➻ We begin this week in Slate, where Matthew J.X. Malady ponders, Will We Use Commas in the Future?
There’s no denying that commas are helpful little flecks of punctuation. They allow us to separate written clauses and do good work when especially numerous or complicated groups of things exist in a single sentence. But do we really need them?
That’s a trickier question.
In some ways commas are like ketchup and mustard. We’re glad those things exist. They surely make our french fries and hamburgers taste better. But we’d all survive without them. Some assert that the same is true of commas. Linguist and Columbia University professor John McWhorter suggests we “could take [the commas out of] a great deal of modern American texts and you would probably suffer so little loss of clarity that there could even be a case made for not using commas at all.”
That may sound crazy to folks who bristle at Oxford comma problems or enjoy pointing out that life without commas could result in lots of sentences like “let’s eat grandma.” But support for McWhorter’s contention isn’t tough to unearth. We needn’t look any further than our beloved cellphones and computer screens. We’re dropping commas more than ever because so much of our daily writing now consists of quick text messages and hastily typed emails. We’re also engaging in frequent IM discussions and drafting lots of sub-140-character tweets. Commas don’t thrive in those environs.
I don’t think a world without commas is a world I really want to live, but Mr. Malady does something very clever with the article to convince me that it may be alright.
➻ Staying with Slate, we move now to Portland, where the dream of the 90s is still alive and it’s apparently not an unusual punishment if a Judge Sentences [an] Eco-Terrorist to Read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Book While in Prison. Josh Voorhees explains:
[Rebecca] Rubin’s sentence was the lowest she could have received under federal sentencing guidelines, and was significantly less than the 90 months prosecutors had been hoping for. Nonetheless, it came with an extra punishment that was certainly unusual—whether it was cruel depends on how you feel about a certain best-selling author of pop science books, via CBC/AP:
U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken said Monday in federal court in Portland, Ore., that Rubin showed contrition and lived in “an emotional prison cell” during seven years as a fugitive in Canada, from December 2005 to November 2012. … She was ordered to pay more than $13 million in restitution upon her release and perform 200 hours of community service. …
Aiken included in her sentence an order to read two books: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, which Aiken said Rubin could learn non-violent means to protesting systems she perceives as unjust, and Nature’s Trust by University of Oregon environmental law professor Mary C. Wood.
For those wondering, some back of the envelope math tells me that Rubin would need to spend a little more than five hours a day for every day of her five-year sentence to master the art of reading Gladwell. (Jokes!)
I am no judge, but I think the only way you could improve that sentence would be to put a bird on it.
➻ Heading into to Gladwell’s stomping grounds, Thomas E. Kennedy has a beautifully written story in The New Yorker, with commas included, of Aggravated Bibliophilism. I am not going to excerpt any of it here because I can’t decide which piece would be best. If you love books, trust me, just venture over to the story.
➻ As we head into Super Bowl Weekend, n+1‘s Gary Sernovitz wonders—as William James did of war—what might be A Moral Equivalent of Football? It’s a brilliant piece reviewing two books on football—Nicholas Dawidoff’s Collision Low Crossers and the Brothers Fairanu’s League of Denial—that examine what we, as football fans, are implicitly asking of the athletes that entertain us on Sundays.
My favorite sentence in this article is “Football is the poem to baseball’s novel, with a concentrated consequence in each moment.” But that probably doesn’t tell you a whole lot about what the article is about. This gets you closer:
I like watching a bruising open-field tackle as much as the next asshole, but football is not ultimate fighting. The violence in the NFL is going down, and the sport’s popularity is going up. This popularity is generally attributed to the continued benefits of the NFL’s famous revenue sharing system: greater parity among teams; surprisingly strong competitors every year; lots of close games. Dawidoff reports that “anywhere from half to three-quarter of NFL games had been decided by one score” in recent years. The NFL is also, frankly, a convenient sport to watch, in our increasingly hectic lives, with games once a week over little more than a third of the year. In comparison, the baseball season doesn’t just seem like just any novel; it seems like Proust.
But professional football isn’t as popular as it is—it owns Sundays, as the church used to—because it is convenient. It’s popular because the games are interesting and often thrilling. The near impossibility of players even standing up, not to mention making eye-popping plays, despite the speed and power of those trying to stop them is part of that thrill. And violence is part of the impossibility. For the players and coaches, Dawidoff reports, “physical intimidation was not only how you won at football, it was the point.” Nate Jackson goes further: “on the field we are pulled toward the mayhem.” And, attitudes aside, there is only so much the NFL can do to improve the safety of the sport. (Vince Lombardi: football “is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport.”) Players are getting bigger and faster, and force equaling mass times acceleration cannot be legislated away by the NFL’s rules committee.
Actually, this is, I think, where I can excerpt a piece of The New Yorker story from the last link:
You do not know whether you are consoled.
Nothing is simple.
Not even, and maybe especially, sports.
➻ And if you don’t like sports, but like reading, The Airship’s Michelle King has you covered. Hate Sports? Well, You’ll Still Love These 10 Books About Sports, she says:
- Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
- Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
- Anything David Foster Wallace Wrote About Sports Ever
- Women on Ice: Feminist Responses to the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle Edited by Cynthia Baughman
- The Natural by Bernard Malamud
- Whip It by Shauna Cross
- My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
- The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams by Darcy Frey
For an explanation of each recommendation, head over to the original post.
➻ We lost a fine, fine American this week.