I've witnessed recently a terrible trend in corporate culture that treats ask as a noun, as if I can pose an ask or request what an ask is, or, absurdly, ask what is their ask. This is stupid. We have a perfectly comfortable word that already performs the action in noun form: question. Turning ask into a noun not only confuses anyone used to its standard verb function, but also creates a redundancy, even if ask is a shorter word than question.
A good synonym should perform a similar function, not an equal function. Affect and influence are technically synonyms, but they imply different actions. Throw in impact as a synonym for both (a recent and bad trend in modern English), and you'll notice it does not perform anything that affect or influence don't already cover. School courses taught some of us to treat synonyms as equals. Swap a common word for an equal uncommon word and you pass that SAT essay. But this isn't true. Even words like glad and happy, which may have the same definition, imply different meanings. Happy conveys bright smiles and an extroverted cheerfulness, while glad speaks more softly—the person may not smile wildly or walk with a sprightly gait, but, if asked, would confirm he is in a positive mood. Bad synonyms, like impact (traditionally "to press closely into something") or, I fear, ask, add nothing new to our language. Allowing such words to infiltrate common speech and writing risks not only creating redundancies, but opening the door for habits that can devolve language into a mess of nonsense.
Nintendo recently released its Switch, which sold out and as of writing has just been restocked in some stores. Nintendo expected X demand for the Switch and thus made X+N Switches (I assume). As it happened, demand trounced supply, and all Switches sold out. Now, Nintendo could say, people like this product; we should raise the price to increase revenue. I hope they don’t do this, but in short, supply is less than demand, increasing the value of the little that’s available. Then, as demand decreases, supply may increase, and the price should drop. This is basic economics, and we can agree on that (look, economics is too damn complicated to be summarized by a grammar snoot, so just pretend that this is how basic demand and supply economics works).
With that in mind, how is our modern economy? And I’m not asking about consumerist America—that’s always golden—I’m asking about that lovely job market. Is it easy to get a job? Can you walk to a gas station or some entry-level position, like you could in the 1980s, and walk away with a job? Probably not. So what’s the problem? It is this: the supply and demand of humans to jobs is awry, unbalanced, fucked. There are simply too many people—the supply—compared to the jobs available—the demand. Simply put, seven billion people is a surplus, and, as with any surplus, we need to stop making more until our product matches the current demand. But of course we can’t stop making more (well, we won’t), and we need to look at other methods of fairly limiting the supply.
John Wick: Chapter 2 follows the original impenetrable assassin as he fights his way through a few dozen expendables and about two hours of screen time. But Chapter 2, as opposed to the original, offers us much more in terms of acting, dialogue, pacing, and believability; it shows us what does not work in an action film.
It's not much to say that Chapter 2 offers us less credibility than the original, which claimed that a mafia boss's son would blindly steal a car and kill the dog of that same mafia boss's best assassin who, as we learn throughout now two movies, every man and his mother recognizes on sight. The premise of the second one, while still forcing John's retirement down our throats like a misshapen bone, exists on a threat: in order to retire, John must fulfill a blood oath he made to a younger Jarvier Bardem lookalike mafioso. John naturally wants out of this oath, but another character warns him that if he kills the mafioso or doesn't fulfill the oath, he's dead. But why, I must ask, would the threat of death mean anything to the world's most anti-social Baba Yaga "ghost" assassin? I'm fairly certain multiple folks threatened to kill John in the first movie, and that didn't end too badly for him. But, like certain internet-distributed videos, do we really watch John Wick for the plot?
Northrop Frye describes comic narrative—as opposed to comedic drama—as that which concludes with optimism; the comedic writer closes with a reflection of the idyllic society. But there comes a point when comic narrative descends into comedic drama—the funny stuff we first think of as comedy—by accident, and that is the case with Passengers, the recent science fiction film centered around two attractive folks (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) who wake up ninety years early on an intergalactic spaceship only to find everything's gone to hell.
Here is a good time to yield the statutory spoiler warning. But don't let that dissuade you from reading the remainder of the article—it may save you a few bucks at the movies.
I admit to holding many gripes with this standard-issue Hollywood blockbuster: basic laws of physics are optional; realism applies except when sound travels through space; an accomplished writer has never written about herself; Lawrence Fishburne appears only to give the protagonists access to the engine rooms, then dies; a spacesuit protects Chris from a fusion (or fission?) reactor's radioactive exhaust; and love magic saves the day (more on this later). But perhaps the worst crime this movie makes is that it insists on a happy ending where none was due.
I don't like films, I love them. If I don't love them, I don't watch. Thus I made a comprehensive list of films I consider the best, organized alphabetically—best to worst per letter. Plus, as a film snob, these kind of lists bolster street cred. I don't claim these films are better than others, and some great films aren't on this list; I either didn't like them or have not seen them. Some letters have more films, others fewer, but it balances out one way or another. I must apologize for my appallingly boring summaries, but after remembering well over a hundred films, ranking them, and formatting this article, my brain could only cough up the most mediocre of summaries. (Bonus points for knowing what film the first sentences reference).
In college I studied mathematics and music. Outside of college, if I mentioned both my studies, I often heard this: "Oh, they go hand in hand." I usually smiled and said "yeah" and let it pass. Sometimes, though, I am in the mood for further discourse and explain how, beyond elementary counting, math and music have little in common. Of these few times I bothered, the other folks corrected me and explained how music has structure and structure, of course, is math. I smile and yes, musical phrases often come in similar-length groups, but that does not correlate to collegiate math, and did they really just lecture me on two fields they are not disciplined in?
They are wrong. No matter the pride or alcohol consumption or weird mental alpha-beast desire, they were and still are are wrong. Yes, there are numbers in music, and yes I do, on occasion, count a rhythm, but that is not math, and last time I checked, to play my senior Liszt repertoire, I did not have to prove Cauchy's Group Theorem, which states that, if I have a group, G, of finite order with identity e, and prime p divides the order of G, then G has an element of order p. (I apparently learned this once, then forgot it.
July 1, 2016, marks the end of forty-two years of a radio show unlike any other still running. Forewarning: I can't avoid sentimentality, having just watched the bittersweet encore to A Prairie Home Companion's penultimate show.
For those who don't know, A Prairie Home Companion is one of those old-school style radio shows with live stories, sound effects, witty humor, improvisation, and, of course, music once a week for two hours. And all that on public radio without advertising, unless you count The Catchup Advisory Board and Bebop-a-Reebop Rhubard Pie. Now I wasn't drawn to this show by myself; I'm twenty-two (sometimes forgetting that and telling people twenty-one, because, really, nobody cares after that), technology-minded, and as detached from the dying radio as most my generation seems to be. I suppose I can thank a self-proclaimed luddite, facebook-hater, and old-timer—apparently also my dad—for introducing this show to our home. And it was as if romantic Americana streamed through the radio out of Grapes of Wrath with all the heart of It's a Wonderful Life. Old-timey folk and blues, the same stuff from O Brother Where Art Thou (I can't promise this is the last movie reference), peppered with comedic half-improvised stories of a private eye and cowboys and Lake Wobegon and, fittingly, a failed writer.
The art of criticism, true and honest feedback, is dead. Nowadays we cannot criticize; we must give constructive comments. If we dare breach the walls of true criticism, we risk being the asshole who missed the memo about being polite to everyone because everyone is a winner. Before you say amen and move on, though, take a look at these two definitions of the same word:
1. criticize: discuss critically (work, or abs.).
2. criticize: express disapproval of.
Both definitions stem from Oxford dictionaries, the major difference being that the first was published in 1977, the second in 2010. In those years, readers, writers, listeners, and the general public have learned the word to mean something negative, something innately bad. So we invented constructive criticism. According to my dictionary, constructive can also mean inferred, not directly expressed—we are now stuck giving helpful feedback while inferring what we really mean; we cloak the truth because the proud presenter is too soft-skinned to face some honest commentary. Quoting David Foster Wallace, if you're worried that criticize will seem too deprecatory, you can say evaluate, explicate, analyze, judge . . . (taken from the Oxford English Dictionary).