpriced."

--Ann Gerhart and Philip Rucker, "For Romney, wealth means both freedom and a trap," Washington Post

--Image from

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Stink bugs

As I watch stink bugs creeping outside the window facing my desk in my apt. in DC, I find it a salutary reminder that I am living in Washington, imperial capital and nest of ever-reproducing politicians and lobbyists.

One consolation, perhaps applicable to the above-mentioned persons: "They really cause no harm," White [Wayne White, of American Pest] said. "Just a nuisance."

Image from

Saturday, September 22, 2012

On Reading Papers by US University Students

"SAT reading scores hit a four-decade low" - Emma Brown, Washington Post

As an adjunct university professor, thus by definition no genius but essentially a reinvented "experienced professional" in these times of inflated academic titles who needs money, I am struck by the constant lack of consideration on students' part for elementary grammar, ranging from the use of the apostrophe to sequence of tenses.

What really bothers me about these oversights is not so much grammatical infelicities that linguistic purists lose sleep about (infelicities I, not a native English speaker, am so often guilty of), but the assumption of some students that they don't need to check if they are using our English language in a comprehensible fashion.

Such students think that whatever they write, is inevitably"right, just because they say/"write" it.

There is an arrogance/ignorance about this that, quite frankly, drives me nuts. Proofreading seems to students -- I wish they were a minority -- totally passe (no, you don't need an accent aigu for "passe" in English, as is suggested by TheFreeDictionary).

As any writer worth her salt knows, she has to check (especially to question it) grammar, essentially the best use of words to make them clear and understandable to the reader, no matter in what form. Writing, in essence, is constant rewriting.

Also, for the aspiring artists/revolutionaries in the younger generation, how do you challenge grammatical/linguistic conventions (a challenge that is always culturally refreshing) if you don't even know what such (granted fragile) conventions are?

One of the wonders of the Internet is that it makes grammatical clarification easily accessible (up to certain points).  Even undergraduates who have never used a printed reference work can check on the Internet about the optimal use of words.

But all too many students don't bother to "check" anything they write. Why?

1. Adolescent hubris. I understand what I write, why don't you?  If you don't know what I mean, that's your problem.
2. "My teacher in high school never taught me I was wrong." (Or, as the teenage girl tells her parents, "I never asked to be born.")
3. I'm into the visual  ... like, you know, Youtube ...
4. Spell-check has done the job.
5. "I'll work in the new social media. 140 characters (how much is 140?) is all I need."

In all fairness, I am exaggerating. Some students are diligent, detail-minded, dedicated, you name the adjective.

But, all too often, I have found that, even among the "best" among them, the assumption is that "teacher go home (I won't use obscene language), I'm right."

Well, maybe they are right.

But what American college students seldom question  -- and I am speaking from experience -- is that they what themselves say/write may not be as right/perfect as they automatically assume.

That's the problem, as I see it. Absolute certitude. We're all guilty of it, and so its the younger generation, the hope of the future.

Well, OK. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. So did Facebook's "Zuck," whose stocks admittedly are not doing so well these days.

So who "needs college" (admittedly, as exorbitant price these days)?

Still, think about it: In a society where not everyone is a wunderkid, and where precision counts, would you hire a basketball player on an NBA team who can't even make a lay-up even though she's totally convinced she's Michael Jordan?


"Step one .... Thinking cannot be done without words. Step two. If we don't use words rightly, we shall not think rightly. Step three. If we do not think rightly, we cannot reliably decide rightly, because good decisions depend on accurate thinking. Step four. If we do not decide rightly, we shall make a mess or our lives, and also of other people's lives .... Step five. If we make a mess of our lives, we shall makes ourselves and other people unhappy .... Therefore: happiness depends at least on good grammar."

Of course, this is terribly simplistic, but it is a voice that has to be heard if we wish to maintain sanity as an element in our modern world.

Also see: Computer guy Kyle Wiens makes a lot of sense in his, "I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why."

Friday, September 21, 2012

American Products: Loved and Hated

American Products: Loved and Hated -- Samples from the US press:

Global Sales of iPhone 5 Kick Off With Crowds - Wall Street Journal (September 21): "Customers in parts of Asia and Europe began snapping up Apple Inc.'s AAPL -0.49% iPhone 5 on Friday amid signs of strong demand for the high-profile handset, despite widening controversy over its mapping features. ... In Frankfurt, 25-year-old Amir Taheri was at the front of the queue, having got in line the previous afternoon and waited through the night in near-freezing temperatures. 'We huddled up in our blankets, surfed and clocked some Facetime,' Mr. Taheri said. 'It was good we were allowed to charge our batteries in the store.'"

Pakistan police open fire on crowd protesting anti-Islam video, killing man in television news car - (September 21): "Pakistani police opened fire on rioters who were torching a cinema during a protest Friday against an anti-Islam film, killing one man on a day declared by the government as a public holiday for people to demonstrate against the video. Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani television station, was killed when bullets hit his vehicle in the northwest city of Peshawar, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who was also sitting in the car at the time. The TV channel showed footage of Amir at the hospital as doctors tried to save him. It also showed the windshield of the vehicle, shattered by several gunshots. The film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad has sparked unrest in many parts of the Muslim world over the past 10 days, and the deaths of at least 31 people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have been linked to the violence. Much of the anger has been directed at the U.S. government even though the film was privately produced in the U.S. and American officials have criticized it for insulting Muslims."

--Image from

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ambassador Stevens as a Public Diplomacy Envoy

It has been little noticed by the mainstream media that former US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, tragically murdered in the town of Benghazi, went to the American Consulate in that provincial town to open a so-called "American Space" sponsored by the State Department -- a visit that was a public diplomacy gesture par excellence. Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, and the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World," did mention in The Washington Post this purpose of the Ambassador's visit (and what an "American Space" is about):
Two days after his murder **, Chris was supposed to inaugurate the first “American Space” in Libya. That’s why he went to Benghazi. The center would offer a library, computers with free Internet access, language classes and films. In prepared remarks he never got to give, Chris was going to say, “An American Space is not part of the American Embassy. It is owned, operated, and staffed by our Libyan partners, while the United States provides materials, equipment, and speakers. An American Space is a living example of the kind of partnership between our two countries which we hope to inspire.”
American diplomat Peter Van Buren, whose blog "We Meant Well" is a must-read, does mention the "American Space" in connection with the Ambassador's Benghazhi visit, giving it its more widely known appellation:
It appears that the Ambassador was in Benghazi for the ribbon-cutting for an “American Corner.” An American Corner is, in State’s own words, a “friendly, accessible space, open to the public, which provides current and reliable information about the United States through bilingual book and magazine collections, films and documentaries, poster exhibitions, and guides for research on the United States.” Ironic of course that Ambassador Stevens and his people died in what is sadly all of a propaganda gesture, a book nook Corner that says happy things about America so that Libyans will love us.
The planned "American Corner" in Benghazi, however, never hit the MSM radar screen, despite its newsworthy potential of being a way to inform Libyans about America and carry out public diplomacy. And, so far as I can tell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (or President Obama) has not emphasized this "American Space/Corner" opening as a purpose of the Ambassador's visit to Benghazi which led to his death. The reasons for this official silence are unknown to me, but perhaps the State Department could enlighten the public on this matter.

On American Corners, please see.

**Regarding the use of the word "murder" to describe the fate of Ambassador Stevens, please note the comment of Kim Andrew Elliott [his comment in italics] on an article in Digital Journal: "Digital Journal, 14 Sept 2012, Ted Lipien: 'Former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe criticizes the executive staff of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for using a weak language in describing the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. Public relations officials of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) -- the U.S. government agency responsible for broadcasts to the Middle East and other parts of the world -- referred to the 'passing' of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens in a statement expressing condemnation of the attacks that claimed his life and three others. Ambassador Victor H. Ashe, one of the current seven members of the bipartisan board in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, said the killings should be described as murder.' -- It was not 'weak language,' but correct use of English. The BBG mourns the passing, but condemned the attack (see the BBG statement on 12 Sept). It would seem a bit off to mourn a murder. In any case, a news organization is behooved to be restrained in its language."