Monday, August 28, 2006

Tolkien Spins in His Grave

Read the final paragraph.

Catching Up

Right, well, it's been a week since my last post and nearly two months since I last gave a brief review of any of the new books I've been reading. The last one was War and Our World by John Keegan. 32 books later I'm not going to try to catch them all up. But I think I will try to hit the high points later in this post.

In related news, I've set a new record (at least for this year) for both total books read in a month and new books read in a month. 25 books so far, previous best being 20 in May, (and I have another couple days to try to bump that total up a bit) and 22 of those books are ones which I had not read previously, previous best was 10, both in April and May. YTD, 116 books read in total and 69 first-time-reads.

Sense and Sensibility was pretty good, though not up to Pride and Prejudice. As Wodehouse would say, "It failed to grip". It wasn't that any part of it was particularly bad, but that none of it was particularly good. Still, Austen has proven interesting enough that I think I shall seek out the rest of her novels, Emma and Northanger Abbey and such-like.

The couple Christie mysteries were pretty forgettable and Asimov's mysteries were too, though I was once again struck by how widely talented he was. The man was brilliant. And prolific. Here's his bibliography. I've also read a couple more Ellery Queen mysteries, both of which were good enough to keep me interested in the series. By and large he (or "they", really) play fair with keeping the evidence in plain sight for the reader to find as well as the detective. I've also been reading some Perry Mason mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner. They're rather different than how I remember the television show. My recollections of the show are rather vague, but the Della Street of the books seems rather younger to me and there's a lot more sexual tension between her and Mason. Of course, it may be that sine the few shows I saw were as a child, such tension may have gone right over my head. There is also a lot less courtroom drama than I remembered, and most of it is done before the actual trial in most books. Still, they are quick reads and some of the mysteries are rather clever. The titles get on my nerves a bit; they remind me of the McGurk mysteries I read as a child, though I'm sure the influence went the other way.

The couple Thomas Sowell books I read were both consistent with what I had read of him earlier. Each was perceptive and lucid. His memoir was particularly interesting because I knew little about him as a person prior to reading it. I suppose I still don't really know him, but the sum of my knowledge about him is much greater now than it was.

The Dragon books by Zahn were passable. Soldier, solid but not spectacular. Slave, somewhat lacking. Herdsman, better than Slave but the series began showing signs of Jordan-itis.

He Talk Like a White Boy was okay, but nothing new. A collection of essays musing on the conservative side of life. A bit of an interesting twist with the author being both black and a celebrity (albeit a minor one), but still little I had not read already elsewhere.

The two books written/edited by Hilton Kramer were okay, though Twilight of the Intellectuals was less interesting simply because I find it difficult to care about a bunch of critics whose impact on politics and thought will, I suspect, be more transient than Kramer predicts. It is a difficult thing, after all, to determine what, among the glut of writing, will survive to posterity. The Future of the European Past had the same problem as Mr Phillips' book, I had really read most of it elsewhere already, though Mark Steyn's essay was a pleasure to read, as is just about everything he writes, regardless of topic.

Finally, the Prisoner books there at the end of the list (for now) were all pretty mediocre. I was interested in them because I recently finished watching my way through the TV series with my wife. A Day in the Life wasn't awful and it was the best of the lot. Shattered Visage did little more than retell the series with different characters, right down to the confusing and unsatisfying conclusion. The Companion had some interesting tidbits of information, but these were few and far between and offset by the inaccuracies sprinkled throughout as well.

Whew. I think that about covers it. I'll try not to fall so far behind in the future.

Elements of Style, Rule 8

8. Divide words at line-ends, in accordance with their formation and pronunciation.

If there is room at the end of a line for one or more syllables of a word, but not for the whole word, divide the word, unless this involves cutting off only a single letter, or cutting off only two letters of a long word. No hard and fast rule for all words can be laid down. The principles most frequently applicable are:

a. Divide the word according to its formation:

know-ledge (not knowl-edge); Shake-speare (not Shakes-peare); de-scribe (not des-cribe); atmo-sphere (not atmos-phere);

b. Divide "on the vowel:"

edi-ble (not ed-ible); propo-sition; ordi-nary; espe-cial; reli-gious; oppo-nents; regu-lar; classi-fi-ca-tion (three divisions possible); deco-rative; presi-dent;

c. Divide between double letters, unless they come at the end of the simple form of the word:

Apen-nines; Cincin-nati; refer-ring; but tell-ing.

The treatment of consonants in combination is best shown from examples:

for-tune; pic-ture; presump-tuous; illus-tration; sub-stan-tial (either division); indus-try; instruc-tion; sug-ges-tion; incen-diary.

The student will do well to examine the syllable-division in a number of pages of any carefully printed book.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Now That's Good Eatin'

Step 1. Wash a sufficient quantity of blueberries
Step 2. Place them in a bowl
Step 3. Cover them with milk
Step 4. Consume

Elements of Style, Rule 7

7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children.

The word walking refers to the subject of the sentence, not to the woman. If the writer wishes to make it refer to the woman, he must recast the sentence:
He saw a woman, accompanied by two children, walking slowly down the road.

Participial phrases preceded by a conjunction or by a preposition, nouns in apposition, adjectives, and adjective phrases come under the same rule if they begin the sentence.

On arriving in Chicago, his friends met him at the station.

When he arrived (or, On his arrival) in Chicago, his friends met him at the station.

A soldier of proved valor, they entrusted him with the defence of the city.

A soldier of proved valor, he was entrusted with the defence of the city.

Young and inexperienced, the task seemed easy to me.

Young and inexperienced, I thought the task easy.

Without a friend to counsel him, the temptation proved irresistible.

Without a friend to counsel him, he found the temptation irresistible.

Sentences violating this rule are often ludicrous.
Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Elements of Style, Rule 6

6. Do not break sentences in two.

In other words, do not use periods for commas.

I met them on a Cunard liner several years ago. Coming home from Liverpool to New York.

He was an interesting talker. A man who had traveled all over the world, and lived in half a dozen countries.
In both these examples, the first period should be replaced by a comma, and the following word begun with a small letter.

It is permissible to make an emphatic word or expression serve the purpose of a sentence and to punctuate it accordingly:

Again and again he called out. No reply.
The writer must, however, be certain that the emphasis is warranted, and that he will not be suspected of a mere blunder in punctuation.

Rules 3, 4, 5, and 6 cover the most important principles in the punctuation of ordinary sentences; they should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature.

On the United Nations

It is not just that the United Nations is useless; it is, in fact, almost entirely detrimental to the interests of the United States. The problem posed for America, and for other nations such as Israel that suffer more than they gain from the existence of the UN, is that enormous numbers of people in the United States and around the world have somehow gotten the notion that the UN alone is capable of conferring moral legitimacy on the use of force, no matter how much that force is justified by humanitarian and security concerns. The dominant force in the UN is the Security Council, whose permanent membership is a relic of World War II and does not at all represent today's political realities. In order to get the council's approval for the defense of vital American interests, it is necessary to avoid a veto by France, Russia, or China, three nations whose interests are often diametrically opposed to America's and at least one, France, that harbors deep and probably permanent anti-Americanism out of envy. Russia and China appear more likely to act out of various motives, not all of them noble, but unlike France, not out of spite. Why most of the people of the world, including Americans, suppose that the UN is essential to confer moral legitimacy on the actions of America and its numerous allies remains a mystery.

-Coercing Virtue, p. 49-50

On International Law

From Robert Bork's book, Coercing Virtue.
International law is not law but politics. For that reason, it is dangerous to give the name "law", which summons up respect, to political struggles that are essentially lawless. The problem is not merely the anti-Americanism that grips foreign elites and shapes law; it is also the American intellectual class, which is largely hostile to the United States and uses alleged international law to attack the morality of its own governement and society. International law becomes one more weapon in the domestic culture war. It must be admitted, moreover, that there are serious issues of inconsistency of application of this concept: The United States has used its power to force the trials of some men who have done no worse than others with whom we do not interfere. That may or may not be justifiable, but it hardly bespeaks devotion to law.
-p. 21

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Elements of Style, Rule 5

5. Do not join independent clauses by a comma.

If two or more clauses, grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction, are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.
Stevenson's romances are entertaining; they are full of exciting adventures.

It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.
It is of course equally correct to write the above as two sentences each, replacing the semicolons by periods.
Stevenson's romances are entertaining. They are full of exciting adventures.

It is nearly half past five. We cannot reach town before dark.
If a conjunction is inserted, the proper mark is a comma (Rule 4).
Stevenson's romances are entertaining, for they are full of exciting adventures.

It is nearly half past five, and we cannot reach town before dark.
Note that if the second clause is preceded by an adverb, such as accordingly, besides, so, then, therefore, or thus, and not by a conjunction, the semicolon is still required.
I had never been in the place before; so I had difficulty in finding my way about.
In general, however, it is best, in writing, to avoid using so in this manner; there is danger that the writer who uses it at all may use it too often. A simple correction, usually serviceable, is to omit the word so, and begin the first clause with as:
As I had never been in the place before, I had difficulty in finding my way about.
If the clauses are very short, and are alike in form, a comma is usually permissible:
Man proposes, God disposes.

The gate swung apart, the bridge fell, the portcullis was drawn up.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Century Mark

I've reached 100 books over on my list there to the left. I'm most pleased that 54 of those books are books that I had not read before. This may not be a representative year, but I didn't expect that high of a percentage of new books. The 100th book is a Perry Mason mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner. I had never read any of those books, but Gardner is almost always mentioned when the topic of mystery writers comes up and I have always enjoyed the television show. The books are good, so far, without being great (though which way the rest are is anyone's guess, since he wrote something like 150 books and I've only read two) though they are rather unlike the television show.

Elements of Style, Rule 4

4. Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause.
The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed.

The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape.
Sentences of this type, isolated from their context, may seem to be in need of rewriting. As they make complete sense when the comma is reached, the second clause has the appearance of an after-thought. Further, and, is the least specific of connectives. Used between independent clauses, it indicates only that a relation exists between them without defining that relation. In the example above, the relation is that of cause and result. The two sentences might be rewritten:
As the early records of the city have disappeared, the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed.

Although the situation is perilous, there is still one chance of escape.
Or the subordinate clauses might be replaced by phrases:
Owing to the disappearance of the early records of the city, the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed.
In this perilous situation, there is still one chance of escape.
But a writer may err by making his sentences too uniformly compact and periodic, and an occasional loose sentence prevents the style from becoming too formal and gives the reader a certain relief. Consequently, loose sentences of the type first quoted are common in easy, unstudied writing. But a writer should be careful not to construct too many of his sentences after this pattern (see Rule 14).

Two-part sentences of which the second member is introduced by as (in the sense of because), for, or, nor, and while (in the sense of and at the same time) likewise require a comma before the conjunction.

If a dependent clause, or an introductory phrase requiring to be set off by a comma, precedes the second independent clause, no comma is needed after the conjunction.
The situation is perilous, but if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.
For two-part sentences connected by an adverb, see the next section.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Renewing Books

I'm surprised this fellow is a patron of the Boston University libraries. His books make some sense though, I guess.

Elements of Style, Rule 3

3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot.
This rule is difficult to apply; it is frequently hard to decide whether a single word, such as however, or a brief phrase, is or is not parenthetic. If the interruption to the flow of the sentence is but slight, the writer may safely omit the commas. But whether the interruption be slight or considerable, he must never omit one comma and leave the other. Such punctuation as
Marjorie's husband, Colonel Nelson paid us a visit yesterday,
My brother you will be pleased to hear, is now in perfect health,
is indefensible.

Non-restrictive relative clauses are, in accordance with this rule, set off by commas.
The audience, which had at first been indifferent, became more and more interested.
Similar clauses introduced by where and when are similarly punctuated.
In 1769, when Napoleon was born, Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.

Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is a few miles from Bridgewater.
In these sentences the clauses introduced by which, when, and where are non-restrictive; they do not limit the application of the words on which they depend, but add, parenthetically, statements supplementing those in the principal clauses. Each sentence is a combination of two statements which might have been made independently.
The audience was at first indifferent. Later it became more and more interested.

Napoleon was born in 1769. At that time Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.

Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at Nether Stowey. Nether Stowey is only a few miles from Bridgewater.
Restrictive relative clauses are not set off by commas.
The candidate who best meets these requirements will obtain the place.
In this sentence the relative clause restricts the application of the word candidate to a single person. Unlike those above, the sentence cannot be split into two independent statements.

The abbreviations etc. and jr. are always preceded by a comma, and except at the end of a sentence, followed by one.

Similar in principle to the enclosing of parenthetic expressions between commas is the setting off by commas of phrases or dependent clauses preceding or following the main clause of a sentence. The sentences quoted in this section and under Rules 4, 5, 6, 7, 16, and 18 should afford sufficient guidance.

If a parenthetic expression is preceded by a conjunction, place the first comma before the conjunction, not after it.
He saw us coming, and unaware that we had learned of his treachery, greeted us with a smile.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


24 books. 6 Fiction, 18 Non-Fiction. It's not a very long list, but of the books that I have read, and I didn't include books that I had not read, these are the books that I would think people ought to read regardless of who they are and their situation. I haven't organised the list other than to separate fiction and non-fiction, but if anyone is curious I'll be happy to try and elaborate and why I thought particular books made the cut. Let me tell you, this wasn't an easy thing to do. Arguing with oneself about why a book should or should not be on the list was much more difficult than I thought it would be.

On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace by Donald Kagan
Our Idea of God by Thomas Morris
Seven Years in Tibet by Henrich Harrer
The Bible
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek
Party of Death by Ramesh Ponnuru
A Refutation of Moral Relativism by Peter Kreeft
Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell
The Mask of Command by John Keegan
The Face of Battle by John Keegan
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S Grant
Witness by Whittaker Chambers
The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell
Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton
Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White
Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff
The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Elements of Style

I'm starting with Rule 2 because I don't like Rule 1.

2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

Thus write,
red, white, and blue

honest, energetic, but headstrong

He opened the letter, read it, and made a note of its contents.
This is also the usage of the Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.

In the names of business firms the last comma is omitted, as
Brown, Shipley and Company
The abbreviation etc., even if only a single term comes before it, is always preceded by a comma.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Black, White and Grey

Saw some commenter on a blog with a sig I liked; "If you're seeing shades of gray, it's because you're not looking close enough to see the black and white dots." Heh.


Well, I have reached 1,000 books on my all-time list. A thousand volumes without any repetitions. The milestone book? Dragon and Herdsman, by Timothy Zahn. Which is not perhaps so impressive as something like War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov would have been, neh? On the other hand, however, this really probably isn't the 1,000th book I've read, as I noted here. Now that I'm here, on to 2,000!

Books to Read

On the topic of crucial books that everyone ought to read, The Count of Monte Cristo contains an interesting passage. In Chapter 16, when Dantes is in prison and speaking with Abbe Faria, his fellow prisoner, Faria makes the following statement.

"I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library at Rome; but after reading them over many times, I found out that with one hundred and fifty well-chosen books a man possesses, if not a complete summary of all human knowledge, at least all that a man need really know. I devoted three years of my life to reading and studying these one hundred and fifty volumes, till I knew them nearly by heart; so that since I have been in prison, a very slight effort of memory has enabled me to recall their contents as readily as though the pages were open before me. I could recite you the whole of Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, Titus Livius, Tacitus, Strada, Jornandes, Dante, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Machiavelli, and Bossuet. I name only the most important."

I have always wondered what the full list of 150 books would have been. I doubt that Dumas actually had such a list in mind, but the idea is still intriguing and probably what originally got me thinking about the idea of "what everyone ought to read".

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hezbollah and the Israelis

An interesting film from iFilm that looks into several Hezbollah claims about from where they do and do not launch rockets and store their rocket launchers. (Link via The Corner.)