Monthly Archives: July 2014

Political bullying, brown-nosing, and bad grammar

Apologies up front, this post will of necessity be somewhat politically tinged; if that’s not your thing and me having a go at bad grammar isn’t enough to make you continue reading, feel free to skip this one. The next one will be vastly different, promise. 😉

Reading the online news during lunch today at work, I came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

MH17: Australia cool on expanding sanctions against Russia as access to crash site thwarted again

Quite a serious topic, and currently very much in the forefront of what Australian media are reporting. Two very different sides – the political and the grammatical one – of this story managed to really annoy me.

The political side

Few seem to be willing to say out loud what (I think) seems obvious to most: that Russia’s President Putin is an egotistical bully who needs to be taken down a notch. So many politicians are so worried about how much saying something negative about Putin or Russia might affect their international relationship that they’re willing to overlook all the bullying and the posturing and instead engage in brown-nosing that would make the most sycophantic teacher’s pet jealous.

Several European countries like Germany are treading carefully with Putin because of their reliance on Russian oil, and yet are daring to tighten their sanctions – good on them. The Amercians are economically more isolated and speak more freely while still having to keep in mind that Putin is a loose cannon, crazy and brazen enough to escalate a conflict that will make half the world bleed. I recently read some honest-sounding words from John Kerry about Putin, and the US is on board with increased sanctions.

Here in Australia, we’re even more isolated from Russia (as far as I know, I’m not claiming expertise on the subject), but what do our leaders do? The ones who got themselves into office mostly by bullying many Australians into actually believing those ridiculous three-word-slogans are now doing what most bullies do when faced with a stronger bully: they’re sucking up to him while it’s in their best interest.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia already had some sanctions against Russia and flagged the possibility of the government expanding those “further”, but not before the multinational team had completed its mission.

We’re trying to get the bodies of many who were on flight MH17 home, and, fair enough, if we upset Putin and that turns out to be the reason we fail to identify and retrieve our dead, then, well, that would really suck. But, come on, he’s had the chance to intervene on the side of sanity and has done nothing to help. He’s proven that his ambitions far outstrip his compassion and has made his priorities clear by not acting when he could (and should) have.

Why are we still holding on to the belief that he’ll use his influence with the separatists if we’re openly saying that we’ll consider expanding sanctions after he’s helped us? Do Abbot and Bishop really think Putin won’t hear that they’re only waiting with the sanctions for now? Or that it comes across as a “gesture of goodwill”? Bullies of that calibre don’t think very highly of gestures of goodwill. But our own, smaller, bullies are too busy brown-nosing to notice, I think.


The resemblance is uncanny, isn’t it? (Original Photo by Jonathan Ng, shamelessly taken from SMH and converted to animated GIF by yours truly.)

The grammatical side

The subject matter of the article aside, the other thing that ticked me off while reading this article from what I thought of as a respectable newspaper was that it had several errors that any editor should have spotted. Are all these cuts to education having an effect already? No, wait, people can’t write properly because of previous cuts to education spending.

Let’s start with the title. Wouldn’t some alternative to “cool” have been preferable? I’m imagining most Gen-Y readers (well, the ones that read the news) would skim the headline and think, “Oh good, we’re cool with that.”

“Australia is unlikely to immediately follow the US and EU’s lead…”, the article begins. That possessive should apply to the US as well as the EU, i.e. “the US’s and EU’s lead” for the sentence to make sense. The same sentence then uses the phrase “… help in aiding the unarmed police mission’s safe passage to the MH17 crash site”. Who needs safe passage – the police, the police’s mission, or the “police mission”? The former would make sense, yet the latter is implied.

Later, in the typical one-sentence-per-paragraph style too many journalists use because then they don’t have to think about which sentences belong together: “… the possibility of the government expanding those ‘further’, but not before the multinational team had completed its mission”. (Ah, so the police and the team do have a mission, the abstract kind, not the missionary kind. I hope they get their safe passage.) Why is “further” in quotes? If someone were reading this out loud, would they have to do the “finger quote” thing? Is the article quoting just that one word and has paraphrased the rest, or are they trying to make fun of what the PM said in some manner I don’t get?

Next, they quote Abbott as follows: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again – that’s the approach that the Australian government and our international partners, particularly the Dutch have got to this.” We all know that Abbott is not the “suppository of all wisdom” (one try too many, Tony), but you don’t have to butcher his quotes even more by ignoring the rules of grammar. In the quoted sentence, the dependent clause “particularly the Dutch” should be separated from the main sentence (“…the approach the government and our partners have got to this”) by commas. The first comma is there, the second is missing.

The next quote (“if it doesn’t happen today…”) needs a semi-colon instead of a comma before the second if.

The conjunction but in the next sentence joins two independent clauses (“he said the situation remained fluid” and “they would not be taking sides”), hence it should have a comma to separate them.

Want to distill Abbott’s foreign policy down to one short phrase? He’ll do it for you:

I know that various things are happening in Europe and elsewhere, that’s a matter for the Europeans and others.

Douglas Adams defined those things as SEPs (someone else’s problem). Yeah, Tony, if all countries just worried about their own problems like you do, we wouldn’t get all those boats you want to stop, right? Do I even need to point out the fact that the comma in that quote shouldn’t be a comma? The same thing goes for the Hockey quote, “I made no such claim, that’s just dead wrong.” Does anyone even know what commas are used for any longer?

At least there’s a comma after “Wednesday”, but the rest of the sentence (“Moscow’s support for the unarmed mission was vital for the team’s support”) reminds me of Austin Powers’ wonderfully awkward “Please allow myself to introduce… myself.”

I won’t even mention the last sentence, but I will repeat this: it’s a newspaper article. Not just some scribbling in a blog no one reads. Journalists! You should hold yourselves to a higher standard. Especially on a topic of this gravity.

Word Crimes

Recently, I’ve been really lazy when it comes to blogging – school holidays, kids at home having more time than they can handle, and so on. (I’m not trying to make excuses, and yes, I’ll get back to blogging and catching up on everyone else’s blog… sorry!)

One of the upsides of that, though, is that my kids find funny things on youtube and show them to me. A couple of days ago, they told me to watch a video, “FOIL”, by Weird Al Yankovic, which makes fun of the song “Royals”. I didn’t know he was still around, let alone still making parodies. I liked it, and told my kids that he was funny way back when I was their age (I remember his “Just Eat It” parody of “Just Beat It”). I still had the youtube tab open in my browser this morning, saw this one that caught my attention, and absolutely loved it.

It’s not only hilarious, it also hits the nail on the head. A must-watch for anyone who’s ever advocated grammar or corrected anyone’s atrocious spelling, or laments that “the days of good English have went”.

“Word Crimes” by Weird Al:

I couldn’t have said it gooder weller better myself. 😀

Introducing: Shadow, our new kitten

I’ve mentioned previously that our new kitten “Shadow” has been a welcome distraction in our household after our older cat passed away. As threatened promised, here are a few pictures of him. Beware: continuing to read this post may lead to uncontrollable utterings of “Aaaawwww!” and the like. You have been warned.

Shadow is a Tuxedo cat, being mainly black with white socks, chest and neck, and one awesome white moustache.

Tuxedo cat

You know I’m adorable. Go ahead. Say it!

Thanks to his very cheeky nature, he wasn’t shy for very long after he arrived at our home, soon making a variety of new friends…

Hunting guppies

From harmless guppies…

Dog encounter

… to Summer, our dog.

Hair-raising encounter

Meeting our other tomcat, Merlin, proved a hair-raising encounter at first…

Game of Thrones

… because if you don’t respect the big cat in the house, it’s Game of Thrones time.

Merlin was not fond of being attacked by the cheeky little devil at every turn.

There was a fair bit of hissing, spitting and flattening of the ears initially…

Shadow gets comfy

… but what are you going to do if the cute little guy just ignores all that and ruthlessly cuddles up to you…

Insistent cuddler

… and even if you try to turn away…

Sneaky cuddler

… he just snuggles up to you over and over…

Friends at last

… until you just have to accept it?

Note from the Author/Translator

My unseeing gaze traverses from my editor’s email on the computer screen to the weary old chest standing on the floor next to my desk, pretending innocence. Logic, once my dear and trusted friend, shies back in revulsion from what my mind knows to be true. I spit the bite of mouldy pizza crust that my hand must have picked up on its own accord into the paper bin. The remainder of the slice follows close behind.

Again, I squint at the email, this time noticing the date in the header with a feeling of disbelief. It certainly does not seem like three weeks since I stubbed my toe on the chest in front of my apartment door on my way out. It doesn’t seem that long since I picked up the topmost book from the first of three dusty piles inside, not realising that the first of them, chronologically speaking, was on the bottom. Assuming that it was my editor’s misguided attempt at realism, or humour, I opened the book. Vaguely, I remember picking up the phone to call her, to complain that she could at least have the author type up his manuscript, and that she has worked with me long enough to know the languages I can and cannot translate. Yet even while the phone was ringing, I took a second glance at the cramped handwriting, and what had seemed an unreadable mess of characters in a foreign alphabet only a moment ago dissolved, and became… what I now know as “Common”. I recall flicking back to the first page of the loosely bound volume, and the strange-looking symbols now making sense. It was my name: Kentos. No, well, not my name exactly, but the name of the Quemin I became for the time it took me to translate all three stacks, whose joy and despair, whose triumphs and tragedies I have lived, whose tropical island home – and entire world – seem far more real than the rain now splattering against my dirty window.

I wonder whether these memories that engulfed me so completely will fade like a dream. At least I typed the translation even as I read each volume; the huge document on my hard drive is proof of that. I open it, look up the word count, and frown at my fingers: they should be bloody stumps from typing so furiously in just three weeks. Did I sleep at all? Or, come to think of it, dare I sleep now, lest I wake to find no document, no manuscripts, and no chest, other than in my mind? Will I still be thinking in base eight and say “shelf” and “eighting” instead of thinking in base ten and saying “sixteen” and “sixty-four”? Will I continue to divide my days and nights into eight hands each after a good night’s sleep?

To distract myself from these useless questions, I re-read the email.

I don’t know what to say. I’m blown away. It’s enough for a trilogy. But before we go anywhere with this, I have to know… is it a translation (if so, from what, and from whom?!?) or is it your own? God, I need to get some sleep.

It’s unsigned. Very unlike her, not to be formal, even in emails. I can’t believe she didn’t mention the fact that I sent the document off without any editing, not even bothering to run a spell checker. But what’s more, if she didn’t have the chest deposited outside my door, then… who did?

Rusty hinges squeak in protest as I once again open the plain chest’s rectangular lid. Perhaps another look at some of the pages between the reddish ox-hide covers, with “Academy” stamped on them, in Common of course, can give me a clue as to their origin. As I did three weeks ago, I pick up the topmost volume – are there more now than there were when I closed the lid after finishing the translation? – and let it fall open at random.

I whimper in helpless dismay as I realise that I am again looking at symbols I don’t know at all. But… I still know Common, and even Quemin. This large, bold and aggressive hand bears no resemblance to Kentos’ tiny, meticulous writing style. Have I missed one of the books? I turn back to the first page, and my heart simply refuses to continue beating.

“I know you!” I whisper hoarsely when at last it jump-starts again. “I almost killed you.” My hands are shaking so hard that I almost drop the book. Suddenly, I know. I understand. With great care, I place the book on the floor, then the next on top of it, continuing until I am holding the last book of the first pile in my hands. I open it, and, somehow, a new document is already open on my screen. I prepare to again immerse myself in that other reality, to become someone else once more, knowing that what little of me I leave behind in this reality will take care of me, from bodily functions to keeping up with translating the experiences flooding my mind.

Then again, I am clearly no expert on what is real and what is not.