Sunday, August 29, 2010

You Might Be a Copy Editor If...

I spent the weekend at Context 23, a wonderful weekend of speculative fiction writing and fandom, and a must-attend convention for any beginning genre writer. Today, after the convention closed, Emp. Peng. and I went to lunch with Stephen Zimmer. On the walk back to the convention hotel where we were parked, we passed a sign in a parking lot:
No Semi's
What followed will be on the blooper reel when my life flashes before my eyes. I stopped dead and shuddered. Emp. Peng., ever the dutiful husband, asked what was the matter. I couldn't bear to look at the sign. I could only point in the general direction. Words failed, but I managed to get out, "Apostrophe!"

Unfortunately, I lacked convenient white paint, so the abhorrent apostrophe stands.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Baby Corn, Defeated

A couple of years ago, I discussed how baby corn invades all Mongolian barbecue. If you've never been to a Mongolian barbecue (which bears no discernible resemblance to actual mongolian food or barbecue), you owe it to yourself to try. The basic idea is that you fill a bowl with assorted meats and vegetables then the cooks grill it up on a large circular grill. If you get a good restaurant, the cooks make a show of the grilling process.

This show occasionally results in some bonus foods, as a piece or two from the neighboring bowls works its way into your meal. As I detailed two years ago, that bonus piece always seems to be baby corn. I've been with the only party in the restaurant, none of us put baby corn in our bowls, yet I still managed to find a piece of baby corn in my dinner.

All that changed Friday. As a belated birthday dinner, we went to a Mongolian grill that, since the last time we went, has inexplicably added cheese ravioli to the meat bar. I filled my bowl with a little bit of duck meat, snow peas, peppers, mushrooms, onion and pineapple, then topped it off with a tong full of adult kernel corn. For the first time in my life, I made it through a plate of Mongolian barbecue without finding stray baby corn. My hypothesis is that the adult corn scared off the baby corn.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Good for the Citizenship Goose

The latest craze in Political Wedge Issues is amending the 14th amendment's pesky loophole about not having to work any harder for U.S. citizenship than getting expelled from a birth canal in the right place (legally known as jus soli, or right of the soil). We should have seen this coming; when the economy tanks, people look for any reason they can glom on to for the protracted pain of being out of work involuntarily. Plus, more people have a lot more time on their hands to indulge in xenophobia.

This time, the xenophobia lands on the neonatal population. Apparently, in the world where the likes of Senator Lindsey Graham live, heavily pregnant women risk traversing the desert on the U.S.-Mexican border in August for the sole purpose of "dropping a baby" (which has now gone from an indication of bad grip to a euphemism for birth) who can, two decades hence, sponsor the parents for citizenship. I have never been pregnant, so I can't speak to how likely women in the third trimester are to go for a hike in the desert. If one believes Exodus, the Hebrews managed the feat en masse, but I suspect that it's not the sort of thing modern obstetricians recommend, due to the increased risk of stillbirth that would make the whole exercise rather pointless. Part of me wants to think that if there are that many Mexican women with that kind of physical fortitude and foresight, maybe having them here and passing that determination on to offspring wouldn't be all bad.

Perhaps the stupidest argument I've heard in favor of this proposal is that the 14th amendment doesn't actually need amended to suspend automatic birthright citizenship. According to the proponents of this strategy, since the 14th amendment starts off with "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside," but parents in the U.S. illegally aren't "subject to the jurisdiction," the kids aren't citizens. In a word, hogwash. Whose jurisdiction are these folks under, if not that of where they are located? The fact that the proponents of this refer to the parents as "illegal" ought to nullify that argument right off the bat. They're illegal under the laws and jurisdiction of the U.S.; were they not subject to U.S. laws, they would not be illegal. That exemption for people who aren't under the jurisdiction of the U.S. applies primarily to diplomats, who are, in fact, not subject to U.S. laws while on U.S. soil.

Moreover, I would be interested in finding out how many of the people who advocate the revocation of birthright citizenship would be able to prove their own citizenship to the standards they advocate. Estimates from the State Department in 2007 indicated that only 27% of Americans hold a passport, and the percentage is only that high because of new rules requiring a passport to go to Canada or the Bahamas. I'm among that 27%, and I also have a certified copy of my birth certificate indicating that I was born in the U.S., only a couple hundred miles up the highway from a popular border crossing, which I suppose is suspect. Of course, with a revocation of jus soli, a birth certificate isn't enough to prove citizenship, not that a certain segment of the population accepts birth certificates as definitive proof of citizenship even with jus soli in place.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sentence Diagramming Also Pays

Lack of punctuation on a sign cost Spokane County $60 in parking fines when two men successfully argued that "No Public Parking Permit Required" could have a meaning entirely different from "No Public Parking; Permit Required." Granted, the men spent far more than $60 worth of time and effort standing up for the principle of eliminating run-on sentences in parking signs, but it's still a victory for Grammarzon Word Warriors everywhere, since the county intends to punctuate the sign in question.

Read the whole story

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Why Math is Important

If one is to believe the vinyl banner covering the sign for the defunct burger joint, there's a new pizza place down the street. That makes five pizza places in a one-mile stretch of road, coming perilously close to the density of auto parts stores on that strip. The vinyl sign advertises their special - or it might be their only menu item; it's hard to tell - of an 18-inch pizza, soda and five breadsticks for $18.99.

I predict failure for that restaurant, possibly faster than the previous inhabitant of that restaurant building, the drive-thru brewpub (anyone surprised that idea failed within mere months?). Five breadsticks is only marginally better an idea than serving beer through the car window, and only because being bad at math is a few more steps removed from a misdemeanor violation of Open Container laws.

As you might recall from about fourth grade math, five is a prime number, evenly divisible by only itself and 1. With five breadsticks, you either need to eat alone (which is way too much food for one) or have a party of five, which requires a protractor for even division of the pizza.

Assuming that the pizza is cut into the typical eight slices, it doesn't get better by ordering two of the specials. That leaves ten breadsticks and 16 slices of pizza. You could split that five ways, with two breadsticks and three slices apiece, but that leaves a leftover slice, and more people needing the bicarb than if you split the single order four ways (two slices and one breadstick apiece, with a spare breadstick).

In fact there's no point, mathematically, at which one gets an even division of both breadsticks and slices of pizza, without leftovers, that doesn't basically boil down to everyone eating a whole pizza and five breadsticks themselves.