Sundays will never be the same

The Blog D’Jour is about human nature.

I often wonder how people put in circumstances of overwhelming temptation avoid it. If you love candy and work at Gertrude Hawk how do you not filch a few…The more


Blog Post for Tuesday 3/1/11 – 23 degrees at 6:15 AM – Meteorological Spring is Thursday

Tuesday Morning Review

Today is a double funeral.

And two reviews, too late.

I subscribe, home delivered, to the New York Times Sunday edition.

It’s big enough to keep me warm. And it takes me all week to read it.

But Sunday I read all of the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

In order, I read the essay piece in the back, The Ethicist and On Language.

Next Sunday, two of my traditions will be gone.

The Ethicist Column for last Sunday was headlined “Goodbye.’ The author Randy Cohen, went on to say:

I have written The Ethicist for 12 years: 614 columns. This is my last.

I am in mourning.

Mr Cohen writes the way I only wish I could. Well, for one thing.

And he has a distinct, self-deprecating style that also betrays a huge ego.

I love it.

For those unfamiliar, the column is advice for everyday and some some not so everyday dilemmas of conscience.

Some titles will give you perspective:

When Med Students Post Patient Pictures

Doubting Others’ Job Performance

Tots on Bikes

Let’s look at one Q & A :

Full Disclosures

My same-sex partner and I are legally married in another country, a marriage not recognized by our state or (obviously) federal government, with significant negative consequences to our modest financial situation. My partner would be eligible for some government aid if she applied as a single person, but it feels disingenuous to do so, because as a family, we make well above the poverty line. In some sense, however, the government owes us this money since it unjustly disregards our marriage. Should she apply? NAME WITHHELD, PORTLAND, ME.

There’s no ethical obstacle to her doing so. As you realize to your dismay, in this context “single” is a technical term with a precise meaning defined by law. Your partner’s duty is to meet the criteria for aid and fill out those applications honestly. If, for the purposes of, for example, health-insurance subsidies, the agency administering the program regards her as single, she has every right — ethical and legal — to apply as such.

“Family” has various meanings to a religious body, to a state legislature, to a boss who hopes his employees won’t unionize, to Don Corleone. I take it to be a synonym for “insipid” when it precedes the word “film” and for “inedible” when followed by the word “restaurant.” Context shapes meaning. What’s more, marriage has long been, among other things, an economic institution. Your partner may take that into account when considering these applications.

This decision has nothing to do with the government’s compensating her for rough treatment or being evenhanded or mitigating any injustice marriage law imposes on you both. Nor could you argue that because federal marriage law discriminates against same-sex couples, denying them equal treatment, you have an ethical right to balance the scales by cutting the line at the post office or punching a homophobe in the snoot, however appealing those actions might seem. But you have no duty to set stricter standards for such programs than the law itself. Similarly, although I favor a more progressive income tax, one that might compel a nice fellow like me to write a bigger check, I am not morally obliged to send the I.R.S. more money than current law prescribes.

See what I mean? Strong clear writing. A sense of humor. An even-handed approach to the problem and a fair solution.

Mr Cohen notes at the end of his “Goodbye Column”:

I am sorry to leave The Ethicist but eager to work on “A Question of Ethics,” a program in development for public radio. If you’d like to find out about my next endeavors, please “like” me on Facebook. That sounds so desperately Sally Field, and I don’t mean it that way. Or do I?

I hope it works out for him but leaping from old school print media to old school electronic media is not, in my humble opinion, a step…anywhere.
Bonne chance!, Mr Cohen.

Now, for On Language.

On Language was penned by William Safire up until his death in 2009.

The current author, Ben Zimmer, has this to say in last Sunday’s column:

On Language is finally coming to a close, at least in its current incarnation. For more than 30 of those years, it was the domain of the Language Maven (as Safire jauntily called himself), until his passing in September 2009. I’ve had the privilege of carrying on that legacy for the past year, but now it is time to bid adieu, after some 1,500 dispatches from the frontiers of language.

On Language too, was something that I wished I was learned enough, talented enough to write.

Pigskin Parlance

The King’s Tongue Twisters

‘Scratch Paper’ or ‘Scrap Paper’?

Here’s a good example:

The titles were always visually stimulating

Pity poor Hannah, who received a startling text message on her cellphone, sent from her father: “Your mom and I are going to divorce next month.”

After Hannah registered her alarm, her father quickly texted back: “I wrote ‘Disney,’ and this phone changed it. We are going to Disney.”

Welcome to the world of smartphone autocorrection, where incautious typing can lead to hilarious and sometimes shocking results. With the rapid success of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android phones, more and more people are discovering the pitfalls of tapping on a virtual keyboard. Just as the spell-check feature in a word-processing program tries to save you from your own sloppy typing, either by politely suggesting alternatives or by automatically replacing egregious errors, the latest mobile devices are supposed to take care of your typos — but often fail with comic results.

The article goes on to dissect the issue and ends:

All of this recalls an earlier era of computer-aided miscorrections. When the 1997 edition of Microsoft Word introduced its background spell-checker, some of the on-the-fly substitutions were a little off the mark. Most notoriously, cooperation was rendered by the autocorrect feature as Cupertino, since the spell-checker dictionary recognized co-operation only with a hyphen. When translators for the European Union started noticing the name of a Northern Californian town (coincidentally, the home of Apple Inc.) creeping into their documents, they coined “the Cupertino effect” to describe such unwanted spell-checker changes.

Microsoft’s Natural Language Processing group subsequently tinkered with its algorithms to make sure that only truly obvious errors are autoreplaced (like teh for the), and it has also continually expanded the spell-checker dictionary to keep up to date. (Instant updates helped when the first release of Office 2007 didn’t contain Obama, unfortunately recommending Osama in its place.) Now much of that R.&D. has been repurposed for Microsoft’s own mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7, a direct competitor to the iPhone and Android platforms. The Windows phone won’t spare us from the cellular counterpart of the Cupertino effect, however. Errant thumbs and fickle spelling will keep autocorrect developers guessing for a long time to come.

Gosh. Golly. Gee. I coulda wrote them purty words.

Yeah, right. It is to laugh.

So farewell Ethicist Column and On Language too.

Here is a song for you both:


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About James Rising

A recovering radio addict wrestles with the written word.
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