Saturday, January 31, 2009

Eggplant, Fat Chance and the Neutral Ground

If you need proof that English is a difficult language for immigrants to learn, read the next few lines. We take these contradictions for granted, but try to explain them to an ESL student.

There is no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France.

Why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth?

Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?

Why do we have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

Read more examples on Deejay’s blog.

Mastering English is often difficult for those of us who have spoken it our entire lives. To complicate matters, American English is different from British English which is different from Australian English. And like any language, there are regional dialects. Listen in on a conference call between Boston, Baltimore and Birmingham and you might need a translator to keep up. If you’re just learning English, you might not understand what I mean by “keep up” in my previous sentence.

English spoken in my native New Orleans might not be recognizable as English to someone from Milwaukee. If you’ve lived in neither, do you know what a ‘neutral ground’ is? Or a ‘bubbler’?

I’ve said all of that to say this: one thing I miss from my youth is personal conversation. Fiftysomethings grew up writing letters and visiting people. Twentysomethings grew up on email and texting. I prefer face-to-face interaction to email. The language of personal communication includes visual cues as well as words. Context can help explain gaps in grammar. A smile means almost the same thing in every culture. Music is universal. Email is just a string of words on a screen, and casual email writing style is very fragmented. Half sentences. Abbrvtns.

Txtng s wrse WTF

I have nothing against email; it just doesn’t have the richness of facial expressions and colorful slang. And I have exactly one friend in the world who refuses to send email. I look forward to his hand-written, postal-delivered letters.

OK, time to go. I’ll wrap this up with one more sentence borrowed from Deejay’s post:

Why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fragmentation in Boomerville

The commonly accepted birth year range for Baby Boomers is 1946 – 1964. Or so I thought. Even though someone born in 1946 (who is turning 63 years old this year) might not have much in common with someone born in 1964 (who is turning 45 this year), both were considered Boomers.

I also believed that Generation X came next, starting with those born in 1965 (who are turning 44 this year).

Those definitions are just perfect for me: clean demographic lines for generational categories with otherwise blurry borders.

But I recently heard of a new generational category: Generation Jones. Have you heard of this one?

Wikipedia defines Generation Jones as the generation of people born between 1954 and 1965. Someone who commented on my last post pointed out that many publications are claiming President Obama (born in 1961 and turning 48 on his next birthday) as someone in Generation Jones.

Friends of mine who participate in a weekly DC radio show called Women Talk (which I sort of produce) claim the new Pres as a Gen-Xer. I claim him as a Boomer. In fact, in my last post I said he is likely to be the last Boomer president. So if he’s not a Boomer, then Bush was the last Boomer President. Say it ain’t so!!

As we Boomers become Seniors, are we really going to want either of the last two presidents to go down in history as representing our generation? If the new president lives up to his campaign for the next four to eight years, then we would probably would want him to be remembered as a representative of the Boomer generation. But if he isn’t a Boomer, then that won’t be the case, will it?

This fragmentation of definition sucks. So does my undefined point in this post, my unclear logic from open to close and this very blurry conclusion. And my fragmented sentences.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

No Matter Who

No matter who you voted for and no matter what you think about the incoming or outgoing Presidents, you should celebrate the Inauguration on Tuesday.

At Noon on January 20th, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, George W. Bush will go home to Texas having served for eight years in what most people would call the most powerful and challenging leadership position in the world and for the 43rd time in our history, there will be a smooth transition of power from one leader to another.

Presidents Clinton and Bush were both at the leading edge of the Boomers and President-elect Obama is at the younger end of the spectrum. Three Boomers in a row have lead our country, for good or bad, and this will likely be the end of that reign. Let's make the most of it.
Bruce Springsteen is one of many performers playing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon. I happened to be there yesterday when he was rehearsing with a choir:

Visit my photo blog to see more of the pre-inauguration pictures I took in Washington DC yesterday.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quick Reflexes or Experience?

So let's say you're a passenger in an airliner that just got struck by a flock of birds. The birds were sucked into both jet engines, causing them to stop, and you know that an airliner can't really glide so you also know a crash is probably less than a minute away.

Which of the following pilots would you want in the cockpit: a 30-year-old from the joystick/video game generation with perfect eyesight and the quick physical reflexes of someone that age or a 57-year-old from the 'look out the window' generation with a calm personality and 30 years of experience?

I'm sure you heard about the plane that crashed in the Hudson River in New York yesterday and how the experienced, 57-year-old pilot made a nearly impossible turn followed by a nearly impossible smooth water landing and saved 155 lives.

Experience wins this round!!

Tell me why airline pilots have to retire at age 60.

Visit Rhea's Boomer Chronicles blog for some more (and better) perspective.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Inauguration Fever

It is so cold in Washington DC and the surrounding areas tonight that a little fever might be welcomed.

Crowds are arriving and streets are closing. Local transportation systems and law enforcement personnel are at the ready.

A record-setting amount of people are expected to descend on the region and people around here are either trying to find ways to stay away on inauguration day or to get right into the middle of it all. At first I was in the ‘middle of it all’ camp because it really is a thrilling experience to see the ceremony surrounding a smooth transition of power in a great country. And I have a little bit of media access with my job that would give me a tiny edge on exactly where I would be.

But now I think I’d prefer to watch the Oath of Office and President Obama’s inaugural address on television from the comfort of my warm radio station.

I do plan to go into DC with my camera on Saturday to take a few pre-inaugural photos. I’ll post some of them soon.

Monday, January 05, 2009

He Said WHAT?

There is only one thing I will miss about our soon-to-be-former President: his mangling of the American English language.

Admittedly, American English is a difficult language, filled with contradictions and odd colloquialisms. I have trouble with it myself, even though it is the only language I speak. But I expect a Yale-educated former business executive who was elected President of the United States for two terms to have better mastery of the language than I do.

People who have worked closely with him claim that in private, he is disciplined, inquisitive and forceful in his leadership style. His public persona contradicts that claim.

Here are a few examples from a story on the AOL site:

"I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office." | Location: White House Rose Garden, Washington, D.C. | Date: June 26, 2008

"These are big achievements for this country, and the people of Bulgaria ought to be proud of the achievements that they have achieved." | Location: Sofia, Bulgaria | Date: June 11, 2007

"We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job." | Location: Meeting with Mississippi leaders, Gulfport, MS. | Date: Sept. 20, 2005

"Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." | Location: Campaign rally, Poplar Bluff, MO. | Date: Sept. 6, 2004

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." | Location: The White House, Washington, D.C. | Date: Aug. 5, 2004

"They misunderestimated the compassion of our country. I think they misunderestimated the will and determination of the commander in chief, too." | Location: Langley, Va. | Date: Sept. 26, 2001

I say again that I am no literary giant, but I expect more from a President. However, if people close to him believe he is smarter than he seems, I might have misunderestimated him too.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Space: the Final Frontier … and Suburb

Many of us who grew up in the 1960s were/are fascinated by space travel. The ‘race to the moon’ dominated the news and our culture then. Americans have always been obsessed with exploration and it seemed only natural that the moon, and eventually Mars and other planets, would be the next frontier. After all, we ran out of continent at California and stopped colonizing after Alaska and Hawaii.

Colonizing the moon was supposed to be the next step. A working environment there would serve as a place for scientific research and a jumping off point for further space exploration and, of course, real estate development.

Those dreams seemed inevitable then, impossible now.

Fortunately there are still some dreamers among us, including Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society. Come to think of it, if there is a Mars Society, there must be plenty of dreamers. Zubrin just published a book called "HOW TO LIVE ON MARS: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet."

I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to. The author has a background in nuclear engineering, aeronautics and astronautics and seems to have a great sense of humor, too. Some of the chapter titles are How to Get There, How To Choose Your First Ground Rover (don’t buy the usual rover, buy a Honda), How To Get Rich (there is plenty of beachfront property available).

Here’s a quote from the press release:
With the housing market in a slump, isn’t it time to break away
from these earthly boundaries? Let’s face it: Mars is where the
future is. Its wide-open (and affordable!) spaces are waiting for
folks like you with guts and gumption to go out and make your
mark. It’s a new world, ready for a young civilization to be born,
and rife with history raring to be made.

That’s my kind of humor; and in a way, my kind of dreaming.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The fiftysomething Bowl

Remember when there were just a few bowl games? Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl and a handful of others.

Now there are 35 or more, most with advertising naming rights. Many of the traditional bowl games retain their original name along with the sponsor, like the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the FedEx Orange Bowl and the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Some, however, are just named for the sponsor. The season started right here in my area with the EagleBank Bowl in Washington DC. Others include the Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl (at the Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte – yes, stadiums are also often named for sponsors), the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl (played at Tropicana Field), the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (at Qualcomm Stadium).

One of the more ridiculous names: the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Puh-leeze! And it turns out this one, played in Atlanta since 1968, dropped its original name: the Peach Bowl.

Do these games count for anything anymore? Is there still a football game in the middle of the hype and commercialism?

Please don’t misunderstand my point; this is not a rant against advertising. I love commercials. I make my living making commercials. The company I work for exists by connecting advertisers to consumers. But shouldn’t there be some limits? Does everything have to have a sponsor?

Auto racing is my favorite sport but sometimes I laugh out loud while watching a NASCAR race. The cars are sponsored, of course, and some of the sponsor connections make sense. Jimmie Johnson in the Lowes #48 car was the points champ for the past three seasons. Building supplies and auto racing – I get that. Contenders for the championship include Tony Stewart in the Home Depot #20 and Carl Edwards, who is takin’ care of business in the Office Depot #99. Mark Martin now drives the US Army #8 but a few years ago his sponsor was Viagra; he is one of the older drivers so there is a bit of synergy there. But how does Juan Montoya feel when he climbs into the Juicy Fruit Slim Pack #42 car?

My favorite driver ever is the late Alan Kulwicki; one year his sponsor was Hooters.

Every aspect of the race coverage on TV has a sponsor. Drivers stop on pit road to top off with Sonoco racing fuel. Last year, Kasey Kahne in the Budweiser #9 Dodge won the Coca Cola 500 at Lowes Motor Speedway. In at least one race, Kahne avoided a serious collision on the track and was designated the Allstate Good Hands Driver of the day. (I’m not making this up).

Back to Bowl Games … how ridiculous can naming rights get? The Wii Bowl? The Kellogg’s Cereal Bowl? The Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner Bowl? Toilet Bowl, for short. The Edy’s Ice Cream Bowl?

What if Victoria’s Secret wanted to buy the naming rights to a Bowl game? Maybe a World Cup, Davis Cup or Ryder Cup event would be a better fit for them.