The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

In defense of puns

Longtime (and I mean, longtime) reader DB sent me James Geary's eloquent essay on the value of puns:

There is no sharp boundary splitting the wit of the scientist, inventor, or improviser from that of the artist, the sage, or the jester. The creative experience moves seamlessly from the “Aha!” of scientific discovery to the “Ah” of aesthetic insight to the “Haha” of the pun and the punch line. “Comic discovery is paradox stated—scientific discovery is paradox resolved,” [novelist and cultural critic Arthur] Koestler wrote.

Bisociation is central to creative thought, Koestler believed, because “the conscious and unconscious processes underlying creativity are essentially combinatorial activities—the bringing together of previously separate areas of knowledge and experience.”

This is precisely how wit was understood in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the word was used to describe innovative thinking—something more akin to intellect or consciousness than to glibness or flippancy, a state of mind rather than just a sense of humor.

Lately, though, wit’s been whittled down to a sliver of what it really is. Witty has come to mean merely funny, and a wit is just someone with a knack for snappy comebacks.

True wit is richer, cannier, more riddling.

Aren't you glad I came upun this article?

Hint Fiction

Since hearing about it on NPR almost 8 years ago, I have loved the book Hint Fiction. It's collection of short stories, none more than 25 words long.

The other day I had an inspiration and wrote one of my own:

Acquired, 1989

She left the office, reading the paper again.

"This isn't possible," she thought. "Brad's not gay."

These may pop up here from time to time.

Not that this is news

In addition to crapping on the norms of office that have kept our Republic functioning for centuries, the Trump Administration has lowered the bar for standard written English in politics:

Amid all the chaos in the White House — including West Wing personnel drama, the Stormy Daniels scandal and Mueller’s Russia investigation — some wayward spellings and inaccurate honorifics might seem minor. But the constant small mistakes — which have dogged the Trump White House since the president’s official Inauguration Day poster boasted that “no challenge is to great” — have become, critics say, symbolic of the larger problems with Trump’s management style, in particular his lack of attention to detail and the carelessness with which he makes policy decisions.

On Monday, for example, the White House rolled out an executive order from Trump aimed at cutting off U.S. investment in Venezuela’s digital currency as a way to pinch strongman Nicolás Maduro’s regime. But in the headline on the public news release, the White House wrote that Trump was taking action to “address the situation in America.”

“Freudian slip????” wondered Rosiland Jordan, a reporter for Al Jazeera.

Liz Allen, who served as White House deputy communications director under President Barack Obama, said in an interview that the press office under the 44th president sought to be as rigorous as possible. Releases typically were proofread for accuracy and content by at least four or five people. Announcements that dealt with domestic policy issues and foreign affairs were vetted by experts at federal agencies and the National Security Council, she said.

“We felt a burden and responsibility to get it right,” Allen said. “We were acutely aware of the integrity of our platform. We took it seriously. No one should meet a higher bar than the White House. They are the ultimate voice.”

Read through to the punchline.

But Allen makes the main point, I think. The Administration's written communications reflect a deeper antipathy to "getting it right." They just don't care. And our allies and adversaries alike have noticed.

Blogging A to Z challenge...accepted

This year, The Daily Parker will participate in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge.

Since I've posted an average 1.31 times per day since the modern era* of this blog began in November 2005, and an average of 39.6 times every April, posting at least 26 entries this coming April isn't the challenge. (Also, given trends, it's possible my 6,000th modern-era post will be one of them.)

No, the challenge will be coming up with 26 entries on one specific topic, and making them worth reading. Keep reading to see (a) what topic I pick and (b) how I do.

Sign-up opens March 5th.

* braverman.org had a proto-blog starting in May 1998. Let that sink in. We didn't even call it "blogging" back then.

Minor bit of Schadenfreude

It turns out, Carter Page PhD—who worked for the Trump campaign and is now suspected of being a Russian asset—failed his PhD thesis defense twice:

Page first submitted his thesis on central Asia’s transition from communism to capitalism in 2008. Two respected academics, Professor Gregory Andrusz, and Dr Peter Duncan, were asked to read his thesis and to examine him in a face-to-face interview known as a viva.

Andrusz said he had expected it would be “easy” to pass Page, a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas). He said it actually took “days and days” to wade through Page’s work. Page “knew next to nothing” about social science and seemed “unfamiliar with basic concepts like Marxism or state capitalism,” the professor said.

The viva, held at University College, London, went badly. “Page seemed to think that if he talked enough, people would think he was well-informed. In fact it was the reverse,” Andrusz said. He added that Page was “dumbfounded” when the examiners told him he had failed.

Their subsequent report was withering. It said Page’s thesis was “characterised by considerable repetition, verbosity and vagueness of expression”, failed to meet the criteria required for a PhD, and needed “substantial revision”. He was given 18 months to produce another draft.

Page resubmitted in November 2010. Although this essay was a “substantial improvement” it still didn’t merit a PhD and wasn’t publishable in a “learned journal of international repute”, Andrusz noted. When after a four-hour interview, the examiners informed him he had failed again, Page grew “extremely agitated”.

I almost want to read the final, final, final draft. And I want to see him convicted of secretly meeting with foreign agents. Neither is likely.

Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel in Literature

One of my favorite authors just got awarded N.Kr. 9m:

The novelist was praised by the Swedish Academy as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".

His most famous novels The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go were adapted into highly acclaimed films. He was made an OBE in 1995.

The 62-year-old writer said the award was "flabbergastingly flattering".

His work, which includes scripts for film and television, looks at themes of memory, time and self-delusion.

The Nobel committee praised his latest book The Buried Giant, which was released in 2015, for exploring "how memory relates to oblivion, history to the present, and fantasy to reality".

I've just given a friend a copy of Never Let Me Go, and I've got The Sleeping Giant in my to-be-read pile.

The merry month of May

April seems to have gone quickly this year, but that could just be my advancing age. I'm hoping to have a little more inspiration this month to return to 40+ blog entries a month—i.e., the running average since November 2005. For the 12 months ending yesterday, my average (mean) has been 34.4 with a median of 35, just barely holding above 1.0 entries per day.

Of course, the total number of entries doesn't really matter if they're good. Deeply Trivial took part in last month's A-to-Z blogging challenge, and did a fantastic series on basic statistics that's worth reading. Her 26 entries (plus 5 bonus posts) provide almost a complete intro course in statistics. Start with X and then bounce back to A.

I'm also glad to see center-right commentator Andrew Sullivan back on the Internet, even if only once a week. His column from yesterday, "The Reactionary Temptation," is a must-read.

And, of course, Josh Marshall's frequent posts from the center-left will be vital in keeping tabs on the sub-surface wrigglings of the current administration.

May should see more activity on The Daily Parker for reasons I will get to later in the month. It's time to get writing again.

Already 5pm?

And I haven't fully read any of these:

Only a few more hours until we see how much closer to Rome we get.