Archive for June, 2012

Eight Words You’ve Probably Mixed Up (That Aren’t the Usual Ones)

It’s been kind of a heavy week, so how about a little lighthearted fun with words to finish us off?

These are all pairs of words that are not quite homophones. Maybe we could call them queeraphones? Very easy to mix up, at any rate, but you can potentially end up saying some very funny things if you use the wrong one.

I’ve tried to stick with ones that I haven’t seen on other writing-related websites. I assume most of you already know how to use those properly — if you’re still missing up “affect” and “effect” you need to switch to an easier blog than mine. These are the fun ones!

Ravish vs. Ravage

Barbarian hordes are fond of doing both of these! However, one happens specifically to people, while the other happens to your whole town, city, or farm in general:

  • Ravish: To take by force (often used sexually)
  • Ravage: To affect destructively; to wreak chaos on.

Therefore they might ravish your womenfolk, but ravage your farms. Hilariously, they can do both to your cattle, depending on whether they carry them off or just leave them all horrifically slaughtered with their inside bits on the outside. But hey, you were gonna do it to the cow anyway, so don’t get all huffy about it.

Eminent vs. Imminent

The only person who should ever be referred to as “Your Imminence” is an unsatisfactory bed partner:

  • Eminent: Prominent or noteworthy; standing out so as to be readily perceived
  • Imminent: About to take place; soon

Could a newly-minted celebrity still in the early stages of adulation be described as imminently eminent? Why yes. Yes he/she could.

Regime vs. Regimen

Regimes are often fond of strict regimens for their citizens! However, they are not the same thing:

  • Regime: a government in power
  • Regimen: a systematic plan or course of regular action

So you shouldn’t talk about your “dieting regime,” unless you are a right-wing commentator complaining about Michelle Obama, who is taking away your pizza for socialist purposes. Then it’s okay. (Grammatically okay. Socially/politically/intellectually you’re still an idiot.)

Discrete vs. Discreet

It is technically possible for you to be both of these at once, but for the most part you don’t refer to other people as being discrete no matter how true it is:

  • Discreet: Unobtrusive; being possessed of good judgment in speech and conduct
  • Discrete: Comprised of separate parts; having a finite or countably infinite number of values

Your maid can be very discreet, but until you murder her and chop the body up to protect your secrets she will probably never be described as discrete. Now what did you go and do that for? We already said she was discreet.

I suppose that last one was a homonym, now that I think about it, but it is not one that makes the usual lists (affect vs. effect, they’re vs. their vs. there, etc.), so I will let it stand. Eminently! But not imminently. We’re past that now.

Got your own to share? Leave a comment! I will try and think up funny things to say with your queeronyms. Or whatever they are.

And I will see the rest of you Monday.

The Supreme Court and the Mandate that Wasn’t

Words are interesting things.

Politics is all about changing words to suit the needs of the moment — generations of “messaging” is how we get from “smog” to “carbon emissions” or from “millionaires” to “job creators.”

But legislating isn’t politics (and would that more legislators remembered that). Actually writing laws fixes your words perhaps not quite in stone, but at the very least it etches them on a clay tablet that takes a bit of wiping off.

That’s worth remembering today.

I’m sure you’ve already read extensive coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act by now?

The main issue, as you might recall, was the “mandate.” Cases against the ACA argued, effectively, that the federal government did not have the power to require citizens to buy something if they didn’t want to.

But in one of those easy-to-forget little legal quirks, the word “mandate” doesn’t actually appear in the ACA. It was made up by politicians and pundits. Nor does “require” appear, at least in terms of requiring you to buy health care. There is, instead, a “penalty” for going uninsured, which you pay on your taxes like a variety of other tax penalties.

Thereon hangs today’s 5-4 ruling, which decided that Congress did have the right to penalize Americans for going uninsured, under their authority to “lay and collect taxes.”

In layman’s terms: the government cannot, in fact, force you to buy health care. But they can raise your taxes if you are an uninsured taxpayer or household. You get to choose which you prefer yourself. And since there are no criminal penalties — it is not a crime to go uninsured, merely a tax burden — the government can’t be said to be “forcing” you to do anything. Or so sayeth a slim majority of the Supreme Court, anyway.

Practical effects of this should be fairly predictable:

1) We’ll immediately see a lot of right-leaning media coverage about how Obama has raised your taxes. It’s pretty much the only superficial talking point they can get out of this one, so expect to hear it a lot.

2) In the longer term this sets some interesting precedents regarding the Commerce Clause. The ruling is a substantial narrowing of the last 100 years’ or so interpretation of it, so down the road this may end up being something of a conservative victory.

3) Since the tax penalties are so small (between $695-2,085 per year depending on household income), the people who still need and still can’t afford private insurance will still go uninsured. $695 is cheaper than paying $150/mo. for a bad plan that maxes out as soon as you stub your toe. The chronically uninsured will just be paying an extra thousand bucks or so to no personal benefit, and the emergency rooms will still be used as the default and only means of health care for poor people.

Now, theoretically, that last could change, if the implementation of health care exchanges start to actually bring down the cost of private plans due to those mysterious “market forces.” But that’s a dubious hope, and a number of states (including mine) are not just dragging their feet but actively passing laws to prevent, delay, or hinder the implementation of health care exchanges, or to limit the kinds of coverage you can buy through them.

So short of some radical market alteration, if you’re someone who does not receive free or discounted health care through an employer — meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Only with a tax hike.

But it was totally a liberal victory, right?

3 Real-Life Etiquette Rules for Internet Dating

The trouble with etiquette books is that they’re written by people who still get their information from books. Most of you have stopped doing that, haven’t you?

Never fear. As dating has moved online, so have people (like me) who are academically interested in you making less of an idiot on your date. After all, I might have to do this some day too. So read on:

1. Whoever Invited Pays

You can over/under the age of an etiquette manual pretty accurately by flipping to the dating section and seeing whether it has this rule or the earlier version: “a gentleman always pays the check for both parties!”

It’s a good rule (the newer version, that is). It eliminates one of the biggest bullshit head-games in dating. And someone who doesn’t like this rule and wants to make a show about the check — however they’re proposing it be handled — is probably playing that head-game. Odds are that they read some book about how to appear successful or something.

So keep it simple. If you set the date up, pay the check. If you accepted an invitation, let them get the check. And if you get to multiple dates and you want to make sure everyone’s getting their turn to pay, send some invitations, or add more events onto dates you were invited to: “Dinner sounds great. There’s a concert near there that I was thinking of going to — want me to grab us tickets?”

2. “Full Disclosure” Comes after Dinner but Before an Invitation to a Second Date

Theoretically no one needs this rule, because you’ve been completely detailed and honest about your life situation on your dating site profile, right?


No, most people will have some kind of “full disclosure” that they need to make. You’ve got a kid. You’re between jobs and living with your parents. You’re dating someone else but it’s an open relationship. Whatever.

These are things that need to be brought up before “a date” turns into “dating.” That said, talking about yourself and your life situation at dinner is boring and a bit presumptuous. Wait until the date goes well (if it goes well) and add the disclosure to the request for a follow-up:

“I had a great time and I’d love to see you again. I know that people can have strong opinions about this sort of thing, so I should tell you now that I do have a three year-old at home, but I hope that’s not going to be a total deal-breaker. Call me!”

3. Don’t Hook Up on the First Date; Don’t Date the Hook-Up

But…but alternative lifestyles! Polyamory! Fuck the old social norms! You’re a tool of the patriarchy! Waaaaaah!


Take a deep breath. Cleanse your mental palate of all those knee-jerk reactions you default to as soon as someone starts talking about sex. Half of you are already putting words in my mouth (fingers?) and you need to not do that.

Definitions: a “date” is some kind of public social activity that two people go on to see whether they enjoy one another’s company and want to pursue more of it. A “hook-up” is casual sex between two people who aren’t pursuing a relationship.

Both are fine. Neither is bad. But you don’t want to cross signals.

If you’re dating in the hopes of finding a longer-term partner you want to start with a clear picture of their public persona. That’s the “them” that you’re going to spend most of your life interacting with. Getting upstairs and getting naked right off the bat is adding a lot of data to the first impression you already have. Give your brain some time off to figure out how well you like this person before you dump a bunch of hormones and “yeah, but she’s amazing in bed!” into the mental file.

And if you’re just kind of screwing around casually don’t call the next day. Maybe you were just advertising for one-night stands with dinner first but all of a sudden you felt a real connection. Too bad. You don’t have any reason to believe that the same is true for the other person. They picked up an ad for a “casual encounter.” Respect that desire and keep it that way. If you happen to cross paths in another setting maybe you can strike up a non-sexual conversation and see where it goes, but don’t start hounding them the morning after the fling.

That clear anything up for anyone? Got your own internet dating etiquette to add? Leave a comment!

Marriage, Home Ownership, Parenthood, and Other Goals No One Is Actually Forcing You to Achieve

In a way I’m happy to see that generational angst isn’t limited to one generation.

Look wherever you want the last few weeks and you’ll find someone who’s unhappy with the way American life turned out for them: Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in The Atlantic examines why women still can’t “have it all,” Sierra over at the phoenix and the olive branch has an Open Letter from a Millennial about our acute awareness of our own shortcomings, and poor Jimmy Carter’s just sad that we don’t play nice with other nations (like we did back in his day?).

Okay, the last one’s less about expectations for American life than the others; I just enjoy Carter’s post-Presidential role as our political system’s loving but quietly-disappointed father.

But as far as the other pieces (and many, many more like them) go, the point is pretty basic: the rules have changed. The game kids got told they were going to play is not the game anymore. It’s getting harder and harder to achieve professional success and have that married, non-divorced, two-child household in a suburban home with a white picket fence.

And that’s sad and surely someone’s fault and yadda yadda yadda. If you want to read those sorts of articles I linked to two of them up top, and you won’t have to work hard to find more. I have a slightly different issue to raise, mostly with my generation but also to some extent with those above me (and very much with those below me, though I hope no one too young is reading this blog).

So serious-talk time, guys: Do you actually want to get married, buy a home, and have kids?

And if so, why?

I feel like those are goals that most people have not looked at objectively. The same way we’re finally starting to backpedal from assuming that everyone needs a four-year undergrad degree to “compete,” we need to be re-evaluating the “success” of getting married, buying a home, or having children.

Because you don’t actually have to do any of those things. They’re not inherent needs. They can be fun if that’s your thing, but is it actually your thing? Why?

I’m not saying some people don’t have a good answer for those questions; I’m saying many people seem to not be asking themselves those questions at all.

A whole lot of my friends and peers are desperately working their way through the dating scenes, both virtual and non, trying to find a perfect soulmate so they can get married before they turn 25 30 35 whatever depressing benchmark comes next. And they hate it. They hate the dating, they hate the websites, they hate the people; they hate the gnawing sensation that somehow they’re screwing up.

I have no idea why most of these people would want to get married.

For the people that do meet an awesome partner and decide that yes, this thing is going to be awesome now and forever, wanting to get married makes perfect sense. Marriage is a great goal for people who have found a fantastic life partner and want to arrange their life around that partnership.

But why, in the absence of that partner, would matrimony be something that weighs on your mind? It’s really not something you have to do.

Likewise home ownership. A mortgage is often cheaper to pay month-to-month than a rental lease, sure, but it ties you to that one spot and puts you on the hook for repairs and maintenance. Which is a trade I can totally see making — if you were in love with a particular house in a particular place and were willing to take those burdens to get that specific home that you wanted.

As just an abstract thing you feel like you should do, forget it. Houses are not the even vaguely-guaranteed increase in personal value they used to be. “Safe as houses” is a punchline these days. There’s no reason to take the added responsibility and the inconvenience of being tied to one place until you’re sure that it’s the perfect place and the house built on it is the perfect house.

And kids? Seriously now.

You don’t have to rush to have kids while you’re young and healthy. You don’t have to rush to have kids ever. There are already more of them than the planet can handle. Planting/popping out a couple of your own is about the most wasteful self-indulgence you’ll ever make in terms of environmental impact. Don’t do it unless it really is the major meaningful project you want to do with your life. If it’s not, do the thing you want to do, rather than doing both and moaning about how hard it is to balance your dreams with your family.

If the family wasn’t the dream in the first place, don’t fucking have one.

Now, all these things — getting married, owning a home; having kids — are things that some people might genuinely enjoy doing. They’re also things that some people might happen to be good at. In a few rare cases those two qualities might even overlap. And I support everyone’s right to decide whether they want to strive for those goals or not.

But if you’re still in the process of mapping out your life, you should take some time to think about whether or not those major “adulthood” milestones are on the route. Examine the if and the why. Question your assumptions.

And recognize that if you’re just doing something because it’s what grown-ups are expected to do, then you’re probably not doing a very good job of being a grown-up.

Weird Etiquette You Never Think About Before the Breakup

Yesterday we finished moving out the lady known on the blog (and to me for a number of years before the blog) as “O Best Beloved.” (If updates seemed a little slow and odd last week it’s probably related to that; if you didn’t notice and thought it all seemed fine that would be very flattering and relieving to know, so do mention it in the comments.)

The whole thing went about as well as these things ever do, for which I’m grateful, but at the end of a long relationship like that you start to think about pretty weird points of etiquette regarding future interactions. In a brain already prone to rambling it’s easy to get caught in a weird thought-spiral:

  • Wait, does this mean I have to wear pants when she comes over to move her stuff?
  • Yeah, probably. Man.
  • What about a shirt?
  • Christ but it’s hot.
  • I guess I don’t look all that good with my gut hanging out anyway.
  • But wait, I don’t have to try and look good anymore.
  • Nah, fuck it, shirt and pants. Okay.
  • Which shirt? Nothing she ever used as pajamas. That just seems weird.
  • Do I really have to get up at 8:00 on Monday to help her carry coffee and doughnuts to work?
  • Woman, you just dumped me. Carry your own damn doughnuts.
  • Oh. I can have some of the coffee? Okay then.
  • Etc.

It’s a weird place to be. But that’s pretty much the report from people who’ve been here before, so I’m just going to take the weird thoughts as they come, and potentially blog about them because hey. Gotta get some mileage out of this somehow.

Other weird etiquette you started having to think of after your breakup? Do share. My brain can always use more weird thoughts to chase around in hamster-wheel circles.

CafePress Would Like You To Know That T-Shirt Sales are Serious Political News(TM)

One of the nice things about being a professional media outlet, or at least a widely-known blog, is that you’re on the mailing list for basically any story that someone wants you to believe is “news.”

This is not actually seen as a nice thing by most professional media outlets, but that is because they are not sifting through the dross for gold, like the press release and handy graphic from CafePress that Wonkette gleefully highlighted today, announcing that Ron Paul and Barack Obama are neck-and-neck in that all-important political metric, custom T-shirt printing:

“With an average of over 130,000 new designs uploaded every week, CafePress is often seen as a Cultural Barometer®,” writes the Park Avenue-officed PR flunky who spammed media outlets this “story” and also apparently registered “Cultural Barometer,” which CafePress is seen as, as a trademark.

CafePress, for those that don’t know, pretty much just prints custom T-shirts, like that guy in the trailer with the airbrush at the county fair only for the entire Internet and therefore way scuzzier.

(It is kind of a telling revelation about the CafePress-shopping demographic that a statistically-significant portion of them apparently support Gary Johnson for President, unless maybe that was just confusion caused by retro-hipsters ordering replica LBJ T-shirts).

The real hilarity, of course, and Wonkette notes it faithfully, is not that the above-mentioned PR flunky tried to pawn T-shirt printing off as a valuable metric for Real News Sources (TM) to cover, but that a few of them (naming no names, New York Daily News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram) actually did cover it:

With Romney’s focus now on the general election, time will tell whether former Paul t-shirt buuyers [sic] will switch camps. Overall, 59 percent of purchases were against Obama, but Romney will likely need purchases from Paul supporters to sew up the gap. 


I would say “I see what you did there” for the line about “sew up the gap,” but the NYN seems so serious about the whole thing I’m not sure it was intentional.

Anyway, getting on the mailing lists for these adorably desperate sorts of press releases is one of the biggest temptations to “go pro,” let me tell you. We all spend hours reading stupid shit on the internet already; I might as well get paid for it.

Comfort Food Probably Shouldn’t Be This Spiteful

It has not been a great June over here (though I have high hopes for July). Whole lot of people keep mistaking the rotating fan for the crapper, that’s all I’m saying. So yesterday I hied myself to the Open Pantry down the street for some good old-fashioned escapism: Doritos and french onion dip with a pint of iced cream for afters.

Apparently stress gives you the munchies? Who knew. It seemed like a good idea at the time, at any rate, so I did it.

Partway through my Doritos I’m feeling pretty good and I stop, and I think to myself, here I am, eating processed shit made from genetically modified corn and dipping it in factory-farm dairy products and I’m pretty sure most of the flavor is coming from inorganic compounds anyway, and this feels pretty good.

There was spite, is what I am saying. The comforting realization that if I want to I do still have the power to be an absolute cunt to the rest of the world. It’s like smoking a cigarette — not only is it an indulgence that’s bad for you, it’s also bad for anyone near you, for the soil the stuff used in the first place, and from a historical perspective for the entire European settlement of the North American continent and the specific subeconomies of several states.

Even when you can’t make anything better you always have the power to make them worse, I guess is the thrill behind it. At least you’re having an impact.

I am not particularly inclined toward wallowing, of course, so today I will be back to farmer’s market vegetables and hippie-dippie midnight snacks like organic curried rice, but it seemed like an educational moment. Then again, it’s equally possible that eating stoner food makes you prone to some of the same habits of thought, and this is just weed-wisdom without the weed.

I will think deeply on it while I finish off these Doritos.


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