Punctuation Wars

The Comma World of
Grammar Vigilantes

‘Language is a source of misunderstandings,’ wrote Antoine Saint-Exupéry. He’d surely have elaborated it further to indict the written word too, but probably wanted to keep the sentence short. Knowing the risks helped him avoid mix-ups by a discriminating use of punctuation.
Many a wrong diacritic, though, fell an incautious scribe. Among them, behold the common comma, tricky hook known to trip phrase and auteur alike. Lives and reputations have been ruined by its misuse, and to misjudge the pause literally sucks the air out of the communication.
Isn’t it why they’re often referred to as accidents? Don’t dare tell that to a philologist, who’d be capable of stuffing your pretty face with quotation marks so thick, soon you’d be spitting your own full stops to the matter. And you thought you English teacher was mean.
Speaking of which, native English-speakers tend to look down on accents used in the most languages, as unnecessary pomposity. They don’t know how easy they have it. Those marks are in fact as vital to meaning as words themselves, and you may forget to use them properly at your own risk.
And unless you want to get into a fistfight, it’s also advisable to never, ever, say to a grammarian that punctuation need not to apply to emailing, texting, and/or tweeting. As Michael Skapinker put it, in one of his FT columns, social media and short messages do not protect us from misunderstandings.
SPLICE, YOU COMMA CHAMELEON
He was referring to a recent Maine court case worth thousands of dollars, won due to good comma placement. For often, you may think that being tired, frustrated, slightly drunk and ready to hit the sack, excuse you from adding a fifth comma, just before the ‘and.’ Don’t, we beg you.
Let’s be forgiven only once about this, two full sentences shouldn’t be separated by just a comma, as in this case. There’s simply not enough pause, critics of the Splice comma say. But on the prior graph, you’d be in Oxford comma jurisdiction, as the lack of that fifth messes all up the meaning.
It’s all a tad less than thrilling, you’d say, lacking fun and games quality, until somebody sues, that is. For ages, (more)
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* What’s the Point
* Author’s Revenge

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Here Comes the Monsoon

Hands for Venice, Early
Cicadas & a Flooded Vault

To some, you haven’t lived if you haven’t fallen in love. Or planted a tree. To write a book or have a child, all give us meaning, and reasons to be remembered. Yet to others, pain is life’s truly master and nothing turns you into one faster than a leak dripping on your bed.
Water’s tomorrow’s gold. Without it, there’s no life. Too much of it, and billions lose their roof. As glaciers melt, floods dictate survival. Thus, Venice’s a sinking treasury, cicadas are coming out early, and an Arctic seed vault, our future food insurance, is not ready for doomsday.
‘There occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune, all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.’ The 360 B.C.E. retelling by Plato on an earlier account, still haunt us, even as it’s most likely fictional.
It’s a tale about an once proud civilization doomed by the power of natural forces and succumbing entirely into a watery grave. It can be argued that it’s happening all over again in a larger scale, and that natural power this time has been unleashed not by fate but by the human oversized collective ego.
More recent and certifiably historical catastrophes have happened ever since, as when Pompeii and Herculano were lost to the not so sudden fury of the Vesuvius. The lesson is a recurrent one: force the hands of Earth and she’ll do as it has for millennia. Some see in the mutating climate a harbinger of yet another planetary cleansing.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
Speaking of which, Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn prepared a surprise for the 2017 Venice Art Biennale. Support, the two giant hands that emerge from one of the canals of the legendary city on the lagoon, is a stunning statement about global warming. And its striking visual impact leaves no doubt about the power of art promoting awareness.
Among the five or 10 most distinctive cities in the world, Venice is obviously the most vulnerable to rising sea waters. Even as the rapidly eroding coastal lines of Rio or New York, Sydney or Tokyo, place them equally on the crosshairs of a dramatic change in global temperatures, if Venice sinks, so does its irreplaceable architecture and art.
Despite a perennially complicated relationship with its environment, it has overcome centuries of political turmoil and Italy’s rising (more)
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* After the Flood
* Sunken Past
* In Hot Water Continue reading

Time Off

When Calls Drop
& Streets Go Quiet

People who never turn anything off, including themselves, may not understand, but there is such thing as doing nothing. In fact, if so-called power naps reset the brain, then dropping everything and just staring at a wall could do wonders to anyone. Not us, though; no time. Check back tomorrow, say after 5:30pm?
It’d help if we could freeze the city over and walk the empty streets as if survivors of a cataclysmic event. Such moments of eerie stillness, with not a soul on sight and the hum of urban machines quieted down, are still possible. Just don’t be long or you may turn into a slaughtered lamb on the nightly news. You know, evil loves shadows.
We suspect that even authors of best sellers about the virtues of dropping out have a hard time turning off their own phones. For when computer cameras and mikes are covered up, we may still carry on, afraid we’re missing out on something on Facebook. Thus our every second is filled with white noise.
Yet, there’s so much poetry in catching the automated world existing by itself, while its switch can still be turned off. Like when lights turn green and there’s no car in a hurry to go anywhere. Being sleepy and bored used to be equated to being lazy and spoiled, but new research changed all that. They are now deemed essential to genius.

TURN ON, DROP OUT, TUNE IN
Dreams are often a source for original ideas, popping up right after we open up our eyes from a minutes-long slumber. And the restlessness of having nothing to do has launched many a revolutionary take on the very concept of creating something out of thin air. Or we may always choose to just roll over and, well, nap.
Sides have argued over this since forever, and the likely reason we’re now convinced that we need to be on 24/7 may be because one of them hasn’t slept a wink in centuries. Then again, the very idea of having a non-stop society, to optimize productivity and increase efficiencies, was likely dreamed of by someone who’d just woken up.

STRANGER IN A STRANGER LAND
I once went back to a city I’d lived before, without telling anyone I was there. I’ve checked into a cheap motel and wandered about like a tourist. It was exhilarating. I walked and walked, (more)
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* Field of Dreams
* Counting Electric Sockets
* Spinning Wheels

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The Morning After

For Those Who’ll
Feel Like Losers

Ok, so you’ve worked hard – or didn’t do a thing – and your candidate still didn’t win. Don’t feel too bad: fate is as fate does, but in case you’re wondering, it was absolutely your fault. Now let’s save you some bucks for the four years worthy of therapy ahead, shall we?
Choices are few and involve major changes, just what you were trying your best to avoid. Regardless, you’re here now. Assuming that you’ve already called for refills of your acid reflux prescription, plus a few bottles of extra strength Tums, next thing to do it to cope.
Relax, help is on its way, so you won’t despair alone. Yes, it feels as if you won’t be able to even look at your new president without gagging. But worst have happened to you, and you did just fine, right? Well, let’s not get into that now. The working word here is survive.
And you will endure, and abide, and stomach (did we mention Rolaids?). You’ll even learn to conjugate similar verbs because you must. For the love of heavens, everyone will beg you to. But in case you falter, we’ve put together a short list of strategies to help you out. You’re welcome.
But before you yell at your computer, on the account of our meek picks, let us cover our behinds with the appropriate disclaimer: no, this is not everything. And if you’re already into yoga, meditation, or just joined the circus or a cult, you shouldn’t be on the Internet anyway. Unless, of course, you aren’t sure about your choices. We feel you.
May your horse come ahead, and you don’t lose your you-know-what over this election. But if things go south and going north sounds no longer remote, print this list; you’ll have less than two months to pack and split. Tell everyone you’re off to get the paper and have a go. Either way, good luck to you.

WHY NOT (CALL YOUR AGENT &) LEAVE?
The Celebrity DeLite. Many have actually said so, probably thinking about that mega production being cast in Europe, as we speak. If they say Oh Canada, they’re likely Canadians. But if you too can afford it, by all means: kick the tires and sell the farm. Don’t forget to call Mom.
Since you’re no Bryan Cranston, you may consider going where you’re actually needed. A few years making new friends, maybe even learning a new language, and you may find that losing this election was your biggest victory. Just kidding. No, seriously, you may never have a better excuse.

EAT ROOMS, DIG ACID, TRY AYAHUASCA
The Turn On, Drop Out Solution. Yes, this one is not for everybody (we also hope that kids are already in bed as your read this). But stay with it for a moment. First of all, no one is telling you to become drug addicted, just so to deal with harsh politics.
In fact, Ayahuasca has being a success at curing (more)
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* Binders Full of It
* Pre-Existing Conditions
* Polls & Tallies

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Head & Tails

Who Is the Mad Dog 
Murdering English Cats?

Maybe it’s Internet envy. You know, people who hate you just because you’re all over the Web. And your name is Justin Bieber. The culprit is unlikely to be among cat’s biggest enemies (no, not dogs): bird lovers. But watch out: the U.K. has a serial kitty killer on the prowl.
Nothing cute about it, though. Someone is beheading cats in the South London Croydon neighborhood, and police has no clues, other than the killings are gruesome and ostensible: the psycho leaves mutilated bodies where their human companions can easily come across them.
Again, it may have to do with Internet access and its magnifying effect. For justAtop a Mountain, in Calp, Spain (Aleksandr Osipov:NatGeo)a few decades ago, serial killers were known mostly by law enforcement agents. Now, you need to ask your Uncle Bob to please, shut up already, when he babbles about them as if they were his pub buddies.
Their creepy habits, pathology, and biographies are a constant theme of family dinner conversations, and inspiration to countless movie plots; best seller books and even songs have been written about them, and everybody seems to have heard of that lonely soul who married one in jail.
That’s how most of us know of a particularly haunting trait they all seem to share: an early childhood taste for torturing and murdering small animals. Thus, the British press, not particularly known for nuanced coverage, sobriquet for the newest psychopath: Croydon Cat Ripper.

BLOOD SPREADING OR COPYCATS?
Cats have attracted extreme passion or fear throughout history, and the overstatement needs no emphasis. From ancient Egyptian adoration to Dark Ages‘ obscurantism to redemption through the Black Plague, the domestic feline trajectory with humans has been as vertigo-inducing as a roller coaster.
But once clichés are set aside, a richer picture emerge, of a creature with a rare appeal, both aloof and Zen-like tempered; independent, suffused with mystery, and yet, resolutely loyal to those who (more)
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* Suddenly, Last Caturday
* A Farewell to Furs

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Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. And the results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Or not.
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost aliens raised in Pluto for we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we even apply it to everything, and yes, to us, there is something wrong with that. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy trading their tusk for the ivory, or simply eating them, to pay any attention.

ADÉLIES JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was ‘depravity,’ and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad ‘science’ journalism have ensued, of course. But the biggest recent news about the Adélie had nothing to do with sex. In February, it was reported that 150,000 penguins died, after being landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But it was a hoax, better researched stories have confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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* Beneath the Waves
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song
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Museums of Something Else

Looking for Van Gogh
in a Roomful of Clicks

You’re about to fulfill a lifelong dream: getting up close with your favorite masterpiece. This painting’s haunted your memories for years, and it’s now about to make living in this city all the worthier. But when you’re finally ready for its close up, your reverie suffers a low blow.
Between you and the frame, a phone-picture-taking crowd is busy, turning your dream into a blurry background to their selfies. Miffed, you swear never to come back again. Which brings us to today’s offering: museums are important, but don’t have to suck. Here’s why.
As depositories of humanity’s cultural and artistic achievements, museums have been incomparable. Often the sole local well of knowledge, they anchor communities around a shared past. No wonder they’re also useful for tyrants to stake a claim into the future.
Besides displaying disturbing mementos of our brutal heritage, and the vanquished civilizations we’ve helped destroy, these warehouses of memory and fractured narratives also face crushing competition of the present day’s increasing obsession with accessibility.
Round-the-clock knowledge at one’s fingertips is rendering irrelevant the need for an actual physical place to house art and the past. But the Internet has potential to turn voyeurism into something intimate and personal, in ways that museums seem to be faltering at.
We’re not ready to give up on them just yet, though; just pointing to alternatives that may enhance their mission. Read and click on the illustrations to open up new possibilities. It may sooth your soul and give you a healthy reason to skip that rude crowd this weekend.

THE MOURNING ART COLLECTION
For a place displaying death-inspiring art objects in its galleries, and housed next to a cemetery, the possibility of sudden demise should be never too far. But since its 1990 inception, the Museum of Mourning Art has thrived, even if it had to auction some of its artifacts to survive.
It sits next to Arlington Cemetery (no, not that Arlington), Philadelphia, and it did have to close briefly, while it sold some items. But unlike its neighbors, it’s bound to come back to life, and in line with Americans’ peculiar taste for anything related to the departed.
Its art focus is distinct from similarly lugubrious institutions (more)
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* Broken Hearts
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