Friday, February 21, 2014

In the Name of Domestic Harmony (Part 2)

11. Whenever possible, please wait to tell us whatever you need to tell us until the commercials are over (or better yet, halftime).

God help the man who interrupts his wife during her "stories." Most of the things that are important to us, you think are stupid. (And they probably are, but they are still important to us.) Many of the things that are important to you, we think are stupid. (And we are completely wrong.) We must respect each others’ stupid stuff.

(If I had a nickel for every time TeVo or a DVR prevented a domestic dustup...)

12. Christopher Columbus didn't need directions and neither do we.

"Yes, dear. I saw that parking space."

"No. I’m not driving too fast."

"Yes. I did see that car stopped in front of me and I applied the brakes in a safe and timely manner."

"No. I wasn’t looking at that girl’s ..." (Oops. Different topic.)

13. Men only see sixteen colors, like the Windows default setting. Peach is a fruit. Pumpkin is what pies are made of. No man (with a wife or girlfriend) knows what mauve is.

How can there possibly be 73,000 different shades of white? And actually, there is some basis in fact for this.

Fun facts about color blindness. According to the Google, up to 10% of men have some form of color-blindness. Men are three times more likely to be color blind than women, since color blindness is genetic and carried on the X chromosome. Since men only have one X chromosome, if that one has it, he gets it. But it is a recessive trait, so if one of a woman’s X chromosomes has it and the other doesn’t, she doesn’t get it. But there is a 50/50 chance she will pass it on to her children. Basic high school genetics tells me that men are 3 times more likely to be color blind than women. That certainly explains our fashion sense. Blue is blue. White is white. Yellow is green. (Wait. Maybe that’s just me.)

14. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," we pretend that nothing is wrong. We know you are lying. We just want to delay the argument.

Sooner or later, I’m going to have a colonoscopy. If my doctor forgets to bring it up during this year’s physical, bullet dodged. I ain’t remindin’ him (or her).

15. If you ask a question that you don't want to hear the answer to, don't ask the question, because we'll give you the answer you don't want to hear.

Seriously. It just makes sense. (See above comment about reminding your doctor about that colonoscopy.)

16. When we go somewhere together, absolutely anything you wear is fine with us...honestly.

In the immortal words of Lily von Shtupp: It’s twue. It’s twue.

When my wife takes the time to dress up, put on makeup and in general "doll herself up," I think she is the most beautiful woman in the world. When she wakes up in the morning with bed head wearing old, baggy sweats and one of my old t-shirts, she’s still the most beautiful woman in the world.

(Psst ... here’s a secret. There are few things men find sexier in this world than a woman with her hair pulled back into a ponytail, no make-up, rocking a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. It’s a winner every time.)

17. Don't ask us what we are thinking about unless you are prepared to talk about sports, cars or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

Again ... seriously, it’s what we think about ... all the time ... plus ... you know ... (Which is what we’re really thinking about when we say "sports, cars, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. But I guess that last one is self-explanatory, innit?)

18. You have enough clothes.

Jeans. T-shirt. We’re good.

19. You have too many shoes.

Seriously. Why do you need six different pairs of white sandals?

20. We are in shape. Round and pear are shapes.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

21. Thank you for reading this. Yes. I know I'm sleeping on the couch tonight. But did you know men don't mind sleeping on the couch? It's like camping ... with a refrigerator.

Another fun fact. Men and women share about 98.2% of our genetic material. Male humans and male chimpanzees share about 98.7%. Ergo, men are more closely related to chimps than to women. (As if you didn’t already know this. Am I right, ladies? )

So, if women want to go all Jane Goodall on men to try and figure us out, just spend some time observing the monkey cage at your local zoo. (My four-year-old son backs this up. His favorite pastime? Displaying his butt.)

Let the Games begin!

In the Name of Domestic Harmony (Part 1)

Earlier today, I found this list that had been shared by a high school buddy on Facebook. It’s like he read my mind. It has inspired me to both share and comment on the wisdom. I don’t necessarily agree with everything on the list, but everything bears reading and sharing.

To my beautiful, wonderful wife, Rie, the woman I am so lucky to grow old with, the woman who is so far out of my league, I still can believe you said "yes": First, I love you, I love you, I love you. Second, please, please, please read number nine and take it to heart before doing (and especially saying) anything.

This is a jumping off point for discussion. A silly read. A quick list of what every guy in every sports bar in every country in the world talks about. (Just kidding on that last one. We only grunt and eat bad food in sports bars. We get kicked out if we make any attempt to stretch brain cells. And very few of us in said sports bars have stretched anything else in about twenty years.)

I must also admit to cowardice. The only reason I feel safe enough to publish this on my blog is that while my wife is basking in the glory of Hawaii (and shouldering the incredible burden of single-parenthood), I am sitting comfortably in my apartment literally half a world away in Saudi Arabia bringing home the (ironic) bacon.

With that disclaimer ... to the Bat Cave, Robin.

1.  Men aren't mind readers.

SOOOOOOO true. To be a mind reader, one must assume that our minds have been put into gear. Most of the time, they are idling neutrally in the driveway. Subtle looks and "you know what you did" don’t work. Either we honestly don’t know what we did or you’ll have to be more specific. The list is pretty damn long.

2. Learn to work the toilet seat. You are a big girl. You need it down. We need it up. If it's down, we put it up. If it's up, you put it down. You don't hear us complaining when you leave it down.
Hallelujah. Amen. The choir can start singing. This is one of my greatest pet peeves of all time. "Eww. I don’t want to touch the toilet seat." NEITHER DO WE. But we do, because it’s part of showing we care. (We’re not very good at grand romantic gestures. This will have to do.) I support equal pay for equal work. I support the right of women to do any job they are qualified to do, including combat in the military. Men have to do their share around the house. (My wife just spit coffee all over her computer screen.)

But it cuts both ways. Equality in the work place. Equality in the bathroom. (I feel like a ten-ton boulder has been lifted from my shoulders.)
3. Crying is blackmail.

"It’s ok for men to cry." Buh-loney. If a man cries during an argument, he may as well hand over his huevos so his significant other can mount them above the fireplace. Here are the only times when it is ok for a man to cry.
  • Whilst marrying the love of your life. (I cried buckets.)
  • At the birth of each child. (Ditto.)
  • Upon learning the tuition and fees of said children’s first-choice college.
  • The wedding of aforementioned children. (Also greatly due to cost.)
  • When our favorite team wins or loses a major championship.
  • At the end of Brian’s Song or Old Yeller (or any romantic comedy, but that’s only because we’re thinking about the two or so hours of our lives we’ll never get back.)

See Number 3: If we can, you can. If we can’t, you can’t. Equality has its downside.
4. Ask for what you want. To clarify this point.   Subtle hints don't work.  Strong hints don't work.   Completely obvious hints don't work.   Just tell us EXACTLY what you want.

See Number 1 on mindreading. Same principle. Here’s one of the many reasons why I love my wife. She figured this one out a long time ago. When she wants something for her birthday, Christmas, our anniversary, Valentine’s Day, etc., she tells me EXACTLY what she wants, down to size, color, price and where it can be bought. What a wonderful woman.

And don’t look a Gift Card in the mouth. One year, I was clueless about what to get Rie for her birthday. (Ok, pretty much every year since we met.) So, I got her a $200 gift card to Ala Moana Shopping Center, which was good in every establishment in the mall. On her birthday, I know there were unkind thoughts shooting through her head and daggers shooting out her eyes. (See Number 14.) But a couple of months later, she came back from the mall a happy, happy woman. The reason? "I had so much fun shopping and buying lots of little things I wanted and finding bargains because I wasn’t spending any money. I just used the gift card." Eventually, somebody always wins the lottery.
5. YES and NO are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

Speaks for itself. And "Whatever you want" is one of the greatest lies ever told, except on the man’s birthday ... hopefully.
6. Only come to us with a problem if you want a solution. It's what we do. If you want sympathy, talk to your girlfriends. It's what they do.

This is one of the greatest truths ever told. For millennia, men have been told we are the providers, the protectors, the bug-squashers. It’s in our DNA. Just as E=mc2 and spiders need smooshing, problems need solving. The only thing men are good at sharing is bodily gases. (See Number 21. It’s the second reason we sleep on the couch.)
7. Anything we said or did six months ago is inadmissible in arguments. In fact, the statute of limitations is 7 days.

This must be added to the constitution of every country for two reasons. 1) Men have the memory of a goldfish. 2) Our list of sins is so much longer than yours, it’s like bringing a butter knife to a machine-gun fight.
8. If you think you are fat, you probably are. Don't ask us.

This one is uncool and unfair. It is well-documented for both comic and actual, serious media/Hollywood-induced body-image issues that beautiful women often don’t see their own beauty. And even if it is slightly true, who are we, as men, to complain. (Back to the Equality thing.)

I must confess that I am spared this particular one. My wife is gorgeous and she knows it, rightfully and honestly.
9. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of those ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one.

Once again, speaks for itself. There is NEVER any subtext to interpret. There are no lines to read between. We’re not that deep.

This reminds me of an experience I had as a dorm-parent in a senior girls’ dormitory at the boarding school I used to teach at. One of "my" girls came to me all flustered. The problem: "I sent this boy that I like a text message and I put six Xs and Os at the end of my text. When he texted me back, he only put four. What does that mean? Does he like me less? Should I start ignoring him?" Sweet child. It means that when he hit the last O in his message, the commercials ended or the microwave he was heating his burrito in just dinged. We have the attention span of a gnat.
10. You can either ask us to do something or tell us how it should be done. If you already know best how to do it, then do it yourself.

Back to equality. Think about how often you ask your "man" to do something, add the number of times you complained about how long it took him to do it or how he did it the wrong way. Then, do the same for the things he has asked you to do for him, plus the complaints. My guess is, stacked end to end, his requests + complaints might make it to the refrigerator to get him another beer. Yours will likely still be circling the earth. (Triple the points for each request regarding the purchase of ... ahem ... feminine products. Our requests about ... you know ... don’t count because the answer is always a resounding "Ewwww. No way!!! That’s disgusting!!!"

Friday, October 15, 2010

Keep the Music in the Classroom

Music is an intricate part of life. It can excite or sooth. It can rev us up and make us jump around. I earned some serious street cred at school when I told a student that I graded their tests while listening to Megadeth. At a friend's get-together I discovered Duke Ellington. I had had a great appreciation for the genre and enjoyed it as theme music in movies. I had even played a few big band tunes as first chair trombone in my high school jazz band. But it made such awesome background music for the party I rushed home and spent way too much money on iTunes that night. (My twenty-five-year-old self just threw up. BACKGROUND music at a PARTY????)

Music was an elemental part of my education. I was in the marching band, symphonic band, chorus, orchestra, jazz band and brass sextet. I sang in the church choir and I sang a few solos when the minister was really desperate. (How could I say no? It was my dad.) However, it wasn't until recently that I realized there is a whole other kind of music in education and very few people truly understand it. It's the music of the teacher. It really hit me today that in my classroom, I might be teaching grammar, but I'm really a musician. All teachers are.

Some teachers are classically trained. They hit all the notes the same way every time. They have sheet music in front of them and they practice every note until every note is committed to muscle memory. They know the role they play in the orchestra and they are as consistent as a metronome. They play one principal instrument, and they make it sing.

I've had a couple of old bluesmen teach me in my day. They are the teachers that have been around the block so many times they lost count. At first glance, they look like they've had life beaten out of them. But when they get on stage, something clicks and they can still blow with the best of them. You can hear all of their triumphs and tragedies and you can't help but nod your head to the rhythm. Somehow they got to your soul.

Elementary school teachers strap on the guitar. They teach you those wonderful little campfire ditties like She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain and On Top of P'sketti. We don't really sing those songs anymore, but we love watching our kids learn them just like we did. The environmental studies teacher is the gospel choir. Unfortunately most of the time they're singing to the already-converted, but that doesn't mean they won't stop trying to get everyone else into their tent.

Every musician had that first band where they pounded out Louie Louie in the garage because that was the only song they knew how to play. When they think back to those days they can't believe how god-awful they actually were, but at the time, they were the second coming of the Beatles or the Stones. Every teacher has had their first classroom. I thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. My students probably thought I was a clueless doofus. But I kept pounding away until it started to actually sound recognizable. Hopefully I've added a few more songs to my repertoire.

Some very promising musicians give up way too early because they can't feed their families and have to work in their father's hardware store. What music could they have brought to the world if they had been encouraged to keep at it just a little bit longer?

Remember that lady in church? The one that just had to be front and center in the choir? The one that couldn't carry a tune but sang at the top of her very powerful lungs? The one who mostly sounded like a wolf howling at the moon? The one you smiled at and thought "She tries like hell, God love her." The one the minister just doesn't have the heart to ask to leave the choir because her heart's in the right place and she isn't hurting anyone? I had a couple of them in front of me back in the day. To my shame, I was probably the kid snickering in the back pew. No respect for the effort or the passion.

Me? I like to think I play good, hard classic rock. Crank it up! My music might be digitized these days, but it's still old-fashioned bass, drums and electric guitar. Kids today have their Lady Gaga and Glee covers and hip-hop samples. But everyone knows the real music came out of the 70s and 80s baby. Elvis is a little old-fashioned but AC/DC is forever.

Today, though, it was pure jazz. A student asked a question and I just started riffing. Those are my favorite lessons. I don't know exactly where I'm going and sometimes the crowd is ready for the drum solo to end about a minute before it actually does. However, when it flows, when the students are jamming with me, the next thing I know, my set is over. I don't know if I'll ever catch that lightning in the bottle ever again, but it was magic while it lasted. That's why musicians play and that's why teachers teach. That one moment of magic makes up for all the hours of heartbreak and disappointment, all the times you felt like you were banging your head against a wall.

Unfortunately, opportunities like this are getting fewer and fewer. Have you ever heard of the Suzuki method for violin? All the teachers are trained to teach exactly the same way. If every student plays on identical instruments and learns to play identical songs at identical times and performs identical pieces at regularly scheduled recitals, then everybody is successful, right? If you watch the kids, you will probably walk away thinking "Wow! So many kids can play the violin well." But you will also probably have a few nagging questions in the back of your head. "Where was the passion?" "Where were the smiles?" "If everyone is playing the violin, who's going to play the other instruments in the orchestra?"

Remember when you went to a rock show and you got a bunch of musicians playing their hearts out for you for three hours? They didn't have amazing light shows or pyrotechnics or JumboTrons. They didn't have corporate sponsors or promoters telling them when or where they could or couldn't play. They played because they loved to play.

Let teachers jam, man.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What the Hell is Sentence Diagramming?

I remember when I was in middle school being tortured by this horrible creature called sentence diagramming. It just made absolutely no sense whatsoever. It seemed pointless and impossible. (My aunt had to do the same thing in the 50's and was left with the same feeling.) Then twenty years later, I was again required to learn it in my graduate school course New Grammars. BING! It suddenly made sense. (Thank you Dr. Schaefer!)

Sentence diagramming is a way to show the relationships between words in a phrase and phrases in a sentence. It is very similar to drawing molecular structures like H2O as H-O-H. I've found it to be an invaluable tool for me as I try to figure out strange and complex yet correct structure and for showing grammatical relationships to students who have an understanding of diagramming. My favorite example of why this is so important came by accident one day at school.

A student who had completed my Advanced Grammar course and had a good understanding of diagramming came to me with a sentence she had written. (She was a strong second-language learner from Macau.) I tried breaking down the sentence for her orally and then I had an epiphany. "Let's diagram your sentence."

Together we sussed out the structure, which had no glaring grammatical errors but was nevertheless, very awkward. Several minutes later, we had a monstrosity of a diagram on the board. Then, we rewrote her sentence and I had her diagram the new sentence. Thirty seconds later, a much simpler, much smaller diagram was on the board. She took one look at the pair and said "A-ha!"

Diagramming is the grammatical equivalent of "A picture is worth a thousand words." But how do you do it? The most well-known method for diagramming sentences is the Reed-Kellogg method, which was developed over a hundred years ago and didn't go out of favor until just after I graduated from school in the early 80's. (Which, coincidentally is about when American English began circling the drain.) When I went back to diagramming about five years ago, I tried and tried and tried to find textbooks or Internet sources that could answer the difficult questions, but I could not find anything. As a result, I may have modified diagramming a little and purists who are more expert than I might cringe, but it works for me and follows the original structures developed by Reed and Kellogg. If anyone can enlighten me or point me to available reference material, I would greatly appreciate it. (However, I do think the original needs updating a bit.)

This is how it works. Take, for instance the following sentence from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. "I have a recollection of large, unbending women with great noses and rapacious eyes who wore their clothes as though they were armor." This is how the sentence would be diagrammed.

Even with small, almost illegible text in the diagram (Sorry about that), you can see the structure of the sentence. There are three clauses in the sentence. The main clause is an SVO clause with a and a prepositional phrase modifying the object. The object of the preposition, women, is modified by two adjectives and another prepositional phrase. This prepositional phrase, beginning with with, has a compound object, each of which is modified by one adjective.

In addition, women is modified by a subject adjective clause, which also happens to be an SVO clause. The object is modified by the adjective pronoun their. Finally there is an adverb clause, connected by the subordinating conjunction as though, modifying the adjective clause. This final clause is an SVC clause with a noun complement.

This explanation might sound scary, but perhaps I can give an analogy that will ease your fears a little. (Or is it a metaphor? I can never keep that stuff straight. That's why I teach grammar and not literature.)

If you are approaching (or well into, in my case) your middle years, at some point you probably had a distinct fear of computers. I certainly did. I went out of my way to avoid them like the plague. But when I was finally forced to confront my fears and actually buy one of those devil spawn things, I quickly learned a valuable lesson. Computers, like most specialized fields, are cloaked in a veil of in-group vocabulary. Once you learn the basic terms, which doesn't take long, suddenly everything is so much more accessible. Grammar in general, and diagramming in particular, are exactly the same way.

I am very confident that within a short period of time, anyone can learn to diagram complex sentences. I would love to be the one to teach you.

Friday, August 13, 2010

When is the Subjunctive Not the Subjunctive?

Please forgive my impudence, but I must respectfully disagree with a response that Grammar Girl wrote recently.

On Grammar Girl's Facebook page a day or two ago, there was a discussion that involved the use of was and were in the subjunctive. In ESL, subjunctives are also referred to as conditionals or conditional statements, which is the term I am most used to.

Conditional statements usually begin with the conjunction if, but wish/hope and it depends also qualify. Conditionals are divided into three distinct groups, which are:
  • 1st Conditional: Real Present and Future
  • 2nd Conditional: Unreal Present (Hypothetical)
  • 3rd Conditional: Unreal Past
The 1st Conditional is used to show uncertainty about something that is possible in the future. For example, "If I get the job, I will have to move to London." I have applied for a job, but I don't know the result yet. The adverb clause is in the simple present tense and the main clause is in the simple future with will being the preferred future helping verb.

The 2nd Conditional is used to show things that are impossible. The assumed time is right now or sometime in the future. For example, "If I were a full-time employee, I would get medical benefits." The reality is that I am a part-time employee and I don't get insurance. The adverb clause must be in the simple past tense and the main clause must have the helping verb would or could, which are the past forms of will and can. It is in the 2nd Conditional that were is used with all subjects in place of was.

The 3rd Conditional is used to describe an alternate past, something that didn't happen but I wish had. (Or something that happened but I wish hadn't.) For example, "If I hadn't spent so much money traveling in my 20s, I could have saved enough money for a down-payment on a house by now." In reality, I did spend a lot of money traveling so I didn't save much if any money. The adverb clause is in the past perfect (had done) and the main clause needs the auxiliary pair would have (done) or could have (done).

This brings us back to the original point of the blog. What is the difference between If I was... and If I were...?

Everyone is in agreement that in an unreal, hypothetical situation, were is the correct form of be to use regardless of subject. Where I respectfully disagree is with this response.
  • If you're talking about something that could be true, you use "was." Here's an example: If the test was re-administered Tuesday, the answer key will be locked in Professor Hilda's room. Otherwise, Professor Stockton will have it.
This raises some very interesting questions, but first, it raises an eyebrow. Imagine the look on a child's face when something just doesn't seem quite right but he or she doesn't know exactly what it is.

According to the situation (as I interpret it), a test was re-administered but the date is in question. Therefore, re-administering is a real condition, but it happened in the past. I am instantly drawn to the mismatch between was and will be, which breaks my first commandment of grammar. "Thou shalt not mix and match verb tenses."

I agree that was is the correct form of the be verb because this is a real situation, and were should only be used in an unreal situation. However, I think the verb of the main clause should be would be. Therefore, my choice for this statement would be "If the test was re-administered on Tuesday, the answer key would be locked in Professor Hilda's room. Otherwise, Professor Stockton would have it." Since the first verb is in the past, everything that follows should match.

I think this is a good place to stop. My head is starting to spin. This seems to be such a rare irregularity of English that it is open to a lot of interpretation. This is my two-cents worth.

As the father of two sons, I am trying to teach them to always be man enough to admit when they are wrong. In all sincerity, I am ready for any thoughtful, reasonable debate and ready to admit I'm wrong if I've missed something. (And I'm frequently wrong. Just ask my wife.)

Right or wrong, I love a good debate on grammar. I'm so happy to know I am not the only one.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Things That Make Me Go "Thank You"

I get it now.

Until yesterday, I was like many Americans, especially under 35, who only thought of Memorial Day as just another long weekend, the first weekend of summer to fire up the grill and tap a keg. Don't get me wrong. That is a wonderful thing to do on Memorial Day Weekend. But it should be so much more than that.

For my generation and younger, we have no idea of what war is really like. I barely remember images of the helicopters landing on the roof of the US Embassy as Saigon was overrun. Vietnam vets were crazy killers with drug problems, at least that's the way they were portrayed. (The treatment of Vietnam Veterans is a national shame that must be addressed.) World War II was this glamorous fight to save the world from fascism that Grandpa would allude to once in a while. I never knew anyone who knew anyone who had died in either of those wars. And the Korean war barely registered beyond M*A*S*H. War might have been hell, but it was pretty funny, too.

Desert Storm, in which my cousin served as a tank mechanic in Saudi Arabia, was over so fast, if you sneezed, you missed it. We were so busy congratulating ourselves on how bad-ass we are as a country, that it was easy to forget about the 293 servicemen who died in combat or non-combat related accidents, including 15 servicewomen. It was the 21st century equivalent of the Spanish-American war, or that "splendid little war" as it was referred to by the US Ambassador to England. War may be hell, but we're so damn AWESOME at it.

And then there are Iraq and Afghanistan. At first, the MISSION was ACCOMPLISHED so quickly that it seemed as if no one had paid the ultimate price at all. There were occasional deaths afterwards. Hiccups in our successful War on Terror. Casualties were just numbers reported on CNN. Thanks to the President and his cronies, we weren't exposed to the images of our fallen warriors coming home in their flag-draped coffins because it might be "too upsetting". And we never, ever heard about the staggering number of wounded soldiers who survived life-shattering wounds. Is war really hell if you don't see it on the news?

The vast majority of Americans have sacrificed NOTHING. We go about our everyday routines. We get together with friends, we go to movies. I even came in third in two Fantasy Football leagues last year. Yay, me. The Yankees won the World Series. I was blessed with the birth of my second son. Life goes on. We have to do this. If we don't, we let the terrorists win. Or so we tell ourselves.

But it doesn't go on for everyone.

Yesterday I made the most innocuous of decisions. I was on Facebook when I saw one of my "Friends" had dedicated her page for the day to a friend of her father's who had been killed in action in Vietnam. That was a really good thing to do. I followed the link and figured out that I could do it, too. I pressed a few buttons and I was paired with SFC Kenneth W. Westbrook. I could have stopped there. I had done my duty. But I couldn't. Through the magic of Google, this is what I discovered.

SFC Kenneth Westbrook (41), a native of New Mexico and a member of the Navajo Nation, was not the first Westbrook to sacrifice his life for his country. His older brother, Sgt. Marshall (Alan) Westbrook (43) was the first member of the New Mexico National Guard killed in Iraq on October 1, 2005. He left a wife and five children. Almost four years to the day later, on October 7 Kenneth died of wounds he sustained on September 8 in Afghanistan. He was preparing to retire from the military in November. He left a wife and three sons. Their father, Marshall Westbrook, is a Vietnam Veteran who served 21 years in the Army.

Through Facebook, I have met Kenneth's wife of 22 years, Charlene Westbrook. She spent her first Memorial Day as a war widow in Washington, D.C. thanking the nurses at Walter Reed Hospital, where Kenneth died, for taking such good care of her husband before he passed away.

From the little bits and pieces I have learned, I wish I had had the honor to meet Kenneth and Alan. They sound like the kind of man every man should aspire to be. Charlene mentioned her husband's sense of humor. Alan's CO referred to him as a "gentle giant". They were family men and they loved God and country. I think I would have loved to sit down with them and share a few beverages of their choice.

We have placed the entire burden of sacrifice on the men and women in the armed forces and, maybe more importantly, on their families. It is the least we can do to honor them. Today, I pledge that Kenneth Westbrook and Marshall (Alan) Westbrook will not be forgotten, by me or my family. I now consider Kenneth and Alan to be two of my personal heros. I will teach my sons about their sacrifice and hold them up as models for the kind of men I want them to become.

Thank you Charlene, Kenneth, Alan and Marshall. I get it now.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Things That Make Me Go AAARRRGGGHHH!!! (Vol. I)

Time to go on a rant. I've been banging my head against the wall so much lately, my friends are starting to call me Lumpy. (Actually, that's my new nickname for my seven-month-old, Skyler. If that boy keeps bonking his head, his main career vocabulary will be "You want fries with that?") Why, oh why is it getting so bad out there? I'm glad you asked, because, surprise, surprise, I have an answer.

Remember back in the day when there were only six stations on TV? (One of which was PBS so it didn't count once Sesame Street was over.) God forbid the President came on. Then your whole night was screwed. Nothing worse than Happy Days getting preempted. Anyway, back in the day, when there was only one TV in the house and (gasp!) no remote control, we were forced to watch Walter Cronkite every night at 6:30. (Unless you lived in the Central Time Zone. Then God only knows what time Uncle Walt came on.) (And remember Sunday night, watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, followed by The Wonderful World of Disney?) As kids, we were exposed regularly to intellectual dialogue, like "My assistant, Jim, will now attempt to circumcise a wildebeest while hanging upside down from the helicopter." (Thank you, Dad, for blasting NPRs All Things Considered in every room of the house. I hated it then. I really appreciate it now.)

And books. We actually read books. For FUN. With actual, correct PUNCTUATION edited by somebody who knew what they were doing. And we took English classes that actually taught GRAMMAR, instead of teaching us how to journal our feelings. (And since when is journal a verb?) This was back in the prehistoric, pre-spell checker days, when people still thought learning to spell was important. (If one more person says to me "it doesn't matter if they make mistakes as long as they express their emotions", I'm gonna poke them in the eye with a red pen.)

Today, it seems that most students' literary exposure is limited to random letters on a little screen, like "omg im rotflmao!!!!!!! wtf?". And their exposure to language on television is limited to what I so lovingly refer to as the newest English dialect, Reality Show Moron. (I actually heard a guy on the local NPR news today use the term condominiumize. At least he didn't abbreviate that to condomize.)

I got a big ol' knot on my forehead the other day when I read the following (almost verbatim) question from an ENGLISH TEACHER. "How do you teach students to use reflexive pronouns properly without all that subject/object stuff?" Well, first I would start with the following example sentence.
-- With the education you are being provided, you will never be able to support yourself.
(Yourself is the reflexive pronoun, by the way.)

Bottom line: The people who are supposed to provide models of proper, literate language are no longer being held to any sort of standard. God forbid we should expect eloquence anymore.

This all leads us back to today's topic. Things That Make Me Go AAARRRGGGHHH!!! (Vol. I)

If I didn't make that mistake on yesterday's test...

Traditionally, this is known as the subjunctive tense. (Or is it a voice?) In ESL, it is referred to as a conditional. No matter which way you slice it, the above statement is wrong.

It is true that the test was yesterday, so if you made a declarative statement, it would be "I made a stupid mistake on yesterday's test." (Probably related to the subjunctive is my guess.) However, when you switch to a conditional by adding if, it now becomes an unreal condition, of which there are two: present and past.

An unreal present condition can also be called a hypothetical. These are the what if's, as in:
-- What would happen if teachers were actually paid what they deserved? (Then the best and brightest would become teachers and once again, we would have the best education system in the world.)
-- Any girl appearing on MTV's My Super Sweet 16 probably couldn't spell CAT if you spotted them the C and the A.

In the first case, you just know that ain't never going to happen. In the second case, this is my hypothesis, which would be so much fun to test. (I smell a research grant.) In either case, there is no reality, especially on the MTV show. The verbs in both sentences are written in the past tense, with will becoming would.

Since the simple past tense is already used in the real present condition, you have to dive deeper into the past tense pool for unreal past conditions. For example:
-- If I had answered one more question on the SATs correctly, I would have gotten into Harvard. (Because we all know that one flawed test is much more important than the previous twelve years of hard work.)
-- Where would I have ended up if I hadn't made that left turn in Albuquerque. (Please pronounce that last word in your head as al-ba-koi-key. It's my homage to Bugs Bunny.)

Before I belabor this point too much (TOO LATE), please for the love of all that's holey (like the moon and the Detroit Lions defense), please use had done when you are grumbling about the past. It's what Jesus would have done. (Assuming Aramaic had an unreal past conditional.)

"His First Homerun of His Career"

For me, this one ranks below fingernails on a blackboard and Courtney Love's singing in the Please God Make It Stop category. It's a little thing, but it's not.

This is redundant repetition. Never, ever repeat a pronoun (or different form of the same pronoun) in a chunk of words that go together, especially of or adjective clauses with that. These would include:
-- their first year of their marriage
-- her car that she bought
-- his students in his fifth period English class
-- my worst day of my life

In all of these cases, the first word of the entire phrase should be the.
-- the history book in my locker
(The one that still has that "new book" smell six weeks into the second semester.)
-- the worst job I have ever had
(That ridiculous eikaiwa in Ginza, if you must know. Pushing a lawn mower forty hours a week in a Pennsylvania summer was better.)
-- the stupidest thing I have ever said
("I just want to be friends" to the girl who came back from summer vacation three months later an uber-hottie.)
-- the students in my fifth period English class
(The ones who sparked the need for that intervention a few years back.)

A little love and a little respect for this most expressive and creative of languages is all I'm asking. Unfortunately, most of the dogs in the Humane Society were treated better BEFORE they were rescued. (And I hope there is a special level of hell for those dog owners. They should spend eternity being treated the same way they treated their dogs.)