Discovered this little propaganda-for-good film while watching HBO's epic new Sinatra documentary, All Or Nothing At All.
Discovered this little propaganda-for-good film while watching HBO's epic new Sinatra documentary, All Or Nothing At All.
My mom was a writer, and a colorful talker too, even in the dull domestic sphere.
She'd force us to eat our green beans because, as she said, "They're good for your corpsuckles."
And if we ever questioned the source of her authority she'd say, "Because I got a 4.0 at the University of Michigan."
We ate pretty healthy—sugar cereal only on vacation—but occasionally we would beg her to buy Kraft Singles, those bright little yellow squares that were so much yummier to kids than sour old Swiss, or chewy cheddar.
"Why can't we have 'em?" Piper and I would ask.
"Because they have all the nutritional value," she would say in her sardonic smoker's rasp, "of a roll of toilet paper."
Well get this, Ma: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is trying to end a deal by which Kraft has been allowed to adorn its "pasteurized prepared cheese product," as it describes the yellow singles, with the group's "Kids Eat Right" label.
My sister sent me the news. We surmised that the Academy was forced into this action when Scottissue applied for inclusion in the Kids Eat Right program, on grounds that it had all the nutritional value of Kraft singles.
One of the soccer dads was telling me for 20 minutes how his FitBit worked. How he could sync it up to his computer. How it counted every every calorie and every step. How it factored in whether he was running or walking, high-stepping or low-stepping, shambling or ambling, loping or moping. How it all went up into the Cloud where St. Peter could keep track of it so he'd know what a good boy you've been before you ever even got there.
"Does it keep track of when your lips are moving?" I finally asked him.
Then I told him a story my grandfather used to tell on himself. Back in the 1930s, he had a self-winding watch, which was new technology back then. With a series of springs, the mechanism wound itself with the natural movement of the wearer.
But my grandfather's fancy new self-winding Hamilton kept stopping. So he took it back to the watch shop. The man took it apart, looked it all over, put it back together and broke the news to my grandfather.
"I'm sorry Mr. Murray. I'm afraid you're just not moving around enough."
I get it on the golf course every time I'm paired with a stranger. There's a wait on the fourth tee, and the guy says, "So what do you do for a living?"
(I generally want to avoid this conversation because I like to keep golf separate from life, the reason I play in the first place. Similarly, I don't take my business cards to bed with me in case I meet a potentially useful new contact in my dreams.)
"I'm a writer," I say, never able to hide the pride. It's cool to be a writer. It's old. It's elemental. It's a little like announcing you're a fisherman, or a hunter (or a clown or a prostitute). "Am a writer," my novelist mother once wrote. "Get to call myself that because I write."
But then there is dread. Dread because the response is so perfectly predictable.
"Oh, wow!" Pause, two seconds. "What sort of writing do you do?"
That last question means, "How on earth do you make a living? Or is your wife an investment banker and you're actually a bum and that's why you're on the golf course in the middle of the week?"
My pride forces me to convince the fellow that I do make a living, by hook and by crook, an exercise I resent. Once I've achieved this, his next line, if it's not the worst-case, "I've got a story you should write!"—it's something to the effect of how interesting my work must be.
Which I take as a confession about how boring his life must be.
My old man, an advertising writer, used to see everyone else's job as a nightmare of tedium. Even a doctor, he said. "Can you imagine, day after day, hour after hour, patient after patient, describing the same symptoms over and over as if they were just the most important thing in the world? And you having to listen gravely, even though in most cases you know from the moment they walk into the office that you're going to prescribe amoxicillan."
Glad Dad wasn't a doctor? Me too. But maybe he was onto something. Maybe a writer does have a kind of blue sky that others don't. But the writer also has a blank page to contend with. (A bus driver once told me he pitied writers when he opened up the newspaper and tried to imagine some poor wretch having to write all those words!) A writer's work isn't done for him in the form of a full waiting room. A writer's work, however familiar the subject has become, must be done from scratch.
“People would say I must have had such a great life doing this, people who were engineers, doctors, insurance salesmen or whatever,” said radio comedy writer Tom Koch, who died last week, “But it was the kind of work where every morning I would wake up and think, ‘My God, I wonder if I can do it again today.’ There is no way you prepare to do it, or even know how you do it.”
And maybe that's the best thing about it.
It's not always useful to have writers as friends—especially if you are a writer, and don't need help writing cover letters. But occasionally ... well, the other day Scout asked me what "personification" is. And I immediately remembered the example my writer pal Paul described it to his young son Joe:
"The toilet threw up its breakfast."
"Oh, gross!" Scout said after a pause. But she'll never forget what personification means.
The creative director spends all weekend and part of a week drawing every employee on a white board. And, films himself doing it, and posts it on YouTube.
Perhaps it is cynical of me to be reminded of Reggie Jackson, of whom Catfish Hunter said, "Reggie would give you the shirt off his back. 'Course, he'd hold a press conference to announce it."
My father-in-law Sherdian Bosch oversees massive construction jobs.
I construct long sentences.
So he and I are construction managers, I like to think. From one construction manager to the other, Sherdian wrote me awhile ago, looking for advice:
I do a good bit of technical writing and I like to come across in a strong and concise manner. But this damn Word program keeps underlining certain phrases in green and it bugs me because when I click these phrases it says “passive voice, consider revising”. For some reason that PMO because who the hell do they think they are saying I am passive? Especially when I don’t even understand what they are talking about. So ... I’m asking the professional, what the H are they talking about? Maybe if I understand it I can ignore it.
He provided an example of a piece of writing Word flagged as passive:
As defined in the base facility concept, EDG will prepare a performance specification for the design and supply of two 250 MT welded steel storage tanks that will be provided fully assembled and ready to be placed into the load-out structure. Deliverable size, cost and constructability are also being studied and a final concept will be submitted for consideration as details are developed.
All it means is that there is no subject in the sentences. No acting people or entities.
If I were to write those sentences in the active voice (vs. the passive), I would say,
As defined in the base facility concept, EDG will prepare a performance specification for the design and supply of two 250 MT welded steel storage tanks that we'll provide fully assembled and ready to be placed into the load-out structure. EDG engineers are also studying deliverable size, cost and constructability and will submit a final concept for consideration as details are developed.
Passive voice just means you're kind of hiding the acting agent in the action, which gets tiresome to read after awhile because people like to read about people and not processes. Also, institutional writers often use this structure to hide blame.
"Mistakes were made," instead of "We fucked up."
I'd avoid passive voice whenever you can just as easily specify who is doing the thing. In this example, your first sentence is fine as-is, but I'd probably change the second one to specify who is doing all that studying.
In neither case is the passive voice the end of the world. But a whole document full of sentences without subjects reads like a ghost town.
"Wow, much bigger deal than I thought," Sherdian replied. "Thanks, I'll change my ways."
A couple of months later, he reports, "I've been trying very hard ... and now that you mention it, I have not been dinged by the Program for some time. Wow, you're a great teacher!"
By such small victories, one is gratified.
Adam Davidson, a friend, had a piece in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, where he writes about money, regularly and well. Helping people understand more about economics is, as the teachers put it in my wife's West Side Chicago school, a job for Jesus. And it may not be rewarded here on Earth.
Adam's Sunday piece was on immigration, and how we'd all be better off economically if we realized immigration is not a zero-sum game—not just a bunch of hungry foreigners taking a finite number of jobs from a finite number of American citizens. In a growing economy, immigration can create more jobs, by creating more demand for products and services and housing!
Most of us have heard this idea before, haven't we? So why don't we embrace it? Because, even the way Adam backs it up with the work of economists, it seems a little reckless. It sounds like, "Let the hordes in, and it'll probably be fine, and it might even be better!"
But no matter what the theory, it always seems viscerally safer—even to the enlightened and relatively comfortable readers of The New York Times—not to let the hordes in. (Even if the hordes aren't quite hordes. As Adam points out, even if we doubled the number of immigrant visas we issued, immigrants would still be less than .7 percent of the workforce.)
But we're people, not animals! Why don't we get over our primal fears and smarten up and open up our society to this modest group of productive people who can fuel our economic growth?
Adam despairs. "Whenever I'm tempted by the notion that humans are rational beings, carefully evaluating the world and acting in ways that maximize our happiness, I think of our meager immigration policies. For me, it's close to proof that we are, collectively, still jealous, nervous creatures, hoarding what we have, afraid of taking even the most promising risk, displaying loyalty to our own tribe while we stare, suspiciously, at everyone else."
It pains me a bit to say it, but I guess I don't share Adam's ambition for the human race. I figure that people—actually, just like animals on the Nature Channel—will always be nervous creatures, sleeping with one eye open and protective of their own asses and the asses of their loved ones over someone else's ass and certainly over someone else's economic theory, however intellectually compelling.
When I was in my 20s and read about "white flight"—panicked people moving out of neighborhoods as minorities moved in, for fear that their property values would plummet—I held the cowardly homeowners partly to blame. Now that I am a homeowner (and a father), I understand just how overwhelmingly social virtue is beaten by gnawing fear of your own obsolescence and fond dreams for your children. Had my property value been threatened, I have very little confidence that I would have behaved any differently, and I'm not ashamed to say so despite all my enlightened attitudes about fairness and race.
Someone who wants to change immigration policy or any other economic policy, should not try to overcome people's fear and greed. Rather, he or she must use it—even if to better ends.
Because far from being a rational subject, economics brings out the very most irrational, fight or flight, self-preserving parts of people.
Economics is food and shelter and safety from harm—and all the economic education and communication in the world won't make people think intellectually about that.
"Don't drink or eat anything colored or red or purple and skip alcoholic drinks while you prep."
Oh yeah. I'll just go ahead and "skip" alcoholic drinks on the quavering eve of the first major medical test of my 45-year-long Life of Riley. Just skip 'em—sidestep 'em, trot past them, sashay on by those silly little alcoholic drinks as if they were nothing at all.
I know what these pricks are doing here. So do they. And so do you. They know and I know and you know what they're doing with that word "skip." And it ain't honest! You "skip" a paragraph here and there, you "skip" flossing your teeth when you're on vacation, you "skip" algebra class, you "skip" bail, you "skip" town and you "skip" stones.
Alcohol, I don't care who you are, you do not "skip."
What you do with alcohol is abstain or refrain. And both rhyme with pain.
Nosirree, Doc. If you're going to sentence me to 30 hours without food or booze, I'm going to have a look up the statute. Online, I learn that the reason you don't drink before a colonoscopy is, "beer and other alcoholic beverages encourage dehydration because they cause your kidneys to produce more urine. This effect can lead to your spending extra time in the bathroom before your procedure, an unwelcome addition to time you'll already need to cleanse your colon. Dehydration can cause other unpleasant side effects, such as excess sweating, vomiting or diarrhea ...."
If everyone "skipped alcoholic drinks" out of fear of those symptoms, there would be no St. Patrick's Day or New Year's Eve, and truth be told, we probably wouldn't bother with July 4, Thanksgiving or Easter either.
I followed the goddamn guidelines yesterday, but only because I don't want the doctor to smell booze on my farts.
Vodka, vodka everywhere, and not a drop to drink.