23 June 2010
04 November 2008
Scunt, the SS, and Language Politics
Today is election day in America. As we go to the polls we have been drowned in rhetoric from both sides for this past two years. (As a Canadian, I still don't see why it can't be reasonably put to bed in 45 days, but there you have it.) I came across this brilliant Stephen Fry essay on the sheer joy of language and its diversity and evolution in my feeds this morning. The close was perfectly political enough to warrant blogging on Election Day, despite being off topic for this blog's norm. Much has been made about the slow erosion of rights and freedoms in this country under Bush Republicans. Fry tackles it from a linguistic and British perspective:
"One final thought I should leave you with which only occurred to me the other day. Sometimes, by accident, language fails to provide and when it does the results can be hugely detrimental to the human race. Orwell famously suggested that language preceded thought, such that if the word ‘freedom’, for example, is removed from the dictionary, then the very idea of freedom will disappear with it and be lost to humanity. A smart tyranny, he said, would remove words like justice, fairness, liberty and right from usage. But my thought occurred to me when I saw a graffito which took up a whole gable end wall in London the other day. It proclaimed, in great big strokes of white paint: “One nation under CCTV”. A good angry point – the American dictum ‘one nation under god’ sardonically replaced with a comment about Britain’s unenviable position as the Closed Circuit Television capital of the world. But … the satirical shout all but fails for one simple reason: CCTV is such a bland, clumsy, rhythmically null and phonically forgettable word, if you can call it a word, that the swipe lacks real punch. If one believed in conspiracy theories, you could almost call it genius that there is no more powerful word for the complex and frightening system of electronic surveillance that we lump into that weedy bundle of initials. For if CCTV was called … I don’t know …. something like SCUNT (Surveillance Camera Universal NeTwork, or whatever) then the acronyms might have passed into our language and its simple denotation would have taken on all the dark connotations which would allow “One nation under scunt” to have much more impact as a resistance slogan than “One nation under CCTV”. “Damn, I was scunted as I walked home,” “they’ve just erected a series of scunts in the street outside,” “Britain is the most scunted country in the world” … etc etc. Or maybe, just maybe, we should stick to the idea of initials and borrow a set that have already taken on the darkest possible connotations of evil and tyranny. Surveillance System. SS. ‘Britain’s SS is bigger than that of any other country.’ ‘The SS has taken over the UK’. Neither of these assertions would sound nearly as good if substituted with those lame letters ‘CCTV’, would they? Well, whether Scunt or SS surely there really should be a memorable and punchy new designation for CCTV – at the moment it is simply too greasy to wrestle. I wonder what other enemies lurk in our society that need names to bring them out into the light?"
The entire essay is full of such gems as it dances about from thought to thought. A little dense in it's beginning due to typographical convention, it's worth the effort. Please get out and vote!
26 July 2008
Randy Pausch (23 October, 1960 – 25 July, 2008)
I just saw that Randy Pausch died yesterday. The world is poorer for it. I first saw his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University on YouTube in the Fall last year. It is brilliant in helping you think about what's important in the world. He is a couple of months older than I am. Watching the video is a humbling experience. The hour of your life it will take to watch it, however, will more than pay for itself.
08 September 2007
Thank You to All of My Readers!
My blog statistics indicate that I crossed the magic 100,000 page view mark today. To all of my regular readers, thank you. I understand that many blogs in our corner of the world see that many impressions in a month, and I certainly still see my share of Google searches for Shakespeare's "once more into the breach." I'm extraordinarily happy with my readership, however, based on the places I see the blog referenced, and the comments and email I've received over this past two and a half years.
I write because I have something to say, and not to any schedule, but it would be hollow work if there was no one reading and responding. I consider it a privilege to write and publish for my audience. So thank you again, one and all. Hopefully I remain thought provoking and at the very least entertaining.
29 December 2006
Blog Clean-up Redux
Thanks for your patience. I saw a little bit of feed bleed, but I believe I had feeds off while the category edits occurred and I'm hopeful my readers aren't drowning in a hundred re-posts. Categories are mostly working now. In an ego-centric moment when I started blogging, I opted for advanced templates on Typepad as there were things two years ago I couldn't do with the basic blog package. It of course means I am now doing EVERYTHING by hand, including things that "come for free" in the basic package. I still have a little clean-up, but I'm mostly happy.
You will see some posts with two sets of del.icio.us and Digg links. This is an artifact of having added such linking to the base templates now, so all entries get such links. The old hand created links still exist. My apologies for the aesthetic gaff.
21 December 2006
Five things you probably don't know about me either
Good lord. I've been tagged twice before I even noticed (thanks to Zack and Stephen). This of course raises all sorts of questions about what one is willing to share and how. Do we pick safe clever things? Odd embarrassing moments far enough in the past to have become harmless? Share something deep -- possibly stepping off that personal cliff akin to postcards? Reach for the bold and brazen moment?
My five things:
- I was at an impressionable age when I first discovered Emma Peel on our black-and-white TV. I developed this ideal of complete gender equality based on strong intelligent women that still like to "dress" for the evening. It was reinforced shortly thereafter when I discovered Modesty Blaise novels, and later by Honor Harrington. You get the idea.
- I went through my teens in the '70s. I still listen to Supertramp, the Who, Pink Floyd, and old Genesis. And no, they don't make them like they used to. This probably horrifies my daughters. My father certainly horrified me with his advocacy for Bill Haley and "Rock around the Clock".
- I never finished a university degree. I was actually suspended at the end of second year and never quite got back. I often fudge around it when I don't know people. I can talk about learning NP-complete from Stephen Cook himself, but that was night school at the University of Toronto years later. Life got in the way and I still never quite finished. It still bothers me from time to time.
- I stood in the room with my grandfather when he died. I watched his breathing stop. Then the pulse at his throat. And then it's just over. So I swore I would watch my children come into this world. And I did. Two awesome daughters. I've seen both ends of it. After you get over the shock and terror, (at least for the first event) it's quite liberating.
- I have always wanted to learn how to scuba dive. It's on the list. Really. This year! And play an instrument. And re-learn how to salsa dance. OK. I'll stop this now.
Clearly, I have no courage when it comes to sharing.
Hopefully someone is performing some sort of Stanley Milgram or Granovetter analysis on the results of names we throw out. And then there's the choosing. Again, how and who? What rules suggest themselves? Here I'll reach out for breadth and diversity and tag Dave Gynn, Jeff Haemer, r0ml, Amy Jiang, and Mike Smith.
P.S. I will update this post as those tagged post.
15 February 2005
O'Reilly's Make is finally here
08 February 2005
Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From the Beaten Track
My apologies that this is a little off topic. A new Feynman book is coming. His daughter has edited and assembled his letters. A small example is in the print edition of the March 2005 Discover magazine (Vol. 26, No. 3), with the promise of the book out in April 2005. Can't wait.