Huffington Post one-ups Fox News in effort to offend (and amuse) Jews

Alright, here’s a gimme:


Is it all of the above?

That question actually appeared on a Facebook page promoting National Geographic Channel’s Christmas special. NatGeo is a division of Fox, and Fox had to issue an apology, so you know Huffington Post was all over it. And that’s when things got awesome.

But before we get to that, read the following perfectly-grammatical sentence:

The horse raced past the barn fell.

If you’ve seen it before (and know what it is), feel free to skip ahead to the image (if you’re coming from the home page, it’s below the jump).

Otherwise, read on for a short lesson in linguistics. More specifically, garden paths. I’m sort of lazy, so take it away, Wikipedia:

garden path sentence is a grammatically correct sentence that starts in such a way that the readers’ most likely interpretation will be incorrect; they are lured into an improper parse that turns out to be a dead end. Garden path sentences are used in psycholinguistics to illustrate the fact that when they read, human beings process language one word at a time.

“Garden path” refers to the saying “to be led down the garden path”, meaning “to be misled”. According to one current psycholinguistic theory, as a person reads a garden path sentence, the reader builds up a structure of meaning one word at a time. At some point, it becomes clear to the reader that the next word or phrase cannot be incorporated into the structure built up thus far: it is inconsistent with the path they have been led down.

Now give the sentence above another shot. If it’s still giving you trouble, here’s the explanation:

The reader usually starts to parse this as an ordinary active intransitive sentence, but stumbles when reaching the word “fell.” At this point, the reader is forced to backtrack and look for other possible structures. It may take some rereading to realize that “raced past the barn” is in fact a reduced relative clause with a passive participle, implying that “fell” is the main verb. The correct reading is then: “The horse – (that was) raced past the barn – fell.”

Even now that you’re thoroughly familiar with garden paths, I’m still willing to bet this gem of a headline will give you pause:

Continue reading Huffington Post one-ups Fox News in effort to offend (and amuse) Jews


My column the DP refused to publish

There are times before I hit ‘publish’ that I think to myself “This is probably not the best idea I’ve ever had.” This is one of those times.

The application deadline for columnists and opinion artists at The Daily Pennsylvanian is coming up one week from today, and the impending due date brought back memories of my own brief stint as a columnist over three years ago (I am old).

Because I concluded my term due to conflicting time commitments/constraints – and as this blog attests, not because I ran out of opinions – I left the position with a page-long Word document full of ideas that never made their way to full-blown columnhood. I’ve never opened that file for review, and have forgotten almost everything I wrote in it. But there is one column that sticks in my mind as the one I never had a chance to publish.

That’s because I actually wrote it.

You see, as part of a columnist’s application, he or she is asked to submit two sample columns. My first column was well received – ‘exactly what a sample column should be’. One inside source relayed that it was a consensus favorite. Another mentioned it was everyone’s second favorite. It was ultimately published as my inaugural column in the DP.

And it’s a good thing that one turned out so well, because, well, the other column. Here’s one reader’s reaction: “What were you thinking? It was insanely weird.” To me, this sounded like a compliment, but was apparently not what the review committee had in mind (though given some of what the DP has published since my time, what it looks for may have since changed*).

In any event, the issue my column addressed is once again in the news – specifically, the congressional ban on domestic horse slaughter was lifted late last month – and I thought it was worth sharing even if the writing/editing/formatting/everything else could use some serious work. The column was written in early August 2008, one year after the ban first went into effect, and I present it here in its original, unedited, and unupdated form:

Continue reading My column the DP refused to publish


Two weeks ago, I signed up for LinkedIn only to discover that 1026 of my closest friends had beaten me to it. I’m an adult. I will be a part of this system. I’ve never been so fashionably late.

Worse: I noticed that my grandpa already had an account.

To give you an idea of what that meant, a month ago, he asked me over for help with computer issues. Specifically, it wouldn’t turn on. After a few moments of observing him in his unnatural habitat, I helpfully suggested he consult the button located on the computer rather than the monitor.

If he had a LinkedIn account, I was so far beyond early adopter I figured it was time to start looking into what’s cool/hip/fresh these days/what the grandpas are into.

After a bit of investigation – that included a very confusing conversation in which I was told ‘I have not given out that kind of information to or for anyone’ (so why did you make a LinkedIn account???) – we reached the conclusion that the account was not genuine.* The world made sense again.

Then, I had a short conversation with a family friend. The friend in question is of the same generation as my grandfather, and while she is known to watch The Daily Show, she is still not the kind of person I expect to be doing things like social networking over the interweb.**

I will replicate the conversation that ensued to the best of my ability:

Continue reading LinkedOut

Facebook limits freedom of religion (and more importantly, freedom of profile)

As you’ve probably noticed, Facebook is in the midst of rolling out Timeline.

But you may not have noticed that in the process, Facebook did something silly (and I’m not talking about rolling out Timeline lol): it declared itself arbiter of what constitutes a religion.

In the previous iteration of Facebook, I didn’t fill out a lot of personal information, and what little I did was not. so. serious. For instance, I entered ‘Orange Catholic Bible’ in the little box next to Religion. Granted, this is not an actual religion. But Facebook never gave me a problem; it was my profile, and I could make it say whatever I wanted.

So I was mildly surprised when I made the switch to Timeline and discovered that Facebook had taken upon itself to tweak my self-identification:

Writing ‘Orange Catholic Bible’ is silly. I know it’s silly. Those who know I’m a pedant – and thus long yearned to switch to ‘Orange Catholicism’ – know it’s silly. Those who know my favorite color know it’s silly. And those who happen to know what it actually is know it’s really silly.

But it’s not for Facebook to decide what qualifies as an Official State Religion and is thus eligible for inclusion on my profile. If I say I’m an Orange Catholic, goddammit, I’m an Orange Catholic. Not an ‘Other’.

This is Facebook, not a ‘Demographic Information’ questionnaire.

Continue reading Facebook limits freedom of religion (and more importantly, freedom of profile)

Just one fracking minute

Late last week, McClatchy Newspapers dropped a turd in the form of a hilariously uninvestigative report entitled Shale boom may help lead U.S. to energy independence.

As the technically-accurate headline indicates, the article focuses primarily on the Marcellus Shale’s potential to meet American short-term energy needs. Unlike other papers of record – that take the time to interview upwards of fifty people on subjects of even limited substance – McClatchy’s reporter bothered to speak with only a few, advocates of energy industry to a man.

Here’s one representative quote from one such representative:

“We’ve got a supply of natural gas. We need an energy policy that reflects that,” said Kristi Gittins, vice president of industry and public affairs for Chief Oil & Gas, a Dallas-based driller that’s drilled more than 150 wells along the Marcellus Shale formation and has three that now are operational.

I’ve already shared my opinion on fracking in brief as it relates to water quality in a remote Nepali village and a New York City Jamba Juice, so I won’t take time to rehash that here.

But here’s the problem: McClatchy doesn’t seem to have been interested in taking that time either.

Continue reading Just one fracking minute

The NBA season just started and already things are starting to get awkward

Check out Twitter’s trending topics in Seattle:

To paraphrase someone who was certainly not among the Wise Men:

My mother always taught me that if the only thing you have to say is, ‘Fuck David Stern,’ then don’t say anything at all. So I’m not going to say anything at all.

Is my mother the greatest or what?

A Very Ferry Christmas

New rules have forced the Washington State Ferry System – the nation’s largest – to reduce the number of passengers each vessel can convey.

Coast Guard vessel-stability rules that took effect nationwide Dec. 1 raised the estimated weight of the average adult passenger to 185 pounds from the previous 160 pounds, based on population information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In case you’re curious, 25 pounds is 15.6% of 160 (or 13.5% of 185). For an ‘average’ weight, it’s not an insignificant jump, adding up to about 250 people per boat – or subtracting, depending on how you look at it. In other words, this is not just a rounding error. So how were calculations so off?

During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States and about one-third of American adults are now considered obese, the CDC says on its website.

Turns out the Coast Guard hired Rip Van Winkle to calculate vessel capacity.

That said, ferries in the United States seem to have been alright with the old capacity guidelines until now. And given their substantial heft, the weight of their human cargo is unlikely to make the difference between sink and swim – at least relative to other, more petite, methods of transportation. I hope whoever is responsible for elevator safety – not to mention the FAA – is paying better attention to average body weight trends than the Coast Guard.

Continue reading A Very Ferry Christmas

How to boycott a moment of silence

Please join me in exploring how it came about that the United Nations observed a Kim Jong il-sized moment of silence.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. General Assembly granted a request from North Korea and held a few moments of silence on Thursday for Kim Jong-il, the country’s former leader who died on Saturday.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 193-nation assembly, called for a “minute of silence” before the start of a routine meeting at 3:00 p.m. EST.

The minute of silence lasted for 25 seconds before Nasser proceeded with the scheduled meeting. The United States, European Union member states and Japan were among the countries that boycotted the tribute to Kim Jong-il.

2:59:42       Nasser: It is my sad duty to pay tribute to the memory of the late Kim Jong-il, Secretary-
                     General of the Workers Party of Korea, Chairman of the National Defence Commission
                     of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Supreme Commander of the
                     Korean People’s Army, who passed away on Saturday, December 17.
Continue reading How to boycott a moment of silence

Sex and the Holy City

Women have disappeared from advertisements in Jerusalem.

And not just the ones who are wearing Israeli weather-appropriate clothing, or who have been heavily airbrushed. Nir Hasson reports for Haaretz:

The purging of women from publicly displayed pictures in Jerusalem applies to images of females in regular dress and daily situations. Pictures of women in family settings and advertisements of women using face cream or being connected to food or fashion products are hard to come by in this city.

Hasson reports that the absence of women seems to be self-censorship by advertising agencies, and not the result of city ordinance:

For instance, a hamburger company that promoted its product around the country with a picture of happy family members choose [sic] in Jerusalem to show only images of its burgers.

The outcry over this revelation prompted a recent response by Roni Shub, entitled I am a proud and liberated ultra-Orthodox woman:

Continue reading Sex and the Holy City

A Tale of Two Warranties

If this is not your first visit to this site, you’re probably aware that most of what I write is targeted at someone or something. I do this not because I’m vindictive, but because I’m lazy: it’s easier to take someone down than build someone up.

This post is different: I come not to bury Case Logic, but to praise it – for providing by far the easiest and best warranty experience of my life. The whole exchange was so pleasant, and Case Logic’s excellent service so unwarranted, I felt the least I could do was share my experience.

That said, I couldn’t go a whole post without burying someone, so I’m also going to include my warranty nightmare – I assume everybody has at least one – after the jump. Mine involved Sony, and took nearly a year from start to finish.

But first, for the praise. I bought a Case Logic camera bag coming up on 3 years ago. About two years into my ownership, a small exterior strap broke for no apparent reason. Not a huge deal, so I made do with damaged goods.

But recently, I came across the bag’s original tag. It informed me that it came with a 25-year warranty, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to give Case Logic a call and see if I could get the strap repaired.

The phone was answered promptly by a pleasant woman.

Actually, we don’t do repairs, sorry.

Not promising.

The model you bought is no longer in production. Is there a different bag we could send you as a replacement?


I had been hoping for a repair, not a replacement, and wasn’t familiar with potential alternatives, so I took a moment to check my options. The company’s website showed three different models in the same genre as the bag she intended to replace, each more expensive than the one I had originally bought. I told her I would be thrilled with any of them. She offered to send the most expensive one.

Meanwhile, I asked, to what address would you like me to return the broken bag?

Oh, we don’t need the bag, just photos documenting the damage.

Quick issue: I sold my second Sony a few weeks ago, and my mom was out of town with her camera, so I couldn’t provide the requested documentation right away.

No problem. She put the new bag in the mail right away, and it arrived yesterday.

I hope to take those pictures for her today.

Continue reading A Tale of Two Warranties