P.S.: I was gonna do some sort of gag about dude’s total floundering for his first 100 days, but it quickly got tedious. Here’s his “Contract with the American Voter” (SPOILER ALERT: he’s in breach). Go ahead and play “broken promise/laughable goal” bingo on your own; I’m done playing pigeon chess with the PotUS (who, I’m sure, is just about to release another deluge of tweets about how great he’s doing, or would be doing if the world was fair—but a poor ole richer-than-God, weasel-wording, sexual-molesting, pee-faced pathological steak-ruining tin-whistle shukster-turned-U.S. President just can’t catch a break in America).
I wrote about this via Twitter back in January. I’ll more-or-less re-iterate what I shared then here. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this (again), apart from the fact that, as the years go on, I realize that this anecdote is, more so than the Torah or Midrash or anything else, the primary text by which I attempt to understand the nature of God. And Judaism is a religion that has, despite poor odds, survived, and it has done so on the basis of repetition: I say the words that my dad said that my grandfather said that his parents said; I teach them to my children to repeat, maybe out in front of a crowd, maybe in candlelight away from windows. But the words are repeated, and we persist, a thin red thread stretching through human history. And when I cannot believe in anything else—as is frequently the case—I can believe in the worthiness of that task, and my fitness toward taking it up: I can persist in the repetition of the words, I can take them a little farther down the road.
I’ve got a lot to say about this but I bet you can guess most of it. And the parts you can’t guess… there’s no room for them here.
Like, for example, here’s a thing: When I was in college I used to participate in this thing in the Diag, where for 24hr we’d read names of…
…Holocaust victims. The names were on these ledger sheets in a big, thick binder. I’d always take an overnight shift, 3 or 4am, reading out…
…into the dark, telling cold air and trees and sleeping crows the names of the dead. The ledger sheets, there were columns for name, number…
…birth place and date, death place and date. Maybe some other stuff. The first time I did this, I hit a patch where there were no names…
…just numbers. The birth and death dates were close together—not much more than a year, as I recall, some much less—and the birth and death…
…places were both camps. These were infants born in camp, numbered, and then taken elsewhere to die or be executed. No names, so I read …
… their numbers, told them to the cold air and the trees and the sleeping crows and the dark and the handful of Jews standing around w/ me…
…I know a lot about the Holocaust. I know numbers, I know places, I know people. I’ve seen pictures and films, I know stories that are…
…published and well known, and others that are between me and the person who no longer remembers them (z”l). I think about all of them…
… often. But I think of those pages of numbers, the empty column for names, those infants, that dark, the crows most often. B/c I feel…
… more than any other, that fact, that moment, has something important to tell me about the Nature of God and the Nature of Humans. And…
… 20 years on, I still have no idea what precisely that is.
Except for maybe that, nowadays, I think of it and, for no particular reason, I think of Malachi 3:18—which you can look up on your own.
I lumped this into my “Take Action” category, not because there is any particular action you should take today, but so that you maybe might meditate on this story further, as you go about your days. Because someday you will need to take action, and all I can do for you is prime you for that not-at-all-good moment.
Actually, on reflection, there is an action to take today: Tell this to your sons and daughters. This is thing, it was a grand—almost inconceivably grand—project humans undertook. Not monsters. Not one Very Bad Man—worse even than Pharaoh or Bashar al-Assad—but just normal human beings—tons of them, whole nations of them, doing their jobs. No more, no less.
Just a quick one:For folks who are having trouble with writer’s block (either in their professional or creative work), I’ve put together this little week-long clinic.Totally free, no strings attached. My gift to you. Check it out:
I’ll be at Penguicon again this year (April 28–30).But instead of just sitting on a few panels and mooching a lot of free drinks, I wanted to do something extra special.So this year I’m spending the entire weekend building something extra special for you to experience and interact with—and for the Slinkies to finally be heard.
Won’t you join me—and the Slinkies—before it’s too late?
And none of us should feel good about this fact. That he’s a shit negotiator and abysmal dealmaker in no way impedes his capacity to hurt countless people, profoundly and callously—because profound callousness is the product he’s selling. Even just glance at the charts here and you’ll see what I mean. Hell, just remember that his healthcare plan—which was so fucked up even his own party wouldn’t support—cost more and covered fewer people than a simple repeal of Obamacare. It didn’t obey any coherent American political ideology—it wasn’t more care, or better care, or cheaper care. It was just profoundly callous and cruel, because that’s what he sells: The opportunity to exercise a callous “fuck you!“ishness toward a world that fails to recognize how inherently wonderful and superior you are.
We’re not even “through the looking glass” here, because it’s a universe without mirrors or even light, just groping through the darkness insisting what you need to be true must be true, because otherwise you are a fucking freier of the first degree, and you’ve been duped by a soft-handed dimbulb who couldn’t even convince his buddies to do the thing they’ve spent seven years screaming they were gonna do at the very first opportunity.
Tate didn’t like how the kid was acting. The teenaged male in the second-hand cruiser’s back seat—who could produce no ID, but had given the moderately improbable name of “Jamal Kartazian”—was far too compliant. As a rule, kids like this—scrawny white boys with lumpy dreadlocks and grimy hoodies—were a spewing font of the Three Bs: bravado, back-peddling, and begging.
But not this kid. Jamal Kartazian was cool and collected; he almost seemed satisfied to find himself locked in the back of a cop car. And, in contrast to every other kid Tate had ever busted in his short two-act career as first a cop and then a rent-a-cop, this kid was actually asking to be “hauled back to the station.”
People freak out about commas. Please don’t. Yes, commas are hella confusing (the Chicago Manual of Style dedicates 59 distinct sub-sections to them, and even then there is ambiguity and opinion and wiggle room leftover), but knowing these four little things will almost entirely solve your comma problems.
1. The “Oxford”/”serial” Comma
This is technically the “list” comma: When you give a list, you put commas between individual items.E.g.,:
Go to the store and get eggs, pineapple, a ’57 Chevy, and enlightenment.
N.B. that the last comma (which I’ve put in red) is disputed; that lil fella is an “Oxford comma”.Some folks say it’s unnecessary (including, at least at one time, the AP Style Guide), preferring:
Go to the store and get eggs, pineapple, a ’57 Chevy and enlightenment.
But this can lead to hilarious ambiguity, such as this oft-quoted (and probably apocryphal) book dedication sorely in need of an Oxford comma:
This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God
—or this actual and verified sentence published in the Times of London a few years back:
FYI, serial commas apply to lists of adjectives, too:
You mean that fat, red, flabby car?It’s mine.Why?
2. The “if, then” Comma
“If . . ., then . . .” statements need commas:
If you don’t cut it the fuck out,then I’m going to freak the fuck out.
Where this one tricks people is that we often omit the then in an “if, then” statement—nonetheless, we still need the comma:
If you don’t cut it the fuck out, I’m going to freak the fuck out.
3. “That/which” commas
Rule of Thumb: “that” is almost never precededby a comma, while a standalone “which” is almost always preceded by a comma:
You know that dog I hired?Turns out he has no idea how to use Excel, which is super annoying.
(So what is a non-standalone “which”? “Which” used in a phrase like “that which” or “in which”—in those cases, you don’t stick a comma before the “which,” because that would muck up the phrase.)
4. Commas by Ear
There are a ton of other commas (“parenthetical commas,” “conjunction commas,” “direct address commas,” etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam)—fortunately, there’s an easy way to figure out where to put them without learning a ton of new rules. Here’s the trick:
Commas indicate places where you take a brief pause when saying something.
So, there’s a really easy way to get your commas right most of the time:
Read it aloud; if there’s a place where you naturally take a half-pause or shift volume, then stick a comma there. If you don’t pause, then strike the comma—unless it’s one of the three situations listed above.
For example, say:
Dave <pause> why did you say that?
That pause is the direct address comma:
Dave, why did you say that?
Did you know that Nate <pause> the terrible drunk in my carpool <pause> is marrying my sister?
That’s the parenthetical comma:
Did you know that Nate, the terrible drunk in my carpool, is marrying my sister?
This fourth rule is the golden rule, since most of the first three types of commas are also marked in speech by a pause or volume/tone shift—but sometimes those commas can be subtle to the ear, which is why it’s worth knowing the first three rules. Rule #4 will keep you covered 90% of the time, while Rules #1–3 will help you catch the tricky 10%
We’re done here. Go forth, my children, and sin no more.
(Want more details? Start with the Purdue Owl on Commas, and then move on to the Chicago Manual of Style, if need be.)
Here’s what I wrote—just in case you’d like to call your reps about something similar:
SUBJECT: Plz don’t get distracted by the White House’s “Muslim device travel ban”
Like many of the folks calling and emailing you today, I’m distressed by the White House’s newest arbitrary travel limitation: No laptops or tablets can travel carry-on from 10 airports in Muslim-majority countries.Why?Has there been a specific threat?No.Because recent attacks have had something to do with using laptops and tablets (but not phones or phone-sized game systems) as weapons or to conceal weapons?No.Heck, according to this morning’s New York Times, this new ban was rolled out without sufficiently informing the TSA in advance.
But I’m not writing about that, because I think this “Muslim device ban” is a dumb, arbitrary move that’s perfectly within the Administration’s powers—and I also firmly believe that it is being tossed into the news cycle as a distraction, diverting our attention away from FBI Director James B. Comey’s public acknowledgment that the FBI is indeed investigating Trump/Kremlin ties, and that there is enough substance there for months of investigation, and may include the White House.
Please continue to focus on Trump/White House ties to Russia (both during the election and now), as well as Trump family conflicts of interest (ranging from Trump’s sudden receipt of valuable Chinese trademarks after years of delays to the sudden popularity of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line—which coincidentally followed immediately after the President of the United States publicly scolded a department store for not carrying it, and the Counselor to the President appeared on national television and told citizens to “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”)
And, as ever, please keep up the good work.We shall defeat them one by one.