Sunday, June 11, 2006

OK, I have to ask this. One of the leading British football/soccer teams is called Arsenal. (This was the team of which the main character was a fanatic supporter in Nick Hornby's book "Fever Pitch", and the 1997 movie closely based on it, though not, of course, in the 2005 U.S. remake.) Now, I think I can still keep this blog rated PG as I ask: given what "arse" means in British English, doesn't this set the team up for a lot of mockery? Or maybe it never occurs to anyone. (Or maybe anyone to whom it does occur is too afraid of being beaten to a pulp by hooliganish fans of the team.) After all, though I'm not much of a follower of sports news and talk, I've never heard anyone make the equivalent joke about the Houston Astros.

And the coach of Arsenal is a Frenchman named Arsene. Did they hire him just for that?

So many book advertisements, and covers, bear the legend "New York Times bestseller", even with the name of the paper in the Gothic typeface used on front page, just so we're sure. It's as if appearing on the bestseller list (or lists, for there are several) somehow connotes approval of the book by America's highbrow newspaper of record, as if it were some kind of "15 best" list, akin to the top-ten lists compiled by many film critics at the end of the year, rather than the gross revenue figures released by the studios and distributors each week. Although some argue with the Times's counting methodology, bestseller status is basically an objective measure, not a subjective judgment. So why should we be impressed by the name "New York Times"? Or is it just that if it is going to claim bestseller status for one of its books, a publisher has to give an attribution, noting who says it's a bestseller?

Isn't it funny how in an economic context, the word "liberal" still has its 18th century meaning, so that the folks pushing "neoliberal" economic and trade policies tend to be political conservatives? You'd think that with "liberal" being such a dirty word to them, they would have found another term by now.

Monday, June 05, 2006

In a tasteful move, President George W. Bush gave a speech reiterating his opposition to same-sex marriage on a day when the world, and in particular the gay community, was marking 25 years of the AIDS epidemic. I'm sure that was carefully coordinated with his "base". Meanwhile, a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman was introduced in the Senate. I hate it when the issue is phrased that way. If they want to ban gay marriage, the amendment should read, "There shall be no gay marriage in the U.S." Just be honest, OK?

Here in California, we're having a primary election tomorrow. In the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor to challenge Arnold Schwarzenegger, the two main candidates are Phil Angelides, who made a lot of money in real estate and now serves as one of the top state fiscal officials (treasurer), and Steve Westly, who made a lot of money as an executive at eBay and now serves as one of the top state fiscal officials (comptroller). I'm not sure exactly who does what; I should look it up in the state constitution. Maybe one keeps an eye on the other. The two have even more in common: they have been campaigning mainly by running nasty negative ads against each other, and neither has the support of more than about 35 percent of voters in polls. (An almost equal number are still undecided, like Your Humble Commando Etymologist.) About the only difference is that Angelides is a little geekier looking (in fact, he looks a little like YHCE.) And he went to Harvard. Westly went to Harvard wannabe Stanford. But he's from the Bay Area. Oh, and Westly's website is a lot higher tech; I guess he learned something at eBay.

I've heard, though, that in order to get a take advantage of recent news to get a last-minute edge, the Treasurer has decided to "rebrand" himself as "Angelides Jolie".

Blond, chiseled-faced Westly has responded by noting his own resemblance to a blond, chiseled-faced actor, so that now the whole election has been rebranded, or "reBranned", as "Brangelides", with the degree of nastiness likened to that shown in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith". ("Brangelina", actually, sounds to me more like a high-fiber natural cereal than a couple.)

Personally, I think that, given that there's no real difference between them (oops, spoiler?), if Westly wants to be Brad Pitt, Angelides should be Edward Norton, and the election modeled on "Fight Club".

I mean, considering that one of them will be going up against Arnold Schwarzenegger, they'd better start working on becoming movie action heroes. (Although I watched "Terminator 3" the other day, and it was awful. Well, it was awful even if you liked the first two in the series. It had none of their originality; everything in it had been done in the first two, and it didn't even make sense on its own terms. I'm almost glad that Schwarzenegger has gone into politics, if it will keep him from making movies like this. By the way, I refuse to call him, or any other politician, by his first name, no matter how many campaign signs they put out bearing it in bigger letters than the surname, or how difficult that surname is to pronounce.)

By the way, note that I use "Democratic" as the adjectival form of "Democrat" : "Democratic Party", "Democratic nomination", etc. Ever notice how many Republicans refuse to do this? They speak of "Democrat plans" or the "Democrat Party". (The latter of which is just wrong, since "Democratic" is part of the party's official name, not a descriptive term.) To them, I guess, "Democratic" is too evocative of its small-d version. (So one could argue that the party is unfairly trying to take advantage of this connotation, and so the Republicans are under no obligation to use the non-neutral term, any more than the Democrats would call their rivals the value-loaded "Grand Old Party".) "Republican", of course, is both noun and adjective (maybe the Republicans would argue that if *they* have to use the same word, so should the Democrats. It's interesting how when the Democrats started out under Jefferson, they were called "Democratic-Republicans"; "democratic" had a negative connotation to the Founding Fathers as suggesting mob rule, while "republican" (small r, of course), described the form of government guaranteed to all the states in the Constitution (Article IV, Section 4). Today, "democratic" is always used positively, at least in this country, to describe the sort of government we want to bring to the world (whether it wants it or not), and "republican", almost never in any context. Is it better to have a term unique to you, or to have a name with other meanings, and hope they will be positive?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Have you ever noticed that in almost every New York Times article about an actress, she is described as coming to meet the reporter for an interview wearing "not a trace of makeup"? (It shows that despite all the hype about how beautiful and glamorous she is, the actress is really a simple, down to earth, girl-next-door who just runs on talent.) I'm always amazed when the exact same expression is used over and over, like a formula in an oral epic (the way, for instance, in the Iliad, Dawn is always "rosy-fingered" and Zeus is often "cloud-gathering".) Did an order go out from the editor in chief? Is it just the reporters imitating each other? Or has word gotten around the acting community never to wear makeup to a New York Times interview?

OK, I'm confused about the name of the Burmese dissident leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. My impression was that those four syllables constitute her surname, not her personal name. That's "Daw". So if you want to refer to her formally, you say "Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi", or "Aung San Suu Kyi" (depending on whether your stylebook says to refer to John Smith as "Mr. Smith" or just "Smith" on second reference.) But I've also seen/heard her referred to as "Suu Kyi". Even on her website, . So what gives? I know her father was the general Aung San. I know plenty of Burmese only have one name, such as Thant, the diplomat and U.N. Secretary General. ("U" was an honorific, like "Mr.") I actually think it's kind of cool how in several countries in the news, such as Afghanistan and Indonesia, people use only one name. I love how at some point in every New York Times article on Indonesia, at some point, some man in the street is quoted, and in the attribution comes the explanatory "who like many Indonesians uses only one name", just so readers don't think the reporter forget to get full information (or was trying to protect a source's identity.) I always wondered what 80's Afghani leader Najibullah's first name was, only to find he didn't have one. This is an interesting issue that comes up in library cataloging, which, I guess I might as well mention, it what I do for a living. (Well, not really for a living. For an internship though that takes up a lot of my time and gives me some spending money while I finish off my Master's degree in Library and Information Science.) What is the correct form of the name? What should we file it under? In the UC Berkeley catalogs, which is what I work on, which goes by surname first, everything by her is under "Aung San Suu Kyi", not "Aung San Suu Kyi, Daw" or "Suu Kyi, Aung San".

I love hearing reports about Iran's nuclear program, because the words "Iranian" and "uranium" go so well together. Say it three times fast, "Iranian uranium Iranian uranium Iranian uranium ... ." Of course, you have to pronounce it the "American" way, "eye-rain-ee-an", not the more correct "ee-rahn-ee-an".) Also, I'm waiting for someone to say, about the equipment used to enrich uranium and the Iranians' tricks for obtaining it, "We're as worried about their subterfuges as about their centrifuges." Please, Condi, say this. You don't have to credit me.

By the way, whenever there is talk about military attacks to take out the Iranian nuclear installations, the expert being interviewed points out that the installations are underground (physically, not just in the sense of "secret") and thus protected from all but the largest bombs. But it seems to me there is a way to turn this strength into a weakness (as there always is. Isn't that judo?) After all, though the facilities may be deep underground, not everyone who works there, nor all the materials they use, are underground, and if indeed they are making bombs down there, in order to use them, they'll have to take them out from underground. This is just an exagerratedly logical way of proving that these underground facilities must have entrances, tunnels that connect them with the surface. And these have to go to the surface. Where they can easily be bombed. The point is, maybe whoever wants to stop Iran's nuclear program doesn't need to destroy its facilities, just render them inaccessible by destroying the tunnels to them. Just the mention of this might make some of those who work there much more reluctant to, for fear of being trapped (which is probably a worse way to go than just being blown up.) Anyway, if she wants it, Condi can have that one too.

If you're a "suspicious" person, does that mean you suspect others, or others suspect you? Just wondered.

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