Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Sacred and the Profane

If you take a casual stroll through the plethora of blogs that exist in cyberspace, you will find that the greater majority of them lie in relatively private spheres. That is to say, despite their globally accessible nature, most blogs seem intended for a particular audience. Published comments are generally from family and/or friends, and many blogs are devoid of comments altogether. While it is unlikely that someone keeping a blog is completely against the idea of having their innermost thoughts perused by the general public, I always wonder what they would think if they knew that I was reading. In fact, I have stumbled upon a few blogs that, unknown to their respective authors, I now read on a regular basis. Personally, I would find it flattering to know someone read my blog regularly (aside from those of you that I know read my blog regularly, mainly because I pester you in person to do so). And, on occasion, I have had wandering strangers leave their comments. I have never minded this. I am honored. Yet, for whatever reason, I have never dared comment on someone else’s blog. I have thought about it, but I always wonder if this would be an intrusive thing to do. I can’t shake the feeling that, at least for many, a blog might be a highly personal—perhaps even sacred—thing. To make a comment, I feel, would be akin to interrupting a stranger’s personal conversation. Similarly, I have hesitated adding links on my page to other blogs that I enjoy (other than those of you I know in person). I’m going to break that tradition, ever so slightly, right now. The main reason is that the blog I am going to share is, apparently, defunct. Its most recent post was made 30 July 2004. I don’t expect another posting anytime soon. Nevertheless, those who enjoy language will enjoy this short-lived blog, entitled Armchair Linguist. Perhaps I will contact other people whose blogs I enjoy and see if they would want, be indifferent to, or hate me for posting a link to their sites. What do you, my readers, think? Would strangers on your blog make you uncomfortable?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Potpourri No. 2

Tidbits o' the week:
  • I was lightly hit by a car today. Well, we kind of hit each other. The driver wasn't stopping fast enough, but because she was slowing down, I thought she had seen me. When I noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was getting rather close, I figured she was just trying to be a jerk and make me nervous (I hadn't really seen her yet to see if she was sporting an attitude). When the car just kept coming, I realized it was not going to stop. I did a little jump/dance backward and fell over into a leaning position on her hood. All in all, she looked more distraught than I felt. If it weren't for my post yesterday, I'd be tempted to call her both a jerk and an idiot! But I'll refrain...
  • Melanie just got over strep throat yet again. Somehow I've managed never to catch it, even despite our incessant kissing. How lucky can you get?
  • Has anyone tried Hershey's new Take5 candybar? If you haven't, rush out and buy one today! It's absolutely nummy!
  • Since you're going out anyway, why not stop for dinner at Ruth's Diner? C'mon, folks, I can't promote this place enough! Melanie and I went there for Valentine's Day (a couple of days early, technically) for the second year in a row. They have never failed me in their absolute delectability! I dare say their special of the day--a pesto pasta with chicken breast, mushrooms, and bell peppers (and onions, if you're into that sort of thing)--was absolutely scrumptious! Better yet, why not enhance your dining experience and take me along with you? Double your pleasure!
  • I had two tests earlier this week. I got 96% on my Greek test, an absolute miracle given the scope of the test (a blogworthy experience in and of itself). As for my Deductive Logic class, I was one of five in the class to get 100%. Kudos to me!
  • I just can't get enough indie rock lately. Quite literally, I've hardly listened to any music in the past two months other than the following: Hayden, Kings of Convenience, The Shins, Iron and Wine, Damien Rice, Lambchop, The New Pornographers, Death Cab for Cutie, Elliott Smith, and The Stills. There's not a loser in the bunch, so check your local library and give them all a listen!
Ciao for now!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Rights & Responsibilities

I hate to pass judgment, especially in light of the topic I wish to address—namely the lack of kindness that permeates the world—but bus drivers seem to be a rather unhappy bunch. Within a block and a half of my apartment, I have no less than five bus routes available to me for my daily collegiate commute. With the exception of one particularly chipper gentleman, every bus driver I have encountered strikes me as bitter and angry, some more than others as my experience today can attest. On my way home from school, the bus stopped for a young woman who, as it turned out, was unsure of which bus she should be taking. She asked the bus driver if he went down a particular street or even the street adjacent. His response was a grim and short, “no.” After a slight pause, the woman asked if he knew which routes would be of assistance to her. The driver seemed reluctant to divulge any information, but again answered shortly, “Five.” “Aren’t there a few that go down those streets?” she begged. “Eleven,” he said bluntly, and as he began to pull away, “Thirteen.” I myself knew of at least one other, and I assume he knew them as well.

Moments later we were making a left turn at a four-way stop. The intersection is a somewhat confusing one, with several crosswalks obscuring the clarity of where one is supposed to stop. Turning left, a car opposite us began to turn right, admittedly cutting us off. While this can be annoying, and I am sure it happens several times a day to a bus driver, it would not surprise me if it had been an honest mistake. Regardless, our driver felt it necessary to, I would think quite intentionally, almost run over the petite automobile, thereby teaching the driver a “lesson.”

To begin with, I can’t imagine spending everyday focused purely on the inanity of all those around me. I realize some jobs are much more conducive to this kind of attitude, but surely our own choices and determinations can help tremendously. Unfortunately, it all comes down to selfishness, the key destructive force in our society today (or so I believe). Watch two minutes of television and the pervasiveness of selfishness will be made evident. Commercial after commercial plays on the notion. A few years ago, Twix’s slogan was “Two for Me, None For You.” And wasn’t it McDonald’s’ new product, Chicken Selects, that prompted the slogan, “Hey, get your own!”? Even situational comedies often utilize selfishness or self-centeredness as a catalyst for laughter—someone trying to get away with something, someone putting someone else down, someone being annoyed at someone else’s idiocy and the fact of having to deal with it. Bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc. all relish in the notion of self-aggrandizement and/or the deprecation of those who fall outside our own standards or circle of life.

At the root of this problem is the notion of rights and responsibilities. Everyone is determined to make sure any available and self-applicable rights are met in full. The bus driver had the right of way when turning left, and he was determined that anyone infringing on this right would never forget it! On the flip side, he perhaps did not see it as his responsibility to answer the woman’s question about what bus would take her where. He doesn’t have to be an information booth, and he was determined that anyone trying to impose this responsibility on him would never forget it! Such is the way so many of us live our life. While it may not be obvious, I think it is a lack of charity in the world. We are not willing to give an inch. Are we eager to forgive and forget those that, even briefly, prohibit us from partaking of our rights in full force? Not a chance. Such people are jerks! Do we assume the best of them, that perhaps they really didn’t mean to get in the way? No. This would only elevate them from jerk to moron. “Think, you idiot!” we would still say. Likewise, should we ever do what is not absolutely required of us? Well, what in the world for? If you didn’t do something for me, why should I do something for you? In what sense would that—would you—be worth my time? I live my own life with my own feelings, so yours are inconsequential unless they bear on mine. If they don’t bear on mine, here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.

I didn’t plan on this discussion getting religious, but I had an epiphany several months ago that I'd like to share. Christ’s love for us was something I always found relatively intangible. Granted, we’re not supposed to think we can understand it fully, but I still knew I was supposed to be in awe of the sacrifice he gave for me and how much love that must require. Reflecting on my own selfish nature, it struck me. I do have a tendency, when driving, to want to “teach lessons” to those “jerks” and “morons” that surround me. If someone wants to pass me and I consider it pointless for him to do so (e.g., all he can do is end up in front of me and then go my speed anyway), I don’t want to let him pass. He doesn’t deserve it. He should know better. The reasons are always valid, and the reasons are always many. If someone is a jerk, you want them to know it. You want them to feel bad or regretful for what they’ve done. They should. It’s only proper. If they never realize it, they’ll never care, and, in a sense, they will have been a jerk for absolutely free. Everyone else suffers, while he reaps the benefits and never has to care about what he did. Well, guess what? Jesus loves us so much that, even though we’re all being complete jerks, he suffered so that we wouldn’t have to. As I write this, I know my typed words cannot do for you what this thought did for me, but it was the closest I’ve come to feeling overwhelmed by his love for me. While I want to condemn everyone for what they’ve done and make sure they don’t get away with anything, Jesus is begging us to come to him—to come to comfort and love—rather than have us know the pain we ourselves are creating. The pain we should and are justified to have to face. That same jerk we loathe for getting off scot-free, Jesus wants to experience his pain for him, simply so he won’t have to. Desiring that someone experience pain and suffering for what they have done—and I know this is something we all do—however minimal we may hope it, or to what degree, it stands in strict opposition to Christ’s purpose. It is quite literally anti-charity. And yet we can scarce imagine not desiring the pain and suffering of those who wrong us in some way. It is sad.

Matthew 25:40 says, “…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” How else may we interpret this? Let's try these: Inasmuch as ye desire the suffering of one of the least of these my brethren, ye desire me to suffer. Inasmuch as ye revile at the sight of one of the least of these my brethren, ye revile at the sight of me. Inasmuch as your heart swells with hate and ill will toward one of the least of these my brethren, your heart swells with hate and ill will toward me.

But also remember this: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

To Pee or Not to Pee

Last Saturday, Melanie and I went to a movie in Provo. As lame a choice as Provo may seem, we found it fun to have a change of scenery, even if we were doing something as routine as dinner and a movie. While I had an enjoyable evening, I must say that I was not overly impressed with the theater itself. Arriving quite close to the time the movie was set to begin, I was desperate to quickly locate and utilize the men’s room. While the particular movie we were attending was playing in one of the farthest rooms from the lobby—and given the modernity of the theater, this was quite a ways away—I did not think this would be a problem. After all, most movie theaters have no less than two restrooms for each gender. Surely there would be a restroom very near my particular theater, and all would be well.

The movie theater is setup sort of like a square. That is to say, you could go around and around and around the halls of the theater without ever stopping or backtracking. For convenience’s sake, I have included a crude diagram of the theater’s layout (see Figure 1 below—you may also click on the image to see a larger version). The numbers on this diagram will refer to key locations involved in my story. The letters designate the items in red. These also play into the story, though not quite as pivotally. You may find it helpful to refer back to the diagram often.

Figure 1

Anyhoo, as I said, the particular room my movie was playing in was in the back of the theater (see #1). While I knew there were restrooms available in the lobby, I was sure the back hall would also include restrooms. Heading into the back hall, I immediately saw overhead a sign (see Item A) advertising the women’s room available directly to my left (see #2). As common sense would have it, I assumed a men’s room would be available either on the opposite wall directly across from the women’s room (see #3) or just down the hall on the same wall as the women’s room. I continued my search, but found nothing. No signs to guide me, and no restroom doors to welcome me. Time was ticking, and I was ready to wet myself. Frustrated, I turned and headed back down the left hall, hoping I would see a restroom I hadn’t noticed on my initial journey to the theater.

I quickly spied a handicap, unisex restroom to my right (see #4)—or, to be more politically correct, a restroom for persons who are handicapped and/or unisex. Cursed! Someone was already in there! Whether he/she was handicapped and/or unisex, I will never know. I continued my brisk pace, ever drawing nearer to the lobby. Nothing! No restrooms! Finally I had come to the lobby and resorted to using the restrooms there (see #5). Luckily, nobody stood beside me as I used one of the six shallow, crowded, and coverage-lacking urinals. Not an enjoyable experience.

Heading back to my theater, I felt determined to see if this establishment truly had only one restroom for men, though it clearly had two for women. I headed down the right-side hall with little expectation of discovering anything. As I again reached the back hall, I saw before me, on what appeared to be a broom closet door tucked discreetly into the corner (see #6), the image of a faceless, handless, and footless human being whose head floated slightly above its broad and stiff body. That’s right, it was the men’s room logo. How could I have missed it? I looked above me to see if, like the women’s room at the opposite end of the hall, there would be a sign advertising the existence of this elusive lavatory. No such thing. I quickly deciphered why I had not been able to spot the restroom when coming from the opposite direction. There, just to the left of the restroom door, was a large, cardboard movie advertisement (see Item B), a convex monstrosity that perfectly obscured the view of any male seeking the same urinary relief I had sought. “Screw this theater!” methought.

To end on a slightly happier note, once the movie was over, the theater again demonstrated its lack of impressiveness, though luckily not directly at me. The film we had watched had scenes running throughout the end credits. Thus, most audience members had either remained in their seats or lollygagged their way out of the theater. When the movie had fully and completely ended, the lights immediately came back on. The theater’s small entourage of pockmarked and pubescent employees stood poised at the bottom of the stadium-seating stairs, eager to begin their quasi-cleaning of the theater. Two couples were still seated in the front row, hardly having had time to even attempt standing up, when the first theater employee asked quite nonchalantly, “Could you please leave now?” Needless to say, the foursome was annoyed. One of them was heard to quip something along the lines of, “Gee, I’ve never been kicked out of a theater in my entire life!” Luckily, Melanie and I had just stood up and were able to avoid a good scorning. Alas, the only thumbs up this theater should expect are those of a proctological nature. But at least we enjoyed the movie!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Snobs and Conformists

Dating back to the beginning of time, knowledge and responsibility have been inseparably intertwined. This is so primordial a fact that God’s very first warning to humans centered on it. And the trend has continued. Being a language student, I am increasingly aware of grammatical, syntactical, and other linguistic concepts and, subsequently, of their misuse in the modern American vernacular. Herein lies a dilemma—do I become a snob or a conformist?

“Certainly, there must be a middle ground!” I can hear you saying. If only that were so. Unfortunately, things look bleak. Once one is aware of something being “correct,” there is no way to undo the process. When that knowledge then comes into conflict with society as a whole (or even with just one other person during an intimate conversation), there is no way to alleviate the moral tension that swells within the breast. Do I heed Shakespeare’s advice and remain true to myself, or do I risk sounding like a smarter-than-thou snoot?

I’m sure we’ve all faced this dilemma at some point in our lives. Who of us has not had a friend pronounce a word incorrectly, only to wonder how we should then pronounce the word? In many a situation, correcting them seems rude, but saying the word correctly after they have mispronounced it seems just as bad as correcting them. In fact, it could seem even more snobbish to do it that way, as though you are purposely drawing attention to the word in an effort to humiliate them. To intentionally mispronounce the word for their sake, however, seems akin to lying. Indeed, it seems self-deprecating (or, as my little sister once said, self-defecating).

Of course, it need not always be an issue of linguistic concern. The same types of situations can arise when one cites an incorrect source, for example. If a Led Zeppelin song comes on the radio and your friend comments on how much they like Rush, as grave a misunderstanding as this may be, it does not always seem appropriate to correct them. The problem is accentuated by the level of confidence with which the misnomer is spoken. It is also affected by how directly you are involved with the comment. For example, if one friend said to another friend, “I’m pretty darn sure this is Rush. Aren’t they great?” it would probably be okay to inform them that it is, in fact, Led Zeppelin (although it would probably not be appropriate to inform them that Rush, in fact, sucks). However, if someone you don’t know all that well tells someone else that it is Rush, and they say it with the poise of utmost authority, it may seem arrogant to butt in merely to correct them. Such examples are myriad and must be analyzed based on their own particulars. But you get the point.

You may wonder what has caused this violent stir within me. Today, I learned that licorice should, accurately speaking, be pronounced “lick-oh-ris,” not “lick-oh-rish.” True, most dictionaries list both options, but this is merely catering to the public. Do I plan to change my pronunciation? No, but only because I myself have always called it “lick-oh-rish.” In general, I believe that language is a tool, and so whatever the mass populace holds a word to mean or sound like, that is what the word means or sounds like. For example, it seems somewhat ridiculous to me that “cool,” used in its most common sense (meaning “neat”), is still considered slang. It’s been used as “neat” for decades now! But, there’s a difference when something is the result of laziness and ignorance, such as pronouncing mayonnaise, “ma-nays.” I have not even seen “ma-nays” as an option in the dictionary, so this one’s not even debatable! “May-oh-nays,” people! “May-oh-nays!” Plus, if mayonnaise is pronounced “ma-nays,” shouldn’t mayo be pronounced “ma-”?

While I do not claim to be an authority, feel free to take this simple test. Below I will list five pairs of sentences. Choose which sentence in each pair is the grammatically correct one. On my comments page, I will post the answers. Enjoy.

1) Sentence A: Who do you hate the most?
Sentence B: Whom do you hate the most?

2) Sentence A: The paper lying on the ground will surely get wet.
Sentence B: The paper laying on the ground will surely get wet.

3) Sentence A: Mmmm! This ma-nays tastes great!
Sentence B: Mmmm! This mayonnaise tastes great!

4) Sentence A: The crowd of people are looking for the best mayonnaise.
Sentence B: The crowd of people is looking for the best mayonnaise.

5) Sentence A: Bessie makes mayonnaise better than you and I.
Sentence B: Bessie makes mayonnaise better than you and me.