Saturday, February 28, 2009

David Lind Band, "Bay Ridge Avenue"

Bay Ridge is a neighborhood in the southwestern corner of Brooklyn, occupying a peninsula that forms the westernmost part of Long Island. On its western side, it faces The Narrows, the strait that separates it from Staten Island and through which almost all ship traffic in and out of the port of New York and New Jersey must pass. Maritime buff that I am, on pleasant days I sometimes take the "R" subway train to its final stop in Bay Ridge, then walk to the promenade that borders The Narrows to watch and photograph ships passing by and sailing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Like Brooklyn as a whole, Bay Ridge is ethnically and economically diverse, though unlike some other parts of the Borough it doesn't have either extreme wealth or poverty. Parts of it are densely built up, while others look suburban, with substantial detached single or two family houses on small lots. Probably its most enduring popular culture reference is its having been the locale, along with neighboring Bensonhurst, for Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 movie starring John Travolta that spread and epitomized the disco craze.

The David Lind Band's song, "Bay Ridge Avenue" ("69th Street" and "Bay Ridge Avenue" are alternative names for the same thoroughfare), and its accompanying animated video, at the top of this post, brilliantly capture the neighborhood's enchanting middle-class-but-funky character.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lets stop abusing apostrophe's.

I've long wondered about this sign, which I walk by two or three times almost every day. Do the St. Francis Terriers bring their suits here for cleaning? This neighborhood is called Brooklyn Heights: does the sign intend to signify that the store belongs to the community? But, then, shouldn't it be "Heights' Cleaners"?

There are two bad things you can do respecting the apostrophe (and I've done them both in the caption of this post). One is to fail to put one where it is needed; the other is to use one where it isn't appropriate. The first seems to me to be less of a problem these days (except, perhaps, in Birmingham and Wakefield). Apostrophes are required on two occasions. First, they are used to take the place of omitted letters and spaces in contractions. For example, the apostrophe in "let's" (which I wrongly omitted in the caption) replaces the space and letter "u" in "let us". This is one of those rare rules of English to which I know of no exception. If anyone knows of a contraction that doesn't take an apostrophe, I'd be glad to hear from you.

(It's always hazardous to say that any rule of English has no exception. There's an anecdote about the late Sidney Morgenbesser, who taught philosophy at Columbia University for many years, that illustrates this point. A proponent of logical positivism was giving a talk at Columbia in which he asserted that an interesting property of English is that, while a double negative is always properly construed as a positive, there is no instance in which a double positive is considered a negative. Morgenbesser interrupted, in a world-weary voice, with "Yeah, yeah.")

The other instance in which an apostrophe is required is where the possessive form of a noun is formed by adding "'s" after the root form of the noun. This doesn't apply to possessive pronouns, such as hers, his (actually, I suppose, a contraction of "hims"--perhaps this is my exception to the contraction rule), its (thereby avoiding confusion with the contraction form), theirs, and yours. Note that there is no distinction between the possessive forms of nouns and contractions involving those nouns, e.g. "The refrigerator's door is open" and "The refrigerator's not working", or "Tom's car is red" and "Tom's a good fellow."

Where I've seen lots and lots of abuse lately is in the insertion of apostrophes where they are not appropriate; i.e. in the plurals of nouns where the plural is formed by adding "s" to the noun root (this is the second example in my caption). Today, in an even-Homer-nods moment, award-winning Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman, in his Brooklyn Angle column about the controversy over whether Park Slope Food Co-Op might boycott Israeli products, wrote (with his usual becoming modesty):
Last week, I became the lone journalist (in the nation, it appeared) who reported the emmes, to use the Yiddish word for truth, that the famously liberal, member’s-only supermarket on Union Street was NOT — I repeat, not — considering a ban on Israeli-made or -grown products.
Now, I will cut Gersh a bit of slack here: the term "members only" does have a possessive cast to it. Nevertheless, the word "members" here is clearly used as a plural, not as a possessive. Moreover, if it were a possessive, it would be a plural possessive, in which case the proper form would be "members' only", not "member's".

Why is there so much of a problem with the misuse of apostrophes in plurals? My theory is that it started with the spread of acronyms and all-caps abbreviations, the first of which to come into common usage was probably "TV". Somehow, it seemed more natural to write "We have two TV's" than "two TVs", even though the apostrophe doesn't indicate a possessive or substitute for any missing letters or spaces. Perhaps it just felt barbarous to shove that poor little lower case "s" right up against that big capital "V". A similar problem arose in connection with plurals of numerical terms, e.g. "During the 1920's, jazz became widely popular." I believe there are some style mavens who think this is correct; that it's just wrong to allow a letter to rub against a number without the imposition of an apostrophe as a bundling board. I say, "Fie upon them!" Plurals of acronyms or abbreviations (TVs, CDs, HMOs, etc.) and numerical terms (1920s, 1040s, and so on) don't need apostrophes. Possessives of these terms are a different story.

So endeth the lesson. Go, and sin no more. If you want to go the extra mile, join The Apostrophe Protection Society.

3.1 update: Talk about Homer nodding! In his New York Times op-ed column today, Frank Rich wrote:
Now [Obama] can move on and let his childish adversaries fight among themselves, with Rush Limbaugh as the arbitrating babysitter. (Last week he gave Jindal a thumb's up.)
I could imagine Tom Friedman making a mistake like that, but Frank?

3.4 update: Friend and faithful S-AB reader Ellen reminds me of another grammatical pet peeve: the loss of the possessive in sentences like, "I appreciate your being on the show", which today usually gets reduced to " being on the show." She also points out that "thumb's" in the Frank Rich column may have been a copy editor's or proofreader's error that Frank never got a chance to correct.

Twif, I heart your truly unique comment.

Final update: the sign has been changed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Woo-hah! Mets win spring training opener.

Spring training began today, so let's give John Fogerty and Keith Urban a listen:

I'm not one of those who buys into the "spring training records are meaningless" theory. Certainly there's no perfect correlation between a team's Grapefruit or Cactus League record and its subsequent regular season outcome, but by my reckoning a team that does very well in the spring is more likely to do well in the games that count than one that does poorly. So it's a relief to me to see the Mets win their spring opener by the decisive score of 9-3, even though it was over the Orioles, a team that's had little success of late. What is especially gratifying is to see Luis Castillo and Ryan Church, two players who had injury problems last season, getting seven RBIs (four and three, respectively) between them.

I blinked when I saw that Sean Green had to leave early after splitting a fingernail in his pitching hand. He's back? Wasn't he an outfielder? Oh, yeah, that was Shawn Green.

2.26 update: The Amazins' pre-season juggernaut advances as they trounce the Marlins, 9-0, in a game highlighted by Reyes' grand slam while hitting in the three-spot. As always with the Mets, though, there's something to worry about: this time it's Johan Santana's elbow "discomfort".

2.27 update: The juggernaut is halted as the Mets lose to the Cards 9-8, although the headline writer on the Mets' site puts a smiley face on it by emphasizing that newly signed potential fifth starter Livian Hernandez pitched two scoreless innings. Earlier in the day, the Mets managed to squeak by Team Italy (Mike Piazza is their hitting coach!) 5-4. Johan Santana's first start has been postponed again because, Jerry Manuel says, he's being "extra, extra, extra" careful. Uh-huh.

Jindal's lame response.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was tapped to respond to President Obama's speech last night. Even though I was groggy from having stuffed myself with jambalaya, red wine and king cake at the Grace Church Mardi Gras dinner earlier in the evening, I managed to stay awake to watch him. I was curious to see this much hyped possible 2012 presidential aspirant, and hoped he might, in taking on what would likely be a thankless task, at least have something interesting to say. Alas, it was not to be.

He began (an edited* text of his speech is here) by acknowledging that it was "a great moment in the history of our Republic" when "our first African-American President stepped forward to address the state of our union." He then quickly drew a parallel between Obama's Kenyan father and his own Indian immigrant parents, and quoted his father, who "had seen extreme poverty" in India, as saying, while surveying the goods on sale at a supermarket, "Americans can do anything." This became the oft-repeated catchphrase of his speech. Unfortunately, it happens not to be true. There are many things Americans can't do: defeat a popular insurgency in Southeast Asia, consistently realize annual ten per cent returns on invested assets, pronounce French correctly, and so on.

The catchphrase then quickly got qualified to: "Americans can do anything, but their government can hardly do anything right." To illustrate why "those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina...have our doubts" about government's ability to "rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us", he offered this anecdote:
During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I’d never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: “Well, I’m the Sheriff and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me!” I asked him: “Sheriff, what’s got you so mad?” He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go - when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn’t go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, “Sheriff, that’s ridiculous.” And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: “Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!” Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.
If this was meant to show that government can't respond effectively to a crisis, it falls on its face. Sure, the "bureaucrat" who wasn't going to let the rescue boats sail was an agent of government (whether federal, state or local Jindal didn't say), but so were Sheriff Lee and Jindal himself. So, the rescue effort wasn't thwarted by government, after all, and may never have been organized in the first place had it not been for the Sheriff. Petty, rule-obsessed "bureaucrats" are not unique to government. There are plenty of them in the private sector as well:

Jindal later recited a laundry list of what he considered objectionable or unnecessary programs for which funds are appropriated in the recently enacted stimulus legislation. One of these, which he especially stressed with obvious distaste, was "volcano monitoring." Perhaps he would like to discuss this topic with his GOP colleague and possible 2012 rival, Governor Palin.

Update: Paul Krugman had this to say on his blog. (Thanks to Rob Lenihan for the link.)

3.1 update: It seems Jindal's story about being with Sheriff Lee "[d]uring Katrina" and at the time the rescue boats were sent out is a fabrication. (Thanks to Michael Simmons--see comments to this post--for the tip.)

*The State website says this is a "full text"; however, it contains many ellipses and doesn't include the list of programs funded by the stimulus legislation to which Governor Jindal voiced objections in his speech.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beausoleil with Michael Doucet: "Zydeco Gris Gris".

Today's the day to highlight this song (thanks to letstalkaboutstuff for making the clip). Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bunning's wild pitch.

U.S. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY), in his earlier career was a good enough pitcher (3.27 career ERA) to be elected to the Hall of Fame. On Saturday, however, he put one in the dirt by predicting, in a speech in his home state, that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would die with in nine months. He later made the appropriate apologetic noises just as Justice Ginsburg returned to her duties on the Supreme Court.

Bunning is up for re-election in 2010, and his likely opponent is Kentucky's Lieutenant Governor, Daniel Mongiardo, who Bunning narrowly defeated in 2004 after a campaign in which Bunning said Mongiardo looked like Saddam Hussein's son. Bunning apologized for this, too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I'm not watching the Oscars.

It's not out of pique; more just disinterest. I hardly ever watch first-run movies anymore; not because there aren't any I want to see, but just because I rarely manage to get myself to a cinema. Part of it is the "I can always wait for the DVD" syndrome. So, I've managed so far not to see Doubt, Rachel Getting Married, Slumdog Millionaire, or Tropic Thunder, all of which I want to see, and all of which are Oscar nominees. I did see Last Chance Harvey, which I liked, but which is nominated for nothing. After some arm-twisting, I agreed to see Mamma Mia with my wife and one of her girlfriends, but we arrived so late we could only get seats in the front row. After a minute or so, I began to develop a painful crick in the back of my neck, and excused myself. So, I'm amused to see Dave White, live blogging the ceremony for MSNBC, referring to MM as "torture porn".

Wait! MSNBC has a "scoop" that an old (preceding Sigourney Weaver) crush of mine , Melissa Leo, may cop Best Actress because the judges can't decide between Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet (who put on such a stunning performance at the Golden Globes). Is it worth staying up? Nah. I'll find out in the morning.

Update: Changed my mind. I'm up this late, so I might as well turn on the TV and do my own live blog. Just saw Danny Boyle finish his speech accepting best director for Slumdog. Now it's the moment of truth for best leading actress. Winslet gets it, and is getting all weepy, again. Oh, well; it seems that the Leo flutter was based on a few remarks by Academy voters overheard by MSNBC's Courtney Hazlett.

Second update: Sean Penn gets best actor for Milk, and begins his acceptance with "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns." I was rooting for Frank Langella, who I saw onstage last year in A Man For All Seasons. I'm adding Frost/Nixon to my must-see list, along with Milk.

Final update: Slumdog gets best picture. No surprise here, I guess. So to bed.