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Welcome to the letters page. If you want to add your two cents, send me an e-mail, let me know if you want or are willing to have it published, whether you want your name on it (which I would prefer), and whether you want your e-mail address on there as well. I reserve the right to publish or not publish whatever the hell I want to, to make annoying headlines, etc. Thanks!


Sentence Diagramming is Like the Napoleonic Code
From:
LIZ FEIZKAH, Feb. 6
Re:
Napoleon Bonaparte: Liberator, Management Strategist

Have you read The 100 Days, by Alan Schom? It is rather clunkily written, but thrilling -- about Napoleon's comeback from Elba (his goosebump-raising ride from the southern coast to Paris, with crowds of infatuated ex-soldiers swelling his small band into a multitude) and road to Waterloo.

I don't know what to think about him, in the end. Maybe it was unlucky for him, or for Europe, that his particular genius was for generalship. To flourish, it needed war. And war is not a sustainable industry.

Re sentence diagramming. I, too, have always been grateful I was taught this -- though at my (convent) school it was called parsing. The study of Latin is valuable for similar reasons: it teaches you how language works, how to take apart (and piece together for yourself) the skeletons that give sentences their shape and strength and flexibility.

As for those who think grammar should "reveal itself naturally," mostly it doesn't. I know lots of people whose well-meaning teachers, fearful of bruising kids' self-esteem, stood back and waited for this to happen -- in vain. "If you can't talk like me, the teacher, then you can't be in the club." I guess this reader comment is meant to mock "elitists". But society cannot talk to itself with any verve or specificity without a lingua franca -- one that consists of more than "like, uh, duh" and cant-laden obfuscation. English is rich, but its richness depends on its users' skill. If we don't learn to deploy it with subtlety and confidence and cunning, we're the equivalent of savages who, finding a microscope, use it to whack their neighbors on the head.

In Australia, Aborigines in remote areas are taught in their own languages (some of which are spoken by fewer than 100 people) so they won't feel inferior, and so the authorities won't have to feel bad about "colonising" them into English. Result: they are rendered effectively powerless, excluded from the national conversation and dependent on fluent English speakers for all their dealings with the authorities, the law, corporations etc. But at least, say their "empowerers," they don't have low self-esteem!

Maybe diagramming is like the Napoleonic Code. Even when its advocates are all but wiped out, its principles will remain valid and useful. And when the alternatives have failed, and the assaults of nonsense become just too much to bear, people will clamor for it again.

2/10/2002 11:23:13 PM

Frisco-Bashing Has Gone Too Far
From:
TIM CARTER, Feb. 6
Re:
Great Column By Nick Denton

Sheeesh! How long are we going to have to endure this?

After graduating college in my native land of the former Confederacy, I moved to San Francisco in 1991 and instantly fell in love with the city despite having to live, for financial reasons, in the Tenderloin. At the time, it was common habit for people to criticize L.A. for anything and everything possible. Natives said it was a requirement that to be a San Franciscan you had to HATE L.A.

The joke was that people in L.A. did not hate us back: They barely noticed we existed. We were irrelevant. That was the real reason for much of our hatred: Envy. When people thought of "California", they thought of L.A., and it drove us nuts. Even when it was well-meaning. Earthquakes and riots would happen in L.A. and friends on the East Coast would call us to make sure we were okay. Hollywood was the center of the center of the universe, and our little "paradise" was in its shadow.

Not long after the O.J. trial, I noticed people had stopped actively hating L.A. More specifically, they had stopped noticing or caring about L.A. The Internet was the future, and the Bay Area was now the center of the goddamn universe. Any day now, they would be breaking ground on Starfleet Headquarters.

Now we have crashed back to earth, and you people in L.A. are having great celebrations over the world (or at least California) being set right again. Maybe we deserve it for a while (and frankly, I hope we stay in this funk until that magical day in the far future when I have signed a mortgage), but the rhetoric has swung too far in the other direction.

For professional reasons, I will sidestep the homelessness issues. (I am an attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid, and my opinions could too easily be mistaken for the organization's, which could be a big problem as I am sure my opinions differ from many of my colleges.) But to tackle other part's of Nick's column:

Supposedly cosmopolitan, San Francisco is in fact a collection of separatist ghettos. Mexicans live in the Mission, Gays live in the Castro, Chinese out in Sunset, and transient yuppies in the Marina; and they avoid each other as much as possible.
Nick is either intentionally lying, or actively avoiding Mexicans, Gays, Chinese, and yuppies himself but blaming them, or living in alternate universe. Yes, those neighborhoods have greater numbers of the aforementioned groups, but in a stroll down the streets of any of those places, which I take regularly, you pass not only people of every race, but restaurants, shops, etc., of every ethnic variety, with customers of every ethnic variety, none of whom seem put off by being around people Nick would say are not "like them". I cannot remember anyone ever avoiding me for being white and straight. Professionally, my boss is black, his boss is Mexican, and my clients and coworkers are of every background and it has never been an issue. Personally, my wife is Mexican, her niece who was our flower girl is half Samoan, my brother-in-law who stays with us is Indian, and my two best friends are Indian, and a White-Japanese mix. I did not specifically seek this out, it is simply a natural outcome of living in a, yes, cosmopolitan city like San Francisco.
Well, what about the alternative scene? The Yo-Yo man, a 300-pound mound of a man who dazzles with yo-yos. Where else, a San Francisco booster asked, would someone feel so free to express themselves? A typical San Francisco misconception. Personal discovery is rarely interesting and, in most normal cities, robustly ignored.
Um, plenty of us here ignore it too. I had never heard of this yo-yo before reading Nick's column, and I read the "alternative" papers regularly.
And conversation tends to the bland. What passes as witty in London or New York is more likely to meet the reaction: that guy was interesting. Only in San Francisco could interesting be a term of disparagement.
Another alternate universe statement. Being interesting is REALLY considered an insult in the former Confederacy. I love SF precisely because being interesting is a virtue here. Thank god I seem to have an innate ability to avoid all of the duds that Nick gets stuck talking to.
As for me, Silicon Valley remains the place to build a new business, but I won't pretend any more I love the place.
If his business is new, maybe he should start it in a place he does love. I hated being surrounded by the backwards troglodytes in North Carolina, and they hated having to endure an intellectual weirdo like me. I moved to San Francisco, and now we are both happy. Americans have a Constitutional right to freedom of travel. Nick should use it.

2/10/2002 11:08:26 PM

Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

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Not long after the O.J. trial, I noticed people had stopped actively hating L.A. More specifically, they had stopped noticing or caring about L.A. The Internet was the future, and the Bay Area was now the center of the goddamn universe. Any day now, they would be breaking ground on Starfleet Headquarters.

Now we have crashed back to earth, and you people in L.A. are having great celebrations over the world (or at least California) being set right again. Maybe we deserve it for a while (and frankly, I hope we stay in this funk until that magical day in the far future when I have signed a mortgage), but the rhetoric has swung too far in the other direction.

For professional reasons, I will sidestep the homelessness issues. (I am an attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid, and my opinions could too easily be mistaken for the organization's, which could be a big problem as I am sure my opinions differ from many of my colleges.) But to tackle other part's of Nick's column:

Supposedly cosmopolitan, San Francisco is in fact a collection of separatist ghettos. Mexicans live in the Mission, Gays live in the Castro, Chinese out in Sunset, and transient yuppies in the Marina; and they avoid each other as much as possible.
Nick is either intentionally lying, or actively avoiding Mexicans, Gays, Chinese, and yuppies himself but blaming them, or living in alternate universe. Yes, those neighborhoods have greater numbers of the aforementioned groups, but in a stroll down the streets of any of those places, which I take regularly, you pass not only people of every race, but restaurants, shops, etc., of every ethnic variety, with customers of every ethnic variety, none of whom seem put off by being around people Nick would say are not "like them". I cannot remember anyone ever avoiding me for being white and straight. Professionally, my boss is black, his boss is Mexican, and my clients and coworkers are of every background and it has never been an issue. Personally, my wife is Mexican, her niece who was our flower girl is half Samoan, my brother-in-law who stays with us is Indian, and my two best friends are Indian, and a White-Japanese mix. I did not specifically seek this out, it is simply a natural outcome of living in a, yes, cosmopolitan city like San Francisco.
Well, what about the alternative scene? The Yo-Yo man, a 300-pound mound of a man who dazzles with yo-yos. Where else, a San Francisco booster asked, would someone feel so free to express themselves? A typical San Francisco misconception. Personal discovery is rarely interesting and, in most normal cities, robustly ignored.
Um, plenty of us here ignore it too. I had never heard of this yo-yo before reading Nick's column, and I read the "alternative" papers regularly.
And conversation tends to the bland. What passes as witty in London or New York is more likely to meet the reaction: that guy was interesting. Only in San Francisco could interesting be a term of disparagement.
Another alternate universe statement. Being interesting is REALLY considered an insult in the former Confederacy. I love SF precisely because being interesting is a virtue here. Thank god I seem to have an innate ability to avoid all of the duds that Nick gets stuck talking to.
As for me, Silicon Valley remains the place to build a new business, but I won't pretend any more I love the place.
If his business is new, maybe he should start it in a place he does love. I hated being surrounded by the backwards troglodytes in North Carolina, and they hated having to endure an intellectual weirdo like me. I moved to San Francisco, and now we are both happy. Americans have a Constitutional right to freedom of travel. Nick should use it.

2/10/2002 11:08:26 PM

Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

>© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.