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:
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 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.
G is for George R. R. Martin. Too much sex, too much gore, too much wanton violence, and yet it’s storytelling of the highest order. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the TV series Game of Thrones is based (named for the first book in the series, just to confuse everyone), is polarising yet awesome.
Among GRRM’s less endearing attributes are these (don’t worry, I’ll praise him further down the page as well):
- He fills his book with explicit scenes (both sex and violence) that sometimes seem to be there more for the shock value than anything else. I’m sure many will disagree, but much of that could have been done more tastefully, in my opinion. (The guys at the “Finish the Book, George” blog don’t pull their punches like I’m doing when they point this out.)
- He takes forever to complete the next book and has, in the past, made and broken many a promise about release dates. “You’re not getting any younger, George, don’t you pull a Robert Jordan on us!” If you look at the release dates of the five books that are out (1996, 1998, 2000… so far so good… 2005, 2011… really?), you have to ask yourself what he’s doing with his time. The aforementioned blog is known for sticking it to him for pursuing all sorts of interests and hobbies (cynics would point out that many of them are earning him money) while he could be writing and while his fans languish. Who are we to tell him what to do with his time? True, but then, an author has to have some responsibility to his fan base, doesn’t he?
- He has no qualms getting his readers to identify with his characters only to kill them off with relish. (I actually don’t mind that one, personally, it keeps the readers on their toes.)
But, but, but, but… they’re still awesome books. I don’t want my writing to ever be that crude and explicit – I would feel smutty and cheap, and I’m neither squeamish nor prude – but I can overlook that fact for these positive traits:
- The worldbuilding and the historical background of the world of Westeros and Essos is extremely detailed and makes the setting very believable, an achievement that only the top tier of fantasy authors manage, and to which I aspire. Partially based on the Wars of the Roses (the medieval conflict in England, not to be confused with the film The War of the Roses), it is not hard to imagine that greed to control the throne would drive the characters to do what they do.
- The cast of characters is complex, but not for the sake of being complex, or because GRRM gets side-tracked in too many story threads as the late and great Jordan sometimes tended to do in the “middle books”. It suits the imaginary world they are in, and they all come with their own motivations that mean their actions make sense in the context of the story. So many of these characters are multi-faceted, that is, they aren’t all-good or all-evil one-dimensional gap fillers, making them very realistic. It is usually possible to find something sympathetic in the villains, and something to despise in the heroes, or at least to imagine that such a character could exist.
- It’s not the type of fantasy that waves magic stuff in your face; as with most well-written fantasy, the magic that sets it apart from our own world is merely one of the aspects of the story.
- Even though “not much happens” in many chapters, they are linked to the greater story in such a way as to maintain the reader’s interest.
- It’s just a good read. It’s the sort of long fantasy series I enjoy getting into.
- Even though major characters are getting killed left and right, and even though it seems like things get progressively worse, there’s always that hope that things will turn out right, that karma has to finally wake up at some point and give the characters you love to hate what’s coming to them (even though you know on some level that GRRM wants you to think that only to turn around and smite your hopes with a wave of his pen).
What do you think of GRRM’s writing, of A Song of Ice and Fire, or of the Game of Thrones TV Series (which, by complete coincidence, has just started season 4)? Do you agree about loving some bits and hating others, or are you a complete, unconditional fan, or think it’s tosh that shouldn’t be read by anyone? Let me know in the comments.