Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Request for comments (RFC)

Some while back (as in down the page) I posted Passion in the Age of Reason, in order to recount and hopefully stimulate additional discussion about a conversation that occurred on Glenn's blog on Salon. Follow the link on that post to read the original. I am, in first life, writing a paper, and would like to cite the entire conversation. Which leads to an interesting format, an interesting etiquette problem, and an interesting ethics problem.

Scholarly articles are supposed to be, in some sense, immutable. In recent years, there has been much debate about citing electronic sites -- they could disappear, links could go dead, material can be changed, it's all bits, after all. So what should be a format, and how does it establish its permanence? Personal communication is a catchall, and can always be used, but somehow public communication is a new one. Some blogs, like Salon, maintain archives, and so could be assumed to be permanent, I'll probably assume this.

The second problem is an etiquette problem: Can one go on a public space, and ask people to stand up and be cited? Doesn't asking people, in some domain like Salon, invite questions of whether or not you've overstepped familiarity? So I am writing here, where the domain is smaller -- but still uneasy about whether or not it is polite. On the other hand, what could be less polite than failing to give credit?

The third problem or pair of problems, is ethics. Anonymity is one of the defining factors of the comment environment, the right to a nom de plume. Asking people for their names is unethical, it is like outing them. I, for one, was once cited on the Internet, by name, in a derogatory fashion that I hope never to see again. But not asking is unethical, it is failure to give credit where credit is due.

Shall I cite by nom de plume then? Does a person's concept of anonymity change if credit is due? Please let me know your thoughts, I think it would be a shame if comments were only allowed to be cited by blogs and newspapers, and never in a proceedings. I give you fair warning that if the consensus is to cite by genuine name, I shall be contacting those authors by email to get permission, and I don't know what to do for those I don't know how to contact. If the decision is to use nom de plume, I will do that instead.

Note: Due to a privacy problem with blogspot, I had to delete and repost this entry. That's why the comments disappeared.
Note Update: Karen M was able to resurrect the comments for the original entry, they are amalgamated into one comment and attached. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Battling the meaning of Chocolate... I'm not kidding. Chocolate: a political synecdoche...

Words mean things... at least they once did, prior to the GWB administration's implementation of Orwellian double-speak, as when they decided to gut an EPA program that once fought air pollution and call it "Clear Skies," or allowed the timber industry to help rewrite forestry standards to favor their clear-cutting methods, and called the program "Healthy Forests." Today, I have once again come across an unbelievable news story about the ongoing battle over what it means to call something CHOCOLATE.

[I am not implying that Karl Rove is
actively trying to thwart millions of dark chocolate consumers... only that BushCo, of all modern White House administrations, is the one most likely to allow such a thing... given that most of their base is already focused on the upcoming Rapture, and not really thinking long term, if you know what I mean.]

Wouldn't a reasonable person expect that the manufacturers of a product with a market that is still growing, as the market for chocolate must be, have learned a thing or two-- perhaps in business school?!-- by observing what happened when other similarly situated industries made either or both of two serious errors:

a) ignoring what their customers want;

b) attempting to compromise quality-- while hoping that no one would notice-- just so they could make a few more dollars in the short term... and let the long term be damned.

But avoiding both of those errors appears to be too high a bar for some members of the American chocolate industry, i.e., those who wish to adulterate their product without suffering any consequences, while substituting alternative fats for the chocolate liquor, or by adding other, non-chocolate, ingredients... and I don't mean wonderful flavors like orange or roasted almonds or espresso.

Obviously, there are some chocolate producers who truly do not understand their base, given that chocolate politics are now in danger of following the mold cast in Washington, DC. But back to the topic...

The current state of the American automobile industry is a prime example of what happens when manufacturers continue to ignore what their customers say they want... decade after decade. Detroit's main business and its once-large profits found their way across the Pacific to manufacturers of high quality cars with better gas mileage and important safety features.

And if trying to save a bit of money-- those pesky stockholders!-- really is all that Mattel had in mind (temporarily forgetting that you get what you pay for) when they outsourced all of those (lead-)painted toys to China's underpaid workforce, they're probably about to find out the meaning of that old Reality saw, "penny-wise and pound-foolish." To be fair... Mattel's fiasco is a brand-new story, but there have been other recent examples available for learning purposes, the most dramatic being the contaminated wheat gluten responsible for the deaths of too many beloved pets. Shouldn't American manufacturers have learned by now that endangering the lives of consumers' children and/or pets is not just immoral, but also bad for business?! Apparently, that collective learning curve is pretty steep.

Remember what happened to Coke when someone thought they could simply change the formula? ...and that was without any life or death consequences!

If you also care about the quality of some product that is important in your life, and nostalgic for the days when most companies were run by people who cared deeply about the product or service they provided, then you understand why I am so devoted to Green and Black's, and why I am presuming that IntrovertGirl feels similarly.

There are plenty of other manufacturing industries that could employ those whom I would have BigChocolate sack; for example, let industrial chemists mess around with tobacco all they want. It's not as if they could make tobacco any more harmful to humans than they already have with all of the noxious, carcinogenic, and just plain poisonous, additives that have been used to make it more addictive. Perhaps they really could-- as has often been promised-- improve tobacco products and make them even a little bit less harmful.

But, Chocolate?! Why should industrial chemists have anything to do with so-called improvements (aka cost-cutting measures) to a product that is as near to perfect in this imperfect world as chocolate... which is also known to westerners as Theobroma, or "food of the gods?" Yet, there are those who wish to substitute a bit of hydrogenated vegetable oil (yes, a trans fat!) for a portion of the cocoa butter, and its health-giving properties.

If only BigChocolate could exercise a bit of restraint, some patience. Medical research is even now showing some proof of cardiovascular benefits from a moderate intake of dark chocolate... and the chocolate industry is not even having to spend the billions of dollars that BigPharma does whenever they come up with a new drug that will likely have serious side-effects. Those savings should be considered as cash in hand, but instead, some members of the chocolate industry think it a better idea to mess around with the (potentially) healthful benefits of a product for which the projected market growth is probably a steep incline.

Ai yai yaiii.... [sigh] Would someone please send the Chocolate Manufacturers Association a copy of the children's tale about killing the goose that lays the golden egg?

Consider, too, the wider view... perhaps the critical state of our national politics has not really sunk in for you yet. If not, then just contemplate what could happen to chocolate if companies like Nestle and Mars were allowed to have their way. Equivalent scenarios have already happened in so many other areas of our lives...

In fact, the politics of chocolate might once have been considered a synecdoche for American politics... except that so many of the worst-case scenarios have already come to pass in DC politics, and the government-sanctioned adulteration of chocolate is not yet a FISA accompli.

* * *

[Anyone who wants to sign a petition to save the integrity of chocolate, in general, can do that from here.]

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Chicago's Style Advice

As a paying member to the Chicago Manual of Style website, I get regular email updates of the latest question-and-answer page of editorial advice. These can be as funny as they are helpful -- just thought I'd share some with my fellow bloggers.

Q. When you use parentheses to indicate that a noun might be plural, is it necessary to use them to indicate that the verb might be plural as well? For example, "The participant(s) was (were) informed of the procedure in writing." Is there a rule about this, or is it a stylistic choice? Am I justified in adding the second verb to an author’s manuscript?

A. I don’t know about a rule, but the construction is clumsy, and it’s better to avoid it. Just write “Participants were informed of the procedure in writing,” which doesn’t rule out the possibility of there being only one participant.


Q. Contracts often employ defined terms in quotes and parentheses, e.g., ABC Corp. (the “Seller”) shall sell ten widgets to XYZ Corp. (the “Buyer”). When drafting such a contract, I always put a period after the close parenthesis if it is the end of the sentence, such as in the above example. But it’s like listening to nails on a chalkboard to me to have a period essentially (ignoring the parenthetical) follow the period employed in an abbreviation. What do you recommend?

A. Yoga?


Q. This headline appeared in the New York Times on Friday, May 11: “A Tough Fight Still Looms, Cheney Warns G.I.’s in Iraq.” I thought no apostrophe was necessary here, as the s represents a plural, not a possessive. What’s up at the Times?

A. What’s up is that the Times uses New York Times style, not Chicago style. (Tsk!)


Q. My fashion expert daughter insists that denim does not go with “almost anything,” as I say it does. What is your opinion? Does denim match almost anything, including other colors and other fabrics, e.g., silk?

A. Finally, a real style question! If only we Chicago manuscript editors were a little more fashion-forward . . .

A Lunch of New Words

I'm reading an excellent nonfiction book at the moment, and engaging in that healthiest of tasty little pastimes, noting down words that I have never heard (or read) before, along with ones I know I've read a hundred times but am unsure of the exact meaning of. Of course, this activity is enabled through moderate consumption of Green & Black's organic chocolate (dark, mint-filled squares in my case) and tea. Karen and I share a passion for Green & Black's. But back to my words, whose definitions I've arbitrarily plucked from either Oxford's English Dictionary or the American Heritage Dictionary.

My author, almost all of whose books I've read and whose wordsmithing is usually flawless, littered the word faience many times over several pages, when describing ancient, exquisite tombs, shrines, and mosques he encountered in a three-thousand-mile journey through China, the 'Stans, and the Middle East. I thought that he had to reuse it so often because it must describe something so absolutely specific that no other word could do, but now I'm not sure. Thoughts?

faience: (OED) Fr. probably an appellative use of the proper name Fayence, Faenza in Italy, one of the chief seats of ceramic industry in the 16th century.
"A general term comprising all the various kinds of glazed earthenware and porcelain."
e.g.: "The mosaic floors and faienced walls convey even today an image of perfection." --Koestler

Chiaroscuro is one I've run into so many times that I decided it's high time I looked it up: (OED) clear, bright.
1. style of pictorial art in which only the light and shade, and not the various colours, are represented; black-and-white, or dark brown and white
2. The treatment or disposition of the light and shade, or brighter and darker masses, in a picture.
3. Used of poetic or literary treatment, criticism, mental complexion, etc., in various obvious senses, as mingled 'clearness and obscurity,' 'cheerfulness and gloom,' 'praise and blame,' etc.
5. Partly revealed and party veiled.

Definition number 5 reminds us of where poetry springs from: looking at words, objects, and meanings in new lights. I am so pleased with that definition, partly because it's finally given me a title for an essay that until now was stuck with something hopelessly bland.

Two others, the first I didn't know the meaning of, and the second I felt in need of defining to myself more clearly, again after running into it for several years, both definitions from AHD, which is wonderfully practical if not quote so poetic as the OED:

caravanserai: (in AHD as caravansary)
1. An inn built around a large court for accommodating caravans along trade routes in central and western Asia.
2. A large inn or hostelry. In both senses also called serai.

callow: Lacking adult maturity or experience; immature: a callow young man.

Don't you find that one of the great satisfactions of reading really good writers is that you stumble across words either rarely used, or words used well for the first time?