Just Curious

Please state the answer in the form of a question... Just Curious is the occassional blog of Andrew Nelson. In an attempt to balance the polemical tone of most of the blogosphere, all entries hope to pose at least one useful question. Many entries simply advance useful memes. Personal entries may abandon the interrogative conceit.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

what does it mean to be Plutoed?

I was recently listening to the "On Word with John Ciardi" podcast from NPR. The late Mr. Ciardi pointed out that "the lion's share" properly means "all," not "a lot," in reference to this fable -- but confusion over the term's meaning was so pervasive that if you meant it to use "all," you would probably be corrected. This frustrated me, because I specifically like the sort of "all" that the fable implies. The lion creates a show of fairness by dividing the meat, but bends the rules to claim the whole carcass -- this is a practice that is so common that we could use an expression for it.

I wonder if we're in a similar situation with "Pluto." Now, I'm of the opinion that the International Astronomy Union made the right call to demote the little guy. But I also agree that the "dwarf planet" category is a little ridiculous, especially since it violates scientific laws of *linguistics* (see this article in the Trib -- though you could also make the argument that "dwarf" is being used in the same sense as "false" or "pseudo). Given all the press the IAU's decision has gotten, plus the generally pro-Pluto popular sentiment, it seems likely that we might see "Plutoed" being used as a verb in the sense it is here.

But perhaps we could make it even more specific. I would propose that "to be Plutoed" should mean to be demoted or belittled through the creation of a special category that seems to preserve one's status but is actually meaningless. (For example, adding "emeritus" to one's title.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

overheard in the Starbucks on Dempster

"Try something spiritual. That might help."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

overheard at Randolph and Michigan

...about a week ago, but I've forgotten to post it.

Mother: "Honey, sometimes when mommy is driving she says things she wouldn't normally say."
Daughter: "Like cuss words?"
Mother: "Oh no, not cuss words, but names for people she wouldn't normally call them."
Daughter: "Like doo-doo head."
Mother: "Yes, like doo-doo head."

Big Brother India: coincidence or conspiracy?

only joking... but funny that these headlines appeared at the same time on the BBC

India bloggers angry at net ban

India to get 'chaste' Big Brother

Sunday, July 09, 2006

overheard outside Celtic Knot

"I'm telling you, she's not a soldier, she's a scout. Do you understand?"

Perhaps someone trying to convince a relative that the Girl Scouts are not a paramilitary organization?

For some reason, this made me think of the game Stratego. As you may recall if you played this game and weren't captured by aliens, pieces of different ranks do battle (as in, say, the card game War). But you have no idea what rank all of your opponent's pieces happen to be until they are attacked (think of Battleship). The weakest piece is the Scout, sort of the equivalent of a pawn, whose main role is to sacrifice himself to reveal the rank of superior pieces. My favorites, though, were the "Miners." These pieces were also weak, just one rank above a Scout, but could defuse enemy bombs (which can kill any piece that attacks them). Great game on the whole.

Friday, July 07, 2006

but it's better than a video game, better than the movies*

Slacktivist asks "when is a war not a war?" More specifically, does it matter that Congress has not actually declared war since 1942, and if so, how? I think it certainly does matter. Not all American military actions were declared wars in the past -- I think in particular of Andrew Jackson's forced resettlement of the Cherokee, which occurred in direct defiance of the Supreme Court. But at the same time, I don't think it can be argued that every undeclared war since WWII should be rejected on that ground alone. While I would argue for strong congressional oversight in any case, it's not clear how having been "at war" with Afghanistan or Iraq would help clarify our mission there now. I know that what I would prefer would be some sort of international police authority based in international law. It seems that thinking of these military interventions as police actions might have helped the American people develop more realistic expectations (you don't "win" a police action, just as we will never "win" the war on terrorism or the war in Iraq -- though it is still remotely possible that these conflicts will have positive outcomes).

But still, I can't help thinking back to Chris Hedges's book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I can understand how the sort of war he describes might make sense in the Homeric world or the Middle Ages, when war was just an extension of the existing civil order. But in our world, it seems like the war metaphor just confuses things, even if the violence is deserving of the name.


*see these lyrics

overheard in a Potbelly's

(man gestures at LaSalle street) "If this is a hamlet, I came from a crackerbox."

Friday, June 30, 2006

why aren't more people saying this? (subtext: isn't this how most people feel about anti-terrorism measures?)

...probably because it's reasonable.

The always fair-minded Richard Clarke points out in this Times op-ed that neither side in the controversy of the Bush administration's secret bank-monitoring program really has much to say. Violation of our privacy? Financial transactions have long been monitored for criminal activity. Press accounts tipping off terrorists? What villain worth his twirly mustache wouldn't already assume that his calls, bank accounts, etc. are being monitored?

There's no question that after 9/11, we needed to rethink certain limitations on law enforcement, particularly regarding the sort of gathering and sharing of data that might have prevented the attacks. This is a discussion we still need to have. Most people rightly fear government "fishing expeditions" for data. Yet we all recognize the utility of searchable databases (if you use Google) and we voluntarily submit information to such databases all the time (again, if you use Google). If Congress held hearings on this sort of thing rather than symbolic nonsense, we might come up with some reasonable standards that protect useful programs (like this banks one) and bar dangerous ones (like wire-tapping).

But the real problem with the Bush administration is that it sees no need to consult us. It does not see the legal need, as its regular dismissal of Congress shows. But it also does not see the cultural need to have an open discussion of such issues in the press. Conservatives, by temperament and by political necessity, should be well-suited to lead such a discussion of how to balance privacy and national security. The ambivalent poll data surrounding programs like wire-tapping (I believe a fair statement of the average opinion would be, "It might be okay if it really does catch terrorists and doesn't hurt innocent people.") shows that this is a discussion the country wants to have. But the current GOP, sorry excuses as leaders and as conservatives, wouldn't even know how to start.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

overheard in a Starbucks

"I know you're not Jewish. I can smell them."

:: look of dismay ::