A Punctuation Nation Speaks Out

There is a Point to all This; it’s a Semi-Colon.

Either everyone in the Fray went to the same school, or else those pesky English professors have a lot to answer for—a surprising number of posters say their teacher told them not to use the semi-colon, the punctuation mark fighting for its life in Paul Collins “Culturebox” article here. Karlilfishnu’s professor said that three semi-colons was a lifetime’s supply. John123 wasn’t having any nonsense after hearing about similar views: “I think what your professor really meant was, that semi-colons promote a clear grasp of logic and complex thinking; which should be avoided at all costs.”

Anyone worried that no-one cares about correct punctuation any more would be greatly cheered by reading the Fray—this was a popular subject, and very few people were arguing for more laxity. There were plenty of jokes about colons: our favorite was Arlington’s “What about Condi Rice? Isn’t she a kind of semi-Colin Powell?” In the important view of the Fray Editor, a colon appears in the previous sentence because the second part exemplifies the first. If the second part had been a contrast, something like “but others thought the subject far too serious for jokes” then a semi-colon would have been necessary. Many others wanted to discuss correct usage—Nemesis was short and to the point:

The nearest explanation I can articulate is that the semicolon puts related ideas together in the same sentence when a comma wouldn’t do and a period would require repetition in the next sentence.

and Earlybird gives an excellent full explanation here, with examples.

There was a curious quality of found poetry in this entry from Kemper—it doesn’t follow the rules but it’s vivid and you know what it means:

I was taught not to use the semicolon unless the boat was sinking and you had no other way to; for god sake save the sentence or as a continue of the same sentence but why would you do that for goodness sake. I am not great at writing but find it useful yet; hold up every time tempted; yes so tempted, to continue a thought yet finish one, giving pause to the forementioned thought.

And perhaps more intended poetry here, from Chroniccommentator:

Semi-colons hang in a sentence like the scent of jasmine you inhale before you walk on to another part of the garden. They let you linger for a moment, and then you move to another flower–but still in the same garden.

Demilune had other things on his/her mind, and clear views:

Love the little buggers [semi-colons]. Don’t use them a lot. Matter of respect, you know. Now, on the subject of which/that, isn’t there a nice philanthropist out there who will donate a copy of Strunk & White[’s Elements of Style] to all writers everywhere?

Which (that?) brought a sigh to this particular writer, whose former editor at Slate used to complain about her which/that usage, and wasn’t convinced by the wild claim that British rules are different. Still, there were never any complaints about the semi-colons, and we even managed to get one into a “Best of Fray” headline once… “Tolerance, yes; respect, no.”  The subject matter that time was actually eating dogs, but the phrase does  describe perfectly the attitude of the punctuation mavens to those who misuse or ignore the semi-colon. MR3:30 p.m. GMT

Monday, June 23,  2008

You try to write about the candidates and their policies, and what do you get from the readers? Those readers who are always asking for more straight talk and less gossip? Well, you get the candidates’ wives.

John Dickerson’s “Politics” article on “The Flip-Flop Brothers” dealt with Barack Obama’s campaign finance decision and John McCain’s views on oil-drilling. Really, one can only admire NightSwimmer’s ability to bring in other matters.

So [Obama] changed his mind. It was a smart move. I hope it won’t make John McCain cry—like his first wife did when he dumped her for a young heiress. That’s an important vow. Agreeing to negotiate campaign financing is not on that level.

Scoot’r-d, too, moved smoothly from Obama—politics as usual—to “Michelle Obama is being remade into a perky combination of Donna Reed and Lucille Ball to soften her intemperate gaffes.” Nope, said middleview, it’s Cindy McCain who is Donna Reed. And back cameScoot’r-d: At least McCain wasn’t having an “Angela Davis to Mary Tyler Moore makeover.”

The political issues got a good (and long) hammering out in a thread called “McCain the Victim”:

He is too level-headed to be a committed Democrat, and he is too intelligent to be a fanatical Republican. The man is exactly what the United States needs: a rational, experienced, patriotic centrist who has America’s best interests at heart. … Is John McCain the best all around candidate? Yes. Does John McCain have the best chance of winning? No. Democrats are ready to back Obama 100%, many Republicans will not back McCain. The unfortunate thing is that for the same reasons he is the best choice he is also the worst candidate.

That was msuumo, attracting a lot of interest—more than 40 entries in the thread.

Genevieve01 had a reasonable argument:

Why is it when a candidate or representative adjusts their position to fit the desires of the people or the circumstances everyone wants to jump up and say they flip-flop? … Everyone … knows that our lives and this country are not static and what a candidate said 5, 10, 20 years ago does not mean it has to be the same today. I am sure we can all come up with situations in which our stance or views have altered in a month or year’s time.

—although she seemed to think this applied only to McCain, not Obama.

Morty Causa wanted to distinguish among different kinds of promises—”This was not a death-bed promise. … A promise doesn’t have to be a suicide pact”—and had a rather splendid line about “moral tinhorns [who] insist on playing one-upmanship.”

We don’t think Thrasymachus is the first person to come up with “Barackiavellian”—plenty of chances to look for it here in Slate’s new book of Obamamania!—but he did a great job on it:

Adj. Displaying or implying any willingness, on the part of Senator Obama, to engage in the kind of ruthless, unscrupulous, deceptive political conduct that we expect from almost everyone else seeking national office, but which Obama is ostensibly supposed to be running against.

Then he discussed Machiavelli at some length with artandsoul—an argument that may be unique in bulletin board history because both posters actually seem to have read and even studied The Prince. Arguing from facts and knowledge? Whatever next?—MR 4 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, June 18,  2008

Where do Slate readers stand on obituaries? As of today, in two camps, snarling across the Potomac at each other about Tim Russert. One tendency dislikes the way the magazine’s admittedly irreverent tone will not be toned down for a death, and the fact that Slate will highlight—in “Recycled”—older and often deeply uncomplimentary articles on the dead person. Recently this happened with Sydney Pollack—an archived and rather grumpy “Assessment” was paired with a more respectful “Obit,” and some readers were unimpressed. When the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax, died, and Slate published an unfavorable commentary, we had to devote a whole “Fraywatch,” to reader reaction (“don’t mess with the game people” we concluded). But then, there’s another whole army of readers who say that that’s what they come to Slate for—a contrarian view, a refreshing and unsentimental look at what’s happening. That’s not how the other side describes it, of course.

So, to Tim Russert. First there was a “Recycled” item linking to past articles on him: Several readers said how inappropriate they found that. Then, Jack Shafer wrote a “Press Box” about the eulogies on Tim Russert. Too much, he said. Readers responded—boy did they respond.  More than 200 posts on the topic, proving at the very least that Russert’s death touched a nerve—though also proving the second rule of Fray responses: Get featured on the MSN home page and a lot of non-Slate regulars will read the article, and comment.

A few careful readers appreciated the observation made by Right By Choice: “I didn’t see an unkind word in the whole article about Russert himself”—but for most people this was neither noticed nor relevant. More to the point was Lucabrasi’s phrase “Canonization, backlash, backlash-backlash,” which summed up the situation so well that we’re using it to define the responses.

Canonization: An outside observer (like your foreign Fray Editor) might be surprised by the number of readers saying how much they identified with Russert—”My entire family reacted to Tim’s death as though we had lost a member of our family” as JoAnn put it, a thought repeated by many others. He was “someone of blue collar roots who used his position as the moderator of Meet the Press to engage in a dialog with prominent politicians and get straight answers for mainstream America” according to Slate1234.

There were tributes from those likeRithorn, who admits to “Potomac fever” and says “We out here in the hinterland came to look forward to his observations and commentary.” JTully was firm: “I am the common man … [the coverage] was for all of us, I frankly, didn’t miss a minute of it … Tim Russert was fair … brilliant, and yet a common man from a common background.” Many, like AberdeenJessica, wanted to mention their own working-class roots while praising “his ability to keep a foot proudly in two worlds.”

The Backlash community—Shafer’s supporters—comes with this bracing comment from mdfine: “I have been a Slate reader and occasional poster for some time now and I can honestly say that I have never agreed with a single thing that Jack Shafer has written until now.” HebrewHammer says his piece with grace: “I don’t want to seem cold, but it seems to me that we used to embrace a tragedy with quiet grace and self-reflection. Now we flaunt it by showing the people around us how much we can mourn.” WhiteCamry was sharper: “Tim Russert’s middle name wasn’t Diana, was it?”

There were other comments on Russert: TheRealRML said “He was the Elvis of political commentators: He was everywhere and even his competitors wanted to capture his qualities”; GregLDixon went with the “he was everywhere” theme too: “Russert, champion of time management.” And we (respectfully) laughed at TheMexican’s comment: “He was a great guy, let’s name a potato after him!”

Then there was the Backlash-Backlash: people who saw the point of the article but had another take. The question of what the Russert coverage displaced on the news channels was much mulled over, and Dbguy asked “You really missed folks pontificating as to how Obama would do with Hillary women in November that much? We’ll know that soon enough.” Another reader, nancyacramer, said that “on some level, for many of us, actors, broadcasters, and personalities of every sort find their way into the fabric of our lives more deeply than we realize” and went on to tell us that some friends who’d felt Russert’s loss deeply had then been glad to be able to watch Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open golf tournament. Esteban had a peace-making suggestion: “How about an ‘in the ground’ rule in which all would be fair in love, war, and media criticism after the funeral?”

There’s one more post we really want to feature: from Schoolie, who says he liked Russert, but “I’ve never seen a bigger celebration of banality in my life than last weekend on the TV news. Dad! Football! Jesus! I generally hope for more secret perversity in my public figures.” We’ve said it before: It’s hard to define our ideal Slate/Fray reader, but we know him when we find him.—MR 4 p.m. GMT

Saturday, June 07,  2008

With the long nomination fight finally over and the long-knives dulled from months of overuse, attention now turns to uniting a Democratic Party that has been at war within itself through this long and fiercely contested campaign. Later today, Hillary Clinton is scheduled to formally concede the race to Barack Obama. In The Fray, an environment where polarization is a state of nature, partisans of Obama and Clinton have been bellowing at one another for months. Like the candidates they’ve supported, many Democratic Fraysters have already begun the awkward negotiations necessary to come back together on the same team. The liveliest and most fruitful discussion has been occurring in the XX Factor Fray, where readers have been sorting through the host of sore feelings and broken hopes that this historic campaign has left in its wake.

In one thread, Ann Newton asks “Why do Hillary supporters hate Obama?” To which female engineer offers this compelling response:

Obama is not the candidate they are looking for. In fact he is their recurring nightmare; Obama represents the guy who was promoted over them because he was smooth, cool, etc. not because he did the hard work, paid his dues, and yes, waited his turn. A lot of women had to live through that and, rightly or wrongly, they actually empathize with Clinton and feel what she is going through. These women did the work for their daughters, they don’t need Obama to do it for them.

John Heartfield, not exactly a Clinton supporter, offers another perspective on Obama-skepticism:

Perhaps what disturbs me about Mr. Obama’s campaign is what disturbs women, working class white men, and others who have chosen to vote for a candidate they were told had no chance of winning the nomination rather than vote for Obama. It speaks volumes that Obama supporters still don’t understand that their candidate lost the popular vote of their own party, and only won the nomination by the grace of the very super delegates they had previously said should not be the ones to determine the winner. The media was so focused on the idea that Hillary Clinton acted as if the nomination was hers by right, that they failed to see the arrogance and obnoxiousness of her opponent’s campaign. That elitism (for lack of a better word) was not lost on the rest of us.In the 40 years I have followed American politics, never have I seen a candidate (and her supporters) treated with such disrespect by the media. I found one spokesperson for the Obama campaign saying on the Larry King Show that, yes, the two candidates agree on most issues, but, for example, Mr. Obama’s position on the Iraq War is deeper, more complex, more significant than Mrs. Clinton’s. The spokesperson actually said, “You don’t understand,” and threw in a quote from Carl Jung.Mr. Obama will probably win the election because John McCain is simply unacceptable. But this elitism, the idea that the people who support Obama are in a superior class and the rest of us ordinary mortals cannot possibly understand the complexities of his policies, will stifle and eventually bring down his presidency.

Despite their candidate’s victory, many Obama supporters are still nursing their own share of grievances over the course of the long campaign. Davelias12 feels genuinely insulted by the way Clinton spoke of her opponent’s supporters:

What steams a lot of Obama supporters is the fact that Hillary constantly derided them as being delusional, and Obama as being “elitist” and inexperienced. When in fact, she embodies those adjectives so much more than him, and her supporters demonstrate the same “cultish” enthusiasm for her that they levy against Obama supporters.Somehow Clinton has convinced so many people that she has all of this viable toughness and experience, except her record points to the contrary. She’s the underdog? She had a double-digit lead at the outset and the media was calling it her coronation. She fought the dirty campaign, but Obama’s the sexist.It’s the double-speak and the “up-is-down” that frustrates so many.

Woolley, a relative late-comer to commitment, describes how praising the speech on race backed him into Obama’s corner:

I was undecided until the race speech. When that speech was completed, I wrote a piece here on it that was checkmarked and got at least 15 thumbs up. I did not bash her at all, it was a piece on how remarkable that speech was and how I felt about Obama.That single post was on the first page of “The Fray” for about 2 weeks and it drew attention. I got vicious attacks for even suggesting that the speech was a great one. It was a shock to me to find out just how much some folks did not want Obama to be given his due.That opened up my eyes to the insane passion that was just under the surface of this race. Up until then, I just wanted a Democrat. By the time I had been insulted many times over, I was pissed. To be honest, I have been over the top and I know it. But none of this started with the Obama camp or supporters. Its been a defensive reaction all along and that is why now that the race is over, you are seeing Obama supporters lashing out.It will end. Its time to call it over. Obama has been gracious and above it all. I think Hillary has come to grips with it too. Democrats need to do the same, soon. The alternative is McCain.

NJ Gal has been working valiantly to find the common ground in all this acrimony:

It’s called values and life experiences. They don’t see the same big negatives you do in Clinton - but they see big negatives in Obama that we don’t. I have read some pretty awful words about [Clinton] supporters written by Obama supporters in XX, other blogs and the MSM - her supporters must be extremely ignorant, stupid or racist to support her. Or they must be bitter old hags. Please, how is that constructive? I dont want someone to talk about my mother that way! […]I know more Clinton supporters than Obama supporters. They don’t need us to validate what they feel. They don’t want us to judge their choices. Clinton’s loss is not the biggest tragedy in their lives. They are very disappointed, but they’ve seen presidents and other leaders assassinated, and buried their parents, kids and husbands. They know they will be able to move on in a few days. Do they like Obama. No. Will they vote for Obama? Maybe.

If mainstream press accounts leave you wondering which rank-and-file Democrats need reconciliation and why, The Fray abounds with insightful examples. Notable entries include this defense of Obama’s accomplishments by thdcnx; Adrasteia’s account of the moment she turned away from Clinton; and this conversation between eric2500be and Munich about Obama’s off-putting elitism.

Today, the closing credits are set to roll on one of the most exciting primary campaigns in American history. As the heat gradually dies down, the time has come for cool reflection on what these extraordinary elections have been and what they have meant. We’d love to hear your thoughts in The Fray. –GA11:15 pm PDT

Wednesday, June 04,  2008

Update: Which Frays are which Sex and the City women? Bright_virago came up with such good suggestions (possibly even better than mine) that they really need to be featured:

Carrie is “Dear Prudence.”

Charlotte is “Family.”

Miranda is “Jurisprudence.”

Samantha is “Shameful Conduct.”

OK, definitely better than my choices. –MR4.00 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, June 03,  2008

If the Fray were a Sex and the City heroine, which one would it be? Perhaps, like Lord Running Clam, “turns out I’m a Charlotte who thinks he’s a Miranda.” But no, we can’t be that general. We’ll judge the women as different Frays (let us know if you have better assignments):

Carrie*********Best of the Fray
Miranda*******.Moneybox Fray
Charlotte******.Poems Fray
Samantha******XX Factor Fray
The movie was being discussed all over Slate, at the XX Factorand on Dana Stevens’ review, the item on labels, and the  discussion at “IM.” “Movies” Fray stalwart lucabrasi (perhaps not surprisingly in view of his Frayname) laid out a great comparisonbetween the TV series and The Sopranos, inspiring Topazz to imagine a fight between Carmela and Samantha:
Carmela would knock her flat before she ever knew what hit her. They could’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that … it would’ve even had that little touch of Joey Buttafucco thrown in for good measure.
Mikestand liked a threadon the men-women divide on the movie, and was surprised to find “SATC isn’t really about, you know, sex with a man, which would seem to be the point as well as the motivating factor for the whole works, but rather a sort of self-contained sex video game, using the concept, imagery, plumage, etc, but not accessing or even necessarily interested in the real thing.” Was SATC just a soap opera? Absolutely not, explainsMarzipan:
Daytime soap opera narratives exist in a world outside of and apart from our own; everything—including designer names and labels—is kept out of the frame in service to what’s left in: namely, relationships of all stripes (lovers, yes, equally, family relationships within large,established clans). … Whether or not one perceives as “vapid” television serials whose central focus is relationships (as opposed to those whose focus is, say, police procedurals as per Law and Order) probably depends on one’s personal taste. Me, I don’t care for the manner in which daytime soaps explore relationships—but I don’t consider the subject matter of human relationships to be vapid, in the least. In fact, Sex and the City’s finest moments have been the relational ones. … I’ve just let the parade of designers pass by in a haze, while I wait for the good—at, least, the better—stuff.
There were some melancholy posts in there: katidid0913 couldn’t escape“the feeling of being handed a glass of flat champagne”; some troubleabout the concept of renting the Vuitton; and wmccomninel posted a haunting descriptionof watching the TV series in Iraq ending with a rather desolating line about “those long desperate nights. Turns out that they were actually better than these are.”So—not much about the sex then? Do we need to go looking elsewhere? After reading the “ Human Natureitem on oral sex, AmericanAbroad was inspired to share thiswith us:
I want to know if an enthusiasm for oral sex is an American thing. What’s the rest of the (adult) world doing? Having watched my share of porn, it seemed the French were into anal, the Germans were into fantasy/costume, the Japanese like it when she looks like she hates every moment. But the Americans are cheerful and happy and going down. Right?
Elsewhere, a  poster read the XX Factordiscussionon women and adultery and examined her sex drive:
In the interest of science I pulled out my phone list from work and ranked the men in the office (out of 35 men total). I have fantasized about 15 (43%) of them, I wouldn’t mind having sex with 8 (23%) of them, 6 (17%) of them leave me cold and there are 6 who I would not want to have sex with. I work in research and development so these are not above-average attractive people in general.
Thisislissa—and we’re guessing you’re a Samantha—we warmed to you. But then, we don’t work in R& D. … MR …1 p.m. GMT