Guns, Guns, and More Guns

My latest Went West column takes a look at gun culture in Montana.

“[A] Kalispell man had started his pickup truck outside his workplace and left it running so that it would be nice and warm when he was ready to leave for the day. As he stepped outside to drive home, he saw that someone else was departing in his truck. Naturally, he jumped into the bed of the truck and dialed police on his cell phone, and when the thief pulled over a few blocks away and took off running, our protagonist retrieved a pistol from the cab of the truck and gave chase, still on the line with a 911 operator.”

Read the exciting conclusion here.

The Week’s Tweets (2009-12-27)

  • Gut check: despite all the raves from critics, Avatar will still be nearly unwatchably boring, right? #
  • In no hurry to go back to the Montana Club now that they've taken Steak Diane off the menu. #

“One of the Greatest Military Blunders in Recent U.S. History?”

Fascinating reading about the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden:

“The real history of Tora Bora is far more disturbing. Having reconstructed the battle–based on interviews with the top American ground commander, three Afghan commanders, and three CIA officials; accounts by Al Qaeda eyewitnesses that were subsequently published on jihadist websites; recollections of captured survivors who were later questioned by interrogators or reporters; an official history of the Afghan war by the U.S. Special Operations Command; an investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and visits to the battle sites themselves–I am convinced that Tora Bora constitutes one of the greatest military blunders in recent U.S. history.”

“The Bookstore-less Streets of Laredo”

You know you’re in bad shape when you are forced to mourn the closing of a B. Dalton. But that’s the only bookstore serving the quarter of a million people who reside in Laredo.

“Laredo, Texas, is set to become the largest U.S. city without a bookstore. The B. Dalton in the Mall del Norte, owned by parent company Barnes & Noble, is slated to close next month. When it does, it will leave the city’s close to 250,000 residents without a single bookstore.”

Trickle Down, Supply Side…

Call it what you want, economist John Quiggin says we can now write the obituary for the idea that the richer the rich get, the better off we’ll all be.

“The trickle-down theory can be examined using the tools of econometrics. But, at least for the US, no such sophisticated analysis is required. The raw data on income distribution shows that households in the bottom half of the income distribution gained nothing from the decades of market liberalism. Although apologists for market liberalism have offered various arguments to suggest that the raw data gives the wrong impression, none of these arguments stand up to scrutiny. All the evidence supports the commonsense conclusion that policies designed to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor have done precisely that.”

To me, one of the big red flags about the “trickle down” theory is that it essentially bribes you rich people for agreeing with it. “Want to help America?” it asks. “Help yourself first.” As a result, it just seemed like this theory was never going to get analyzed as critically as a theory that suggests that helping others might require some level of sacrifice, and so there was a great risk of personal-interest bias creeping in.

The Year in Media Errors

Regret the Error has posted its annual roundup of the best media errors and corrections.

“We now accept that Cristiano did not “go on a bender”, did not drink any alcohol that evening, did not spend pounds 10,000 on alcohol, nor throw his crutches to the floor or try to dance.”

Glad that’s straightened out.

Tilting Against Established Perversions

Non-writers might be unaware of the narrow little category of books devoted to “English usage,” i.e., the right best way to use the language, from fine points of grammar to the correct definitions of commonly misused words. No mere textbooks, these works usually take the form of a collection of essays (some “mini” and some not so) that argue for the various usages the author prefers (and it is sometimes simply a matter of well-argued opinion).

Between the covers of such books, you can learn-for example-the difference between “cheerful” and “cheery”: “The cheerful feels and perhaps shows contentment, the cheery shows and probably feels it.”

That example comes from the most famous of these books, Henry Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern Usage, usually called “Fowler’s” by aficionados.

If the first thing such books make you think of is all the times someone else has corrected your grammar, rest assured that that’s not what Fowler wanted. From an essay by Jim Holt in the New York Times, occasioned by the re-release of the first edition of Fowler’s by Oxford University Press:

“For all his classicist rigor, [Fowler] was a tolerant man who realized that “tilting against established perversions . . . is vanity in more than one sense.” His ideal was a democratic one, a natural, unaffected and humbug-free English summed up in the word “idiom.” And if idiom and grammar are in conflict, so much the worse for grammar. Thus he was cheerfully lax about “who & whom” and the placement of “only,” and he mocked the pains people go through to avoid ending their sentences with prepositions. When it came to the notorious split infinitive (e.g., “to boldly go where no man . . .”), he observed that those English speakers who neither know nor care about them “are to be envied” by the unhappy few who do.”

Good to know. Personally, I’m more of a Garner man myself, which is to say that I rely on Bryan Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage for help avoiding “Titular Tomfoolery”[1] or deciding whether “online” needs a hyphen in the middle.[2]

I learned about Garner from a review by David Foster Wallace. As usual, Wallace’s review is not just a review but a genuinely useful little work of philosophy:

“[I]t is indisputably easier to be dogmatic than Democratic, especially about issues that are both vexed and highly charged. I submit further that the issues surrounding “correctness” in contemporary American usage are both vexed and highly charged, and that the fundamental questions they involve are ones whose answers have to be “worked out” instead of simply found.

A distinctive feature of ADMAU is that its author is willing to acknowledge that a usage dictionary is not a bible or even a textbook but rather just the record of one smart person’s attempts to work out answers to certain very difficult questions. This willingness appears to me to be informed by a Democratic Spirit.”

To be honest, I only consult Garner maybe five times a year, which I’m relieved to learn is in keeping with Holt’s recommendations regarding Fowler and, presumably, all such books:

“[O]ne shouldn’t spend too much time in Fowler’s company. … [H]eightened self-consciousness about usage is the enemy of vigor. One sees this not infrequently in Fowler’s own prose, which can be crabbed and intricate to the point of unintelligibility. One sees it also in disciples of Fowler, who turn out pedanti­cally correct little essays in his honor ….

Hey, here’s a fun little activity: find the usage errors I intentionally[3] sprinkled throughout this post, and I’ll send you a quarter![4]
1. “[E]ven titles of authority [which “are properly capitalized before a person’s name”] … are not capitalized when used as appositives following the name (e.g., George Pataki, governor of New York).”

2. “[T]he hyphen [in on-line] is probably doomed to disappear. The closed form is already dominant, whether the word is used as an adjective or an adverb.”

3. Not really. I’m actually just assuming I made some mistakes. Writing correct is hard!

4. No, I won’t. That offer was for entertainment purposes only!

The Week’s Tweets (2009-12-12)

  • Writing the Christmas letter. #
  • The Coen abides. #
  • RT @ekpaster: I am so over everyone calling everyone else a "douche." … Let's revive some new vaguely misogynistic insult for 2010. #
  • Just encountered a captcha that required me to type the word "bitchier." #
  • Sharks patrol these waters. #
  • Here in Missoula, I note that it is supposed to be almost 60 percent warmer tomorrow than it was today. #
  • I see Furl is dead. Is there a similar service for keeping track of interesting articles/posts found online? #
  • The Copenhagen Conspiracy: What's In It For The Scientists? #
  • Amanda Knox: Guilty? Or Railroaded by Satan-Obsessed Prosecutor? #

“I feel sorry for a cop who thinks I’m getting into his paddy wagon.”

Conveniently for the NYPD officer who shot him, this man happened to be carrying a statement of homicidal intent in his wallet.

Police found a business card for a gun dealer on the victim, Browne said. On the back of the card was a handwritten note saying, “I feel sorry for a cop who thinks I’m getting into his paddy wagon.”

In all seriousness, it looks like the incident was what coppers call a “clean shoot.”